Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

There’s a Palpable Fear Amongst Kansans, All Across That State, That the Farm Subsidy Levels They Love, and Cherish, and Honor, Will Be Reduced or that the Program Will Be Eliminated. (Or, in light of their senior senator’s comments earlier this week, there should be.)

Post has been cut-and-paste-typo-corrected. 9/28 at 11:43 a.m.

—-

There’s a palpable fear amongst Kansans, all across this state, that the America that we love, and cherish, and honor, will not be the same America for our kids and grand kids. And that’s wrong. That’s very wrong.

As a result, unfortunately, people are losing faith in their government. And turn it around: Government is losing faith in our people. That is a bad situation to be in.

And I will tell you that one of the reasons—I’m not [edit: my initial transcript did not include ‘not’ because I misheard Roberts, which makes this even funnier] going to get partisan here—but one of the reasons I’m running is to change that. To change that. There’s an easy way to do it. I’ll let you figure it out. But, at any rate, we have to change course, because our country is headed for national socialism. That’s not right. Changing the culture, changing what we’re all about.

— Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, Sept. 23

Some political reporters and pundits kinda wondered whether this 78-year-old man, who unlike, say, most thirtysomethings, surely knows that “national socialism” has a very particular meaning—and knows what that particular meaning is—actually meant to invoke that particular meaning.  The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker, however, figured that Roberts really meant to call Obama a socialist rather than a Nazi.  So Rucker asked him yesterday whether he actually thinks Obama is a socialist.  To which Roberts responded, um, yes.*

Or, precisely:

I believe that the direction he is heading the country is more like a European socialistic state, yes. You can’t tell me anything that he has not tried to nationalize.

Actually, you can tell him that there are a few things that Obama has not tried to nationalize.  Farming, however, is not amongst them, since that was nationalized around the same time as low-level retirement benefits were nationalized: The mid-1930s.

Get your government hands off my farm subsidies!

Yes, there probably is a palpable fear amongst Kansas, all across that state, that the America we love, cherish, and honor, will not be the same America for their kids and grandkids.

Some of them may fear a permanent return to the Dust Bowl days–although the ones now enjoying that socialized pension program and the socialized healthcare program for the post-65 crowd enacted when they were in their 20s and 30s may not cherish and honor the Dust Bowl era all that much.

Some of them may fear collapsing infrastructure, and a failure to construct needed additions to existing infrastructure.

Some of them should have feared the repeal of the Depression-era banking-regulation laws, such as the Glass-Steagall act, when it might have mattered, but now would like to see those laws reenacted as a step toward returning America to the one they love, cherish, and honor.

Which, not coincidentally, also was the America that funded its national government through far more progressive taxation than the one that Roberts claims is the America that Kansas love, cherish, and honor.

It also was the America that funded its local governments through means other than outlandishly disproportionate fines and fees, and that had not yet privatized–a comically accurate description, if ever there was one–government functions and services.

And it was the America–not at all coincidentally–whose income and wealth inequality had not yet spiraled completely out of control.

It was, in  fact, a pre-Reagan Revolution America.  An America whose political system was not yet thoroughly in the chokehold of the likes of the Koch brothers—who are Kansans who do have palpable fears, but not necessarily the ones that a majority of Kansans all across that state have. Or even across the Wichita metropolitan area, where the Kochs live.

Maybe sometime before the election, some reporter will ask Roberts whether there should be a palpable fear amongst Kansans, all across that state, that the farm-subsidy levels they love, and cherish, and honor will be reduced or that the program will be eliminated.  And then ask a similar question about Social Security and Medicare.

And then they should ask–clearly, specifically, outright–what exactly it is that Republican politicians promise a return to. And what it is that Americans who want to return to the old days really want America to return to.

There’s a palpable fear amongst progressives that no reporter will ask these questions, though.

—-

*Paragraph cut-and-paste-typo-corrected (finally). Aaaarrrgghh. 9/28 at 11:43 a.m.

Tags: , , , , , , Comments (5) | |

Dear Greg Sargent: “Re your Morning Plum reference to Krugman’s column today”

Update appended below.

—-

After a two-and-a-half-month hiatus from regular blogging here—most of my few posts this summer related to my passion about animal rescue and animal welfare—I’m once again feeling like posting about politics, at least more regularly than I posted this summer. (And maybe soon I’ll once again feel like posting about legal issues, but I don’t yet, so y’all who’ve been waiting for that with bated breath, well ….)

I wanted a break from all-politics-and-law-all-the-time, and (mostly) took one.  My active reentry here at AB began with two posts within the last few days—one that I thought would get some attention, but did, not; the other that I thought would get little attention, but got more than a little.

After reading emailed Greg Sargent this afternoon an embarrassingly long… eeeek … rant about that post of mine that got little attention—and, while I was at it, about two of my current political obsessions: the silly Hillary Clinton presidential-nomination anointment, by the press and (unwittingly, I think, courtesy of the press) the Democratic Party; and the silly six-year failure of our current White House standard bearer to ever trouble himself to … y’know … like … engage in any refutation of misinformation by … y’know … stating facts, coherently and specifically—I jumped all-in (to use an “in” cliché that really annoys me, but fits here) today.

But since emails from no-names are treated, I’m sure, as emails from no-names, and because, well, I’m just really in the mood right now, I’ll share my rant with all you AB readers, should any of you actually be interested:

Greg, you write this morning in the Morning Plum:

“REPUBLICANS AND THE ‘LAZY JOBLESS’:  Paul Krugman’s column today marvels at the ways GOP lawmakers continue to suggest the unemployed are choosing their plight, even as benefits have been slashed and we’re treating them with “unprecedented harshness.” But why?”

The answer to your question is, of course, that most people have no idea that unemployment compensation benefits have been dramatically slashed and are, as Krugman highlights, far lower than they have been in relation to the level of involuntary short-term and long-term unemployment in many decades.

Just as most people have no idea about one after another after another other facts concerning public policy—in Florida, for example, there is a TV ad asking people to vote for Rick Scott against Charlie Crist because “Obamacare has raised healthcare costs” and is “taking money from your pocket,” or words to that effect.

And of course most people think government employment—federal, state, local—has increased during Obama’s presidency; of course, actually, it has decreased, dramatically.

And on and on.  Which has been the case throughout Obama’s presidency.  Neither of our two current Democratic national standard bearers, Obama and Hillary Clinton, would be caught dead actually educating the public about, y’know, actual facts; neither one will speak in anything other than banal generalities.  Clinton, who probably could actually educate the public about such things as facts, instead talks incessantly about how excited she is about her daughter’s pregnancy—because, y’know, we’re all so deeply interested in this–and makes childish jokes about her failure to declare an intention to run for the presidency, deigning to add a few banalities about such things as income inequality so that we all know that her heart is in the right place.

And because the punditry insists that Dem presidential candidates are fungible, Clinton’s home free.  Clinton, Warren, and male longtime progressives such as Sherrod Brown, who can’t run because, well, Hillary Clinton probably will run, are all the same; one’s as good as the other.  After all, didn’t Clinton say in some speech back in November 2007 that, yeah, maybe income inequality has become a problem? I mean, who needs any more evidence that she’s an economics progressive than that?!

Giving speeches is, of course, what Clinton does.  In November 2007 she had been a senator for nearly seven years.  During which she voted for a really bad bankruptcy bill, and did nothing at all, at least to my knowledge (or, I think, to anyone else’s), that could matter to, say, people who aren’t upscale women trying to break corporate-hierarchy glass ceilings and such.

I’m a contributor to the blog Angry Bear, and last Friday, after learning about Boehner’s comments from Krugman’s mention of it on his blog, I posted an item about it titled “John Boehner Says the Obama Economy Has Eliminated Involuntary Unemployment!  Seriously; that’s what he said. The Dems should use this in campaign ads.”  The title was not facetious; I pointed out that Boehner’s representation of fact necessarily presumes a thriving economy in which jobs are available for anyone who wants one; in other words, we really have full employment now.  My post gained no attention, best as I can tell, so I’d like to see someone whose blog posts do get attention make the point—because it is an important one. Isn’t it?  My post is [here].

Apologies for this lengthy rant.

Beverly Mann

As for Obama, coherency and specificity, which require actual explanation rather than sound-bite-speak, are just not his thing; I understand that.  By which I mean that I understand that that is so—and by which I don’t mean that I understand why it is so, although I suspect that the culprit is a stunning lack of mental agility coupled with an apparently overriding belief that he need not do anything by way of outreach, education and persuasion, that he doesn’t really feel like doing.

As for Clinton … well … speaking in specifics is not her thing, either.  It doesn’t pay well, and policy specifics would entail her actually learning specifics (better late than never, but, whatever) and maybe even proposing specifics of her own.  Okay, specifics that someone in her quarter-century “orbit” (the media’s euphemism for closed circle of decades-long Clinton operatives) learning specifics.  Sorta like what Warren and Sherrod Brown have done by themselves!

We’re all, of course, tremendously happy for Clinton and her husband that they’re about to become grandparents.  It’s just that we’re interested in other things, as well.  And just that other thing that she’s interested in: ridiculous, cutesy, will-she-or-won’t-she games.

I’m a progressive who cares about more than 1980s-and ‘90s-era women’s issues. (And not just because I’m aware that it is no longer the 1980s or ‘90s; some of those issues remain potent and important, but they are not the end-all-and-be-all of progressive economic concerns, some of which actually have to do with men as well as women.)  I don’t want any more generic, look-at-who-I-am-rather-than-what-I’ve-actually-done theater-of-the-ridiculous. Been there, done that. (Okay, I was never a big fan of Obama, but supported him against Clinton because I feared another triangulator president—one who would be hemmed in by her husband’s 1990s policy choices, no less. One who still is hemmed in by her husband’s 1990s policy choices.)

I’ll end this rant by asking this question: Why have the progressives who want so badly to see a Warren draft not trying to encourage, say, a Sherrod Brown draft?  Wrong gender? Really?? Warren’s popularity comes not from her gender but instead from her economic population and deep knowledge of, emersion in, and passion for actual specific policy issues.  Brown has that, too.  And he, unlike Warren, may simply be waiting for someone to ask him to run.

Take a look, progressives. I’m serious.  It’s time now to support an economic progressive who’s the real deal, not someone’s who really just a political celebrity.  My dream ticket is Brown and Jeff Merkley.  Both have been in the economic-progressive trenches for decades. Neither is the spouse of a former president, even a popular and still-popular one who actually knows how to make a point without using a denegrating, condescending manner to do it.

That said, if what Dems are looking for, and if Dem presidential candidates really are fungible, then how about Kim Kardashian?  Who knows?  She may even be a genuine economic progressive.

We economic progressives finally have the ear of a large segment of the population.  And we’re going to squander it by nominating for president someone who’s little more than just a professional political celebrity?  Why?  Seriously; why?

—-

UPDATE: Turns out that I’m a few days late to this party, at least as it’s host.  Molly Ball posted a piece on Sept. 19 on The Atlantic’s website titled “Does Hillary Clinton Have Anything to Say?” Ball reaches the same conclusion that I do: The anwer is, no.

But there are, as I noted above, national politicians in addition to Elizabeth Warren, who do.

I mean, look: Just because your husband was a popular president in the 1990s doesn’t mean that you get to be the Democractic presidential nominee yourself.  Your prsumption to the contrary notwithstanding.

Although Molly Ball, Bernie Sanders and I are, thus far, the only partiers. Want to join us?

Updated 9/22 at 4:10 p.m.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , Comments (17) | |

What are people — and the Post Office — for?

Picture

Guest Post by Mark Jamison retired Postmaster Webster, N.C.

It’s likely that I will be the last postmaster to serve the town of Webster, North Carolina. The first postmaster, Allen Fisher, began his term in 1857, shortly after Jackson County was founded and Webster became the county seat. The names of the postmasters that follow read like a county census. In a rural mountain county that was fairly isolated well into the 20TH Century, the same family names filled many a civic obligation.

Miss Eugenia Allison was the longest serving postmaster, from 1914 until 1948. Mildred Cowan served from 1950 through 1976. When I became postmaster, I found letters Ms. Cowan had written to the old Post Office Department begging for a new building or at least better heat in the shack that served as a post office.

Tags: Comments (7) | |

Chickens vs. A Turkey

Okay, so most of you who don’t live in Iowa (and most of you don’t live in Iowa, since it’s not a populous state) probably are unaware that the outcome of the election to replace retiring progressive Iowa senator Tom Harkin—which in turn may determine party control of the Senate—may turn on a dispute between neighbors in a subdivision of homes near a lake in Brooklyn, Iowa.

I don’t live in Iowa either, but I’ve known about this for nearly a month.

The dispute is between Democratic nominee Bruce Braley and his wife and their neighbor, a woman named Pauline Hampton, who raises chickens on her property, which abuts the Braleys’ backyard.  Hampton’s chickens regularly escape from their coop and dirty the Braleys’ and other neighbors’ yards.  Braley’s wife had repeatedly asked Hampton to keep her chickens cooped rather than simply allowing them to roam freely and then come home to roost, but to no avail.

After a verbal spat between Hampton and Braley’s wife, Braley contacted the president of the homeowners’ association and asked that he intervene with Hampton.  He said he did not want to litigate the matter in court and hoped instead that the homeowners’ associate president could prevail upon Hampton to keep her chickens cooped.

Instead, though, the homeowners’ association president, a Republican activist, acted neighborly and reported the private conversation to Republican senate nominee Joni Ernst, a noted constitutional scholar and historian.  Mistaking himself for a court clerk, or believing that Braley had mistaken him for one, the homeowners’ association president apparently told Ernst, and in turn the news media, that Braley had contacted him in order to file a lawsuit.  Something like that, anyway; as I said, I’m not an Iowan, so I’m not familiar with the Iowa way and Iowa neighborliness and such, so I may have missed something here.

Anyway, the political news media of course reported Braley’s contact with the homeowners’ association president as NOT THE IOWA WAY, since Iowans do not resolve conflicts by asking homeowners’ association presidents to mediate conflicts.  Not homeowners’ association presidents who also are Republican activists, anyway.

Well, today, Greg Sargent posted a blog post at the Washington Post titled “Will Iowa Senate race be about issues, or about chickens?”  He reports on minimum-wage numbers-crunching included in a new report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund and says the report’s conclusions about the impact a wage hike would have in Iowa “contrast starkly with Ernst’s pronouncements about it.” Those pronouncements include statements that the minimum wage should be abolished or at least remain forever at its current federal hourly rate of $7.25, and that most minimum wage earners are in their teens or early 20s and in any event are not their family’s main breadwinner.

As the election nears, Ernst likely will continue to lay eggs.  But the ones already hatched expose her for the turkey that she is.

Tags: , , , , , , Comments (4) | |

“Have It Your Way”

Remember that old jingle Burger King used in it’s advertisements? Well it looks like Burger King is determined to have it “their” way by merging with Canada’s Tim Hortons in a take over of the company. Not that Canadians will be happy with this merger as they were not according to rumor the last time Tim Hortons was taken over by Wendys.

MSN Money News Center Euan Rocha writes: “The companies, whose market values are comparable in size, confirmed late on Sunday that they were discussing a takeover of Tim Hortons by Burger King. They said the new entity would be based in Canada, which has a lower corporate tax rate than the United States, especially for entities with large amounts of earnings from overseas.”

There is a question as to whether it is for lower corporate taxes or other reasons corporations are attempting to avoid the US corporate income tax. As DealBook Blog founder Andrew Sorkin questions the takeover and quotes Southern California Gould School of Law Prof. and former JCT chief of staff Edward D. Kleinbard in his paper ‘Competitiveness’ Has Nothing To Do With It.

“‘Despite the claims of corporate apologists, international business ‘competitiveness’ has nothing to do with the reasons for these deals,’” Edward D. Kleinbard writes. ‘Whether one measures effective marginal or overall tax rates, sophisticated U.S. multinational firms are burdened by tax rates that are the envy of their international peers.’”

Sorkin counters; “What? We’ve been told repeatedly that the United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world — 35 percent — which is higher than the nominal tax rates in places like Ireland (12.5 percent), Britain (21 percent) and the Netherlands (25 percent) and the 24.1 percent average rate of all countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.”

Sorkin goes on with Kleinbard’s points. “All that is true,” contends Professor Kleinbard; however, “most United States multinational companies do not pay anywhere near 35 percent. Companies paid an average 12.6 percent, according to the Government Accountability Office, which last measured it in 2010 and avoid taxes by deliberately stashing piles of cash abroad.”

So what is the deal? Are corporations being taxed too high and deliberately keep money out of the US to avoid taxes? The argument by Kleinbard is “lower tax rates are not driving companies to inversions; instead, he contends it is all the money that companies have overseas — some $2 trillion — and don’t want to bring back to the United States despite protestations by many chief executives that they wish they could.”

Companies have become adept at avoiding corporate taxes and take advantage of the US tax code, are more competitive than their foreign counterparts, and do not face the same “anti-abuse” rules which non-US companies face in stricter territorial tax systems. Inside of accepted accounting rules, US firms take full advantage in operations in lower tax jurisdictions in a cash tax matter and also through the U.S GAAP measurement of a company’s performance.

Is the excess $2 trillion in profits trapped overseas due to high US corporate taxes? Kleinbard thinks not and points to one company in particular which has used it to their advantage. In 2013, Apple was borrowing in the US and using its offshore foreign earnings to pay the incurred interest. The burdensome US tax code allows interest earned on offshore cash to be included in the US company’s income offsetting the tax deduction on interest expense from US borrowing. In effect, no harm is done to company’s economic stance from borrowing.

While there is agreement the US tax code is inefficient; Kleinbard states, “one of the few deficiencies it has avoided is imposing an unfair international business tax competitive burden on sophisticated U.S. multinationals.”

Tags: Comments (4) | |

Libertarian? Or Fascist-Light?

The shooting death by police of Ferguson, MO teenager Michael Brown, and what has happened in the aftermath, has been blanketing the news for the past few days. It’s a story about race, but it’s also become a story about the power of the state and how it’s wielded, and against whom.

So my question is this: Where are the libertarians?

Why aren’t libertarians talking about Ferguson?, Paul Waldman, Plum Line, Washington Post, yesterday

The answer to the question that the title to that post asks is: they are. Libertarians are talking about Ferguson.Waldman’s question addresses a linguistics problem, a misappropriation of a particular ideological term, “libertarian,” by those who ascribe to a narrowly prescriptive ideology that adopts extreme economic libertarianism and certain aspects of fascism.

It is a curious brand of fascism that is peculiarly American, in that it artificially distinguishes between federal powers and state and local ones. A veritable foundation of this ideology formally or tacitly authorizes the use of state and local government police powers—by police, prosecutors, judges, prison guards–to engage in wholesale violations of American constitutional and international human rights. Federal prosecutors and federal judges engage in abuses, including on presumably-rare occasions of actual illegality, but now, finally, at least there’s the possibility of actual scrutiny of federal prosecutorial excess. There remains no working mechanism by which federal or state judges will be investigated for actual illegality in relation to their judicial office, unless the conduct involves an overt monetary bribe or express monetary extortion; judges themselves operate within a statutory system whose very essence is cover-up by their colleagues, and every attempt, including by members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, to change this statutory sham vis-a-vis federal judges is batted down with cries from several Supreme Court justices, including the two Clinton appointees, about judicial independence. (Freedom! Liberty! Judicial Independence!)  As if an independent office of inspector general, as statutory proposals would establish, couldn’t distinguish between unethical or outright illegal conduct and, well, everything else.  And wouldn’t be forced to do that.

About a month ago, Simon Lazarus of the Constitutional Accountability Center wrote an article in The New Republic titled “John Roberts’ Supreme Court is the Most Meddlesome in History” and subtitled “How radical libertarianism is reshaping the bench.” I remember thinking when I saw that article that the primary title is correct but the subtitle is not. Certainly there are some radical libertarians—those who want to eliminate virtually all taxes, federal and state, an virtually all government regulations and civil and criminal prohibitions, federal and state, and who also are, as Waldman puts it, talking about Ferguson. And who want to dismantle the prison-industrial complex. But best as I can tell, they’re not Republicans, and they’re certainly not federal judges, much less federal Supreme Court justices. Accepting their pose as libertarians, without the modifying adjective “economic,” is buying their marketing campaign.

Freedom! Liberty! Libertarianism! The new and improved variety, marketed as the late 18th century strain. Back from the future. I guess.

What most of this crowd actually is is sort of classic-fascist-light, not libertarian. By which I don’t mean that they’re Nazis; Nazism was (and is) only one brand of fascism. I mean fascism more along the lines of the Benito Mussolini or Francisco Franco variety—a pairing of a muscular state police force left to its own (and the dictator’s) devices, and moneyed interests whose support the dictator an his party needed. Modern U.S. neo-federalism, a.k.a. “states’ rights!”–i.e., the right of state and local government officials and employees to violate individual, non-Republican humans’ constitutional rights—is libertarianism only in a George-Orwell-comes-to-Madison-Avenue sense, but it underpins much of Tea Party/Supreme Court libertarianism, if only ostensibly.

One of the most stunning sentences I’ve ever read in a Supreme Court opinion, a sentence that has not received nearly the amount of attention in the general news media or by Democrats that it deserves, is John Roberts’ express statement in the majority opinion in McCutcheon v. FEC, this year’s Citizens United sequel, that extremely wealthy campaign donors become “constituents”–constituents, in the literal election-law, voter-ID sense–of members of Congress not by living in the senator’s state or in the representative’s district but instead by buying access and the right to author proposed legislation. Ordinary folk are constituents only of the elected officials in whose voting jurisdiction they have their primary (for most people, their only) residence, but the Koch brothers are the constituents not just of Kansas’s senators and Wichita’s congressional representative but also of any other senators and congressional representatives that they choose to co-opt as their legislative proxy, for a fee. This, Roberts said, is at the heart of our democracy.

Which indeed it now is, formally and officially, as per the Supreme Court. It’s at the very heart and soul of our democracy these days–our democracy, alone among democracies, since ours is the only democracy in which this flavor of freedom!, liberty!, is packaged as libertarianism. It’s a specialty flavor that would be recognized by 1930s Europeans for the albeit-milder iteration of the political ideology that it really is. And that is recognized, I’d bet, by most close observers of the Supreme Court’s state-courts’-and-state-prosecutors’-and-local-police-officers’-and-state-and-local-prison-guards’-rights-to-violate-individuals’-constitutional-rights-because-the-Constitution’s-structure-requires-it jurisprudence.

This ideology is libertarian only as some characters in Lewis Carroll’s novels, or the Koch brothers, would define that word.  Or as five current Supreme Court justices do, as suits their focused interest of the moment.  Or of the Conservative Legal Movement era, which has in fact been very focused for more than three decades now.  So any moment will do.

Pick your moment.  Any moment.  They sure do.  Just call what you’re doing anything but what it actually is.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , Comments (59) | |

Odds and Ends

Hat Tip Digsby and Kos Cartoons “Supreme Court Chooses Religion Over Science

In a footnote, Justice Alito concedes that Hobby Lobby’s religious-based assertions are contradicted by science-based federal regulations: “The owners of the companies involved in these cases and others who believe that life begins at conception regard these four methods as causing abortions, but federal regulations, which define pregnancy as beginning at implantation, do not so classify them.” In Hobby Lobby Case, the Supreme Court Chooses Religion Over Science . The four contraceptive methods brought up in the Hobby Lobby case? IUDs, ella, and Plan B.

Lady Parts Justice

New woman’s “Group Lady Parts Justice” forming as authored by Lizz Winstead — comedian, writer, and co-creator of The Daily Show.

Lady Parts Justice is the first not safe for work, rapid response reproductive rights messaging hub that uses comedy, culture and digital media to “get people off their asses and reclaim their rights.” Lady Parts Justice, click on your state to see their pitch. Hat Tip: Crooks and Liars

Highway Construction

“total public spending on construction, adjusted for the price level (GDP deflator) and population growth 2007IV=100,”

“if no deal is made on the federal highway fund, it will soon plunge even further.

It’s important here not to get caught up too much in the details. Yes, it’s absurd that the federal gasoline tax has been flat in nominal terms since 1993, which means that in real terms it has fallen 40 percent. But highways don’t have to be paid for with gas taxes — the fund could be (and has been) topped up with transfers from general revenue.“Paul Krugman

PPACA

View image on Twitter

~20M people gained coverage under ACA. @nejm @commonwealthfnd Health Care Coverage under the Affordable Care Act — A Progress Report Here’s the breakdown, Atu Gawande:

Taking all existing coverage expansions together, we estimate that 20 million Americans have gained coverage as of May 1 under the ACA . We do not know yet exactly how many of these people were previously uninsured, but it seems certain that many were. Recent national surveys seem to confirm this presumption. The CBO projects that the law will decrease the number of uninsured people by 12 million this year and by 26 million by 2017.  Hat Tip: Digsby, “That’s A lot of People”

Executive Orders

To date, “the only presidents who used fewer executive orders than Obama were one term presidents.” Digsby

International Confidence in US Presidents. Bush vs Obama

 PEW Hat Tip Digsby

 

Having written several times about the cost of the elusive college education, this book seems interesting. They give away the topic and again it is money, even for poorer students.

Hold Fast to Dreams: A College Guidance Counselor, His Students, and the Vision of a Life Beyond Poverty by Joshua Steckel and Beth Zasloff New Press, 320 pp.

‘It sometimes feels like low-income students are to our K-12 education system what cadavers are to hospitals. Often teachers secure their first jobs in challenging schools in poorer districts, where the turnover rate is high. Here, they hone their teaching skills, and in a few years they trade up to districts with higher salaries and better working conditions. Poor students are left behind to train the next crop of educators.

Joshua Steckel, coauthor of Hold Fast to Dreams: A College Guidance Counselor, His Students, and the Vision of a Life Beyond Poverty, intentionally went the other way. After four years at Birch Wathen Lenox, an expensive private school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Steckel became a college counselor (and sometime teacher) at an overwhelmingly poor, black, and Latino public school in Brooklyn, the Secondary School for Research (now called Park Slope Collegiate). Once there, he used the skills and connections he had developed at Lenox to help get his new charges admitted to some of the country’s more selective colleges.

“Along with his wife and coauthor, Beth Zasloff, Steckel chronicles his relationship with ten of his students, from their senior year of high school into young adulthood. The stories are invaluable both to educators who deal with children from similar backgrounds and to non-educators, who often don’t appreciate the overwhelming odds stacked against poor children.”  Hat Tip Elias Vlanton, Washington Monthly

Tags: Comments (0) | |

Polarized Politics Led To Cantor’s Defeat– and Cochran’s Victory. Why the “Uncommitted Center” Is So Important (Cantor part 2)

Part 1; Cantor’s Defeat and What It Does Not Mean

When House Majority leader Eric Cantor lost his seat to ultra-conservative David Brat, the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus summed up the majority view among political pundits: “The episode offers a disturbing commentary about the poisonous, polarized state of American politics.” 

I cannot agree. I don’t think “polarization” is toxic.  To the contrary, as the poet William Blake once wrote “Without Contraries, No Progress.”  Conflict can clarify issues, and help us move forward.  Indeed, the clash of opinions is a time-honored way of testing their validity.

Do you remember the 1990s, a decade when it became difficult to tell the difference between Democrats and Republicans? While Republicans headed toward the far right, Democrats moved right of center. During his second term, Bill Clinton started to sound all too much like Ronald Reagan, as he set out to “reform welfare,” forcing single mothers to go to work, even though we weren’t offering them affordable day care. After leaving the White House, Clinton reclaimed his position as a stand-up liberal, but at the time, the distinction between Democrats and Republicans was badly blurred.

Today, the difference between the two parties is clear.  I wouldn’t say that Democrats are ultra-liberal, but conservatives have moved so far to the right that Democrats had no choice but to take a stand on critical issues including: global warming, gun control, the need to raise the minimum wage, and universal access to health care.

By contrast, in the 1990s, Congressional Democrats were “lukewarm” on health care reform. As Paul Starr reports in his newest book, Remedy and Reaction, Senate Finance Committee chairman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democrat of New York, actually stood up to say, “We don’t have a health care crisis.”

But by  2010,  the crisis was obvious, and Democrats came together. Pelosi and Harry Reid marshaled the votes, and Congress passed legislation which, while far from perfect, is solidly progressive: Low-income and middle-income Americans receive the subsidies they need; insurers can no longer discriminate against people suffering from pre-existing conditions, and preventive care–including contraception–is free.There is much more work to be done, but at last, we have begun.

Since then, Congressional Democrats have not had the votes to pass much-needed legislation in other areas.

But at least President Obama is no longer the compulsive compromiser that he appeared to be during his first term in office. I see this as progress. As I have argued in the past, on some issues compromise is not an option.  Too much is at stake.

On the ground,voters are as divided as their elected representatives.  Politically active Democrats have begun to move  left of center while Republican voters have become more conservative. The Pew Research report that I discussed in the first part of this post reveals that a decade ago, only 10% of politically engaged Republicans took a conservative stance on almost all issues. Today, 33% express consistently conservative views. At the other end of the political spectrum, almost forty  percent of committed Democrats are consistent liberals, up from just 8% in 1994. The overall share of Americans who express consistently conservative or constantly liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades from 10% to 21%. .

“As a result,” Pew reports, “ideological overlap between the two parties has diminished. “Today, 92% of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat, and 94% of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican.”.

“Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades. And a new survey of 10,000 adults nationwide finds that these divisions are greatest among those who are the most engaged and active in the political process.”

Is Polarization A Threat to the Nation?

Most pundits are appalled.
“It’s a poisonous potion,” writes Bloomberg’s Mark Silva:

“Increasing Ideological Uniformity.

“Partisan Animosity.

“Stir it up:  and what you have is ‘Political Polarization.’

“The antipathy cuts both ways” Silva adds.

On that last point he is right.  As Pew points out, the share of Republicans who have very unfavorable opinions of the Democratic Party has more than doubled over the past 20 years – from 17 percent to 43 percent. Similarly, the share of Democrats with very negative opinions of the GOP also has more than doubled – from 16 percent to 38 percent. . .

“There are actually people who view the other political party as a ‘threat to the nation’s well-being’” Pew notes, “with 27 percent of Democrats saying this of the Republican Party, and 36 percent of Republicans saying this of the Democrats. Those numbers, too, have essentially doubled during the past two decades.”

“Pew calls it ‘a rising tide of mutual antipathy,’” Silva observes.

Let me be clear: l Like Silva, I too, abhor the extremes where sheer anger replaces reason.. (I cringe whenever I hear a good friend say that Dick Cheney should be “put up against a wall and shot.” He says this quite often.)

But I would point out that arch-conservatives seem much angrier than liberal Democrats. This is why Republicans come out to vote, particularly in mid-term elections, in much larger numbers. Rage sends them to the polls.

What I find most disturbing is that these conservatives seem to loathe, not just liberals, but anyone who they view as “Other”:  People who are dark-skinned, poor, foreign, gay, or a feminist who stands up for a women’s rights is  deemed “Not Us.”  This mixture of xenophobia, racism, homophobia and misogyny is what I find truly frightening.

The Disengaged Center – Nearly 40% Of All Americans

Most importantly, what  Silva ignores is that while committed Republicans have headed further right, and committed Democrats have shifted to the left, only 61% of Americans are committed to either party.

The Pew poll reveals that fully 39% belong to an uncommitted center: “Many of those in the center remain on the edges of the political playing field, relatively distant and disengaged, while the most ideologically oriented and politically rancorous Americans make their voices heard.

Those in the center are quieter, less likely to vote, and less likely to make political contributions. These are the people who say “I just don’t pay much attention to politics.” Or, “I’ve given up on politics and politicians.”

But according to Pew, while many in the center do not vote, they do have opinions. “These centrists are not moderates. Those in the center hold strong views on various issues,” the Pew report explains. “The difference is that they are not consistently liberal or conservative.” An over-riding ideology does not determine all of their decisions.

For example, some favor gun control, but are opposed to health care reform. On immigration, their views are mixed. Pew’s research reveals that “all told, 37% of non-ideological Americans support drastic changes in America’s immigration policies.”  Some favor deportation of all unauthorized immigrants while others support immediate citizenship if certain conditions are met.”

Because they are not blinded by a single ideology, their minds are open to listening to rational arguments on various issues. This is why we need them at the polls.

On this point, I am hopeful. As conservatives move further and further to the extreme right, more and more Americans are becoming alarmed. As a result, we may well see more disengaged, disaffected, and discouraged citizens beginning to pay attention to politics.

Mississippi

This is exactly what happened Tuesday, in Mississippi, where veteran Republican Senator Thad Cochran beat back a challenge by State Senator Chris McDaniel, a Tea Party favorite.

On June 3, Cochran, an establishment Republican who has served in the Senate for 24 years, lost the Republican Senate primary to Chris McDaniel, a former talk radio host and Tea Party–backed state senator,

Because neither won 50 percent of the vote. the race went into a runoff. At that point, most observers assumed that Cochran would lose.  With his intense support from passionate Republicans, combined with wide backing from national Tea Party groups, McDaniel was the favorite.

But in the last three weeks of the race, Cochran began to reach out to black voters. He was betting that African-American Democrats might well come out to vote against McDaniel, who is  well known for his New Confederate views. (A Southern reactionary, McDaniel laments how the country has changed, since the days before civil rights legislation passed. He misses the “Old South”.) On his radio talk show, he also had made     racist and sexist remarks that I find too offensive to repeat.

Cochran’s strategy proved shrewd. In the run-off, African-American turnout in the 24 counties with a black population of 50 percent or more was up almost 40 percent from the primary.

Make no mistake: Cochran is a conservative Mississippi Republican. Black Democrats know this. But as one voter said: “One of the other white men is going to get in there. We need to choose.”  By turning out for Cochran these liberals made sure that a rabid, racist conservative would not have a vote in Congress.

You might wonder: How could Democrats vote in a Republican runoff? In Mississippi, which does not register by party affiliation, any registered voter can vote in the Republican runoff election as long they did not vote in the Democratic primary during the first round of balloting on June 3.

Most African-Americans didn’t bother to vote for Travis Childers, the winner of the Democratic primary.  They didn’t think he stood a chance. Thus, they were free to cast a ballot for Cochran.

At Cochran’s satellite office in Hattiesburg, Stacy Ahua, 25, a black field organizer, managing a get-out-the-vote operation explained Cochran’s strategy to the Washington Post: “Some of our people forgot to come out for that first vote and we’ve really tried to get things moving. I think everybody now understands the stakes, whether you’re Democrat or Republican, Catholic or Baptist.”

Exactly. This is what right-wing extremists are now doing nationwide: defining what is at  stake. I thank them.

No surprise, McDaniel’s supporters are livid that African Americans sealed their candidate’s defeat. Already, they are talking about a write-in campaign on his behalf. This  could split the Republican vote.

At the same time, success may persuade African Americans and other Mississippi liberals  to turn out for the mid-term elections. And,  if there is no write-in campaign,  right wingers who are furious at Cochran may refuse to vote. In other words,  Travis Childers might stand a chance. He  is a conservative Democrat, but still the GOP would have one less seat in the Senate.

Convincing Americans That It’s Worth Taking the Time to Vote: The Argument for Partisanship

Writing in the American Prospect, Paul Starr recently made the argument that “if Democrats are going to convince their supporters it is worth the trouble to vote . . . . they need to advocate policies that make as loud and stark a contrast as possible with those of the Republicans. Obama’s belated emphasis on raising the minimum wage and increasing overtime pay are good examples of the approach. Taxing the 1 percent to finance broadly distributed benefits also fits this description. . .

“Such policies will predictably be described as class warfare,” Starr acknowledges. “But . . . the objective is actually to get back to an income distribution more like the level that prevailed in the Eisenhower administration. The entire political and legal spectrum has been moved so far to the right that what used to be centrist only seems populist.”

But in recent years, the zeitgeist has turned. .Both the issues and the candidates are more sharply defined than in the past. As a result, Starr notes, “voter turnout in the 2004 and 2008 elections returned to levels America hadn’t seen in 40 years. Fox News and MSNBC stir up the emotions not just of their devoted viewers, but of those who abhor them; liberals and conservatives alike may be more inclined to vote.

In an earlier piece Star argued: “Democracy needs passion and partisanship provides passion.” Yes.

In Some Cases Compromise Is Not Possible

But do we really want “passionate” partisan representatives in Congress? Don’t’ we want to elect politicians who will compromise with each other?

Not necessarily.

On the face of it “compromise” sounds eminently reasonable, and very often, it is appropriate. When it comes to negotiating tax rates, we may be able to “split the difference’—at least in some cases.

For example: until very recently, the Federal government taxed estates over $1 million. Now the IRS collects a tax only if the estate exceeds $5 million. (In 2013 this change cost us roughly $13 billion in government revenues.) Some conservatives would like to abolish the tax altogether; liberals would be inclined to go back to taxing amounts over $1 million. I could see both sides reaching middle ground by agreeing to tax estates over, say, $2.5 million.

But sometimes we can’t meet in the middle. Some values just are not negotiable.

Below, a short list of issues where Republicans and Democrats disagree, and I would argue, compromise is not possible.

Gun control:  When as are talking about the slaughter of innocents, we cannot “split the difference” with the NRA. There is no reason for civilians to own automatic and semi-automatic weapons. And no one should be able to buy a firearm of any kind without a thorough background check.

Medicaid Expansion: The right to healthcare is a universal right, not a matter of states’ rights. The notion that poor adults should have access to medical care in some states, but not in others, is untenable. Once again, what is at issue here is not money, but blood.

Immigration reform: Do we really want to send Honduran 15-year-olds back to a homeland where they are likely to be maimed, killed, or enslaved by a gang?  (See part 2 of this post)  We must offer asylum to those who are at risk, just as, over the years, we offered protection to at least some European Jews (far too few), as well as some Russian dissidents. Skin color or ethnicity should not affect that decision.

As for children who were brought here by undocumented parents years ago, the idea of sending them back to a country that they don’t know is impossibly cruel. Finally children who grew up here should not be barred from attending college because they are labeled “illegals.” We need more educated workers.

Raising the Minimum Wage:  We know that children in the U.S. go to bed hungry because a parent cannot earn enough to feed them. Food stamps run out before the end of the month. And, if we  lift the minimum wage, we can assuage union fears that more immigrants will depress the average American’s paycheck.

Global warming: On this topic right-wingers are not only a threat to the nation, they’re a threat to the globe. Two-thirds of Americans (67%) say there is solid evidence that the earth has been getting warmer over the last few decades, a figure that has changed little in the past few years. Yet conservatives have managed to block action.

Nevertheless we should thank right-wingers for highlighting the issues. Voters are no longer simply talking about candidates’ personalities. We are facing basic differences in what we think is “right” and “wrong.”

A Pew Research Center survey of “American Values” reveals that when it comes to rock-bottom moral questions, liberals and conservatives simply don’t agree. In particular, Pew reports, when Republicans are asked about government regulation and involvement in our lives, they are more adamant than ever before: Individual rights should be paramount; the government should not interfere.

By contrast, progressives tend to believe that government has a responsibility to regulate with an eye to the “common good”–and to tax and spend with the goal of creating a fairer, more egalitarian society.

Ultimately, their positions illustrate the tension between two political goals: freedom and equality. Conservatives favor freedom; liberals are more concerned about equality.  The reason we have two parties is so that voters can choose.

Can’t we have both freedom and equality? Of course–but in some cases there is a conflict between individual rights and what is best for society as a whole. Then, voters must decide.

On such critical questions, I would argue that we are not looking for a mid-point between “right” and “wrong.”  Either we expand Medicaid for everyone—including childless adults–or we don’t.

In a democracy, our elected representatives should reflect what the majority of Americans think is truly just—including the 40% who are not card-carrying conservatives or liberals.

And in fact, recent polls suggest that most U.S. citizens do have clear views on these issues. The majority favor stricter gun control laws;  think that illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in this country and eventually apply for citizenship; support a proposal requiring companies to cut greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming even if it means higher utility bills; believe that we should raise the minimum wage  from $7.25 to $10.10–or higher and support Medicaid expansion

Why then is Congress gridlocked on these questions? Because only a minority of Americans vote , particularly in midterm elections that decide the fate of so many Senators and Representatives.  Thus Congress reflects the beliefs of some Democrats and Republicans at each end of the political spectrum, but not the will of the majority.

Originated at Health Beat Blog

Tags: Comments (11) | |

Just In Passing – Sunday Morning

The Absurd
Dr. “Chaps” Gordon Klingenschmitt is the Republican nominee for State Rep in Colorado Springs HD15. What qualifies him as a candidate in the Colorado State House? “‘Chaps’ as they call him, has a long history as a disgraced former Navy Chaplain who brags about having successfully performed an exorcism on a lesbian soldier and who has stated again and again that demonic spirits are behind everything from abortion to gay marriage to ENDA to President Obama to Madonna won him the support of the vast majority of GOP caucus-goers earlier this year.

As Susie Madrak of Crooks and Liars says here is a man running for Congress ‘who thinks that “Obamacare causes cancer,’ that the Bible commands people to own guns in order to ‘defend themselves against left wing crazies,’ and that the FCC is allowing demonic spirits to ‘molest and visually rape your children’ is now a Republican candidate for office.”

The Incredulous
Fox News psychiatrist and contributor Dr. Keith Ablow (hat tip: C&L) was on ‘Outnumbered’ the other Thursday morning. After the topic turned to The World Cup, how well the US was doing, and the overall support for the team; here is what he had to say:

Ablow: I am suspect because, here’s the thing. Why, at a time when there are so many national and international issues of such prominence, I’m a little suspicious of yet another bread and circus routine. Let’s roll out the marijuana, pull back the laws, and get people even more crazy about yet another entertainment event.”

What’s wrong with you?

Ablow: This is a way to distract people.

Powers: You have a very dark world view.

Ablow: This is like Rome. I can see why Obama would love the World Cup –

Guilfoyle: What are you talking about? This is encouraging for kids to get out and play sports, and you can play soccer from a young age.

Ablow: It’s overblown. . .”

The World Cup is 84 years old this year and Ablow thinks it was put on to distract us.

The Ridiculous
I am a Vietnam era Marine who had the opportunity to shoot everything up to a 155mm howitzer. I have a few rifles, but, I have nothing beyond 30 caliber. I still shoot even though it is getting harder to do so with all the loons around who wish to publically display. For me, it is a private affair. Here is a reported news event I would call ridiculous.

” A homeowner in Wyandotte, Oklahoma is awaiting damage assessments after an artillery shell entered his home. (hat tip: C&L)

It was fired at the Oklahoma Full Auto Shoot and Trade Show on Saturday, around 3 miles away.

Homeowner Gene Kelley could not fathom what he found after hearing a large crash inside his home.

[…] A 105 howitzer artillery shell, 14 and a half inches long and 3 and a half inches across, was lying on his bedroom floor.”

After ricocheting off a tree branch, the spent round penetrated an outside wall, hit the ceiling, damaged another wall and coming to rest within the house; all while the owner and his wife were in the house.

“The gun range owner says the weapon was fired safely by professionals at a downward projection.”

Aren’t they all trained professionals after something unplanned happens as the result of a firing a weapon? Hey, at least they were not firing HE rounds! The house would have disappeared with them inside of it.

March 3, 1933
Some things never change.

“Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live.” FDR 1st Inaugural Address

Rights
“Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. Sojourner Truth: “Ain’t I a Woman?”, December 1851

The Fifties and Matt Laeur
“But some people are speculating that you also got this job because as a woman and as a mom because people knew this company was in for a very tough time and as a woman and a mom you could present a softer image and softer face for this company as it goes through this horrible episode. Does it make sense or does it make you bristle?” he asked.” Moron ‘o the day, Digsby

Matt Lauer speaking to Mary Barra, CEO of GM. Why she did not get up and let him have it speaks of her ability to control herself. I would not have been so polite.

Water for The Elephants
“carrying water for elephants” is a phrase that means carrying a heavy load, much like carrying a secret that you can’t tell even someone you love wholeheartedly, just as in the end Jacob does for his wife.

An elephant drinks 25-75 gallons of water a day far more than any man would be able to carry at any given time. “Water for Elephants” “Sometimes when you get older . . . things you think on and wish on start to seem real. And then you believe them, and before you know it they’re part of your history.”

“Most recently former NY Lt. Governor Betsy McGaughey in the WSJ (August 8th) commented on the ACA in ‘ObamaCares’s Phoney Deficit Reduction’ choosing to carry water for the Republican candidates Romney and Ryan with the hope she can convince voters President Obama’s ACA will not reduce the cost of Medicare and instead will rob the Medicare TF. By her words alone, Ms. McGaughey can not change the numeric of Medicare expected and occurring reduced growth and costs resulting from the passage of ACA. In her, Romney and Ryan’s minds the logic of how the robbery of benefits and the Medicare is all too real even when the proof of the opposite is self-evident. The three will have to do double time if they are to provide enough water to conflate the ACA to the public if in fact they are to make them believe the illusion.” Medicare Cuts: What is the Fight About?

I am hearing that part of the contraction in GDP is due to less expenditures in healthcare as a result of more people being insured due to the PPACA. So far, the detractors have been wrong on the PPACA and they “still” can not carry enough water to prove it otherwise.

Tags: Comments (8) | |

“Does Chief Justice John Roberts show a certain casualness about the truth?”

Each week I get an email from Slate telling me what the latest articles are there, this one caught my attention; Richard Posner on Roberts” For those of you who may not know, Richard Posner writes articles on the economy; but, he is also an 7th District Appeals Court Justice. The 7th District is the same district handling Scott Walker’s election snafu except the justice in that appeal is Frank Easterbrook.

What I find interesting about this article is Justice Posner is talking about SCOTUS Chief Justice Roberts and seemingly questioning McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. Here is an abbreviated take on what is being said by Justice Posner:

“Which brings me to Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the decision in April that, in the name of free speech, further diminished Congress’ power to limit spending on political campaigns. The opinion states that Congress may target only a specific type of corruption—quid pro quo corruption—that is, an agreement between donor and candidate that in exchange for the donation the candidate will support policies that will provide financial or other benefits to the donor. If there is no agreement, the opinion states, the donation must be allowed because ‘constituents have the right to support candidates who share their views and concerns. Representatives are not to follow constituent orders, but can be expected to be cognizant of and respon­sive to those concerns. Such responsiveness is key to the very concept of self-governance through elected officials.

Can so naive-seeming a conception of the political process reflect the actual beliefs of the intellectually sophisticated chief justice? Maybe so, but one is entitled to be skeptical. Obviously, wealthy businessmen and large corporations often make substantial political contributions in the hope (often fulfilled) that by doing so they will be buying the support of politicians for policies that yield financial benefits to the donors. The legislator who does not honor the implicit deal is unlikely to receive similar donations in the future. By honoring the deal he is not just being ‘responsive’ to the political ‘views and concerns’ of constituents; he is buying their financial support with currency consisting of votes for legislation valuable to his benefactors. Isn’t this obviously a form of corruption?'”

Mind you, I have not see a lower level judge question a higher level judge’s viewpoint and legal opinion. So this is rather unusual for me having been through all of the court levels. This comes outside of the realm of an appeal which would change a lower court’s ruling if a justice found a lower court’s ruling in error or not to their interpretation. Maybe other readers such as JackD and Bev can offer a better opinion than mine.

Tags: Comments (6) | |