Friday, August 29, 2014

For Elizabeth Warren, like Most Democrats, Progressivism Ends at Water's Edge

Elizabeth Warren, my senator, has managed to make a name for herself in her short Senate career so far. She has helped to add some much-needed energy to what some like to call "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," the part of it willing to take on the banks, to defend social insurance program, and to fight for seniors, students, and the middle-class broadly speaking.

Although her voting record is one of the best among the Senate Democrats, however, it is by no means perfect. She's been on the wrong side of the Democratic split a few times--voting to reduce the estate tax and to repeal the medical device tax and voting against GMO labeling.  She's also voted party line on some bad votes--the confirmations of John Brennan and Penny Pritzker as well as the NDAA, for example.

Elizabeth Warren's progressivism, moreover, has always been domestic in scope. She might be a war skeptic at times (as with Syria last summer), but she does not offer a concrete foreign policy alternative to the hawkishness of the Democratic Party leadership, parroting the party line instead.
I was thus not surprised--albeit still disappointed--to see her response last week to constituents' questions about Israel's attack on Gaza:
But when the man in the green Hawaiian shirt stood up, Warren went from voicing her support for those local causes to defending her vote to send $225 million to Israel in its ongoing conflict with Hamas.
"We are disagreeing with Israel using their guns against innocents. It's true in Ferguson, Missouri, and it's true in Israel," said Harwich resident John Bangert, who identified himself as a Warren supporter but said the $225 million could have been spent on infrastructure or helping immigrants fleeing Central America.
"The vote was wrong, I believe," he added, drawing applause from several in the crowd.
Warren told Bangert she appreciated his comments, but "we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one."
"I think the vote was right, and I'll tell you why I think the vote was right," she said. "America has a very special relationship with Israel. Israel lives in a very dangerous part of the world, and a part of the world where there aren't many liberal democracies and democracies that are controlled by the rule of law. And we very much need an ally in that part of the world."
Warren said Hamas has attacked Israel "indiscriminately," but with the Iron Dome defense system, the missiles have "not had the terrorist effect Hamas hoped for." When pressed by another member of the crowd about civilian casualties from Israel's attacks, Warren said she believes those casualties are the "last thing Israel wants."
"But when Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they're using their civilian population to protect their military assets. And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself," Warren said, drawing applause.
Noreen Thompsen, of Eastham, proposed that Israel should be prevented from building any more settlements as a condition of future U.S. funding, but Warren said, "I think there's a question of whether we should go that far."
Elizabeth Warren is a very intelligent person; however, to say that killing civilians is the "last thing" that Israel wants implies an impressive degree of ignorance. More likely, she's lying through her teeth--not that that's any better. 

And although she stands with the totality of the Democratic caucus on this issue, she stands against a plurality of Democratic voters.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

TANF is Now Old Enough for TANF to Stop Caring About Its Well-Being by Liberty Equality Fraternity and TreesFollow

On August 22, 1994, twenty years ago to the day from yesterday, President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, known as “welfare reform.” As with most things that politicians call “reform,” it was an attempt to deform and restrict the existing system.

The bill replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program with the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, which block granted the program:

The TANF block grant fundamentally altered both the structure and the allowable uses of federal and state dollars previously spent on AFDC and related programs.  Under TANF, the federal government gives states a fixed block grant totaling $16.5 billion each year and requires them to maintain a certain level of state spending (totaling $10 billion to $11 billion a year), based on a state’s level of spending for AFDC and related programs prior to TANF’s creation.  (This state funding requirement is known as the “maintenance of effort” requirement, or MOE.)  Because the block grant has never been increased or adjusted for inflation, states received 32 percent less in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars in 2014 than they did in 1997.  State minimum-required contributions to TANF have declined even more.  To receive their full TANF block grant, states only have to spend on TANF purposes 80 percent of the amount they spent on AFDC and related programs in 1995.  That “maintenance of effort” requirement isn’t adjusted for inflation, either.
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), linked above, has a useful primer on TANF at 18. 
Let's look at the "welfare reform" that politicians from both parties praise as a success.

First of all, TANF families have declined dramatically, even when the number of families in poverty increased.

The number of families receiving such benefits per 100 families in poverty has also sharply declined.

TANF was not flexible enough to respond to the increase in need amidst the recession.

Maximum TANF benefits still leave families well below the poverty line.

TANF leads fewer children out of poverty than its predecessor did.

The value of TANF benefits has also fallen over the past 18 years.

Here is CBPP's conclusion:
Looking back over TANF’s history, it is impossible to reconcile the facts with claims that welfare reform was such an extraordinary success that we should use it as a model for reforming other safety net programs.  In TANF’s 18-year history, never-married mothers with a high school education or less made substantial gains in employment in only the first four years — largely due to the roaring economy of the late 1990s — and those gains have almost entirely eroded in the subsequent 14.  It is wishful thinking to assume that we could see the same employment gains we saw in TANF’s early years in today’s sluggish labor market.    
Similarly, the record shows that we cannot rely solely upon states to increase opportunity for the poor.  When states’ cash assistance caseloads fell substantially in the late 1990s, states could have used some of the freed-up funds to increase recipients’ employability.  Instead, they made other choices, including using TANF funds to fill budget holes and to substitute for state funds they had previously used to provide assistance to poor families.  If they wanted to increase opportunity now, they could do so by using more of their TANF funds to help TANF recipients and other low-income parents gain the education and skills they need to qualify for jobs that will help them escape poverty.      
Finally, in light of the growing body of research on the importance of income — and the devastating impact of poverty — on children’s early development, TANF’s far weakened role for families with the most significant employment barriers should cause concern for those who want to provide a better future for poor children.  The safety net (other than TANF) plays an extremely important role in reducing poverty and deep poverty in this country — a role that should be maintained.  The evidence from TANF suggests that applying TANF-like reforms to other safety net programs would likely cause more families to join the ranks of the deeply poor and cause some who are already deeply poor to become even poorer.
Now that we've surveyed what PRWORA has done, let's look at who voted for it. 
The bill passed the Senate 78 to 21. 25 Democrats, a narrow majority of the caucus, joined 53 Republicans in passing it.

Rather than going through all of the Democrats who voted for it or against it, let's just look at those still in the political spotlight.

Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, the former senators from Delaware and Massachusetts respectively, both voted for it.

Six senators who voted for the bill then are still in the Senate:

Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Carl Levin (D-MI)
Barb Mikulski (D-MD)
Harry Reid (D-NV)
Jay Rockefeller (W-WV)
Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Four Senators who voted against it then are still in the Senate:

Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Diane Feinstein (D-CA)
Pat Leahy (D-VT)
Patty Murray (D-WA)

The bill passed the House 328 to 101. Democrats split evenly 98-98.

18 of the 98 YEA votes are still in Congress.

Ben Cardin (D-MD), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tim Johnson (D-SD), and Jack Reed (D-RI) are in the Senate.

14 are still in the House:
Sanford Bishop (GA-02)
Pete DeFazio (OR-04)
John Dingell (MI-12)
Lloyd Doggett (TX-35)
Mike Doyle (PA-14)
Steny Hoyer (MD-05)
Marcy Kaptur (OH-09)
Sandy Levin (MI-09)
Nita Lowey (NY-17)
Jim Moran (VA-08)
Richard Neal (MA-01)
Frank Pallone (NJ-06)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Pete Visclosky (IN-01)

37 of the Democratic NAY votes are still in Congress.

Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are now in the Senate.

33 are in the House:
Xavier Becerra (CA-34)
Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)
Corrine Brown (FL-05)
Jim Clyburn (SC-06)
John Conyers (MI-13)
Elijah Cummings (MD-07)
Eliot Engel (NY-16)
Ann Eshoo (CA-18)
Chaka Fattah (PA-02)
Sam Farr (CA-20)
Gene Green (TX-29)
Luis Gutierrez (IL-04)
Alcee Hastings (FL-23)
Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)
Eddie B. Johnson (TX-30)
John Lewis (GA-05)
Zoe Lofgren (CA-19)
Carolyn Maloney (NY-12)
Jim McDermott (WA-07)
George Miller (CA-11)
Jerry Nadler (NY-10)
Ed Pastor (AZ-07)
Nancy Pelosi (CA-12)
Nick Rahall (WV-03)
Charlie Rangel (NY-13)
Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40)
Bobby Rush (IL-01)
Bobby Scott (VA-03)
Jose Serrano (NY-15)
Louise Slaughter (NY-25)
Bennie Thompson (MS-02)
Nydia Velazquez (NY-07)
Henry Waxman (CA-33)

Bernie Sanders (I-VT) voted against it as a representative and, of course, is now in the Senate.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Two Months Ago, Congress Voted 355 to 62 to Keep Militarizing the Police

Earlier tonight, when reading about how the Pentagon gave the Ferguson Police Department military-grade weapons, I remembered a vote Congress took two months ago. I wrote about it back then and am reproducing it below given its relevance to the nightmarish situation occurring right outside of St. Louis.

Friday, June 20, 2014

During the amendment voting for "defense" appropriations last night, Alan Grayson (FL-09) introduced an amendment to prohibit the use of funds to transfer aircraft (including unmanned aerial vehicles), armored vehicles, grenade launchers, silencers, toxicological agents, launch vehicles, guided missiles, ballistic missiles, rockets, torpedoes, bombs, mines, or nuclear weapons through the DOD Excess Personal Property Program established pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997.

There was a great article in the New York Times last week on the militarization of local police. Giving military weapons to local police departments is at best a colossal waste of money. At its worst, it can ruin--or end--innocent lives.

The amendment failed 62 to 355. 19 Republicans and 43 Democrats voted for it. 210 Republicans and 145 Democrats voted against it.

Here are the 19 Republicans:

Justin Amash (MI-03)
Jim Bridenstine (OK-01)
Paul Broun (GA-10)
Jimmy Duncan (TN-02)
Chris Gibson (NY-19)
Morgan Griffith (VA-09)
Walter Jones (NC-03)
Jim Jordan (OH-04)
Jack Kingston (GA-01)
Raul Labrador (ID-01)
Tom Massie (KY-04)
Tom McClintock (CA-04)
Scott Perry (PA-04)
Tom Petri (WI-06)
Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48)
Mark Sanford (SC-01)
John Shimkus (IL-15)
Chris Stewart (UT-02)
Steve Stockman (TX-36)

Here are the 43 Democrats:

John Barrow (GA-12)
Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)
Bruce Braley (IA-01)
Tony Cárdenas (CA-29)
Matt Cartwright (PA-17)
Kathy Castor (FL)
Judy Chu (CA-27)
John Conyers (MI-13)
Donna Edwards (MD-04)
Keith Ellison (MN-05)
Alan Grayson (FL-09)
Raul Grijalva (AZ-03)
Rush Holt (NJ-12)
Mike Honda (CA-17)
Hank Johnson (GA)
Barbara Lee (CA-13)
John Lewis (GA-05)
Dan Maffei (NY-24)
Jim Matheson (UT-04)
Doris Matsui (CA-06)
Jim McDermott (WA-07)
Jim McGovern (CA-02)
Jerry McNerney (CA-09)
George Miller (CA-11)
Jerry Nadler (NY-10)
Gloria Negrete McLeod (CA-35)
Beto O'Rourke (TX-16)
Frank Pallone (NJ-06)
Ed Perlmutter(CO-07)
Mark Pocan (WI-02)
Loretta Sanchez (CA-46)
John Sarbanes (MD-02)
Jan Schakowsky (IL-09)
Bobby Scott (VA-03)
Jose Serrano (NY-15)
Louise Slaughter (NY-25)
Adam Smith (WA-09)
Jackie Speier (CA-14)
Mark Takano (CA-41)
John Tierney (MA-06)
Paul Tonko (NY-20)
Nydia Velázquez (NY-07)
Maxine Waters (CA-43)


Ferguson's own representative, Democrat Lacy Clay (MO-01), voted against the amendment.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

37 House Democrats Urge Administration Against Atlantic Drilling

We elected the candidate with the "Drill, Baby, Drill!" slogan, right? No? Well, "all of the above" isn't that much different:
All signs point toward the administration giving the thumbs up to Atlantic drilling. In June, the administration gave its strongest signal to date that the Atlantic would likely be included in the Interior Department's five-year lease plan for 2017-2022, by opening it up to new oil and gas exploration for the first time in 30 years.
That decision followed the Interior Department’s release of an environmental review in February, setting guidelines for seismic surveys to test Atlantic waters for potential energy sources.
"It does not look good because, if he weren’t going to allow drilling, then he wouldn’t have opened the Atlantic to seismic tests," said Sara Young, a marine scientist for Oceana, a conservation group.
Geophysical research companies contracted by the oil and gas industry will need to apply for individual permits before conducting tests in the Atlantic for oil and gas deposits, and undergo further environmental reviews, but the decision was a clear victory for industry.
Last week, Representatives David Price (NC-04), Rush Holt (NJ-12), Niki Tsongas (MA-03), and Gerry Connolly (VA-11) led 32 other colleagues in the House in writing to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in opposition to Atlantic drilling.

Here is the text of the letter:
Dear Dr. Cruickshank:
We are writing in response to the initial Request for Information on the preparation of the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (Five-Year Program). As members of Congress with an interest in the health and economic vitality of the Atlantic Ocean, we would like to specifically request that all planning areas in the Atlantic be excluded from the 2017-2022 Five-Year Leasing Program.
Under the current 2012-2017 Five-Year Program the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) determined that lease sales in the Atlantic would not be appropriate due to the lack of infrastructure to support oil and gas exploration and development, as well as spill preparedness and response. Complex issues relating to potentially conflicting uses, including those of the Department of Defense, were also factors in making the determination under the current Five-Year Program.
We believe that the circumstances that informed the exclusion of Atlantic planning areas under the existing Five-Year Program remain unchanged. Additionally, significant federal, state, and local resources have been expended in an effort to improve the health of Atlantic fisheries, protect endangered and threatened species that rely on the Atlantic Ocean and coast, and ensure the continued economic vitality of coastal areas through recreation and tourism. We believe that allowing oil and gas development in the Atlantic would be inconsistent with and contrary to these ongoing efforts.
We are not opposed to offshore energy development in the Atlantic when that development is done carefully, sustainably, and protects critical coastal and marine environments and industries. We commend BOEM for its effort to lease and permit offshore wind energy projects along the Atlantic seaboard. The development of wind energy resources in the Atlantic will support jobs, generate revenues, and provide much needed clean, sustainable energy without threatening existing jobs and economic activity that would be endangered by oil and gas activities in the Atlantic. Advances in tidal and marine hydrokinetic power may similarly provide opportunities to harvest the energy potential of our oceans without subjecting our coasts and the marine environment to the threats associated with offshore oil and gas production.
Furthermore, climate change and ocean acidification have already begun to stress the Atlantic environment and ecosystem. Sea level rise and extreme weather events, exacerbated by warmer air and ocean temperatures, already threaten coastal communities. The massive destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy emphasized these risks and demonstrated the fragility of our coasts. We appreciate the work that BOEM has done to help our communities rebuild, but are concerned that these rebuilding efforts could be severely undermined by offshore oil and gas leasing. The Atlantic Ocean and the individuals that depend on this area, whether for their livelihoods or as recreational users, should not also be forced to contend with the threats of a major oil spill, or for that matter the widespread industrial development that would be necessary for developing an oil and gas industry in the Atlantic.
While states bordering the North Atlantic Planning Area are united in their opposition to offshore oil and gas drilling, we understand that elsewhere in the Atlantic there is likely to be interest in proceeding with oil and gas exploration and development. We believe that an analysis of drilling in the Atlantic should be holistic: ocean currents and marine species do not recognize artificially drawn planning boundaries, and the consideration of any individual Atlantic planning area should also include an analysis of the potential effects on neighboring planning areas and throughout the entire ocean ecosystem.
We appreciate the efforts of the Department of the Interior to improve the safety and oversight of offshore drilling, but we are simply unwilling to accept the tremendous risks of an oil spill in the Atlantic, which would vastly outweigh any potential gains from drilling. We again thank you for excluding Atlantic leasing from the 2012-2017 program and ask that you consider our strong opposition to future leasing in the Atlantic through all stages of development of the 2017-2022 Five-Year Program.

Here are the 37 total co-signers, organized by state:
Connecticut Delegation

Rosa DeLauro (CT-03)

Delaware Delegation
John Carney

District of Columbia Delegation
Eleanor Holmes Norton

Florida Delegation

Corinne Brown (FL-05)
Kathy Castor (FL-14)
Alcee Hastings (FL-20)
Ted Deutch (FL-21)
Lois Frankel (FL-22)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23)

Maine Delegation
Chellie Pingree (ME-01)
Mike Michaud (ME-02)

Maryland Delegation
John Sarbanes (MD-03)
Chris Van Hollen (MD-08)

Massachusetts Delegation
Richard Neal (MA-01)
Jim McGovern (MA-02)
Niki Tsongas (MA-03)
Joe Kennedy (MA-04)
Katherine Clark (MA-05)
John Tierney (MA-06)
Mike Capuano (MA-07)
Stephen Lynch (MA-08)
Bill Keating (MA-09)

New Hampshire Delegation

Annie Kuster (NH-02)
Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01)

New Jersey Delegation

Frank Pallone (NJ-06)
Albio Sires (NJ-08)
Bill Pascrell (NJ-09)
Rush Holt (NJ-12)

New York Delegation
Grace Meng (NY-06)
Paul Tonko (NY-20)

North Carolina Delegation
David Price (NC-04)

Rhode Island Delegation
David Cicilline (RI-01)
Jim Langevin (RI-02)

Virginia Delegation
Bobby Scott (VA-03)
Jim Moran (VA-08)
Gerry Connolly (VA-11)

As you can see, it had the support of the full Congressional delegations of Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. It also had the support of all members of the Democratic delegation from Virginia.

Most, but not all, of the co-signers represent coastal districts.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Robert Gibbs, Ben LaBolt Leave Liberal PR Firm to Join "War" Against Teachers Unions

A little over a month ago, I wrote about how Robert Gibbs and Ben LaBolt, Obama's former Press Secretary and Campaign Spokesman, had taken on a new project at their PR agency: helping former CNN anchor Campbell Brown in her war against teacher tenure.

Well, that new client didn't sit well with New Partners, the Democratic PR firm where their agency (The Incite Agency) is housed. And when Gibbs and LaBolt had to decide whether it was New Partners or the "war" against teachers, they chose war:
Through their firm, The Incite Agency, Labolt and Gibbs are supporting former CNN anchor Campbell Brown's fight against teacher tenure. Brown is wading into education politics through a group she calls the Partnership for Education Justice, which aims to tackle teachers' work protections by taking the fight to court. A week ago, her group filed a lawsuit in New York state that organized local families as plaintiffs in an effort to have tenure deemed unconstitutional.
"We are in a war, not a fight," Brown said in July at a charter schools convention in Las Vegas. "This is not partisan, we don't care what side of the aisle they're on. ... This is simply right versus wrong."
Gibbs' former co-workers saw it the same way. When he signed on with Brown, he was working with the Democratic firm New Partners. His liberal colleagues reacted angrily when news of the marriage surfaced, and the American Federation of Teachers made its displeasure known.
Gibbs and LaBolt had launched The Incite Agency in June 2013. It was housed within New Partners, but had its own employees and clients, Gibbs said, describing what is a fairly common business relationship in Washington.
Gibbs said the teachers union put pressure on New Partners as a result of his new client. "On Friday, June 27th, the principals at New Partners had a conference call to discuss the situation," Gibbs said in an email. "Only a couple of minutes into the call, I said I believed that there were only two paths forward -- either Incite dropped the client or Incite left New Partners. I announced I had no intention of dropping the client and that I had decided to leave New Partners, effective at the end of the day on June 30th."
 Change you can believe in....

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Israel-Palestine Blogging

Two pieces that I didn't get around to copying over from Daily Kos this week:

(1) A diary chronicling how the White House and Congress aid, abet, or encourage Israel's war crimes in Gaza

(2) A diary on the House vote to give Israel $225 million in supplemental military aid (above and beyond the $3.1 billion it already gets annually)

Let's hope this week is less depressing on this front.