fresh voices from the front lines of change







Each morning, Bill Scher and Terrance Heath serve up what progressives need to affect change on the kitchen-table issues families face: jobs, health care, green energy, financial reform, affordable education and retirement security.

Economy Comes Back Into Focus

President Obama meets with middle-class families in Columbus, OH today reports AP.

W. Post's Dan Balz previews Ohio senate and governor races: "[Rob] Portman, who is running for the Senate, was the chief trade officer and White House budget director for President George W. Bush. [John] Kasich, a former congressman who is running for governor, spent a decade working for Lehman Brothers, the Wall Street firm whose collapse helped trigger the massive economic retraction. Together, their races may provide the nation's clearest test of whether the Democrats' strategy of running against Bush and Wall Street can overcome a political climate tilted clearly toward the Republicans."

Some GOPers worry that candidate are letting Manhattan Muslim community center issue distract from voters' concerns about the economy. W. Post: "Pollster David Winston, who advises GOP congressional leaders, worries that the mosque controversy could overshadow the issues voters care about most. '...when it comes to voting, the election is going to be about the economy and jobs," he said. ... 'One of the biggest dangers in politics is to overplay an issue,' said former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie..." Katrina vanden Heuvel: "It's about Main Street, not the mosque."

WH econ aide rejects proposal to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. HuffPost: "...Jared Bernstein, Vice President Joseph Biden's chief economist, expressed skepticism with a plan to 'phase out' the tax cuts for the wealthy as opposed to simply allowing those tax cuts to expire (as scheduled) later this year ... '[There's a] fear that a temporary extension could be made permanent,' Bernstein said. 'What you are talking about -- a $30 to 40 billion range in terms of adding to the deficit by extending the high end -- could easily become $700 billion over a ten-year budget window.' ... Bernstein's comments are the closest that White House aides have come to fully rejecting the idea and they portend an even more dramatic and heated political fight once the issue of the Bush tax cuts re-emerges following Congress' August recess."

Some school districts saving state aid to avert future layoffs instead of re-hiring the already laid off. NYT: "With the economic outlook weakening, they argue that big deficits are looming for the next academic year and that they need to preserve the funds to prevent future layoffs ... Teachers’ unions are strongly urging districts to use the money right away to keep class sizes manageable and to reduce the jobless rolls. 'The intent is to help districts avert layoffs now,' said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers ..."

W. Post's Harold Meyerson counsels Dems to embrace bolder pro-manufacturing ideas: "Democrats have responded to these numbers by throwing together some modest pro-manufacturing legislation, but it's all fairly small beer. A bolder and more effective proposal is that of Intel's legendary former chief executive Andy Grove, which ran in Bloomberg BusinessWeek last month: Tax the products of off-shored labor, and put the proceeds in a fund that can be tapped by American businesses increasing their American hiring."

Waiting for the Fed to take action to boost the economy? W. Post's Neil Irwin says "Don't hold your breath": "Although last week's action reflects a deepening concern at the Fed over the sluggish pace of growth, policymakers remain reluctant to undertake broader efforts to stimulate the economy, viewing their policy tools as uncertain to be effective."

The overstretched military is hurting the economy, argues Lawrence Korb and Loren Thompson in LAT oped: "...with a $1.47-trillion federal deficit, the government is spending $4 billion it does not have each day, and our forces must shrink ... America's eroding economic might makes unilateralism too costly to be feasible. Washington needs to help overseas friends play a bigger security role so it can concentrate on rebuilding its economy."

Virgina senators push back against Defense Sec. Gates' plan to shut contractor-heavy agency. W. Post: "...the Norfolk-based Joint Forces Command [is] a tempting target for Gates, in part because it has relied so heavily on contractors ... As noted last month by the Defense Business Board, a group of current and former defense officials and corporate executives that Gates has reviewing the defense budget, JFCOM now 'has more contractors on its payroll than government military and civilian personnel.' The board recommended that the command be closed. Virginia's two U.S. senators and four senior congressmen asked Gates late last week to review his decision."

Warren Meets With Bank Lobbyists

Elizabeth Warren met with top bank lobbyists about consumer protection bureau, reports. W. Post: "Warren and Roundtable President Steve Bartlett spoke at length in his office about the role of the new regulatory agency ... Neither Roundtable officials nor Warren were eager to publicize last week's encounter ..."

TNR's Noam Scheiber sees significance in Kentucky Dem Senate candidate Jack Conway backing Warren: "The White House would obviously want to make sure the political upside to nominating her is reasonably big, given the aforementioned costs on the Hill ... the fact that a Senate nominee in Kentucky--hardly a bastion of liberalism--can make a plausible political case for endorsing Warren suggests her nomination will have some resonance in middle America."

Conservatives Double Down On Climate Denial

Many conservative congressional and gubernatorial candidates are unabashed global warming deniers. Politico: "'Deniers?' [Colorado GOP Senate nominee Ken] Buck replied. 'Okay, okay, I’m one of those folks.' ... Gene Karpinksi, president of the League of Conservation Voters [said] 'Republicans running for Senate, House and governor who question the sound and settled science of climate change are following in the footsteps of a Republican leadership team that is heavily financed by and strongly influenced by Big Oil,'..."

Time's Bryan Walsh says we can't let one government study of the Gulf spill make us complacent: "...t's important to realize that while we can't put hard numbers on how much oil is still out there, it's also hard to get a firm fix on the risks — if any — the remaining crude presents to the Gulf environment ... we need many more studies — and we need them from multiple sources, because as long as the cleanup remains and the legal issues from the spill are still in the air, the Gulf is effectively a crime scene."

King Coal is admitting it can't be clean and survive without huge subsidies. Grist's David Roberts: "This is a pretty extraordinary statement from [Duke CEO Jim Rogers,] a utility executive who makes his business on coal and nuclear: If coal is forced to be clean, it will be rendered uneconomic. And nuclear is already uneconomic! That leaves natural gas (and wind, efficiency, combined heat and power, solar, etc., though of course Rogers omits them) to fill the gap ... The industry is saying, 'If you don't give us massive subsidies to develop [carbon capture technology], we might wither away!' But, not to put to fine a point on it, so what?"

Wonk Room's Brad Johnson traps top oil lobby economist: "API chief economist John Felmy has claimed a report commissioned by the Center for American Progress finds that '$1 billion increase in oil and natural gas industry taxes destroys 5,000 jobs,' ... In his interview with the Wonk Room, Felmy recognized that the report [actually] concluded that you would get four times as many clean energy jobs as oil jobs from the same investment ... He admitted that if you invest money in clean energy instead of oil and gas: 'I have no doubts you can get a lot more jobs.'"

Big Oil planning "citizen rallies." The Hill: "The leading trade association for oil and gas companies is ramping up its public advocacy campaign this summer ahead of congressional debate this fall that includes efforts to clamp down on tax benefits for the industry."

States clamor for federal high-speed rail funds. The Transport Politic: "...the United States Department of Transportation ... has received 77 applications worth $8.5 billion for the agency’s next allocation of construction grants. States have oversubscribed to a program that only has $2.3 billion in Congressionally approved funds to distribute this year — and have done so after committing to paying at least 20% of project costs ... this most recent announcement demonstrates a solidification of state support for high-speed rail. The federal government is expected to announce the winners of the award dollars on September 30th."

While some conservative gubernatorial candidates seek to stoke high-speed rail backlash.'s Bill Scher: "While [Wisconsin's Scott] Walker has taken the most audacious stance against federally-supported high-speed rail among gubernatorial candidates, California's Meg Whitman and Ohio's John Kasich have also announced opposition to projects in their states ... Conservative candidates in other states receiving federal high-speed rail funds such as Florida, Iowa, Oregon, Missouri, Illinois and Michigan have not prioritized the issue, at least not yet."

Fannie/Freddie Reform In The Works

Geithner previews housing reform strategy at Treasury summit. Bloomberg'There is a strong case to be made for a carefully designed guarantee in a reformed system,' aimed at providing access to mortgages, even during economic slumps, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said. 'The challenge is to make sure that any government guarantee is priced to cover the risk of losses and structured to minimize taxpayer exposure.' ... Representative Barney Frank ... has begun work on overhaul legislation and will hold hearings in September. Geithner has promised to deliver a 'comprehensive' plan for the housing-finance system by January ... The question remains how a new guarantee would work. Ideas at the meeting included a government backstop of last resort for some mortgage-backed securities."

Rep. Barney Frank wants Fannie and Freddie replaced, with a stronger emphasis on renters: "... not everybody should be a homeowner. There are people in this society who for economic and frankly social reasons can't and shouldn't be homeowners. I do want some government help to build affordable rental housing."

W. Post reports growing consensus to reform, not replace, Fannie & Freddie: "The administration is now trying to recreate what was good about Fannie and Freddie without returning to what was overly risky. An emerging consensus, including among many of the panelists at the conference, favors maintaining Fannie and Freddie -- or several similar entities -- as heavily regulated companies that offer a guarantee to investors in high-quality mortgage loans. The federal government would stand behind that guarantee."

In an interview with Ezra Klein, Dean Baker says we've lost about $6 trillion in housing wealth, and can expect to lose more: "... the best thing to do is help the homeowners who are losing their homes. The basic story there is to give them the right to rent their places for some period of time."

The Boston Fed argues there may have never been a housing bubble. CJR's Ryan Chittum: "The Financial Times’s Alphaville and Reuters’s Felix Salmon take down both sides of a Boston Federal Reserve paper finding that economists who called the housing bubble were basically just lucky—'That Reasonable People Did Disagree' on whether there was one, and the bulls had a reasonable case. Yikes."

Bankruptcy courts "busier than they've been in years" reports McClatchy: "...bankruptcy filings rose 20 percent in the 12-month period ending June 30, according to records released Tuesday. The 1.57 million cases filed in federal courts were more than at any time since Congress tightened bankruptcy rules in 2005."

Still Digging For Death Panels

Conservatives still grasping at "death panel" straws. Brendan Nyhan: "The latest example comes from bloggers Ann Althouse, Jim Hoft, and Doug Ross, who claim that the decision by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to conduct a National Coverage Determination for the prostate cancer treatment Provenge is evidence of a 'death panel' ... First, in terms of the specific claims about Provenge, CMS hasn't denied coverage ... [Second, d]enying coverage at a system level for specific treatments or drugs is not equivalent to 'decid[ing], based on a subjective judgment of [individual patients'] 'level of productivity in society,'..."

Consumers win, insurers lose as state insurance commissioners unanimously agree on accounting standards for medical spending under health reform law. Politico: "[The vote was] necessitated by the health reform bill’s requirement that insurers spend at least 85 percent of subscriber premiums on medical costs in the large group market and 80 percent for small group and individual plans. ... They approved amendments that narrow inclusions of utilization review in the calculation and expand the definition of 'wellness and health promotion activities' to include 'public health marketing campaigns that are performed in conjunction with state or local health departments.' The one rejected amendment would have allowed insurers to count accreditation fees as a 'quality improvement' cost, thus making it a part of medical spending."

AFL-CIO's James Parks writes that even as American workers are cutting back on health care, insurance companies are raising premiums:: "Between 2007 and 2009, more than 25 percent of Americans reduced their use of health care—two to five times the rate than in Britain, Canada, France and Germany, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Here’s one big reason why: Nearly 15 percent of Americans are uninsured, while the other countries have near-universal coverage ... [Meanwhile,] CEOs of the nation’s health care companies made nearly $1 billion last year..."

Standing Up For Social Security

Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy takes pledge to oppose Social Security cuts. Where does your representative stand? Join our Hands Off Social Security campaign.

Project Syndicate's Robert Skildelsky rips the European Central Bank for baseless deficit hysteria: "One implausible hypothesis follows another ... The ECB’s arguments look to me like scraping the bottom of the intellectual barrel. The truth is that it is not fear of government bankruptcy, but governments’ determination to balance the books, that is reducing business confidence by lowering expectations of employment, incomes, and orders. The problem is not the hole in the budget; it is the hole in the economy"

Breakfast Sides

Shirley Sherrod speaks out, via the NAACP: "Back in March, I delivered a speech to an NAACP Freedom Fund banquet in my home state of Georgia. I drew on my personal life story to urge poor people, white and black, to pull together and overcome racial divisions. We have to understand that our struggle is against poverty and against those who are blocking our path out of poverty. Unless we figure this out, I warned, our communities won't thrive and our children won't prosper. "

Anti-immigrant AZ sheriff may get sued by the feds. W. Post: "Justice Department officials in Washington have issued a rare threat to sue Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio if he does not cooperate with their investigation of whether he discriminates against Hispanics."

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