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The Obamacare Plan For GOP Electoral Relevance (Or something)

August 7, 2013
How could you argue with the logic of a patriot?

GOPea Party demands a shutdown

You can take the Dick Armey out of FreedomWorks, but you can’t take the dick army out of FreedomWorks. (Or something. I’m working on it…) At any rate, I bring your attention today to a quote from FreedomWorks spokesperson Jackie Bodnar. Asked about Mitt Romney’s recent  advice to Republicans to rethink a government shutdown over Obamacare, Ms. Bodnar told Breitbart News:

“I would think Mitt Romney, of all people, would know that the Party suffers in election years when the issue of ObamaCare is taken off the table, not placed as the centerpiece.”

And this, I think, is telling. It appears to be FreedomWorks’ position that Mitt Romney lost the last election because he feared going after Obamneycare. It can also be inferred from this statement that any recent electoral success for the GOP has been entirely due to its opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

Coming as it does from an organization funded by corporate millionaires and operated by Republican party leadership and right-wing operatives, while specifically being tailored to look like grassroots opposition to Democratic policy initiatives, primarily health care reform, this is not at all surprising. After all, from their perspective, it worked in 2010. How else do you get a minority of the voting public so fired up that they show up in an off year election to sweep Tea Party banner-men into office?

So it is also unsurprising that those members of the House and Senate who feel themselves beholden to this faux movement are compelled to again (and again, and again) take up the fight against this most oppressive overreach of Heritage Foundation market-based approach to healthcare socialist social engineering. And who knows? Maybe they’re right, maybe they can rework the magic of 2010 in another off-year election. But somehow I doubt it. Not when that means a government shutdown. Perhaps they should also remember the lessons of 1996. Then again, that might be asking too much:

“The sort of cocktail chatter wisdom in Washington that, ‘Oh, the [1995-96] shutdown was a political disaster for Republicans,’ is not borne out by the data.”  [Sen. Ted Cruz, GOP über-genius]

Surprise! Senate Finance Committee’s “Blank Slate” Definitely Not Transparent

July 25, 2013

blank slateSenator Max Baucus may be retiring at the end of his current term, but that’s not soon enough to save us from his lame-brained efforts to reform the nation’s tax code. He has teamed with Republican Senator and tea party target Orrin Hatch in a “bipartisan” effort to “wipe the slate clean” and start fresh on the tax code. After all, who better to forge a bipartisan solution  than two senators reviled by the base of their own parties?

If you’re unfamiliar with what’s going on, Baucus and Hatch announced last month that they would begin work on tax reform with a “blank slate”, eliminating almost every tax credit, deduction, and exemption from the tax code and forcing their Senate colleagues to defend anything they want to reinstate. This plan has been roundly criticized as a very bad idea, which must be why Baucus and Hatch lurve it so much.

It is expected that such an effort will result in shifting the tax burden from the rich to the middle class, and will not raise revenues. Even Bruce Bartlett, former policy adviser to Ronald Reagan, didn’t pull any punches about the plan: “The idea that we can wipe the slate clean and start from scratch is ridiculous pie-in-the-sky thinking and an abrogation of responsibility by the Senate’s two principal leaders on tax issues.”

Essentially, Bartlett makes the argument that the finance duo should do their job and put out an actual proposal of tax expenditures they think are worthy of elimination. Instead, they’re shirking their duty and putting the onus on the other 98 senators. But see? This way, no one has to publicly argue for the elimination of popular tax credits. But don’t worry! Lest you think that any senator is going to have to go on record making the case for the inclusion of unpopular tax breaks for special interests, Baucus and Hatch have a solution for that, too:

The Senate’s top tax writers have promised their colleagues 50 years worth of secrecy in exchange for suggestions on what deductions and credits to preserve in tax reform.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and the panel’s top Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), assured lawmakers that any submission they receive will be kept under lock and key by the committee and the National Archives until the end of 2064.


“Several senators have said to me how important that is to them,” Baucus said. “It’s quite significant.”

It also illustrates the enormous pressure being brought to bear by K Street lobbyists, who are working furiously to protect their clients and the tax provisions that benefit them. [The Hill]

It’s often said that the public doesn’t really want to see the sausage being made; but, just in case any of you do, Max Baucus and Orrin Hatch say you’ll have to wait ’til 2064. As if the legislative process weren’t already opaque enough to make you queasy, this complete lack of transparency, not to mention accountability, is enough to make you gag. Forgive me for my naïve belief that public officials should do their work in public.

Ted Cruz Has A First Amendment Problem

July 24, 2013

Ted CruzTed Cruz  appeared recently on the Christian Broadcasting Network, where he made his case against same-sex marriage. As a graduate, with honors, of both Princeton and Harvard Law (and editor of Law Review!), you might expect Cruz to have a firm grasp on constitutional principles. After all, he is repeatedly touted both on the right and throughout mainstream media has something of a genius.

Unfortunately, his case against marriage equality is actually an argument in favor of protecting the rights and feelings of those who oppose it.

“If you look at other nations that have gone down the road towards gay marriage, that’s the next step of where it gets enforced,” the senator told Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody in a very, very dark room.

“It gets enforced against Christian pastors who decline to perform gay marriages, who speak out and preach Biblical truths on marriage and that has been defined elsewhere as hate speech — as inconsistent with the enlightened view of government,” he added. [National Memo]

At least he’s not suggesting gay marriage will lead to man-dog betrothals, I guess. But what Cruz does say is no less ridiculous. As Jason Sattler at National Memo points out:

To make this argument, Cruz has to pretend that the First Amendment doesn’t exist. He also has to pretend that the civil rights movement has resulted in racists — who still exist in America, where they freely spout hate and post it on the Internet — being arrested by the truckload for hate speech.[…]

Cruz’s argument that churches would be forced to perform gay marriages might make sense if we didn’t have more than 200 years of American history where rabbis have never been forced to marry Christians and priests have never been required perform weddings for Muslims…

So maybe they’re right; maybe Ted Cruz is a very smart man. But if so, he clearly doesn’t think CBN viewers are very bright. Then again, there’s nothing unusual about those who would oppress the liberties of others suffering fear of persecution themselves.

Your Mid-Week Happy Time!

July 24, 2013

Bruces Hanes, HeroMontgomery County has become the site of Pennsylvania’s first same-sex marriage.  County Register of Wills, Bruce Hanes, announced yesterday that he would immediately start issuing licenses to same-sex couples, and followed through today. The first license goes to a lesbian couple who have been in a committed relationship for 17 years, but who had been unable to marry. Yay!

Of course, this is in direct opposition to Pennsylvania law which bans gay marriage. Or does it? Hanes explains his reasoning:

When I took the oath of office 19 months ago, I swore to uphold the U.S. and the Pennsylvania Constitutions. Article 1 Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, aptly entitled “Inherent rights of mankind,” says “all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent and indefeasible rights, among which is “pursuing their own happiness.”

Article 1, Section 26 of the Constitution says, “Neither the Commonwealth nor any political subdivision thereof shall deny to any person the enjoyment of any civil right, nor discriminate against any person in the exercise of any civil right.”

This follows the filing of an ACLU suit challenging the state’s ban. Predictably, there will be calls for the ouster of Bruce Hanes, and probably some gnashing of teeth, etc… but on that we shall not dwell! Thank you, Bruce Hanes — today’s civil rights hero!

Should Democrats Start Rooting For a Liz Cheney Win?

July 23, 2013
Sean Hannity Endorses Liz Cheney -- Nuff said?

Sean Hannity Endorses Liz Cheney — Nuff said?

Of course you’ve heard by now that Liz “Baby Dick” Cheney is running in the Wyoming GOP primary against long-term Senator Mike Enzi. This has created a very uncomfortable situation for Republicans, both in Wyoming and nationally.

It also looks like Liz was so sure that she could just waltz in and steamroll Enzi with her money, media connections and pseudo-grassroots support that she failed to actually get to know the voters of her newly-adopted home state. According to a new PPP poll, it’s gonna be  a real uphill battle:

Overall only 31% of Wyoming voters consider Cheney to be a ‘Wyomingite’ to 50% who do not. By a 50/28 margin they think it would be more appropriate for Cheney to run for the Senate from Virginia than Wyoming. Even Republican primary voters share, by a 45/33 spread, the sentiment that Cheney should be running in Virginia instead of Wyoming.

Cheney starts out at a 54/26 disadvantage in her primary challenge to Enzi. She only has a narrowly positive favorability rating with GOP primary voters at 40/34, while Enzi is quite popular with a 66/24 approval rating.

Yep, Wyoming Republicans think it would be swell to have Liz as a senator…from Virginia. Where she belongs. While she’s barely popular, Enzi is very well liked and voters can point to nothing he’s done that should make him lose his seat. Not that that matters – Liz just really wants that seat!

So why should Democrats care? One conservative Republican or another — it’s not as if there’s a chance in hell that a Democrat could ever win the seat, right? After all, President Obama is more unpopular in Wyoming than any other state, with a 70% disapproval rating, and 53% of those polled saying they could never vote for a Democrat for Senate. But what’s this?

Former Democratic Governor Dave Freudenthal continues to be a very popular figure in Wyoming, with a net +33 favorability rating at 55/22. So it says something about the difficulty Democrats face in national elections in the state that despite that popularity he still trails Enzi by 23 points in a hypothetical match up, 54/31…

The only scenario in which Democrats could be competitive for this seat- and it’s very far fetched- is one in which Freudenthal decided to run and then Cheney somehow defeated Enzi in the primary. Freudenthal would actually lead Cheney 45/42 in a hypothetical match, likely due to her under water 33/43 favorability rating with the overall electorate.

That’s how bad it is for Liz. As things stand today, even if she did get the nomination, she would trail Dave Freudenthal as the Democratic nominee. So should Democrats start rooting for a Cheney primary win? That’s an easy one — no.

For one thing, Freudenthal has shown no interest in running. Secondly, Liz doesn’t look likely to be able to defeat Enzi. And even were Enzi to ‘take the hint’ and retire, Liz doesn’t appear to be a shoe-in in an open primary, with figures such as Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis with far better favorability ratings. Finally, a lot can happen in a political campaign.

Mike Enzi may be reliably conservative, but he’s no Liz Cheney. It seems clear to this observer that Cheney chose this seat because of Enzi’s age, low-key profile, and the relative bargain of running a campaign in a state with a population smaller than Las Vegas. It also seems obvious that she chose not to wait because she needs to get her elected political career going, as she clearly has her sights set on an office higher than the junior senator from Wyoming. In short, it’s too big a risk. We do not want Liz Cheney anywhere near the Senate.

Hope and Despair: A Week To Make You Question Your Country

July 21, 2013
Image: Atlanta Journal Constitution

Image: Atlanta Journal Constitution

Between work and the added parental duties of Summer, I haven’t been able to blog as much recently. But my complete lack of posts during the past week had nothing to do with my busy schedule. Rather, it’s hard to write coherently when you want to scream at the top of your lungs in every direction. A week ago yesterday brought the verdict in the Florida murder trial of George Zimmerman for the death of unarmed, 17 year-old Trayvon Martin.

As shocking as the not-guilty verdict was, it was hardly surprising. Still, the aftermath of the trial has been nothing short of nauseating. The usual suspects of right-wing bigotry and hatred were, of course, triumphant and celebratory. Watching the coverage, one got the feeling that media outlets such as Fox News were genuinely disappointed by the lack of rioting. (Perhaps explaining why many conservative Americans now believe it to be a “fact” that rioting did occur.)

In the wake of a trial during which Trayvon Martin (the victim!) was put on trial for his own murder, the right-wing media has gone into hyper-drive to smear Martin even more than they previously had. (Witness stupidest-man-on-the-internet Jim Hoft arguing that Trayvon’s iced tea and Skittles were obviously going to be used for making sizzurp when he got home. — Nevermind that he never made it home, or that Hoft has zero evidence for this claim, in fact has the recipe for sizzurp wrong, or that preemptively killing someone to prevent misuse of legal drugs is hardly an adequate defense.)

Still, the response of a racist right-wing media is hardly surprising. What is truly disturbing, though, are the thousands of white Americans who are undoubtedly good people, and who would never consider themselves to be racist, who nevertheless feel compelled to complain (some quite loudly) that this case wasn’t about race.

It’s a mantra with them. Stop seeing racism where there is none! This wasn’t about race, it was about self-defense! And yet, if they truly believe that, then they bought Zimmerman’s version of the night’s events hook, line, and sinker. As Trayvon is not here to give his version, why would people simply buy Zimmerman’s story? There is an assumption here that Trayvon  must  have done something to provoke Zimmerman. And there’s only one reason that assumption is made. Because we all know what young black men are like, don’t we? Thugs. Criminals. You’d better get them before they get you.

But back to the main thing: because these fine, upstanding white citizens say we should be beyond race, that clearly means the case was not about race. The trial judge said it, the prosecutor said it, the defense counsel said it, heck, even juror B37 said it wasn’t about race. Sheesh, when will you bleeding heart liberals listen?

Except that it was about race. Every single thing about this case was affected by race.

  • George Zimmerman admitted that he profiled Martin because he was young and black, just like the perpetrators of recent burglaries in the neighborhood. (Although, since those burglaries went unsolved it is unclear how Zimmerman, or anyone, knows the perpetrators were black.)
  • In the aftermath of the shooting, police simply accepted Zimmerman’s version of events and thus didn’t adequately secure the scene to vigorously recover forensic evidence.
  • Police did not test Zimmerman for alcohol or drugs, but they did test Trayvon Martin.
  • The police didn’t even notify Martin’s parents. They had to file a missing persons report before they learned of their son’s death.
  • It took six weeks filled with protests and outrage at the national level before Zimmerman was even arrested.
  • The trial judge expressly prohibited the prosecution from using race as part of its case, and instructed jurors to that effect.

For all the talk of Florida’s heinous “Stand Your Ground” (aka Shoot First) law, the defense never invoked it. Still, they didn’t have to, because the jury took it into account anyway, deciding that it didn’t matter if Zimmerman created the entire situation by following Martin. It didn’t matter who swung first (although they took George’s word that it was Martin.) All that mattered was that Zimmerman felt his life was in danger. Heaven forbid that he should be expected to retreat. He feared for his life and so he was justified in shooting. And who wouldn’t fear for their life? After all, Trayvon was a somewhat tall (5’11”, not 6′ 2″ as many right wing sites would have you believe), somewhat skinny (158 lbs.), African-American boy just 3 weeks past his 17th birthday.

I could go on and on about the injustice in the way many Americans have treated the victim of this crime. Suffice it to say, though, that they’ve taken a perfectly normal young man, about whom no one that knew him has had anything bad to say and turned him into a hulking thug, addled by pot-smoking and gawd-only-knows what else, with a chip on his shoulder who took the first chance he had to beat up on a white man. (There seems to be no concern that maybe Trayvon was terrified that night. After all, he was a 17 year-old kid being stalked by a grown man.)

Luckily for George Zimmerman, African-American boys in this country, as Eugene Robinson writes in a piece you really ought to read, aren’t allowed to be children. They are suspect and responsible. Last week, a Florida jury found a 17 year old boy more responsible for his own death than the 29 year-old adult who stalked, confronted, and shot him. Now you tell me that’s not due in some way to racial preconceptions.

On Friday, President Obama made an unscheduled appearance at the daily White House press briefing and delivered a heart-felt statement about the Zimmerman verdict and the status of race relations in the US. He talked about how we can go about rescuing a generation of black boys from the inequity intrinsic in our institutions. He spoke personally of being profiled throughout his life. He spoke about the fact that despite our best intentions, there is history, there is intrinsic bias, and yes, there is still racism.

If Americans had listened with empathetic ears, they would have grasped just a little bit of what it’s like to be young, black and male in America. Many Americans did hear that message and were moved. On the other hand, the clowns on the right went berserk. “Race-baiter in chief!” “Obama’s the real racist!” “He’s trying to tear our country apart!” And on and on it went…

And it wasn’t just the idiots we’ve come to expect. Sure, it was Fox, and Breitbart, and Malkin, and the nutty freepers at FreeRepublic… but it was also all over Twitter. And not just from the old-guard #TCOT faction full of mostly 55+ white conservatives, but from a whole slew of people with awfully young-looking profile pics. And that, for me, was when despair set in. Because we often feel better in the midst of this ugliness when we remind ourselves that the most vile, intolerant bigots are slowly dying off. The Twitter display on Friday showed a disturbing number of twenty-somethings thrilled to have a chance to post tweets calling their president a nigger.

So each time someone earnestly tries to tell me that racism in the US is over because we’ve elected a black President, I see red. If anything, the election of Barack Obama has made the heretofore quiet, modern American racism more overt and more vocal. Sure, 51% of voters elected our first black president. Maybe (maybe) most of them are free of racism – but that still leaves 49% who didn’t vote for him. What of them? I’m not saying that everyone who voted for McCain or Romney is a racist, but I think it demonstrates just how ridiculous it is to point to Obama’s presidency as proof that we’re living in a post-racial world.

It’s a beautiful dream, and perhaps one day we’ll get there. But we’re not there now, and we won’t get there if well-meaning people stick their heads in the sand and refuse to see the remaining work to be done.

Why GOP Ag Committee Chair Frank Lucas Is Full Of It

July 12, 2013

A post yesterday touched on the Farm Bill and the travesty of what the Republican House has chosen to do; poking fun at Louie Gohmert aside, the topic needs further explanation…

Republicans just long for the good ol' daysSince the 1970’s, the US Farm Bill has combined the politically disparate interests of mostly-rural agriculture programs with mostly-urban nutrition programs (farm subsidies and food stamps.) This has been done to create broad-based, bi-partisan support from both rural and urban legislators. It worked. Until recently.

In recent years, the GOP has become hell-bent on slashing the SNAP (food stamp) program. (This, despite the fact that need for the program rose 70% in the wake of the 2007 recession (now nearly 1 in 6 Americans); despite the fact that it has been a key factor in keeping millions of working Americans, seniors and children  fed and lifted out of povertyand despite the fact that SNAP use is now relied upon more by rural than by urban Americans and usage is highest in red states.) In fact, they are so dying to stick it to the hungry poor, that the significant cuts to the SNAP program included in a Farm Bill brought to the House floor on June 20th weren’t deep enough to satisfy many in the GOP caucus, and for the first time in decades, a Farm Bill was voted down.

The tea party and far-right wave of 2010 that gave John Boehner the Speaker’s gavel didn’t give him a governable majority. Also: he kinda sucks at this leadership thing, vote counting, and ferrying important legislation through the House. So the clown circus stumbles along, with the result that the only way Boehner can get anything other than Obamacare repeal and post office naming to pass is by chopping it up into bite-sized chunks. We are going to see this in the immigration debate, and we saw it yesterday as the House passed a Farm Bill, minus any provision for nutrition programs.

But wait!, says Agriculture Committee Chair Rep. Frank Lucas (R – OK to starve the poor), liberals should be happy about this!

If you’re a true liberal and you want to protect the [food stamps] program from any reform whatsoever, I suppose you’d be smiling,” Lucas, the Republican chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, told HuffPost on Thursday morning ahead of the vote. […]

The way food stamps is structured, even if the authorization expires, it’s an appropriated program anyway. They can just keep it going,” Lucas said. “If you were, say, a very liberal member of Congress and you didn’t care anything about agricultural production and processing, you didn’t care about rural America, you didn’t care about infrastructure, you didn’t care about research, you didn’t care about any of this stuff, I suspect you’d probably be enthusiastic here. Because this way the farm bill issues will be addressed, your subject matter’s left out.” (HuffPo)

See? Nothing to worry about there! Lucas would have you believe that the same GOP caucus who rejected a previous version of the bill including significant cuts to SNAP because those cuts weren’t deep enough is just going to sit back and let the program continue on its merry way without any cuts whatsoever. (I also have a lovely bridge for sale, if you’re buying that one.)

Truth is, Republicans love the idea of the SNAP program as a stand-alone bill, all ready for the bashing of the poors and socialist moochers and the telling of stories of crab legs, rib-eyes and wine. (Cadillac-driving welfare queens, anyone?) As Food & Water Watch’s Patty Lovera points out, this split now makes the SNAP program “incredibly vulnerable to draconian cuts that have become a priority of many conservative members of Congress. Dealing with SNAP as a stand alone bill – or not passing a separate nutrition bill at all – creates opportunities for drastically cutting funding for the program or making other radical changes like turning it into a block grant program. ”

The bashing of the undeserving poor and the stripping of the social safety net is now possible because the House Ag Committee has untangled the SNAP program from agriculture programs, which essentially held them hostage to some sort of moderation in the past. Now wait, you say, aren’t they hurting their own constituents if SNAP usage is higher in rural areas and red states? That all depends on just who their constituents really are — the voters of their districts, or the leaders of Big-Ag who line their pockets?

Because there is nothing moderate about the bill they passed  yesterday. Environmental Working Group calls it the “most fiscally irresponsible farm legislation in history.”

After repeatedly voting to deny health insurance to kids, the Republicans overwhelmingly turned their backs on hungry kids and voted to increase unlimited insurance subsidies for the most profitable farmers…

This bill not only increases unlimited insurance subsidies, but also increases price guarantees for major crops and creates new subsidy programs for farm businesses. This bill locks in these new income subsidies for eternity under the guise of ‘reform.’

So the pork-laden gravy train keeps on chugging along for the rich. And what about the millions of Americans still unemployed or underemployed in the midst of this jobless recovery? (More than 9 out of 10 jobs lost during the downturn in rural areas still haven’t returned.)  Well, Majority Leader Eric Cantor says the GOP will “act with dispatch” to get a food stamp bill to the floor. The best hope now is that the bumbling clown circus still won’t be able to agree on just how draconian the cuts should be. Odds are actually pretty good on that front.

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