Buried Or Burnt, Fred Phelps R.I.P.

“Dying time is truth time, and so we preach truth to you regardless of who has died.  Your vitriolic bilge is of no concern to us, and we indeed rejoice in it since every article written, every tweet tweeted, every talking head spouting off about this death puts forth this one blessed theological maxim – God Hates Fags.”

—Statement from The Westboro Baptist Church, March 22, 2014

I was all prepared to write a blistering condemnation of Fred Phelps, the fundamentalist preacher who founded a strange church in Topeka, Kansas. Phelps will be defined, at least publicly, by his hate-filled crusade to rid the world of gay people, and I couldn’t wait to lash out at the man whose church-family uses the funerals of dead American soldiers to spread a gospel of scorn. I was ready to send off Phelps to the same place that he and his followers have joyously sent countless others—to an imaginary hell.

But then I read this:

I feel bad for his family. We have to remember he was a father, a grandfather, a great grandfather first. Some people do crazy things and just because they do crazy things doesn’t make them less human.

That was said by Rebecca Laubengayer, who was visiting her father in Topeka when Phelps died. Her father took her to the infamous Westboro Baptist Church because Rebecca wanted to see it. She lives in California, where homosexual marriage is legal and where she is able to marry her partner, which she will soon do. And I suppose if anyone had reason to vehemently condemn Fred Phelps, it would be someone like Rebecca Laubengayer. Why didn’t she?

Maybe for the same reason that Phelps’ granddaughter, Megan Phelps-Roper, didn’t condemn him. There is, after all, more to people than what we see in public, even if what we see is unquestionably reprehensible. Before her grandpa died, Megan Phelps-Roper wrote a letter to him, which included this:

To the whole world you were only ever the face of an evil entity. But of course to me you were always my Gramps. My kind, sweet, adoring Gramps. I miss you so much. I wish the sisters & I could meet you & Granny for another shake party up in your room (we’ll even bring your favorite strawberry one from McDonald’s).

I’m sorry for every second we’ve been apart this last year and four months. I’m sorry I didn’t appreciate you more when you were mine. I’m sorry our human frames are so weak & we couldn’t spend an eternity together on earth in perfect health. I’m sorry for what the church has done to our family. I’m sorry the media rejoices in the declining health of a human being. I’m sorry people reflect back the same hate & judgment that WBC delivers. I’m sorry you got trapped into a deluded way of thinking to the point that you were willing to hurt other people & yourself in order to serve a god out of fear. I’m sorry. I just am. I’m sorry I can’t hold your hand again & cry & reminisce with you as you lay on your death bed.

“You’re my great, big, beautiful doll!” You used to tell me. I wish I could hear you say it once more. This time I promise to know how much you mean to me. I never could have asked for a better grandpa.

– your gracie.

All of that sort of turns Fred Phelps into something other than the “evil entity” we came to know. It makes it hard to write a Phelps-goes-to-hell obituary after thinking about the way his granddaughter, who obviously doesn’t subscribe to his horrific theology, saw him. He was her “Gramps” and she refused to “reflect back the same hate & judgment” that Phelps specialized in. Good for her.

I know there will be no funeral for Fred Phelps—“No funerals, no wakes, no tributes, no scholarship funds, no public memorials or candlelight vigils,” says the staying-on-message church—but I don’t know whether he will be buried or whether the family will cremate his remains. What is certain is that all of us should bury or cremate the ancient beliefs that support such hatred as Fred Phelps preached and many of his family and church members still preach.

We need to bury or burn such theological trash because too many people, as Megan Phelps-Roper put it so well, get “trapped into a deluded way of thinking to the point” that they  are “willing to hurt other people” and themselves as a way of serving “a god out of fear.” Instead of spending a lot of time condemning Fred Phelps for what he preached, let’s spend a lot of time condemning the ideas in those ancient texts from which he derived his hatred. Let’s bury those old ideas with an avalanche of science or burn them with the fire of reason.

Because it’s not just the Phelps family that is spreading such hate. Prominent evangelicals, like Franklin Graham, son of Billy, are spreading it too, even if they hide behind softer language and employ less confrontational tactics.  As Steve Benen and others have pointed out, Graham recently praised Vladimir Putin for taking “a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.”

Graham, who has questioned President Obama’s Christian faith and who endorsed Mitt Romney for president in 2012, said that Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have “turned their backs on God and His standards” and that “Russia’s standard is higher than our own” here in America. That wasn’t said a year ago or six months ago. It was said after Putin started an international crisis by invading and annexing Crimea. It was said after Putin appointed Dmitry Kiselyov to run the new state-owned media conglomerate, Rossiya Segodnya. Kiselyov has argued, as The Washington Post reported,

that Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws should go further, and that homosexuals should be banned from giving blood or donating sperm. When a homosexual dies in an accident, he argued, their heart should be buried or burnt to ensure it couldn’t be used as a transplant for anyone else.

What should be buried or burnt are literal interpretations of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. What should be buried or burnt are anti-homosexual interpretations of the myth of Sodom and Gomorrah. What should be buried or burnt are interpretations of Romans 1:18-32 that take seriously the Apostle Paul’s claim that homosexuals are “worthy of death.” All of that and more should be put away from among us here in the 21st century.

And we can begin to take such action even without wishing the worst for deluded people like Franklin Graham or, now dead, Fred Phelps. Because, as his granddaughter put it,

One way or another, he’s at peace. There’s only Heaven or peaceful nothingness. That’s what I think.

westboro and lorde

How Much Voter Fraud Is There In Kansas? This Much: 0.00001156069

On a local radio show in Wisconsin, a retiring Republican state senator, Dale Schultz, told the truth about his party and its desire to keep voter turnout as low as possible. He said that the so-called “reforms” that Republicans are fixated on and are ramming through legislatures, including his own, are “all predicated on some belief there is a massive fraud or irregularities,” but that is something that his fellow Republicans “have failed miserably at demonstrating.” Then Schultz really dug down to the heart of the matter:

It’s just sad when a political party has so lost faith in its ideas that it’s pouring all of its energy into election mechanics. We should be pitching as political parties our ideas for improving things in the future rather than mucking around in the mechanics and making it more confrontational at the voting sites and trying to suppress the vote.

The only idea the Republican Party has any faith in at all happens to be how to suppress the vote more efficiently. And one is tempted to admire the tenacity with which Republicans pursue that one anti-democratic, anti-American idea, even if one is disgusted by it.

And speaking of disgusting, Kansas’ secretary of state, Kris Kobach, one of the most disgusting politicians in the country, won a major, but hopefully temporary, victory  for voter suppression, as the AP reported yesterday:

Federal officials must help Kansas and Arizona enforce laws requiring new voters to document their U.S. citizenship, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, in a decision that could encourage other Republican-led states to consider similar policies.

Kobach said,

This is a really big victory, not just for Kansas and Arizona but for all 50 states. Kansas has paved the way for all states to enact proof-of-citizenship requirements.

Mind you there is exactly no evidence that hordes of non-citizens are voting in Kansas or anywhere else. Okay, that isn’t quite right. Kobach himself admits that he has found “20 or so” of those mysterious non-citizens on Kansas voter registration rolls. I’ll leave you to do the math as to what percentage of 1.73 million registered voters that number 20 represents. On second thought, no I won’t. Here’s the percentage:

0.00001156069

That tiny number, which roughly corresponds to the amount of patriotism found in all of the GOP kill-the-vote measures around the country, is what Kris Kobach wants you and me to think is motivating him. But even without looking at that tiny number we know better. Even without Wisconsin Republican Dale Schultz, we know the truth. Republicans are fresh out of policy ideas that appeal to a majority of Americans. Fresh out. The only thing they have left, as part of a desperate effort to stave off the coming demographic tide nationwide, is to make it harder for folks, many of them potential Democrats, to vote.

And needless to say, the extra proof-of-citizenship requirement, that unnecessary hindrance to voting that Kobach is so proud of, will make it tough for some poor and elderly voters to comply with. It’s not easy for some people to come up with the money to produce, if they even exist, the documents that will assure Kobach that they are white Republicans, or excuse me, American citizens. And some of those people, perhaps many of them, won’t even bother to try. It’s hard enough to get citizens who have all their papers in order to exercise their right to vote, let alone get people to register who don’t have the paperwork handy to prove they’re Americans.

All of this is just one example of why this polling chart on political party ID looks like it does:

party id

Down, down, down, goes that red line. And as far as I’m concerned, it can go all the way down to hell, where the Republican Party, as we know it today, certainly belongs.

What Pulaski County, Arkansas, Tells Us About The GOP And The Press

On the surface, it seems like such a small controversy.

In Arkansas, last Tuesday, there was a special election in Pulaski County. The issue was whether the public would approve a tax increase to fund Pulaski Technical College, the state’s largest two-year school. It’s the kind of election that has much to say about local communities and what kind of places they are (for the record, the tax increase lost by a 3-1 margin). But this election, and the controversy attached to it, has much to say about the Republican Party, not only in Arkansas, but across the country. You see, what happened last week is the direct result of the profound fear conservatives have of democracy, of the people. As Think Progress reported:

In 2013, the Arkansas legislature enacted a voter ID law containing a provision requiring absentee voters to include a copy of their ID along with their ballot. The result, according to a statement Pulaski County Election Commissioner Chris Burks gave to the Arkansas Times, is that 76 of the 384 absentee ballots cast in last Tuesday’s election were not counted. Burks added that, “[i]n my opinion, those absentee ballots returned without ID were 76 real people’s votes that would have otherwise counted but for the sloppily drafted Voter ID bill.”

That sloppily drafted Voter ID bill, which robbed some people of their fundamental right to speak in an election, was vetoed by Arkansas’ Democratic Governor Mike Beebe. Republicans, firmly in control of the Arkansas legislature, if not their American senses, overrode the governor’s veto, claiming, as they do all over the country where this anti-democratic spirit thrives, that the law would prevent the non-existent problem of “voter fraud.”

Of course, the only fraud going on is the notion that Republicans give a damn about free and fair elections. They don’t. What they care about is winning elections without appealing to a wide swath of the electorate. And it is an absolute fact that the more people there are who participate in elections, the less likely it is that Republicans will win them. Thus, it is not a scandal in the Republican Party to disenfranchise as many voters as possible, particularly voters who might vote for Democrats. Disenfranchising potentially Democratic voters is the only way Republicans can survive in the short term, as the deadly combination of Tea Party dominance of the party and changing demographics doom the future prospects of the GOP as it is now constituted.

But we Democrats know all that. What we don’t know is this: Why has the mainstream press largely ignored the anti-democratic spirit that now animates the Republican Party? Why isn’t it front-page news that Republicans all over the nation are essentially trying to change the outcomes of elections by making it harder for people to vote? And why don’t those 76 voters in Pulaski County, Arkansas, whose vote didn’t count last week, have their faces on the evening news?

john lewis

Short-Term, Long-Term Hope For Democrats

Republicans are still trash-talking Democrats over the results of that special election in Florida’s 13th congressional district—you know, the one in which Republicans held on to a seat they had won for the last gazillion years, in which they beat a Democrat who didn’t really live in the district, and in which they beat her by a measly two points. But in order to hold on to that seat Republicans had to resort to lying about Democrats cutting Medicare, which is an old scam that will still fool large numbers of geezers—nearly 25% of residents in that Florida district are 65 or older—who hate big government except when it comes to their Social Security checks and Medicare coverage.

In any case, as David Axelrod pointed out last night on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, the key to this Republican victory, much bigger than the lies about Medicare cuts and ObamaCare, is that people inclined to vote for Democrats just don’t show up to vote in special elections or in off-year, non-presidential elections. In 2012, voter turnout in Florida’s 13th District was well over 70%. For this election it was an underwhelming 39.43%. And we know that people axelrod and hayesmotivated by fear or hate, or a devilish combination of both, are much more energized to go to the trouble of voting in low-profile elections than folks who are trying to scratch out a living every day. Thus, Democratic candidates suffer.

Axelrod said:

If Democrats are going to hold their own in the midterm elections, Democrats have to figure out a way to get turnout up or you’re gonna see defeats all over the map.

When asked what Democrats could do to fix the turnout problem, particularly in this coming election, Axelrod, the great political strategist for two winning Obama campaigns, offered this:

…we have to apply some of the technology, and some of the approaches that we used to get up turnout in battleground states, and really use analytics and research to identify where our voters are, to communicate with those people who we think we have the best chance to motivate. That’s point number one.

Point number two: For all this talk about how the President is radioactive, in many of the states that are in contention, particularly in the Senate race and in the South, the ability to motivate minority voters, African-American voters, is going to be very, very important. And using the President, First Lady, and others, surgically, to increase that turnout is going to be very, very important. 

And then finally I think we got to go at them. I don’t think we should be back on our hind legs on healthcare. I don’t think we should let them define that fight. I think we should go at them on the minimum wage and some of these economic issues that go right to the heart of people’s pocketbooks. I think we ought to talk directly to women, who are very receptive to the Democratic message.

So, there are a series of things we have to do, but this should be a warning sign that if we don’t change the nature of  turnout in the fall, we’re gonna have a big problem. 

Turnout, turnout, turnout. That has to be the focus or we lose. But leaving that aside for a moment, the message is important, too. And as an example of going at Republicans and not backing down, of not being on our hind legs on healthcare, I quickly offer what Missouri’s Attorney General, Chris Koster—who will likely be the Democratic candidate for governor in 2016—said recently:

The Affordable Care Act was a Republican idea, for goodness sakes. They’re just pissed that we stole it…We Democrats believe in a basic bargain: Our children should be educated, our sick should have medicine, and our seniors should never live in poverty. 

Koster, a former Republican, also said:

There may be no issue with which I disagree more with my former party than the issue of public health. On issues of medical research, on access to contraception, on expansion of health care to low- and moderate-income citizens…I am still frustrated by my former party’s 1950s-style public-health policies.

Yes! That’s the way you fight back against the attacks on ObamaCare. Call the reactionaries what they are: people who want to turn back the clock and endanger the country by doing so. And as far as Medicaid expansion in Missouri, which will help some 300,000 folks and create some 24,000 new jobs in the state, Koster was equally aggressive:

Put aside the lives that this will save. Put aside the healthy outcomes that will result. Put aside the emergency room visits that never should occur. This expansion proposal is still the best darn economic development proposal that this state has seen in the last 25 years. And for no other reason than because Barack Obama passed it, this legislature is willing to deny the health and economic benefits of  expansion simply to spite a president.

That is the way you fight in the short term. Go on the offensive. Don’t back down or apologize for doing what is right. Fight.

But even if we fight, even if we stay aggressive, the reality of low voter turnout still may doom us this year. And should that happen, I want to now offer up a little hope for the future, a cushion to break the fall this fall.

Amid all the strangeness that went on at last weekend’s CPAC circus, I saw a panel discussion involving conservative Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who is one of the top dogs among right-wing political consultants. He was trying to tell Republicans the truth about their electoral future, namely that if they don’t open their eyes to the changing demographics of America, they are doomed as a national party. To a mostly white audience of conservatives he said:

The percentage of the national electorate that is white is declining at an increasing rate. 

He presented this graph:
whites as a percentage of the electorate over time

Ayres pointed out to the gathered palefaced Palinistas that, yes, Republicans will have a very good year in 2014, mainly because “the white proportion of the electorate is about 5 percentage points higher in midterm elections.” (Whoopee! White = right!) But then he dropped the news that the 2014 midterm election “is only a temporary respite, because the ethnic makeup of younger Americans differs dramatically from older Americans.” (Uh-oh.) He presented a chart of the ethnicity of people alive today:

ethnicity of people alive todayAs you can see, and as Ayres told the faithful, white people under five years of age make up only 52% of the population. And the trend is down from there. He finished up with this graph of future reality:

white non-white composition of population

That declining number of whites, as a percentage of our population, represents not only the reason why we see so much white fear and anxiety associated with Barack Obama, but it represents the declining fortunes of a reactionary, Tea Party-controlled GOP. The future of the Republican Party looks bleak, if things don’t change. The long-term prospects for Democrats, no matter what happens this year, look good.

But, as David Axelrod reminds us, if Democrats can’t figure out a way to get our folks out to vote in every election, every year, then the reactionaries will continue to muck up our politics and our country for many—too many—years to come.

Joplin’s Ron Richard And Why Missouri Is Headed “South”

All you need to know about the state of politics here in Missouri is found in this lede today from the Associated Press:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Federal agents would be sent to jail for enforcing some federal gun control laws under legislation endorsed by a Missouri House panel.

The ridiculous and unconstitutional quasi-secessionist legislation passed the state senate last month. In the mean time, Joplin’s Ron Richard, who is the Senate Majority Leader and who helped craft this revised version of a bill that he voted against last year, said this recently:

We’re the poster child for the second amendment in the country. 

No, we’re the poster child for stupidity, legislative malfeasance, and wasting government resources, since many millions will be needed to defend this nutty idea in court, if it ever becomes law.

In the mean time, to give you a further idea of what it is like here in regressive Missouri, made so with a lot of help from Joplin’s most important state legislator since Moses was floating on the Nile, try this:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Senate Majority Floor Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said Thursday he support using a rarely used Senate procedure to force a vote on legislation that would triple the current 24-hour waiting period for abortions.

Richard’s response to those who thought that Democrats, what few there are, in the state senate might not like his use of this procedural tactic—which hasn’t been used since 2007, and then, too, on an anti-choice bill—was a classic authoritarian impulse:

We’ve gotten along very well. We’re just in the majority, and I want to do what I want to do.

Some day, God or Allah or demographics willing, the reactionaries won’t be in the majority here in Missouri. But they are in the process of winning the race to the bottom and help better arrive real soon.

A Black Congressman Has No Rights That A White Congressman Is Bound To Respect, Or What Darrell Issa Was Hiding

By now everyone has seen the confrontation between Darrell Issa, Republican chairman of the House’s Invent-A-Scandal Committee, and Elijah Cummings, ranking Democrat on what used to be the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. But as usual most of the television press is focusing on the confrontation, which was bad enough and embarrassing enough, but not on what Mr. Cummings was trying to say when Issa tried to shut him up.

I saw Darrell Issa’s appearance on Fox last Sunday and I cringed. Watching Fox do journalism is sort of like watching my wiener dog do the Watusi. After a while you just want to hide your eyes and hope it will soon be over. It just ain’t natural. In any case, Issa was given a chance to roll back his vicious lie about Hillary Clinton—that during the Benghazi attacks she told the military “to stand down”—and Chris Wallace didn’t put up much of a fight when Issa said he didn’t mean to be “explicit” and was just “answering questions in a political fundraiser.” Okay, Darrell, good enough for Fox!

But what interested me about Issa’s appearance was when he told Wallace that Lois Lerner, who was director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division when the trouble with tax-exempt political groups flared up, was apparently willing to testify, after previously pleading the Fifth. Her lawyer told Issa as much, said the chairman. Yippy! I said to myself. Maybeissa and cummingsshe will finally shut up those scandal-mad Republicans (even though her emails should have shut them up already) and Fox can get back to its phony Benghazi scandal full-time. Except that the lawyer says he didn’t tell Issa that. And except that when she appeared yesterday she still hung on to the Constitution.

Issa tried to embarrass Ms. Lerner by forcing her to not answer all of his questions, by forcing her to once again say the magic words regarding our precious Fifth Amendment. And that is when the fight with Elijah Cummings comes in. Below is a partial transcript of that sorry episode, which goes beyond what most of us saw on television replays of the event. This transcript tells you all you need to know about why Darrell Issa did not want to respect Mr. Cummings’ right to speak (go to Media Matters for more excellent reporting on the whole thing):

CUMMINGS: Mr. Chairman, I have a procedural question…Mr. Chairman, you cannot run a committee like this. You just cannot do this. We’re better than that as a country. We’re better than that as a committee. I have asked for a few minutes to ask—(interrupted by Issa)—I am a ranking member on this committee and I want to ask a question. What are you hiding? What’s the big deal? May I ask my question? May I state my statement?

ISSA: You’re all free to leave. We’re adjourned. The gentleman may ask his question.

CUMMINGS: Thank you very much. Mr. Chairman, I have one procedural question. And it goes to trying to help you get the information by the way that you just asked.

ISSA: What is your question?

CUMMINGS: No, no. Let me say what I have to say. I’ve listened to you for the last fifteen or twenty minutes. Let me say what I have to say. Chairman, I have one procedural question—

ISSA: Ms. Lerner, you’re released. You may…

CUMMINGS: But first I would like to use my time to make some brief points.  For the past year, the central Republican accusation in this investigation [microphone cut] has been—

ISSA: We’re adjourned, close it down.

CUMMINGS: — that this was political collusion directed by, or on behalf of, the White House. Before our committee received a single document or interviewed one witness, Chairman Issa went on national television and said, and I quote, “This was the targeting of the President’s political enemies effectively and lies about it during the election year.” End of quote. He continued this theme—

ISSA: Ask your question.

CUMMINGS: If you will sit down, and allow me to ask the question, I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America. I am tired of this. We have members over here each who represent between them 700,000 people. You cannot just have a one-sided investigation. There is absolutely something wrong with that! That is absolutely un-American!

ISSA: We had a hearing. Hearing’s adjourned. I gave you an opportunity to ask a question, you had no question.

CUMMINGS: I do have a question.

ISSA: I gave you time for…you gave a speech.

CUMMINGS: Chairman, what are you hiding?

UNIDENTIFIED DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSMAN: He’s taking the Fifth, Elijah. (Laughter.)

CUMMINGS: He continued this theme on Sunday, when he appeared on Fox News to discuss a Republican staff report, claiming that Miss Lerner was quote, at the center of this effort to, quote, target conservative groups. Although he provided a copy of his report to Fox, he refused my request to provide it to the members of the committee. The facts are, he cannot support these claims. We have now interviewed 38 employees, who have all told us the same thing. That the White House did not direct this…or even know about it at the time it was occurring. And none of the witnesses have provided any political motivation. The Inspector General, Russell George, told us the same thing. He found no evidence of any White House involvement, or political motivation.

No evidence of White House involvement? No evidence of political motivation? But who needs evidence when you’ve got Fox doing wiener-dog-Watusi journalism!

Exploring The Left’s Own Obsession

I said on Monday that there is “something seriously wrong” with Senator Lindsey Graham, as well as others on the right who are suffering from an Obama-induced detachment from reality. Graham had blamed the invasion of Ukraine on the President, saying, We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression.”

Whatever is wrong with Senator Graham (and, please, let’s stop blaming it on his primary election and the need to please radicals in his party; that makes what he’s doing worse, not better), the disorder has deepened. Yesterday he tweeted:

graham tweet

In comes the bizarre conservative obsession with Benghazi, which means that rational thought is on vacation. Even in times that call for some semblance of national unity, in the face of thuggish behavior by a thuggish despot, we get Benghazi. How sad that is.

But I don’t want to just pick on conservatives, when it comes to foreign policy obsessions. On the far left we have an equally strange and disunifying foreign policy obsession: Barack Obama and George W. Bush are the same people, just different colors.

A long-time follower of this blog, and a man of the left, Gerry Malan, commented on my piece on the right-wing’s hysterical reaction to what happened in Ukraine. He said,

We have proof of two US State Department high officials confirming their plan to install a new client regime in the Ukraine.

When I asked him to provide such proof, he responded with this:

Not sure how you missed the Nuland recording where she and our Ukraine ambassador discussed cutting out the EU and putting in our own selected thugs. Here it is from Foreign Policy on Focus:http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/02/21-8

Today on Common Dreams Ray McGovern explains more of the Obama/State Department grab for the Crimea:http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/03/02-2

I highly recommend reading more from RT and less from Morning Joe.

So, I spent some time following those links and reading the content. And I’m still waiting for “proof” that the Obama administration tried to install “our own selected thugs,” or that there is any such thing as “the Obama/State Department grab for the Crimea.”

On the day it was released, I listened to the famous secretly-recorded phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt (hear it here or read a transcript here). That call featured Nuland saying “Fuck the EU.” Besides that one bit of profanity, what I heard during that call is not what some liberals, way too many I’m sad to say, heard in it.

As Gerry Malan’s comment makes clear, and as the writers he references also make clear, what some folks heard was a secret and grand attempt at American imperialism, executed by “neoconservatives” in the Obama administration. But what I heard was not some worrisome conspiracy to bring down a democratically-elected president, but two people discussing events in Ukraine that were not started by the United States, nor part of a plot to set up a “client regime” in that country, but events that lent themselves to some democracy- and better government-favoring manipulation by the United States. And I’d be disappointed if we were not doing that kind of “meddling” in such events, since I have a fondness for democracy and good government and believe we should help those Ukrainians who also have a fondness for those things. Especially when it doesn’t involve American troops and trillions of dollars.

As for that Russian-leaked phone call, let’s remember what Jonathan Marcus pointed out was the reason for it:

The clear purpose in leaking this conversation is to embarrass Washington and for audiences susceptible to Moscow’s message to portray the US as interfering in Ukraine’s domestic affairs.

“For audiences susceptible to Moscow’s message.” I don’t want to be in that audience. I tend to side with my own guys when a Russian thug is hard at work trying to embarrass them. I’m sorry that some liberals don’t have that same disposition. Unlike too many lefties, I will need a whole lot more than what I heard in that phone call to get me to buy what the Russians, and to some extent folks in the far-left press, are selling.

And one guy on the far left trying to sell this conspiracy is Patrick Smith, who wrote one of the articles that Gerry Malan linked to and presumably helped him conclude that, “We have proof of two US State Department high officials confirming their plan to install a new client regime in the Ukraine.” Smith is a long-time journalist and foreign correspondent, but to give you an idea of the kind of pieces he writes these days, he recently wrote an article for Salon.com titled, The world is right to hate us: Arrogance, ignorance and obscene foreign policy,” and subtitled, “This White House was supposed to be different. But our arrogant foreign policy has been the same since the 1950s.” That sort of gives you an idea where Smith stands.

Now, on to what he writes about that intercepted phone call and the recent events in Ukraine:

…we get to hear two American diplomats talking about Washington’s plan, already in motion, to install a client regime in the Ukraine.

Ah. There is that “install a client regime in Ukraine” stuff. But think about it. Even if there were proof of such a plot, it is hard to see just what we would do with such a client regime, especially when the opposition who would lead such a regime are, in the words of Patrick Smith, full of “oligarchs of the new Russian model.” Just why would we want to get mixed up with those guys in such an intimate way?

But even Patrick Smith isn’t quite bold enough to make the claim that there is “proof” that such a vast neocon-led conspiracy was and is going on:

With Kiev again erupting in violent confrontation, an understanding of the possible role of covert activities is essential to a complete picture.

“Possible role of cover activities”? Possible? Proof is more than speculation. Proof is more than saying it is wise to have “an understanding of the possible role of covert activities” in the confrontation going on in Ukraine and in what Gerry Malan and other liberals are calling a “plan to install a new client regime in the Ukraine.” If there is proof, present it. That intercepted phone call is not proof. But there is evidence all over the place that what led to the fall of the government in Ukraine was homegrown frustration with corruption and malfeasance. Whether the protesters went too far and committed their share of violence, and whether there are neo-fascists and other miscreants among their ranks, is another question. We are debating here whether the United States government deliberately toppled a democratically-elected president.

I admit I am suspicious of anyone, like Patrick Smith, who tries to make the case for a conspiracy to install that new client regime but who also says that “demonizing Yanukovich is a distraction.” What? Viktor Yanukovich, the former Ukrainian president, caused turmoil in the country, ordered the killing of civilians, and looted the treasury. I don’t find demonizing him a distraction and I’m suspicious of the motives of any writer who could so cavalierly dismiss his role in the mess.

I also find suspicious the writer’s motives when he says things like this:

There is a tendency among the East European nations to idealize the West, as if westernizing is the solution to all problems. I see this among the Kiev demonstrators. It is a mistake. Disillusion is never far when people follow this line of thought to its end.

That sounds like good old-fashioned lefty-loathing of Western civilization, a disease that some liberals just can’t shake. And for some of them the disease gets worse when a Democrat is in the White House. I wish I had the cure for such an illness, but I don’t. Western civilization, for all its faults, is better than the alternative. Therefore I tend to give it the benefit of the doubt. I wish all Westerners did.

As for the actual speculation on this client regime stuff, Mr. Smith writes:

More interesting by far are the machinations Nuland and Pyatt describe. The American plot revolves around manipulating various figures in the opposition, backing the fortunes of some, keeping others from the table, and thereby inducing a friendly, post–Yanukovich government of one kind or another, compromised from its very conception.

And what exactly is wrong with such manipulation, so long as it is not accomplished at the point of a gun? I’d like for any liberal to explain to me why it isn’t a proper component of our foreign policy, as part of a larger Western strategy, to attempt to curb the appetite of a Russian despot? Mr. Smith also says:

The West unites around the thought of undermining Putin’s neo-imperial ambitions and pushing institutions such as NATO up to his doorstep.

So? Isn’t that what we should be doing? Isn’t “undermining” people like Putin a worthy objective? Or have liberals become so critical of Western civilization that they can no longer distinguish between the good and the bad? At one point Ambassador Pyatt says during the phone call with Assistant Secretary of State Nuland:

I’m just thinking in terms of sort of the process moving ahead we want to keep the moderate democrats together.

Is that some awful conspiracy? Keeping those “moderate democrats together.” What next? Will we have the gall to advocate for a chicken in every Ukrainian pot? Seriously, this left-wing criticism is surreal. Since when are liberals opposed to democracy and good government and thwarting the ambitions of thugs? So what that we publicly said we were peace-loving brokers regarding the uprising, while behind the scenes we are trying to make good things happen more than we dared to publicly admit. God, I hope we do that stuff all the time. We have national interests, even if sometimes they President-elect Putin watches the tactical exercises of Russia's Northern Fleet in the Barentsevo Sea on April 6, 2000. He has been at the helm during a decade of Russian economic growth fueled by natural resources of gas and oil.are only what should be non-controversial interests (at least for Americans) in seeing to it, the best we can, that good democratic governance has a chance to flourish where it is wanted. To me, that is better—and much different—than invading Iraq and forcing it on people, like the real George W. Bush did.

What I find appalling about all this is the idea that what the United States was trying to do, shape events as best they could in favor of better democratic angels in Ukraine, is worse than what the Russians were and are doing, including endorsing the use of deadly force against Ukrainian civilians and still implicitly threatening such force. If this is what hard-core liberalism has become, count me out. I think I can still tell the good guys from the bad ones, even if, in this case, one of the “good guys” is Victoria Nuland, a career foreign service officer who, after she worked for Bill Clinton, then worked for neocons like Bush and Cheney, before working for Barack Obama. In any case, even if we were talking about bad guys, we aren’t exactly talking about torture or starting a war on false pretenses here, even though one of the commenters on Smith’s piece wrote,

Obomba is a thug who heads a thug state (see Engelhardt’s article of yesterday here at CD), and it seems that by now this ought to be clear to anyone who has been paying attention to his appointments, his bellicose foreign policy, and assassination program. No different in fact from Bush the Lesser and an entire lineage of U.S. presidents who threw their weight around all over the planet, plundering, occupying, killing, etc. That is (why) Nuland was appointed as she was. She is the perfect agent of a rogue state.

What a load of America-loathing bullshit. But this thinking, engendered by the kind of writing Patrick Smith does these days, represents what some folks on the far left think. They fail to differentiate between bad, better, and best. It sounds so much like what I hear a lot of Obama-hating conservatives say. As I said, count me out as wanting to join that kind of liberalism, which I find every bit as darkly conspiratorial as anything Glenn Beck could fantasize into existence. And thank God or Allah that Obama isn’t that kind of liberal either, just like he isn’t the same kind of neoconservative thinker that led us to a foolish war during the Bush administration.

For the record, as many mistakes as America has made in its foreign policy, and believe me there have been a lot, trying to seek out and help “moderate democrats” in Ukraine doesn’t rise to the level of the “assassination program,” for God’s sake. Those of us on the left, who value the principles of good-government democracy, shouldn’t let an obsession with misguided neo-conservative “regime change” philosophy get in the way of appreciating the fact that we, as a nation of freedom-loving democrats, should still be friends of liberty everywhere, even if we screw things up now and then.

The deal about all this “fuck the EU” business is that the U.S. diplomats were expressing frustration at the slow-walking EU folks, who want to avoid a confrontation with Russia and a mean-spirited despot like Putin, who controls much of their energy needs. In that context, we all should be applauding what these two U.S. diplomats were trying to do, not accuse them of evil. It’s not exactly like they were trying to establish the Ukrainian version of the bleeping Third Reich.

As for Gerry Malan’s other link to an article by former CIA analyst Ray McGovern—who was a daily briefer for George H. W. Bush but who now thinks Julian Assange is a “hero”—I will only quote one passage:

In early February, as violent protests raged in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and the White House professed neutrality, U.S. State Department officials were, in the words of NYU professor emeritus of Russian studies Stephen Cohen, “plotting a coup d’état against the elected president of Ukraine.”

Is “regime change” in Ukraine the bridge too far for the neoconservative “regime changers” of Official Washington and their sophomoric “responsibility-to-protect” (R2P) allies in the Obama administration? Have they dangerously over-reached by pushing the putsch that removed duly-elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych?

What? There is no evidence, not to mention proof, that the United States pushed “the putsch” that ended Yanukovych’s presidency. Protests in Ukraine initially began in November of last year, after Yanukovych backed away from signing a free trade agreement with the European Union, mostly under pressure from Putin. There were also issues with the Ukrainian constitution. But, as the Minneapolis Star Tribune pointed out, wanting closer ties with Western Europe wasn’t enough to get “[m]iddle-class professionals, blue-collar workers, students and retirees” out to “form ranks of street fighters armed with Molotov cocktails.” The biggest reason for the unrest was a familiar one:

The demonstrations reflected the appalling state of governance in Ukraine. The Yanukovych government was a kleptocracy. Policy goals were subordinate to the enrichment of the president and a privileged elite, known colloquially as “the family.” In international rankings of corruption, Ukraine was recognized as one of the most corrupt regimes on Earth.

There you have it. The tumult in Ukraine was not a coup d’état (as Russian expert and Putin apologist Stephen Cohen claimed) plotted by Barack Obama and the U.S. government. And if someone, anyone, claims it was then they have to offer up more evidence than a Russian-provided telephone call between two American diplomats.

“Another World” Of Obama-Hating Hysteria (UPDATED)

Vladimir Putin is nuts, as far as German honcho Angela Merkel is concerned. At least that is what The New York Times reported regarding her telly talk with President Obama:

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany told Mr. Obama by telephone on Sunday that after speaking with Mr. Putin she was not sure he was in touch with reality, people briefed on the call said. “In another world,” she said.

Well, speaking of another world and being out of touch with reality, we have the strange universe of Republican politics and punditry. Let’s start with a representative sample from Senator Lindsey Graham. CNN’s Candy Crowley interviewed him on Sunday about the Russian invasion of Ukraine:

CROWLEY: …the president has come out and spoken very forcefully on Friday about consequences. The U.S. has made it clear that it disapproves of what Russia has done. You’ve been tweeting about strong statements. What more do you want from President Obama at this point?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, number one, stop going on television and trying to threaten thugs and dictators. It is not your strong suit. Every time the president goes on national television and threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everybody’s eyes roll, including mine. We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression.

“Invites aggression.” Now, speaking of nuts, speaking of a disassociation from reality, that statement is textbook. For a powerful U.S. Senator, right in the middle of a serious international crisis, to essentially blame that crisis on the President of the United States, while making fun of the Commander-in-Chief and calling him “weak and indecisive,” is indicative of something seriously wrong not only with Lindsey Graham, but indicative of a schizophrenia on the right that is so deep, and so potentially dangerous, that we all should be concerned as much with the present mental state of some conservatives as we are with the mental state of Vladimir Putin.Main Entry Image

Let’s move on to right-wing Fox pundit-god Charles Krauthammer. Four days ago, after President Obama said, “there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine,” the Fox know-it-all said:

The Ukrainians, and I think everybody, is shocked by the weakness of Obama’s statement. I find it rather staggering.

Staggering? He found it staggering? What Krauthammer didn’t find staggering, as Dorian De Wind points out, is a statement given by George W. Bush in August of 2008, five days after Vladimir Putin’s Russia invaded Georgia with civilian-killing bombers and jet fighters. Bush said pretty much the same things that Obama is saying now, including things like this:

Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century…These actions have substantially damaged Russia’s standing in the world. And these actions jeopardize Russians’ relations — Russia’s relations with the United States and Europe. It is time for Russia to be true to its word and to act to end this crisis.

I remind you that was five days after the invasion and reported estimated deaths of 2,000 people. Was that George Bush’s fault? Did Senator Graham go on a Sunday talk show and call Bush a weak and indecisive president? Did he say Bush invited the aggression? Was their a peep of criticism from easily staggered people like Charles Krauthammer, whose disdain for President Obama has become a personality disorder? No and no and no and no.

Here is the end of a column that Krauthammer wrote on August 14, 2008:

President Bush could cash in on his close personal relationship with Putin by sending him a copy of the highly entertaining (and highly fictionalized) film “Charlie Wilson’s War” to remind Vlad of 12623580-12623583-slargeour capacity to make Russia bleed. Putin would need no reminders of the Georgians’ capacity and long history of doing likewise to invaders.

Bush needs to make up for his mini-Katrina moment when he lingered in Beijing yukking it up with our beach volleyball team while Putin flew to North Ossetia to direct the invasion of a neighboring country. Bush is dispatching Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to France and Georgia. Not a moment too soon. Her task must be to present these sanctions, get European agreement on as many as possible and begin imposing them, calibrated to Russian behavior. And most important of all, to prevent any Euro-wobbliness on the survival of Georgia’s democratically elected government.

We have cards. We should play them. Much is at stake.

Can you believe that? Krauthammer cites “Bush’s close personal relationship with Putin” without so much as any criticism of Bush for misreading the Russian leader. No language about weakness or weak responses. Nothing like that. Remember Bush had said about Putin that, “I looked into his eyes and saw his soul.”* Can you even imagine what Krauthammer would have written if Barack Obama had made that same statement prior to Putin invading Ukraine? Just last September Krauthammer said Obama “has been played and continues to be” by Putin. Such hypocrisy is off the charts.

Let me also remind you that George Bush said the following about the Russian invasion of Georgia:

We insist that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected.

“We insist,” the Commander-in-Chief  said in 2008. Well, thousands of Russian troops still occupy about a fifth of Georgia to this day. Russia has declared the disputed territories, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, to be “independent states.” So much for George W. Bush’s “close personal relationship” with the thug.

And so much for expecting any semblance of sane commentary from people like Lindsey Graham and Charles Krauthammer. As Angela Merkel might say, they, like so many Obama-hating conservatives, are truly in another world.                                              [AP photo]

[UPDATE:Appearing on Fox's "Your (another) World with Neil Cavuto," former New York City mayor and current Chris Christie apologist, Rudy Giuliani, said that,

Putin decides what he wants to do and he does it in half a day. Right? He decided he had to go to their parliament, he got permission in 15 minutes...he makes a decision and he executes it, quickly. Then everybody reacts. That's what you call a leader. President Obama, he's gotta think about it, he's gotta go over it again; he's gotta talk to more people...

rudy and putinNow, even forgetting that the Russian parliament is not the U.S. Congress, in the sense that it is not a democratic body with a mind and real power of its own, the fact that a Russian thug is praised by a prominent Republican for acting like a thug, even a decisive one, is enough to turn one's stomach. And if the American people had any sense at all, they would tell not only Rudy Giuliani, but the entire Republican Party that harbors such stupidity, such undeniable nuttiness, to go straight to hell and never come back.]

________________________________

* Speaking of souls: It wasn’t that long ago when some culture-war right-wingers were singing the praises of the Russian thug, who was going to save Christianity from the homosexual heathens. From Pat Buchanan to the American Family Association to The American Conservative to the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute to the World Congress of Families to Sean Hannity—who actually said in September that he would take the word of Putin over Secretary of State John Kerry.

What Dave Camp’s Tax Reform Proposal Tells Us About Our Political System

Most people, until a few days ago, hadn’t heard of Dave Camp, the Republican chairman in charge of the House Committee on Ways and Means. That powerful committee has, among other things, jurisdiction over Social Security, Medicare, unemployment bennies, food stamps (TANF), and federal tax policies.

And regarding those tax policies, the committee chairman has been working on tax reform for a long time. This week, to the chagrin of many Republicans in the House and elsewhere, Dave Camp, who will soon be term-limited out of his continuing chairmanship of the committee, released his work product, the Tax Reform Act of 2014. And, somewhat surprisingly, some on the left are taking it seriously, even if it is revenue neutral and has other flaws. But not so surprisingly, partly because some on the left can take the proposal seriously, is that the usual money-holding suspects on the right are pooh-poohing it.

You can see the details of the proposal all over the place (here is a relatively thoughtful conservative critique), but liberal commentator Jonathan Chait began his short analysis of the plan by saying that Camp’s tax-reform proposal,

does something remarkable: It actually reforms the tax code. It doesn’t use the pretense of reform to shift the tax burden off the rich, as Republican “tax reform” plans usually do, and it does not use hand-waving to gesture in the direction of reform without following through. Camp has actually plunged his hands into the guts of the tax code and pulled out item after item. It may be the most impressive and ambitious domestic policy proposal crafted by a major Republican in a generation.

Chait notes how folks like the writers of The Wall Street Journal editorial page have “spent decades building a shrine to the spectacular wrongness of supply-side economics,” and then he gives Camp credit for not championing that spectacular wrongness:

The evidence suggests that cutting tax rates, financed by deficits, does little or nothing to spur economic growth. But Camp’s plan doesn’t do that. It instead reduces tax rates by eliminating preferences in the tax code. Subsidies for home mortgage debt and employer-sponsored insurance, among others, would be radically scaled back. And eliminating these kinds of favoritism encourages workers and businesses to instead follow market signals, and likely to make more market-friendly decisions.

Of course, Chait, as a liberal, notices all kinds of things wrong with Camp’s plan. Camp, after all, is a Republican, so it is no surprise that no new revenues will be raised if his plan were to become law, or that “oil drillers” are taken care of while “green energy” suffers. But Chait also points out something in Camp’s plan that has pissed off Wall Street banksters:

His plan would impose a new fee on large banks (which enjoy an implicit subsidy by virtue of being so large they’re apt to receive a bailout if they fail) and caps the value of tax deductions, both goals embraced by Obama. It eliminates the carried interest loophole. It sets the top tax rate at 35 percent, not the fantastical 25 percent rate proposed by Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and other Republicans. Camp is actually committed to the goal of reforming the tax code in a way that maintains (rather than reduces) revenue levels, and holds the relative burden on the rich and poor constant.

The reaction to this part of Camp’s legislation is at once predictable and disturbing. Just look at this headline from Politico yesterday:

Wall Street threatens GOP on bank tax

First line: “Wall Street is warning Washington Republicans: The money spigot is turning off.”

Then: “Rep. Dave Camp’s tax proposal — which jacked up taxes on banks and threatens the bottom line of big bankerssome major private equity players in New York — has infuriated donors in high finance.”

As I say, that reaction is not surprising. But it ought to disturb all Americans, including Tea Party Republicans, whose 2009 movement began, at least ostensibly, as a populist reaction to the bailout of the financial industry, a group of greedy folks who helped wreck the economy. None of us should put up with the kind of extortion suggested by that Politico headline. None of us should tolerate the idea that people with lots of money can buy our politicians like they were buying shares in a widget company. None of us. This is our democracy we are talking about, for God’s sake.

The Politico article continues:

Lobbyists for Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan and others are meeting privately with lawmakers to explain what the bank tax would cost and how it would function.

Big banks want to turn Republicans against the bank tax. The situation puts the party at risk of seeing a reliable source of campaign cash dry up right in the middle of a critical election year.

And:

Without Wall Street, Republicans risk their coffers emptying. The securities and investment industry is the largest contributor — besides candidate committees — to the National Republican Congressional Committee this cycle, directing $3.5 million to the party committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the 2012 election cycle, the financial services industry ponied up nearly $9.9 million.

Let’s be clear: Democrats, most of whom favor campaign finance reform, also take money from rich people. They have to, if they are to survive in this money-driven, anti-democratic system. But all of us, even the most rabid Tea Party “patriot” out there, ought to get angry over what money has done and is doing to our political system. An earnest Republican comes along with some ideas that are not completely based on phony trickle-down economics, and he, or rather his proposal, is shot dead on the spot by people whose guns don’t shoot bullets but big bucks.

Let me leave you to contemplate what Roll Call’s David Hawkings said about what the new reform proposal, not even considering its policy ideas, will do:

The Camp bill may be properly cited as The Tax Lobbyists’ Full Employment and Economic Stimulus Act of 2014.

Even though the measure is highly unlikely to make it onto the House floor — and will struggle to get a majority from the roster of 23 Republicans and 16 Democrats during its not-going-to-be-scheduled-anytime-soon markup at Ways and Means — law firms and K Street shops will generate countless billable hours just by parsing the bill’s language and coming up with strategies for preserving all the niche deductions, exclusions and exemptions that have only theoretically been placed in jeopardy.

If those lobbyists didn’t have connections to moneyed interests who give tons of dough to our politicians, and if our politicians worked in a system where they didn’t depend on rich people giving them tons of dough to get elected, then our politicians perhaps would properly weigh the input of those lobbyists, rather than give them all the influence that money can buy.

And shame on us—all of us—for putting up with it.

“If My Love Could Have Saved Him, He Would Have Lived Forever”

In this strange existence, in a world where people are trying to live as best they can and pursue happiness in countless ways, sometimes our—my—obsession with politics yields to a different kind of reality.

Chris Price, a man you never heard of, lived in Wales.

He met a girl named Ceri when both were teenagers. Nothing significant came of their meeting until January of 2012, when both were older, he in his mid-twenties and she almost thirty. They moved in together. Then Chris found out he had esophageal cancer three months later. Because the cancer had spread, doctors operated and removed a portion of his stomach. All was good until a year later. The cancer had spread further into his liver and lungs. No cure available.

Not wanting to waste a moment, Chris proposed to Ceri, who had four kids, including a set of triplets. “He loved me and took me on with four children as if they were his own,” Ceri said. “They loved him so much too.” She explained:

It was as if Chris wanted to spend his last days making me as happy as he could. We did such a lot in those last six months. He was so positive he never talked about dying, he just wanted to see me and the children happy in the time he had left.

Chris took Ceri and her four children to Disneyland Paris. A couple of weeks later the couple went to New York to see the sights and to shop. He bought her fancy boots and a high-dollar handbag she had wanted. He planned to take her to Las Vegas for her birthday.

Except, as Emily Dickinson told us, because Chris could not stop for death, death kindly stopped for him. Before the trip to Las Vegas with the love of his life. “His illness made him live completely in the moment and he taught me to do the same,” Ceri told us. “My heart is broken losing him and I still spray his Aramis aftershave and wear his clothes to feel close to him. He died in my arms and I felt his last breath.”

Last breath. The fate of us all.

The grieving woman, speaking of the compressed moments of happiness they had together, and expressing the mournful reality of this fragile and fleeting existence we, we the living, all share, said in stunning simplicity:

If my love could have saved him, he would have lived forever.

Some of us hope that a force, we may call it love or something else, will have the last word over death. As we think about this profound mystery, as we wish for something that will conquer all our fears of drawing our last earthly breath, let us hope against hope that the words of the philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich are true:

Death is given power over everything finite, especially in our period of history. But death is given no power over love. Love is stronger. It creates something new out of the destruction caused by death; it bears everything and overcomes everything. It is at work where the power of death is strongest, in war and persecution and homelessness and hunger and physical death itself. It is omnipresent and here and there, in the smallest and most hidden ways as in the greatest and most visible ones, it rescues life from death. It rescues each of us, for love is stronger than death.

“When It Is In Your Power To Act”

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to act.
Do not say to your neighbor,
‘Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you’—
when you already have it with you.”

—Proverbs 3:27-28

medicaid expansion is not yet a reality here in Missouri, if it ever will be. But it is also struggling in Virginia and Arkansas (which already has a privatized version of it that needs reauthorized in order to continue). Expansion is struggling in those states even though both, like Missouri, have Democratic governors and even though a majority of people in both states favor expanding the program:56 to 38 in Virginia, including 55% support among Republicans, and 47.5 to 32.5 in Arkansas. (And there is good evidence that Missourians favor expansion too).

The Washington Post editorial page a couple of days ago featured this explanation of what is going on in Virginia, part of which I highlight for your contemplation:

In Richmond, House GOP lawmakers have made it clear they are not interested in compromise, nor do they wish to be bothered much with the facts. Mr. McAuliffe (D), in office barely a month, has tried schmoozing and executive mansion hospitality; he is nothing if not a deal-maker. The Republicans have responded with derision and fighting words. For them, it is enough to demonize Medicaid expansion as a function of Obamacare, and hope the resulting slogans carry the day — no matter what the cost to hundreds of thousands of struggling state residents who have no health insurance.

Demonizing Obamacare, the only thing Republicans can do effectively these days, has become, of course, a way of demonizing Obama. And it works in some places. In fact, it is working very well in Arkansas, as Seth Millstein points out (which I also highlight for your contemplation):

Arkansas residents strongly support expanding Medicaid under Obamcare — that is, until you tell them the expansion is part of Obamacare. Then they don’t support it anymore. In yet another indication of how successfully Republicans have tarnished the nickname for the Affordable Care Act, a new poll of Arkansans showed that net support for the state’s private Medicaid expansion drops by 19 points when you include the word “Obamacare” in the polling questionsArkansas residents, it seems, just don’t want to like Obamacare, regardless of what’s in it.

Sad, no? And what is sadder is the fact that the only clear demonstration of competence on the part of Republican officeholders and their mouthpieces on talk radio and Fox TV is their skill in transforming Obama into Satan in so many supposedly God-fearing places.

And speaking of God-fearing places, look at this graphic based on polling done by the left-leaning Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies:

medicaid expansion in the south

Hell, where the Bible says eternal torment awaits “all liars,” will freeze over before Republican politicians in the Jesus-loving states listed above pay any attention to such polling. Because lying about President Obama, in the strange and dark religion of conservative politics, covers a multitude of sins, especially the sin of ignoring the basic needs of so many disadvantaged Americans.

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.

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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!

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[photo from the website of Kelly Meares' business]
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