From Jailbait To Hate

Well I don’t care if you’re just thirteen,
You look too good to be true
I just know that you’re probably clean
There’s one lil’ thing I got to do to you

—Ted Nugent, “Jailbait

I spent the morning thinking about writing something on Ted Nugent’s stupid and racist comments. I mean it isn’t that often that a Republican will confirm for us the racism we are pretty sure flows, mostly in subterranean channels, through the party.

So, when news got out that Nugent recently labeled President Obama, among other things, a “subhuman mongrel” and “chimpanzee,” and when important Republicans were quite reluctant to put a lot of distance between themselves and the elderly rocker, it was tempting to write another piece about how far the Republican Party has fallen, not only in moral terms, but as an intellectual force in our national politics.

But then what’s the point? The dissipation of the GOP is sort of becoming boring.

Wendy Davis, the Texas Democrat running for governor against the state’s attorney general—who invited Ted Nugent to Texas to campaign for him—released this statement about Nugent’s remarks:

Greg Abbott’s embrace of Ted Nugent is an insult to every Texan — every man, woman, husband, and father. If this is Greg Abbott’s idea of values, it’s repulsive.

Would to God that “every Texan” was insulted by Ted Nugent or Greg Abbott’s embrace of him. But it ain’t so. Even though outside of Texas most people know that Ted Nugent is nuts, that he’s a hate-sick cat, that he is a racist freak, inside the state he is something of a folk hero for palin and nugenta disturbing number of people. But then in the Lone Star State it isn’t a good day unless some Republican legislator, state or federal, talks about impeaching President Obama or questions his citizenship or doubts his allegiance to the country. And that is when they are being Sunday Christian nice.

The party of family values in Texas and elsewhere has essentially embraced Nugent, a man who has said many vile and unprintable things about Democrats, a man who has written a song about having sex with 13-year-old girls—heck, a man who has admitted he had sex with underage girls—a man who has a pathological hatred for Barack Obama. It isn’t therefore strange that the man who wants to be the next Republican governor of Texas refuses to strongly and unequivocally condemn Nugent or his comments. And the sad part of all of this is that Greg Abbott is politically smart not to do so.

I suppose, as monotonous as all this is getting to be, that tells you all you need to know about how sick the Republican Party is, especially in Texas.

In case you haven’t seen the transcript of Nugent’s remarks, here is what he said during an interview on January 17 given to Guns.com:

NUGENT: I have obviously failed to galvanize and prod, if not shame, enough Americans to be ever vigilant not to let a Chicago, communist raised, communist educated, communist nurtured, subhuman mongrel like the ACORN community organizer gangster Barack Hussein Obama to weasel his way into the top office of authority in the United States of America. I am heartbroken but I am not giving up. I think America will be America again when Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton, Dick Durbin, Michael Bloomberg and all of the liberal Democrats are in jail facing the just due punishment that their treasonous acts are clearly apparent.

So a lot of people would call that inflammatory speech. Well I would call it inflammatory speech when it’s your job to protect Americans and you look into the television camera and say what difference does it make that I failed in my job to provide security and we have four dead Americans. What difference does that make? Not to a chimpanzee or Hillary Clinton, I guess it doesn’t matter.

I will end this sad post by telling you that those words were spoken during the interview after Nugent talked about “the gifts God gave me.” Yes. He talked about God blessing him with gifts. All I can say to that is this: If God is handing out those kinds of gifts, then faithful tithers should demand all their money back because God has obviously been misspending the collection plate booty on booze and behavior-altering pharmaceuticals. If gifting Ted Nugent with the ability to call the African-American President of the United States a subhuman mongrel and chimpanzee is the best God can do these days, then folks should spend their tithing dough more productively, like, say, giving it to the Democratic Party.

Why The Republican Party Is What It Is

“A reactionary is a person who holds political viewpoints that favor a return to a previous state (the status quo ante) in a society.”

Wikipedia

I often use the term “reactionaries” to describe those folks on the right who have a problem living in the 21st century, a problem coming to grips with present reality. I sometimes differentiate between reactionaries and conservatives because conservatism doesn’t necessarily involve reactionary politics, though it often does, especially as we watch conservative behavior today. Most of the conservatives we see dominating the Republican Party these days are—without the slightest doubt—reactionaries.

As most of you know, I was born and raised in Kansas. I lived there until I was about 30 years old. I worked there. I played there. I became a conservative there. I was baptized into an evangelical faith there. The political Kansas I knew was mostly a right-of-center place, with pockets of leftish resistance here and there, and for the most part its politics was not radical or reactionary. Today, though, like a lot of red states Kansas has been radicalized and has turned into one of the most reactionary places in the country.

Nothing could better demonstrate the change from a mild, if not moldy, conservatism into a radical and fiery reactionaryism than what emerged in Kansas recently. Last week, as nearly everyone knows by now, the Kansas House passed a bill that, according to Time,

would permit businesses and government employees to deny service to same-sex couples on the basis of their religious principles. 

That Jim Crowish bill, which has been condemned far and wide by progressives, passed 72-49 and is now being considered by the state senate, which is expected to either water it down significantly or kill it. Apparently there are some Kansas Republicans left who haven’t been completely radicalized by religious zealots in the state. But the fact that such a reactionary piece of legislation passed one side of the legislature in 2014—2014 for God’s sake—says a lot about not only about the Republican Party, but it speaks to why it is that our national government is so profoundly, if not dangerously, divided.

At the heart of this ascendance of a rabid reactionary politics in Kansas and elsewhere—there is an anti-gay bill in Idaho that is even worse than the one in Kansas—is the anxiety that (mostly but not entirely white) evangelical and fundamentalist Christians feel deep in their bones over the loss of cultural dominance they and their Iron Age theology once enjoyed. Most of the theological angst started with the Supreme Court ruling in 1962 (Engel v. Vitale) that government-composed prayers could not be used in public schools, then just after that blow came atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s victorious lawsuit in 1963 (consolidated with Abington School District v. Schempp) in which the Supreme Court put the kibosh on the Lord’s Prayer and Bible reading in government schools.

If I heard it once, I heard it a gazillion times from the conservative church folk I knew back home: “They kicked God out of the schools! Why do you think things are so bad!”

So, it started with those two court rulings, but other rulings followed that were specifically related to Bible-based anxiety over a rapidly changing culture. There was Griswold v. Connecticut (which found that because of the Constitution’s now strangely controversial “right to privacy” states could not prohibit the use of contraceptives by married people; later this freedom was extended to all couples via Eisenstadt. V. Baird; and now we are fighting over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate). Skipping over the landmark 1973 Roe V. Wade case (which isn’t necessarily—even though it has mostly become—a case involving evangelical theology), we come to Lawrence v. Texas, a 2003 case that effectively struck down all sodomy laws in the country and paved the way for the eventual legitimation of same-sex marriage, which is now driving right-wing Christians into convulsions not seen since the Gadarene Demoniac.

Along with—perhaps partly because of—these culturally significant court cases, public opinion has evolved in the direction of progress and against the forces of Bible-inspired conservatism. Holy Book-believing Christians have essentially lost the fight over whether the Bible or a secular Constitution will be the ultimate law of the land. This has led to a backlash, a serious and divisive backlash, among folks who take the Bible seriously and who genuinely—I repeat: genuinely— believe that America is going straight to hell because it has turned its back on God and his Word.

More important, though, than all the talk of cultural anxiety and ancient theology is what these Bible-believing folks have been up to lately. In order to turn their biblical notions and reactionary tendencies into public policies like the one proposed last week in Kansas, they have increasingly and fanatically turned to grassroots politics.

These religious reactionaries have educated themselves and essentially taken over the Republican Party’s organizational structure. One such reactionary lives right here in Southwest Missouri. I used to go to the same evangelical church he did and used to believe a lot of the same things he believes. His name is John Putnam. He’s from Carthage and he is the Chairman of the Jasper County Republican Party.

Mr. Putnam has essentially written his own bible on how to take over and transform the Republican Party from the ground up. He notes that there are some “183,000 precincts in the 50 states” and he outlines how the system works:

putnam's patriotsThe voters of each precinct, according to their state’s laws, can elect or appoint one man and one woman to represent the people of that precinct in their political party’s organizational structure (sometimes called the party “machine”).  The precinct chairs/executives become members of their county committee and elect their county committee’s Chair and Vice-Chair who, in turn, help elect their Party’s State Committee; plus, they largely influence which candidates will run (and most likely be elected) in their party’s primary election and who, subsequently, will carry their party’s banner in the November General Elections. 

All of this represents the nuts and bolts of party organization. It is how a political party can be commandeered by a zealous minority and how such zealotry can come to represent the face of the party. It it why the Republican Party is so schizophrenic. It is why its national leaders are so afraid to actually lead. It is why Washington is suffering from legislative paralysis. You think I am exaggerating? Putnam goes on to point out that,

Nationwide, half of these positions sit empty and most voters no longer even know they exist.  If Constitutional conservatives will fulfill the precinct leader’s role and elect Constitutional conservative chairs and vice-chairs to their county committees, we can cleanse our representative form of government in very short order.  This is assuming the men and women who fill the precinct position have the wisdom of  Cleon Skousen gleaned from The Five Thousand Year Leap and the virtue of George Washington (see Glenn Beck’s Being George Washington).

If that stuff about cleansing doesn’t scare you, then you don’t know who Cleon Skousen and Glenn Beck are. Perhaps now you can see why the Republican Party looks the way it does. This kind of tactical action is going on, has been going on, all over the country. Mr. Putnam provides local zealots everywhere, those who have a biblical ax to grind, with essential knowledge of how to go about that grinding. Become “party officials” at the local level, he says. Why? Because:

…party officials have a strong influence on who wins the Primary because of their influence in recruiting and endorsing candidates. They also influence whether the Party stays philosophically true to its platform. There is no reason why YOU cannot become a Precinct Patriot and be one who influences these decisions. 

If you ever wondered why a disturbed and disturbing man named Todd Akin became the Missouri GOP’s U.S. Senate candidate in 2012, now you know why. Even after Akin was disgraced, even after his horrific views on women and rape were revealed, even after the Republican establishment abandoned him, John Putnam came to his defense and supported him. And even with that robust defense of a man clearly out of touch with reality, perhaps because of that robust defense, John Putnam remains in charge—in charge!—of the Jasper County Republican Party.

That tells you all you need to know about what is wrong with the GOP. At the ground level, where it often matters most, the reactionaries are running the asylum.

Watch It Again. And Again. And Again.

I know we have talked about income and wealth inequality a lot on this blog. And I know that many of you, like me, have already seen the video posted below. But every time I watch it I am amazed. And every time I watch it I am encouraged that if enough of us pay attention, close attention, to the message presented, and if enough of us make ourselves and others aware of what is happening to the country in terms of the lopsided (and dangerous) distribution of income and wealth, then maybe we can (eventually, alas) change our political system enough to make real reform possible.

Last week, mocking those who dare to champion the cause of people who don’t earn but a tiny share of the nation’s income and who don’t have but an atom-thick slice of our national wealth, Chris Christie, whose demagoguery has not been slowed down by all the scandals whirling around him, claimed that Americans don’t want “income equality” and that Democrats and liberals do. Lying through his scandal-plagued teeth, he said people on the left want everyone to “have an equal, mediocre salary.”

Well, of course no one wants that, and no one wants the government to enforce some kind of standard of income equality. What we want, besides the obvious equality of opportunity for those willing to seize it—and besides a strong safety net for those who can’t work or who have fallen or will fall through the cultural cracks—is an economic system that rewards hard work with at least enough money to pursue some Founders-ordained happiness, including a decent place to live, healthful food, and access to affordable health care.

And we want a tax system that attempts to mitigate the damage being done to the country by an over-concentration of wealth in the hands of a small minority of Americans, as demonstrated so well by this video (h/t to : Jo Ann Brown):

Would Jesus Expand Medicaid In Missouri? I’ll Let Him Tell You (UPDATED)

“Missouri’s low income and vulnerable citizens will have access to excellent health care in order to maximize their quality of life and independence.”

—The “vision” statement of Missouri’s Medicaid program, MO HealthNet Division

I swear the following story is in your Bible:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But the expert in the law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said, “A man was going down from Jefferson City to Joplin, when he found out his job was being outsourced to China. All in one moment he lost his income and along with it his health insurance, which he needed because his wife had a serious health condition. A Religious Right preacher happened to be going down the same road on his way to vote for a Republican, and when he saw the uninsured man on the side of the road in much distress, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Teapartier, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side, as he was also on his way to vote for a Republican.

But a Samaritan, a man who believed in the social safety net, came by where the man was, and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and told him not to worry. He told him that he was voting for someone who would make sure that he and his wife had affordable health insurance, whether he had a job or not. He told him that he was voting for someone who would make sure his unemployment benefits wouldn’t dry up before he had a fair chance to get another job. Then he put the man in his car, registered him to vote, and brought him to the polling place. 

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who lost his job and his health insurance?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Here in Missouri, Republicans have blocked the expansion of Medicaid, which would have been fully paid for by the federal government for the next three years. After that the state would eventually pay no more than 10% of the cost, as the program is fully phased in by 2020. The point is that it wouldn’t cost the state a dime—not a dime—until 2017, and even then it wouldn’t cost much. It is estimated that in 2015 Missouri would receive $1.7 billion to help expand the program and bring insurance to more people who can’t now afford it, which could be somewhere between 260,000 and 310,000 Missourians.

Here is a look at just who would benefit if the program were expanded today, again at no cost to the state:

medicaid expansion in missouri

Right now, without Medicaid expansion in this Jesus-loving state, if you are a parent or parents in a family of four and can’t afford private health insurance but have an income over $4,475 a year (19% of the 2013 Federal Poverty Level), you aren’t eligible for Medicaid. Yes, you read that right. If you preside over a family of four and make over $4,475 a year (a bleeping year!) but don’t make enough to buy health insurance, as a parent you are not eligible for Medicaid in Missouri. If you’re wondering, that cutoff for eligibility is the lowest allowed under the federal law that initially established the national program.

Under expansion, your family situation wouldn’t matter. Neither would your disability status. If you were parenting a family of four and earned up to $31,322 a year (based on 133% of the federal poverty level for 2013), you would be eligible for help if you didn’t otherwise have health insurance. If you were a single adult, you could earn up to $15,282 a year and qualify for health insurance under Medicaid. And as a comprehensive study indicated, the expansion is not only good for the entire state (it would actually bring in more dough to the treasury), but it is especially good for folks who live in places like where I live here in the southwest corner:

medicaid expansion map

See that? Just in our part of the state more than 60,000 of our New Testament-toting neighbors would get health insurance. Hallelujah!

Except that here in this Jesus-loving town of Joplin, here in God-fearing Southwest Missouri, lives the Majority Floor Leader of the Missouri Senate, Ron Richard. I don’t know if he loves Jesus or not, but I do know he is opposed to Medicaid expansion and voted against it last week, as did every single Republican in the Senate. Here are the duties of his august position:

The Majority Floor Leader sets the schedule of bills up for consideration by the full chamber, the time spent on floor debate for legislation, and the meeting times and dates of the Missouri Senate, among other duties.

As you can see, Ron Richard is a powerful man. He can change the dynamics of the debate on the expansion of Medicaid in Missouri in less time than it would take a House Republican to say, “Impeach the socialist in the White’s House!” Below are ways to contact him:

Jefferson City Office, Pattie: 573-751-2173

Joplin Office, Gwen: 417-623-0022

Or send him a message:

http://www.senate.mo.gov/D32WebApps/Contact.aspx
http://ronrichardmosenate.com/contact.php

You can use one or all of the above methods in order to a) ask him if he loves Jesus, or b) ask him if he wants to treat his fellow Missourians like a good neighbor, or c) do what I did and send him a message like this:

ron richard websiteI respectfully ask that Sen. Richard lead the charge on expanding Medicaid in Missouri and bring some relief to hundreds of thousands of Missourians who need health insurance. We are leaving billions of dollars on the table, money that is needed here in our state to care for our own. Do the right thing, please.

_________________________________

UPDATE: Here is the email response I received from Sen. Richard. Based on this response, it wouldn’t hurt for all of you who are interested in this issue to let him know where you stand:

Thank you for your email. This was brought up on the Senate Floor for debate. This was just the first discussion on the floor and I believe there will be a lot more before we have a chance to vote on the bill. I will keep your thoughts and comments in mind as this bill becomes perfected and we vote on the measure.

Please let me know if you have any further questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Ron Richard
Senator District 32

Roy Blunt’s Moocher Talk And What’s Wrong With It

Not only has the Affordable Care Act been attacked by Republicans for being a government takeover of the healthcare system or for creating death panels that will kill your grandparents in their sleep or for busting the federal budget and your own or for limiting your choice of policies and doctors, now the GOP has a new line of attack: ObamaCare is creating more moochers!

Even though that whole moocher thing didn’t work so well in the 2012 presidential election, it is so much a part of the right-wing’s dogma about Democrats and Democratic constituencies that they simply can’t let it go.

Roy Blunt, my own senator, appeared on this week’s Fox “News” Sunday. And, of course, he followed the newest ObamaCare’s-a-moocher-maker script on what Republicans should say in response to the release of the CBO’s analysis of some of the effects of the Affordable Care Act on the nation’s labor supply.blunt on fox

Before we get to what Blunt said, let’s look at the question Chris Wallace asked him and the way that question was set up for him and the way the reactionaries want us all to understand the issue. Wallace played a cherry-picked clip of Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf’s testimony before the House Budget Committee last Wednesday. Here’s a transcript of the clip Wallace played:

DOUG ELMENDORF, CBO DIRECTOR: By providing heavily subsidized health insurance to people with very low income and then withdrawing those subsidies as income rises, the act creates a disincentive for people to work, relative to what would have been the case in the absence of that act.

Wallace stopped the clip there. What Fox viewers (and Roy Blunt) didn’t hear was what Elmendorf said next:

Now these subsidies, of course, makes those lower income people better off.

Yes. He said that. Right after he talked about the disincentive to work. He said that these folks would be better off. And he continued to explain:

This is an implicit tax, not the sort of tax we normally think about where if the government raises our taxes, we are worse off and face the disincentive to work more. Providing a subsidy, people are better off but they do have less of an incentive to work and I think they would respond to that by working somewhat less.

As you can see, the whole idea that folks would stop working or reduce the time they spend working is essentially based on what economists “think they would respond to” in terms of being better off because of the ACA. And it turns out that the CBO’s number-crunchers were influenced by the work of a conservative economist, as Jonathan Chait (“How Obamacare Became the New Welfare”) notes:

The Congressional Budget Office’s budget update last week surprisingly adapted an analysis, advocated by conservative economist Casey Mulligan, that Obamacare would induce the equivalent of two million full-time jobs in reduced labor. Now, in addition to its previously recited horrors, Obamacare was taking money from hard-working Americans to finance indolence.

Mr. Mulligan has been an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act from the start. Last October he criticized it for—sound familiar?—creating “a reduction in the reward for working” and suggested that its full implementation this year might cause “a recessionary double-dip.” So, he’s not a fan of the law, and it is unclear why the CBO embraced some of his thinking as to the effects it will have on the labor supply.

politics 1984 IS HEREBut such thinking is part of the long-time conservative critique of Democrats and their fondness for safety-net programs. On Sunday, Chris Wallace asked former-intellectual-turned-Fox-commentator George Will: “is giving people a cheaper way to get health insurance without working so much — is that a good thing or a bad thing?” As he always does, as he is no doubt required to do to get his big paycheck from Fox, Will took aim at liberals:

People forget Social Security was advocated, Chris, in the 1930s, as a way of getting people to quit working, because they thought we were confined to a permanent scarcity of jobs in this country. Second, it is the point of progressivism to put in front of the American people an increasingly rich menu of temptation to dependency on government. In order to change social norms and eventually national character, the president said, “I want to fundamentally change America,” and these disincentives to work are part of it.

Of course! President Obama and the Democratic Party want people to be dependent on government. They want people to stay in what Paul Ryan called the “poverty trap.” They want all Americans to quit working and become moochers. Makes perfect sense, right? That idea, which Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing radio personalities have aggressively pushed for more than two decades now, is what Republicans want voters to now specifically associate with “ObamaCare.”

But what about that idea? What about that poverty trap? You might be surprised. Jonathan Chait writes:

What’s more, as Jared Bernstein and Edwin Park point out, by lifting the threshold for who gets subsidized insurance, Obamacare actually reduces this poverty trap. Before Obamacare expanded it, Medicaid had extremely low income thresholds. It varies state by state, but the average state cut off Medicaid to people earning just 61 percent of the poverty line, a pitifully low sum. If you’re a single parent in Texas, you lose your Mediciad if you earn more than $3,600 a year. A family of two in Alabama loses its Medicaid once its income, after deductions, hits the lofty sum of $2,832 a year. That’s a severe incentive to keep poor people from obtaining full-time work.

Of course, Texas is boycotting Obamcare’s Medcaid expansion, and is thus keeping in place this strong incentive for its poorest citizens to stay out of the workforce. (If conservatives are worried about fostering a culture of dependency in these Obamacare-boycotting red states, they are keeping their fears very, very quiet.) The states choosing to expand Medicaid are correspondingly increasing the incentive for the very poor to enter the workforce.

As the above-cited economist Jared Bernstein makes clear:

During a hearing today on the latest CBO report, Rep. Paul Ryan declared the health care law to be “a poverty trap.”  He’s way off base.  In fact, he’s got it backwards…

None of this is to deny the CBO’s point that some people with incomes above the poverty level will choose to work less to avoid reductions in their premium subsidy.  But those choices are not the ones faced by the poor who live in states where the ACA is the law of the land.  In those states, the law has thoroughly reversed the poverty trap.  Rep. Ryan should know that and correct the misimpression he’s created.

Of course Paul Ryan, Roy Blunt, or any Republican for that matter, will not correct any of the misimpressions, not to say lies, they have created. And many mainstream journalists will continue to promote a false equivalence by reporting Republican misinformation and Democratic attempts to correct it as if both are morally equal and just part of the game of politics. Thus, if Democratic politicians want to keep their jobs and keep health insurance reform alive, it is up to them to get very aggressive in their defense of the ACA, especially with people like Roy Blunt running around and making mischief on television.

Which leads me finally to Blunt’s appearance on Fox yesterday. Chris Wallace, after playing the partial Elmendorf clip, asked Blunt this question:

WALLACE: Now, Republicans say this proves that ObamaCare is a job killer. Democrats say it means that fewer people will be locked into jobs. Senator Blunt, what is wrong with that, the idea of fewer people locked into jobs?

Now, of course Wallace knows that ObamaCare is not “a job killer.” The CBO report made clear and Elmendorf testified that the law would actually create jobs not kill them. But Wallace chose to set the question up by contrasting a Republican “job-killer” lie with a Democratic truth, to wit: the law allows some people to opt out of jobs they are locked into because of their need for employer-provided health insurance. And Blunt took the bait and further muddied the waters:

SEN. ROY BLUNT, R-MO.: Well, I think any law you pass that discourages people from working can’t be a good idea. Why would we want to do that? Why would we think that was a good thing? How does that allow people to prepare for the time when they don’t work?

This number is about three times as big as the number that was on the table when people that voted for the president’s health care bill voted for it in 2009 and ’10 when the estimate was it would cost the equivalent of 800,000 full time jobs. Now, they’re saying 2.3 million, and the best face can you put on that is that means people that don’t want to work don’t have to work. Surely, that’s not what we want to encourage. And that’s what this law does encourage.

Let’s start with his first declaration: “I think any law you pass that discourages people from working can’t be a good idea.” Oh, yeah? The Social Security law discourages people from working. Lots and lots of them. And lots of them are Republicans. Is Social Security a bad idea, Senator Blunt? Is Medicare a bad idea because it also discourages people from working? Apparently, Blunt thinks that making it possible for people who have worked all their lives and simply want to exit the labor force into retirement is a bad thing. No wonder he supported the infamous Paul Ryan Medicare-mutilating budget plan. I guess people should just work until their dead.

But more than that, notice how Blunt, like all Republicans are now doing and will continue to do until election day this November, focuses on those alleged 2.3 million” people who “don’t want to work” or “don’t have to work.” That is essentially the argument that was made more generally during the 2012 election. Paul Ryan said the following at a fundraiser in June of that election year:

Do you want the American idea of an opportunity society with a safety net where you can take a risk, start a business, make a difference, succeed and be honored for being successful? Or do we go down the path the president is proposing — a social welfare state, a cradle-to-the-grave society where we have more takers than makers?

The only difference now, in this election year, is that Republicans are targeting a specific effort by Democrats, embodied in the Affordable Care Act, to help low-income folks get affordable health insurance. And they think they have the CBO on their side this time.

elmendorfBut what about that CBO report and Director Elmendorf’s seemingly common-sense claim “that by providing a somewhat smaller incentive to work, somewhat fewer people would work”? Nobody argues that there won’t be some number of people who will do exactly what Elmendorf suggests they will do. As Jonathan Chait makes clear:

It is true that any means-tested government benefit will discourage some class of people from working. If a subsidy is available only for people below a certain income level, then people whose income approaches that income level will lose some incentive to earn more.

By its very nature, the concept of means-testing—which Republicans themselves have always embraced—involves people calculating whether working more actually makes them better off. People do that all the time when, for instance, they reach retirement age. The issue here is how many people will do what Elmendorf suggests. And relative to that issue Suzy Khimm (who used to be with the Washington Post’s Wonkblog) makes an excellent point:

It’s also worth taking the CBO’s findings with a grain of salt. The office had previously forecast that Obamacare would reduce the total hours worked by the equivalent of 800,000 workers, then updated its forecast based on more recent research. But one new study that CBO cited in its report actually “found no significant effect of Medicaid on employment or earnings” when Oregon expanded the program in 2008.

Austin Nichols, a researcher at the Urban Institute, says such evidence makes him skeptical that Obamacare’s effect on the labor market will be as large as the CBO predicts. “I don’t think we’re going to see the kinds of reductions in labor supply that Elmendorf is talking bout today,” says Nichols. “We have also evidence from Massachusetts that doesn’t show a large impact.”

Paul Krugman wrote that the “reduced labor supply” noted by the CBO and exploited by dishonest Republicans does in fact add to “the true cost of health reform.” But he demonstrates, through what he calls “some pretty prosaic economics,” that the effects are fairly modest. He ends:

Should you care how much other people work? Yes, a little – but not so much that it should change anyone’s views about health reform.

The truth is that at this point nobody really knows, with any degree of legitimate certainty, what direct and indirect effects the Affordable Care Act will have not only on the labor supply, but on other areas of the economy. As I have said many times, the ACA is an experiment. Much more time and evidence is needed to figure out whether the law will work as designed, whether it will need significant changes, or whether it should be scrapped altogether. But we have one political party that does not want it to work, will not lift a finger to fix any problems with it, and wants only to kill it before it has had a chance to prove or disprove itself.

Unfortunately for Missourians—especially for those Missourians who could get health insurance were it not for Republicans blocking Medicaid expansion—Roy Blunt is part of that one political party.

John Boehner Finally Tells The Truth About His Party

John Boehner may not realize it, but he exposed his party for what it is.

This morning the Speaker of the House made this joke about his inability to get House Republicans to pass a debt ceiling increase:

You know, Mother Teresa is a saint now, but if Congress wanted to make her a saint, and attach that to the debt ceiling, we probably couldn’t get 218 votes for it.

Funny, right? Except not really. It’s kind of sad and pathetic. Here is the leader of Republicans in the House of Representatives, the people’s house, essentially saying that his party is so irresponsible that they aren’t fit to govern. And that is their leader talking.

In the Senate, word comes today that for the third time, Republicans, including Missouri’s Roy Blunt, have blocked passage of a bill that would have extended federal unemployment benefits to almost 2 million Americans. This time there were four Republicans joining the Democrats, but in the anti-democratic, filibuster-ruled Senate, 60 votes are needed to pass anything. One more Republican was needed to get the bill through, although even if it were to pass, there’s not much hope of getting it through the Tea Party-controlled House.

Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “I’m beginning to believe there is nothing that will get Republicans to yes.” He added later:

And every week [Republicans] delay, another 73,000 Americans lose these crucial benefits — benefits that help them keep food on the table and a roof over their heads while they search for a job.

It should come as no surprise that Republican Party Christians—who one of their own leaders just said would reject sainthood for Mother Theresa—don’t really give a damn about food on the table and a roof over the heads of desperate Americans.

ObamaCare May Work!

When I retired five years ago, I did not “lose” my job. Nobody fired me or laid me off or put me on furlough. I simply stopped working because I wanted to. I withdrew my contribution to the total supply of labor in the country.

However, in the minds of Republicans and other right-wingers exploiting the latest Congressional Budget Office report that discusses the effects of the Affordable Care Act on the labor market, my decision not to work is actually a job loss. Hooey.

Although there is plenty of lying—yes, lying—and misinforming going on in terms of what the CBO report said, I chose this headline from a Fox “News” article on the matter to represent the lies and misinformation:

ObamaCare could lead to loss of nearly 2.3 million US jobs, report says

More hooey. That CBO report, which is titled, “The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024,” did not—I repeat: did not—say that the ACA could lead to “nearly 2.3 million” job losses. And although it is nice to see that conservatives, after years of bashing the CBO’s reports, are now embracing the nerds’ number-crunching skills, those cherry-picking right-wingers should actually read the report.

First of all, it should be noted that the portion of the CBO’s budget analysis that deals with the future labor effects of the ACA is, like the rest of the projections in the document, an “estimate.” And it is not just an estimate, it is an estimate essentially (but certainly not entirely) of what real people, including many low-income people or people approaching retirement age, will do in the face of getting help from the government to purchase health insurance. Thus, that CBO estimate is based on suppositions about human psychology. Keep that in mind when you hear the hysteria coming from Republicans (or when you hear the good news below).

Secondly, we are not talking about a reduction in the demand for labor, but a reduction in the supply of labor. You know, sort of like when I reduced the supply of labor by retiring five years ago. There elmendorfwas still a demand for my (excellent) services, but I chose not to supply them. As I said, that’s not the same thing as a job loss. By the way, I just heard Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the CBO, say the same thing in testimony before the House Budget Committee.*

There are already a lot of great articles out there that explain what is going on (here and here and here and here, for instance). The following is an excerpt from an excellent report on the subject from the Los Angeles Times:

The CBO projects that the act will reduce the supply of labor, not the availability of jobs. There’s a big difference. In fact, it suggests that aggregate demand for labor (that is, the number of jobs) will increase, not decrease; but that many workers or would-be workers will be prompted by the ACA to leave the labor force, many of them voluntarily.

As economist Dean Baker points out, this is, in fact, a beneficial effect of the law, and a sign that it will achieve an important goal. It helps “older workers with serious health conditions who are working now because this is the only way to get health insurance. And (one for the family-values crowd) many young mothers who return to work earlier than they would like because they need health insurance. This is a huge plus.”

Democrats should continue to aggressively counter the right-wing messaging on this latest CBO report (we can’t count on journalists to get the story straight, what with their “they said, they said” reporting in which telling a lie is on an equal footing with telling the truth). And Democrats, following economist Dean Baker, should enthusiastically embrace the fact that what may happen (remember: it is an estimate) is that the ACA will actually do what it was designed to do. Just before President Obama signed the ACA into law in March of 2010, he said,

And we have now just enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.

Basic security. Yes! The kind that may allow Dean Baker’s “older worker”—who has a serious health condition and needs health insurance provided by an employer—to opt out of the work force, or Baker’s “young mother” to stay at home and take care of her children. What family-values-hawking Republican could be against that?

Judging by their hatred of the Affordable Care Act, apparently every one of them.

_________________________________

* UPDATE: Here is what Elmendorf said:

If someone comes up to you and says, ‘Well, the boss said I’m being laid off because we don’t have enough business to pay me,’ that person feels bad about that and we sympathize with them for having lost their job. If someone comes to you and says, ‘I’ve decided to retire,’ or ‘I’ve decided to stay home and spend more time with my family,’ or ‘I’ve decided to spend more time doing my hobby’ –- they don’t feel bad about it, they feel good about it. And we don’t sympathize, we say congratulations. And we don’t say they’ve lost their job, we say they’ve chosen to leave their job.

Obama: “But I Like You Anyway, Bill.”

Dana Milbank pointed out a few facts about Bill O’Reilly’s pre-Super Bowl interview of President Obama:

The Fox News host and purveyor of anti-Obama sentiment was given 10 minutes to question the man he decries to millions nightly. O’Reilly devoted nearly 40 percent of his time to the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, 30 percent to the Obamacare rollout and 20 percent to IRS targeting.

Along the way, he interrupted the president 42 times, by my count — although, given the amount O’Reilly spoke, it may be more accurate to say Obama was interrupting him. Sometimes he argued with Obama as though the president were a guest on “The O’Reilly Factor.” Of the 2,500 words uttered during the interview, O’Reilly spoke nearly 1,000 of them.

Dang. O’Reilly only spoke about 40% of the time? I thought it was more than that.

Billo actually did two interviews that day. The second interview was aired on Monday night. In that second interview, O’Reilly actually spoke only 35% of the time (810 out of 2290 or so), so his jaws must have been tired or else the Secret Service was giving him the evil eye.

In any case, I will post the entire second interview transcript below (the video is here) partly because not only does it show again that Bill O’Reilly thinks he is president, but it also demonstrates the tried-and-true Fox formula: use false assumptions and incomplete information in order to draw preordained conclusions and make erroneous declarations.

But the real reason I post the interview transcript is because it shows the personability of Barack Obama and his easy-going nature, even as he pushes back against the stuff floating around in Bill O’Reilly’s head and as he tirelessly corrects all the things O’Reilly thinks he knows but doesn’t:

BILL O’REILLY - One of my, uh, points on the Factor is that poverty is driven by the dissolution of the American family, that is the prime mover, okay. On your watch, median income has dropped seventeen percent among working families in this country. That’s not a good record, it’s not all your fault, part of it was this terrible recession, we all know that. Everybody knows that.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - Okay.

O’REILLY - All right. But 72 percent of babies in African-American community are born out of wedlock.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - Yeah.

O’REILLY - Why isn’t there a campaign by you and the first lady to address that problem very explicitly?

PRESIDENT OBAMA - Actually, Bill, we address it explicitly all the time. I-I’ll send you at least 10 speeches I’ve made since I’ve been president talking about the importance of men taking responsibility for their children. Talking about the importance of, uh, young people, uh, delaying gratification. Talking about the importance of, uh, when it comes to child rearing, paying child support, spending time with your kids, reading with them. So, whether it’s getting publicity or not is a whole different question.

O’REILLY - But —

PRESIDENT OBAMA - This is something that we focus on all the time.

O’REILLY - Would you say it’s been a hallmark of your administration to make that issue, because I don’t believe it has. I know you’ve given the speeches, and I know you know — understand the problem, because you’re a community organizer from Chicago.

PRESIDENT OBAMA -Yes.

O’REILLY - All right? But I don’t see the pressure from the Federal government to go in and say, this is wrong, this is — this is killing, um, futures of babies and children.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - Well first of all, I’ve just got to say, Bill, we talk about it all the time, we’ll continue to talk about it, we’re convening, for example, philanthropists and business people, city by city, who are interested in addressing these kinds of problems at the local level. There is an economic component to it as well, though.

O’REILLY -Sure.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - Because — because what’s interesting, when you look at what’s going on right now, you’re starting to see in a lot of white working class homes, similar problems — when men can’t find good work, when the economy is shutting ladders of opportunity off from people, whether they’re black, white, Hispanic, it doesn’t matter. Then that puts pressure as well on the home. So you’ve got an interaction between the economy that isn’t generating enough good jobs for folks who traditionally could get blue-collar jobs even if they didn’t have a higher education, and some legitimate social concerns, uh. That compound the problem and so we want to hit both. We want to make sure that we’re putting folks back to work and making sure that they’re well-paid —

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – But this is —

PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] – We also want to make sure that we’re dealing with some of the social issues that you’re addressing.

O’REILLY - The secret to getting a je — good job is education. And in these chaotic families, the children aren’t well-educated because it isn’t — it isn’t, um, encouraged at home as much as it is in other precincts. Now, school vouchers is a way to level the playing field. Why do you oppose school vouchers when it would give poor people a chance to go to better schools?

PRESIDENT OBAMA - Actually — every study that’s been done on school vouchers, Bill, says that it has very limited impact if any —

O’REILLY - Try it.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - On — it has been tried, it’s been tried in Milwaukee, it’s been tried right here in DC —

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – And it worked here.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - No, actually it didn’t. When you end up taking a look at it, it didn’t actually make that much of a difference. So what we have been supportive of is, uh, something called charters. Which, within the public school system gives the opportunity for creative experiments by teachers, by principals to-to start schools that have a different approach. And —

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – You would revisit that? I-I just think — I used be, teach in a Catholic school, a-and I just know —

PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] – Bill — you know, I — I’ve taken, I’ve taken — I’ve taken a look at it. As a general proposition, vouchers has not significantly improved the performance of kids that are in these poorest communities —

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] [INAUDIBLE] -

PRESIDENT OBAMA - Some charters — some charters are doing great. Some Catholic schools do a great job, but what we have to do is make sure every child —

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – I got three more questions.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - Go ahead.

O’REILLY - All right. Keystone pipeline, new study comes in, environmental impact, negligible. Forty-two thousand jobs. You’re gonna okay it, I assume.   

PRESIDENT OBAMA - Well first of all, it’s not forty two thousand. That’s — that’s not, uh, correct, it’s a couple thousand to build the pipeline, but —       

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – Forty-two all told.   

PRESIDENT OBAMA - Well, that, bottom line is what we’re gonna do is to, uh, the process now goes agencies comment on what the State Department did, public’s allowed to comment, Kerry’s gonna, uh, give me a recommendation, uh —        

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – All right, so I assume we’re gonna do that, after five years —

PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] [INAUDIBLE] -

O’REILLY - Okay. I’ll take that as a yes. Little Sisters of the Poor, come on, give them the little waiver that they don’t have to —

PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] – They have, you know —

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – Come on, the Little Sisters of the Poor? Give them what they want.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - Bill, I —

O’REILLY - Right now. Let’s-let’s just do this.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - Bill, take, here-here’s the way this thing works. All they have to do is sign a form saying they don’t — they are a religious institution —

O’REILLY - And then they get what they want, right?

PRESIDENT OBAMA - And — and they get what they want. What they — the problem is they don’t want to sign the form —

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – Well, we’ll —

PRESIDENT OBAMA - Because they think that that somehow, uh, uh, makes them complicit.

O’REILLY - I’m happy now that the Little Sisters are going to get what they want. Uh, now. Um. FOX News. Uh, I can’t speak for FOX News. All right, but I’m — I’m, you know, the table setter here [INAUDIBLE] -.

PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] [INAUDIBLE] -

O’REILLY - Do you think I’m being unfair to you, do you think I’ve been giving you —

PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] – Absolutely. Of course you have, Bill. But, I like you anyway, Bill.

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – Okay, but — give me how I’m unfair.

PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] – It-it-but — look —

O’REILLY - Give me how I’m unfair. Come on, you can’t make that accusation without telling me.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - Bill — we’ve just run through an interview in which you asked about health, uh, health care not working, IRS where-where we, uh, wholly corrupt, Benghazi —

O’REILLY - All right.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - Right, so the list of issues that you talk about —

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – But these are unanswered questions —

PRESIDENT OBAMA - Yeah, but-but-but they’re defined by you guys in a certain way. But this — look, this is okay. This-this is —

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – Do you not —

PRESIDENT OBAMA - If you want to — if you want to be President of the United States, then you know that you’re going to be subject to criticism, and —

O’REILLY - But if it’s unfair, I-I want to know if it’s unfair. Is it un — criticism is criticism. It’s my job to give you a hard time.

PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] – Here — here — here’s what I would say. I think regardless of whether it’s fair or not, uh, it has, uh, it has made FOX News very successful.

O’REILLY - But if I’m unfair, I want —

PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] – Here’s what — here’s the thing you guys — here’s what you guys are gonna have to figure out is what are — what are you gonna do when I’m gone? I’m telling you —

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] [INAUDIBLE] [LAUGHS] -

PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] [INAUDIBLE] -

O’REILLY - Ah-ha-ha — ask President Clinton. Ask President Bush. I gave President Bush a real hard time. Are you the most liberal President in US History?

PRESIDENT OBAMA - Probably not.

O’REILLY - Probably not?

PRESIDENT OBAMA - Probably not. That’s-that’s fair to say.

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – Who-who would be?

PRESIDENT OBAMA - You know, the truth of the matter is, is that when you look at some of my policies, um, in a lot of ways, Richard Nixon was more — more liberal than I was. Started the EPA. You know, uh, you know, started, uh, uh, a whole lot of the regulatory state that, uh, has helped make our air and water clean. Um.

O’REILLY - That’s interesting — Nixon — that’s interesting. I thought you were gonna say FDR.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - Well, FDR — Johnson. But I tend not to think about these things in terms of liberal and democrat — or liberal and conservative because at any given time, the question is what does the country need right now? And what — right now what the country needs is, uh, roads, bridges, uh, infrastructure, we-we got 2 trillion dollars worth of, uh, unmet needs. We could put — be putting construction workers back to work right now, folks that you like to champion. Why aren’t we doing it? That’s not a liberal or conservative agenda —

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] [INAUDIBLE] -

PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] – Well, why-why aren’t we funding it? The, uh, when it comes — comes to something like basic research to keep our innovation edge. That’s the thing that sent the man to space, that’s the thing that created the internet. Why aren’t we — why aren’t we funding —

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – Because we have a seventeen trillion dollar debt. We can’t do these things.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - No, the uh — but the reason we don’t do them is because we’re not willing to make decisions, for example, uh, our tax code is rife with loopholes —

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – That’s true, you can’t —

PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] – And for us to close those loopholes, we could put people to work right now. Is that a Democrat — is that a Democrat, Republican, conservative, liberal thing? It’s neither. It’s common sense. That’s what we should be doing.

O’REILLY -All right.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - In fact, you and I, if we sat down, we could probably agree on —

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – Well, I’ve said that on air. We don’t disagree on —

PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] – Raising the minimum wage, something that you —

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – But one — one thing we do —

PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] – Yes, right.

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – I support this.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - I know. And that’s —

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – You have to do it.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - And that’s —

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – You want to get people off welfare, you raise the — minimum wage.

PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] – That’s not a liberal or a-a conservative agenda.

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – No, fine. But I think that you are much more friendly to a nanny state than I am. I’m more of a self-reliance guy, you’re more of a big government will solve your problems guy.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - And I — and I —

O’REILLY -That’s it.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - And I disagree with that because I think that what used to be considered sensible we now somehow label as-as liberal. Think about this — Social Security, Medicare —

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – But you pay into that. It’s the freebies that are the problem.

PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] – Is it? What-what freebies are we talking about? Welfare, actually is worth less now than it was 20, 30 — it’s worth less than it was under Ronald Reagan. And the uh —

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – Take a look at the disability explosion. I mean, it’s insane. The workplace isn’t any more dangerous now than it was it was 20 —

PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] – Well —

O’REILLY — years ago, it’s through the roof. You know people are conning you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] – You know, Bill, the point is, we have not massively expanded the welfare state. That’s just not true. When you take a look at it, actually, that-the-the levers of support that we provide to folks who are willing to work hard, they’re not that different than they were thirty years ago, forty years ago, fifty years ago. You and I took advantage of certain things. I don’t know about you, but I got some loans to go to college.

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – Nah, I painted houses, I didn’t get any —

PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] – The, uh, well, I, no —

O’REILLY [OVERLAP] – See, that’s who I am. I —

PRESIDENT OBAMA - I painted houses during the summer too. It still wasn’t enough. So, the, uh, so my point is is that that’s not a nanny state. That’s an investment in the future generation. G.I. Bill — is that a nanny state? My grandfather came back for World War II, you’re about to write a book on World War II. Smartest thing we ever did was make an investment in the American people. When those guys came back from war, that’s what created our middle class. We-we suddenly trained up and created skills for folks. We gave ‘em subsidies so they could go out and buy homes. Through the FHA, those things weren’t giveaways. We-we understood that what that would do would create a base middle class of folks who were able to, uh, work hard and get ahead.

O’REILLY - The work ethic was different then than it is now.

PRESIDENT OBAMA [OVERLAP] – Well —

O’REILLY - All right, last questions.

PRESIDENT OBAMA -We’ll have to improve the work ethic.

O’REILLY - And here’s something that you and I agree on.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - What’s that?

O’REILLY - And I’ll tell everybody. You helped the Veterans. Now I believe the VA should be doing a lot more than it’s doing. But you, I have come to you four times, and every time you have, uh, done what I have asked, and we have raised more than twenty million dollars for wounded veterans and their families. And I — you know, so when they say that you don’t care and all of that I know that’s not true. But fundamentally, the self-reliance thing in America I think is going down, and the nanny state is going up. Last word. You get it.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - Here’s-here’s-here’s what I believe. First of all, biggest honor I’ve ever had and will ever have is serving as Commander in Chief, and when you meet our military families and our men and women in uniform, they-they, uh. They are so outstanding. You just have to want to help. And you have done great work, Bill, uh, on behalf of our veterans. Number two, I think self-reliance is alive and well in America. I think the problem is people don’t see as many opportunities to get ahead. My job as President, as long as I’m in this office, is to give them the tools to get ahead. They gotta work hard, they gotta be responsible, but if they are, let’s make sure that they can make it in America. That’s what it’s all about. That’s how you and I ended up sitting here talking.

O’REILLY – Mr. President, thanks, always a pleasure to talk with you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA - I enjoyed it, Bill. Thank you very much.

Why Democrats Should Thank Phyllis Schlafly

Yesterday I thanked Bill O’Reilly for contributing to the chaotic mess that is now the Republican Party. Today I want to thank the venerable Phyllis Schlafly.

Schlafly, born right here in Missouri, will be 90 years old this year. She hit the national political radar way back in 1964, after writing a book supporting the candidacy of Barry Goldwater. Conservapedia—the right-wing version of Wikipedia—says that the book, A Choice, Not An Echo,

detailed how the liberal “Rockefeller Republican” wing of the Republican Party had manipulated the Republican Party’s choice of nominees in several elections to nominate people like Wendell Willkie and Dwight Eisenhower, and called on conservatives to rally against the liberal wing and offer a true conservative for the nomination.

Sound familiar? Yes. After 50 years these people are still fighting the Republican establishment. You gotta hand it to ‘em, they never give up!

By the way, speaking of Conservapedia (which calls itself a “trustworthy encyclopedia”), it was founded by Schlafly’s son, Andrew. Reactionary politics runs in the family.

File:Phyllis Schlafly by Gage Skidmore.jpgThe fight over the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s made Schlafly famous. In 1972 she founded Eagle Forum, an anti-feminist, evangelical Christian, “pro-family” (!) lobbying group that does all it can to make the country safe for white people who vote Republican. A fact that leads me to why Democrats should thank her for her latest efforts.

Last year, after Republicans began talking—and so far it has all been talk—about being kinder to Latinos, Schlafly said on a conservative radio show that it was “a great myth” that Hispanics who come into the country would vote for Republicans. “There is not the slightest bit of evidence that they’re gonna vote Republican,” she said. Then she added:

The people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes…the white voters who didn’t vote in the last election and there are millions of them. I think when you have an establishment-run nomination system, they give us a series of losers, which they’ve given us with Dole and McCain and Romney, and they use people who don’t connect with the grass roots. So, I think the propagandists are leading us down the wrong path. There is not any evidence at all that these Hispanics coming in from Mexico will vote Republican.

Well, well, well. So much is revealed in that short comment.

First, how strange it is that a “pro-family” evangelical Christian, leading hordes of other like-minded followers of Jesus, doesn’t really give a damn about Hispanic families because some significant portion of them might want to vote for Democrats. Is that what Jesus would do? Or is that only what GOP Jesus would do?

Second, because lots of folks out there still don’t believe the Tea Party-controlled GOP is consciously fashioning itself as the last refuge of white folks worried about their cultural dominance, Schlafly does us all a favor by making it clear what, or whom, the Republican Party stands for: “white voters.” In August of last year she came out in favor of Republican-enacted voting restrictions in North Carolina, the logic of which Miranda Blue of Right Wing Watch explained:

The new law is not politically motivated and won’t keep Democrats from voting, Schlafly claims…before adding that the law’s main virtue is that it is politically motivated and will keep Democrats from voting.

And if Schlafly had stopped there, she would have done enough to deserve the thanks of liberals and Democrats around the country for shining a bright light on conservative motivations. But nope. She makes another contribution to understanding what makes right-wingers tick, especially as the debate heats up in the Republican Party over what should be done about our broken immigration system. Eagle Forum has published a new report:

eagle forum immigration report

It should come as no surprise that Eagle Forum’s report reached exactly the same conclusions about immigration that Phyllis Schlafly had already reached. And I suppose it should come as no surprise that the Tea Party right has embraced those conclusions. The first publication I saw feature the anti-immigration report was National Review, which posted an article by Schlafly highlighting Eagle Forum’s America-shattering finding:

There is nothing controversial about the report’s conclusion that both Hispanics and Asians, who account for about three-fourth of today’s immigrants, generally agree with the Democrats’ big-government agenda. It is for this reason that they vote two-to-one for Democrats.

And that is what is driving the right’s nuttiness on the immigration issue. She says,

While it seems that much of the Republican-party leadership has not actually looked at the policy preferences of immigrants, everyone else who has looked at the polls comes to the conclusion that significant majorities of immigrants and their children are big-government liberals.

Mind you, Schlafly is not just talking about undocumented folks here. She is talking about all immigrants, those who come here legally and those who don’t. And she is talking about Latinos and Asian-Americans. But wait. Don’t go and get the idea that she is just picking on pigmented people here. She wants you to know that ain’t so:

Immigration in general — not race — is the issue. The limited data for other immigrants — including Europeans and Muslims — indicate that they, too, generally hold views well to the left of the average American voter. In fact, as discussed in our new report, for reasons largely outside the control of conservatives, immigrants and their children gravitate to left-wing parties in almost all Western countries. The problem for conservatives is not race or ethnicity but immigration as such.

So, you see? Race isn’t the issue at all, despite what she said last year:

The people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes…the white voters who didn’t vote in the last election and there are millions of them.

Schlafly really isn’t fooling anyone, except those already fooled. This is all about the browning of America, a phenomenon that is increasingly driving white conservatives crazy, and a phenomeon that can’t be stopped, although Schlafly is adamant there is a way to stop it:

Our new report makes clear that for conservatives, there is no issue more important than reducing the number of immigrants allowed into the country each year. If legal immigration is not reduced, it will be nearly impossible for conservatives to be successful on the issues we care about.

If the Republican party is to remain a party that is conservative and nationally competitive, it must defeat amnesty and any proposed increases in legal immigration. Further, we must work to significantly reduce the number of legal immigrants allowed into the country from the current level of 1.1 million a year. There is nothing inevitable about immigration. The level and selection criteria can be changed by Congress.

Looking at the political motivation of the groups pushing higher immigration and amnesty, it’s obvious that the Democrats promote large-scale immigration because it produces more Democratic votes. If the Republican party is to remain conservative and nationally competitive, it must defeat amnesty and proposed increases in legal immigration.

That last line, which was (accidentally?) repeated in those concluding paragraphs, is a problem for the Republican Party. The truth is that if the GOP wants to remain “nationally competitive,” it has to abandon the kind of conservatism that people like Phyllis Schlafly are promoting. And the so-called establishment Republicans, who are only slightly less extreme at present, know that, which is what makes this intraparty fight so enjoyable to watch.

And that is why I am grateful that this nearly 90-year-old conservative activist from St. Louis is still around to do her part.

[photo: Gage Skidmore]

Why Liberals Should Thank Bill O’Reilly

You gotta love it. First President Obama tells the truth about Fox “News” and then Hillary Clinton follows it up. Now, when CNN, NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC News, ABC News, and CBS News start telling the truth about Fox, then we will be getting somewhere.

In any case, Bill O’Reilly’s interruption-plagued ObamaCare-Benghazi-IRS interview (come on, what did you expect? Billo has to eat, ya know) with Obama ended with this:

I think — I — you know, I know you think maybe we haven’t been fair, but I think your heart is in the right place.

That moment of lucidity, I knew at the time, would get Billo in trouble. One commenter on the Fox “News” site said what a lot of right-wingers were thinking:

oreilly interview

“I’m DONE with you Bill!” When they start shouting, look out!

What you should know is that, as incredible as it sounds to liberal ears, Fox “News” is now seen by many right-wingers as part of the problem. Yes, Fox isn’t conservative enough! Over at Glenn Beck’s “The Blaze,” we find this comment attached to an article on O’Reilly’s interview with President Obama:

oreilly interview

O’Reilly and Huckabee traitors? Yikes. But look at his one:

oreilly interview

Nice folks, no? But what I really want you to see is this comment:

oreilly interview

When Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Karl Rove aren’t conservative enough for you, then the political dementia on the far right is worse than we thought. And speaking of dementia, try this:

blaze

It seems that Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, and Sean Hannity, who apparently have been feuding (who knew?), are now teaming up for a kind of mischief they apparently can’t accomplish as free agents. The article reports:

Beck said he, Levin and Hannity all have a different skill set, all of which are important to bring the country together and focus on real solutions.

Yes. These guys think their brand of right-wingery will “bring the country together.”

Hey, don’t laugh. Beck is serious:

“Something big is happening. Something good is really happening,” Beck concluded. “Well, I mean, unless you’re a progressive then I don’t think you’re going to like this. It’s not good news for you.”

Oh, yes it is, Glenn! It is always good news for progressives when the reactionaries are fighting so fiercely among themselves, and if Beck and Levin and Hannity want to join forces to give their extremist followers more power to attack the Republican establishment, I say, bravo!

And they aren’t the only ones bashing the establishment. Just this afternoon, I received an email from a Tea Party group that was asking for dough. After bashing unions (“who are working diligently to pervert our system of government”), the appeal continued in bold letters:

For too long we have allowed the political establishment of both parties to drive our country into the ground. Today is the day that we stop the political elite and return America to greatness. 

Yes, Democrats and Republicans are just one big elite group working together to destroy the country! Of course!

Today on his show, Rush Limbaugh, the king of the talk radio dung heap, himself spent a lot of time attacking the Republican establishment. He has a theory about what they are up to, and it goes something like this:

By pushing immigration reform (“amnesty”), Republicans are blowing their chances of winning the upcoming election “in a landslide.” Oh, sure Republicans want to win in 2014, but they want to do it without the Tea Party. Why? Because if the Tea Party delivers another landslide election to the Republicans like it did in 2010, then the Republican establishment is in deeper trouble when it comes time to nominate their presidential candidate in 2016. Teapartiers would demand that the GOP candidate come from their ranks. That is why the establishment is trying to get rid of Tea Party influence in the House and get immigration reform passed, Limbaugh said. They want to marginalize teapartiers, eke out a victory this year, and then get their establishment guy ordained as the party’s front man against Hillary.

I know, I know. It’s nuts. But it helps our side when these folks get this way. And I personally want to think Bill O’Reilly and Fox “News” for playing their part in the chaos.

_______________________________________

limbaugh and immigration

Plutocratic Paranoia

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, the man come and take you away

—Stephen Stills, “For What It’s Worth

In a God-fearing, if not God-ordered, world, one would think that when a billionaire, worried about “a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent,” stupidly compared progressive critiques of wealth inequality in America to “fascist Nazi Germany,” that reputable institutions, say, like The Wall Street Journal, would have the sense to unequivocally condemn such outrageous nonsense.

Nope. Not only did the Journal publish this disgruntled plutocrat’s letter about a week ago, today we find that the paper’s editorial writers, always happy apologists for our emerging plutocracy, have now become defenders of plutocratic paranoia. Oh, there was the gentle admission that one ought to be more careful in one’s use of comparisons to Nazi Germany, but the real condemnation was saved for what the writers called “the politics of economic class warfare,” which is how the rich right views any criticism of the one-percenters gobbling up most of the bennies the economic recovery has handed out the past four years or so.

Paranoia is striking deep into the hearts of some of America’s wealthiest folks and the ideological defenders of an out-of-adjustment economic system. Perhaps they are starting to believe that liberal critiques of what has been happening for the last 35 years are beginning to resonate with the electorate. Why else would the WSJ editorialists end their defense of the disgruntled plutocrat by falsely saying that liberals are “promoting personal vilification and the abuse of government power to punish political opponents”?

In any case, back to reality. Paul Krugman published a piece a few days ago that addressed the billionaire’s comparison of progressivism to fascism, but he went much further:

Anyway, thinking about this sort of thing makes me realize that there’s a danger, especially for progressives, of confusing the proposition that Obama’s billionaire haters are stark raving mad — which is true — with the proposition that Obama has done nothing that hurts the plutocrats’ interests, which is false. Actually, Obama has been tougher on the one percent than most progressives give him credit for.

Oh, I know that some lefties don’t want to hear it, but Krugman, who has been somewhat critical of President Obama over the years, has some facts to back up what he is saying:

Start with taxes. The Bush tax cuts haven’t gone completely away, but at the very high end they have been pretty much reversed; plus there are additional high-end taxes associated with Obamacare. The result is that taxes on wealthy Americans have basically been rolled back to pre-Reagan levels:

Meanwhile, financial reform looks as if it will have significantly more teeth than expected.

So the one percent does have reason to be upset. No, Obama isn’t Hitler; but he is turning out to be a little bit of FDR, after all.

That chart (which was lifted from an excellent article written by the Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann) along with Krugman’s remark about the unexpected “teeth” in financial reform (“Dodd-Frank“) may explain why some billionaires, who should have nothing in the world to complain about—what good is all that dough, if you are still afraid of the rabble?—would resort to Nazi references when talking about liberals criticizing them. They feel victimized. Yep. Victimized.

Matthew O’Brien, in a piece titled, “Why Do the Super-Rich Keep Comparing Obama to Hitler?” referenced an occasion during Obama’s first term in which some really wealthy folks, including some of those Obama had referred to late in 2009 as “a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street,” leaned on Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, for a little love from the President. Messina was in New York looking for campaign money—since Obama had done very well among Wall Streeters in 2008—and The New York Times described what happened:

For the next hour, the donors relayed to Messina what their friends had been saying. They felt unfairly demonized for being wealthy. They felt scapegoated for the recession. It was a few weeks into the Occupy Wall Street movement, with mass protests against the 1 percent springing up all around the country, and they blamed the president and his party for the public’s nasty mood. The administration, some suggested, had created a hostile environment for job creators.

Messina politely pushed back. It’s not the president’s fault that Americans are still upset with Wall Street, he told them, and given the public’s mood, the administration’s rhetoric had been notably restrained.

One of the guests raised his hand; he knew how to solve the problem. The president had won plaudits for his speech on race during the last campaign, the guest noted. It was a soaring address that acknowledged white resentment and urged national unity. What if Obama gave a similarly healing speech about class and inequality? What if he urged an end to attacks on the rich? Around the table, some people shook their heads in disbelief.

“Most people in the financial world,” a top Obama donor later told me, “do not understand how most of America feels about them.” But they think they understand how the president’s inner circle feels about them. “This administration has a more contemptuous view of big money and of Wall Street than any administration in 40 years,” the donor said. “And it shows.”

How a group of people with more money than Allah could feel victimized by Obama or any other slightly left-of-center Democrat is beyond me. Perhaps they are starting to hear too many comparisons they don’t like. Maybe they don’t like it when they hear, as it was recently reported, that “The 85 richest people in the world now have as much money as the 3.5 billion poorest put together.”  Or maybe they don’t like it when they hear Paul Krugman’s latest comparison, which he presented yesterday on NPR’s All Things Considered:

I just had my favorite statistic of this morning. The top 40 hedge fund managers in America earned as much as 300,000 schoolteachers in 2012. So that gives you an idea of how unequal a society we’ve become.

You can see where that might ring with a sting in the ears of those “top 40 hedge fund managers,” sort of like a Hitler comparison rings in the ears of a liberal.

But let’s be clear here. No one, at least no one that I know, is talking about “punishing” rich people. It’s not a bad thing that hard work and innovation is rewarded over sloth and foolishness. As Krugman said on NPR:

Nobody thinks that we should be a society without monetary incentives. No one thinks that we should have exact equality or even anything close to that. The point, however, is that our notion of what kind of society we should be, I think, is something like the kind of society we actually were 30, 40 years ago where we had a broad middle class, where the gap between people at the top and the average or the median American was not that large.

See? There’s no need for those hyper-sensitive, fraidy cat billionaires to go all Hitler on us.

Finally, even though there is a rather robust defense of plutocratic paranoia going on among some conservatives, there is some evidence that even Republicans are starting to get the message that the inequalities we see among us threaten our stability as a nation, or, more likely, they are starting to think that such inequalities threaten their electoral prospects as a national party. They are starting to talk about the issue, even though they largely blame it on Obama, and offer as solutions the same old tax-cutting, trickle-down, anti-regulatory nonsense.

But at least for now the issue is front and center and that’s not a bad thing.

“Believe It”

Watching television this morning I found out that:

The New York Times pronounced last night’s speech a “Diminished State of the Union.”

The Washington Post called it “Obama’s Muted Call.”

Time magazine told us Obama was a “Man with a Modest Plan.”

MSNBC’s Chuck Todd thought the speech didn’t have a lot of “big ideas” in it.

And an ABC News blurb crawling across the screen this morning read:

President Obama offers modest agenda in state of the union address including raising the minimum wage, immigration reform and equal pay for women.

Hmm. “Modest agenda”? “Raising the minimum wage, immigration reform, and equal pay for women” is modest? I guess doing those things are modest if you are wealthy, white, and wiener-equipped. Otherwise, getting those things done this year would be anything but modest accomplishments.

The truth is that last night’s speech was pregnant with hope. And although most folks in the news business missed it, the heart and soul of the speech was a call to faith. No, not the kind of faith you rehearse on Sundays at church. Another kind of faith. The kind we should all rehearse as Americans. If you didn’t see the speech, you can read it for yourself and make up your own mind as to whether President Obama’s SOTU address was diminished, muted, or modest. But you really should watch the end for yourself and see that this speech was really about having faith in our experimental country’s ability to right itself, as we have done before.

Watch this short clip of what happened and then I’ll tell you more:

Now, I post below a complete transcript of the end of the speech. And if you read it you will notice that the clip above ended before the President made the connection between the struggles and tenacity of Cory Remsburg and the difficulties and possibilities of America. (I have highlighted the part not shown.) Every news outlet I could find that posted a clip of this particular part of Obama’s speech left out the end, left out the larger connection. Why is that? Because as hard as some journalists might try, sometimes they fail to see what is right before their eyes. And right before their eyes—our eyes, our American eyes—was a President calling us to a deeper faith in our collective selves:

Let me tell you about one of those families I’ve come to know.

I first met Cory Remsburg, a proud Army Ranger, at Omaha Beach on the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Along with some of his fellow Rangers, he walked me through the program, the ceremony. He was a strong, impressive young man, had an easy manner. He was sharp as a tack. And we joked around, and took pictures, and I told him to stay in touch.

A few months later, on his 10th deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain.

For months, he lay in a coma. And the next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn’t speak; he could barely move. Over the years, he’s endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, hours of grueling rehab every day.

Even now, Cory is still blind in one eye. He still struggles on his left side. But slowly, steadily, with the support of caregivers like his dad Craig, and the community around him, Cory has grown stronger. Day by day, he’s learned to speak again and stand again and walk again, and he’s working toward the day when he can serve his country again.

“My recovery has not been easy,” he says. “Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy.”

Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit.  

My fellow Americans — my fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy. Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged.

But for more than two hundred years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress: to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice and fairness and equality under the law, so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen.

The America we want for our kids — a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us — none of it is easy. But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, the way Cory summoned what is best in him, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow, I know it’s within our reach.

Believe it.

I believe.

How Long Will The Excluded Wait?

Robert Reich begins his latest column this way:

People ask me all the time why we don’t have a revolution in America, or at least a major wave of reform similar to that of the Progressive Era or the New Deal or the Great Society.

Middle incomes are sinking, the ranks of the poor are swelling, almost all the economic gains are going to the top, and big money is corrupting our democracy. So why isn’t there more of a ruckus?

Revolution? Ruckus? Well, why aren’t people making more election-changing noise? Reich gave three reasons, which I will list without most of his supporting material:

1) “…the working class is paralyzed with fear it will lose the jobs and wages it already has…No one has any job security. The last thing they want to do is make a fuss and risk losing the little they have.”

2) “In prior decades students were a major force for social change. But today’s students don’t want to make a ruckus. They’re laden with debt…record numbers are still living at home.”

3) “Third and finally, the American public has become so cynical about government that many no longer think reform is possible…It’s hard to get people worked up to change society or even to change a few laws when they don’t believe government can possibly work.”

That last reason for a reluctance to raise a ruckus can be documented by the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, which found:

confidence in washington

As you can see, Republicans have done a good job of poisoning the well of governance, with their obstructionist tactics and willingness to sabotage the economic recovery and their refusal to do anything to address the income and wealth gap in America. But such tactics, although successful in bringing Democrats down, have damaged the Republican Party’s image profoundly. The poll found that only 36% of Republicans have significant confidence in their own party. Think about that.

But think, too, about the fact that a large part of the reason that even Republicans don’t have much confidence in their own party or their party’s leadership is that extremist teapartiers think the GOP hasn’t gone far enough in its obstructionism. Many of those folks think that John Boehner has sold them out. For God’s sake, many think that Mitch McConnell is too liberal.

As crazy as that sounds, things are actually worse. Consider the right’s reaction to Pope Francis. When the boss man of a gazillion Catholics dared to criticize increasing income and wealth inequality, when he called out “trickle-down theories” for their failure to deliver “greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” his words were branded as “pure Marxism” by Rush Limbaugh. Other right-wingers called him a socialist and FoxNews.com annointed him “the Catholic Church’s Obama.” Just a few days ago a News Editor for FoxNews.com, himself a Catholic, said that,

Pope Francis has declared war on those who aspire to provide a better life for themselves and their families, expressing the misguided snobbery of a man for whom money has never been an issue.

Such feelings run deep on the right. That FoxNews.com editor went on to say that, “the only charity the pope supports is forced redistribution.” Ahh. That’s the real offense the Pope committed. He thinks, and he thinks Jesus thinks, governments ought to be involved in seeing to it that there is a more equitable distribution of wealth. He can see with his presumably holy eyes that if the world’s poor and underserved are to utterly depend on the generosity of the rich to keep them afloat, they are a most miserable lot indeed. The Pope says trickle-down economics,

expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.

All of which leads me back to Robert Reich’s column. How long will the excluded wait? Reich listed three reasons why more people don’t make a bigger fuss about the breathtaking economic inequities we see here in America and the fact that “big money is corrupting our democracy.” But he should have included a fourth reason: the big money corruption itself. Rich people, particularly rich conservative people, are buying this republic and the politicians who manage it, as well as influencing low-information voters who fall for the slick and misleading advertising that big money buys.

If you have the stomach for it, I invite you to read one the most depressing articles I have read in a long time. The Mother Jones piece, titled “Meet the New Kochs: The DeVos Clan’s Plan to Defund the Left,” chronicles how a wealthy Michigan family, whose billions were acquired through the pyramid-like distributing company Amway, was able to purchase the votes necessary to pass union-crippling right-to-work legislation in a state that was once union friendly.

I will confess that after reading the article, my usual political optimism was shaken. I fear for our future if something isn’t done to restrain the flow of money into our politics. The 87-year-old Richard DeVos, who cofounded Amway, and his eldest son Dick DeVos should not be able to do what they did in Michigan. And what they did has effects beyond the obvious race to the bottom in terms of workers’ wages and working conditions:

Passing right-to-work in Michigan was more than a policy victory. It was a major score for Republicans who have long sought to weaken the Democratic Party by attacking its sources of funding and organizing muscle…So DeVos and his allies hit labor—and the Democratic Party—where it hurt: their bank accounts. By attacking their opponents’ revenue stream, they could help put Michigan into play for the GOP heading into the 2016 presidential race—as it was more than three decades earlier, when the state’s Reagan Democrats were key to winning the White House.

It’s pretty simple. Republicans believe that if they can weaken, if not destroy, labor unions, they can control the country’s politics:

the Michigan fight has given hope—and a road map—to conservatives across the country working to cripple organized labor and defund the left. Whereas party activists had for years viewed right-to-work as a pipe dream, a determined and very wealthy family, putting in place all the elements of a classic political campaign, was able to move the needle in a matter of months. “Michigan is Stalingrad, man,” one prominent conservative activist told me. “It’s where the battle will be won or lost.”

That Michigan fight is going on here in Missouri. The very first hearing this year in the Missouri House, which is dominated by right-wing Republicans, was used to promote anti-union legislation, in this case falsely titled the “Freedom To Work Act.” The only “freedom” written into this bill is freedom for workers who benefit from union representation on the job to opt out of having to pay any fee to the union for its collective bargaining services. In other words, this bill, and other so-called right-to-work legislation, establishes that there is, after all, such a thing as a free lunch.eric burlison

The idea, obviously, is to starve unions of needed resources, even though the Missouri bill’s sponsor, a Springfield Republican, claimed that the legislation “would make unions stronger.” Let me state the obvious here: If a right-winger tells you that a bill he is sponsoring will make unions stronger, he is lying through his gold teeth.

It’s equally obvious that if unions are starved of funds and can’t afford to defend the interests of working people, both on the job and during the election cycle, then rich Republicans will have their way. That is why rich Republicans pour so much money into these efforts, with 24 states now having such laws as the one being crafted here in Missouri. And if more states follow the trend and engage in a race to the bottom, the situation Robert Reich described—sinking middle incomes, growing poverty, and rich people realizing most of the economic gains—will get worse.

And if it gets bad enough, the ruckus, or the revolution, will come.

Do Businesses Have A Moral Obligation To Their Workers? A Missouri Businessman Says They Do

As the ObamaCare experiment continues, critics are still wishing for, or in some cases trying to engineer, its absolute failure.

Obviously, if you have been following politics closely since 2008, you know that right-wingers want to undermine the Affordable Care Act largely because they believe that doing so would destroy the Obama presidency, a goal they sketched out at the beginning of his first term. These folks did not—and still do not—want this president to be transformative, to go down in history as someone who mattered. And if the ACA turns out to be successful, if the experiment works, it will mean that its presidential champion, and the political party that supported him, will matter a great deal.

Peter Wehner, a very conservative columnist, used to work for George W. Bush. But in Ayn Randish, Tea Party circles, he is considered a “neo-liberal” and a “statist” and one who promotes “wealth distribution.” That’s how far right the right-wing has drifted. In the real world, the world of facts, Wehner is an anti-Obama right-winger who thinks the failure of healthcare reform will not only “indict” the Obama administration, but will “hurt liberalism,” too. Why? Because such a failure would mean that the attempt to achieve “universal health care coverage,” something that liberals “have been aiming for for half a century,” will be politically dead, along with the Obama legacy.

A few days ago, Wehner wrote a piece titled “A Scenario for the Repeal of ObamaCare,” in which he quotes fellow right-winger Avik Roy as saying that if Republicans take over the White’s House and Senate in 2017, and if the number of “newly insured could be dwarfed by the political constituency of those harmed by the law,” then “President Obama’s signature legislation may not be long for this world.” To which Wehner responds:

If so, it would sink the Obama presidency, both in real time and in the eyes of history. Which is precisely what ought to occur.

So, there you have it. They want Obama’s graying scalp, even if it means hurting millions upon millions of uninsured and otherwise uninsurable folks. This stuff is personal.

And speaking of personal, a column that appeared recently in the Joplin Globe was also personal. Except in a good way. A local businessman, who holds a degree in chemistry and physics, wrote a piece (“The impact of ACA isn’t really ‘devastating’ at all”) that blew me away (thanks to blogger Jim Wheeler for the tip).

Kelly Meares, who co-founded and operates a business in Webb City, Mo., was inspired by Senator Roy Blunt’s invitation “to share horror stories and devastation brought upon fellow Missourians by the implementation of Obamacare.” Well, I’m sure Ol’ Roy didn’t expect this ironic reply from someone here in Southwest Missouri:

Thanks for the invitation to share the devastating impacts of Obamacare on our family. If you don’t mind, I will refer to it as the ACA instead of a hate-based euphemism. Yes, Obama has adopted the term hoping to neutralize it, but the Affordable Care Act was created by Congress and built on a hodgepodge of Republican ideas in the hope of bipartisanship while still (regrettably) mollycoddling insurance companies.

Because of the ACA, our business is suffering through lower insurance costs for the first time ever. In spite of staff aging up, our provider has lowered our premium costs. We were accustomed to double-digit increases for most of the last decade. 

Wow! Good ACA news for a change. And from a businessman! Meares goes on to note that an often overlooked provision in the ACA—the requirement that insurance companies in the individual and small group market have to spend at least 80% of premiums (85% for the large group market) Kelly Meares, founderon actual health care or else refund the difference to policyholders—resulted in 588,000 Missourians getting checks from their insurance companies in 2012.

Meares also notes that thanks to the ACA his young adult daughter “has had the security of insurance as a dependent on our policy since leaving college” and “will be able to transition to a plan on the exchange regardless of pre-existing conditions.” That is really “devastating stuff,” he mockingly tells Senator Blunt.

But what is really devastating, in terms of countering enemies of the ACA like Roy Blunt, is the following sweet sarcasm:

I fear that the ACA will allow hospitals and medical practitioners to spend less time chasing debtors and foreclosing on the homes of the unfortunate people who happen to have some assets but insufficient or no insurance coverage for whatever reason. The medicos will be liberated to practice medicine and will have less deadbeat debt to pass on to the paying customers.

And now mom-and-pop businesses that make the sacrifice to provide insurance for their employees will have a more level playing field against those businesses that neglect their moral obligation to their workers. Consider this — if your business model depends on a paying a non-living wage and pushing your workers into the safety net (provided by others), then you are not an entrepreneur; you are an exploiter. To borrow a popular hate phrase: You are not a producer; you are a parasite.

Dang! How refreshing to see reflected on the local paper’s opinion page, a page usually filled with anti-Obama and anti-ACA nonsense, the point of view of a businessman who believes that businesses ought not “neglect their moral obligation to their workers.” Heck, who around these parts even knew that businesses actually have a moral obligation to their workers? Fantastic stuff.

Mr. Meares urged “the Missouri GOP controlled statehouse” to “do the right thing” by expanding Medicaid in the state, which would affect 193,000 Missourians. Then he candidly admitted that the ACA is not the perfect solution, that “single payer” would be preferable. “But the doomsayers shot that down,” he says. Yes, they did. From the start there was very little consideration of a single-payer system, which is why, as this principled businessman said earlier, that the ACA was constructed with “a hodgepodge of Republican ideas in the hope of bipartisanship while still (regrettably) mollycoddling insurance companies.”

Meares then looked Roy Blunt in the eyes and told him,

Enough of the mock outrage and straw man arguments, please.

And he finished his remarkable column with this:

Of course, it’s human nature not to like the ACA simply because nobody actually wants insurance. Nobody wants hospitals or doctors. Everybody wants to live a healthy, non-medically entwined existence. But unless the GOP can deliver the latter, then you must do more to support the former instead of making political capital on our denial and obstructing the flawed solution.

I request that you serve the people of Missouri and reject the politics of GOP obstruction at all costs.

Bravo!

______________________________

[photo from the website of Kelly Meares' business]

President Obama: “Individual Freedom Is The Wellspring Of Human Progress”

There seems to be no appeasing some folks on the left—let’s not even talk about the Obama-hating libertarians on the right—when it comes to their criticism of President Obama, in terms of his perceived involvement in a vast bipartisan conspiracy to make the Fourth Amendment null and void. Protesters express their opposition to the new National Security Agency Utah Data Center.

There is no such conspiracy, of course. We must keep in mind that what most Americans are seemingly worried about is “metadata” collection by the NSA, which President Obama said today,

does not involve the NSA examining the phone records of ordinary Americans. Rather, it consolidates these records into a database that the government can query if it has a specific lead, a consolidation of phone records that the companies already retain for business purposes. The review group turned up no indication that this database has been intentionally abused, and I believe it is important that the capability that this program is designed to meet is preserved.

In other words, the government isn’t recording, or requiring companies to record, your personal phone calls and there has been no demonstrated “intentional abuse.”

Just after President Obama gave his important speech this morning on reforming the NSA (the specific reforms I will leave you to discover for yourself), I heard a guest on MSNBC, Michael Ratner, a prominent human rights lawyer and activist, complain about how the President began his speech by offering “a bouquet of roses to the surveillance community, starting with the history of surveillance since the Revolution.”  

Man, when your first criticism of the President’s speech begins with the speech’s structure, you are doing some Olympic-worthy straw-grasping.

The President did begin his speech with the history of “secret surveillance,” from Paul Revere to Union Army reconnaissance balloons to World War II codebreakers and communication interceptors to the Cold War-fighting National Security Agency, technically created by President Truman in 1952, but whose birth can be traced to the Signal Security Agency used to gather intelligence during WWII.

But even though he began with the positive history of our national intelligence gathering efforts, the President throughout the speech warned of the potential for abuse and “the risk of government overreach,” including spying on domestic “dissidents like Dr. King.” The President even said this:

I believe critics are right to point out that without proper safeguards, this type of program could be used to yield more information about our private lives and open the door to more intrusive bulk collection programs in the future. They’re also right to point out that although the telephone bulk collection program was subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and has been reauthorized repeatedly by Congress, it has never been subject to vigorous public debate.

So, yes, President Obama did begin his speech, which was essentially a rather vigorous defense of the NSA and intelligence gathering, with some history. But he also acknowledged the dangers involved, and he acknowledged the legitimacy of some of the criticism that has been offered since Edward Snowden leaked classified information to the world in June of 2013. More significantly, however, Mr. Obama ended the speech—and some people consider the ending the most important part of any speech—with the following, which I will excerpt in full because it will likely get lost in all the fog of anti-NSA or anti-Obama post-speech analysis:

When you cut through the noise, what’s really at stake is how we remain true to who we are in a world that is remaking itself at dizzying speed. Whether it’s the ability of individuals to communicate ideas, to access information that would have once filled every great library in every country in the world, or to forge bonds with people on the other side of the globe, technology is remaking what is possible for individuals and for institutions and for the international order. So while the reforms that I’ve announced will point us in a new direction, I am mindful that more work will be needed in the future. On thing I’m certain of, this debate will make us stronger. And I also know that in this time of change, the United States of America will have to lead.

It may seem sometimes that America is being held to a different standard. And I’ll admit the readiness of some to assume the worst motives by our government can be frustrating.

No one expects China to have an open debate about their surveillance programs or Russia to take privacy concerns of citizens in other places into account.

But let’s remember, we are held to a different standard precisely because we have been at the forefront of defending personal privacy and human dignity. As the nation that developed the Internet, the world expects us to ensure that the digital revolution works as a tool for individual empowerment, not government control. Having faced down the dangers of totalitarianism and fascism and communism, the world expects us to stand up for the principle that every person has the right to think and write and form relationships freely, because individual freedom is the wellspring of human progress.

Those values make us who we are. And because of the strength of our own democracy, we should not shy away from high expectations. For more than two centuries, our Constitution has weathered every type of change because we’ve been willing to defend it and because we’ve been willing to question the actions that have been taken in its defense. Today is no different. I believe we can meet high expectations. Together, let us chart a way forward that secures the life of our nation while preserving the liberties that make our nation worth fighting for.

I hope everyone, including human rights activists like Michael Ratner, will pay at least as much attention to the end of the speech as Mr. Ratner paid to its beginning.

Quiet Passion

“Anybody in this country who works hard should have a fair shot at success, period.”

—President Obama, January 9, 2104

A week ago today Chris Christie gave his famous press conference denying he knew anything about his aides deliberately clogging up traffic on New Jersey’s side of the busiest bridge in the world for some unknown reason. That presser has been the subject of much media attention, for obvious reasons.

Because of all that attention given to the Christie traffic scandal, what you probably missed a week ago today was a remarkable speech President Obama gave in the East Room of the White House, a few hours after Christie’s press conference that morning. Fortunately for me, MSNBC broadcast the entire speech, the first one in which I heard the President say,

This is going to be a year of action.

Part of the action involves the federal government establishing what the President called “Promise Zones.” He defined them this way:

They’re neighborhoods where we will help local efforts to meet one national goal — that a child’s course in life should be determined not by the zip code she’s born in, but by the strength of her work ethic and the scope of her dreams.

President Obama made clear that he wasn’t just talking about “poverty in our inner cities,” but also about “suburban neighborhoods that have been hammered by the housing crisis,” and “manufacturing towns that still haven’t recovered after the local plant shut down,” and “islands of rural America where jobs are scarce.” Those are diverse zip codes.

And he also talked about how helping these diverse communities wasn’t just the job of government, but should include “faith institutions and our businesses and the parents and the communities themselves.” The model of government partnering with non-government entities used in the speech was an organization called the Harlem Children’s Zone, which serves poor children and families in Harlem by providing parenting support (“Baby College”), pre-school programs (“to get kids learning at four years old”) and public charter schools (“that help students succeed all the way through high school”).

In the audience listening to the speech were none other than both senators from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul. One of the initial five Promise Zones will be in southeastern Kentucky.

Having said all that, what I really found amazing about the speech you will see in the clip posted below. I watched both Chris Christie’s press conference and this speech by Obama on the same day and I must say the contrast was striking.

There was a young man standing behind the President named Roger Brown, who had attended Harlem Children’s Zone and who, you will hear the President say, “almost got himself expelled” for misbehaving. He is now a college sophomore. What you will also hear, in the President’s voice as he wanders off script, is the kind of quiet passion he almost never gets credit for. There are those who do things with a roar, like Chris Christie, and there are those who do things with much less noise but with as much or more passion.

Before you watch the five-minute clip below, read part of what President Obama said and think about how amazing it is that the United States of America, an experiment largely started by some brilliant and hypocritical white men, has become such a place that someone with a dark complexion and a strange name can today lead the country and say this:

If you want to know why I care about this stuff so much. It’s because I’m not that different from Roger.  There was a period of time in my life where I was goofing off.  I was raised by a single mom.  I didn’t know my dad.  The only difference between me and Roger was my environment was more forgiving than his.  That’s the only difference.  If I screwed up, the consequences weren’t quite as great…

I want more kids to have the chance that Roger got.  I want more kids to have the chance this country gave me.  We should all want every one of our kids and their families to have a shot at success.  If you are willing to dream big and work hard, you should grow up with the same opportunities in life as any other child living in any other place. 

The entire speech can be seen here. Transcript here.

At The Movies In America

So, you’re in a movie theater with your wife getting ready to watch an afternoon film, after having a nice “date” lunch, and you decide you need to get a message to your three-year-old daughter for some reason. She’s at daycare. You text. Maybe you just wanted your three-year-old daughter to know that mommy and daddy would be there in time to pick her up. Won’t be late because of the movie.

The next thing you know you’re dead.

You’re dead because another guy, sitting with his wife in the seats behind you, apparently had a major problem with you texting in the dimly lit place, just before the movie was to begin. And the guy in the theater with the major problem was carrying a gun. His manliness thus weaponized, he confronted you and told you to put your phone away. You tried to explain to him about your three-year-old daughter. He wouldn’t have it. He said he was going to get an usher or manager, but he came back alone. And even more irritated. Voices were raised. Soon, so was a gun. His gun. He shot you in your chest, your wife getting hit in the hand because she instinctively tried to shield your body.

And because you and the killer were in stand-your-ground Florida, the killer, a retired police captain, now claims that he feared for his life. His lawyer argues that it was your fault for being the “aggressor.” You apparently tossed a box of popcorn at the killer.

Which, like texting in a theater, can be an offense worthy of death in the National Rifle Association’s America.

Alas, let’s face it. These days, just going to a movie in the National Rifle Association’s America can be deadly.

[Facebook photo]

Big Boss Man Ain’t So Big

I’m gonna get me a boss man
One who’s gonna treat me right
I work hard in the day time
Rest easy at night
Big boss man, can’t you hear me when I call? Can’t you hear me when I call?
I said you ain’t so big, you’re just tall that’s all

—Luther Dixon and Jimmy Reed, 1960

foolishly, I predicted that Chris Christie would be the Republican nominee for president in 2016. Now, thanks to Christie’s traffic scandal in New Jersey, and thanks to his possibly illicit use of Hurricane Sandy relief money, the guv’nor has messed up my bold forecasting.

I apologize for grossly underestimating Republican corruption. Won’t happen again.

Perhaps because I had gone out on a limb to predict the 2016 Republican race’s end, I have followed very closely (beginning with Rachel Maddow’s coverage, long before other national journalists bothered to cover it) what has been happening in New Jersey regarding Rachel Maddow Christiethat famous bridge and that now-infamous traffic jam that followed from those increasingly-infamous orders given to make Democratic politicians in Fort Lee pay a price for thumbing their noses at the I-am-not-a-bully governor.

The problem is that it was ordinary folks who got hurt in all the mess. Ordinary folks on their way to work or to school or to doctor appointments. Or folks waiting on emergency responders to fight through traffic gridlock to get to them. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, after years of Obama-hating Republicans hurting millions of ordinary folks by trying to sabotage the economic recovery, that making life miserable for motorists in a small town in New Jersey in order to exact political revenge was the weapon of choice for right-wing partisans.

I watched Governor Bully’s marathon presser last week, every single second of it, and I was impressed. I was impressed by his stunning lack of curiosity about why close aides would undertake a mission to disrupt traffic around such an iconic water-crosser like the George Washington Bridge. Revealing such an embarrassing lack of curiosity was, in this case, probably the only thing Christie could do, given that his only defense for what happened is that the hands-on, in-your-face “leader” didn’t have his hands on a thing, and his face was turned the other way.

About the only thing Christie got passionate about was his claim that he was the victim of the mess, that he had been lied to, that he had been “betrayed” by “stupid” people. It remains to be seen just how stupid those people will turn out to be. In the Age of Wikipedia, it remains to be seen if Christie will have the last word on the reputations of the people he attacked, particularly the reputation of his former Deputy Chief of Staff, Bridget Anne Kelly. How would you like your Wikipedia entry to forever reflect, without any input from you, that you are a colossal liar with a penchant for playing stupid and dangerous political tricks behind your Big Boss Man’s back?

And it remains to be seen whether all of this will kill Christie’s presidential ambitions, or whether he will, to borrow a phrase from the last election cycle, self-deport from the race. A lot of people are saying that he can come back, that it is so far away from the start of the 2016 campaign that he has plenty of time to rehabilitate himself, or, more accurately, for others to rehabilitate him. Amazingly, a lot of people are suggesting that all of this mess could actually help him by solidifying his image as a real leader who is not afraid to face the music.

Except that while this tune is being played, not many people are dancing with the bully. Most of those on the right who have bothered to say anything good about Christie have done so mostly in order to take a shot at President Obama, by claiming that the traffic scandal in New Jersey doesn’t compare with all those Obama scandals, which weren’t scandals at all, unless, of course, you are a Foxaholic. These days there are two kinds of scandals: real ones like the one Chris Christie is involved in right now and phony ones like you hear about on Fox “News” and in which President Obama is not and never has been involved.

The truth is that this very real scandal has erupted too early for Christie, in terms of his obvious desire to be president. There is little incentive for others to go out and defend him right now because no one on the national stage has anything invested in him yet. They can just wait and see what happens. If this were early 2016 instead of early 2014, things would be different. Donors who had buried him in money, as well as high-profile pols and pundits who had jumped on his bandwagon, would now be in hyper-defense mode. As it is, there is a wait-and-see attitude among the big players.

And the Tea Party conservatives, those who have an outsized say in who gets the GOP nomination, don’t really care what happens to him, after he exchanged political spit with President Obama toward the end of the 2012 campaign. Getting within cootie range of the Scary Negro is an unforgivable sin in the Teavangelical Church.

So, it doesn’t look good for Christie. And it doesn’t look good for my prediction. Which reminds me to again apologize for my underestimation of Republican corruption. As I said, it won’t happen again.

Fair And Balanced Gossip

Have you heard about the latest gossip found in a not-yet-released book?

No, I’m not talking about the gossip about President Obama and Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden that news outlets have culled—and twisted out of shape to some degree—from former secretary of defense Robert Gates’ too-early-to-tell-all book,”Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.

I’m talking about a much funnier book called, “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” written by Gabriel Sherman, an advanced copy of which was reviewed by The New York Times.

In that book,  which is a 560-page biography of Fox’s master of misinformation, Roger Ailes, you will find Ailes admitting to his Fox lieutenants before the 2012 elections:

I want to elect the next president.

What a howler! A regular knee-slapper! What a revelation! Who could have guessed that Fox was trying to elect Mitt Romney president? How hilariously shocking.

And who could have guessed that the conservative kingmaker, the sultan of sophistry, is an authoritarian? And a crass sexist:

Former employees cited in the book talked of Mr. Ailes’s volatile temper and domineering behavior. In one anecdote, a television producer, Randi Harrison, told Mr. Sherman that while negotiating her salary with Mr. Ailes at NBC in the 1980s, he offered her an additional $100 each week “if you agree to have sex with me whenever I want.”

I wonder if Ailes offered Fox and Friends’ Brian Kilmeade, whom he sarcastically referred to as “a soccer coach from Long Island,” the same deal? More to the point, I wonder what Kilmeade’s answer might have been?

Perhaps most genuinely surprising of all is in what was revealed by “A Fox News spokeswoman” responding to the above incident that was chronicled in Gabriel Sherman’s book:

These charges are false. While we have not read the book, the only reality here is that Gabe was not provided any direct access to Roger Ailes and the book was never fact-checked with Fox News.

Who knew that Fox employed fact checkers? I wonder what they do all day?

The book also offers us one of the funniest descriptions of the insufferable Bill O’Reilly, a man who makes a lot of money for Fox and for himself by constantly advertising his “best-selling” books on his popular evening hour of spit-inducing spin, that you will ever read from someone who knows him better than we do. Ailes said O’Reilly was,

a book salesman with a TV show.

Now, leaving aside the fact that Roger Ailes owes a sincere apology to book salesmen everywhere—if there are any book salesmen left anywhere—you have to admit that reducing the self-bloated Fox host, who thinks he is some kind of intellectual giant kind enough to share his intellectual giantness with the rest of the world, down to a pedestrian book peddler is kind of funny.

No, it’s real funny. Even if what Fox “News” does all day every day is not that funny, considering what it, guided by Roger Ailes, is doing to pollute the minds of millions of our fellow Americans.

A True Story About The War On Poverty

In the middle of a needless controversy over whether Republicans will agree to extend long-term unemployment benefits, The New York Times and USA Today and other outlets have published numerous pieces about what Lyndon Johnson, fifty years ago, called the “War on Poverty.”

Naturally, conservatives, who tend to prefer real wars over metaphorical ones, believe Johnson’s war has been a failure. I saw an outrageous segment just this morning on Fox during which the host—the fair and balanced host—essentially attacked nearly every anti-poverty program in existence while the guest, Fox-infected Democrat Bob Beckel, agreed with her way too often.

All of my adult life, including when I was a Rush Limbaugh Republican, I have heard how liberals’ attempts to make life a little better for the impoverished, to help lift them out of their poverty, have been a colossal failure. That narrative, that “the war on poverty is a failure” narrative, has been a constant thorn in my side, for reasons that will become clear. Lyndon Johnson and Tom Fletcher in Martin County, KentuckyBut there was something in the demagogic and irritatingly opportunistic video released this past weekend by Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio (“After 50 years isn’t it time to declare big government’s war on poverty a failure?”) that compelled me to speak out, in my own little way, against what can only be called a cynical and mean-spirited attempt to gain political points with a Tea Party constituency that apparently knows no shame.

Thus, I will tell you a story about at least one victory in the long war on poverty. It’s a true story. I know it’s a true story because I was there.

Sometime in February of 1975, I found out my girlfriend was pregnant. I was 16 at the time; she was barely 16. When I say 16, yes, I mean 16 years old. We were juniors in high school in a small town in southeast Kansas. If you remember what you were like as a junior in high school, then you know how ridiculous it is to imagine that two high school juniors should bring a child into the world, much less take care of it. My brother-in-law at the time suggested the possibility of an abortion. But abortion was the furthest thing from our young minds. We saw the whole thing as simply the natural result of our admittedly adolescent love for each other, even if that love was destined to deteriorate, before ending in divorce some fifteen years later.

Needless to say, our respective families weren’t exactly thrilled about the prospect of two teenagers from two lower-working-class homes trying to raise a child on their own. And neither of the families were in a position to help all that much, although they did what they could. Along with her two sisters, my girlfriend lived with her divorced mom, who worked as a secretary at a factory that made bib overalls. My dad, born in 1909, was on Social Security. My mom had undergone extensive back surgery by then and was unable to work full time, and she was much too young to receive Social Security benefits herself. My youngest sister was still living at home, since she was all of 10 years old.

Such was the stage on which a very adult drama played out for this new teenager-dominated family.

On that stage, part of that drama, was the federal government. I remind you that this was 1975, just before the age of Republican “government is the problem” demagoguery and stinginess. It was before Democrat Bill Clinton validated much of that demagoguery and stinginess by signing in 1996 a welfare reform bill that was dreamed up by radical “Contract with America” With ‘unbelievably bad’ food stamps proposal, U.S. Senate further criminalizes poorRepublicans led by Newt Gingrich.  For a time our new family—we were married in March of that year—received a small monthly check, as well as food stamps, the kind that came in the form of currency-looking coupons. The kind that everyone in line behind you at the grocery store knew to be government-issue. The kind that made you more than a little embarrassed to pull out and hand to the cashier, which is why my then-wife was the one who had to use them, since I didn’t have the social courage to do so.

In October of 1975 a little girl was born. And, partly thanks to the generosity of the American people, as expressed through legislation that both political parties at one time supported, she grew up healthy. And loved. She grew up to be an educator, an educator with a Master’s degree, and she teaches literature to high school kids, kids about the same age as her parents were when she was conceived. She’s a remarkable person. And she has a remarkable kid of her own. My granddaughter.

Less than a year after my daughter was born, her teenage mom went to work at a nursing home, making somewhere around $2.30 an hour, where her small frame was required to lift in and out of bed heavy senior citizens who couldn’t get in and out of bed by themselves. She hurt herself doing so, and although I can’t be sure, I believe the toll that work took on her afflicts her in some way to this day.

I continued school and worked during the summer for the local municipality, then later the county, courtesy of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, a 1973 anti-poverty program that was signed into law, believe it or not, by a Republican president, after being co-sponsored by both a Democratic and a Republican senator. That bill passed the Senate 88-5. It passed the House 369-31. Imagine that kind of overwhelming bipartisan agreement today on an anti-poverty bill. And imagine a Republican president saying, as President Nixon said, that “it is one of the finest pieces of legislation to come to my desk this year.”

In any case, the teenage mother in this story, who had the relative courage to stand in line with those stigmatizing food coupons in hand in order to buy food for her daughter and cowardly teenage husband, eventually earned a Master’s degree herself. The cowardly husband eventually spent 30 years in the Postal Service and, now retired, blogs as a labor of love.

And somewhere, somewhere in this great and generous country, there are politicians like Marco Rubio who are cynically conspiring to make the realization of a decent life a lot harder, perhaps impossible, for not just careless teenagers who find themselves in the situation I described above, but for others who find themselves in situations that require the community, as expressed through our we-the-people government, to extend a collective hand to those who need it.

People will continue arguing, of course, about the larger success or failure of the War on Poverty. Economist Jared Bernstein made what seems to me to be an unassailable case for its success, but that won’t stop the debate. Yet apart from economists defending its merits, or apart from right-wing pundits pronouncing the whole thing a failure, I can testify that for one small family in one small town in Kansas, that metaphorical war helped a couple of teenage parents and their daughter through some difficult times and helped make them productive and tax-paying citizens. Leaving aside the mere humanity of it, that government investment made in a couple of high school juniors in 1975 actually paid off financially.

And I suspect similar and even more dramatic testimony could be given by many more Americans, many more than Tea Party Republicans and conservatives would care to contemplate.

______________________________________

[Johnson Photo: Walter Bennett, Time]
[Food coupons: NCReedplayer/flickr]

The Lingering Poison Of Cynicism

“Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it.”

—Stephen Colbert, in a commencement speech to Knox College, 2006

A regular conservative commenter on this blog, who also writes a lot of “guest columns” for our local paper and used to be one of its paid bloggers, wrote in recently expressing a rather cynical opinion related to a piece I wrote on the restoration of the Duck Dynasty patriarch. You can read his entire comment here, but I will post below my full response. The reason I think it important to do so is because I think this particular conservative expresses a brand of cynicism that a lot of conservatives still cling to these days, even after the radioactive fallout produced by Mitt Romney’s “47-percent” nuclear blast that surely helped doom his low-denominator campaign and continues to contaminate the Republican Party.

Before I get to my response to this local conservative, I want to share with you a headline from a right-wing “news” site, one that claims with a shout that it “is here reporting THE TRUTH”:

 benefit recipients and full-time workers

That story generated a lot of buzz on the right (among others, Fox’s website picked it up, Bill O’Reilly did a segment on it, Towhhall.com featured it, etc.) because it supported (and still supports) the right-wing’s Romneyesque view of contemporary, Obama-led America. The story is false, of course. A nice summary of why it is false you can find here, but the idea persists that there are too many “takers” among us, and the country will eventually collapse because of them.

With that brief background, here is my response to the local conservative who wrote in:

Just now catching up with the comment section. I saw your post here and, well, I just don’t understand why you continually fail to empathize with others not in your shoes, or who have not walked the paths you have walked. I believe (or at least hope) you are better than this post indicates. 

You expressed your concern regarding “what to do about heterosexual ‘slugs’ always asking for more money for other people and not working to earn it themselves.” Then you added:

Top it all off and look at public education, a factory producing more and more people that demand more and more from government and fail to achieve the basic skills needed to produce more and more for themselves.

All that makes homosexuality and even discrimination (white against black or the reverse thereof) pale in significance as matters of real concern in America today!!

First, your ridiculous indictment of public education would require a much longer response than I am prepared to offer at this point. Suffice it to say that to claim public schools are factories that produce an increasing population of moochers is insultingly outrageous.

Second, you and your right-wing friends—most of whom have at some time or another benefited in some way from the help of others—have this strange fixation on the relatively small number of non-working adults who get relatively ungenerous government benefits for a relatively short period of time. I just don’t get what that fixation is all about, especially while the moneyed class is making off with the country’s wealth and trying to use some of it to bend the nation’s political will to theirs.

Third, because of your strange obsession with the poor “slugs” who get government help, you then fail to imagine just what it would be like to be discriminated against as a homosexual or an African-American. I would bet that if you had ever suffered from institutional and structural discrimination, such as getting fired from your job for being gay (or for merely being perceived as a gay person), you would feel differently. I would also bet that if you were ever told you couldn’t piss in a white toilet because the law suggested you were some kind of inferior being, you would most definitely not say that such things would “pale in significance” to “Democrat over spending.”

Alas, though, you have enjoyed, as a white man in a white-dominated culture most of your life, the relative privileges of that position, and you now fail, as that same white man, to understand or appreciate what every person who has ever suffered from law-blessed discrimination feels in their very bones. 

And that is too bad for you personally, even though it is problem you share with many white conservatives these days. And that sad fact, that so many white folks are so cynical about the country we all claim to love, makes it too bad for all of us.

Duane

High Times

On Thursday out came a column by conservative David Brooks about Colorado and Washington legalizing recreational marijuana use. Soon followed the inevitable mocking on Twitter and elsewhere.

The mocking and ridicule was the result, I think, of the tone Brooks used in order to persuade us that smoking a doobie isn’t exactly on a cultural par with, say, listening to Chopin. He put his objections in terms of a hierarchy of “pleasures,” and you can guess that things like “enjoying the arts or being in nature” are higher pleasures than “being stoned.” He didn’t explain why one can’t enjoy all of those things, even possibly at the same time, but you get the point.

He mentioned getting stoned in school and mucking up a presentation in English class as “still one of those embarrassing memories that pop up unbidden at 4 in the morning.” He said having such “embarrassing incidents” is one of the reasons he quit dope. He suggested that “the point” of getting stoned was to “do stupid things.” I’m glad I never shared a reefer with him. I’ve smoked pot with several people in my time, but I am pretty sure I never smoked it with anyone whose goal at the end was to do stupid things, even though some of them did do stupid things.

In any case, after reading the piece, you come away with the idea that Brooks and the “friends” he frequently references are just better people than the rest of us. He and his friends, after all, no longer have a need for such mind-altering activities like lighting up and mellowing out.  “Most of us developed higher pleasures,” he says presumably without blushing.

He is right, though, to point out that “usage is bound to increase.” Of course it will. That’s common sense, even if it weren’t backed up by some understanding of economics. The whole thing is a social experiment. None of us, not David Brooks, not me, not you, know how the experiment will unfold, what the long-term repercussions will be. Time will tell us more.

But there’s something else about Brooks’ piece that we should note:

Laws profoundly mold culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture? What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? 

Those are good questions. Brooks, and other sober-minded conservatives, have their answers. Tea Party types have theirs. And liberals have ours. The problem is that Brooks, as thoughtful a conservative as you are likely to encounter, ignores the systemic racism tied to our drug laws (for instance: while marijuana use among blacks and whites is fairly similar, the incarceration rate for blacks is astoundingly higher). He ignores how a drug conviction can haunt you the rest of your life. Thus, having asked some good questions about the kind of community “we want our laws to nurture,” it is curious that he couldn’t squeeze in a word or two about what kind of community our drug laws are in fact nurturing.

I wanted to say more about the column, but in reading the comment section (so far there is 1637 of them) I found one that pretty much captures what is wrong (from my point of view) with Brooks’ column particularly and conservative thinking generally. The comment was submitted by “gemli” from Boston:

It’s fortunate that Mr. Brooks and his friends had the option to pursue higher pleasures, and were not consigned by poverty, poor schools, absent parents and dismal futures to take their pleasures where they could find them. For these kids, a poor presentation in English class some forty years earlier doesn’t have the power to disturb their sleep. 

This first-person confession of casual pot smoking is designed to make us think that everyone is equally susceptible to temptations, and equally capable of brushing them aside to develop passions for science and literature and enlargements of the heart. But nothing demonstrates more clearly the tone-deafness of Brooks and his like-minded conservative friends who think that everyone starts out on equal footing. This is a favorite theme of Mr. Brooks: People of Quality rise to the top, while lesser sorts wallow in a despair of their own making. He argued once that it’s pointless to pour money into poor (“chaotic”) neighborhoods, because People of Quality would rise above their lowly station without such help, while the rest would flounder no matter how much public money was wasted on them.

Instead of mollycoddling the disadvantaged by making jobs available, or raising the minimum wage or providing better schools in poor neighborhoods, Brooks thinks the role of government should be to enforce conservative moral values.

See what happens when stoners grow up to write columns in the Times? Kids, please, don’t smoke!

“Maintain Our Humanity”

Perhaps by now you have seen a portion of the video posted below, but I would encourage you to watch it all.

Claire Esther Davis, a 17-year-old senior at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado, was shot in the face on December 13. She died eight days later. A fellow student, angry at losing his spot on the school’s debate team, entered the school that day with a shotgun and home-made bombs. Claire, for no reason at all other than chance, quickly became a victim of a deranged mind in control of a deadly weapon.

Yesterday, on New Year’s Day, Claire’s father, with his wife by his side, spoke at a memorial service in Denver. You may not agree with all of his sentiments. You may argue with some of his reasoning. But you can’t help but admire his absolute devotion to what it means, what it must mean, to live in a civilized world.

“Unchecked anger and rage can lead to hatred, and unchecked hatred can lead to tragedy, blindness and a loss of humanity,” he said at one point. He added a bit later:

To citizens of our community, the state of Colorado, our nation, and the world, we must strive for kindness, compassion, peace, and love to maintain our humanity.

I will here confess that Claire’s father, Michael Davis, and her mother, Desiree, are far better human beings than I will ever hope to be. I have three kids. If any one of them became a murderer’s victim, I’m afraid I would not be able to say the words that Michael Davis says so eloquently. I’m afraid that the last thing on my mind would be kindness, compassion, peace and love. I’m afraid that I wouldn’t talk about maintaining “our humanity.”

Yet somehow this amazing man was able to say those words, and as you will soon be able to see, he meant every single one of them. And as a tribute, not only to Claire Davis and her remarkable parents, but to the idea of maintaining humanity itself, you should take the time to listen to him:

Something To Do This Year

Salon.com published one of those New Year pieces that attempts to look ahead with hope in the heart. This one was titled,

New Year’s resolutions for the left: What liberals can win in 2014

Hmm. I suppose, given what is going on in Congress and what is going on around the country in the various right-wing controlled states, that it is a small victory to even imagine that liberals can “win” anything this year. But perhaps the various contributors to the piece, liberal activists all, are right that some important things can be achieved, even though I have serious doubts. However, what you won’t find on the list of things “liberals can win in 2014″ is perhaps the most crucial of them all, in terms of saving the very idea of American democracy: getting big, bad, and increasingly dark money out of politics.

It was bad enough when rich folks and corporate interests could openly court our legislators and throw money at their campaigns in order to secure the blessings of legislation or the blessings of writing regulations that stem from legislation. Now, dark money, that money that rich people and corporations can put into political activity anonymously—thanks to a conservative-controlled Supreme Court—allows these moneyed interests to control our politics—sometimes both sides of our politics, I hate to say—without us voting peons knowing exactly who is pulling the political and public relations strings.

Let me share with you a recent AP article on what Texas Republicans are worried about. The piece begins:

The deaths this year of three major Texas Republican donors, including a billionaire who died over the weekend, could signal a generational change for party kingmakers in the nation’s largest GOP stronghold.

Now, just why God chose to call home these wealthy right-wingers in 2013 I will leave to your imagination, but while they were still breathing the three managed to help transform Texas:

All three men were considered conservative renegades when they got involved in politics. However, as the state grew more conservative, they became part of the GOP mainstream.

You see? In a state like Texas—where, just like here in Missouri, there are no limits to how much dough you can stuff into the pockets of politicians—if you have enough money you can make the stream of politics bend to your will.

One of those Texas billionaire gave $31 million—think about how much money that is—to conservative groups in just a two-year cycle (2011-2012). Another gave “at least $75 million in political contributions in his lifetime.” And that doesn’t count the Supreme Court-blessed dark money he was able to give without his name publicly attached.

Ominously, the AP writer, speaking of the dark money aspect of today’s environment, wrote:

The full extent of their donations may never be known, since many were made privately.

“Privately.” Their donations were made privately. Their donations to public campaigns, to public policy initiatives, were made privately, so that the public would not be in a position to judge whether the public relations campaigns on TV and radio, and whether the politicians they elected, were serving the public interests or the interests of a private political donor or donors who had a lot to gain.

It’s shameful. And it is sad that many liberals don’t even dream of changing things, although some still are gallantly trying.

To end this beginning-of-the-year downer, I will leave you with a peek into the world of my congressman, Ozark Billy Long. I checked on the Federal Election Commission’s site to see how Billy was spending his donors’ dough this year. Remarkably, the man who has struggled with his weight has spent a lot of money on meals and fancy hotels and, well, don’t tell anybody, but some of those expenditures happily coincide with Billy’s fondness for the poker tables.

In April of 2013 he jetted out to Vegas and spent about $1500 bucks (from his campaign war chest) for accommodations at the Venetian (a big poker tourney was going on at the time). Earlier in the year he flew down to Florida (paid for by the campaign donors) and spent almost $2400 of campaign cash at The Ritz-Carlton in Naples. You ever been to a Ritz-Carlton? I know, I know, me neither. Here’s what the one Billy stayed at looks like:

ritz carlton in naplesJust in case some of you cold southwest Missourians think that anyone who can afford it ought to be able to pass time on a pristine beach in the middle of winter in Naples, Florida, I will agree with you. I just don’t think politicians ought to be able to do it on money given to them by donors, that’s all. If Ozark Billy wants to belly-up to a beach-side bar in paradise, he ought to have to spend his own money.

Oh, have you ever been to The New York Palace in Manhattan? Didn’t think so. But Ozark Billy has. He spent $1329 there in June of last year, all of it from campaign funds. If you ever decide to run for Congress and win, here’s what you can look forward to your donors paying for:

They don’t call it The New York Palace for nothing. Man, what a place. And paid for by anyone who has ever given Billy Long a dollar, or a thousand, or ten thousand. Mind you, campaign expenditures aren’t secrets, even if the sources of the money given to political activities are fast becoming very secretive. In fact, Randy Turner, writing for Daily Kos, has done a good job of documenting Ozark Billy’s use of campaign funds, especially the fact that the hungry congressman has spent a lot of campaign dough on meals, while voting to pass a farm bill without funding for the food stamp program.

In any case, my particular favorite Billy Long meal expense was a couple of meals at a Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Manhattan in August of 2013. These two “campaign event” meals cost more than $2000. That’s a lot of Ruth’s Chris. But here’s the way I like to think of it in order to make myself feel better. A local family of wealthy Republicans, the Humphreys (who are well-known nationally as big-time donors), have given thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars to Ozark Billy. In fact, David Humphreys gave Long $2500 in March of 2013. It sort of makes me feel good to imagine that most of that money was spent at a steak house in New York City feeding the fed-up congressman and his entourage, or possibly all of it was spent at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples. You know what I mean?

But I wonder how it makes David Humphreys feel? Oh, then again I suppose it doesn’t really matter. When you have big money to toss around, it probably doesn’t worry you all that much that some of it ends up at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Manhattan or at the Venetian in Vegas or at The New York Palace or at a resort complex overlooking a beautiful beach in Florida. It’s just the price of doing business.

However, if you want to help change this sick and sickening system, there are ways to do it. Go here or here or here or here or here. Go somewhere and do something before more damage is done. It is, after all, a new year.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 591 other followers

%d bloggers like this: