Archive | April 27, 2012

Student loan interest rates bill OK’d by House, but there’s a catch

Is our fearless leader really so feckless? Can he not see the Rove propaganda machine employs the same tactic over and over — tying legislation that would benefit the poor and middle-class to legislation that would provide tax breaks and other advantages to the super-wealthy?

From The Raw Story:

President Barack Obama threatened on Friday to veto a House Republican bill that would keep government-backed student loan interest rates at their current level because of a poison-pill amendment, even though his veto would play directly into an obvious trap laid by Republican political strategist Karl Rove.

President Obama has said repeatedly that student loan rates must not go up — which they will on July 1 without Congressional action — and the Interest Rate Reduction Act would indeed accomplish those ends. However, it would do so by eliminating the Prevention and Public Health Fund, a key part of Obama’s health care reforms.

“This is a politically-motivated proposal and not the serious response that the problem facing America’s college students deserves,” the administration said Friday in a policy statement (PDF), threatening a veto the bill if it lands on Obama’s desk.

The bill passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Friday afternoon by a margin of 215-195, with votes falling mostly along party lines.

That veto could be issued at hazard to the president, who’s facing a political Catch-22 thanks to a new strategy hatched by former Bush political adviser Karl Rove. Rove’s political action committee, American Crossroads, has a new ad out this week that makes a pitch for the youth vote by condemning Obama as a “cool” president who’s somehow causing students to struggle…

If the president is forced to veto the booby-trapped student loan bill, it will enable Republicans to ultimately claim that the president is doing little to help young people. Without Congressional action, however, government-backed student loan rates will double on July 1, which will make college significantly more expensive for 7.5 million American students, according to the liberal think tank Center for American Progress.

Obama should get out in front on this one, speaking directly to Americans about the GOP’s dirty tactics, day after day, rather than standing around and pretending his hands are tied before the final vote — which is a pretty good description of how he has conducted himself at crucial times throughout his first term.

I am so surprised

Imagine that:

Republic Report has learned that the Washington Post Company’s Kaplan for-profit college division, was, last year, a member of the controversial business advocacy group the American Legislative Exchange Council. Other major for-profit education companies also joined ALEC. Republic Report has obtained a July 2011 document showing Kaplan Higher Education and other for-profits as members of ALEC’s Education Task Force. This morning, in an email message to Republic Report, Mark Harrad, Vice President of Communications at Kaplan, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Washington Post Company that includes Kaplan Higher Education, wrote, “A unit of Kaplan was a member of ALEC for a one year period, which ended in August 2011.”

For-profit colleges are the ultimate special interest. Many receive around 90 percent of their revenue from federal financial aid, more than $30 billion a year, and many charge students sky-high prices. In recent years, it has been fully documented that a large number of these schools have high dropouts rates and dismal job placement, and many have been caught engaging in highly coercive and deceptive recruiting practices. Yet when the bad actions of these predatory schools got publicly exposed, the schools simply used the enormous resources they’ve amassed to hire expensive lobbyists and consultants, and to make campaign contributions to politicians, in order to avoid accountability and keep taxpayer dollars pouring into their coffers.

Paul Ryan renounces his god, Ayn Rand

Paul Ryan renouncing Ayn Rand is like Peter denying Christ, except that Anne Rand was a batty old atheist who preached a self-serving “philosophy” called objectivism.

ThinkProgress explains why the news of Ryan’s loss of faith seems so shocking at first glance:

In 2005, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) heaped praise on Ayn Rand, a 20th-century libertarian novelist best known for her philosophy that centered on the idea that selfishness is “virtue.” The New Republic wrote:

“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” Ryan said at a D.C. gathering four years ago honoring the author of “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead…”

But today, Ryan is singing a far different tune. From an interview with National Review’s Bob Costa this week:

“I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview…”

Key word: atheist. More here.

The postman always swings twice

As Kenneth pointed out this week, the Bush-era bill that put the postal service in dire straits by requiring decades of pre-funded health benefits was nothing but a blatant attempt to break their union. Now the Senate is attempting to rectify that (because closing post offices is extremely unpopular with constituents), but they’ve included a provision that will slash current workers comp payments by 25 percent. Imagine that. It’s a pretty large chunk of pain, because about half of federal workers out on workers comp are postal workers.

Working for your government has really become a thankless job:

The Senate passed sweeping U.S. Postal Service reform legislation by a 62-37 vote Wednesday, after months of debate and procedural halts on the measure.

The legislation (S. 1789) allows the agency to offer buyout and early retirement incentives to 100,000 employees, switches to five-day delivery if officials cannot come up with other cost savings within two years, and restructures a requirement that the Postal Service prefund its retirement health benefits with more than $5 billion annually.

It would transfer more than $11 billion from the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund to the Postal Service to help process the large number of USPS employees scheduled to retire in the next few years. It also expands the alternatives USPS must consider before closing a post office.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that a previous version of the bill would cost the government $6.3 billion in the next 10 years, a figure USPS has disputed.

New amendments passed into the bill this week scale back workers’ compensation benefits, curtail USPS executive compensation to a level on par with Cabinet secretaries and addresses the backlog of USPS retirement claims at the Office of Personnel Management.

Labor unions were particularly displeased with the inclusion of the workers compensation provision. The measure, first introduced by S. 1789 co-sponsor Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, would give workers injured on the job 50 percent of their pre-disability pay upon reaching retirement age. Under current law, employees disabled on the job can get up to 75 percent of their basic salaries tax-free, plus medical-related expenses. About half the federal employees who currently receive workers’ comp are postal workers.

I would love to see Susan Collins carry all those packages until she understands the strain it puts on the human body. But maybe she’s really an android.

[…] An amendment introduced late Wednesday by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., however, establishes workers’ compensation for government employees injured by acts of terrorism or in zones of armed conflict.

Because somehow it hurts more if a terrorist puts you out of commission? Or is it because it prevents an embarrassing public relations problem, like the one at Ground Zero?

Standing his ground

Even a toddler can execute his 2nd Amendment rights!

A 3-year-old Port Arthur boy is recovering at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston from serious wounds he received during an accidental shooting on Tuesday.

“It looks like it’s just a tragic accident,” said Shari Pulliam with Child Protective Services. The state agency is investigating the shooting alongside Port Arthur police officers.

The injured boy, who remains in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, was shot outside his home in the 3200 block of 40th Street when his 2-year-old brother picked up 9 mm Glock pistol and the gun discharged.

The bullet hit the 3-year-old boy on his backside.

Major Raymond Clark with the Port Arthur Police Department said the gun did not have a safety to keep it from firing.

Clark said the boys’ father left the gun in the seat of a truck while the boys were playing in the front yard. Clark added that when the boys’ father went back inside the house to get something, the younger brother got the gun from the truck.

Y’all come back, now

Talk about Southern hospitality! Apparently South Carolina has really rolled out the red carpet for ALEC, carving out a special exemption in the state’s lobbying law to allow legislators some very special one-on-one time to plot their state-by-state right-wing legislative takeovers. Isn’t that just the sweetest thing? Bless their hearts:

ALEC has insisted that it is the victim of a “well-funded, expertly coordinated intimidation campaign.” It also denies accusations that it is a lobbying firm pressing state lawmakers to pass conservative legislation, though ethics watchdog group Common Cause has filed a lawsuit with the IRS, alleging that ALEC is a lobbying group and challenging its nonprofit status.

Yet there’s no doubt that ALEC is an influential organization among conservative legislators, and that the extent of its reach is just beginning to become clear. It is such an integral group in some circles, in fact, that South Carolina law actually carves out a special ethics exemption just for ALEC.

[image display=”thumb” link=”source” align=”right” alt=”davewilkins.jpg” width=”220″ height=”220″ id=”16723″]Good old Dave Wilkins was also the state chairman for the Bush campaign.[/image]

The state’s lobbying law has a section governing how lobbyists can interact with public officials. They cannot, for example, pay for an official’s lodging or transportation. However, there are exceptions, one of which is for functions held by ALEC (emphasis added).

[…] ALEC is the only organization to get an individual carve-out in the section.

The outings that ALEC organizes for politicians are essential to its influence. At these retreats, ALEC officials work with state lawmakers to craft new legislation.

As the Post-Courier in Charleston recently reported, some of ALEC’s “model laws” have been making their way into the South Carolina legislature. The state passed a voter ID law last year, for example, which had similar language to a model bill that ALEC had proposed.

State Rep. Boyd Brown (D-Fairfield) discovered the exemption in the lobbying law on Wednesday.

“I am disgusted that this group has been specifically exempted from ethics laws in the state of South Carolina,” said Brown in a statement. “I am appalled but not surprised that an extremist group such as ALEC wields such influence in the South Carolina General Assembly.”

Brown also told The Huffington Post that he would introduce a bill on Thursday to strike the (a) and (b) exemptions, although he did not expect the GOP-controlled legislature to pass it anytime soon.

House Democratic Caucus Director Tyler Jones said the ALEC exemption was the work of former state House Speaker and ALEC member David Wilkins, who later served as President George W. Bush’s ambassador to Canada and as transition committee chair for South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R). Wilkins was the lead sponsor on the lobbying bill and chose the conference committee members. Wilkins did not return a request for comment.

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