Thursday, April 24, 2014

Elizabeth Warren Plans To Bring Consumer Protection To Higher Education


Tuesday night Rachel Maddow had a couple of inspiring segments on her show dedicated to Elizabeth Warren and the release of her new book, A Fighting Chance. She included an inspiring interview, included above complements of YouTube. The next morning, Senator Warren and several of her colleagues from both houses of Congress sent this letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan in support of changes to Title IV’s cash management rules, as she had indicated she would on Maddow's show the night before. The letter urges the Department of Education to protect students from unfair banking practices, including campus-sponsored debit cards with terms that are not always good for students, and to preserve the integrity of federal student aid programs.

In all 23 Members of Congress signed the bicameral effort. No Republicans or right-wing Democrats signed on.
Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Jack Reed (D-RI)
Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Brian Schatz (D-HI)
Edward Markey (D-MA)
George Miller (D-CA)
Louise Slaughter (D-NY)
Peter Welch (D-VT)
Chellie Pingree (D-ME)
Alan Lowenthal (D-CA)
Mike Thompson (D-CA)
Julia Brownley (D-CA)
Frederica Wilson (D-FL)
Yvette Clarke (D-NY)
Karen Bass (D-CA)
Susan Davis (D-CA)
Raul Grijalva (D-AZ)
John Tierney (D-MA)
Jared Huffman (D-CA)
Wouldn't you want to be able to look at a list like this and see that your senators and your Rep. are all on it? Patrick Hope, who's the progressive choice in northeast Virginia, has made it perfectly clear that he would be. "I agree with Senator Warren," he told us yesterday, "that our student loan system is completely broken when it is designed to profit off those students that the system is supposed to be helping. Here in Virginia's 8th district, we have one of the highest educated populations of any Congressional district in the United States-- and those parents are sending their kids to college in even larger numbers. Some of our local high schools have over 95% of students begin attending a four year college or university in the semester after graduating-- a statistic that is probably unmatched almost anywhere else in the world. Student loan reform is critical to ensuring that our next generation is not saddled with debt. As a Congressman I would strongly support the proposals Senator Warren has put forward."

Another Blue America backed candidate who supports Elizabeth is Stanley Chang of Honolulu who studied under her at Harvard. He shares her progressive vision for the future of America. Last night he told us about his own feelings when he watched the Maddow interview:
Senator Warren continues to speak with clarity and force on issues that directly affect American students. She is moving forward with a bold common-sense proposal to refinance high-interest student loan debt by closing tax loopholes that benefit billionaires.

I wholeheartedly agree with Senator Warren’s statement that "the way we spend our money as a country should reflect our values." There are few American values more important than education, and this means giving young people from all walks of life a chance to succeed. If students spend the early years of their careers paying off prohibitive debt, the boost they received from getting a college education will be overshadowed by their inability to afford starting families of their own.

Senator Warren’s vision for education will provide substantial relief for young people in Honolulu. Because of our high cost of living, students in Hawaii work while attending school at a much higher rate than the national average. Often they work two or more jobs and still manage to find time for classes. This proposal will help both students currently in school and graduates who are struggling to pay off their loans. An educated workforce is the key to diversifying Hawaii’s economy and securing the long-term prosperity of our islands.

My parents immigrated to Hawaii during a time when tuition was affordable and our economy was booming. They were nontraditional students who were able to work their way through school, become educators, buy a home, and provide extraordinary opportunities for their children. I want to give today’s young people and their children the chance to realize their dreams, and Senator Warren’s proposal goes a long way toward achieving this goal.
“Federal financial aid is there to help students. When colleges partner with financial institutions and push students into putting their federal student aid refunds into high fee accounts, it puts our federal investment at risk,” the members wrote. “Students should be able to make unbiased choices about the financial products that work best for them.” These are the specifics of what the Members were asking Secretary Duncan to make rules about:
1. Ensure students can easily deposit federal financial aid into their personal accounts without delay or penalty. Direct deposit into a student’s own account should always be an easy option.

2. Prohibit colleges from entering into a preferred relationship with a bank or financial firm to offer debit cards or other financial products that charge fees associated with the disbursement and use of Title IV aid.

3. Ensure that students receive neutral and unbiased information about how best to access their federal student aid.

4. Ban revenue sharing deals so that colleges select financial products based on their merits alone, not revenue to the college or other considerations.

5. Require that colleges post agreements with banks on their websites and annually report them to the government for review by relevant agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

6. Ensure these new rules are applicable to any college-sponsored account into which Title IV funds are transferred or deposited.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Republicans-- Plus Blue Dogs Steve Israel And Collin Peterson-- Gave Us Death Panels... And Only Idiots Think Otherwise


Has Wasserman Schultz ever asked her pal Steve Israel why he voted for death panels?

Debbie Wasserman Schultz doesn't write to me too often. Ever since I helped expose her endorsements of 3 Miami-Dade Republicans-- Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the Diaz-Balart brothers-- in 2008, when she was chair of the DCCC's Red to Blue Program no less, she's been a little stand-offish. (Or maybe she just doesn't like me calling attention to her financial relationship to the sugar cartel or the private prison industry. Who knows? Who cares?) Yesterday, though, I did get some spam from her. "Whatever happened to those 'death panels?'" she asked.
Last November, a certain Senator from Utah confidently predicted that we “would never be able to meet [the Affordable Care Act’s] enrollment goals.”

Yet here we are, four years after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act-- and we’ve clearly met, if not exceeded, our enrollment goals. Thanks to the law, over eight million people have quality health insurance. And those facts drive the Tea Party absolutely nuts.

CHORUS: [send me money, send me money, send me money… press here to send me money… money, money, money… money makes the world go round. Send money or the big bad Republicans will kill you. $5, $5, $5 please send $5 so I can buy off my colleagues so they make me the first Jewish Speaker. Don't forget to click.]

I’m not going to allow these extremists to take us back to the days of people being denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition, insurance companies canceling coverage when you get sick, or charging women a lot more simply because they are, in fact, women. But I need your help to keep fighting-- can you spare $5 to keep our campaign growing strong?


The Affordable Health Care law is something we should all be really proud of. I know many of you understand what health care coverage means to millions of Americans. Thank you for standing with me and being part of our grassroots effort.

REPEAT CHOUS-- More cowbell
You tell me… what did that have to do death panels? I've come to know what death panels are lately-- and they have nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act. The death panels I've been experiencing come from the horrible Bush drug plan-- Medicare Part D. It's the perfect example of what happens when you give people who don't believe in health insurance control over health insurance. The plan passed in June 2003 and only 9 Democrats voted for it, all corrupt, sleazy, bribed Blue Dogs like Steve Israel, Collin Peterson, Jim Matheson and some scumbags who were subsequently defeated a nd a couple who switched parties . The final vote for this monstrosity was 216-215. It originally failed, 214-218 but Ernest Istook (R-OK), Butch Otter (R-ID) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) were willing to buckle to pressure from the drug industry and the corrupt party leadership to sell out their constituents and America by changing their votes. Part of the scheme to pass give the drug industry a big wet kiss was to lie to Congress about the costs. Although the Bush Regime were well aware the projected ten year cost was $500 billion (it has actually cost $534 billion), they lied to Congress, telling them it would be $100 billion less.

I have Humana. They suck. They're the death panel. My doctor prescribes a drug I need and they say NO. She appeals. It takes time and I don't have the drug. They suggest other drugs that don't work. They turn down the appeal. My doctor appeals the appeal. Weeks later they say, "Oh, OK," by which time my condition has drastically deteriorated. The doctor says I need a high dosage. Humana says NO. That's a death panel. And it isn't government bureaucrats feared by the Tea Party morons. It's a private insurance company, empowered by bribed Republicans (+ Steve Israel and Collin Peterson), who get richer by not OKing drugs prescribed by doctors. I bet Debbie Wasserman Schultz doesn't understand that. She gets special elite treatment for the ruling class.

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by Ken

Last night Howie passed on the news that the Sidney Hillman Foundation has chosen Digby as the recipient of this year's Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism, "for incisive commentary on the struggle for economic justice in the U.S."

Does it get any better?

If you haven't already read the citation, which Howie included in his post, I can only encourage you to read it -- the whole thing. I couldn't have said it better -- or, probably, nearly as well. Here again is just the first paragraph:
Digby writes constantly, engages readers, quotes generously, and exists inside today's 24-hour news cycle with both her fearlessness and her point of view intact. She has been filing daily updates to her Hullabaloo blog since 2002, creating one of the last independent sources for progressive commentary, incisive political analysis and media criticism. She is a daily blogger who is a must-read in the halls of power, among activists and organizers, and by the national media she sometimes criticizes with acerbic accuracy.
Yes! One line I especially loved: "Just say 'Digby' to any of hundreds journalists and commentators, and you'll get an appreciative smile."

Let me just add my congrats and thanks to Digby for her prodigious wisdom, wit, grace, dignity, and sheer endurance.

Howie concluded his post last night with a link to Digby's Hullabaloo, which obviously cuts to the heart of the matter! In a sweet little post this afternoon she expressed predictably gracious thanks for the honor, "a surprise for an old country blogger," and after thanking a group of colleagues, starting with her blog contributors over the years, offered "many, many thanks" --
to the generous readers who have supported this blog all these years. That support is what allowed me to stay independent and do this on my own terms which is a very precious and unusual gift in this life. So thank you from the bottom of my heart for making this thrilling day possible for me.
I know I'm smiling.


Should The Toxic Koch Brothers Control A Maine Senate Seat? We Don't Think So


The Koch brothers prefer a veneer of respectability. Their skins crawl when they are publicly called out by name as fascists and Birchers intent on destroying American democracy. It drives them mad when the media mentions how difficult they have made it to follow the trail of cash they use to bribe right-wing legislators. The biggest financial players in American politics want people to know them as patrons of the arts and medicine, like a $100 million grant to the State Theater of New York at Lincoln Center, now known as the David H. Koch Theater, home to the New York City Ballet and New York City Opera, and the $100 million grant to the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, which is working on curing prostate cancer.

Routinely bribing Members of Congress, like Susan Collins (R-ME), to carry their toxic legislation to benefit their own business interests at the expense of Members' own constituents is not what they want to be known for.
In conjunction with its direct lobbying efforts, Koch Industries also exerts influence over lawmakers with campaign contributions to members of Congress and candidates who will support the company’s opposition to protective environmental and worker safety standards. Among the politicians that Koch funds is a bipartisan group of well-placed lawmakers with sway over chemical security legislation. These politicians generally sit on one of the three primary committees with jurisdiction over chemical security policy; these are the Energy and Commerce and Homeland Security Committees (in the House of Representatives) and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (in the Senate).

Each of the key Senators and Representatives who have taken a lead role over the last year in pushing legislation that supports Koch’s agenda of blocking comprehensive chemical security legislation have received Koch campaign contributions. In 2010, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME)… introduced legislation that would extend the flawed temporary CFATS law and fail to require any disaster prevention at the highest risk chemical plants, while leaving thousands of hazardous oil refineries and water treatment plants exempted.
Collins was rewarded with thousands of dollars directly from KochPAC for her efforts. She has been lavishly supported by other Koch-affiliated entities for his efforts on behalf of the business interests of the two most toxic predators on Planet Earth.

Yesterday a congressman who routinely attacks them by name in the media and on the floor of Congress told me they react against him with immense amounts of cash smearing him in his district, floating ugly innuendos about him and his family to local cash-starved media outlets. I don't always agree with Harry Reid, but his courageousness for provoking a fight with the Kochs on behalf of the American people makes him one of the political heroes of the decade. Yesterday, on Earth Day, the campaign of grassroots environmental candidate Shenna Bellows in Maine, who is running a feisty uphill battle against Koch-owned Susan Collins, went right after their interests as well:
Just over four years ago, the BP oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded, killing 11 people and leaving 210 million gallons of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. The spill was catastrophic, causing unprecedented damage to the environment and wrecking havoc on the local marine life and ecosystem.

Today is Earth Day, and having just commemorated the anniversary of the BP oil spill, I can’t imagine a better time to take a hard look at the failure of our elected officials to protect our environment and the economies that so depend on it.

My opponent, Republican Susan Collins, has stood with her fellow Republicans and voted against the environment time and time again. She’s voted against funding renewable energy, against tax incentives for clean energy, against protections for the Arctic, and against the elimination of tax loopholes and subsidies for big oil companies. She has even accepted campaign contributions for this race from Exxon Mobil.

Big Oil dominates our politics today, but it doesn't have to be this way. Instead of offering tax loopholes and subsidies to oil companies, we should be investing in conservation and renewable energy sources like tidal and solar.

Instead of drilling and spilling, we should be investing in good jobs in a new economy that both creates clean, green energy and protects our environment for generations to come. Today, I'm touring ReVision Energy, a socially responsible company that is helping people transition from fossil fuels to solar.

This weekend, I’ll be volunteering with local community members on a roadside clean-up near my home in Manchester with fellow members of the Manchester Conservation Commission. Being stewards of the land means we have a responsibility-- not just this Earth Day, but every day-- to preserve and protect our natural world. I hope you’ll take some time to pitch in and help out in your community, too.
As you know, Blue America has endorsed Shenna Bellows for the Maine Senate seat the Koch's currently control through Collins. (You can contribute to her grassroots campaign here.) This morning, as she was driving up to Orono to speak with students and faculty at the University of Maine, she was very clear on the dangers the Koch brothers pose to this country: "Make no mistake: the Koch brothers are determined to block the policies that would reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and stop global warming. They are funding a massive public relations campaign to deny science and protect their profits, all the while endangering the earth. But the Koch brothers can't buy the grassroots, and in the end, they will lose if good people stand together to protect our environment before it's too late."

They can't buy the grassroots. But they have bought Susan Collins and they are helping to fund her campaign against Shenna Bellows.Meanwhile, Susan Collins' endorsed candidate for governor and fellow Koch-addict, Tea Party loon Paul LePage, celebrated Earth Day by vetoing a bill that would have opened records on industrial hazardous waste and mercury emission control plans.

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Guest Post From Bonnie Watson Coleman, The Progressive Running For Rush Holt's Seat In New Jersey


Several friends had been telling me about what an outstanding candidate Bonnie Watson Coleman, running for the New Jersey seat Rush Holt is giving up. What I was hearing most of all was that she isn't just a strong and committed progressive bout that she's an intrepid and well-tested fighter. Then, a couple of days ago I heard from our old friend, Barbara Buono, who will no doubt recall as the progressive and very prescient candidate beaten by Chris Christie. In the note Barbara sent me, and in a subsequent phone call to discuss it, she emphasized that when other Democratic officials were busy endorsing Christie or playing footsie with him, Bonnie was one of her "fiercest advocates… Bonnie is a not a fair weather progressive and her judgement is never clouded by fear or self-interest."

We need someone in Congress," she wrote, "who will not falter in the face of opposition. The people of New Jersey's 12th district need someone that will stand with President Obama and Democrats in Congress against the Tea Party to protect Social Security and Medicare, fight for pay equity, and work to get guns off our streets. It is for this reason that I have chosen to both fully endorse Bonnie Watson Coleman for Congress and serve as a co-chair on her campaign committee." That's strong praise from a most trusted source.

When Democrats were running away from the uphill battle to deny Chris Christie a second term, Bonnie stood side by side with Barbara, strong and vocal against the Republican governor’s regressive ideals and transactional, self-interested politics. She did not waiver even in the face of the Democratic backroom bosses within the Party. Bonnie Watson Coleman is who we need in Washington. She is the strong progressive who will stand up for our shared values; she is the voice that will not back down; she is our fighter. That's why Blue America is endorsing her and why we invited her to do a guest post today. Please read it and see if you can find it in your heart to give her a hand with her campaign on our Blue America ActBlue page. Remember, Rush Holt’s legacy has been predicated on fighting for his progressive principles. He has always stood up for the people of New Jersey, even in the face of strong opposition and sometimes difficult odds in his constant pursuit of the Democratic values we all hold so dear. Like Rush, Bonnie has stood up for the people of New Jersey-- for children, seniors, the most vulnerable.

"I Am Not A Conservative, Nor Am I A Moderate. I Am A Progressive."
-by Bonnie Watson Coleman

For those who do not know me, I am humbled by the opportunity to introduce myself and my candidacy for Congressman Rush Holt’s seat. While I have big shoes to fill, I can confidently assure you that I am the progressive voice that we need in Washington.

I have always stood for those without a voice, both in the Executive Branch as the Director of the Office of Civil Rights, Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action for the Department of Transportation and in the Legislature. From protecting voter rights to supporting healthcare reform and public workers when they have come under fire, I have always been a leader, regardless of the political expedience of the issues.

As a member of the New Jersey General Assembly since 1998, I was supported by my Democratic colleagues to become the first African American Majority Leader because they came to respect me as a consistent leader and a dependable fighter for progressive ideals and the interests of working and middle class families. I was also afforded the opportunity to become the first African American woman Chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee from 2002 until 2006, working with Democrats throughout the state to raise money, build the Party and win elections across New Jersey.

I’ve been a leading advocate for an increased minimum wage for working families, fought to pass a Millionaires Tax in the New Jersey State Legislature. And in Washington, I will keep up the fight against efforts to slash funding for our children’s education and critical health care for women. I believe there is nothing more important than protecting our children, our seniors and the civil and equal rights of all people.

I proudly stood on the floor and passionately fought for our brothers and sisters of the LGBTQ community when it came time for marriage equality while others in my party were silent. When elected, I will continue those same values and stand with our President to fight the Tea Party to support Obamacare and fight for strong gun safety measures to take lethal weapons off our streets and out of the hands of criminals. I will not only fight to protect Social Security and Medicare, but fight to expand these crucial programs and call for the Social Security cap to be increased to ensure that everyone pays their fair share.

I am guided by my convictions and believe that government is here to serve people, all people. I fight for equality and social justice, and will make sure that every person has a seat at the table. I will be the voice for those who are silenced. I am not a conservative, nor am I a moderate. I am a progressive. I always have been, and I will continue to be.

There is a lot of work to do in Washington, DC and we need principled Democrats leaders in Congress to accomplish that. I hope that I can count on you to stand with me for our shared Democratic values.

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PA-13 Primary Is Less Than A Month Away-- What Happens To The Money We Contribute?


Pennsylvania state Seantor Daylin Leach was one of the first congressional candidates Blue America endorsed this election cycle. He's right up our alley: thoroughly progressive-- and aggressively so-- compassionate, smart, persuasive… and with a record of accomplishment in the legislature that goes beyond promises. So far this cycle 943 Blue America members have contributed $22,462.68 to Daylin's grassroots campaign-- an average of $23.72. And he needs that kind of support to compete with the candidate of the Philly Machine, anti-Choice/anti-education fanatic Brendan Boyle, and against the ethically-challenged Beltway Establishment candidate Bill Clinton and Steny "K Street" Hoyer are raising boatloads of cash for, Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky.

The end of the quarter FEC filing shows that Daylin has $654,202 on hand for the May 20 primary. Although most of that money is committed to Daylin's Get Out The Vote effort, his campaign has reserved $272,000 in cable and broadcast buys in the two-week run-up to the primary. The video above is the first of a series of ads and almost one in ten of those ads are being paid for by Blue America contributors. (Thanks and please keep that coming!) In PA-13, the Democratic primary will determine who goes to Congress. And what progressives want to hear is messaging like Daylin's:
"I've never been afraid to take on bullies like Governor Corbett and the NRA. In Congress I'll protect Social Security and a woman's right to choose. I'll fight for good schools and great jobs and to put Wall Street crooks in jail."
So, aside from reminding voters that he's been an unwavering champion for Choice and for women's rights in the legislator, he is also subtly reminding voters that Boyle has been fanatically opposed to Choice. And, by bringing up Social Security, he's not only reminding voters that he wants to expand Social Security and protect cost of living adjustments for retired people, he's also reminding voters that Marjorie Margolies not only lost her seat in 1994 because she tried raising the retirement age and cutting back on cost of living adjustments, but that it was Bill Clinton himself who slapped her down in no uncertain terms for trying that typical GOP trick.

If you go to you come upon a Phildadelphia Inquirer story from June, 1994, "Social Security Curbs Proposed Marjorie Margolies-mezvinsky Is Touting Major Changes. Her GOP Foe, Jon Fox, Opposes The Plan." Voters in PA-13 should read it carefully because Margolies is a candidate who remains eager to cut Social Security and other benefits for working families. She sounds like a garden variety Republican, although the Republican that beat her in 1994 was more a defender of Social Security than she was-- and the way she disappointed the Democratic base and kept voters away from the polls is why she was really defeated that year. Her proposal to cut back on Social Security for retired Americans was even too conservative for Bill Clinton, who pointedly told her that "we do not deal with a problem like the deficit by (creating) income stagnation among the elderly."
Calling it the first fruit of last year's conference on entitlement spending, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky announced legislation yesterday that would raise the retirement age for Social Security recipients and limit their cost-of-living adjustments.

Margolies-Mezvinsky, who is seeking re-election, said the proposals would ensure Social Security's solvency and keep her pledge to control the costs of politically sensitive entitlement programs.

Social Security officials predicted in April that the trust fund would go broke in 35 years because of demographic shifts that would leave fewer workers supporting more retirees.

Margolies-Mezvinsky's proposal is a political gamble for the freshman Democrat, who is already in the doghouse with many constituents because of her 11th-hour switch last year in favor of President Clinton's budget bill and tax increases.

The current legislation, which Margolies-Mezvinsky is sponsoring with Minnesota Democrat Timothy J. Penny, would raise the retirement age to 70 by the year 2013-- beginning in 1999 and increasing the age by four months annually.

The retirement age currently ranges from 65 for those born before 1938 to 67 for those born after 1959. Those who retire earlier get reduced benefits.

The proposal would give only the bottom 20 percent of Social Security recipients the full cost-of-living adjustment, which is tied to the Consumer Price Index. Other recipients would receive a flat cost-of-living adjustment equal to that for recipients at the 20th percentile.

Margolies-Mezvinsky had made Clinton's attendance at December's entitlement conference at Bryn Mawr College a condition for her support of his budget. The budget increased taxes for affluent workers and for single Social Security recipients with incomes over $34,000 and couples with incomes over $44,000.

Although Clinton attended the conference, he said there should be only minor unspecified changes in Social Security. "We do not want to deal with a problem like the deficit by (creating) income stagnation among the elderly," Clinton said.

White House officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Social Security is among the touchiest issues for Congress, due in part to the lobbying strength of the American Association of Retired Persons, which claims 33 million members.

"They're not opposed to this," Margolies-Mezvinsky said. "We've been working with them so that we get their input."

But Martin Corry, AARP's director of federal affairs, said he was unaware of any contact between his group and Margolies-Mezvinsky since December.

He said AARP would oppose any form of "means testing" such as Margolies-Mezvinsky's proposal on cost-of-living adjustments.

"Changing the retirement age to age 70 is really premature," he added. ''There may well be changes in the retirement age, and they can be done gradually. I've seen nothing to suggest it needs to go to 70."

Republican Jon D. Fox, who will face Margolies-Mezvinsky in November, said he opposed her proposal, as well as another Democratic plan to increase payroll taxes.

Fox said he would have to study the issue further before making a proposal of his own.

"I'm going to be coming out in this campaign with proposals dealing with the protection of Social Security," Fox said in a telephone interview. "I'll be getting back to you on them."

Margolies-Mezvinsky said she did not know how the proposals would play in her largely Republican Montgomery County district.

"My feeling is it's the right thing to do. I think that what happens when you get to Washington is you see people saying to their constituents what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear."
In 1994 Democratic voters had no choice but to protect Social Security by sitting on their hands and letting a Republican defeat Margolies. This year, that won't be a problem because Daylin Leach is going to beat her in a primary less than a month away. "When we started this campaign, a little over a year ago," he told us "it was always my intention to tell my story, to let people know who I am and where I came from, and how that affects everything I have done in the state Legislature. I needed help once, and I fight for those who need help now… We have all seen what the far right is doing to working families across America. I've led the fight against these measures designed to create a greater rift between the rich and everyone else, to keep working families down, and to maximize corporate profits at the expense of the very fabric of our democracy. That is why elections like mine are so important. We need leaders in Congress who are not afraid to take on the tough fights, to take on the extremists and the corporate interests that fund them, and have a proven record doing just that."

Contributing here will help make sure that TV stays on the air between now and May 20. Canddiates like Daylin Leach don't come along everyday; candidates like Brendan Boyle and Marjorie Margolies-Mezkinsky, unfortunately, do.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"For Incisive Commentary On The Struggle For Economic Justice In The U.S., We Honor… Digby!"


This afternoon, the Sidney Hillman Foundation announced that the winner of their coveted 2014 prize for Opinion & Analysis Journalism is Digby, a close friend and part of the trio-- along with John Amato and myself-- behind Blue America. In their own words, "The influential progressive blogger known as Digby has won the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion & Analysis Journalism for her 'incisive commentary on the struggle for economic justice in the U.S.' The award will be presented by the Sidney Hillman Foundation at the annual Hillman Prizes ceremony and reception on Tuesday, May 6, 2014 at the Times Center in New York.
Digby writes constantly, engages readers, quotes generously, and exists inside today's 24-hour news cycle with both her fearlessness and her point of view intact. She has been filing daily updates to her Hullabaloo blog since 2002, creating one of the last independent sources for progressive commentary, incisive political analysis and media criticism. She is a daily blogger who is a must-read in the halls of power, among activists and organizers, and by the national media she sometimes criticizes with acerbic accuracy.

In many ways, Heather “Digby” Parton is the blogging godmother to a generation of new voices who grew up over the last decade to prominence at major journals, news sites, and on public affairs television. Just say "Digby" to any of hundreds journalists and commentators, and you'll get an appreciative smile.

Her blogging name stands for commitment and a consistent point of view. It also stands for both independence (she writes mainly for her own simply-designed blog) and generosity (she links frequently and credits others freely). Together with co-bloggers tristero and David Atkins, she has made Hullabaloo an influential daily read among the political technorati. Yet you will never see her on cable television, and she rarely does conferences. From her perch in a beach cottage in Santa Monica, she writes eloquently on a daily basis about feminism, race, labor, immigration, firearms, the environment, privacy, national security, and criminal justice reform.

Digby’s 2013 commentary on economic inequality and the ongoing battle inside Washington on cutting social spending was stoic in defense of both the powerless and the American middle class. She took official Washington to task on behalf of those too often left out of the American Dream. She criticized the political brinksmanship over the Federal budget and examined its real-world victims. She took on both welfare reformers on the left and budget slicers on the right, providing context for a steadily decreasing middle class and more Americans living in poverty, particularly children. Digby chided deficit hawks for ignoring the growing poverty picture, pushed back on Democrats seeking a “grand bargain,” and analyzed how voters sometimes ignore their own economic self-interest.

A few years ago, Paul Krugman described Digby as “one of the best writers you’ll ever encounter, on or off the Internet." It’s her sharp rhetorical blade that influences so many other voices, creates a real network of thought, and urges people to action. She has taken on politicians - both Democrats and Republicans - for abandoning the underpinnings of our national promise. And she has turned her often-withering gaze on the Beltway media-- or in Digbyspeak, "the Villagers"-- with razor-sharp media criticism.
The Lithuanian-born Hillman was a revered labor leader, head of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, who had been forced to flee the Russian Empire for standing up for workers rights when he was just 20 years old. In Chicago, he helped lead a revolt against the conservative suck-up United Garment Workers and helped start the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America as a pro-worker alternative. Later, Hillman was one of the founders of the American Labor Party, an independent party that served as a kind of halfway house for progressives who wanted to support FDR's reelection but couldn't stomach the Democratic Party, which was as corrupt then as it is today and was still allied with the most reactionary and oppressive white elites in the South. The foundation named for him has been giving annual awards for over 60 years to journalists and writers for work that supports social justice and progressive public policy. It was almost inevitable that they would find Digby. You can check her blog out here.


Just when you think right-wing intelligence can't be any lower, it is -- they don't know the meaning of "choice"


Dint ol' Ronnie Reagan hisself promis us we dint hafta beleeve in no stuff we dint wanna like no Big Bongs which anyways is just a big bell or somethin' in Inglund?

by Ken

Do you know what the word "choice" means? What it means to choose between options? Yes, you say? You do? Then I'm sorry to have to tell you that apparently you have just been disqualified from being a right-winger.

We'll come back to this in a moment. Meanwhile I want to commiserate with Daily Kos blogger LaFeminista, who yesterday found herself banging her head up against the limits of right-wing intelligence, in a poignant post called "Breaking: Americans Find Something Else Not To Effing Believe In."
Evolution is so absurd but the idea of humans walking with dinosaurs is quite interesting.

Climate change is a liberal commie Nazi plot

Now we have the Big Bang
WASHINGTON, April 21 (UPI) -- In a new national poll on America's scientific acumen, more than half of respondents said they were "not too confident" or "not at all confident" that "the universe began 13.8 billion years ago with a big bang."
The UPI "Science News" post in question, by the way, is headed "Majority of Americans doubt the Big Bang theory."

This leads our author to wonder, "What is the basis of their opinion/lack of confidence?"
Oh right.

The same as everything else when faced with complicated theories.
suggesting more respondents are aware of the science than originally suggested -- they just don't believe the science.
I don't believe. WTF?

It has come to the point where all debate is reduced to belief, that is all well and good when debating about fairies at the bottom of the garden.

What annoys the crap out of me is that it has become the lazy way of getting around having to study and think.

I don't believe the science, yada, yada plus vacuous anecdotal evidence; fairy dust.

Well fuck you then

Show me some bloody data or just admit that you don't know.
Yes indeed, "it has come to the point where all debate is reduced to belief," and as I note frequently, to my mind this is the most enduring and profound (measuring in at a tiny fraction of a micron deep) of America's folksiest sage, Ronald Reagan. Professor Reagan taught Americans that they didn't have to fear or even entertain doubt in the face of unpleasant reality. In reality, he told them, reality is only what you want to believe. (The corollary, which wasn't actually part of the Reagan doctrine but has since been intuited, is that if anyone tries to force you to believe stuff you don't wanna, well, isn't that why God gave us guns?)


Why on earth shouldn't Chelsea and Marc be happy?

It's a piece by Tara Culp-Ressler called "Why Chelsea Clinton’s Pregnancy Is So Baffling To Abortion Opponents." The post begins (links onsite):
Last week, the news that Chelsea Clinton is expecting her first child inspired its fair share of headlines — even fueling suggestions that it was somehow carefully timed to benefit her mother’s potential presidential run. The announcement also made the rounds in the right-wing blogosphere, inspiring several op-eds attempting to highlight the apparent contrast between the Clintons’ stance on reproductive rights and their daughter’s decision to have a child.
Now this too kind of floored me when I belatedly heard about it. This goes beyond the usual category of "You can't make this stuff up" to "Why would anybody try to make this up?" There is supposed to be some conflict between being "pro-choice" and choosing to have a baby? Huh? What am I missing here?
Abortion opponents expressed confusion that the Clintons would refer to Chelsea’s unborn child as a “baby” and not a “fetus,” suggesting that’s wholly incompatible with their support for legal abortion. “When it’s their own grandchild, it appears the Clintons see things differently, with their words most definitely betraying their true feelings on the matter. No talk of a non-person fetus, only of a child,” a Christian Post editorial noted, declaring that the Clintons must actually believe that life begins at conception.

The insinuation, of course, is that the people who support abortion rights must always opt for abortion over pregnancy. But that’s an incredibly black-and-white view of reproductive rights that doesn’t actually reflect the reality of Americans’ experiences — including the women who have chosen to end a pregnancy at some point in their lives.

Although the issue of reproductive rights typically separates people into two camps, either “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” there’s increasing evidence that those labels don’t accurately capture Americans’ complex relationships to abortion. Many people identify as both, and say their attitude about the procedure depends on the situation. Some people who tell pollsters they’re “pro-life” don’t actually support overturning Roe v. Wade. It’s possible to believe you are carrying a baby and choose to end the pregnancy anyway. Many times, personal experiences with abortion fall into what’s known as a “grey area” between the two political camps.
Tara goes on to make some excellent and interesting points about the actual attitudes of actual people on the subjects of pregnancy and abortion. It's a fine piece, and I encourage you to read it.

But I found myself still stuck back at ground zero, this supposed incompatibility between being pro-choice and choosing to have a baby. Until it finally hit me that the supposed pro-lifers, who as we know are only in favor of a few very narrowly defined forms of life, and are in fact enormously hostile to most others, literally do not know the meaning of the word choice. And possibly, it occurred to me, they have no concept of the mental process of choosing, of arriving at the best possible set of alternatives in any given situation and then, using all your developed mental faculties, making the most informed possible choice among those alternatives.

It is, in other words, the basic, essential process by which everything that can be accomplished by these minds -- with which we were endowed by some sort of creator -- is accomplished. And of course the process includes accepting responsibliity for our choices.

Which takes me straight back to "what annoys the crap out of" LaFeminista: that this business of reducing all debate to belief "has become the lazy way of getting around having to study and think."

Yes, it has. It's not only the groupthink mentality's way of protecting its Borg-like nonthinking collective from any necessity or even impulse to think. It's the groupthink mentality's front line of protection against the danger of anyone outside or inside the collective who may be infected with such an impulse.

Ladies and germs, I give you, on a platter, the Right-Wing War Against Science. Just because people were once able to get along with dinosaurs doesn't mean we have to subject ourselves to scientific silliness like evolution and climate change and now these damn big bongs.

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Oklahoma: Here Comes The Sun-- Now Pay Up


Monday, Oklahoma's Republican governor, Mary Fallin, a lock-step right-wing ideologue and pawn of the Koch brothers, signed a bill fining or taxing Oklahomans who want to use solar power. It had passed both Houses of the Oklahoma legislature, and, in fact the House passed it 83-5. (Now this is a very, very red state but there are still 29 Democrats in the state House--72 Republicans-- and 12 Democrats in the state Senate--36 Republicans). Many of those Democrats, however, aren't Democrats that actual Democrats would recognize as Democrats. Many of them, for example, went right along with voting to tax the sun for the Koch brothers, a bill that reversed a 1977 Oklahoma law that forbade utilities to charge extra to solar users.

Americans overwhelmingly support green, renewable energy, even if the Koch brothers have ordered the GOP-- and conservative Democrats-- to oppose it. The most recent Gallup polling on the subject is crystal clear: "No fewer than two in three Americans want the U.S. to put more emphasis on producing domestic energy using solar power (76%), wind (71%), and natural gas (65%). Far fewer want to emphasize the production of oil (46%) and the use of nuclear power (37%). Least favored is coal, with about one in three Americans wanting to prioritize its domestic production." Although those numbers are so high because normal people-- 87% of Democrats and 74% of Independents-- favor solar energy, even among grassroots Republicans, if not GOP legislators, 68% favor solar power.

Last week, before Fallin signed the bill, Paul Moines, an energy reporter for the The Oklahoman wrote that "it’s the prospect of widespread adoption of rooftop solar that worries many utilities. A report last year by the industry’s research group, the Edison Electric Institute, warns of the risks posed by rooftop solar."
“When customers have the opportunity to reduce their use of a product or find another provider of such service, utility earnings growth is threatened,” the report said. “As this threat to growth becomes more evident, investors will become less attracted to investments in the utility sector.”

The report urged regulated utilities to move quickly to change their rate tariffs to recover fixed costs from distributed generation… [W]ith the prices of solar panels declining each year, installation costs are looking more attractive for many homeowners.

Chris Gary, owner of Sun City Solar Energy in Oklahoma City, said a 10-panel setup with a mirco-inverter now costs about $15,000, not including installation charges. A similar system cost almost twice that six years ago, he said.

Gary said the effects of SB 1456 won’t be known until the new tariffs get approved by the Corporation Commission. But news of the bill has sparked interest from potential customers.

“It may affect our business, but we don’t know yet,” Gary said. “Is it a killer for solar in Oklahoma? I don’t believe so, but when you open the door to a charge, that means it can always be increased. A speedbump could turn into a roadblock.”
So where were Democrats? Voting with Republicans… or ducking the bill altogether and hiding in the men's room while the vote was taken… apparently a common tactic for political cowards unwilling to stand up for Democratic values, even when they're overwhelmingly popular like solar energy. We've run into Democratic state Senator Al McAffrey before. He's the corporate shill running against progressive Tom Guild for the OK-05 congressional nomination. This is standard operating procedure for him.

You would think that the furious push back when McAffrey was MIA on the bill-- now law-- that went through the state senate to outlaw raising the minimum wage in Oklahoma, would have caused him to trim his MIA behavior. He didn’t vote against the bill that suspends the right of Oklahomans to petition the government for redress of grievances by adopting a higher minimum wage at the local level. The state senator decided to run against the progressive candidate Tom Guild, for the Democratic Party nomination for Congress in the Oklahoma City area, after James Lankford decided to follow his political social climbing instincts and run for the U.S. Senate instead of running for re-election to the house. Tom Guild is solid as a rock on the minimum wage issue both in word and in deed. He and his campaign helped gather over 60,000 signatures nationally to raise the minimum wage, Tom has carried the local petition and gathered signatures to raise the wage in Oklahoma City, and his campaign has gathered petition signatures at Guild for Congress events. McAffrey, refused to sign the local minimum wage petition when presented with an opportunity a few weeks back.

Well, disgracefully, he was at it again with the sun tax!  Does he ever oppose bills being pushed by ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council)? McAffrey was again missing in action and didn’t vote against the bill-- again, now law-- in a déjà vu all over again repeat non-performance. He once again didn’t do his main legislative duty and vote at all on the legislation when it came before the state senate. Senate Bill 1456 levies extra charges against homeowners who use solar panels or wind turbines. As Rachel Maddow asked last night, “Did warming yourself with the sun instead of coal just become a punishable offense in Oklahoma because it’s Oklahoma?”  Well, yes Rachel, that is just what happened, and McAffrey offered no resistance and didn’t bother to vote against this clunker of an uncommonly silly idea. The Koch group Americans for Prosperity must be giddy with celebration. Do we need to follow the money and see who in the fossil fuels branch of the energy industry has contributed to the various Oklahoma congressional candidates?

As we've been showing for the last couple of months, being an openly gay candidate (such as McAffrey)-- or an openly gay legislator (New York's Sean Patrick Maloney is the worst example)-- does not necessarily a progressive make. The choice is clear as a bell for Democratic voters in Oklahoma City. If they want the minimum wage and competitive renewable energy sources, the only dependable option is Tom Guild in the June 24 Democratic primary. If you'd like to help him get the message out, you can do that here.

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When Wealth Controls The Agenda… Opportunity For Economic And Social Advancement Dries Up


This weekend's "must read" was Trip Gabriel's NY Times piece, 50 Years Into The War On Poverty, Hardship Hits Back. He writes that "much of McDowell County looks like a rural Detroit, with broken windows on shuttered businesses and homes crumbling from neglect." Ironically, "beginning in the 19th century, the rugged region produced more coal than any other county in West Virginia, but it got almost none of the wealth back as local investment." Today "nearly 47 percent of personal income in the county is from Social Security, disability insurance, food stamps and other federal programs… The poverty rate, 50 percent in 1960, declined-- partly as a result of federal benefits-- to 36 percent in 1970 and to 23.5 percent in 1980. But it soared to nearly 38 percent in 1990. For families with children, it now nears 41 percent."
McDowell County, the poorest in West Virginia, has been emblematic of entrenched American poverty for more than a half-century. John F. Kennedy campaigned here in 1960 and was so appalled that he promised to send help if elected president. His first executive order created the modern food stamp program, whose first recipients were McDowell County residents. When President Lyndon B. Johnson declared “unconditional war on poverty” in 1964, it was the squalor of Appalachia he had in mind. The federal programs that followed-- Medicare, Medicaid, free school lunches and others-- lifted tens of thousands above a subsistence standard of living.

But a half-century later, with the poverty rate again on the rise, hardship seems merely to have taken on a new face in McDowell County. The economy is declining along with the coal industry, towns are hollowed out as people flee, and communities are scarred by family dissolution, prescription drug abuse and a high rate of imprisonment.

Fifty years after the war on poverty began, its anniversary is being observed with academic conferences and ideological sparring-- often focused, explicitly or implicitly, on the “culture” of poor urban residents. Almost forgotten is how many ways poverty plays out in America, and how much long-term poverty is a rural problem.

Of the 353 most persistently poor counties in the United States-- defined by Washington as having had a poverty rate above 20 percent in each of the past three decades-- 85 percent are rural. They are clustered in distinct regions: Indian reservations in the West; Hispanic communities in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas; a band across the Deep South and along the Mississippi Delta with a majority black population; and Appalachia, largely white, which has supplied some of America’s iconic imagery of rural poverty since the Depression-era photos of Walker Evans.
Friends of Democracy wasn't focusing just on McDowell County or on West Virginia or on the rural counties that account for so much of America's poverty when they issued a report on how progressives can run against Big Money in politics and win. "Washington," they wrote, "is broken. Faith and trust in Congress is at a historic low. Issues that matter to the American people are falling to the wayside. You’re not running for office to perpetuate the status quo, you’re running to change it. To improve your community, strengthen your state and fix our country. The good news is running on fixing our broken campaign finance system is good for you as a candidate as much as it is good for the country. 7 out of 8 congressional candidates who ran on this issue in 2012 won-- we’re looking to double that number in 2014."
Just 11 percent of voters think that they are the priority of members of Congress. Too many voters have little faith that their needs factor into decisions that politicians make, believing that politicians instead cater to big donors and special interests instead.

Voters view Washington’s inability to address major issues of the day, like getting the economy back on track and solving our national energy policy, as the result of a broken political system that rewards the best fundraisers rather than those who can move ideas forward. The issue of money in politics is, in most voters’ minds, inextricably linked to addressing the major challenges confronting all of us, rather than a separate policy area on which to make yet another set of promises.

…Two bills in Congress are gaining great traction. In February 2014, two bills were introduced-- the Government By the People Act (H.R. 20), introduced by Leader Pelosi and Rep. Sarbanes (D-MD) with 130 original co-sponsors and the Fair Elections Now Act (S. 2023), introduced by Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin with 16 original co-sponsors. Both bills have unprecedented support from Democrats in Congress, political campaign donors, the traditional reform community as well as the larger progressive movement.
Polling shows that almost two-thirds of voters support passing an election law that would couple small donations with matching funds in exchange for taking no large campaign checks and an even bigger number of independent voters say that a candidate's position of campaign finance reform will be an important factor in their choice on election day. Voters don't like the idea of feeling disempowered by Big Money buying up democracy. Even voters in the reddest areas of the country. You may have read that Kansas-- which hasn't elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since the 1930s-- has a radical right governor, Sam Brownback, who just signed a bill guaranteeing that there will be no Medicaid Expansion in his state this year. Brownback is also the most hated governor in America and is very likely to lose his reelection bid-- to a Democrat-- in November. This month a poll showed Paul Davis beating Brownback 45-41%-- and by 48-35% among Independents. (Point of reference: Romney beat Obama in Kansas 60-38%, the Republican winning all but two of Kansas' 105 counties.)

Wisconsin is a much wealthier state than West Virginia. The medium household income is $50,395 as opposed to West Virginia's $38,482. But WI-07, the northwestern part of the state, has had a tougher time that most of the rest of the state. The medium household income is $45,868 and voters there see the connection between distorted wealth inequality and political power. The progressive Democrat running for Congress in the district this year is Kelly Westlund, who has been endorsed by Blue America. This morning she explained the connection:

"I knew our political process was broken when I decided to run for Congress, but I underestimated just how bad it really is. In a representative government, citizen voices ought to speak louder than campaign contributions, but as wealth consolidates at the very top, so does political power. The fact is, organizations on both sides of the aisle have embraced the money-driven approach to campaigning, and that means that the wealthy few can buy access to candidates and elected officials that regular people just can't afford. Equating money with free speech leaves the vast majority of middle- and working-class people at a serious disadvantage when it comes to engaging effectively in our shared democracy. I think that's wrong, and it's time we change it."
And speaking of disempowered voters, lets go back to West Virginia for a moment. In 2012 McDowell County also went for Romney and by an even greater margin than West Virginia as a whole-- 64-34%, two points better for the Republican than his statewide landslide. However, on the same day, Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin took 66% of the county's vote for governor and Democrat Joe Manchin took a startling 72% for the U.S. Senate seat. Democrat Nick Rahall was reelected to the House against Republican Rick Snuffer 65-35%. Short of kicking mass drug addiction, will getting Big Money out of politics turn things around for McDowell County? It's worth trying.

As Adam Liptak reported for the NY Times yesterday, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens says "the court had made a disastrous wrong turn in its recent string of campaign finance rulings. "The voter is less important than the man who provides money to the candidate," he said. "It’s really wrong."
He talked about what he called a telling flaw in the opening sentence of last month’s big campaign finance ruling. He filled in some new details about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that led to the Citizens United decision. And he called for a constitutional amendment to address what he said was the grave threat to American democracy caused by the torrent of money in politics.

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Barbara Lee's First Endorsement


Barbara Lee made history-- captured on the video above-- when she displayed the guts to stand up and say "NO" to Bush/Cheney's rush to war against Afghanistan in the wake of the 9-11 attack that embarrassed them and exposed their incompetence. She was the only Member of Congress to do so. The war in Afghanistan has the distinction of being the longest-lasting war in American history. Usually forgotten by the media, it's still in progress. Last week Rep. Lee penned an OpEd for USA Today, Bring All Our Troops Home:
After nearly 13 years of war in Afghanistan, it is past time for all of our troops to return. It is also time to heed one of the war's most important lessons: Some problems cannot be solved at the point of a gun.

…We can and should play a supportive role along with others in the international community, but not by making the longest war in U.S. history even longer. Our troops have done more than enough; it is time for them to come home.

A future of hope and opportunity for Afghanistan begins with the full withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Today Rep. Lee announced that her Barbara Lee Progressive PAC's top 8 priorities for congressional action starts with "Bringing an end to perpetual war, saving trillions of dollars and millions of lives." And in conjunction with that announcement comes another-- her first endorsement of a challenger for the 2014 cycle, fellow Californian and fellow peace advocate, Lee Rogers. "Lee," she said, "is a doctor, a thinker, a progressive Democrat-- and, he can win. He’s running in California’s 25th Congressional District (Simi Valley-Santa Clarita area). It’s an open seat. And, the Nate Silver number crunchers say that it’s a district where Democrats can win. So help us put a progressive like Lee Rogers in it. She send this message out to her own followers today:
Want to know just how much of an ally Lee Rogers will be in Congress? Consider his philosophical approach from his website:

"Congressional insiders and K Street power brokers sold the well-being of our country in exchange for special deals and political favors.

"All this must stop. It must stop NOW! No more deals, no more special favors, no more double talk and political speak. It’s time to level with the voters, tell them the truth and get to the job of fixing the problems and restoring the promise of America."

This is the kind of fighting Democrat I need working beside progressives like Keith Ellison, Raul Grijalva, Alan Grayson and me in the House. I’m contributing to Lee. And, I hope you will too.
For his part, Dr. Rogers said he is proud of the backing his campaign is getting from the California powerhouse. "I'm honored to be endorsed by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, someone who is always on the right side of the moral issues of the day. As a doctor, I must use the highest standard of ethics when treating patients. I'll make sure to bring those same ethics to Washington. I look forward to working with Congresswoman Lee to improve the lives of those in my district and our country."

This week Blue America is encouraging progressives to contribute to Barbara Lee's and Lee Rogers' campaigns by offering one randomly selected donor who gives on this page (any amount) a rare, signed Beatles portrait by the band's favorite photographer, Robert Freeman, who shot 5 album covers for them starting in 1963. The iconic image on the cover of With The Beatles, personally signed by Freeman, is the one we are giving away this week. The image is 32" x 24" and perfect for framing.

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