Rejecting dozens of heroic characters, from Captain America to Underdog, Republicans last week chose instead a villain for their figurehead. 

They selected Prince John, the guy who coddled the rich and tried to crush Robin Hood. House Republicans voted to elevate Prince John as their champion when they passed a budget slashing taxes for the rich and decimating programs for workers and low-income Americans.

Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, who authored the anti-Robin Hood spending plan, said the budget “comes down to a matter of trust.”  Trust, Ryan believes, should be placed in the rich and Washington politicians like him, a Prince John man who devised a spending scam enriching the rich and depriving the rest. Ryan asked, “Who knows better: the people or Washington?” The GOP answer: Washington, of course. A place purchased by the very, very rich.

Ryan’s anti-Robin Hood spending plan takes health care from the poor and elderly and gives tax breaks to the rich and super rich. Really. Republicans voted to cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires from 39.6 percent to 25 percent. Nice, right? Except for Americans who depend on Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare.

Republicans voted to voucherize Medicare, which would force senior citizens to pay thousands of dollars more each year. Ryan and his fellow House Republicans voted to kill Obamacare, which means the 7.1 million who got insurance on the exchanges would lose it; the 3.1 million young people covered under Obamacare’s extension of their parents’ plans would lose insurance, and the 3 million who got insurance under Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion would lose it.

That’s 13 million without health insurance, in addition to low-income seniors struggling to pay premiums as Ryan’s vouchers lose value. But, hey, billionaires get a tax break!

Ryan’s anti-Robin Hood spending scheme provides more money for guns and less for bread. Republicans would increase military spending by $483 billion above caps in the 2011 Budget Control Act while slashing non-arms spending by $791 billion. 

That works out well for Republican hawks like John McCain who want to “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.” Not so much for low income parents who want their children to eat. Republicans voted to cut food stamps, school lunches and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The GOP serenade to those Americans: “Starve, starve, starve, starve, starve poor kids.”

Ryan’s anti-Robin Hood spending plan robs low-income Americans of funding for Pell Grants, Head Start and special education while granting tax breaks to corporations so profitable that they are sitting on $1.5 trillion in cash. Republicans would hand corporations a tax rate cut from 35 to 25 percent, while ensuring that an uneven educational playing field prevents impoverished Americans from ever achieving those new, lower tax rates for the rich.

Ryan’s anti-Robin Hood plan would pierce Big Bird’s heart with an arrow while freeing corporations from paying taxes on overseas corporate earnings. Just to be clear, that would mean the death of Junior’s Sesame Street program and his daddy’s manufacturing job, since this tax system would encourage corporations to ship factories overseas where profits wouldn’t be taxed.

Ryan said federal subsidies for Big Bird’s nest – the non-profit Corporation for Public Broadcasting – “can no longer be justified.” But, Republicans believe, for-profit corporations that don’t provide public education should pay no taxes at all on offshore earnings – even while Americans supply the big military stick that protects these corporations’ foreign facilities.

Washington politician Paul Ryan’s priorities are not America’s. Seventy-nine percent of Americans believe corporations should pay the same tax rate on foreign profits as they do on domestic profits.

Forced to choose, the majority would pick Big Bird over a big bomb. Support for the war in Afghanistan has plummeted to 17 percent. Fewer than 13 percent support military action against Russia for its actions in Ukraine.

Some 70 percent of Americans oppose cuts to food stamps. Similarly, 69 percent want the nation’s education system improved. Sixty-one percent say the rich don’t pay enough taxes. Sixty-six percent believe corporations don’t pay enough taxes. Seventy-four percent favor the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare.

The Republicans’ priorities are all wrong. As were those of Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Ryan and his right-wing crew focus on the demands of the wealthy and ignore the values of the vast majority of Americans.

Ryan uses magical accounting to assert that his budget will balance in a decade. Eliminating the deficit is an urgent matter for Ryan and Washington Republicans, but it’s not among the top priorities of most Americans. Theirs are improving the economy and increasing jobs. Republicans ignored that, approving a budget that will reduce jobs.

Over decades, Americans created and strengthened social programs for themselves that they now cherish. These include Medicare, Medicaid, Pell Grants, Head Start, and public radio and television.

In polls, Americans have even said they are willing to pay more taxes to support beloved social welfare programs. Most believe, however, that if corporations and billionaires paid their fair share, these programs would not be threatened. For example, if millionaires paid the same percentage of their income into Social Security that minimum wage earners do, the trust fund would not run dry in 20 years potentially limiting benefits in 2033. 

In a principled budget process, elected representatives would fairly tax the rich, not steal from the poor. There’s even a partial antidote for Ryan’s anti-Robin Hood budget. It’s called the Robin Hood tax. It’s a tiny fee on financial transactions. Many experts believe it would discourage risky trading on Wall Street while raising billions for programs like Pell Grants and Big Bird. Eleven European Union nations, including the four largest, are moving toward levying it.

That tax is not in the Republicans’ anti-Robin Hood spending scheme. That’s because Ryan’s a Washington politician who believes he knows better than the American people.

The billionaire-hugging right-wingers on the Supreme Court, who began poisoning the American political process in 2010 with their Citizens United decision, dumped a truckload more Zyklon B into voting booths last week with their McCutcheon ruling.

While in Citizens United they awarded corporations the right to secretly shower political groups with unlimited cash, in McCutcheon they enabled each billionaire to dump a total of $3.6 million on candidates and party organizations every two years instead of limiting themselves to the previous maximum of $123,000. 

Squelching political corruption was the purpose of the campaign spending finance laws that the right-wing justices gutted. The spending limits shrank billionaires’ ability buy politicians.  The right-wingers on the court asserted that billionaires have a First Amendment right to spend as much as they want on politics. The court said that right supersedes the right of the non-rich majority to a democracy in which their elected representatives’ attention and positions can’t be purchased by a tiny wealthy minority.

Joe Six-Pack can’t compete for politicians’ time with Joe Six-Figure-Check. Just think about how quickly Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, jumped on the phone when he thought billionaire right-wing funder David Koch was on the other line. The caller actually was Ian Murphy, editor of online weekly the Buffalo Beast, punking Walker, who agreed during the taped conversation to accept a vacation trip, which was offered as a reward for the governor breaking the state’s unions.

Or, just think about the “Adelson primary” conducted last month by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the world’s eighth-richest person, the guy who shelled out $150 million to influence elections in 2012. Joe Six-Pack knows better than to put out a big spread if he invites to lunch the front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination – say Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Wisconsin’s infamous Gov. Walker, New Jersey’s even more infamous Gov. Chris Bridgegate Christie, and Bush dynasty next-in-line Jeb. But when Sheldon sent them gilded invitations, they all flew right over.  Under investigation in two countries for possible corrupt practices, Sheldon has a lot to gain if he can buy himself a president.

The problem isn’t limited to Sheldon purchasing immunity or GE procuring tax breaks, enabling the nation’s largest corporation to force taxpayers to give it money instead of it paying taxes. The problem also is that the rich are different from the 99 percent.

That’s what three university professors found in a study of the political views and activities of the one percent. It’s called, “Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans.”

Of the tiny percentage of Americans who are very rich, the researchers wrote:

“We find that they are extremely active politically and that they are much more conservative than the American public as a whole with respect to important policies concerning taxation, economic regulation, and especially social welfare programs. Variation within this wealthy group suggests that the top one-tenth of 1 percent of wealth-holders (people with $40 million or more in net worth) may tend to hold still more conservative views that are even more distinct from those of the general public. We suggest that these distinctive policy preferences may help account for why certain public policies in the United States appear to deviate from what the majority of U.S. citizens wants the government to do. If this is so, it raises serious issues for democratic theory.”

This difference explains why the vast majority of Americans cherish programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and public education while wealthy right-wingers condemn them, calling them “collectivism” and government attempts to control citizens’ lives, as billionaire Charles G. Koch did in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week. Koch, worth $40 billion, won’t ever need Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid or public education. No wonder he claims he’d have more liberty if a smaller government would kill off those programs and people would “help themselves” instead.

He has no idea what it feels like for the 43 percent of Americans who have less than $10,000 saved for retirement and depend on getting Social Security and Medicare to stave off a diet of cat food.

The wealthy, like Koch and Shaun McCutcheon, who along with the Republican National Committee sought to end the limit on aggregate campaign contributions, intend to use their money to buy a government that does their bidding. McCutcheon said his goal in spending more money on politics was to encourage enforcement of conservative principals, which are, as Koch said, small government and more freedom – that is, more freedom for the rich to kill Social Security and Medicare.

In earlier rulings on the issue of campaign finance, the Supreme Court has acknowledged that money can corrode democracy, finding “an indisputable link” between big cash gifts and opportunities to speak directly to Congressmen and noting the threat that the money obliges officeholders to vote based on large donors’ demands rather than on the needs of constituents. 

Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the right-wing majority opinion in the McCutcheon case, asserted that’s not corruption any more, writing: “government regulation may not target the general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford.”

Roberts also insisted that only the First Amendment rights of one percenters may be considered, not any adverse effect on America’s democracy. “The whole point of the First Amendment is to protect individual speech,” he wrote, adding, “the degree to which speech is protected cannot turn on a legislative or judicial determination that particular speech is useful to the democratic process.” Congress may not, he said, limit campaign contributions in order level the playing field between wealthy donors and ordinary citizens.

The effect is to silence ordinary citizens, to deny them their First Amendment rights to speech because their pleas won’t be heard over the million dollar megaphones the Supreme Court right-wingers have permitted billionaires to use.

Big league universities want the athletes they recruit to see them as substitute moms and dads. Don’t worry, they say, be happy, ’cause we’ve got you covered.

It’s all very appealing – until an athlete is seriously injured in practice or a game. Then the athlete may lose his scholarship. Then, all too often, after he leaves school, he can’t get medical care for the injury because the university didn’t continue to provide insurance. Then he’s out in the cold with no concern from the school that had been so solicitous before he was crippled on its field of glory.

“Don’t worry, be happy” is the same paternalistic hogwash that employers across America tell workers. Don’t fuss about the safeguard missing from that hazardous paper rolling machine. Don’t concern yourselves with that deadly silica dust you’re inhaling. Don’t fret about supervisors overriding safety devices. Just be happy you’ve got a job, the boss says. Some workers, however, are never happy blindly placing their lives in the hands of others. So they join with fellow workers and establish labor unions, giving them the leverage they need to improve their welfare at work. That’s what the scholarship football players at Northwestern University are doing. They’re forming a union to achieve some level of self-determination.

Like coal miners and steelworkers and school teachers, university football players want a seat at the table when issues affecting their health and welfare are decided. Scholarship football players at Northwestern University are seeking that position for themselves. They did it by authorizing a new labor union, the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA), to represent them.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the governing body for college sports, has condemned the attempt by college athletes to secure the right to participate in deciding their own fates. The NCAA’s position is clear: it should retain complete paternalistic control over the players.

Its response last year to football players from several universities who publicly demonstrated for better concussion precautions illustrates clearly that the NCAA believes college athletes are best seen and not heard.   

Every year, researchers discover more about the devastating, life-long effects of concussions. College players, who suffer concussions routinely, are rightly concerned. Their academic scholarships will be valueless if injuries on the field cause debilitating and permanent brain injuries.

To express their concerns, some players, including Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, wore to last season’s televised games wristbands bearing the initials “APU.” It stands for All Players United for reform of rules regarding concussions set by the NCAA and the universities.

The NCAA responded as if concussed.

That was not the reaction of a caring parent. The NCAA and the universities even failed at the pretense of paternalism.

So Colter sought help from someone he knew he could trust, Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA linebacker who in 2001 created the National College Players Association (NCPA) to advocate for better treatment of university athletes.

They decided to go beyond advocacy, to seek a union for college athletes, so they would have real leverage to use ­– the power of a team – to negotiate over safety issues. The vast majority of Northwestern scholarship football players, who are outstanding students with a graduation rate of 97 percent, signed cards seeking representation by CAPA, for which Huma also serves as president.

Huma asked my union, the United Steelworkers, for help with the legal costs as the issue of unionization by scholarship athletes was argued before the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. The USW, which has 12 years assisted Huma and the players association, agreed.

Last week, Peter Ohr, a regional NLRB director, ruled that the scholarship players have the right to form a union. Ohr wrote that these players, who devote as many as 50 hours a week to football, are employees within the meaning of the National Labor Relations Act.  

Northwestern has announced it will appeal. That means these athletes won’t immediately get a seat at the table. It means universities and the NCAA are likely to continue ignoring many of the athletes’ concerns.

In addition to better protection against concussions, the athletes want insurance coverage that would enable them to get treatment after college for injuries sustained on the field. They want the schools to stop rescinding their academic scholarships when injuries in college games and practices end their athletic careers. They want some control over how their likenesses are used.

These young people place their health in jeopardy every time they step on the field. They know that. They love the game, and they’re willing to take necessary risks.

But they shouldn’t be exposed to unnecessary risks. No amount of scholarship money justifies endangering young people needlessly.

The safety measures and insurance the players are seeking won’t bankrupt the universities or the NCAA either. The NCAA and the universities will get, for example, $7.3 billion over 10 years from the TV coverage of the new football playoff system.

But just like other powerful, highly profitable employers, the universities won’t simply comply with safety measures or hand over benefits. They’re not kindly parents.

Despite all the assurances from football programs, the athletes still worry. They’re not happy. And Northwestern’s football players are doing something about it. They’re in league now with millions of other workers who realized that the only way to get what they need is to bargain for it collectively.

In the olden days, buying votes was a risky business. That’s not because the purchaser faced felony charges. No, the real peril was that the guy bribing voters wouldn’t get what he wanted.

The process was too indirect. The man with “walking around money” would tell voters what he wanted them to do in exchange for a few beers or bucks. But Americans, being the contrarians they are, could cast their secret ballots for the exact opposite candidates, then accept the booze anyway, thank you very much.These days, there’s a much more direct process. One percenters and corporations can secretly buy politicians. Using front groups, the wealthy can “donate” unlimited millions to elect a candidate and remain completely anonymous. So the public won’t know that the senator pushing for smiley faces to be printed on cigarette cartons instead of health warnings received $50 million in ads paid for by the tobacco industry.

Several news stories last week illustrated exactly how this threat to democracy, sanctioned by the gang of right-wingers on the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case, plays out. The most jaw dropping is the case of former Republican Utah state attorney general John Swallow, who used shadowy nonprofit organizations to conceal hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the vilest industry in America – payday lenders.

In exchange for the money, Swallow promised to use the office of attorney general to champion payday lenders, the flimflam men who exploit and bankrupt the poor with short-term loans at exorbitant interest rates. 

Swallow made bald promises to this despised industry.  In one letter to a Tennessee payday executive, he wrote, “I look forward to being in a position to help the industry as an AG [attorney general] following the 2012 elections.” In another, he pledged to ward off regulation by the new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by organizing a posse of other right-wing attorneys general.

Swallow knew, however, a payday lenders’ water boy would disgust voters. So he and his associates shrouded the payday lender donations with a bunch of “social welfare” nonprofits, which don’t have to report who contributes, the New York Times reported last week. 

The scam disintegrated when the Internal Revenue Service began investigating one of the shady nonprofit groups that contributed to Swallow. Other inquiries followed, and Swallow resigned after less than a year in office.

Swallow’s payday lender benefactors didn’t lose their investment so quickly in another case, however. They bought ads vilifying Utah state representative Brad Daw, who had pushed for legislation that would have barred payday companies from loaning money to people already deeply in debt. After the payday lender-sponsored attacks, Brad Daw, a four-term lawmaker, lost his primary. Payday regulation defeated!

Payday lenders, justifiably, don’t enjoy high public approval ratings. Yet, thanks to the right-wingers on the U.S. Supreme Court, they can circumvent democracy with boundless cash and get candidates elected or rejected.

What the right-wing justices ruled in the Citizens United case is that government can’t limit the amount of money corporations spend to get a candidate elected, as long as they don’t hand the money directly to the candidate.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the Republican of Bridge-Gate infamy, provides an example of how badly this sort of purchased politics plays out for citizens. In 2009, hedge fund manager Paul Singer donated $100,000, not to Christie, but to the Republican Governors Association. The Association, in turn, aired ads for then-candidate Christie.

At the time, The Nation magazine reported last week, Christie was blasting the Democratic gubernatorial incumbent for what Christie asserted was unethical investment of public employee retiree money on Wall Street, where risk and fees are higher and returns are lower than with traditional conservative investments such as U.S. Treasury notes.

Christie won and almost immediately after taking office began investing New Jersey public employee retiree money on Wall Street, with of course Paul Singer’s hedge fund. A former trustee for another state retirement system estimated for The Nation magazine that Singer’s fund collected $8.6 million in fees from the New Jersey investments – for one year, 2013. That year, Singer gave $1.2 million to the Republican Governors Association, which by then, Christie chaired.

That’s good for Christie, a potential presidential candidate, of course. The same can’t be said for New Jersey workers and retirees. With an unusually large portion of the state retiree money in the hands of hedge funds by 2013, New Jersey’s return, at 11.79 percent, was significantly lower than the median return on pensions that year of 16.1 percent.

The right-wingers on the Supreme Court are expected to rule any day in another case, McCutcheon, that would further empower the wealthy to buy the political process.

Right now, there’s a limit on the aggregate amount a person or corporation can contribute directly to candidates during a two-year election cycle. The right wing justices are expected to eliminate that cap.

It’s $123,200.  The average American doesn’t make that much money in two years.

So, it’s no wonder that politicians don’t do what average Americans want. Significant majorities of average Americans think Congress should raise the minimum wage, extend unemployment insurance, lower income inequality and provide a path to citizenship for immigrants. But these are not the priorities of the 1 percent or of corporations. And, naturally, they are not the priorities of the politicians who owe their victories to buckets of cash from the 1 percent and corporations.

The rich can buy more of everything. More food. More cars. More houses. More vacations. More boats. But for a democracy to function properly, they should be forbidden from buying more votes. 

Republicans despise America’s poor and jobless. The GOP made that perfectly clear by repeatedly denouncing them and cutting food stamps and unemployment benefits. But last week, Republicans revealed that they also hate hard-working Americans!

Republicans condemned President Obama for proposing to extend mandatory overtime pay to more workers. The GOP doesn’t believe that Americans who work longer hours should be paid more.

Unlike the GOP, the vast majority of Americans believe extra effort should be rewarded.  They cherish the idea that their country is one where those who work hard can get ahead. In recent years, however, the actual experience of far too many Americans is that doesn’t happen. They work 50, 60, even 70 hours a week and don’t get paid extra for it. These are not high-roller managers or executives or professionals who don’t expect time and a half for overtime. These are hourly wage earners. President Obama signed an executive order last week to require employers to pay more workers overtime, to stop corporations from devaluing both hard work and an important American principal.

Overtime pay has a long tradition in the United States. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called for Congress to create a federal standard for overtime pay during the Great Depression. He proposed it along with other then-radical ideas like requiring a minimum wage and prohibiting child labor. These were contained in legislation called the Fair Labor Standards Act.

He sent it to Congress 77 years ago with the admonition:  "A self-supporting and self-respecting democracy can plead no justification for the existence of child labor, no economic reason for chiseling workers’ wages or stretching workers' hours." Just like now, Republicans opposed it.

Before overtime, President Roosevelt had to create a standard work week. He chose 40 hours – five eight-hour days – which labor unions and worker activists had been seeking for more than a century. They contended that each laborer who worked 8 hours also deserved 8 hours for rest and 8 hours for family and community.

Under President Roosevelt’s plan, workers who labored more than 40 hours in a week would receive one and a half times their hourly wage for each extra hour. Extra work would be rewarded. Another benefit would be increased employment. The overtime pay requirement encouraged employers to save money by hiring more workers, who would be less costly at straight-time wages.

The law passed in 1938 with Republicans still sputtering and protesting. Presidents updated it over the decades, most recently George W. Bush. As might be expected from a Republican, his changes denied overtime pay to as many as 8 million workers. Bush did that by enabling corporations to easily classify more workers as managers and professionals exempt from the extra pay requirements.

Now, 10 years later, low-paid, clearly non-managerial workers are suffering. A fry cook who spends 10 percent of her time instructing new hires may be classified as a supervisor and denied overtime pay for the 15 extra hours the restaurant requires her to put in every week. A computer repairman with a two-year tech school degree could be classified as a professional and earn less than minimum wage when his salary is divided by the 60 hours a week he’s routinely required to work.

Also, employers can refuse to pay overtime to workers who earn as little as $455 a week, a salary far below historical levels for overtime exemption. That figure – $23,660 a year – is the federal poverty level for a family of four, hardly the comfortable professional or managerial salary that traditionally justified denial of overtime pay.

“Americans don’t expect a free lunch,” President Obama said when he signed the order last week telling the Labor Department to write new rules to ensure that those who deserve overtime pay get it. He added: “If you’re working hard, [and] you’re barely making ends meet, you should be paid overtime.” That is what Americans believe.

Still, right wing-talk show hostsRepublican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner and the nation’s largest business lobby, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, all cried crocodile tears that corporations just couldn’t pay workers a fair wage for extra work.

In fact, they can. Both corporate profits and productivity are high. Since the mid-1980s, corporate profits have soared, setting post-World War II recordsOverall productivity grew 74.5 percent between 1979 and 2012.

Wages, however, stagnated in that 33 year period, rising just 5 percent. Workers are more productive. Their labor is creating record profits. But they’re not benefitting. President Obama believes their hard work should be rewarded. Fixing problems with overtime pay will help. It’s part of his “Opportunity for All” program.

When President Obama announced the plan to protect workers from overtime exploitation, Nancy Minor, vice president of United Steelworkers Local Union 10-1 in Philadelphia, was there. As she stood with a group of workers behind the president, he told them her story. He said that since Ms. Minor’s divorce 16 years ago, she has been able to raise and support four children because she received overtime pay from the oil refinery where she works.

“For more than 75 years, the 40-hour work week and the overtime that comes with it have helped countless workers like Nancy get ahead,” the President said, “And it means that when she’s asked to make significant sacrifices on behalf of her company – which she’s happy to do – they’re also looking out for her, recognizing that that puts a strain on her family and  – having to get a babysitter and all kinds of things, adjustments that she has to make.  It’s just fair.  It’s just the right thing to do.”

Ms. Minor, who has worked for the Sunoco refinery, now Philadelphia Energy Solutions, for 22 years, went to Washington to attend the event because she believes all Americans deserve good jobs with overtime pay. “I want to make sure every worker has the same opportunity,” she said.

Americans believe overtime pay is fair pay. Steelworkers like Ms. Minor receive it because their collective bargaining agreements require it. But untold millions of American workers don’t have that kind of protection. President Obama believes they should.
 

 

“Shut up!” That’s what Republican darling Darrell Issa told a Democrat who tried to speak at a public hearing last week. Issa didn’t deign to actually talk to a Democrat; instead he cut the microphones so the Democrat couldn’t be heard.

Rep. Issa, R-Calif., silenced Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. That’s exactly the tactic Republicans employed to marginalize President Obama’s 2015 budget, also released last week.

Republicans declared the budget dead on arrival. Nothing’s more silent than death. “Look away from the dead!” Republicans said, “Ignore the lifeless!” Dead on arrival, the Washington media repeated, assisting the GOP in achieving its goal. Of course, the budget wasn’t actually dead on arrival. But Republicans knew it would speak to the hopes and dreams of everyday Americans. So they tried choking it.

The most important difference between President Obama’s budget and the one Republicans will issue in a week or so is that the GOP’s prescriptions are both unpleasant and unpopular.

Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, has already proposed privatizing Social Security, slashing Medicaid and voucherizing Medicare. This year, he’s on a rant about the poor. He thinks programs like Food Stamps that put food in the stomachs of poor children are bad for them. Ryan recommended decimating Food Stamps before, so this time the Republican budget may simply eliminate food for the poor altogether.

By contrast, what President Obama proposes in his 2015 budget is both popular and productive. He doesn’t cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, for example. And his budget doesn’t advocate the highly unpopular starvation of American children. That’s why Republicans had to try to shut up talk about the President’s budget. The more Americans heard about it, the more they’d like it.

President Obama’s $3.9 trillion spending plan would stimulate the economy and improve the nation’s roads, bridges, sewers and other public works. It would raise the minimum wage, create jobs and improve education and job training. It would expand the earned income tax credit for the working poor.

Americans love those initiatives. So, of course, Republicans had to muffle talk about them.

President Obama would cover the cost of his programs with $1 trillion in new taxes that would be paid almost entirely by big business and the wealthy. That includes higher estate taxes, limits on corporate tax breaks and the Buffett Rule, named for Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett after he said no millionaire should pay a lower tax rate than his middle class secretary. 

The President’s plan also would end the “carried interest” scheme that enables billionaire hedge-fund managers to pay taxes on a lower percentage of their income than school teachers and would close the loophole that permits self-employed professionals to avoid payroll taxes on the bulk of their earnings.

All that sounds good to America’s 99 percent who have watched with consternation over the past two decades as income disparity rose. They witnessed with annoyance the 1 percent grabbing virtually all of the wealth resulting from productivity gains while throwing bread crumbs to workers whose labor created those gains. And that’s why Republicans attempted to smother talk about the President’s budget.

The President’s budget would decrease the deficit. That’s right: Cut it. The new taxes on the rich and the closed corporate tax loopholes would accomplish that. Over a decade, the budget plan would reduce the deficit to 1.6 percent of the economy, the smallest figure since 2007, before the Great Recession upended government finances.

A smaller deficit. Americans love that, especially after hearing Republicans yammer for years about the Armageddon of budget deficits. Republicans really had to shut up talk that President’s plan would avert Armageddon.

In addition to denting the deficit, President Obama included in his budget several other proposals for which Republicans have expressed support. Among them are expanding the earned income tax credit, taxing the accumulated overseas profits of multinational corporations, and beefing up security at U.S. diplomatic facilities overseas, to address concerns raised by the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. 

Even though Ryan himself supported the earned income tax credit expansion and Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., included taxing overseas profits in the tax overhaul plan he released last month, neither Republican spoke for the President’s plan. No. They shut up.

President Obama’s budget is based on the basic notion that America should provide opportunity for all. The country can and should offer a framework that enables every citizen to achieve for himself and contribute to his community.

The Republican budget is the opposite. The GOP notion is that America should function like the boys in the novel, “Lord of the Flies,” free of structure, rules, oversight and protection for the weak.

Ryan and his Republican band would slash and burn aid for the weak. A report Ryan issued last week contends, using the work of experts who say they were misrepresented or misquoted, that government programs for the poor don’t work and should be cut or scrapped. In his last spending plan, Ryan gouged $5 trillion from areas other than defense, two-thirds of that from programs to support the poor.

The result of the Republican budget would be opportunity only for those who already have money. So, of course, the GOP had to try to kill a budget conceived under the proposition of opportunity for everyone.

All those rights Americans cherish, those fundamental human and political freedoms protected by the U.S. Constitution, Republicans contend those aren’t really inalienable rights or anything solid or permanent like that.

See, according to the GOP, some Americans are sub-citizens who don’t deserve rights equal to those enjoyed by, well, the right-wing. Republicans think they’re right, and anyone who disagrees doesn’t deserve rights.

Republicans managed to highlight that perverse plank in their political platform over the past several weeks as they proposed – and sometimes actually passed – legislation limiting the fundamental rights of specific groups of American citizens. That includes gay Americans, African-Americans, and Americans who are members of labor unions. Right-wingers sought to seize from these Americans their rights to vote, protest and live free from discrimination.

Let’s start with A for Arizona, home of the “show me your papers,” law that requires Americans who look Hispanic, say the great grandchildren of people who legally immigrated from Mexico a century ago, to provide documents proving citizenship if police accuse them of jaywalking or speeding or some other minor crime. No one asks white looking Americans to authenticate their citizenship.

Last week in Arizona, right-wingers in the legislature tried to extend that kind of discrimination to gay people. Republicans passed a bill that permitted businesses to refuse to serve gay people if the shop owner contended his religious beliefs would be offended by selling a hair brush to a gay man or by completing a lesbian’s tax return.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed that attempt at legalizing discrimination. But right-wingers in at least five other states – Georgia, Idaho Mississippi, Missouri and Oklahoma – continue trying to legislate sub-citizenship for gay people.

Unlike Brewer, the Republican governor in Ohio, John Kasich, late last month signed legislation stripping rights from minorities. The law eliminates what Ohio called the “Golden Week” when citizens could register to vote and simultaneously cast an in-person absentee ballot. The intent of de-gilding Golden Week was to disenfranchise African Americans, who in 2008 accounted for 77 percent of early voters in Ohio.

Ohio also moved one of the state’s most heavily used early voting locations from downtown Cincinnati to a neighborhood that voting rights advocates say is significantly less accessible to low-income and disabled voters.

One Republican election official, Doug Priesse, explained why the right-wing is restricting voting: “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban – read African-American – voter-turnout machine.”

Other Republican-controlled states are curtailing early voting as well, including Georgia and Florida. Elizabeth Poythress, president of Georgia’s League of Women Voters said the Peach State’s proposed slashing of early balloting would “silence the voices of those least heard and rarely listened to in Georgia – the poor, the elderly, racial and ethnic minorities, the young and the disabled.”  

Those Americans might think twice before exercising their right to protest the right-wing’s war on their rights. That’s because at least four states want to revoke the basic rights of assembly and protest for workers who happen to belong to unions.

This is not even Boston Tea Party stuff where protesters trespassed and destroyed property. This is walking in circles with signs at the front gate of an employer – including the entrances to corporations that lock out workers who are willing to labor under the terms of an expired collective bargaining agreement but whose offer to continue working was rebuffed by bosses.

Right wingers in Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi and Michigan all put forward bills that would outlaw picketing at a private residence and demonstrations interfering with the entrance to a place of employment.

Federal law already prohibits protesters from blocking entrances. This would add “interfering.” And this would prevent union workers from demonstrating at the home of a CEO.

It might be a little annoying to a CEO if some workers marched in a circle with signs outside his mansion, but making protests personal is an American tradition as old as the Boston Tea Party, when the “Sons of Liberty” violently demonstrated at the homes of British colonial officials.

The right to protest was so important to the founding fathers that they protected it in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  But right-wing lawmakers in Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi and Michigan want to take that right from members of labor unions.

Republican Jeremy Durham introduced the bill in Tennessee and explained that he felt he had to restrict the civil liberties of union members to prevent workers from organizing and collectively bargaining for better pay and benefits in his state. Here’s what he said: "Tennessee unions quietly added 31,000 members in 2013, representing the largest percentage increase in union membership in the country. I just feel like if that's such a growing part of our economy that we need to take some preemptive measures."

In Michigan, the proposal to take away union members’ right to picket was introduced by Republican Tom McMillin, who has, however, used his First Amendment right to protest at  abortion clinics.

Even the website of Right to Life Michigan stresses the freedom of citizens to protest, stating:  “The U.S. and Michigan constitutions protect the fundamental free speech right of citizens to peaceably speak, assemble, picket, and distribute leaflets in public places.”

But McMillin and his right-wing buddies in Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi think that workers who join unions should lose those rights.

No rights for union members, gays, African Americans, the disabled or young or old or poor, says the right-wing.  No one’s rights are safe in their hands.

Watch Jon Stewart on Arizona's "pre-emptive strike":

Right-wing billionaires threw a hissy fit in recent weeks.  The 99 percent are persecuting them, the wealthy ones whined. That whole Occupy Wall Street thing hurt their feelings, conservative 1 percenters pouted.

The right-wing rich didn’t threaten to take their Shimansky diamond soccer balls and stomp home in their Bruno Maglis. Instead, they want real retribution. They want to steal Americans’ birthright, their most valuable possession – their democracy.

Silicon Valley vulture capitalist Tom Perkins explained the billionaires’ plan.  First, Perkins contended in a letter to the Wall Street Journal that progressives and the 99 percent are persecuting America’s wealthiest in the same way the Nazis murdered, raped and plundered the German Jewish minority during Kristallnacht. Then Perkins revealed his scheme to change the world, to crush the uppity 99 percent once and for all and make America what he would call a decent place for billionaires. It’s simple. No more of that pesky one human, one vote. Perkins believes billionaires should get a vote for every dollar they pay in taxes. People too poor to pay federal income taxes would get no vote. None. Sales and real estate and dozens of other taxes that everyone pays don’t count in Perkins Land.

Perkins’ one-dollar-one-vote plutocracy solves so many problems for the rich! The way democracy works now, the rich spend tens of millions on front groups that try to persuade the 99 percent to support legislation to aid the 1 percent – like tax breaks for ungodly profitable oil corporations and laws that prohibit voting by people without driver’s licenses (that’s poor people). Often these front groups fail – a fact that’s extremely frustrating to the rich.  Poor, poor rich people!

Instead of all that annoyance, Perkins’ plutocracy plan would enable the rich to make all of the rules. They would, after all, own virtually all of the votes.

The legislative shopping list of the Perkins plutocrats is not exactly the people’s plan. The plutocrats would cut Social Security, as billionaire Pete Peterson’s various front groups have tried to do for years. Similarly, they’d end pensions for public employees, as Texas billionaire John D. Arnold is seeking. They’d destroy Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act because, let’s face it, the Perkins kingpins aren’t going to help pay for health care for the elderly or poor working people.  Forget about it.

Perkins made his priorities pretty clear in a televised interview with Fortune Magazine Senior Editor Adam Lashinsky. The government should not be providing food stamps to 47 million people, he asserted. Perkins would end government food aid to these humans he considers laggards – like the elderly and disabled people and children who reside in 76 percent of households that get food stamps.

Let those lazy arthritis-crippled seniors and whiny five-year-olds get jobs! Perkins notes in the interview that he earned money as a child – laboring as a paper boy, babysitter and grocery bagger – work that Perkins falsely and bizarrely claimed is outlawed now because of child labor and minimum-wage laws.

On the other hand, Perkins said the government should continue paying for medical and pharmaceutical research – programs from which his firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, made a profit. The Perkins government by and for the 1 percent would fund stuff that fills plutocrats’ pockets and defund stuff that fills people’s stomachs.

The Wall Street Journal and conservative lap dog Kevin D. Williamson rushed to support Perkins. Williamson, a plutocrat wannabe, says in a National Review article that the rich should get political power in proportion to their federal income tax payments.

The rich are better than everyone else, according to Williamson, Perkins and wealthy bankers who hang out exclusively with other 1 percenters and snicker about the suffering that the Wall Street crash caused the 99 percent. "I don't think people have any idea what the 1 percent is actually contributing to America," Perkins told Lashinsky. He mentioned a $100 million gift by a billionaire to a New York hospital.

Right. Like Andrew Carnegie built libraries in an attempt to buy his way into heaven after his pathetic wages pauperized his mill workers and after he had them killed by Pinkertons when they tried to unionize to secure better pay, which, by the way, would have enabled them to build their own libraries.

Right. Like all rich people are the smartest and hardest working. That would include 1 percenter Jamie Dimon who persuaded the JP Morgan Chase board to give him a 74 percent pay raise after the bank was fined more than $20 billion for improprieties. That would include former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain who gave himself and other executives $4 billion in bonuses days before his failing firm was taken over by Bank of America, which then grabbed billions in federal bailout money. That would include the incompetents who ran AIG and Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, who took down the nation’s economy while pulling down billions in salary and bonuses.

Presumably millionaire scoundrels like Enron’s Jeff Skilling and Tyco’s Dennis Kozlowski could place their votes from prison as long as they continued paying taxes because, of course, in the Perkins plutocracy, it’s the width of one’s wallet that counts, not the content of one’s character.

And in the United Plutocrats of Perkins, the children and grandchildren of billionaires, the nation’s Paris Hiltons and PC Petersons, would wield millions of times the political power of Jack Andraka, the determined Maryland teen-ager who developed an inexpensive test for pancreatic cancer, or Tawanda Jones, who used her savings to start a dance team to teach Camden girls self-discipline.

Self-righteous 1 percenters  –  from former Morgan Stanley CEO John J. Mack to real estate investor Sam Zell  – sulked in recent weeks that their money can’t buy them love from the 99 percent. Perkins’ solution is to eliminate democracy’s self-determination and return to medieval rule by wealthy royals.

He doesn’t understand that once people experience democracy, they’re not going to let money buy votes.

“Doctor, doctor, give me the news
I got a bad case of lovin' you
No pill's gonna cure my ill
I got a bad case of lovin' you

Whooaaa”  ~ Robert Palmer, 1979, Bad Case of Loving You

On this Valentine’s Day, as many as 4.4 million more Americans than on Feb. 14 last year could go to the doctor to get the news.

That’s because the Affordable Care Act provided them with health insurance. So they can afford to have a physician diagnose their light headedness or aching hearts.

The Republican response to that good news, as in the song made famous by Robert Palmer, is “WHOOAAA.” They want to stop it. They want to reverse, revoke, rescind, retract the Affordable Care Act.  They’ve tried it all. Nearly 50 times they voted to repeal the law that so far has given as many as 4.4 million more Americans health insurance in the past year and that will, over the next month or so, add a million more to that number. No pill’s gonna cure Republicans’ ill. They got a bad case of hating Barack Obama. So bad that they’re intent on taking health insurance from millions of Americans in an attempt to wound the President. 

So far, Republicans have failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But 21 GOP-controlled states rejected the Act’s provision extending Medicaid to additional low-income people. They’ve refused to expand Medicaid coverage, even though this will cost their states tens of billions in federal aid and will cost untold numbers of their citizens their lives.

The case of Israel Hilton is an example of the high price of hate. Hilton, 49, worked his whole life in customer service, a job he did well enough to earn an employee of the year award from K-Mart. But his employers didn’t provide health insurance. He earned too little to buy it himself and too much to qualify for Medicaid in his home state of Texas.

Under the Affordable Care Act, Texas could extend Medicaid to cover the working poor like Hilton. The federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost for three years. After that, the feds would cover 90 percent. More than 1.5 million Texans would get health insurance. They could see doctors when they were ill. In addition, Texas taxpayers and premium payers would not subsidize so many costly emergency room visits by the uninsured.

But Texas Republicans refused the federal money. And so, in Texas, there will be more stories like Israel Hilton’s. Last year, he suffered severe headaches and seizures. He went to an emergency room, a place that by federal law could not turn him away despite his lack of insurance. It’s not a place, however, most appropriate for determining the cause of seizures, and he was misdiagnosed. Without health insurance, he didn’t seek a second opinion. By the time he returned to the hospital and received the correct diagnosis of brain cancer, it was terminal.

A study released last month shows what each state will lose in federal funding by rejecting the Medicaid expansion. Texas will forgo the most, according to the researchers at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University, about $9.2 billion in 2022.

No state that refused to expand Medicaid will save money, the researchers found. In addition, the study noted, residents of states like Texas will subsidize with their federal tax dollars the services provided in other states and denied in Texas. Earlier research showed the loss to Texas over a decade at $100 billion.

That’s a bad case of hatin’ Barack Obama.

And the prognosis for the Affordable Care Act is good – which, of course, is bad news for the GOP.  Despite the bumpy Obamacare website roll out, it’s working now, and last month nearly 1.14 million people signed up for insurance through the exchanges, a number higher than projected. The so-called young invincibles, aged 18 to 35, bought insurance on the exchanges at a faster rate in January, so now it’s projected their participation will be high enough to keep rates from rising precipitously. And, the Gallop Poll found the percentage of Americans without insurance last month was the lowest in five years.

Altogether, 3.3 million people bought private insurance on the state and federal exchanges from the time the enrollment period began Oct. 1 through Feb. 1. And more than 6.3 million people signed up for Medicaid just between October and December. Some of those people would have qualified for Medicaid without the Affordable Care Act, and the total number added as a result of the Medicaid expansion won’t be known until after the enrollment period ends March 31. But it’s estimated that at least 1.1 million were added through Medicaid expansion.

It’s not perfect. The Congressional Budget Office now projects that 6 million people will sign up for coverage. That's 1 million fewer than originally projected.

Republicans tried earlier this month to create some bad news from a Congressional Budget Office report that said the Affordable Care Act will enable 2.5 million Americans to leave the workforce by 2024. That doesn’t mean jobs will be lost. Instead, the Affordable Care Act gives workers the freedom to retire early or work part-time because they can buy insurance on the exchanges. Fewer will be forced by the need for health insurance coverage to work full-time at jobs they hate or can barely perform because of chronic illness or would like to leave to care for children.

The GOP failed to persuade Americans that gaining more control of their lives is somehow a negative result of the Affordable Care Act.

“I need you to soothe my head,” Robert Palmer croons in the song, “Bad Case of Loving You,” continuing, “Turn my blue heart to red.”

What the GOP doesn’t understand is that its effort to deny millions of Americans access to doctors is turning red hearts to blue.

The GOP is all about freedom – for corporations, that is. Republicans believe, for example, that business should be free from the kind of government regulation that would prevent chemical companies from spewing poison into West Virginia drinking water.

When it comes to freedom for workers, though, the GOP is all about squelching that. Republicans believe workers should not be free to form labor unions, that they should not enjoy freedom of association, that they should be denied their right to collective action.

Usually, the GOP explains this as picking sides. In one corner, the corporation sits whining that it doesn’t want unions pressuring executives to more equitably share the fruits of workers’ labor. In the other corner, workers assert they have the right to organize and demand better pay and treatment. In this match up, Republicans always bet on the deep-pocketed corporation. When there’s no fight, when both executives and workers want a union, Republicans still oppose workers’ rights. That’s because organized labor has always stood for everything the GOP hates: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance and the 40-hour work week. Republicans denounce workers exercising their right to concerted action, at the workplace and in Washington.

Volkswagen is the perfect example. Republicans are blasting VW (actually criticizing a corporation!) because VW is cooperating with an attempt by the United Auto Workers to organize the German automaker’s Chattanooga, Tenn., assembly plant. The workers at VW’s German assembly plants are organized and paid twice the wage of the Chattanooga workers.

VW wants to establish works councils at its Chattanooga plant, just like those it has in Germany. In Europe, these groups of white- and blue-collar workers collaborate on issues such as plant rules, work hours and vacations. In VW’s experience, cooperating with employees through these councils increases productivity and profitability.

Because the councils discuss labor issues such as work hours, VW and the UAW have determined that to legally establish them in Chattanooga, the plant must be unionized.

This is intolerable to the GOP. Two of Tennessee’s most powerful Republicans, Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, insist they know how to run an auto company better than VW. Despite this successful international auto company’s actual business experience with work councils, these GOP politicians say that they know what’s best, that they just know unionization won’t be good for VW.

A union-hating group, the National Right to Work (For Less) Committee, travelled to Chattanooga from its headquarters near Washington, D.C. with a carpetbag full of cash for legal challenges to the unionization effort. And GOP crank Grover Norquist sent his Washington, D.C.-based organized labor-hating group, Center for Worker Freedom (To Work For Less), to Tennessee to thwart the Chattanooga workers’ right to unionize.

VW objected to the interference. CEO of VW Chattanooga Frank Fischer asked the outside agitators to stop, saying, “Volkswagen is committed to neutrality and calls upon all third parties to honor the principle of neutrality.”

They ignored him – disregarding a CEO, a figure before whom Republicans typically grovel! That is how much Republicans hate unions.

They refuse to believe what VW is saying, that works councils are valuable management tools, despite evidence that the model already succeeds in the United States.

Just last month, the Jobs with Justice Education Fund released a study titled, “Improving Government Through Labor-Management Collaboration and Employee Ingenuity.” The research shows that government saved millions and improved service when it established collaborative working relationships with unionized public workers.

For example, the report says, such collaboration helped the Federal Aviation Administration save millions when it installed new technology at air traffic control centers. A division of the Navy that designs and builds ships used labor-management councils to improve productivity and quality.

Similarly, Adam Davidson, co-founder of NPR’s “Planet Money” podcast and blog, wrote in the New York Times last week about a cooperative relationship between Harley-Davidson and International Association of Machinists, the union that represents workers at its York, Pa., assembly plant.

Before Wall Street crashed the economy, inefficiency was part of the all-American motorcycle company’s charm, Davidson wrote. But during the great recession, high costs and slow turnaround threatened to bankrupt the icon. Harley rejected the paths of too many predecessor manufacturers – robots, union busting and off-shoring.  Instead, it chose to actively cooperate with its highly paid, exceedingly skilled and deeply devoted workers and redesign its plant to increase productivity. Workers accepted layoffs and pay freezes to save the company.

On the day Davidson visited the plant, one worker solved several production problems, saving Harley millions of dollars. Millions. The turnaround earned Harley an Industry Week Best Plants award last year. Davidson noted that while fewer than 10 percent of American manufacturing workers are unionized, more than 30 percent of the finalists for the Industry Week award are.

The Jobs with Justice report says the cooperative examples it uncovered demonstrated “the power of partnerships that, if adopted by comparable agencies and unions, will help transform antagonistic, outmoded and inefficient labor relations models.”

But Republicans Norquist, Haslam and Corker are doing their darnedest to make sure that can’t happen at VW in Chattanooga.

There, Matt Patterson, who heads a Norquist puppet group opposing the UAW, explained to the New York Times the real reason the Republicans are fighting the UAW: “Unions are very political, the UAW is one of the most political. If they help elect politicians who pass huge government programs, that requires taxes.”

There it is. The truth about the GOP’s opposition to unions. Republicans hate that unions are organizations of workers who traditionally have fought to ensure that their government serves workers with programs like Social Security and Medicare, programs that Americans love and that they’re willing to pay taxes to support.

This week, 1,600 VW assembly workers will vote on whether to be represented by the UAW. They have the right to self-determination without GOP carpetbagger interference.