Saturday, February 26, 2011

FactCheck.org Gets It Wrong on Social Security and the Deficit

Friday, February 25, 2011

Polarization? There looks to be a suffocating consensus in favor of the status quo

It’s widely believed on the American left that the Democrats have moved right and that the difference between the parties has nearly vanished. That’s a tempting POV, for sure. But it’s hard to reconcile with Congressional voting habits. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, both parties had liberal and conservative wings. Starting in the 1980s, they began to diverge, and now by one measure, they’ve never been so polarized. This is via ABC’s The Note:

In the long march toward a more parliamentary and partisan Washington, National Journal‘s 2010 congressional vote ratings mark a new peak of polarization,”National Journal‘s Ron Brownstein writes. “For only the second time since 1982, when NJ began calculating the ratings in their current form, every Senate Democrat compiled a voting record more liberal than every Senate Republican—and every Senate Republican compiled a voting record more conservative than every Senate Democrat. Even Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, the most conservative Democrat in the rankings, produced an overall voting record slightly to the left of the most moderate Republicans last year: Ohio’s George Voinovich and Maine’s Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. The Senate had been that divided only once before, in 1999. But the overall level of congressional polarization last year was the highest the index has recorded, because the House was much more divided in 2010 than it was in 1999. Back then, more than half of the chamber’s members compiled voting records between the most liberal Republican and the most conservative Democrat. In 2010, however, the overlap between the parties in the House was less than in any previous index.” NationalJournal.com’s full Vote Ratings.

What to make of this? What to make of the fact that Dem leader Harry Reid’s voting record ties him with the nominal socialist Bernie Sanders to put them both among the most liberal members of the Senate? Politics certainly doesn’t feel polarized—there looks to be a suffocating consensus in favor of the status quo. Is it that one party is insanely right wing and the other is just tepidly so? Is that what polarization looks like?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Big Oil Lobby Announces It Will Start Donating Directly To Candidates

Aside from anyone in the flat earth society that is busy in denial about global warming who thinks this is good?  

Right now the marketplace fails to properly price energy.  We have a market failure.  When prices do not reflect true costs there should be concern; open rentseeking would obviously be a huge concern in these instances...

Citizens United... helping to subsidize market failure one oil company at a time....

Will Wilkinson channels Nietzsche

False alternatives haunt our discourse. Cut spending or raise taxes. Heap scorn upon Wall Street or government-employee unions.  Koch or Soros. The answer, my friends, is both.

Pop Quiz: Has Health Overhaul Law Been Repealed?

Only 52% told the Kaiser Family Foundation its still the law (slaps hand to forehead).  Republicans aren't idiots the tactics of symbolic votes when linked to FoxNews/talkradio megaphone can do wonders...

No 'Free Rides' on Health Insurance, Says Blunt Federal Judge

The recent ruling in support of the individual mandate (that makes three... and dozens of other cases thrown out completely) takes it to those liberty loving welfare cheats without pulling punches...

"To put it less analytically, and less charitably, those who choose -- and Plaintiffs have made such a deliberate choice -- not to purchase health insurance will benefit greatly when they become ill, as they surely will, from the free health care which must be provided by emergency rooms and hospitals to the sick and dying who show up on their doorstep. In short, those who choose not to purchase health insurance will ultimately get a 'free ride' on the backs of those Americans who have made responsible choices to provide for the illness we all must face at some point in our lives."

Nicely put.

House GOP Cuts Could Drive The Unemployment Rate Up One Full Point

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Origins and Severity of the Public Pension Crisis

New report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research:

There has been considerable attention given in recent months to the shortfalls faced by state and local pension funds. Using the current methodology of assessing pension obligations, the shortfalls sum to nearly $1 trillion. Some analysts have argued that by using what they consider to be a more accurate methodology, the shortfalls could be more than three times this size. Based on these projections, many political figures have argued the need to drastically reduce the generosity of public sector pensions, and possibly to default on pension obligations already incurred. 

This paper shows:

  • Most of the pension shortfall using the current methodology is attributable to the plunge in the stock market in the years 2007-2009.

  • The argument that pension funds should only assume a risk-free rate of return in assessing pension fund adequacy ignores the distinction between governmental units, which need be little concerned over the timing of market fluctuations, and individual investors, who must be very sensitive to market timing.

  • The size of the projected state and local government shortfalls measured as a share of future gross state products appear manageable.
go read the rest... i'm doing the same....

Its time to stop blaming the victim....

The time has come to stop blaming the victim. Somehow, we have to learn to fight back in this one-sided class warfare. We have to learn to explain that more of the same medicine that made us sick is not going to cure us. We have to learn to identify the architects of this disaster — the political manipulators, the right wing foundations and their benefactors, and if we want to begin a legitimate fight against unions, let’s start with the Chamber of Commerce. 

Indiana official fired after saying Wisconsin police should use "live ammunition"

Washington Post:

An Indiana deputy attorney general "is no longer employed" by the state after Mother Jones magazine reported he tweeted that police should to use live ammunition against Wisconsin labor protesters, the attorney general's office said Wednesday.

The magazine reported Wednesday that Jeffrey Cox responded "Use live ammunition" to a Saturday night posting on its Twitter account that said riot police could sweep protesters out of the Wisconsin capitol, where thousands have been protesting a bill that would strip public employees of collective bargaining rights.

Cox also referred to the protesters as "thugs physically threatening legally-elected state legislators & governor" and said "You're damn right I advocate deadly force," according to the magazine. He later told an Indianapolis television station the comments were intended to be satirical.

Making sense of Wisconsin's union showdown

Steven Pearlstein has a good thought experiment:

...consider the mirror image of what is going on. In this case, you'd be asked what the reaction would be from Republicans and business interests if a newly elected Democratic governor and legislature proposed to deal with a budget deficit by first raising unemployment benefits and then pushing through a big corporate tax increase for all but the Democratic-leaning tech sector. For good measure, the package would also contain a ban on corporations making political donations without getting the permission of each shareholder, lest they use their power to repeal the tax increase and push the budget out of balance.

This is analogous, of course, to what Gov. Scott Walker has proposed for dealing with Wisconsin's budget gap: the tax breaks for businesses, the benefit cuts for all state employees except Republican-leaning police and firefighters, the automatic decertification of all public-sector unions and the stripping of their right to bargain anything but wages. Looking at Walker's reflection in the political fun-house mirror makes it abundantly clear that the governor has a more ambitious agenda than merely closing a modest budget gap.


Also over at Naked Capitalism is a rundown of one of the other bad ideas Walker has proposed.... Wisconsin’s Walker Joins Government Asset Giveaway Club

Rally to Support Workers in Wisconsin

Gallup/USA Today poll on Feb 21st found that more than 60 percent of Americans opposed ending collective bargaining.... if you are one of those 60% and you live in GA the steps of Georgia State Capitol Building (Washington Street)  4:00--6pm is the place to be today....

I'll see you there....

Monday, February 21, 2011

When you have inept middle managers the first people to blame are unions?

Okay so over at Heritage I read this:

As Feigenbaum noted in his ruling, according to the school district’s union agreement, if a probationary teacher receives negative reviews after both years of his or her trial period, the school district can dismiss that teacher. While the 75 dismissed teachers received negative reviews during their first year, and principal reports from the second year indicate poor performance–tardiness, unprofessional behavior, “rude and aggressive” demeanor, and so forth–because the teachers did not receive sufficient written explanations for their tardiness, D.C. Public Schools are being faulted.

D.C.’s situation is a prime example of the struggles leaders face today–as a result of collective bargaining agreements and entrenched policies– that make it nearly impossible to ensure the quality of teachers in their schools.

Now the post was titled: Unions at It Again: D.C. Being Made to Hire Back Fired Teachers

So let me get this straight?  Middle management can't properly discipline workers and unions are to blame? 

You can't separate public and private unions

Unions are not just about challenging the "might and greed" of private-sector CEOs, but about recognizing the different incentives faced by managers and workers, and about correcting the tremendous power imbalance between those who can be fired for asking too many questions or demanding a different bargain and those who get to do the firing and would prefer a more submissive workforce and a status quo that they've created and defined.

people who don't know and don't care about technical economics

From where I sit, it looks as if the ascendant doctrines in our policy/political debate are coming precisely from people who don’t know and don’t care about technical economics. The revival of goldbuggy sentiment, the fear of hyperinflation in the face of high unemployment, the continuing force of the notion that tax cuts don’t increase the deficit, aren’t coming from some subtle battle among mathematical modelers; they’re coming from the same people who reject evolution, climate science, and more. They don’t need no stinking technical analysis. The truth is that the economics profession is proving far less relevant to public debate, even in the face of economic crisis, than was dreamed of in our philosophy.

So true...so true....

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Give me a six pack or give me death!

While the petite bourgeoisie of Georgia are raising their fists (errr tweets) in disgruntled rage about the fact their liberty is being trampled on by not being able to buy beer on Sundays the long term efforts to deteriorate the middle class, destroy the ability of government to function, and leave the sick and powerless to go without a lifeline continues unabated... Actually, outside of the middle east and well, Wisconsin... it seems to be strengthening.

To Celebrate The #Jan25 Revolution, Egyptian Names His Firstborn “Facebook”

To vote or not to vote...


So here’s the discussion again; or at least my side of it. My defence against being burnt at the stake for not voting. And my defence is basically that whether or not I vote isn’t, in most cases, important; what’s important is what I do the rest of the time, in that five-year gap between polling days. 

First though, I’ll cover myself. If you live in an area where there’s a genuine chance of your vote ousting the Tories or the BNP, or if you genuinely feel better for having voted, or if you use your vote as a springboard to getting involved in real community politics, or if you just feel like a walk down to the polling booth will do you good and stretch your legs, then it makes sense to vote. 

But if your vote is the expression of your political view, if it’s the focus of your politics, then it ridicules the people who lobbied, chained themselves to railings, spent time in prisons, marched and campaigned for the vote in the first place. Those people were activists, not politicians. They believed in the politics of community action, striking, debating, leafleting, singing, direct action, changing the world around them. If they thought for a minute that the eventual extent of our political power would be making a cross on a ballot paper, they might have some sympathy with the half-arsed deadbeats like me. 

Don’t be satisfied with your vote against the Tories or BNP; get involved in actively working to stop them gaining ground in your area – I’m talking about every day other than the day of the General Election, here – by talking to people, writing, organising, whatever it is you feel you can do. Because the bigger problem than the right-wing bigots getting Parliamentary seats is right-wing bigots taking over our cultural and social lives, because that’s where people really get hurt. On a day-to-day level.

One well written paragraph is all you can ask for...is all you should ask for...

The "damn well put" award goes to... Julia Scheeres

Mocking one’s younger self is a middle-age rite of passage. The jaded grown-up derides as naïve the idealistic or altruistic impulses of youth. (Silly us: we once had convictions!) Underlying this sneering condescension, of course, is grief. We’ll never be that tender, certain or passionate about anything again. Life is half over, the glass half emptied. We slouch toward death.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mike Berlon Chair of Georgia Democratic Party

Tom Crawford interview with new Chair of the Georgia Democratic Party: Berlon charts a course for Georgia’s Democrats

What would a serious approach to our fiscal problems involve?

 I can summarize it in seven words: health care, health care, health care, revenue.

Notice that I said “health care,” not “entitlements.” People in Washington often talk as if there were a program called Socialsecuritymedicareandmedicaid, then focus on things like raising the retirement age. But that’s more anti-Willie Suttonism. Long-run projections suggest that spending on the major entitlement programs will rise sharply over the decades ahead, but the great bulk of that rise will come from the health insurance programs, not Social Security.

So anyone who is really serious about the budget should be focusing mainly on health care. And by focusing, I don’t mean writing down a number and expecting someone else to make that number happen — a dodge known in the trade as a “magic asterisk.” I mean getting behind specific actions to rein in costs.

By that standard, the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission, whose work is now being treated as if it were the gold standard of fiscal seriousness, was in fact deeply unserious. Its report “was one big magic asterisk,” Bob Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities told The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein. So is the much-hyped proposal by Paul Ryan, the G.O.P.’s supposed deep thinker du jour, to replace Medicare with vouchers whose value would systematically lag behind health care costs. What’s supposed to happen when seniors find that they can’t afford insurance?

What would real action on health look like? Well, it might include things like giving an independent commission the power to ensure that Medicare only pays for procedures with real medical value; rewarding health care providers for delivering quality care rather than simply paying a fixed sum for every procedure; limiting the tax deductibility of private insurance plans; and so on.

And what do these things have in common? They’re all in last year’s health reform bill.

That’s why I say that Mr. Obama gets too little credit. He has done more to rein in long-run deficits than any previous president. And if his opponents were serious about those deficits, they’d be backing his actions and calling for more; instead, they’ve been screaming about death panels.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Legislative Updates from GBPI and the Libertarian Party

Here was the end of the week wrap up from Georgia Budget and Policy Institue that went out Friday:

State Revenues  

State revenues for the first seven months of this fiscal year are running 8.1 percent ($705 million) ahead of the FY 2010 revenue collections. More than $122 million of the growth is accounted for by a decrease in the number of refunds distributed. Discounting fewer refunds distributed, actual revenue growth is 4.8 percent.

 

The governor's FY 2011 revenue estimate projects an increase in revenues of 4 percent ($610 million). It seems highly likely that the fiscal year will end in a surplus of several hundred million dollars, which the governor has stated will be used to begin rebuilding the Revenue Shortfall Reserve.

According to the governor, his FY 2012 revenue estimate is a modest 3.75 percent. The governor included in his FY 2011 base $288 million in one time revenues from the GEFA monetization. Not taking into account the one time revenues from the GEFA monetization and comparing growth in taxes and fees, the revenue estimate actually projects a more substantial increase of 5.8 percent compared to FY 2011 projected collections. However, to drive a surplus of $300 to $400 million in FY 2012 to continue rebuilding the Revenue Shortfall Reserve, revenues will need to grow between 7 and 8 percent.

House and Senate Calendar 
The House and Senate are scheduled to be in session next week for the 14th legislative day on Tuesday, February 15, the 15th legislative day on Wednesday, February 16, and the 17th legislative day on Thursday, February 17

State Budget: FY 2011 Amended and FY 2012

Process

Governor Deal released his proposed budgets on January 12, 2011. (Download the proposed budgets.) 
  
The Amended FY 2011 Budget (HB 77) passed the House of Representatives 136-29. There were minimal changes made to the governor's proposal and HB 77 now will go to the Senate. 
  
The Senate Appropriations Sub-Committees will continue to meet on the Amended Budget and the House Appropriations Sub-Committees will begin to take up the FY 2012 budget.
 
GBPI Analysis 

The governor's FY 2012 budget proposal is disappointing in that it does not take a balanced approach to solving the state deficit. The budget contains additional cuts to education, with significant cuts to higher education, as well as cuts in services to our most vulnerable populations. A balanced approach to the fiscal crisis that includes additional revenues would assure that the factors most important to economic growth in the state, such as higher education, receive the necessary resources for Georgia to prosper.


The following are GBPI analysis:

Fiscal and Tax Policy 
 
Special Legislative Committee Takes Up Tax Council Recommendations


The Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure held its second meeting to hear from members of the Tax Council. Their next meeting will be February 17 at 1 p.m. As the Special Joint Committee moves forward on tax reform, GBPI offers adjustments to the Tax Council's recommendations to lessen the tax shift:

  • Maintain the grocery exemption;
  • Lower the income tax rate to 4.5 percent rather than the 4 percent recommended by the Tax Council;
  • Re-craft the proposed personal income tax credit into a robust, refundable low income tax credit and targeted standard deduction.

Download GBPI's analysis with additional adjustment options here.

  

New GBPI Policy Brief on Senate Resolution 20 Available.

 

Senate Resolution 20 passed the Senate Finance Committee and awaits action by the Senate. The constitutional amendment would restrict state spending to a formula of population plus government inflation, similar to Colorado's TABOR.

 

In 2005, Colorado voters suspended the TABOR formula for five years to stop the many harmful budget cuts that had occurred under TABOR. Since Colorado adopted TABOR in 1992, more than 20 state legislatures have rejected TABOR, and it has been voted down in every state in which it reached the ballot. Business leaders, elected officials from both parties, and higher education officials, among others, recognize that TABOR has limited Colorado's ability to maintain critical services.

 

Download GBPI's policy brief on SR 20 and watch a video on this issue.


Health Care Legislation

 

Several health care bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate that address a wide variety of health care issues, including private insurance regulation, Georgia's Medicaid and PeachCare programs, public health and trauma care, and the state's role in implementing the Affordable Care Act.

 

Private Insurance Regulation

 

House Bill 47 is similar to legislation introduced in recent years to allow health insurance companies to sell health insurance products licensed in other states. This bill would allow Georgia insurers to offer policies they currently offer in other states, even if those policies do not cover services required under Georgia law. Effectively, this bill would allow insurers to sell plans to Georgians that do not cover certain benefits that must be covered by plans licensed in Georgia. The bill is assigned to the Health and Life Sub-committee of the House Committee on Insurance.

 

Senate Bill 17 would create a Special Advisory Commission on Mandated Health Insurance Benefits, effective in 2012. The Commission would be charged with a variety of duties, including developing a system to asses the effect of mandated benefits taking into account the costs and impact of treatment and the cost savings to the health care system. In particular, the Commission would be charged with assessing the social and financial impact and the medical efficacy of new mandates when they are proposed. This bill has been favorably reported from the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee.

 

State Health Care Programs

 

House Bill 214 would create a new state Department of Public Health as a separate cabinet-level agency. In FY 2010, the Georgia Division of Public Health was moved into the Department of Community Health as part of the reorganization of the former Department of Human Resources. As part of the move, a commission was established to examine and make recommendations to the Legislature for the permanent placement of Georgia's public health functions. The Public Health Commission recommended the creation of a new agency; HB 214 implements this recommendation. The bill is currently assigned to the House Committee on Health and Human Services.

 

Senate Bill 63 would direct Georgia Medicaid program to create a new Medicaid smart card that includes recipient medical information as well as fingerprint identification to be used by all enrollees. The bill would require Medicaid clients to use the card at the point of service to receive benefits and would require providers to verify the patients identity using a fingerprint scanner to match information from the card. Prior to statewide implementation, the bill directs the agency to implement a pilot program in the following Georgia counties: Brantley, Camden, Glynn, Pierce, Ware, and Wayne. The bill is currently assigned to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.  

 

Affordable Care Act

 

Several bills have been introduced that seek to prevent state agencies from, or limit the ways in which state agencies go about, implementing the Affordable Care Act. In particular, Senate Bills 20 and 25 seek to prevent agencies from implementing any portion of the law without approval from the legislature, while Senate Bill 23 would prevent agencies from proposing or adopting any administrative rules regarding the implementation or enforcement of the Affordable Care Act without legislative approval. All three of these bills have been assigned to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

 

In addition, Senate Bill 22 authorizes and directs the governor to seek a federal waiver of provisions that require health insurance plans to spend a certain amount of the premiums collected on health care services as opposed to administrative or marketing expenses. The portion of premiums directed to health care services is called the Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) and the Affordable Care Act sets new rules establishing minimum MLR requirements for health insurance plans. This bill has been assigned to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.  

Libertarian Party update 

This week will contain the halfway point to Crossover Day - the day when a bill must pass out of its originating chamber and "cross over" to the other chamber in order to possibly become law in 2011. So far there are 783 bills and resolutions introduced in the Assembly, and more bills are beginning to make their way out of Committee and onto the Floor for debate. In one great, though temporary, stop this week, freshman State Rep BJ Pak (R-Lilburn) introduced a floor amendment to HB 72, the English-only driver's test bill, and the bill was subsequently tabled.

 

ACTION ITEM

Although multiple polls have shown tremendous support for local control of alcohol sales in Georgia, the Senate has stalled out on passing 

SB 10, though a House Committee passed out its version of the bill, HB 69, this week. This week's action item is to call, email, and/or as many legislators as you can in support of these bills, and encourage your friends and family to do the same. The polls I mentioned moments ago have shown that upwards of 60-80% of Georgians support this measure, and I urge you to make the legislators hear our will. One important thing to remember is that this bill isn't about alcohol, but rather local control of the issue.  A great email to guide your contact (written by our New Media director) can be found here. If you don't know who represents you, or you need to find contact information for more than your Representative, you can find all contact information for all State Representatives here.  That same information can be found for the State Senators here.

 

THE GOOD

State Senator Buddy Carter (R-Savannah) has introduced a package of several bills, 

SB 69SB 70SB 71SB 72SB 73SB 74 & SB 75, that would make all local elections non-partisan. Clearly, this would be a GREAT opportunity for Libertarians to run for more local offices, as many of these positions are currently partisan races and subject to the state's draconian ballot access laws. Freshman State Rep Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) has introduced HB 188, requiring a searchable database be maintained on a weekly basis of all appropriations in the current budget bills, both Amended and for the next fiscal year.

 

THE BAD

This week, freshman Republican State Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) introduced 

SB 80, a bill to require DNA samples upon arrest for certain felonies. This bill is especially interesting because it is largely an exact copy of last year's HB 1033 - by a former State Rep who shortly thereafter lost the DEMOCRATIC Party's primary for Attorney General. Last year, 2008 Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate Bob Barrwrote about HB 1033 last year, as did our Executive Directorand their comments still apply to the bill introduced by Senator McKoon. While we're talking about bills that invade medical privacy, the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, defeated in each of the last two years, largely due to our vigilance and action, has returned as State Senator Buddy Carter (R-Savannah)'s SB 36 and State Rep Tom Weldon (R-Ringgold)'s HB 184. Finally, State Senator Judson Hill (R-Marietta) introduced SB 5 several weeks ago to put a driver's medical data on an RFID chip embedded on their drivers' license. This bill would be one of the single biggest threats to medical privacy currently being debated in the Legislature, and it will receive its first hearing in the Senate Public Safety Committee this Monday morning, Feb 14 2011 at 2pm in room 450 of the State Capitol.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Georgians for a Healthy Future Legislative Update

From the Inbox:

Update on the 2011 Legislative Session

With thirteen Legislative days complete, several bills have been introduced that could impact health care consumers in Georgia.

House Bill 47 

would allow Georgia insurers to sell individual health insurance products with benefits equivalent to those sold in other states. This could circumvent current Georgia standards for basic consumer protections and essential medical services that all insurers must cover today under Georgia law. The Health and Life Subcommittee of the House Insurance Committee heard testimony on this legislation on Wednesday. Georgians for a Healthy Future expressed our concerns to the subcommittee. The subcommittee plans to vote on the legislation next week.

House Bill 214

 would create a separate public health agency, the Department of Public Health. On December 1, 2010, The Public Health Commission issued its final report to the Governor, Speaker, and Lieutenant Governor recommending that the Division of Public Health become an independent, cabinet-level state agency, with the Commissioner reporting directly to the Governor and serving as the state’s chief health officer. 

This legislation implements the recommendation of the Public Health Commission. The bill is assigned to the House Health and Human Services Committee.  To read a recent Georgia Health News Article on HB 214, click here.

Senate Bill 17

 would create a special advisory commission on mandated health insurance benefits in Georgia. The purpose of the commission would be to assess the impact of mandated health benefits and providers and advise the Department of Insurance on these issues, among other responsibilities. The bill was unanimously passed out of the Insurance and Labor Committee on Thursday.

Senate Resolution 140

 seeks to dedicate funds for trauma care from existing vehicle registration fees that are already being paid to the state.  Trauma care is a significant problem in Georgia since there are only 16 trauma centers for the state’s 159 counties and particular lack of access in rural areas.  To read recent articles on trauma funding, click here and here.

We will continue to monitor these and other health-related bills throughout the Legislative Session.

 

Progress Continues on Health Insurance Exchange Feasibility Study
Over the past few months, with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Governor’s Office of Planning Budget has been convening stakeholders and advocates to gather input on the feasibility of establishing a health insurance exchange in Georgia.  As policymakers consider options for how to structure an insurance exchange, Georgians for a Healthy Future will continue to weigh in on behalf of Georgia consumers. To learn more, click here

Georgia Alliance for Tobacco Prevention Works for $1 Increase

Georgians for a Healthy Future has joined with a range of health care focused organizations to support a $1 increase in Georgia’s tobacco tax. Our current tobacco tax is only 37 cents per pack, well below the national average of $1.45. To learn more, click here



The Affordable Care Act and You


Small Businesses and the Economy
 
A recent survey of 619 small business owners revealed that 1/3 of employers who do not offer health insurance said they would be more likely to do so because of the small business tax credits—credits which are available to 84% of small businesses here in Georgia because of the Affordable Care Act.  Additionally, the report explained that there is still a gap in education about the new law to small businesses—only 43% are familiar with the new tax credits available to them.  To learn more, click here.  To read the full report, click here.  To learn more, click here

New Proposed Rules Benefit Students
 
This week, the Department of Health and Human Services released proposed rules that would apply the Affordable Care Act’s consumer protections to college health plans starting in 2012, meaning college students will be guaranteed the same consumer protections and benefits as all Americans under the new law.  To read the proposed rules, click here
 
National News

Medicaid Stability Protections May be at Risk

 Stability protections, also known as “maintenance of effort” requirements, ensure that states do not adopt more restrictive eligibility levels or enrollment procedures in their Medicaid and CHIP programs so that children and families can maintain stable health coverage. Several states have asked Congress to eliminate these federal stability protections so that they have flexibility to roll back eligibility for populations they cover at state option. While we recognize that states, including Georgia, are facing difficult budgetary climates, cutting health care coverage would make it harder for consumers to access primary care and manage conditions, resulting in poorer health outcomes and higher costs down the line. Cutting Medicaid would also have a negative impact on the doctors, pharmacies, and hospitals in Georgia who rely on Medicaid reimbursement funds. Please urge your Member of Congress in Washington to preserve stability protections in Medicaid and CHIP. For more information, click here.


The Florida Ruling and Its Implications

On January 31st, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson of Florida was the first in the nation to strike down the entire health care reform law—a suit to which Georgia was a party. To date, 25 challenges to the law have been filed and 4 have been decided: 2 upholding the law and 2 finding all or part of the law unconstitutional.  Twelve cases were dismissed outright.  This ruling will have little impact on what is happening on the ground where many states are already moving ahead with implementation of the ACA.  To learn more, click here

Why is there this renewed need for a lie to maintain the social system?

Slavoj Zizek on wikileaks.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

During break between classes some GSU students go to the library...

...some students go get coffee, and some of us run down the street to attend the Budget and Fiscal Affairs oversight committee hearing over at the Gold Dome.

Chairman Mathis was gracious enough to allow time for public comment so that I could speak on HB 33 the zero based budgeting bill.  Here was my last post on zero-based and the issue of rent dissapation; here was my post on SB 1 which was vetoed by Gov. Perdue (and which the senate voted to override it this session).

When I spoke with Chairman Martin after the hearing we discussed what Gov. Perdue meant when he stated that the General Assembly was already able to apply zerobased budgeting approach if they so wished; neither of us were sure what he meant by that.  That's I guess where I'll look next as every dollar counts in our state budget and I'm the last person who wants to see us waste resources in the name of cutting waste.

A positive side note is that there was mention of the potential of changing the language to every six years rather than every 4; that would be an improvement worth making if the bill is going to pass. 

Also for housekeeping, most of my posts on state politics go through this blog feed (my former state senate campaign blog lives on!) for those who may only want to read/avoid state news.

Heraclitus themes

In my History of Ancient Philosophy class I'm writing my paper on Heraclitus.  Right now I'm churning on a thesis so I reread through all 115 fragments (in Cohen, Curd, Reeve) and tried to organize them around some key themes I hoped to find and/or found a lot of.

I had considered his fragments on polymathy and insight yet they only had two references so that may be a dead end.  

Something to do with hearing or speaking had the most but appearance was unique in that it had the most examples that did not actually use the word appear or appearance but only gave an example of somethings appearance-- which happened 7 of the 9 references.  I'm going to go back through those to try and see if there is a theme or argument I can make from it.  Worth a shot I guess.  I'm about to head out to work so I'll churn on it, reread after work and see if I can get a thesis by mid-day as I've got a week to get this bad boy out the door.

Any Heraclitus scholars--I'm sure there are a million of you--should feel free to shoot me some ideas.  : )

Here is the list...

How to hear/speak   10
appearance*              9
wisdom                     8
knowledge                 8
logos                         7
understanding            6
awake/asleep             6
inquiry*                      6
soul                           5
what is common         4
thinking                     4
experience*                3
to see                       3
polymathy                 2
insight                      2
obvious things           1
belief                        1

*some indirect reference

As a side note.  Heraclitus sure does remind me of Nietzsche.

Nietzsche, Heraclitus, and barbarian souls...

This fragment from Heraclitus struck me for its similarity to Nietzsche's disdain for all things German/barbarian...
Eyes and ears are bad witnesses to people if they have barbarian souls 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Proposed cuts to domestic violence and sexual assault centers

Gov. Nathan Deal is proposing to cut $4.5 million in state funding for domestic violence and sexual assault centers and replace it with federal money, but domestic violence prevention groups say that's not a good idea.
They said the money-saving measure - a suggested budget cut to help offset the loss of state revenue - is not a fair swap. Glynn Community Crisis Center Executive Director Mary Hogan said the federal government would give centers the same amount of money, but it would come with restrictions. 

The funding would come from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a federal program to aid troubled households. It can be used to help domestic violence victims who have children but not for abused women who don't. 
The center gets funding to run programs like the Amity House Shelter in Brunswick with money from state and local governments, as well as from private fundraisers, Hogan said.

State funding can be used however the center needs it, but the federal money would only help some of the center's clients.
That would mean the center would have to reshuffle spending or look for more money to serve childless battered women.

"Off hand, I know right now we have four women currently sheltered out of the seven who would not qualify for (federal) funds," Hpgan said. "We would have to look for other means to support those women."

There were 823 reports of domestic violence in Brunswick and Glynn County in 2010.

Senate Resolution 20 the last thing GA needs....

SR 20 "TABOR" is constitutional amendment would restrict state spending to a formula of population plus government inflation.  Watch this short video on the negative impacts in Colorado which implemented TABOR 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Descartes: 3 elements to his method of doubt

  • Descartes was on a personal quest to discover the fundamental nature of the universe and human beings, to unify science
  • he has no way of knowing which of his beliefs are really true
    • must start afresh by subjecting his beliefs to a test of doubt
    • no time to test every belief as that would be an endless task
    • must go to the root, the principles upon what all opinions rest
    • principles that survive the test of doubt will become the new foundation for knowledge
Descartes method  --->  Certainty through the rejection of the uncertain -->  use doubt explicitly and systematically as a tool to reach certainty
  • 3 elements to his method: doubt, sort, reconstruct
  • doubt --> reasonable and systematic --> not only is it logically possible for us to doubt but the stronger claim that it is reasonable to doubt
  •  sort --> doubt functions as a sorting agent --> like emptying a barrel of apples throwing out the rotten ones --> beliefs that survive the Method of doubt are worthy of being kept because they are clear and trustworthy
  • reconstruct --> These doubt tested beliefs are then used to reconstruct our knowledge --> they are the secure and certain foundation for rebuilding of knowledge --> certainty through rejection of the uncertain
 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Obama went to the mat on health care reform?

In a recent propublica article, Obama Broke Pledge to Force Banks to Help Homeowners I saw this...

“We got the impression this was an issue [the White House] would not go to the mat for as they did with health care reform,” said Bill Hampel, chief economist for the Credit Union National Association, which opposed cramdown and participated in Senate negotiations on the issue.

Who in the world thinks Obama went to the mat on health care and what world were they living in?


The reality is that the left--like the really real left-- outside of the Democratic Party, as well as the Liberal base within the party wanted to see a single payer system implemented.  Moderates within the Democratic Party wanted to see a public option implemented so as to force the private sector to compete with the more efficient, cost effective public sector.  Obama never pushed hard for the public option because his priority was to appease the health care industry so that the legislation could pass (at least in his eyes... its likely with the major public support across party lines of a public option that it could have passed through if Obama had put backbone behind it).  Instead what we got was a center right health care bill based off of proposals by the Heritage Foundation during the Clinton health care debates of the 90's.  We got RomneyCare.

If Romney...errr Obamacare is repealed 129 million Americans with preexisting conditions could be denied, charged more or be offered a limited policies

129 million Americans have some kind of health condition that could cause them to be denied, charged more or be offered a limited policy on the individual market.  Factcheck.org has a rundown on preexisting conditions. 

Tax Reform Council Begs for Grover Norquist's Support by Promising Not to Raise Enough Revenue

Citizens for Tax Justice:

In a recent op-ed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Sarah Beth Gehl of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute makes the case that the Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness hit a triple when they came out with their policy recommendations for modernizing the state’s tax structure. The Council emphasized sales tax base expansion to include more services and broadening the state’s income tax base.  

Triples are good, but home runs are better and Gehl makes the case that the Council missed out on a homerun because they overlooked a key tax policy principle when devising its recommendations — tax fairness.  Citing ITEP data, she writes, “The best-off 1 percent of Georgians, those making more than $389,000 in 2010, would receive an almost $7,800 average yearly tax decrease. In the case of a Georgian making around $40,000, taxes would rise by about $400 a year.”  

Gehl identifies several sensible alternatives that the legislature could tack onto the Council’s recommendations that would take into account tax fairness, including more generous low-income tax relief and exempting groceries from the sales tax base. 

There seems to be a contingent that is steering away from the debate and instead focusing on what Grover Norquist would approve of. In fact, to appease Norquist and his group, Americans for Tax Reform, the Council actually reconvened earlier this week to vote on a resolution which claimed that the intent of the Council’s recommendations was that they were to be “revenue-neutral.” Because, of course, Norquist’s group would never give the thumbs up to a proposal that actually raised revenue to meet the needs of Georgians. 

The Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure met this week to debate the Council’s recommendations. We’ll be watching their actions closely and it sounds like Grover will be too.

Voices for Georgia's Children on the Tax Reform Councils 4% sales tax on groceries

The Tax Reform Council (TRC) has done a pretty good job overall. Lots of thought and research has resulted in a chance for a broader revenue structure for Georgia, often supporting ideas which have long been sought by business people, advocates and economists alike. Taxing services and the casual sales of cars, aircraft, and boats, and sun-setting many tax exemptions (realizing that most would be reviewed and reinstated and others, not) are a few such ideas.

One proposal, however, which would add a 4% state sales tax on groceries, troubles a number of advocacy groups, including Voices. First let me say that we are aware that this tax could bring in a significant amount of revenue to our hurting state – to the tune of about $500 Million per year. Unfortunately, that tax also would weigh heavily on those who bring home smaller paychecks, pulling a considerable percentage of money out of their earnings to pay for necessities – namely food – for their children and family members.

But we need the revenues, right? Right. So rather than use a regressive tax such as the grocery tax, we support the idea of lowering the state income tax from 6% to 4.5%, rather than the 4% proposed by the TRC. Such a move would fill the revenue gap nicely, and address the inequity dilemma. There are many families in Georgia for whom even $150 per year lost to a grocery tax could mean the difference between paying a power bill, buying healthier foods, or covering a co-pay at the doctor’s office. Kids need good shelter, good nutrition and good health. Increasing the financial challenge on essential (food) items is not the way to encourage that scenario.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Rent Dissipation, Lobbying, and Zerobased Budgeting

State Rep. Barry Loudermilk, in an op-ed-- that surely made Free Market anti government interventionist Friedrich Hayek roll over in his grave--argued that Georgia needs to proactively step up the productivity of our states high-tech sector.  I'd have to agree with Rep. Loudermilk.  This is just one example of why the wasting of resources via inefficient implementation of zerobased budgeting hurts out economy at large and not just in the budget process itself.
 
For the most part I have been attacking the legislation for costing more in resources than it will ever find in waste.  Its the very reason that Ronald Reagan nixed zerobased budgeting at the federal level--the benifit didn't justify the cost.
 
But there is aspect of the states economy as a whole that must be brought up in this discussion.  By implementing zerobased budgeting you are going to increase the lobbying efforts by entities that want to protect the programs and money that go into things they like. 
 
The concept is called rent dissipation (I believe) and basically the point is that when firms spend money hiring lobbyists, lawyers, and such in order to show up at the Capitol to poke, prod, and pull at legislators coat tails to protect their funds/programs you end up shifting workers that could be better harnessed productively in other endeavors. 
 
Maybe that lobbyist would be off inventing some new product, or becoming a teacher, or a zillion other things that would be a net benefit to our economy.  Instead because there is an increase in money to be made via businesses paying lobbyist to protect programs in the budget that they like the state of Georgia has a net loss in productivity.
 
Loudermilk wants to see Georgia become more cutting edge in the high tech sector and so do I.  If zero based budgeting passes this session as it is currently written (every four years) not only will it be a drain on revenue/resources that could go other places in the budget during this budget crisis; but it will also increase the tide of lobbying, shifting productive workers away from other jobs-- such as the high tech sector--and into trying to wine and dine elected officials.
 
Zerobased budgeting is sounds good, feels good policy.  The reality is most of the supporters of zerobased budgeting aren't actually willing to find ways to increase the revenue needed to make up for the extra time/effort that zerobased approach would require. Our budget and the states economy as a whole will be worse off because we are chasing our tail to eradicate waste...in a wasteful manner.
 
This is pushing the revenue/resource question to the marginal level I know, but our states finances are so that that every dollar wasted has a very real impact on the quality of life of citizens across this state.

Saxy Chambliss can't imagine why we didn't see Egypt uprising coming... until he can imagine it.

"You would think that when something this big happens, we would have folks on the ground who would sense something was forthcoming," said Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who was recently named vice chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.

"That didn't happen, and I think we need to figure out why," he added.

That said, Chambliss acknowledged that the sudden firestorm of protests in Egypt may have been too spontaneous for anybody to foresee, adding that he thought President Barack Obama "is handling this thing right."

Haiti's growing momentum towards democracy

Like our long time support of Mubarak in Egypt (thats turning out well, no?).  The US is proactive in opposing Democracy in Haiti.  Mark Weisbrot has a run down of whats going on right now.

"It is not only Egyptians who want free and fair elections, and not only the Arab world that is resisting US-backed tyranny."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Rational Market Participants and the emotional stability of your average five-year-old

First, yesterday's post from Doug Henwood....

Headline from this morning‘s DealBook, the M&A newsletter from the New York Times, edited by Andrew Ross Sorkin:

Will Egypt Crisis Hurt Deal-Making?

Isn’t that the first question that leapt to your mind too?

But Doug follows up to let us know that it now appears all is well:

Those market worries about Egypt yesterday? History! The Financial Times reports that “Investors return to risk as Egypt fears ease.” Today is, as they say, a “risk-on” day.

Why are market participants seen as rational evaluators of anything? My five-year-old is more emotionally stable than your average trader.