The Middle Class ‘Under Attack’

A blog post from Mark Price, originally published on Third and State.

At the Keystone Research Center, we have been chronicling for years the forces that are putting a tighter and tighter squeeze on middle-class Pennsylvanians.

Last week, we released a new report in partnership with the national policy center Demos that takes the temperature of the state’s middle class in the wake of the Great Recession. I’m sorry to say, once again, the patient is not well.

The state’s annual unemployment rate is the highest it has been in nearly three decades and the cost of going to college is on the rise.

According to the report, times are particularly tough for Pennsylvania’s young people, with state budget cuts to 18% of public university funding and a 7.5% tuition hike in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education. Pennsylvania’s young people already bear the seventh highest rate of student debt in the nation – at approximately $28,000 on average.<!–break–>

A few more quick facts from the report:

  • Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate in 2010 (8.7%) was the highest rate in the state in 30 years.
  • At $10,761 for 2009-10, in-state tuition at Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities is well above the national average of $6,829.
  • Nearly three out of four of college graduates in Pennsylvania entered the labor force with student debt in 2009, and their average debt-$27,066-was the 7th highest in the nation.

Since the 1980s, the middle class has been under attack in Pennsylvania, and now we’re seeing the next generation being forced onto the downward economic escalator. That’s troubling for a number of reasons, but not least of all because it comes at the expense of our single greatest invention. As Bob Herbert, a former New York Times columnist and now a senior fellow at Demos, put it:

The middle class is more than an income bracket – it’s a promise, that if you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll earn enough to achieve a reasonable level of comfort and security, enough at the very least to support yourself, raise a family and enjoy the fruits of truly free society. That was a real 20th century invention – a novel possibility for regular people to enjoy that degree of freedom.

The middle class didn’t create itself, and its unraveling didn’t happen by accident. It reflects public policies that have squeezed the middle class and sent inequality soaring. Again, Herbert notes:

In some cases, we just failed to act – we let the minimum wage continue to lose its earning power, we let jobs be shipped overseas and did nothing to invest in new industries. We let the right to form a union be relentlessly attacked to the point where it’s now a real David and Goliath battle to unionize a company.

In other cases, we took action, but in the wrong direction, such as irresponsibly cutting taxes, which made it all but impossible to continue to invest in the types of public structures – our roads, schools, libraries, for example – that help all of us reach our full potential. In the four recessions since 1980, we’ve seen cuts to education, health care, infrastructure, and on and on. Tuition at public universities has tripled since 1980.

In the years leading up to the Great Recession, the middle class and the aspiring middle class had already lost tremendous ground. Now the ongoing jobs crisis – with nearly 5 workers for every 1 job that is currently available – and the cuts in vital state services have only deepened the pain and increased the emotional distress.

Before you get too depressed, there is good reason to have hope for the state’s long-term prospects. Pennsylvania has weathered the recession better than many other states, and we continue to have higher union membership rates than the national average, which provides a strong basis for improving worker rights and employer responsibilities for all workers.

The key will be whether our state and federal policymakers have the good sense to enact effective policies that allow Pennsylvania workers to regain a permanent place in the middle class.

Do We Still Have Time?

This is a guest article by Lorenzo Canizares.

By Lorenzo Canizares

Are we doomed? Do we have the internal fortitude to recover from the nightmare the nation is going through? This is a very peculiar nightmare that is not being felt by 30% of the nation. We could overcome this nightmare if the American people had a chance to understand what’s happening to them. It doesn’t help much that our mainstream press is reporting events in a seemly scripted text meant to keep our people living a fiction through misinformation or just keeping them entertained with reality shows. Have you seen any news story on the People’s budget? How many Americans know that there is a People’s Budget that has been endorsed by 90 Congressional Democrats and Sen. Bernie Sanders who together form the Congressional Progressive Caucus?

How many Americans are aware that as of June 3rd since March 19th we have spent $716 million in Libya? How many realize our military is helping to plan attacks in Libya and our drones are bombing Libya, civilians included? How many are aware our CIA agents are on the ground helping the Libyan “rebels” many of them with past Al-Qaeda connections? How many are aware that Libyans are dying every day as a result of our actions? How many are aware that these wars we are involved in are being financed with borrowed money? How many are aware that these wars are bankrupting us? How many are aware that debt has grown by $ 11 trillion since 2001, and that half the debt has come from a decline in revenues? How many are aware that for the Tea Party is more important to pay back the Chinese than to maintain a safety net for the American people? How many Americans know what default really means?

This nightmare is being led by the Republican Party. In today’s America we are witnessing a Republican Party that seems divided but act united. Their quest is to make sure that the small percentage of very wealthy people in America keeps making more money. They would prefer to maintain control of the nation through “legal” means, that is, either assuring themselves of control of the House and state legislatures through redistricting (this is the least favored method, eventually no matter how the pie is sliced, the chicken will come home to roost), through electronic machines that are easily manipulated as Beverly Harris once showed in one of the mainstream Sunday programs, and recently the hacker Anonymous confirmed their still reliable pliability. This method is one of the preferred ones especially because it provides the illusion that we live in a democracy, and allows the Greed Machine plants inside of the “Progressive” movement to act like “adults” and concede the predetermined results. But, the preferred one is the cooperation established by the Supreme Court through its Citizen United decision. This monumental decision has certainly made a mockery of our democracy. Corporations’ contributions, and we don’t even have the ability to know from where actually their money is coming from, can give unlimited amount of monies to candidates and be able to dictate the level of expenditure of a national campaign. Through the cooperation of the mainstream press, as they have done with the People’s Budget, a progressive candidate voice can be drowned, and consequently be unable to compete. Add to this all the ID requirements that are now being asked of citizens to be able to vote, and you can guarantee wiping out enough people from the rolls to secure victory. That’s why ACORN became such an important target. ACORN had the nerve to register poor Americans to vote!

To make this work, Republicans have to exacerbate even more the racial component of their message. The Pew Research Center just reported how Republicans have gained in the percentage of white voters that are sympathetic to their viewpoint. Most of these white people that they have gained are being directly affected by the policies of the Republicans. Through race they have been able to cloud these people minds to the reality of their existence.

Obama has been strongly criticized for his “weak” stand. Maybe, he knows something that we don’t know, and he is trying to avoid a civil war. What just happened in Norway and a few months ago in Arizona is not the product of sick minds. This is a hate-based viewpoint that exacerbates these individuals to commit these crimes. By the way, I seriously doubt that these “individuals” have acted alone. Loughner, the Arizona murderer that targeted Gaby Gifford, had a very expensive pistol to kill with, he had plenty of ammunition to shoot with, and he was unemployed. Who financed his killing spree?

Republicans feel comfortable sitting pretty waiting for Democrats to cave in. They succeeded in Minnesota after taking the state to the brink of collapse. So what make us think they don’t have the same thing in mind for the National scene?

What can we do to save our nation and prevent a Civil War? For one we need to popularize a program that is easy to understand and commit ourselves to get people to rally behind it. Van Jones and MoveOn are already doing some good work on this. This program has to put together the major components of the progressive movement and organize around it. Not all points are going to be to our individual liking, but we can’t afford the luxury of being spoiled brats, if most points are to our liking then we should be able to rally around it and demand discipline from ourselves and others to get it enacted. And most of all, we need to incorporate within ourselves a desire to get things done not group or personal glory.

In the meantime, the Congressional People’s Budget is there to help us survive. Amongst other things; it calls for no cuts in Social Security benefits, government negotiated Medicare drug prices, and increased income and social security taxes for the wealthy. Corporations and investors would be hit with a variety of new fees and taxes, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would really end.

We still have some time to save this nation. Let’s exercise our option to Survive!

Bin Laden Won

Osama Bin Laden may be dead and his remains dispersed in the sea but he has won his war against America.  When the United States defaults on its debt August 15th (this is when $500 billion of Treasury Bonds come due) he will have succeeded in his goal of bankrupting our country.  At that point “backward” Afghans and Arabs will have brought down both world superpowers.

The Al Qaeda attacks on September 11, 2001 were aimed precisely at particular targets chosen because of their significance:  The Pentagon and the World Trade Center.  The Defense establishment was a target because the U.S. had been initiating numerous wars and invasions (Panama, Grenada, Nicaragua, El Salvador, etc) and stationed troops in Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia.  America’s history of military adventurism, something Republicans call “American Exceptionalism, from Cuba to the Philippines to Mexico have angered the rest of the world’s people’s to no end.  Osama’s choosing of The Pentagon for one of his targets was not by accident.

The economic and financial imperialism and tyranny centered in New York and forced on dozens of countries through IMF and World Bank austerity is why the World Trade Center was attacked.  Wall Street bankers have a long record of enabling American companies, backed by the CIA, to destabilize and take over foreign nations and make thousands of progressives, labor union leaders and others “disappear” (read The Shock Doctrine for details).  Standing very high on the southern tip of Manhattan Island the twin towers were a far better particular target for Bin Laden than, say, the Goldman Sachs building.

The long range goal of those infamous planes was the American economy.  Osama wanted to bankrupt the United States.  George W. Bush readily cooperated by launching not one, but two, wars which he stupidly chose to finance rather than raise taxes for which to pay.  Americans at the time would have willingly agreed to pay but the moron in the White House told us to go shopping instead.

Now the bills for these wars is coming due and Americans are refusing to pay.  Is it just because Bin Laden is dead and we think we can walk out on the obligation?  Do we think we’re too good to pay our bill?  The massive deficit run up by the last three Republican presidents (Reagan, GHW Bush and George W Bush) with tax cuts and adventurous wars comprises 93% of our total national debt.  Republicans refuse to tax the rich to pay for their wars though and are preparing to default.

The poor already paid for those wars, “exercises”, invasions and actions.  They paid with their lives, their limbs, their sanity, their blood.  Each one brought new investment opportunities for American corporations and their rich shareholders.  The bill is now due and it is time to pay.  You however are being shouldered with the bill.  You, if you aren’t filthy rich, will be taking the brunt of the bill through decreased government programs, educations cuts, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid cuts and even Veteran Services.  Those poor souls crippled in Iraq, Afghanistan, Grenada, Panama and elsewhere will see less care and coverage for their war injuries.  Heck, someone has to pay and the rich refuse.

Osama Bin Laden is smiling somewhere.

News & Notes July 23, 2011

Is everyone keeping cool?  I spent Friday in the pool as temperatures hit 108 at our home in Mt. Penn.  Interestingly Fox News isn’t airing any debunking of global warming this week.  Strange silence…  Republicans once used extreme heat waves to help people.  Obviously that was many years ago.  Now they simply tell us to “get over it.”

Norway suffered 91 deaths yesterday as a christian fundamentalist of the Glenn Beck ilk bombed a government building killing 7 then went on a murderous rampage at a youth camp killing 80 more.

Michelle Bachmann’s husband, he of the “gay barbarians” quote, was subjected to some gay barbarians who showed up at his clinic with some glitter:

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is now a story for history books.  With actions taken to officially relegate its discrimination to the past former Congressman Patrick Murphy, a chief architect of its downfall, released this statement:

“With today’s certification of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, our civilian and military leaders have confirmed that the United States is ready to end this discriminatory policy once and for all. In 60 days, no patriot who is willing to fight and die for the country they love will be required to live a lie. This action will improve our military readiness and provide greater equality for all Americans. As the author of the bill repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I am incredibly proud that our nation is so close to this historic accomplishment. When I was in the Army, we didn’t care who you wrote home to, just that you were a good soldier. I look forward to the coming day when our law finally catches up.”

Gov. Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Commission released its final report and it is a long wishlist for the natural gas industry including forced pooling.  I must say I am shocked and surprised that a panel personally picked by the Governor from )mostly) industry people and supporters supports the gas industry demands across the board.  Shocked, I tell you, shocked to find gambling going on in Tom’s Casino.

In other Corbett news one of his Cabinet Secretaries, Georgina Zogby was arrested for DUI.  Instead of calling a taxi she called the Governor’s Office and a Pennsylvania State Trooper on the Governor’s protection team drove her home.  Don’t you wish you got that sort of service from Tom Corbett and the State Police?

The state jobs report out late in the week was disappointing.  Pennsylvania lost 14,000 jobs, mostly in education and social services, as state budget cuts hammered the Commonwealth.  Didn’t Tom Corbett and his Republican friends promise more jobs?  Why then are we losing them?  Perhaps they need to focus on raising revenues and creating jobs instead of attacking women’s rights.


The Murdoch Business Plan: Corruption

As we watch the implosion of News Corporation we’re witnessing what happens when an organization rots from its core.  Rupert Murdoch’s “news” empire began in Australia and expanded to America and Britain where he systematically began co-opting and corrupting powerful political figures for his ideological agenda.  He chose political figures who shared his world view of all powerful corporate power and began gathering them through lucrative media deals, television, radio and books contracts which he used to buy them.

We’re now learning he also bought off Scotland Yard in Britain, engaged in blackmail against victims of illegal activity, settled lawsuits for millions and lied to Parliament.  Rupert the cover-up is always worse than the crime.  Did you learn nothing from Richard Nixon?

What amazes me about the telephone hacking scandal is why they did it?  News Corporation and its American network Fox, never seemed content to rely on actual sources, facts or leads.  They make stuff up as they go along.  Why did they suddenly get obsessed with actually knowing of which they were reporting?  Did someone have a “come to Jesus” moment and decide perhaps they needed at least something on which to base their coverage?

What we know is that they broke into the voice mails of 4,000 people.  Royals, crime victims, celebrities, anyone for whom they were chasing a story.  It also seems some American 9/11 families were hacked meaning the scandal was company wide.  They also hacked the website of an American company in New Jersey which sold advertising in supermarkets.  Unable to buy the firm they simply stole their secrets.  

What this exposes is a corporate wide culture of corruption:  do whatever they please, snuff any official investigations and co-opt as many powerful national political figures as possible to gain influence.  Fox News has hired major Republican figures and signed others to substantial book contracts.  Little of the GOP presidential field is not beholden to Fox News, News Corporation and Rupert Murdoch.  From Sarah Palin to Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee (though not a candidate he’s a former one) and others Fox News has done what News International did in Britain.  With the head of Scotland Yard now gone and his chief deputy also compromised to the point of quitting who has Murdoch corrupted inside the FBI?

The pattern of Murdoch corrupt empire is now split open for all to see:  have no standards for reporting based on extreme political ideology, corrupt police forces so they look the other way and buy off the most powerful conservative politicians so they are in your debt.  It worked for several years in Britain as crime after crime was swept under the rug until a definitive line was crossed:  a young girl kidnapped and killed.  Murdoch’s legions hacked into Milly Dowler’s voice mails to determine what was happening and began deleting them when the mailbox filled.  Thinking their daughter was alive by these actions her family was given false hope when there was none just so the News of the World could get a story.  The outrage over this behavior is what sent a nation over the top demanding justice against the Murdochs.

With all the similarities between the methods of doing business it is time News Corporation’s U.S. operations are investigated fully to insure we have not also been compromised and corrupted to the same extant.  The question is this:  who can we trust to do it?

James Murdoch Called a Liar

I cringed when I listened to both Murdochs run their employees under the bus during testimony before Parliament Tuesday.  Refusing to accept responsibility or even admit knowledge of the phone hacking, blackmail, payoffs, legal settlements and all they set themselves up for retribution from those very employees.  Now today two executives of Rupert and James Murdochs News Corporation’s British subsidiary say James lied to Parliament.  Not one executive but TWO.  This means corroboration.

James Murdoch testified he had no knowledge of emails about phone hacking to which these men claim he did.  Oops, I suppose running your people under the bus isn’t wise when it is made of glass.

Mr. Murdoch, who runs the News Corporation’s European and Asian operations, including News International, the British subsidiary, told the committee on Tuesday that he agreed to pay £725,000, which was then about $1.4 million, in the case because it made financial sense. He testified that he was not aware at the time of the evidence, which most likely would have become public had the case proceeded and undermined the company’s assertion that hacking was limited to “a lone rogue reporter.”

But Colin Myler, the former editor of the tabloid, The News of the World, and Tom Crone, the former News International legal manager, said Mr. Murdoch was “mistaken” in his testimony delivered to the parliamentary committee. They said he knew when settling the lawsuit brought by a soccer union leader, Gordon Taylor, about a crucial piece of evidence that had been turned over to the company: an e-mail marked “for Neville” containing the transcript of a hacked cellphone message, apparently a reference to the paper’s chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck.

“In fact, we did inform him of the ‘for Neville’ e-mail which had been produced to us by Gordon Taylor’s lawyers,” Mr. Myler and Mr. Crone said in the statement released Thursday night.

If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned an employee scorned is right behind.  This event was watched around the globe and these executives had to be sitting there cringing watching these slimeballs lie through their teeth.  My only surprise is that it took several days for revenge to be taken and the lies exposed.  Now James Murdoch may face arrest in the case.  I can’t imagine Members of Parliament enjoy being lied to any more than our Congress does and penalties could be swift and severe (unless you’re Roger Clemens and the recipient of moronic prosecutors).

Meanwhile we yet one additional example of those “high standards” to which James Murdoch referred Tuesday.  He actually also lied about his corporation’s journalistic ethics while they claim the lowest possible rung on such ladders.  Now Fox News, another News Corporation company, has allowed Bill O’Reilly to defame all women by claiming they shouldn’t have access to birth control because they are always drunk:

“Women are drunk when they have sex and won’t use birth control”

Yes, this is an example of the high standards of Fox News and Rupert’s News Corporation.  One more lie.

Debt Ceiling Talks Collapse

Speaker John Boehner walked out of negotiations on the debt ceiling today as the deadline looms for agreement.  With a drop dead default date of August 2nd ahead and a Congressional calendar and rules to which to adhere time is quickly running out.  Financial markets may very well collapse Monday if there’s no agreement.  Not just an agreement but one which can muster enough votes for passage.

President Obama was already giving away the store with substantial cuts to Social Security which contributes not one dime to the deficit.  Why this is on the table is beyond comprehension.  Any Democrat who slashed these benefits is doomed to be challenged in his own primary next year and be a one termer.  A Russ Feingold or Howard Dean would, and should, rise up and challenge Obama if that happens and no amount of fundraising by OFA will be able to offset the voter furor.

Still, the President was willing to sacrifice his second term to secure a deal.  His folly, however, is exaggerated by the fact he could have gotten a debt ceiling deal either in tandem with extension of tax cuts last year or earlier this year as part of negotiations on appropriations.  He passed and is now in this situation.  Any vote on raising the debt ceiling should be a stand alone measure not tied to any other issue.  Obama continues allowing himself to be held hostage by an extreme minority wing of the GOP hell bent on destroying the country.

Republicans have totally abandoned any notion of “Country First” and put their narrow minded ideological agenda before the good of the nation.  Members of Congress more afraid of breaking their tax pledges to Grover Norquist are blocking revenue enhancements critical to any real debt reduction.  Taxes must be raised to offset the massive borrowing done by Republicans the past thirty years.  Financing wars instead of paying for them, deregulating markets so they destroy the economy and depress revenues and enacting huge tax cuts which hurt the economy are all legacies of irresponsible Republican leadership.  They are why we are in this hole and now they want us to give them new shovels instead of ladders.

Grover Norquist is NOT the President.  He has NOT been elected to any office and whatever he wants is irrelevant.  If lawmakers don’t have the gumption to do what is right and what is necessary they should take some advice:

if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen.

Reports say Boehner insisted on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act at the last minute and walked out when the President disagreed.  He says Obama introduced additional tax increases.  It matters neither, it was all negotiating in bad faith because neither man can muster the votes to pass a bill.  Eighty progressives in Congress have now signed a letter they will block any cuts to Social Security and Medicare.  I doubt Boehner can get enough GOP votes for any bill which includes tax increases or the closing of loopholes.

Default looms and when financial markets open Monday morning and collapse business interests will once again retake control of the Republican Party and drive the Tea baggers back to their caves.  At some point intelligent adults have to take over and avert a new Great Depression.

When you voted Republican last year this is what you wished for folks.  I hope you enjoy losing your job, home and retirement…again.

The President’s remarks are under the fold:


Office of the Press Secretary


For Immediate Release                               July 22, 2011


James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

6:06 P.M. EDT

    THE PRESIDENT:  Good evening, everybody.  I wanted to give you an update on the current situation around the debt ceiling.  I just got a call about a half hour ago from Speaker Boehner who indicated that he was going to be walking away from the negotiations that we’ve been engaged in here at the White House for a big deficit reduction and debt reduction package.  And I thought it would be useful for me to just give you some insight into where we were and why I think that we should have moved forward with a big deal.

Essentially what we had offered Speaker Boehner was over a trillion dollars in cuts to discretionary spending, both domestic and defense.  We then offered an additional $650 billion in cuts to entitlement programs — Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security.  We believed that it was possible to shape those in a way that preserved the integrity of the system, made them available for the next generation, and did not affect current beneficiaries in an adverse way.

    In addition, what we sought was revenues that were actually less than what the Gang of Six signed off on.  So you had a bipartisan group of senators, including Republicans who are in leadership in the Senate, calling for what effectively was about $2 trillion above the Republican baseline that they’ve been working off of.  What we said was give us $1.2 trillion in additional revenues, which could be accomplished without hiking taxes — tax rates, but could simply be accomplished by eliminating loopholes, eliminating some deductions and engaging in a tax reform process that could have lowered rates generally while broadening the base.

    So let me reiterate what we were offering.  We were offering a deal that called for as much discretionary savings as the Gang of Six.  We were calling for taxes that were less than what the Gang of Six had proposed.  And we were calling for modifications to entitlement programs, would have saved just as much over the 10-year window.  In other words, this was an extraordinarily fair deal.  If it was unbalanced, it was unbalanced in the direction of not enough revenue.

    But in the interest of being serious about deficit reduction, I was willing to take a lot of heat from my party — and I spoke to Democratic leaders yesterday, and although they didn’t sign off on a plan, they were willing to engage in serious negotiations, despite a lot of heat from a lot of interest groups around the country, in order to make sure that we actually dealt with this problem.

    It is hard to understand why Speaker Boehner would walk away from this kind of deal.  And, frankly, if you look at commentary out there, there are a lot of Republicans that are puzzled as to why it couldn’t get done.  In fact, there are a lot of Republican voters out there who are puzzled as to why it couldn’t get done. Because the fact of the matter is the vast majority of the American people believe we should have a balanced approach.

    Now, if you do not have any revenues, as the most recent Republican plan that’s been put forward both in the House and the Senate proposed, if you have no revenues at all, what that means is more of a burden on seniors, more drastic cuts to education, more drastic cuts to research, a bigger burden on services that are going to middle-class families all across the country.  And it essentially asks nothing of corporate jet owners, it asks nothing of oil and gas companies, it asks nothing from folks like me who’ve done extremely well and can afford to do a little bit more.

    In other words, if you don’t have revenues, the entire thing ends up being tilted on the backs of the poor and middle-class families.  And the majority of Americans don’t agree on that approach.

    So here’s what we’re going to do.  We have now run out of time.  I told Speaker Boehner, I’ve told Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, I’ve told Harry Reid, and I’ve told Mitch McConnell I want them here at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow.  We have run out of time. And they are going to have to explain to me how it is that we are going to avoid default.  And they can come up with any plans that they want and bring them up here and we will work on them.  The only bottom line that I have is that we have to extend this debt ceiling through the next election, into 2013.

    And the reason for it is we’ve now seen how difficult it is to get any kind of deal done.  The economy is already weakened.  And the notion that five or six or eight months from now we’ll be in a better position to try to solve this problem makes no sense.

    In addition, if we can’t come up with a serious plan for actual deficit and debt reduction, and all we’re doing is extending the debt ceiling for another six, seven, eight months, then the probabilities of downgrading U.S. credit are increased, and that will be an additional cloud over the economy and make it more difficult for us and more difficult for businesses to create jobs that the American people so desperately need.

    So they will come down here at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow.  I expect them to have an answer in terms of how they intend to get this thing done over the course of the next week.  The American people expect action.  I continue to believe that a package that is balanced and actually has serious debt and deficit reduction is the right way to go.  And the American people I think are fed up with political posturing and an inability for politicians to take responsible action as opposed to dodge their responsibilities.

    With that, I’m going to take some questions.


    Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  You said you want the leaders back here at 11:00 a.m. to give you an answer about the path forward.  What is your answer about the path forward?  What path do you prefer, given what’s just happened?  And also, sir, quickly, what does this say about your relationship with Speaker Boehner?

    THE PRESIDENT:  Well, with respect to my relationship with Speaker Boehner, we’ve always had a cordial relationship.  We had very intense negotiations — I’m going to have my team brief you exactly on how these negotiations proceeded.  Up until sometime early today when I couldn’t get a phone call returned, my expectation was that Speaker Boehner was going to be willing to go to his caucus and ask them to do the tough thing but the right thing.  I think it has proven difficult for Speaker Boehner to do that.  I’ve been left at the altar now a couple of times.

And I think that one of the questions that the Republican Party is going to have to ask itself is can they say yes to anything?  Can they say yes to anything?  I mean, keep in mind it’s the Republican Party that has said that the single most important thing facing our country is deficits and debts.  We’ve now put forward a package that would significantly cut deficits and debt.  It would be the biggest debt reduction package that we’ve seen in a very long time.

And it’s accomplished without raising individual tax rates. It’s accomplished in a way that’s compatible with the “no tax” pledge that a whole bunch of these folks signed on to — because we were mindful that they had boxed themselves in and we tried to find a way for them to generate revenues in a way that did not put them in a bad spot.

And so the question is, what can you say yes to?  Now, if their only answer is what they’ve presented, which is a package that would effectively require massive cuts to Social Security, to Medicare, to domestic spending, with no revenues whatsoever, not asking anything from the wealthiest in this country or corporations that have been making record profits — if that’s their only answer, then it’s going to be pretty difficult for us to figure out where to go.  Because the fact of the matter is that’s what the American people are looking for, is some compromise, some willingness to put partisanship aside, some willingness to ignore talk radio or ignore activists in our respective bases, and do the right thing.

And to their credit, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, the Democratic leadership, they sure did not like the plan that we are proposing to Boehner, but they were at least willing to engage in a conversation because they understood how important it is for us to actually solve this problem.  And so far I have not seen the capacity of the House Republicans in particular to make those tough decisions.

And so then the question becomes, where’s the leadership?  Or, alternatively, how serious are you actually about debt and deficit reduction?  Or do you simply want it as a campaign ploy going into the next election?

Now, in terms of where we go next, here’s the one thing that we’ve got to do.  At minimum, we’ve got to increase the debt ceiling.  At minimum.  I think we need to do more than that.  But as I’ve said before, Republican Leader McConnell in the Senate put forward a plan that said he’s going to go ahead and give me the responsibility to raise the debt ceiling.  That way folks in Congress can vote against it, but at least it gets done.  I’m willing to take the responsibility.  That’s my job.  So if they want to give me the responsibility to do it, I’m happy to do it.

But what we’re not going to do is to continue to play games and string this along for another eight, nine months, and then have to go through this whole exercise all over again.  That we’re not going to do.

Jessica Yellin.

Q    Standing here tonight, Mr. President, can you assure the American people that they will get their Social Security checks on August 3rd?  And if not, who’s to blame?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, when it comes to all the checks, not just Social Security — veterans, people with disabilities — about 70 million checks are sent out each month — if we default then we’re going to have to make adjustments.  And I’m already consulting with Secretary Geithner in terms of what the consequences would be.

We should not even be in that kind of scenario.  And if Congress — and in particular, the House Republicans — are not willing to make sure that we avoid default, then I think it’s fair to say that they would have to take responsibility for whatever problems arise in those payments.  Because, let me repeat, I’m not interested in finger-pointing and I’m not interested in blame, but I just want the facts to speak for themselves.

We have put forward a plan that is more generous to Republican concerns than a bipartisan plan that was supported by a number of Republican senators, including at least one that is in Republican leadership in the Senate.  Now, I’ll leave it up to the American people to make a determination as to how fair that is.  And if the leadership cannot come to an agreement in terms of how we move forward, then I think they will hold all of us accountable.

But that shouldn’t even be an option.  That should not be an option.  I’m getting letters from people who write me and say, at the end of every month I have to skip meals.  Senior citizens on Social Security who are just hanging on by a thread.  Folks who have severe disabilities who are desperate every single month to try to figure out how they’re going to make ends meet.  But it’s not just those folks.  You’ve got business contractors who are providing services to the federal government, who have to wonder are they going to be able to get paid and what does that do in terms of their payrolls.

You’ve got just a huge number of people who, in one way or another, interact with the federal government.  And even if you don’t, even if you’re not a recipient of Social Security, even if you don’t get veterans’ benefits or disabilities, imagine what that does to the economy when suddenly 70 million checks are put at risk.  I mean, if you’re a business out there, that is not going to be good for economic growth.  And that’s the number one concern of the American people.

So we’ve got to get it done.  It is not an option not to do it.

Q    And your degree of confidence?

THE PRESIDENT:  I am confident simply because I cannot believe that Congress would end up being that irresponsible that they would not send a package that avoids a self-inflicted wound to the economy at a time when things are so difficult.

Scott Horsley.

Q    Mr. President, can you explain why you were offering a deal that was more generous than the Gang of Six, which you seemed to be embracing on Tuesday when you were here?

THE PRESIDENT:  Because what had become apparent was that Speaker Boehner had some difficulty in his caucus.  There are a group of his caucus that actually think default would be okay and have said that they would not vote for increasing the debt ceiling under any circumstances.

And so I understand how they get themselves stirred up and the sharp ideological lines that they’ve drawn.  And ultimately, my responsibility is to make sure that we avoid extraordinary difficulties to American people and American businesses.

And so, unfortunately, when you’re in these negotiations you don’t get 100 percent of what you want.  You may not even get 60 or 70 percent of what you want.  But I was willing to try to persuade Democratic leadership as well as Democratic members of Congress that even a deal that is not as balanced as I think it should be is better than no deal at all.  And I was willing to persuade Democrats that getting a handle on debt and deficit reduction is important to Democrats just as much as it’s important to Republicans — and, frankly, a lot of Democrats are persuaded by that.

As I said in the last press conference, if you’re a progressive you should want to get our fiscal house in order, because once we do, it allows us to then have a serious conversation about the investments that we need to make — like infrastructure, like rebuilding our roads and our bridges and airports, like investing more in college education, like making sure that we’re focused on the kinds of research and technology that’s going to help us win the future.  It’s a lot easier to do that when we’ve got our fiscal house in order.  And that was an argument that I was willing to go out and make to a lot of skeptical Democrats, as you saw yesterday.    

But ultimately, that’s what we should expect from our leaders.  If this was easy it would have already been done.  And I think what a lot of the American people are so disappointed by is this sense that all the talk about responsibility, all the talk about the next generation, all the talk about making sacrifices, that when it comes to actually doing something difficult folks walk away.

Last point I’ll make here.  I mean, I’ve gone out of my way to say that both parties have to make compromises.  I think this whole episode has indicated the degree to which at least a Democratic President has been willing to make some tough compromises.  So when you guys go out there and write your stories, this is not a situation where somehow this was the usual food fight between Democrats and Republicans.  A lot of Democrats stepped up in ways that were not advantageous politically.  So we’ve shown ourselves willing to do the tough stuff on an issue that Republicans ran on.


Q    Mr. President, there seems to be an extraordinary breakdown of trust involved here.  And I wonder if you could address what we’re hearing from Republicans, which is that there was a framework and a deal that was agreed with your chief of staff, with the Treasury Secretary, about a certain number of revenues, that the Republicans had agreed to that.  And then after you brought that to your party and the discussion of that, the goal line was moved.  Is this an example of where the goal line has moved and that that’s what has led to this breakdown in trust?

THE PRESIDENT:  Norah, what I’ll do is we’ll do a tick-tock, we’ll go through all the paper.  We’ll walk you through this process.  What this came down to was that there doesn’t seem to be a capacity for them to say yes.

Now, what is absolutely true is we wanted more revenue than they had initially offered.  But as you’ll see, the spending cuts that we were prepared to engage in were at least as significant as the spending cuts that you’ve seen in a whole range of bipartisan proposals, and we had basically agreed within $10 billion, $20 billion — we were within that range.

So that wasn’t the reason this thing broke down.  We were consistent in saying that it was going to be important for us to have at least enough revenue that we could protect current beneficiaries of Social Security, for example, or current beneficiaries of Medicare; that we weren’t slashing Medicaid so sharply that states suddenly were going to have to throw people off the health care rolls.  And we were consistent in that.

So I want to be clear.  I’m not suggesting that we had an agreement that was signed, sealed and delivered.  The parties were still apart as recently as yesterday.  But when you look at the overall package, there’s no changing of the goalposts here.  There has been a consistency on our part in saying we’re willing to make the tough cuts and we’re willing to take on the heat for those difficult cuts, but that there’s got to be some balance in the process.  What I’ve said publicly is the same thing that I’ve said privately.  And I’ve done that consistently throughout this process.

Now, with respect to this breakdown in trust, I think that we have operated aboveboard consistently.  There haven’t been any surprises.  I think the challenge really has to do with the seeming inability, particularly in the House of Representatives, to arrive at any kind of position that compromises any of their ideological preferences.  None.

And you’ve heard it.  I mean, I’m not making this up.  I think a number of members of that caucus have been very clear about that.

Q    But they were willing to move on some revenues, apparently.

THE PRESIDENT:  Absolutely.  But what you saw — and, again, you’ll see this from the description of the deal — essentially what they had agreed to give on is to get back to a baseline — this starts getting technical, but there were about $800 billion in revenue that were going to be available.  And what we said was when you’ve got a ratio of $4 in cuts for every $1 of revenue, that’s pretty hard to stomach.  And we think it’s important to make sure that whatever additional revenue is in there covers the amount of money that’s being taken out of entitlement programs.  That’s only fair.

If I’m saying to future recipients of Social Security or Medicare that you’re going to have to make some adjustments, it’s important that we’re also willing to make some adjustments when it comes to corporate jet owners, or oil and gas producers, or people who are making millions or billions of dollars.

Wendell.  Where’s Wendell?  Wendell is not here.

Lesley.  Is Lesley here?

Q    Yes, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  There you are.

Q    Thank you.  You’ve said that your bottom line has been the big deal; that’s not going to happen.  Are you going to be willing to go back to just raising the debt ceiling still?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think I’ve been consistently saying here in this press room and everywhere that it is very important for us to raise the debt ceiling.  We don’t have an option on that.  So if that’s the best that Congress can do, then I will sign a extension of the debt ceiling that takes us through 2013.

I don’t think that’s enough.  I think we should do more.  That’s the bare minimum; that’s the floor of what the American people expect us to do.  So I’d like to see us do more.  And when I meet with the leadership tomorrow I’m going to say let’s do more.  But if they tell me that’s the best they can do, then I will sign an extension that goes to 2013, and I will make the case to the American people that we’ve got to continue going out there and solving this problem.  It’s the right thing to do, and it’s time to do it.  We can’t keep on putting it off.

    Q    You suggested that Speaker Boehner didn’t return phone calls this afternoon.  Could you elaborate a little bit on that?

    THE PRESIDENT:  You know, I’m less concerned about me having to wait for my phone call returned than I am the message that I received when I actually got the phone call.

    I’m going to make this the last question.  Go ahead.

    Q    Yes, the markets are closed right now, obviously.  What assurances can you give people on Wall Street?  Are you going to be reaching out to some people on Wall Street so that when Monday comes we don’t see a reaction to the news that’s developing right now?

    THE PRESIDENT:  I think it’s very important that the leadership understands that Wall Street will be opening on Monday, and we better have some answers during the course of the next several days.

    Q    What can you say to people who are watching who work on Wall Street who might find this news a bit alarming, perhaps?

    THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think what you should say — well, here’s what I’d say:  I remain confident that we will get an extension of the debt limit and we will not default.  I am confident of that.

    I am less confident at this point that people are willing to step up to the plate and actually deal with the underlying problem of debt and deficits.  That requires tough choices.  That’s what we were sent here to do.

    I mean, the debt ceiling, that’s a formality.  Historically, this has not even been an issue.  It’s an unpleasant vote but it’s been a routine vote that Congress does periodically.  It was raised 18 times when Ronald Reagan was President.  Ronald Reagan said default is not an option, that it would be hugely damaging to the prestige of the United States and we shouldn’t even consider it.  So that’s the easy part.  We should have done that six months ago.

    The hard part is actually dealing with the underlying debt and deficits, and doing it in a way that’s fair.  That’s all the American people are looking for — some fairness.  I can’t tell you how many letters and emails I get, including from Republican voters, who say, look, we know that neither party is blameless when it comes to how this deft and deficit developed — there’s been a lot of blame to spread around — but we sure hope you don’t just balance the budget on the backs of seniors.  We sure hope that we’re not slashing our commitment to make sure kids can go to college.  We sure hope that we’re not suddenly throwing a bunch of poor kids off the Medicaid rolls so they can’t get basic preventative services that keep them out of the emergency room.  That’s all they’re looking for, is some fairness.

Now, what you’re going to hear, I suspect, is, well, if you — if the Senate is prepared to pass the cap, cut and balance bill, the Republican plan, then somehow we can solve this problem — that’s serious debt reduction.  It turns out, actually, that the plan that Speaker Boehner and I were talking about was comparable in terms of deficit reduction.  The difference was that we didn’t put all the burden on the people who are least able to protect themselves, who don’t have lobbyists in this town, who don’t have lawyers working on the tax code for them — working stiffs out there, ordinary folks who are struggling every day.  And they know they’re getting a raw deal, and they’re mad at everybody about it.  They’re mad at Democrats and they’re mad at Republicans, because they know somehow, no matter how hard they work, they don’t seem to be able to keep up.  And what they’re looking for is somebody who’s willing to look out for them.  That’s all they’re looking for.

    And for us not to be keeping those folks in mind every single day when we’re up here, for us to be more worried about what some funder says, or some talk radio show host says, or what some columnist says, or what pledge we signed back when we were trying to run, or worrying about having a primary fight — for us to be thinking in those terms instead of thinking about those folks is inexcusable.

    I mean, the American people are just desperate for folks who are willing to put aside politics just for a minute and try to get some stuff done.

    So when Norah asked or somebody else asked why was I willing to go along with a deal that wasn’t optimal from my perspective, it was because even if I didn’t think the deal was perfect, at least it would show that this place is serious, that we’re willing to take on our responsibilities even when it’s tough, that we’re willing to step up even when the folks who helped get us elected may disagree.

    And at some point, I think if you want to be a leader, then you got to lead.

Thank you very much.

                       END                6:36 P.M. EDT


Pennsylvania’s June Jobs Report More Cause for Concern

A blog post from Mark Price, originally published on Third and State.

Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate rose to 7.6% in June from 7.4% in May, according to a report Thursday from the state Department of Labor and Industry. Overall, the seasonally adjusted number of nonfarm jobs in Pennsylvania was down 2,600 in June to 5,676,900.

I issued the following statement on the new jobs report:

“The June jobs report continues to raise concerns that Pennsylvania, like the rest of the nation, has hit a bump in the road to economic recovery.

“This is a disappointing report across the board, with the labor force dropping, employment falling and the unemployment rate rising slightly. While the economy is still growing, that growth has been slower than expected and has translated into much less job creation than we need at a time of high unemployment.

“One of the few bright spots was the addition of 2,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector. In a recent survey, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Board found some modest growth in manufacturing payrolls. Hopefully, that will translate into more job gains in this crucial sector.

“If we don’t see stronger job growth in the fall, we can expect pressure to build for another round of intervention by national policy makers in the Federal Reserve and in Congress.”

Summing Up the News Coverage on the Marcellus Shale Industry Study

( – promoted by John Morgan)

Several newspapers reported Thursday on a new industry-financed study on the impact of Marcellus Shale drilling on Pennsylvania’s economy. Analysts at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center weighed in on the issue with a number of reporters.

The Harrisburg Patriot-News summed up our concerns about the study best:

“You get what you’d expect from an industry report,” said Michael Wood, research director at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. “The complications and costs to Pennsylvania are either minimized, understated or not even discussed.”

The Marcellus boom is good for Pennsylvania, he said, “but we’ve got to have our eyes wide open.”

The study is based solely upon a survey of the industry – what companies say they spent and what they plan to spend – which was then run through computer models. Only 12 companies responded to the survey – representing 55 percent of the drilling activity in 2010 – so the results were scaled up accordingly.

Wood said the results don’t match verifiable data from other sources – from the number of rigs operating in the state to the number of jobs created. In every instance, the numbers in the industry-funded study are higher than what can be verified elsewhere, he said.

A few other takeaways from the news coverage:

  • The study’s lead author, Timothy Considine of the University of Wyoming, acknowledged to the Patriot that some of the economic projections can be “squishy” by their very nature and “almost impossible to verify.” Exactly our point.
  • Jake Haulk, economist and executive director of the Allegheny Institute of Public Opinion, a self-described small government, free enterprise think tank, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the study’s estimates of job creation in supporting industries are “way over the top,” and that “It’s all speculation.”
  • Finally, most news reports emphasized that this was an industry-financed study authored by Penn State faculty, not a Penn State study. This comes a year after Penn State officials distanced the university from a prior version of the study.

We will have more on the industry study later. For now, you can read PBPC’s statement on the study. Our views are also featured in news reports from Reuters, the Scranton Times-Tribune and NPR’s StateImpact project.

’10 Commandments Judge’ Running for Presidency

by Walter Brasch

           The chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court who was removed from office for defying the Constitution and a federal court order is one of 14 major candidates running for the Republican nomination for the presidency.

           Alabama’s Court of the Judiciary unanimously had ordered Roy S. Moore removed from office in November 2003 after he refused to remove from the judiciary building rotunda a 5,280 pound granite monument of the Ten Commandments; he had personally overseen the funding, carving, and placement.

           The federal court ruled that placement of the monument, and Moore’s repeated statements that the monument represented God’s sovereignty over all matters judicial and moral, violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

           With strong popular support, Moore said not only was the court’s ruling illegal, but that he would continue to defy it. The message sent to the voters was that it’s acceptable to disregard two centuries of legal history that gave the federal constitution supremacy over states, and to violate federal law if you disagree with it. For a citizen to do so carries penalties; for a judge to do so carries removal from office.

           Reflecting upon the case, Moore said that even eight years after his removal from office, he “would still make the same decision.”  The role of government, says Moore, “is to secure those rights that [a Christian] God has given us.” Although he says he supports religious diversity, the “source of our morality stems from our belief in a god, and a specific god.” However, in his Dec. 13, 2006, column for WorldNetDaily, Moore stated that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a Muslim, should be denied the right to hold office because “in the midst of a war with Islamic terrorists we should not place someone in a position of great power who shares their doctrine.”

           Roy Moore says he is running for the presidency because “there’s a need for leadership in the country,” and neither President Obama nor the leaders of both parties in Congress are providing that leadership. “Petty politics,” he says, are taking precedence over the needs of the country. “We can’t get anything done,” he says, “because decisions are [made] not what’s good for the country, but what is good for the party.”

           Moore identifies a weak economy as “the foremost problem today.” The nation “is going the wrong way,” he says. He acknowledges that much of the problem came under the Bush-Cheney Administration, “but was increased by Obama.” Although the Republicans propose cutting social programs rather than raising the debt ceiling, every Congressional leader, Democrat and Republican, voted to increase the debt ceiling during the past decade, with the highest increases under Republican presidents: Ronald Reagan (189%), George H.W. Bush (55%), and George W. Bush (86%). In Bill Clinton’s two terms. The debt ceiling was increased only 37 percent; Barack Obama is asking for a 35 percent increase.

           Moore, a “states’ rights advocate,” shares the views of most conservative candidates for the Presidency. Among those views are:

            the federal income tax should be abolished.

            Abortion, for any reason, should not have federal funds because not only does abortion “contradict the right to life contained in the organic law of our country,” it violates the 14th Amendment.

            People should “have the right to choose their own employment,” instead of having to join unions. Therefore, says Moore, all states should have “right-to-work” laws. If Moore’s vision is enacted, these laws would effectively cripple unions from representing the workers.

            Same sex marriage, says Moore, violates the will of God. In one case, as chief justice, he argued that homosexual behavior is “a crime against nature, an inherent evil, and an act so heinous that it defies one’s ability to describe it.”

           However, on a couple of issues, his views lean closer to that of liberals. He opposes the nation’s entry into war without Congressional authorization. Moore is a graduate of West Point, who became an MP company commander at the end of the Vietnam War, and then graduated from the University of Alabama law school. He opposes the U.S. intrusion into Libya on both military and legal grounds. “It’s very easy for a president to be sucked into global wars,” he says, “but it’s not our goal to go over there [Libya] and take out a leader just because we don’t like him.” Unlike many Republicans, he acknowledges that the Libyan attack, like the U.S. invasion of Iraq under the Bush-Cheney Administration, should have had Congressional approval under the War Powers Act of 1973.

           Moore, who owns horses-he once spent a year as a cowboy in Australia working for a fundamentalist Christian-believes that the dwindling population of wild horses and burros in the Southwest, and all wild animals, should be protected. Both the Bush-Cheney and Obama administrations have failed to do so, often influenced by the cattle and meat industry.

           Moore, near the bottom of the pack in the polls, probably won’t become the Republican nominee. But, unlike some conservative candidates, he doesn’t parade his religious beliefs to gain votes. He lives the life of his religious convictions, and isn’t afraid to make sure everyone knows what they are, especially when they provide the base for his political views.

[Brasch’s current book is Before the First Snow, a look at the nation’s counterculture and social problems, as seen through the eyes of a “flower child” and the reporter who covered her story for more than three decades.]