The Rockin Johnny B

Friday, September 9, 2011

Oh boy, new stuff to ponder

GOP subverts redistricting process
   In 1993, a super-majority of Idahoans amended the state Constitution to create a bi-partisan redistricting commission. Twothirds of the voters supported this amendment because it removed the process of redrawing legislative and congressional lines from the Legislature, eliminated the direct influence of incumbents, and prevented the majority party from overreaching its power to repress opposition.
   Unlike the 2001 redistricting commission, the current commission was unable to pass new maps for Idaho’s legislative and congressional districts. The 90-day clock ran out Tuesday.
   The Democratic commissioners acted in good faith to reach a compromise. Our first proposal was an attempt to best honor the Idaho Constitutional requirement to keep counties as whole as possible. Legal precedent has determined that the only time a county should be split would be to reach equal population, as required by the U.S. Constitution.
   The Republican concerns with our proposal were that it violated Idaho statutes, in particular a new statute passed in 2009 which states that counties within a district should have a state or federal highway connecting them. Our final proposals addressed statute concerns, albeit cutting more counties than we felt necessary and therefore subject to a constitutional challenge, but nevertheless we proposed it in the 
spirit of compromise.
   The Republicans continued to accuse us of being too greedy, too political and unreasonable. This left us scratching our heads; our proposals addressed their voiced concerns. We made changes to almost every district, we worked to keep counties whole and honor the statutes.
   Our proposals do not give the Democrats any gains statewide or congressionally. In fact, some of our compromise proposals result in a political loss from current maps. The commission is bi-partisan, not non-partisan. This is designed to ensure that the majority party does not draw the lines to suppress the influence of the minority.
   In a state where even President Obama received a statewide vote of 37 percent, the Democratic political makeup in the state Legislature is barely 20 percent. If this were about political gains, our proposals could have looked very different.
   If the Commission had begun discussions from the Constitution, which states that we should keep counties whole, the political discussion would have been drastically limited. Yet the Republican commissioners insisted on weighing all the guidelines, statutes and the Constitution with the same importance.
   We argued that doing so erodes the constitutional framework designed to protect Idahoans. A constitutional approach prevents the commission from using its authority inappropriately, and it prevents the Legislature from using statutes to influence the process.
   The Supreme Court held in Bingham v Idaho Commission for Reapportionment (2002) that statutes must be considered, but “they are subordinate to the Constitutional standard of voter equality and the restrictions in the Idaho Constitution.” Simply stated, constitutions come first.
   But with a deadline fast approaching, we accepted that the Republicans were not going to approach mapping from legal precedent, so we moved drastically in their direction. We worked in good faith to address their concerns.
   Then new concerns were voiced. The bait-and-switch tactics used in the last minute negotiations stymied progress. Also in the final hours, the Republican co-chair gaveled down for a recess and refused to let Democratic Commissioner Moses introduce a proposal with reasonable time for consideration. These tactics leave us wondering if there was ever a Republican intention to reach a compromise in the first place.
   There remains plenty of room to compromise, if there isn’t a Republican covert agenda to strangle Democratic and moderate influence and to dismantle the spirit of the redistricting commission.
   The unfortunate reality is that this commission has taken the state to a place we have never been, and it is now up to the Supreme Court to determine where we go from here.
   Allen Andersen of Pocatello, George Moses of Boise and Julie Kane of Lapwai are Democratic Members of the Idaho Redistricting Commission.

Gerrymandering alive and well right here in Idaho?  Oh yeah!

Quote of the Century: Mitt Romney on the Middle Class

| Tue Sep. 6, 2011 9:53 PM PDT
From Mitt Romney, explaining step 3 of his 59-step plan to get to get America back to work:
You know, of course, Greta, who has been most hurt by the Obama economy. And it's people in middle incomes. And so what I want to do is lower taxes for middle-income Americans. And so I will remove, for middle-income Americans, people earning under $200,000 a year, any tax on interest, dividends or capital gains.  Let people save their money and use their money as they feel best with education, with their future, planning for retirement. Look, we've got to reduce the burden on middle-income Americans. They're just — they're just struggling right now.
I'm not sure which is more breathtaking: Romney's suggestion that someone earning $200,000 is "middle income," or his implication that actual middle-income Americans have more than a minuscule amount of investment income in the first place.
For the record, in 2004 the Tax Policy Center estimated that a median earner would save a whopping $70 if taxes on interest, dividends, and capital gains were eliminated completely. That's right: $70. Seven zero.
Of course, Romney has paired up this proposal with another one to eliminate the estate tax completely, which would save median earners zero dollars but save the super rich millions. The cynicism here is almost off the charts.
What country does Mitt live in?  $200,000 per year?  Middle Income?  My God Mitt, you are a nut-job and you are gonna give these lucky folks $70 in tax savings...whoopee!  This is what I mean about the Righties.  They are simply out in left field.

Rick Perry's Texas Miracle—for Corporations

The governor gave big companies hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to create jobs. When they failed to deliver, he fudged the numbers.
Thu Sep. 8, 2011 3:00 AM PDT
Over the past several years Gov. Rick Perry has crisscrossed his home state, braggingabout the Texas Enterprise Fund, his economic program that has given millions of taxpayer dollars to corporations such as Caterpillar Inc., Texas Instruments, and Home Depot. The TEF program is supposed to draw businesses to the state and create jobs. It has been a centerpiece of the so-called Texas economic miracle Perry now touts on the presidential campaign trail. 
But there is a problem behind his happy Texas tale: The program appears not to have worked nearly as well as Perry claims. The governor has repeatedly overstated how many jobs it has created, according to several Texas-based advocacy and research groups. Moreover, Perry's office has stonewalled attempts to get clearer information about the program's lackluster results. 
The TEF program requires applicants to agree to produce a certain number of jobs by a certain date in exchange for a grant, the largest of which have been a pair of $50 million awards granted to the Texas Institute for Genomic Medicine and Texas Instruments back in 2004 and 2005. (Former presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty enacted a similar program during his time as governor of Minnesota.) Recipients are supposed to face a "clawback" penalty on the funds if they fail to meet their hiring targets. 
In January 2010, Perry's office claimed that TEF had created 54,600 jobs since it began in 2003. But company-reported data shows that, by the end of 2009, fewer than 23,000 jobs could be attributed to TEF. And two-thirds of TEF-backed companies failed to meet their job targets. The program handed out nearly $440 million during that period.
But the Perry administration hasn't exactly gone hard on corporations that have fallen short. In 2007, TEF awarded Lockheed Martin with nearly $5.5 million; in return, the company promised to create 800 new jobs by the end of 2008. Subsequently, Lockheed quietly renegotiated its deal with Perry's office, agreeing to just 550 new jobs from 2007 through 2014, explaining the lower number as a result of "federal cutbacks." In exchange, TEF also lowered its grant to Lockheed to $4 million unless the company managed to meet its original hiring target of 800. Meanwhile, Perry's office didn't collect any clawback penalties from Lockheed—while continuing to report that it had created 800 jobs.
This scenario—Perry's office allowing companies to amend their job targets while continuing to tout the higher, unrealized target—was replicated in more than a dozen other instances in 2009, Texans for Public Justice (TPJ) found. The group's 2010 reportdrew on campaign finance fillings, company-reported hiring data, and the Perry administration's own numbers.
The program also suffers from a conspicuous lack of transparency, according to Andrew Wheat, the research director for TPJ. Wheat says that his colleagues intended to use government data from 2010 to assess the program, but they were forced to rely on numbers from 2009. "We put in a request to get that data covering 2010," he said. "We're still waiting."
Even if Perry's office disclosed its TEF numbers more expediently, Wheat argues, the game would still be rigged. "Imagine what the bean counter's job is like," he said. "On the one hand, you're supposed to be conservatively protecting taxpayer dollars and imposing clawbacks, basically enforcing a contract. On the other hand, you know that this is the centerpiece of your boss' campaign. So it has to be presented as a success."
Don Baylor, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, says there is no way to verify Perry's claims more broadly. "It's quite simply not possible to know whether these companies would have come to Texas without the cash," Baylor says.
One thing is clear, though: Perry paid for a sizable chunk of TEF at the expense of Texas' unemployed. Because the Texas Legislature is required to submit a balanced budget every two years, any new spending programs must be offset by an equal amount in spending cuts. So in 2005, to offset spending on TEF, Perry created a 0.1 percent employer unemployment insurance tax. To offset that increase, the general unemployment insurance tax rate was reduced by 0.1 percent. From 2005 to 2009, that resulted in a transfer of almost $162 million from the unemployment fund directly to Perry's TEF fund.
Politicians of both parties are clamoring for clarity on TEF. Last year, former gubernatorial candidate and mayor of Houston Bill White, a Democrat, called for a formal audit of TEF spending on a biotech lab based at Texas A&M University, Perry's alma mater. His objective was simple: to get a clear explanation of why certain companies had been allowed to reduce their employment goals after they'd already been awarded TEF money. "We asked for basic information, such as whether companies had met the original projections or commitments for increased employment they had submitted to the state when wanting the taxpayers to finance their businesses," White said. His call for a public audit was ignored.
State Republicans also take serious issue with Perry's program—especially tea party members like Rep. David Simpson. "It's legal plunder," Simpson told Bloomberg. "You can't avoid the appearance of impropriety when you take money from everyone and you give it to a select few."
That problem is only compounded by the fact that over the years, a number of the the program's beneficiaries—including huge banks like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America—have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Perry-associated PACs.
Even without the program, Texas' low-tax, heavily deregulated business climate may well have shielded it from the worst of the recession. But thanks to Perry's not-so-sly system of corporate welfare, we may never know for sure.
Face it, Rick Perry is a fool and a liar.  He's also a bad bet for the Republicans.  However, it would be great if he was the one running against Obama in the next election.  The President would kill him in the voting booths.  Perry has no idea what Real Americans demand in a leader. 

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