Monday, February 28, 2011

State of the Union Address, 1936

History, repeats:

To be sure, in so doing, we have invited battle. We have earned the hatred of entrenched greed. The very nature of the problem that we faced made it necessary to drive some people from power and strictly to regulate others. I made that plain when I took the oath of office in March, 1933. I spoke of the practices of the unscrupulous money-changers who stood indicted in the court of public opinion. I spoke of the rulers of the exchanges of mankind's goods, who failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence. I said that they had admitted their failure and had abdicated.

Abdicated? Yes, in 1933, but now with the passing of danger they forget their damaging admissions and withdraw their abdication.

They seek the restoration of their selfish power. They offer to lead us back round the same old corner into the same old dreary street.

Yes, there are still determined groups that are intent upon that very thing. Rigorously held up to popular examination, their true character presents itself. They steal the livery of great national constitutional ideals to serve discredited special interests. As guardians and trustees for great groups of individual stockholders they wrongfully seek to carry the property and the interests entrusted to them into the arena of partisan politics. They seek-this minority in business and industry--to control and often do control and use for their own purposes legitimate and highly honored business associations; they engage in vast propaganda to spread fear and discord among the people--they would "gang up" against the people's liberties.

The principle that they would instill into government if they succeed in seizing power is well shown by the principles which many of them have instilled into their own affairs: autocracy toward labor, toward stockholders, toward consumers, toward public sentiment. Autocrats in smaller things, they seek autocracy in bigger things. "By their fruits ye shall know them."
Also, this.

Response from Senator Liljenquist

Last week, we challenged Senator Dan Liljenquist, the man behind Utah's pension (2010) and Medicaid (2011) reforms to explain an indisputably inaccurate post drawing a comparison between what's happening in Wisconsin, and his own reforms here.  Liljenquist is often touted as an "expert" on these two issues, and how they relate to state budgeting.  That's why it was such a shock to see him get it so wrong.  Under a bit of pressure, Liljenquist finally posted comments from both Craig and I on his post, and responded in a single tweet:
@SenatorDanL: @ I know the wrath of unions and their ostrich like insistence that nothing is wrong. I'm with Gov Walker.
Liljenquist didn't object to our challenges to his rendition of the budget issue in Wisconsin. He isn't objecting to the fact that these "wrathful" unions have agreed to all of the concessions asked of them by the state of Wisconsin.  He didn't objecting to the implication that the fight in WI seems less about the budget, and more about a concentrated conservative push to undermine workers unions and pin state budget problems on the backs of teachers, firefighters and laborers.  He didn't challenge the notion that WI Governor has helped to create a budget crisis with corporate hand outs.  He didn't challenge the fact that state budgets are suffering the effects of a high unemployment, a housing crisis, and an economy in serious need of investment rather than further growth stifling cuts.

But he is, clearly, comparing what's going on there to what he is pushing for here.  So can we assume he intends to create, with the support of the entire legislature, to create the same budgetary environment in Utah?

It's disappointing.  Having spoken with Liljenquist a few times, I was impressed.  Perhaps I just wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, hoping he was coming from was a position of true concern for the future of all Utahns, as far as that future is tied to how we budget.  Unfortunately, it seems Liljenquist is nothing but another ideologue with an axe to grind.  Liljenquist is fond of saying "Do the math."  I encourage everyone to do exactly that.  Liljenquist's doesn't add up, or he is willing to mislead to justify his agenda.  Also worth noting, these reforms amount to changing the rules mid-game.  The state, like Wisconsin, is in effect renegotiating a contract made with Utah workers regarding promised earnings because they, legislators, did not budget well enough to meet their end of the bargain in a recessive economy.  That's irresponsible, and now Liljenquist wants to place the blame on you!

With that in mind, the cries of "Medicaid is bankrupting us!" play out more as an weak excuse than a noble call to action.  Last year, that same excuse was made to justify rushed pension reforms.  What's next, Senator?  Education?  Transportation?  Probably.  And speaking of ostriches, notice that missing from any/all of this debate is any discussion of Utah's revenue stream architecture.  Liljenquist would have us believe Utah has stumbled upon perfection in that arena, and any short coming must obviously be the fault of people who want retirement security or reliable medical services.

Both pensions and Medicaid are important parts of budgetary planning, and no one -- ever -- should defend the status quo as the best that can be done, including tax structure.

In light of all of this, Utahns should be very suspicious about how these reforms are taking shape, and what, exactly, Senator Liljenquist's true motives really are.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Questioning Senator Liljenquist's Credibility

Last years pension "reforms" and the current Medicaid changes in Utah have been almost exclusively synonymous with one State Senator's name: Sen. Dan Liljenquist.

Liljenquist has been referred to again and again as the "smartest guy in the room" when it comes to these two issues as they relate to reforms and the state budget, and there's been little reason not to give Liljenquist the benefit of the doubt on his level of expertise and sincerity.  Until today.  Liljenquist posts, at his own website, a defense and justification of what Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's proposals, hitting all the talking points, and as we've seen from the WI GOP, telling about half the truth.

Liljenquist:

Wisconsin knows that reality is not negotiable. For years, they – along with about 49 other states – have kicked the can down the road when it comes to dealing with soaring pension costs and exploding unfunded liabilities. This week, Governor Scott Walker, a conservative Republican, told Fox News Sunday: “For us, this is about balancing the budget. We’ve got a $3.6 billion budget deficit. We are broke. Just like nearly every other state across the country, we’re broke. It’s about time somebody stood up and told the truth.”
Well, it appears Liljenquist won't be doing that "truth telling."  Wisconsin doesn't have a $3 billion deficit this year, they have a $130 million shortfall for the remainder of this cycle, in an overall state budget of $14 billion (i.e. that's a crisis?  Really?).  Budget analysts agree that a $3 billion gap is on the way 'round 2011-13 in Wisconsin, but why?  The state's legislative authority (think WI CBO) has an idea:
More than half of the lower estimate ($117.2 million) is due to the impact of Special Session Senate Bill 2 (health savings accounts), Assembly Bill 3 (tax deductions/credits for relocated businesses), and Assembly Bill 7 (tax exclusion for new employees).
Or.
In English: The governor called a special session of the legislature and signed two business tax breaks and a conservative health-care policy experiment that lowers overall tax revenues (among other things). The new legislation was not offset, and it turned a surplus into a deficit. [See update below.] As Brian Beutler writes, "public workers are being asked to pick up the tab for this agenda."
This is the height of irresponsible governance, and a strategy, it seems, endorsed by our own "authority" on state budget reforms?  More from Liljenquist:
Schoolteachers from Madison, Wisconsin are some of the best paid teachers in the country, earning an average of $56,000 a year in salary, plus benefits totaling over $100,000.. Many public employees in Wisconsin can retire at age 55 with close to full pay, much earlier than the average private sector employee, while public sector unions are now the biggest contributor to political campaigns in the state.
The unspoken charge?  Wisconsin's budget "crisis" is caused by public employees' pensions, teacher's salaries, and the ability of public unions to negotiate on the behalf of public employees.  It's the standard GOP meme, but also happens to be one big lie.  Not just in Wisconsin but nationwide, state budget problems are a result of the recession, the housing crisis, and high unemployment.  Not teachers, firefighters, policemen, or the clerks at the DMV, as Senator Liljenquist seems to believe himself.

[Worth noting, as well: pension promises by states were de facto contracts between workers and states, which states now want to withdraw.  So states (like Utah) refuse to address their revenue models, continuously pin public worker pensions to the whims of the stock market, and when the markets fold in a recession, return to these workers and demand concessions?  Wow, that's leadership!]

That aside, what Senator Liljenquist fails to point out in his post is that WI's public unions have agreed to every financial concession the Governor has asked for.  They simply object to his proposed changes to union bargaining rights -- changes that would not change the budget situation one iota.  Should Walker withdraw the bargaining rights changes, legislative Democrats would return, and public workers would accept the financial burden they are being asked to shoulder.  So who is holding up the process then?  Walker.

Sen. Liljenquist, for all of his oft-touted "expertise" here is either grossly misinformed or willing to intentionally grossly misinform the rest of us.  Neither should be acceptable from a state senator, even more so from the person driving our own state "reforms." 

Monday, February 7, 2011

PATRIOT Act Vote Tomorrow, Call Your Congressman

Electronic Frontier Foundation, in the inbox:

Tell your Congressperson to vote NO to the PATRIOT Act before tomorrow's vote! The PATRIOT reauthorization bill being fast-tracked to the House floor contains NO reforms, and will be voted upon with NO debate and NO opportunity for amendments to add oversight and accountability. Help stop this sneak attack on your civil liberties.

Tell your Representative to vote "NO" on H.R. 514, the PATRIOT extension bill.

Last year, many important PATRIOT reform measures were proposed, and a bill filled with powerful new checks and balances was reported favorably out of the House Judiciary Committee. But, as it ran up against the deadline, Congress decided there was not enough time to fully consider those reforms. So, last year, Congress extended the "sunsetting" sections of the law until the end of this February, with a promise to fully consider the issues before the next deadline.

But now, in a legislative sneak attack, the new Republican leadership in the House is trying to duck Congress' promise to consider PATRIOT reform, and is instead pushing your Representative to rubber-stamp another PATRIOT renewal. The House leaders have just announced that they'll be "suspending the rules" so that a bill introduced by Rep. Sensenbrenner to extend the expiring provisions until December 8, 2011 will go to the House floor for a vote on Tuesday, without any debate and without any opportunity for anyone to offer amendments to improve the bill.



Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Huntsman

Crossposted at MyDD.

Former Utah Governor turned Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman Jr. has resigned his post, and all speculation is that he's prepping for a White House run.

Huntsman has the money to jump-start a campaign, and the timing is undeniable, but he'd have to be tone deaf to take a run seriously.  He's proven himself to be a sharp reader of political winds, and agile flip flopper.  To get elected in Utah, he tied himself to an Eagle Forum devotee for Lt. Gov (Now Governor... so thanks for that Jon) from Utah's most conservative county.  Once elected, fence sitting and inconsistencies were elevated to an art form.  Jed Lewison beat me to the punch, detailing Huntsman as a walking contradiction.

But it's not just contradictions in tone, it's also substance. For example, in early 2009, Huntsman said Republicans needed to embrace gay rights and endorsed civil unions, but in 2004 he supported a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, a ban which included the following provision: "No other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect."
Similarly, in 2009, he said Republicans needed to take a moderate stand on immigration and praised Ronald Reagan for granting amnesty, yet a year earlier, he'd signed into law a hard-line anti-immigration measure similar to Arizona's SB1070.
Sound familiar?  Mittens, Jr, without the MA health care mandate.

Huntsman can read the leaves, and shape himself accordingly, but it's tea leaves he'd be reading now.  Despite his overwhemling popularity in the second most conservative state in the union, Huntsman saw the writing on the wall after the 2008 election results were in.  His state, just as in the Clinton years, was about to become a far-right haven he wouldn't fare as well in.  He'd painted himself as a moderate, without actually opposing some of the most extreme policies the Utah State Legislature tossed his way, but in the tea party age his lack of commitment to Teh Crazy was about to come home, and he -- smartly -- bailed.

In short, if the GOP were anywhere close to sane right now, Huntsman the Moderate could be their best shot.  But the TeaGOP won't buy Huntsman the Palin-ite.  Plus, Mittens! is one step ahead on the pandering.

If Huntsman gets in, it's just until Iowa.  Enough to show intent, on his own dime, with 2016 in mind.