Strange Things From The Mouths Of Evangelicals

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me…See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven…So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”

—Jesus of Nazareth

 

As a former evangelical Christian I know that evangelical Christians sometimes say strange things.

For instance, after the St. Louis Cardinals’ heart-stopping victory in Game Six of the World Series, Josh Hamilton, who had hit for the Texas Rangers what appeared to be a series-clinching two-run home run in the top of the 10th inning, told reporters about the dramatic hit:

I would tell y’all something, but y’all wouldn’t believe me. The Lord told me it was going to happen before it happened.

Hamilton said the Lord’s words were: “You hadn’t hit a home run in a while. You’re about to right now.”

Now, it’s not unusual that people like Josh Hamilton—who very publicly claims the Lord helped him with a severe addiction to drugs and alcohol—believe the God of the Universe speaks to them and tells them things before they actually happen.

What is unusual in Josh Hamilton’s case is that God chose that particular time and that particular game to get all chatty with the talented outfielder. You see, in July at another Texas Rangers game, when God could have done some real good in the world, he didn’t have much to say.

Everyone remembers that on that sad day a fireman named Shannon Stone, 39-years-old, was at the Rangers game with his little boy, six-year-old Cooper. Cooper’s favorite baseball player is Josh Hamilton and his dad was trying to get Hamilton to toss him a foul ball to give to his son.

Hamilton said that he heard the father shout, “Hey, Hamilton, how about the next one?” after Hamilton had tossed a foul ball to the ball girl. “I just gave him a nod,” Hamilton said, “When I got it, I found them again.”

He tossed the ball to Shannon Stone who reached for it over the railing and fell 20 feet to his death.

This tragedy was not Josh Hamilton’s fault and he was obviously distraught over it.  But that’s not the point. My question for Mr. Hamilton is this: If you honestly believe that God would give you a heads-up on a tie-breaking home run and you felt it necessary to tell the world about it, then you owe the world an explanation as to why God did not whisper in your mind, just before you tossed that ball to Shannon Stone, to throw it somewhere else, or give it to the ball girl.

What must Shannon Stone’s family have thought upon hearing that the Almighty is on speaking terms with Josh Hamilton?

If he can go public with the homer revelation from God in October, Hamilton can also go public about God’s stunning and deadly silence in July. He should tell us how God has the time and inclination to talk baseball with Hamilton in a World Series game but apparently not the time and inclination to issue a warning to save a little boy’s dad at a regular season contest.

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Michele Bachmann, who says she gave her heart to Christ and “wept before the Lord” when she was in high school, believes she is “pro-life.”  She said so, just last week:

I want you to know quite firmly, I stand for life – from conception to natural death.

Quite firmly,” she said, she stands “for life.”  “From conception to natural death.” We know this all-inclusive statement means she believes that just-fertilized eggs are deserving of the full protection of the U.S. Constitution, which, no doubt, her followers find quite charitable and godly.

By Saturday, however, her all-inclusive statement about firmly standing for life had been subjected to what appears to me to be a rather uncharitable and ungodly revision. MSNBC reported:

A 19 year-old college student, identifying himself as Latino, asked what Bachmann would “do to” the children of illegal immigrants.

Bachmann responded that she is “not doing anything to them,” and described why she is against the federal government rewarding citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants.

“Their parents are the ones who brought them here,” Bachmann said.

“They did not have the legal right to come to the United States,” Bachmann added, of the parents.  “We do not owe people who broke our laws to come into the country.  We don’t owe them anything.”

Bachmann is right of course. We don’t “owe them anything” in a frosty technical sense. Their parents did bring them here illegally, obviously for a better life, and the children have no legal claim to stay and no legal claim on our American stuff.

But all that Arctic Christian hair-splitting is not exactly what most people understand someone to mean when they say, again:

I want you to know quite firmly, I stand for life – from conception to natural death.

And neither is it all that spirtually becoming for someone who says she “wept before the Lord” and gave her heart to Jesus so long ago, to harden her heart toward kids brought here to live.  That same Jesus who allegedly witnessed a weeping Bachmann told a famous little story that went sort of like this:

A certain family with children was going up from Juarez to El Paso to escape poverty and drug dealers, who were destroying their homeland.

By chance a certain conservative evangelical Christian presidential candidate was going up that way.  When she saw them, she passed by on the other side.  She said, “We don’t owe these people or their children anything.We need to build a secure double fence because they are burdening taxpayers in America.”

In the same way, a conservative Mormon presidential candidate also, when he came to the place and saw them, passed by on the other side. “These folks are just here for the in-state tuition,” he said. “It’s like a magnet.”

But a certain liberal, as he traveled, came where the family was.  When he saw them, he was moved with compassion, came to them and told them: “Look, we’ll let your kids go to school, we’ll get them some food and make sure they have health care. After all, this is supposed to be a Christian nation.”

Which now of these three, do you think, was neighbor to him that came to America for a better life?

For someone who has made her Christianity a very public matter, it seems to me an answer to Jesus’ updated question is in order.

 

A Piece Of Art

Most of you reading this know what a big fan I am of Elizabeth Warren, who is running in Massachusetts against Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican who gets credit in the Beltway press for being a “moderate,” but in reality is no such thing. 

The Massachusetts GOP without, so far, a word of criticism from Mr. Brown, presented this commercial as one of its first shots in what will be a nasty campaign:

You may have noticed during that uplifting presentation a couple of quotes from a “Democratic pollster” named Douglas Schoen:

These lies were prompted by a man who, besides being a pollster, is a Fox “News” contributor, and if he is a Democrat then Anson Burlingame is John Steinbeck and his Globe blog is The Grapes of Wrath.

Jonathan Chait says that Doug Schoen and his Fox pal Pat Cadell “have made a mini-career in the Obama administration as Dick Morris-esque apostates“:

They repeat republican talking points, but the hook that gets them attention is that they make sure to mention that they’re Democrats, they write this out of sadness rather than anger, their party has left them, etc.

My usual visceral reaction to Schoen when he appears on Fox to do his whoring for Roger Ailes is to upchuck a stomach full of curdled cheese puffs and pronounce the resulting puddle a portrait of the phony Democrat.

Such works of art are worthy of what Schoen does in service to Fox and in disservice to his former party, all the while dishonestly keeping the name “Democrat” cuddled up next to his as he is misidentified on millions of television screens, which also bear that false Fox mantra, fair and balanced.

Remarks And Asides

See if you can figure out where this quote came from:

…our history has shown us that we need government regulation in order to protect our citizens and resources.

The talk of getting rid of government is getting tiring. Government may seem faceless, but it really is made up of us. It is only as good as our participation in it.

Was it The Erstwhile Conservative?  Or maybe some wild-eyed writer for The Nation?  How about Sen. Bernie Sanders or maybe Nancy Pelosi?

Nope.  It was, dear readers, the editorial page of the Joplin Globe speaking (last Sunday).  And after a couple of years of criticizing the paper for some bad editorial decisions, I am here to praise it for, if nothing else, recognizing the compelling need to state the obvious to its mostly-conservative readership.

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Democrats are touting the results of some recent polling that indicates they have a chance to take back the House next year…Republicans are meanwhile measuring the chambers to see if Jim DeMint’s post-2012-election head will have breathing room in a GOP-controlled Senate… A Tea Party group, apparently not speaking for God, told Michele Bachmann to quite her race to become the last man standing in the Republican primary…Rick Perry is thinking about pulling a Palin and quitting the GOP debates..Herman Cain, so in tune with the times, says guvmint shouldn’t help the kids go to college…Hillary Clinton is now the favorite to become president next year…A “centrist” group called Americans Elect claims it will run a third-party candidate in all 50 states next year and it will not get very many votes which proves that America is a “centrist” country, right? Right?

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Finally, and seriously, most of us liberals kind of have a suspicion that veterans, especially Marines, sort of lean to the conservative side of things, but what happened in Oakland has caused quite a stir. From mediabistro.com:

Marines have been flocking to the social networking/aggregator site Reddit to voice their anger at the life-threatening injury inflicted on 24-year-old Iraqi war veteran Scott Olsen by Oakland police during the recent Occupy protests. Video showed Olsen go down after taking a tear gas canister to the head. As fellow protesters tried to assist him, police lobbed a flash grenade into their midst–right next to Olsen’s already fractured skull.

The picture above, submitted by Reddit user aburger, has generated well over 1,000 comments on the site–many from fellow Marines who are absolutely livid at the injury to one of their own by police.

Uh-oh.

The Most Dangerous “1%” ?

The Occupy Wall Street movement, recently attacked by law enforcement in Oakland, is all about the 99%, as opposed to the 1% of wealthy folks that enjoy a Newt Gingrich-sized portion of the nation’s wealth.

Now it appears we have another 1% to worry about, this time in the world of multinational or transnational corporations.

A commenter on this blog (HLGaskins) directed me to a most fascinating story from New Scientist: “Revealed—the capitalist network that runs the world.”  What the story amounts to is that some very smart people (“complex systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich”) decided to analyze how,

The structure of the control network of transnational corporations affects global market competition and financial stability.

The analysts studied “the architecture of the international ownership network” and their admittedly tentative conclusion is this:

We find that transnational corporations form a giant bow-tie structure and that a large portion of control flows to a small tightly-knit core of financial institutions. This core can be seen as an economic “super-entity” that raises new important issues both for researchers and policy makers.

It turns out, from the article, that it just might be that “a few bankers control a large chunk of the global economy,” or in the words of one of the researchers:

In effect, less than 1 per cent of the companies were able to control 40 per cent of the entire network.

Those companies, as we should have expected, are mostly financial institutions like JPMorgan Chase (bailed out with $25 billion), and Goldman Sachs (bailed out with $10 billion) and Barclays Bank (beneficiary of other bailed-out banks).

The article notes that the Zürich analysts say concentration of power is not good or bad in itself, but the interconnectedness of the core group of companies could pose a risk for the stability of the world’s economy because,

If one suffers distress, this propagates.

That, of course, is a description of the 2008 financial disaster. And as the article points out, the real point of this kind of analysis is to identify “the architecture of global economic power” and find “vulnerable aspects of the system” so that “economists can suggest measures to prevent future collapses spreading through the entire economy.”  In other words, we should use this type of science to find ways to make the system more stable. 

Finally, besides stressing that this analysis is not without its critics (read the article), I also want to stress that there is no support for some kind of notion of world-wide conspiracy here, as some protesters in the Occupy Wall Street movement may want to maintain. The article pointed out:

..the super-entity is unlikely to be the intentional result of a conspiracy to rule the world.

Why? Because, as one complex systems expert avers, such super-entities are “common in nature.” The article explains:

Newcomers to any network connect preferentially to highly connected members. [Transnational corporations] buy shares in each other for business reasons, not for world domination. If connectedness clusters, so does wealth…

So, the super-entity may not result from conspiracy. The real question, says the Zürich team, is whether it can exert concerted political power…

Yes, that is the real question, and that is why the Occupy Wall Street movement—which is exerting its own form of concerted political power—is so important.

A Tale Of Two Conservatives, Not Two Countries

If you haven’t heard, Pat Buchanan, an old-time über-conservative and analyst on not-so-liberal MSNBC, has a new book out that basically pronounces America dead.

While I didn’t catch his appearance on white nationalist radio (a talk show called “The Political Cesspool“), I did listen for a bit to the hard-core Buchanan on The Diane Rehm Show.  She asked him about the title of his book, Suicide of a Superpower, to which he replied:

I was looking at my country with deep concern and sharing the view of that 79 percent of Americans who said yesterday in that poll, Diane, that the United States of America, the greatest country on earth, the country of Eisenhower and Nixon, you and I grew up in, is in decline. And I think it is in grave decline and I’m not sure the United States can turn it around.

Now, before we go on, notice that Buchanan’s “the greatest country on earth” happens to be “the country of Eisenhower and Nixon.” In between those two Republican presidents was, of course, Kennedy and Johnson, but as we shall see, those times weren’t America’s greatest moments, in Buchanan’s reckoning.

Pat explained why America is in an irreversible decline, which I will, as a public service, summarize:

♦ Our society is “disintegrating…”breaking down along the lines of race, culture, religion, and philosophy.”

♦ The idea “that diversity is a strength is a canard, it is nonsense.”

♦ We used to all speak English and be Judeo-Christians (it is okay to be a Mormon because they are a lot like Judeo-Christians, especially their complexions.) Only about 75 percent of us are now Christians, which means, of course, that we no longer have “a moral code…by which to live.”

♦ We all used to “read the same newspapers, listened to the same radio stations, ate the same food, danced to the same music,” and now we have that nasty diversity thing going on.

♦ The American Southwest will soon essentially become a part of Mexico.

♦ White people will soon become a minority. (Chapter 4 of his book is titled, “The End of White America,” and he suggests that we have therefore “imperiled our union.”)

And on and on.

Buchanan was asked what could possibly be done to prevent this doomsday scenario for America, and he replied using my all-time favorite James Burnham quote:

I think the solution’s — James Burnham had a great statement. He said, where there are no solutions there is no problem. I don’t think there is a solution to what I’m describing. To turn around the thinking of people after the cultural, moral, social revolution of the ’60s has changed the fundamental thinking of people.

Now it is apparent why Buchanan earlier used the phrase, 

the greatest country on earth, the country of Eisenhower and Nixon…

Those two presidents bookended those nasty 1960s, when the country went to hell by expanding the rights of all our people and making them a little more comfortable in the white’s America.

 He went on: 

I mean, we have two countries inside America morally, culturally and socially. We can see them all clashing over right to life, abortion, gay rights, all these things, stem cell research, God in school, prayer. We’re fighting with each other over that. That’s beyond politics. That’s beyond even a great political leader like Ronald Reagan. It is beyond politics. Politics can deal with our fiscal problem and all that but, Diane, we are two countries.

Don’t you see? If those of us who disagree with Pat Buchanan and the conservative movement would just change our minds and agree with them on all those divisive issues, or perhaps better still, pack up and move, they could have their country back and America could be great again.

As it is, out of the mouth of Pat Buchanan, we just can’t live together in a powerful America.

But I won’t let Pat Buchanan have the last word on this one.  Please take the time to read the following 1990 remarks by none other than Ronald Reagan, whom very few conservatives dare to contradict.  The remarks, for this former fan of Mr. Reagan, still give me chills:

And now, let me speak directly to the young people and the students here. I wonder yet if you’ve appreciated how unusual—terribly unusual—this country of ours is?

I received a letter just before I left office from a man. I don’t know why he chose to write it, but I’m glad he did. He wrote that you can go to live in France, but you can’t become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Italy, but you can’t become a German, an Italian. He went through Turkey, Greece, Japan and other countries. but he said anyone, from any corner of the world, can come to live in the United States and become an American.

Some may call it mysticism if they will, but I cannot help but feel that there was some divine plan that placed this continent here between the two great oceans to be found by people from any corner of the earth — people who had an extra ounce of desire for freedom and some extra courage to rise up and lead their families, their relatives, their friends, their nations and come here to eventually make this country.

The truth of the matter is, if we take this crowd and if we could go through and ask the heritage, the background of every family represented here, we would probably come up with the names of every country on earth, every corner of the world, and every race. Here, is the one spot on earth where we have the brotherhood of man. And maybe as we continue with this proudly, this brotherhood of man made up from people representative of every corner of the earth, maybe one day boundaries all over the earth will disappear as people cross boundaries and find out that, yes, there is a brotherhood of man in every corner.

Thank you all and God Bless you all.

The Social Gardener, Part 1

Nearly every day I hear some conservative argue for “free markets” in one form or another.  “Get government off the backs of bidness,” they say. “Free markets are more efficient.” “The Free Market Does It Better.”

George Will recently wrote a scathing piece on liberalism, which ended with this:

Society — hundreds of millions of people making billions of decisions daily — is a marvel of spontaneous order among individuals in voluntary cooperation. Government facilitates this cooperation with roads, schools, police, etc. — and by getting out of its way. This is a sensible, dynamic, prosperous society’s “underlying social contract.”

Okay. That sounds good, on first reading. But let’s look at a part of American life that unquestionably commands the attention of a large majority of the population: sports.

Baseball games, football games, games of all sorts, are managed competitions, not free-for-alls in which anything goes. It is the fact that they are managed competitions that makes them so popular.  If the New England Patriots won every game they played and thus won the Super Bowl every year, football would die.

It’s not just that NFL owners provide the venue  and the equipment (society’s “roads, schools, police,” as Will put it) to play the game. There are elaborate rules and regulations, salary caps, revenue sharing and other managed aspects of the sport, which far from undermining the benefits of competition, actually serve to make competition more beneficial—and more rewarding for everyone involved: owners, players, and in terms of enjoyment, the fans.

This is contrary to the assertion made by laissez-faire advocates, whose voices never tire of telling us that government regulation and intervention stymies creativity and growth and wealth-creation in the larger economy. But the enormous popularity of the highly regulated National Football League disproves the general idea that managing and supervising competition is bad for us.

Now, all of that is relatively easy to understand. We can see it every Sunday this time of year.

What is harder to understand is why the idea continues to thrive in some very visible and noisy sectors that unregulated or nearly unregulated economies are superior to managed economies, despite the empirical evidence against that idea.

There is, of course, the Great Depression, which should have settled the matter forever. But more recently we have the evidence of the Great Recession and its continuing effects, which even laissez-faire high priest Alan Greenspan admitted put him into “a state of shocked disbelief.” Why? The New York Times expressed it this way back in October of 2008:

…as chairman of the Federal Reserve, a humbled Mr. Greenspan admitted that he had put too much faith in the self-correcting power of free markets and had failed to anticipate the self-destructive power of wanton mortgage lending.

A copy of The Road to Serfdom, by Friedrich Hayek, sits on or near my desk all the time. Hayek’s name is invoked often by free-marketeers, but those folks should actually read what Hayek wrote. He wasn’t exactly a believer in laissez-faire, as this passage from the book makes clear (note: I substituted the word “libertarian” for “liberal” in this passage, to make the meaning clearer to contemporary readers):

The fundamental principle that in the ordering of our affairs we should make as much use as possible of the spontaneous forces of society, and resort as little as possible to coercion, is capable of an infinite variety of applications. There is, in particular, all the difference between deliberately creating a system within which competition will work as beneficially as possible and passively accepting institutions as they are. Probably nothing has done so much harm to the [libertarian] cause as the wooden insistence of some [libertarians] on certain rough rules of thumb, above all the principle of laissez faire.

Uh-oh. Did he really mean to say that? Yep:

The attitude of the [libertarian] toward society is like that of a gardener who tends a plant and, in order to create the conditions most favorable to its growth, must know as much as possible about its structure and the way it functions.

That sounds exactly like what I, as a liberal today, believe. We should “make as much use as possible of the spontaneous forces of society, and resort as little as possible to coercion.” And we should “create the conditions most favorable” to the growth of society.

What Hayek was referencing was the growth of our understanding of “social forces and the conditions most favorable to their working in a desirable manner.” In other words, the wise social gardener will learn—and continue to learn—what he can about how society, including our capitalist system, works and improve conditions that will help it grow.

What’s wrong with that?

CBO Tells Us What We Already Knew

Nothing better demonstrates why folks are out in the streets these days than two recently released graphs from the Congressional Budget Office:

 From the CBO summary text:

♦ The share of after-tax household income for the 1 percent of the population with the highest income more than doubled, climbing from nearly 8 percent in 1979 to 17 percent in 2007.

♦ The population in the lowest income quintile received about 7 percent of after-tax income in 1979; by 2007, their share of after-tax income had fallen to about 5 percent.

♦ The middle three income quintiles all saw their shares of after-tax income decline by 2 to 3 percentage points between 1979 and 2007.

An important point raised on the CBO Director’s Blog was that “Government Transfers and Federal Taxes Became Less Redistributive,” which therefore increased the inequality of income distribution:

Specifically, in 1979, households in the bottom quintile received more than 50 percent of transfer payments. In 2007, similar households received about 35 percent of transfers. That shift reflects the growth in spending for programs focused on the elderly population (such as Social Security and Unemployment Insurance), in which benefits are not limited to low-income households.

Likewise, the equalizing effect of federal taxes was smaller. Over the 1979–2007 period, the overall average federal tax rate fell by a small amount, the composition of federal revenues shifted away from progressive income taxes to less-progressive payroll taxes, and income taxes became slightly more concentrated at the higher end of the income scale. The effect of the first two factors outweighed the effect of the third, reducing the extent to which taxes lessened the dispersion of household income.

News Testament

“Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him.”

—John 19:1

I like strange headlines.

In Tuesday’s Joplin Globe, I saw this one:

This headline and story started me thinking about what the headline might be relative to events in Palestine in, say, 33. A.D.:

Outrage, Pressure, And Doing The Right Thing

Thanks to a story that appeared first in the Joplin Globe and then thanks to an Associated Press story that appeared on Sunday in papers and other media all over the country, Mark Lindquist, tornado survivor, will finally get workers’ compensation benefits.

Lindquist, for those not familiar with his story, was at his job as a social worker taking care of developmentally disabled adults in a group home just across the street from the Joplin High School, where the EF-5 tornado, as Globe reporter Wally Kennedy described it, “was at its zenith.”

Nearly everyone in the country has seen the pictures of Joplin High School and the surrounding destruction, and Mr. Lindquist’s heroism is now legendary around here. As the tornado approached, he and a co-worker, Ryan Tackett, tossed a mattress over three men with Down syndrome and jumped on top in a futile effort to save them.  The three men died in the storm.

Lindquist himself “was found in rubble two houses south of the group home,” Kennedy reported for the Globe.  Here’s how the AP reported it:

The storm tossed Lindquist more than half a block. Two men out searching for survivors found him buried in rubble, impaled by a piece of metal. Large chunks of flesh were torn off, and pieces of his shoulder crumbled to the ground as the rescuers lifted him to safety.

Things got even worse when Lindquist developed a fungal infection from debris that got into open sores, an infection that killed five other Joplin tornado victims.

Lindquist wasn’t expected to survive and was in a coma for nearly two months, first at Freeman Hospital in Joplin, then at a hospital in Columbia and finally at a rehabilitation center in Mount Vernon. It was there that he awoke.

“I’m a walking miracle,” he said.

Maybe he is a walking miracle. But what may be more miraculous, in a devilish sort of way, is that the insurance company for his employer managed to find a way to not pay Lindquist workers’ compensation benefits, despite the fact that his employer urged the company to do so.

The insurance company, Accident Fund Insurance Company of America, explained in a letter to Lindquist that his claim was denied,

based on the fact that there was no greater risk than the general public at the time you were involved in the Joplin tornado.

Now, Lindquist’s own home was not damaged and had he been there instead of at his just-above-minimum-wage job he would still have all of his teeth, have full use of his arm and his short-term memory, move around more quickly, and not have medical bills in excess of $2.5 million.

But that meant nothing to an insurance company motivated not to pay such an obvious claim. A spokesman for the Missouri Division of Workers’ Compensation said that out of 132 claims filed related to the Joplin tornado, “only” eight were denied by insurance companies.

From the Insurance Journal:

The company says its initial decision to deny Lindquist’s claim was based on Missouri workers’ compensation laws, which limit recovery for injuries received during a tornado to situations where the employee was subjected to a greater harm than that of the general public.

Accident Fund initially found that Lindquist did not face a greater risk than the general public at the time of his involvement the Joplin tornado. The insurer says it has revisited the case and changed its determination.

Lindquist, who could not afford health insurance on his wages, was both a victim of nature and corporate nature, the latter victimization thwarted by publicity first generated by a story in the Joplin Globe, which editorialized today:

Mark Lindquist’s story has the right kind of ending — finally. And it’s because of the outrage of readers like you and the pressure you placed on an insurance company that Lindquist’s medical bills for injuries he suffered on the night of the May 22 tornado will be covered.

Yes: “Outrage” and “pressure” on misbehaving corporate entities. Isn’t that what the Occupy Wall Street protests are all about?

Roy Blunt, Socialist Sympathizer

The theme of the day seems to be socialism.

In what may be his most egregious vote to date, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt said “Hell no!” to those who dared to end socialistic subsidies to farmers with incomes over a million smackers.

The measure, sponsored by normally nutty neighbor Sen. Tom Coburn, would, as the AP put it,

discontinue certain farm subsidies for people who make more than a million dollars in adjusted gross income. The practical impact of the vote may be marginal — current limits are about $1.2 million at most — but it represents a sea change in how the heavily rural Senate views farm support. In recent years, many votes to limit subsidies have failed in the Senate.

Normally, I would have no problem with Blunt supporting socialist programs, but he has told us how worried he is about the federal deficit, and he has voted to be stingy in terms of helping middle class folks find work or keep the jobs they have or keep their heads above water with unemployment benefits (he voted against Obama’s jobs bill).  He’s also voted against raising taxes on wealthy folks to pay for all this socialism.

So, why would he vote to support subsidies to millionaire farmers who are, in Tom Coburn’s words, “doing just fine“?

Let me gue$$.

By the way, the bill passed 84 to 15.

Everything’s Big In Texas, Including The Socialism

Even though Rick Perry will never be president, and even though Republicans will never admit that they love them some socialism, this segment from last night’s The Last Word is very entertaining:


Obama Lost The War In Iraq, Don’t You Know

On the way to Springfield on Sunday I heard a BBC radio report relating how Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who has previously flirted with joining the Taliban, said:

God forbid, if there is ever a war between Pakistan and America, then we will side with Pakistan.

Then upon returning home I discovered that Lindsey Graham told Fox “News” that President Obama made a “serious mistake” by keeping to the Bush Administration timetable of troop withdrawal from Iraq at the end of this year:

Not being able to close the deal in Iraq is a very serious mistake. Celebrating leaving with no troops behind is a serious mistake… He’s put in question our success in Afghanistan and he ended Iraq poorly. He fumbled the ball inside of the ten. I hope I’m wrong about what happens in Iraq, but they are dancing in the streets in Tehran.

Then I learned that Lindsey Graham’s Siamese twin, John McCain, also criticized—on foreign soil—Obama’s Bush-endorsed decision on ABC’s This Week:

Well, I think it’s a serious mistake. And there was never really serious negotiations between the administration and the Iraqis. They could have clearly made an arrangement for U.S. troops.

Yes, I’m here in the region. And, yes, it is viewed in the region as a victory for the Iranians.

So, clearly the Republican establishment, as represented by Graham and McCain, believe Mr. Obama, who is simply following the plan of his presidential predecessor, is turning over the region to the Iranians. 

Then we have even nuttier charges, like this one from presidential candidate Rick Santorum, appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation:

I think that’s reason people are so upset, that, you know, we’ve lost — in many respects, we’ve lost control, lost the war in Iraq because we have Iran having broadened its sphere of influence.

Lost the war?  Obama lost the war?

In the midst of all this insanity, one must ask this rather sane question: Who is it that enhanced Iranian power in the region in the first place? Yep. The neocon philosophy-drunk Bush Administration, who altered the balance of regional power by invading and occupying Iraq, making it possible for the Iranians to potentially team up with the previously oppressed Shiite majority in Iraq and cause regional mischief.

By Republican reasoning, Mr. Bush lost the war just after we fired the first shot.

But was Graham or McCain or Santorum asked about that? Nope. Nor were they asked just how long the United States should stay in Iraq.  Ten more years?  Twenty? They should have been asked how many more Americans should die in Iraq, beyond the 4469 dead to date. Or how many more thousands of American wounded, beyond the 32,213 already suffering, will it take before Messrs. Graham and McCain and Santorum want to call it quits?

Not least, how much more of our treasure should be hauled overseas to flitter in an Iraqi wind?

All of which leads me back to Hamid Karzai.  The Afghanistan leader has given President Obama every reason to send him drone-delivered Christmas greetings from America. Thus, the requisite backtracking:

A spokesman for Karzai, Siamak Herawi, said the president had not intended any slight to the Western governments that have spent billions of dollars shoring up the Afghan administration during the 10-year war that has claimed the lives of at least 1,817 American troops.

“The media misinterpreted [Karzai’s] speech,” he said, adding that the president had been trying to express solidarity with Pakistan for having taken in millions of Afghan refugees during decades of war and the subsequent rule of the Taliban movement.  

Although it would send Lindsey Graham and John McCain and Rick Santorum into irreversible apoplexy, Mr. Obama should announce that he is stepping up troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, admitting that, like Iraq, a hundred more years in that Allah-forsaken place would at best only marginally advance American interests, which used to be the primary goal of our foreign policy.

Obama Is Still “The Other”

From the beginning of the Age of Obama conservatives developed and propagated a narrative about him that is all too familiar to us today, which says something sad about the state of the country, beyond our economic troubles.

Barack Hussein Obama is not one of us, goes this powerful, if false, narrative.  He doesn’t share our values, our view of things.  His eyes don’t see what we see. He is a stranger, an alien, a trespasser. This narrative plays out on cable news, on blogs, on talk radio, and I have witnessed its power in local discussions with conservatives. 

Since the birther foolishness now has validity only in Trump-like minds,* there are two basic lies that conservatives use to keep the Obama-as-other narrative alive:

LIE #1: Barack Hussein Obama doesn’t love America This lie has been expressed in many forms, from the in-your-face charge by Dinesh D’Souza (backed up by Newt Gingrich) that Mr. Obama  really does, in fact, hate America, to the only slightly less offensive form by Mitt Romney—spoken as he launched his campaign for Obama’s job:

I believe in that America. I know you believe in that America. It is an America of freedom and opportunity. A nation where innovation and hard work propel the most powerful economy in the world. A land that is secured by the greatest military the world has ever seen, and by friends and allies across the globe.

President Obama sees a different America and has taken us in a different direction.

A few months into office, he travelled around the globe to apologize for America.

Never mind that even before Romney uttered those words in June, Politifact had already given Romney a “Pants on Fire” rating for the same “apologize for America” charge Romney included in his book, No Apology.  Romney, knowing how important to conservatives is the Obama-hates-America meme, doesn’t mind repeating an obvious lie to help whitewash his past sins as a “moderate” Republican.

This first lie turned up again recently—where else?—Fox “News” Channel.  The IQ-killing morning show, Fox and Friends, used a WikiLeaks cable to claim that during his visit to Japan in 2009,  President Obama had planned to apologize for dropping The Bomb on Hiroshima.  The serial piffle pouring from these three stooges—my apologizes to Larry, Curly, and Moe—can only be appreciated by watching them deliver it.  Here ’tis:

Needless to say, the apology offered by Steve Doocy the next day wasn’t an apology, only a “clarification.” In any case, the damage was done—or in the case of keeping alive the Obama-as-other narrative—the job was successful.

LIE #2: Barack Hussein Obama is not a “real” Christian.  This lie, too, is expressed in many forms familiar to us, from the assertion that he is deceiving us and he is not a genuine follower of Jesus (sadly summarized here), to more subtle forms like acknowledging that he may be a “professing” Christian, but he “embraces un-biblical values,” as pastor Robert Jeffress recently said.

Other forms of this lie are manifested in ways like the following, from the mouth of Rush Limbaugh on October 14:

President Obama has deployed troops to another war, in Africa, ladies and gentlemen.  Jacob Tapper, ABC News, is reporting that Obama has sent 100 US troops to Uganda to help combat Lord’s Resistance Army…

Now, up until today, most Americans have never heard of the combat Lord’s Resistance Army.  And here we are at war with them… Lord’s Resistance Army are Christians.  They are fighting the Muslims in Sudan.  And Obama has sent troops, United States troops to remove them from the battlefield, which means kill them…

So that’s a new war, a hundred troops to wipe out Christians in Sudan, Uganda…

Some staffer eventually made Limbaugh aware of the true nature of the LRA, and this is what Limbaugh said afterward:

Is that right? The Lord’s Resistance Army is being accused of really bad stuff? Child kidnapping, torture, murder, that kind of stuff? Well, we just found out about this today. We’re gonna do, of course, our due diligence research on it. But nevertheless we got a hundred troops being sent over there to fight these guys — and they claim to be Christians.

You see? The overriding idea—more important than the fact that the LRA kidnaps, tortures, rapes, and murders—is that Obama is going to war against these people obviously—to Limbaush and his true-believing listeners—because “they claim to be Christians” and Obama sides with the Muslims.

There are no words, publishable on a blog associated with a family newspaper, to describe this kind of stuff. But it sends shivers down my American spine to think that every single day millions upon millions of my fellow citizens willingly surrender their minds to cretinous or crude propagandists on Fox and conservative talk radio.

And the biggest spine-convulsing shiver of them all comes when I remember that I used to be one of them.

__________________________

* Sunday’s Parade magazine article on faltering Rick Perry featured this exchange:

Governor, do you believe that President Barack Obama was born in the United States?
I have no reason to think otherwise.

That’s not a definitive, “Yes, I believe he”—
Well, I don’t have a definitive answer, because he’s never seen my birth certificate.

But you’ve seen his.
I don’t know. Have I?

You don’t believe what’s been released?
I don’t know. I had dinner with Donald Trump the other night.

And?
That came up.

And he said?
He doesn’t think it’s real.

And you said?
I don’t have any idea. It doesn’t matter. He’s the President of the United States. He’s elected. It’s a distractive issue.

“You’re Fired!” Says Wealthy Job Creators

Rachel Maddow pointed out something last night about the Koch Brothers that bears repeating.

She noted that they have now amassed a combined fortune of about $50 billion, and that all of the profits made by Koch Industries are private profits, since the company has never gone public.

But the most important point she made is related to the Republican argument that the so-called job creators will create more jobs if they are allowed to accumulate more and more wealth. Thus, we have the anti-tax argument made by nearly every Republican in the country, from the lowliest local officeholder to the Senate Minority Leader.

I reproduced the graph she used on her show:As you can see, the richer the Kochs got, the more folks they fired.

Hmm.

More Anti-Democracy From A United GOP

Silly discussions on cable TV about how President Obama designed his jobs bill just for political purposes are the norm these days (Morning Joe was the latest offender, just this morning).  Don’t you know that the President wasn’t really serious about his proposal, knew it wouldn’t pass, and was hell-bent on campaigning against a do-nothing Congress? 

That’s the conventional wisdom among Beltway journalists.

But  a day after unanimous Republicans (along with two conservative Democrats and whatever it is that Joe Lieberman is) once again used the engine of anti-democracy, the filibuster, to stop a piece of President Obama’s jobs bill—one that would have put teachers and policemen and firemen back on the payrolls. Matthew Yglesias pointed out today:

I believe headlines like “Republicans Block Popular Piece of Obama Jobs Bill” are the kind of thing the White House communications shop is hoping for. That said, nothing would boost the president’s re-election hopes more than the actual enactment of bills that actually help the employment situation.

Of course.  The best chance Obama has of defeating Mitt Romney next year is an improving economy, something that Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail are well aware of.  Most of us who have been paying attention believed that the President would fail to persuade unpersuadable Republicans bent on his political destruction, but it was worth the try.

What was he supposed to do? Nothing?

For the record, the just-defeated “Teachers, First Responders Back to Work Act” proposed to keep employed or rehire about 400,000 teachers and firefighters and police officers, and was part of the larger American Jobs Act, which likewise fell to undemocratic forces in the U.S. Senate.

For Republicans, the price was apparently too high: It would actually have helped the economy—and thus Obama—and it would have been paid for by levying a 0.5 percent surtax on incomes above $1 million.

Joe Biden said of the tax:

If you make $1.1 million…you would pay next year $500 more in taxes.

But, Joe, just think what those millionaire-job creators could do with that 500 bucks.

“America’s Child Death Shame”

MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning featured a short segment on a recent BBC report titled, “America’s child death shame.”  

A commentary on that report began this way:

Over the past 10 years, more than 20,000 American children are believed to have been killed in their own homes by family members. That is nearly four times the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some facts from the investigative report:

  • Every five hours a child dies from abuse or neglect in the US.
  • Some 75% of these children are under four, while nearly half are under one.
  • The latest government figures show an estimated 1,770 children were killed as a result of maltreatment in 2009.
  • A recent congressional report concludes the real number could be nearer 2,500.
  • Sixty-six children under the age of 15 die from physical abuse or neglect every week in the industrialized world. Twenty-seven of those die in the US – the highest number of any other country.
  • In fact, America has the worst child abuse record in the industrialized world. Why?

Why, indeed.

Here is a graph of how the United States compares to other Western democracies:

For Italy the rate is 0.2, the lowest among “rich democracies,” according to Every Child Matters. Our neighbors to the north, Canada, have a rate of 1.0. What accounts for this disparity? Is it our American pride as lovers of liberty, as defenders of a mind-your-own-business philosophy, as haters of the so-called nanny state? 

Just look at this graph:

What is it about Texas that makes it the child-abuse death capital of the United States? Could it be that famous Texas penchant for independence and disdain for big government?  In Texas there were 1732 child-abuse deaths between 2001 and 2008. During that same time there were a total of six—6—in the state of Vermont. Why is that?  Population?  Well, okay, Texas has about 40 times the population of Vermont but 289 times the number of deaths. Try again.

The BBC commentary, written by an American, Michael Petit, the president of Every Child Matters says:

Texas prides itself in being a low tax, low service state. Its per capita income places it in the middle of the states, while its total tax burden – its willingness to tax itself – is near the bottom.

Vermont, in contrast, is at the other extreme. It is a high-tax, high-service state.

Certainly the answer is more complicated than political philosophy, but our national aversion to interventionist government—an aversion raised to dangerous levels by many pundits and politicians on the Right—plays some important role in our failure to adequately protect the nation’s kids, doesn’t it?*

Petit says:

Part of the answer is that teen pregnancy, high-school dropout, violent crime, imprisonment, and poverty – factors associated with abuse and neglect – are generally much higher in the US.

Further, other rich nations have social policies that provide child care, universal health insurance, pre-school, parental leave and visiting nurses to virtually all in need.

Consider these additional statistics from Every Child Matters:

Of the 715,760 children confirmed abused and neglected in 2008:

♦ 71.1% did not receive proper food, clothing, shelter, hygiene, education, medical care or protection.

♦ 16.1% were physically abused.

 ♦ 9.1% were sexually abused.

 ♦ 7.3% suffered from emotional abuse.

♦ 2.2% suffered from medical neglect.

♦ 9% suffered from other mistreatment such as abandonment, threats, and congenital drug addiction.

♦ 60% of people in drug rehabilitation centers report being abused or neglected as a child.

How can these things happen right under our noses? Are we too independent? Too afraid to nose around in other folks’ business?  Are an inordinate number of child abuse deaths the price we pay for American-style liberty?

Beyond the mere tragedy of each individual case, there is a national implication, as expressed by the BBC report:

Abused children are 74 times more likely to commit crimes against others and six times more likely to maltreat their own children, according to the Texas Association for the Protection of Children.

Michael Petit, urging federal action to confront this national calamity, says,

…no children’s programmes should be on the chopping block, federal or state. Children did not crash the US economy. It is both shortsighted economic policy and morally wrong to make them pay the price for fixing it.

But instead as the US economy lags, child poverty soars, and states cut billions in children’s services, we are further straining America’s already weak safety net.

Inevitably, it means more children will die. The easy answer is to blame parents and already burdened child protection workers. But easy answers don’t solve complex problems.

And with millions of children injured and thousands killed, this problem is large indeed, and it deserves a large response.

Is America ready to respond? Or with our tax-cutting and budget-slashing mania have we become too small to act?

____________________________

* By the way, Missouri’s child-abuse death rate for 2008 was 2.95; Vermont’s that year was 0.78.

The Triumph Of Leading From Behind

“To rid the world of Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki and Moammar Qaddafi within six months: if Obama were a Republican, he’d be on Mount Rushmore by now.”

—conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan

Anyone who has followed politics this year, particularly Obama’s policy on Libya, knows very well the criticism of that policy, some fair and some, well, ridiculously unfair. 

But now that Gaddafi’s bloody corpse has become an Internet sensation, it appears that the policy has been vindicated and that “leading from behind” and tactical patience is not a bad way, at least in this case, to end the career of a nasty dictator.

The World Will End When Republican Economics Finally Works

From the NPR religion news feed on the right side of this blog, I found this:

Doomsday Redux: Prophet Says World Will End Friday

Mark your calendars: The world is ending Oct. 21. So says Harold Camping, the doomsday prophet who had said Judgment Day would come May 21. Camping had a stroke a few days after his prophecy failed, his organization is tottering and many followers have fallen away. But some still believe.

Now, I’m not so much interested in the end of the world on Friday as I am in that last line:

But some still believe.

The NPR report notes that Harold Camping’s church is still full of folks who, in the words of a documentarian following what’s going on, are “very much excited about the approaching date.” Apparently, for some people there is no evidence weighty enough to smash a wish.

Which may explain how it is that Republicans, imitating Harold Camping, can continue to sell their failed economic philosophy to gullible Americans.

Fox “News” Is Hazardous To Our Health

Fox News Lies! Fox News Lies!” chanted the Occupy Wall Street protesters at Geraldo Rivera last weekend.  Then this week, the increasingly insightful crowd in Zuccotti Park gave Fox Bidness host John Stossel the business, like chanting “Shame on you!” at him as he paid them a visit.

Now, my first instinct is to recoil at a demonstration in which someone is literally shouted down for being on the other side of a philosophical divide.  Then sometimes I wonder if at least some shouting down is in order when it comes to Fox “News” Channel, particularly when Fox hosts go down to Zuccotti Park just to get cringe-inducing video fragments they can share with their cringe-craving audiences.

In any case, what happens on Fox is seriously disturbing, not just in terms of what the network does to dumb down the public debate—a trait it shares with its older brother, right-wing talk radio—but also what it does to poison the well of factual information, into which we all should be dipping our buckets.

As an example, here is a Psycho Talk segment from The Ed Show on Wednesday night, which perfectly and succinctly demonstrates how hazardous Fox is to the national health:

As A Matter Of Fact, Majority Doesn’t Rule

On Tuesday, Mr. Obama told ABC’s Jake Tapper the following regarding the President’s efforts to get his jobs bill passed:

…even though we’ve gotten a majority of senators in the Senate willing to move forward on this, because of the filibuster, because of the rules that are set up in the Senate, those things are blocked.

Last week, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt—who supported the filibuster that cost Missourians thousands of jobs—appeared on Your World with Neil Cavuto, guest hosted that day by the fact-challenged Foxer, Eric Bolling. 

Blunt, in Fox fashion, gave a completely dishonest interview (for instance: Obama’s “plans have made this economy worse“), and Bolling, in Fox fashion, did a completely dishonest job of asking the questions.

But something Blunt said may come back to haunt him and all Republicans in 2013. About President Obama’s jobs bill he spurted:

So I think all the effort today is just to see how many Democrats they can hold on to in the Senate, not talking about how they get any Republicans or anywhere close to the 60 votes it would take for this bill to move forward. This is all a political charade. And I think everybody in Washington knows that.

Blunt’s matter-of-fact declaration that a bleeping jobs bill needs 60 votes to move forward is, well, off-putting, to say the least. 

Republicans have used parliamentary gambits, including “secret holds” and record-setting filibusters—which can only be trumped by herding 60 senators—to block nearly every action, big or small, in the United States Senate.*

And the notion that Democrats, as a matter of normal business, should design every piece of legislation to satisfy that 60-vote threshold—essentially giving Republicans veto power—is breathtakingly undemocratic.

Should Republicans take over the Senate next year, they will, of course, resent turning every issue into one that requires a super-majority of senators.  Their chances of obtaining a 60-vote Republican majority next election is, well, only a fantasy that toesucking Dick Morris can afford to entertain. Even if Republicans have a good year next year—and that is far from certain—if they win enough seats to win nominal control of that body, they will not have enough to govern—that is, if Democrats choose to do what Republicans have done.

The question is should Democrats choose to do so?

Damn right they should. If only one side plays the filibuster game to the extent Republicans have, then that one side dooms itself to political irrelevance.

In 2012 the American people should hold Republicans accountable for their undemocratic obstruction—especially the shameful filibuster on the jobs bill.  Anything less will only validate the GOP strategy of sabotage and will guarantee gridlock as far as the eye can see.

____________________________

* Just considering nominations to vacant federal judgeships, the Alliance for Justice reports:

In terms of numbers, President Obama steadily lost ground to entrenched Republican obstruction in the U.S. Senate, ending his first two years with almost double the number of vacancies that he inherited. Of the 105 nominations submitted by President Obama during the first two years of his term, only 62 — 2 Supreme Court justices, plus 16 courts of appeals and 44 district court judges — were confirmed. That is the smallest percentage of judicial confirmations over the first two years of any presidency in American history.

What Would Jesus Do At The Border?

God that made the world and all things therein…hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth… ‘For in him we live, and move, and have our being'; as certain also of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also his offspring.'”

—Paul the Apostle, speaking to the philosophers of Athens

 

Herman Cain, a joke of a presidential candidate, told a joke—or not—about electrocuting folks foolish enough to want to sneak into America while Republicans are in charge of the country.

About his 20-foot high border fence—which would take a gazillion years to build—Cain, a Baptist minister, said:

It’s going to have barbed wire on top. It’s going to be electrocuted, electrified. And there’s going to be a sign on the other side that says it will kill you.

Just as soon as your belly laugh has subsided over that thigh-slappin’ gag presented by a favorite of the Christian values community, try to think about this: Is it worse to tell a joke about electrocuting Mexicans at the border or actually doing it?

Well, we’re still not sure what Cain’s intentions were, but does it really matter?

I’m going to go out on a theological limb here and say that maybe, just maybe, Jesus wouldn’t exactly endorse a 20-foot high barbed wire fence designed to send him more dark-skinned company in the hereafter. 

In any case, the Republican Party—replete with Christian moralists—is conducting something like a war against those who desire to come to America and work, particularly if they are from south of our border.  And when I think about Christians and war, I think of Charles Sumner, who was one of the greatest of Americans, not least because he was one of the greatest of Republicans.

In his famous 1845 anti-war speech, the soon-to-be U.S. Senator said:

It is Plato, reporting the angelic wisdom of Socrates, who declares in one of those beautiful dialogues, which shine with stellar light across the ages, that it is more shameful to do a wrong than to receive a wrong.  And this benign sentiment commends itself alike to the Christian who is told to render good for evil, and to the universal heart of man.

But who that confesses its truth, can vindicate a resort to force for the sake of honor? Better far to receive the blow that a false morality has thought degrading, than that it should be revenged by force. Better that a nation should submit to what is wrong, rather than vainly seek to maintain its honor by the great crime of war.

But Charles Sumner wasn’t just speaking to American Christians.  He spoke to all Americans when he suggested a painful truth about patriotism:

There is still another influence which stimulates war, and interferes with the natural attractions of Peace; I refer to a selfish and exaggerated love of country. Our minds, nursed by the literature of antiquity, have imbibed the narrow sentiment of heathen patriotism. Exclusive love for the land of birth was a part of the religion of Greece and Rome. It is an indication of the lowness of their moral natures, that this sentiment was so exclusive.

Ouch.

It has been a part of the policy of rulers to encourage this exclusive patriotism; and the people of modern times have each inherited the feeling of Antiquity. I do not know that any one nation is in a condition to reproach the other with this patriotic selfishness. All are selfish…

I do not inculcate an indifference to country. We incline, by a natural sentiment, to the spot where we were born, to the fields which witnessed the sports of childhood, to the seat of youthful studies, and to the institutions under which we have been trained… This sentiment is independent of reflection, for it begins before reflection, grows with our growth, and strengthens with our strength. It is blind in its nature; and it is the duty of each of us to take care that it does not absorb the whole character.

We find that God has not placed us on this earth alone; that there are other nations, equally with us, children of his protecting care. It is not because I love country less, but Humanity more, that I plead the cause of a higher and truer patriotism. Remember that you are men, by a more sacred bond than you are citizens; that you are children of a common Father more than you are Americans.

Whatever you think of Charles Sumner’s sentiments, they represent something closer to what I understand Christianity to be than what Herman Cain and other conservative American Christians, jokingly or not, have become.

I’ll let Sumner have the last word:

But Christianity not only teaches the superiority of Love over Force; it positively enjoins the practice of the one, and the rejection of the other. It says, “love your neighbors;” but it does not say, “in time of Peace rear the massive fortification, build the man of war, enlist armies, train the militia, and accumulate military stores to be employed in future quarrels with your neighbors.” Its precepts go still further. They direct that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us — a golden rule for the conduct of nations as well as individuals…

 

Highway Socialism

An interesting post last week on Wonkblog at The Washington Post details in map form the distribution of federal highway funds per dollar of gas-tax revenue each state pays into the Highway Trust Fund, according to a report prepared by the Government Accountability Office:

The first thing you notice, as author Brad Plumer points out, is that,

Every single state now gets more federal highway aid than it pays in gas taxes. Even Texas. There’s not a state in the union where federally funded highways “pay for themselves.”

How did this happen? As I’ve noted before, the gas tax is no longer high enough to cover the Highway Trust Fund, partly because it’s not indexed to inflation and partly because people are driving less. Between 2005 and 2009, the federal government spent roughly $200 billion on highway aid, and $30 billion of that was paid for by general taxes. “A significant amount of highway funding,” the GAO report notes, “is no longer provided by highway users.”

The piece quotes Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) as saying,

this GAO report confirms that Congress should be working toward crafting a surface transportation bill that meets the needs of a 21st century national transportation system.

Ya think?  But who would bet that Republicans would let that happen? 

Hope, Optimism, And The Democratic Party

After years of living in the conservative Republican wilderness, I proudly admit to being a partisan Democrat these days.

Saturday night here in Joplin, I was privileged to hear the Missouri State Treasurer, Clint Zweifel, speak at a local Democratic Party fundraiser.  What I was most impressed by was Zweifel’s theme of optimism. He had the unmitigated cheekiness and cheeriness to say that Democrats were, uh, optimists.

Well, it is easy these days not to be optimistic, to be sure.  The economy is sputtering, our capitalist system is sickly, Tea Party Republicans have made it impossible to govern the country responsibly, and—let’s face it—many people believe Democrats will lose control of the entire government next year.

But  Mr. Zweifel is right, of course. Democrats are the optimists, and the Democratic Party, with all its flaws, is the clichéd party of hope, and that hope is generated by a simple fact, as Harry Truman once said:

…the Democratic Party is the people’s party, and the Republican Party is the party of special interest, and it always has been and always will be.

The people’s party.  If that isn’t optimistic, then what could be in this democracy of ours?

Mr. Obama said on Sunday, honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

..at this moment, when our politics appear so sharply polarized, and faith in our institutions so greatly diminished, we need more than ever to take heed of Dr. King’s teachings.  He calls on us to stand in the other person’s shoes; to see through their eyes; to understand their pain.  He tells us that we have a duty to fight against poverty, even if we are well off; to care about the child in the decrepit school even if our own children are doing fine; to show compassion toward the immigrant family, with the knowledge that most of us are only a few generations removed from similar hardships.  (Applause.)

To say that we are bound together as one people, and must constantly strive to see ourselves in one another, is not to argue for a false unity that papers over our differences and ratifies an unjust status quo.  As was true 50 years ago, as has been true throughout human history, those with power and privilege will often decry any call for change as “divisive.”  They’ll say any challenge to the existing arrangements are unwise and destabilizing.  Dr. King understood that peace without justice was no peace at all; that aligning our reality with our ideals often requires the speaking of uncomfortable truths and the creative tension of non-violent protest.

Some uncomfortable truths need to be spoken to Americans, and Mr. Obama, lately finding his voice, has begun to speak them, even as some “creative tension” emerges from the Occupy Wall Street protests. Spoken of Dr. King, but really reflecting Obama’s vision, the President said:

If he were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there; that the businessman can enter tough negotiations with his company’s union without vilifying the right to collectively bargain.  He would want us to know we can argue fiercely about the proper size and role of government without questioning each other’s love for this country — (applause) — with the knowledge that in this democracy, government is no distant object but is rather an expression of our common commitments to one another.

As I have pointed out a thousand times, the worst sin of Tea Party Republicans has been the demonization of government, which really is the demonization of “our common commitments to one another,” of “We the People.” And because the Democratic Party is the party of the people, as Truman said so long ago, that is why Democrats are, and must be, optimists.

I want to repeat something Mr. Obama said on Sunday:

To say that we are bound together as one people, and must constantly strive to see ourselves in one another, is not to argue for a false unity that papers over our differences and ratifies an unjust status quo.  As was true 50 years ago, as has been true throughout human history, those with power and privilege will often decry any call for change as “divisive.” 

That is the message Obama should be bringing to Americans, as we move into the 2012 election season. We can’t pretend there are no differences between one side and the other because to do so is an admission that things can’t change and get better. 

Out of fear of being called “divisive,” we can’t pretend that extremist Republicans in Congress have done no harm to the country.  And we can’t pretend that turning over the White House and the entire government to Republicans next year won’t have harmful consequences.

The 1948 election in many important ways is relevant to the one awaiting us next year.  Harry Truman faced certain defeat, as is well-known. But he didn’t talk about “false unity that papers over our differences and ratifies an unjust status quo.” He told the truth about Republicans, including their responsibility for the worst economic crisis in our history, the Great Depression. In his nomination acceptance speech, he said:

The situation in 1932 was due to the policies of the Republican Party control of the Government of the United States. The Republican Party, as I said a while ago, favors the privileged few and not the common everyday man. Ever since its inception, that party has been under the control of special privilege; and they have completely proved it in the 80th Congress. They proved it by the things they did to the people, and not for them. They proved it by the things they failed to do.

The things they failed to do.”  Mr. Obama ought to put that in every speech he utters from now until November 2012. Republicans have, indeed, failed to do anything to help mitigate the second-worst economic crisis in our history, a crisis also largely “due to the policies of the Republican Party control of the Government of the United States.”

I don’t care if it vexes every political pundit on cable television, Mr. Obama needs to remind the country how we got into the mess we’re in, and “the things Republicans have failed to do” to help fix it.

As he faces pessimism about his party’s chances to win next year, the President can take comfort from the fact that Mr. Truman overcame a noisy fracture in his own party—including a nasty fight with southern conservative Democrats over, what else, civil rights—and shocked the world with his victory over heavily favored Republican Thomas Dewey.

Following that note of unexpected triumph, I want to end with Truman’s unapologetic defense of his party’s raison d’être from his 1948 speech accepting the nomination:

In 1932 we were attacking the citadel of special privilege and greed. We were fighting to drive the money changers from the temple. Today, in 1948, we are now the defenders of the stronghold of democracy and of equal opportunity, the haven of the ordinary people of this land and not of the favored classes or the powerful few.

Optimism. Pure optimism.

Thin Crust

It has been hard to take the candidacy of Herman Cain seriously, and I have said he will never be President of the United States.  I stand by that, of course. But since some people are taking him seriously, including, for Allah’s sake, the GOP budget ayatollah, Paul Ryan, and supply-side comedian and economic adviser to Ronald Reagan, Art Laffer, I suppose it is time to take a look at his tax plan.

I heard some pundit say this morning that Herman Cain appears to be a likeable guy. I suppose that’s right, if you were ordering the All-Meat Combo with extra cheese.  Unfortunately, Cain is trying to become the leader of the free world and that requires a little more than grandfatherly likeability.  And it requires a little more savvy than how much pizza sauce to have on hand for the Friday, after-homecoming rush.

I watched Mr. Cain on The Daily Rundown on MSNBC on Thursday morning.  He was grilled by Chuck Todd, who asked him some specific questions about his now famous 9-9-9 plan. Now, I want to be kind here because I may need a thin-crust Bacon Cheeseburger Pizza in the future, but Cain’s attempt at answering Todd’s questions was, well, rather thin-crusty.

First, the basics: Courtesy of Glenn Kessler, The Fact Checker at The Washington Post, here is a nice summary of Cain’s plan:

The “9-9-9” label is actually a bit of misnomer. Cain would toss out much of the current federal tax code and replace it, eventually and only temporarily, with three taxes — a 9 percent income tax, a 9 percent business transactions tax and a 9 percent federal sales tax. On paper, the first two look like cuts, because payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare (now nearly 15 percent, including corporate contributions) would be repealed. The sales tax would be new, on top of existing state sales taxes.  

But note that we said the “9-9-9” would happen eventually — and then only temporarily. That’s because it is only the second step of a planned three-step process. The first step would cut individual and corporate tax rates to a top 25 percent rate (down from a current high of 35 percent). Then the final step would replace all of the taxes — even the 9s — with a national sales tax, known by proponents as a “Fair Tax.”

So, there you have an understanding of what the plan is supposed to be.  Now, let’s turn back to Chuck Todd and his questioning of Mr. Cain.  Todd confronted him with what Bruce Bartlett, former Reagan and Bush official, had to say about the plan:

At a minimum, the Cain plan is a distributional monstrosity. The poor would pay more while the rich would have their taxes cut, with no guarantee that economic growth will increase…

After reading part of that quote to him, Todd said he wanted to focus on just the state of Florida and noted that people there, under Cain’s plan, could be potentially paying 15% on consumer items, since Florida, like most states, already has a sales tax.  “This is tough for people making under $50,000 a year,” Todd said.

Eventually, Cain said this:

Let’s take your $50,000-a-year family of four scenario, okay? Today under the current system, they will pay over $10,000 in taxes, assuming standard deductions and standard exemptions. I’ve gone through the math. Ten thousand dollars.

Now, with 9-9-9 they’re gonna pay that 9% tax on their income, so that’s only $4,500. They still have $5,500 left over to apply to the sales tax piece. And if you go and look at how much of it they would probably spend on sales taxes for new goods—not used, used goods they don’t pay a sales tax—they are still gonna have money left over, Chuck. 

So, what I ask people to do is go through the math for your situation because not all situations are the same and for most people they’re gonna have a net-net tax decrease because we have expanded the base.

Well, Cain said he is asking people to do the math and Glenn Kessler did the math:

“Expand the base” really means that more taxpayers will pay taxes under his plan.

Right now, nearly half of taxpayers don’t pay income taxes, but they do pay their share of payroll taxes, which amounts to 7.65 percent of wage income (though much of it is capped at $107,000). Cain would also eliminate the earned-income tax credit, which is intended to lift working Americans out of poverty. Many of these workers currently receive tax refunds.

On top of that, Cain would introduce the new sales tax, which would affect lower and moderate-income people who spend most of their income on purchases, not savings and investments. Depending on how you do the math, people now paying zero or negative taxes might be faced with a 27 percent tax on income.

In other words, while on paper Cain is promising a tax cut, in reality tens of millions of lower-income Americans would face tax increases. People in high tax brackets — 28 percent and higher — would likely see big tax cuts. (As part of his plan, Cain would also eliminate estate taxes and capital gains taxes, which, again, mostly affect higher-income people with stock and real estate investments.)

Kessler also did the math on Cain’s claim that a family of four making $50,000 a year would pay $10,000 in taxes:

We’re not sure how Cain calculates that this family now pays $10,000 in taxes, but the reliable Tax Foundation calculator comes up with a much more reasonable figure: a total tax bill of $3,515 — $690 in federal income taxes and $2,825 in payroll taxes. (The family gets a big income-tax savings from the child tax credit, which Cain would eliminate.)

So, in other words, under Cain’s plan, this family would instantly pay $1,000 more in income taxes. They would also pay additional sales taxes, probably more than $3,000, on their purchases. It’s unclear how the business tax would affect the family’s tax bill but it appears this theoretical family would get no tax cut but instead a 100 percent tax increase.

Lots of people have pointed all this out (and more) in one form or another over the last few weeks, but still Cain remains at or near the top of the GOP polls, which is good news, I suppose, for President Obama, who would smash Cain like a pepperoni in any presidential debate. 

But seriously, people, don’t we have better things to do than waste time on discussing a candidate who will never be president and his cheesy plan that will never become law?

Graphic Angst

A graph lover at heart, I culled some graphs from MSNBC to help explain (once again) the social angst around the country, including part of the angst at the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement (other than the direct outrage over what the banksters have done), which surprisingly has now visited Pittsburg, Kansas, a mere 30 miles from Joplin:

Notice how the trend line for the top 1% begins to rise during the Reagan 1980s, but really takes off after the 1993 tax increases under Clinton. What does that say about the relationship of taxes with the so-called “job creators”?

Now let’s look at median incomes since the year 2000:

As you can see, median income declined during the recession in the early 2000s and then came back somewhat during the subsequent recovery, but then fell precipitously during the Great Recession.  And there is no sign that it will return to its pre-Great Recession level, not to mention the level before the recession of 2001.

But what about the upper income groups?  Let’s look at the top 10% of income earners since WWI: 

As you can see, the top 10% is doing pretty well. They account for 50% of all national income.  Again, notice that from post WWII through the late 1970s, the percentage of their income hovered around 35% of the total. Then during the age of Reagan they began to earn a larger share of the income, even under those so-called punitive tax rates passed in 1993, which Republicans repealed under Bush.

Let’s turn to the crème de la crème of income earners, the top .01%:

This group comprises about 15,000 people, according to Steve Rattner, who presented this graph on Morning Joe.  Rattner mentioned that the decline in 2008—from over 6% of total income to just over 5%—was due to the collapse in the stock market and has likely resumed its upward climb.  But think about it: 15,000 Americans earn between 5 and 6% of all income in a country of 309,000,000 folks.

Finally, what really explains the widespread angst across the land is found in another graph presented by Steve Rattner on Morning Joe:

Unemployment lasting a couple of months is one thing. Being out of a job for nearly a year is another.  And among young folks, the percentage of 16-to-24-year-olds who are working (45%) is at “the lowest level since the Labor Department began tracking the data in 1948,” the National Journal reported in July.

Put all of this together and you have Occupy Wall Street.  And you have members of one political party in Washington that, rather than address the angst in the country by working with the President to create jobs, are working among themselves to make sure Mr. Obama loses his.

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