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The Contraception First Amendment Fight Is Not About Freedom of Religion

7:42 pm in Religion, Republican party by Scarecrow

The Catholic Bishops, Republican Party and GOP presidential candidates have managed to convince much of the national media that the First Amendment’s freedom of religion is at stake in the Administration’s proposal requiring insurance companies to provide coverage for contraception services.  They’ve got it backwards.

Spokesmen for the Bishops claim that the rule deprives all Catholic employers, not just Catholic churches and institutions, of their religious freedom. Some go further by arguing the insurance rule shouldn’t be imposed on any employers, because that would force people who disapprove of contraception to pay into insurance pools that then provide coverage for contraception.

This is a very cynical con, a bait and switch that needs to be called out.  So let’s start with the foundation.  The First Amendment to the Constitution says this:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The Catholic Bishops and GOP politicians now exploiting the issue repeatedly claim that the provision implicated is the prohibition against the “free exercise” of religion.  But as you can see, there are two prohibitions here: the second is the “free exercise” clause; the first is against the “establishment of religion.”  It is this “establishment clause,” not the “free exercise” clause, that is really at stake, but it’s not the  Administration that’s causing this.

The Bishops spokesmen’s constant invocation of “freedom of religion” and GOP faux hysteria about a “war against religious freedom” are ways to convince us this is the correct framing.  Obscuring that this is really about the “establishment clause” is the political bait and switch the Bishops and GOP are now using to con the media and the American people.

We should first recall that the Supreme Court has never held the prohibitions in the First Amendment to be absolute.  We have freedom of the press, but a newspaper can’t lawfully libel someone.  Similarly we have freedom of speech, but you can’t defame someone, and governments can adopt laws limiting speech like “yelling ‘fire’ in a crowed theater” or inciting a riot and even prescribe rules on the time and place where “free speech” can occur.   We also respect “freedom” of religion, particularly as to beliefs, but government can still pass laws preventing religious organizations from exploiting child labor, or sacrificing virgins or your first born child, or conning the congregation into drinking poisoned Kool-aid, even if that’s claimed to be a religious ceremony.

Notwithstanding the language, “Congress shall make no law . . .”  it has always been permissible under the Constitution for government to enact reasonable labor protections and health and safety rules that affect everyone, including employees of religious institutions.  That’s why no one is surprised that half the US states already have rules requiring insurers to cover contraceptive services for almost everyone, and the Supreme Court is fine with that.  Some states may exempt church employers, and others not; but that is a matter of accommodation, it’s not because it is constitutionally required.

In short, there is nothing about the proposed Administration insurance rule that violates the “free exercise” clause.  And no one, least of all this Administration, is in a war against religion or religious freedom; those, especially GOP candidates, who say otherwise are simply nuts or shameful demagogues.

What’s happening here is that the government has chosen to adopt a rule relating to health care.  Proponents often say this, and some media may dismiss this as ducking the religious issue, but it’s not.  It’s consistent with what we’ve done for decades.  Contraception is about health care, mostly women’s health care, and sometimes life-saving health care; but it’s clearly health care.  When government addresses contraception, it does so for health reasons, not religious reasons.  Government can adopt rules to protect women’s health and safety without violating the First Amendment.

What about the “establishment clause”?  This is how the bait and switch happens.  The Catholic Bishops do not believe contraception should be used; it shouldn’t be available at all.  They don’t mean just unavailable to Catholics; they mean not available to anyone. They want the legal rule to be: no contraceptives for anyone, so no insurance coverage for contraception services for anyone.

Religious freedom says they are free to believe contraception is wrong, that it violates their religion.  Government can’t force them to believe otherwise; it can’t force them to exercise a religion they don’t believe, except that government can, for health and safety reasons, require everyone to obey reasonable rules to protect peoples’ health and safety, even if some believe such regulations are inconsistent with their religious beliefs.

Religious freedom doesn’t mean the Catholic Bishops, or any other religious leaders, have the right to impose what they believe on everyone else.  When we cross over to the realm of what the rules should be for everyone, and the pushing is coming from a religious purpose, it’s more likely we’re talking about that other clause, the establishment clause.  And that’s exactly where the Bishops are.

Those who oppose any contraception insurance coverage want to prevent the government from having a rule that requires contraception, or have it adopt a rule prohibiting the coverage of contraception.  And they want this not for health/safety reasons, but for declared religious ones.  In other words, they want a government rule that imposes their religious beliefs on everyone else.  That’s not about the “free exercise” clause; that’s “establishment of religion.”

It is the Catholic Bishops and the GOP politicians exploiting this who are pressing to have government violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.   And that’s the real Constitutional violation at stake here.

(h/t to Digby on the Boies video)

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Marc Thiessen Rewrites History as GOP Plans Tanking the Economy Again

12:46 am in Economy, Government by Scarecrow

(image: twolf)

There have been a surprising number of stories, some ridiculous, wondering whether the predicted electoral slaughter will somehow induce a more Republican Congress festooned with Tea Bags and a chastened President Obama to work together in that wonderous fantasy land that exists only in the minds of David Broder fans.

The short answer, already screamed on the House floor by the likely next Speaker, John Boehner, is “hell no!”  And now his Senate counterpart, Mitch McConnell, has let slip the Republican’s most important goal for the next two years is “for President Obama to be a one term President.”  Message to America: screw you.

Sentient persons hardly needed such candor.  The GOP’s nihilist, nation-be-damned attitude has been obvious since at least January 2009.  And there’s no logical reason to expect the GOP’s Tea Party elements to behave more responsibly now that the GOP’s barely secret corporate funders recklessly handed them a pretend seat at the table. The dupes will demand their due, so accommodation with the black, socialist anti-Christ is out of the question.

Still, more cynical Republican operatives and propagandists recognize there is a danger in being blamed for the obstruction, government stalemate and resulting damage to the economy and recession victims.  It thus falls on the likes of propagandist Marc Thiessen, former Bush speechwriter, to invent a version of history that will deflect blame for the Republicans’ role in crippling the federal government and tanking the economy again.

And they will tank it again.  If you apply budget spending austerity and tax cuts to the wealthy to a stagnant economy with 15 million jobless, millions more in foreclosure and perverse wealth distribution,  you will get a worse recession with millions more unemployed, impoverished and foreclosed.

But the original stalemate, Thiessen insists, was President Obama’s fault. It began when Obama invited Congressional leaders to discuss ideas for a fiscal stimulus to revive the economy.   In Thiessen’s telling, Republicans brought constructive proposals based on tax cuts for everyone, including businesses, but they were rebuffed by Obama, who told them, “elections have consequences.”

Thiessen interprets that to mean Obama never had any intention of taking responsible Republican ideas, and his refusal to work with Republicans is why the bipartisan train got derailed.  Thiessen then fantasizes that if only Obama had offered to share power, say by letting the Republican have about half of the stimulus in tax cuts, then a compromise would have been struck; the Republicans would have supported the stimulus and shared honestly in the blame or credit for whatever results it produced.

Once again we are asked to fall into the black hole and squeeze through to the alternate universe on the other side.  Because if we remain on our side of reality, the rest of us will eventually recall that the stimulus bill was about 40 percent tax cuts, including Republican favored business tax breaks, a  fix for the Alternative Minimum Tax and further tax cuts for most Americans.   Had a President McCain or Bush proposed these (as Bush had), there would have been near unanimous Republican support.

You may also recall the White House insisted on the tax cuts even though Christine Romer was advising the new President that tax cuts were not nearly as useful in stimulating growth and jobs as spending.  Yet the President limited the proposed stimulus spending both to limit its size (arbitrarily, thanks, Larry, Rahm) and to allow more tax cuts, hoping to get Republican votes.  Both unilateral concessions to Republican orthodoxy were largely rejected, but they doomed the stimulus to be too small to fill the gap and poorly targeted.  The compromise may well cost Democrats the House and perhaps the Senate.  Well done, Rahm.

But Thiessen’s revisionist history doesn’t end with that selective forgetting.  He also neglects to mention that Republicans never offered tax cuts as part of a Keynesian package of fiscal stimulus, because they never believed in Keynesian stimulus.  Boehner, McConnell  and friends told us that over and over.  Tax cuts were favored not because they were better stimulus but because they helped cripple government; whatever effect they might have on the economy was secondary, though part of Republican dogma holds that cutting taxes liberates businesses and entrepreneurs, the only sources they acknowledged for real jobs and economic growth.  Of course, this required they ignore the value of public investments and the hundreds of thousands of teachers, firemen, police and other state and local workers that would soon be laid off, because government jobs were not “real jobs.”

If Republicans understood and supported Keynesian stimulus, and cared about putting people back to work, they would have demanded a larger stimulus, instead of fanning deficit hysteria.  They would be demanding we augment Social Security payments, not cut, defer or privatize them.  And they would have realized that federal efforts to increase aggregate national demand would fail if federal spending was mostly offset by state and local budget contraction.  Preventing the states from becoming 50 Hoovers was essential to making the federal stimulus work as intended.  But Republicans opposed expanded aid to state budgets; even the supposed “moderates,” Snowe and Collins, demanded that aid to states be severely limited.

So there was never any hope that many Republicans would agree to a half and half stimulus package that contained hundreds of billions in new Democratic spending proposals, even though that admittedly ad hoc package of spending measures — especially those targeted at the unemployed — would do more to help the economy and create jobs than tax cuts.   When Democrats in the House bundled together their lists of spending priorities after eight years of Bush underfunding and neglect,  there was little chance Republicans would vote for them, no matter what tax cuts the stimulus contained.

Thiessen’s effort to deflect blame for past and future Republican obstruction must also ignore every subsequent effort Obama and Senate Democratic leaders  made to include them, usually over the objections of Democratic activists and liberal bloggers.  Long after it became clear Republicans would obstruct everything, Obama continued to dismay supporters and waste precious time with Senator Baucus’ Gang of Six, orchestrated by the White House in an effort to include Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee on the health reform bill.  The White House demanded a similar bipartisan effort, equally frustrating and pointless, on the financial reform bill, and the Administration supported Senators Kerry and Lindsey Graham’s doomed efforts to agree on an energy/climate bill.  All that history is now missing from the Thiessen/Republican version.

Despite Thiessen’s fictions,  the irony is that Obama didn’t follow through on what he reportedly said — that elections have consequences.  His greatest failure was not to understand what his own election meant — a convincing rejection of the Bush regime, and after the financial collapse, a long overdue repudiation of Reaganism and deregulation.  What was needed was recognition of  the dangers of handicapped, co-opted government in a world of powerful corporations.

Instead, Obama  took the view that the foundations were sound; they just needed better management, a little more oversight here, improved incentives there.  Leave the banks in charge.  Let BP and the oil companies do their thing.  Leave the private insurers in place, but put them in a Republican invented exchange, force everyone in, subsidize the premiums, and hope for the best.  Obamacare is RomneyCare, straight out of the Republican think tanks.

Instead of accepting the obvious mandate for more fundamentally reforming and replacing these discredited views while the harm they had done was most clearly in the public’s mind, he embraced them all.   Predictably, all those forces that wrecked the economy, mismanaged health care, poisoned the Gulf and threaten the climate are more powerful and  menacing than ever, Citizens United be praised, but Obama has discredited or abandoned many of the weapons we had to defend ourselves.  His failure will now hand government back to the powerful perps, and that’s inexcusable.

A Country in Need of Adults

6:37 pm in Uncategorized by Scarecrow

The polls and pundits tell us that the New Tea-Republican Party — same as the old GOP but with more extremists — is about to sweep Democrats out of the House.  Okay, and then do what?

From the New York Times:

Public housing is falling apart around the country, as federal money has been unable to keep up with the repair needs of buildings more than half a century old.

Over the last 15 years, 150,000 of the nation’s public housing units have been lost, officials said, as agencies have sold or torn down decrepit properties. An additional 5,700 units are pending removal from federal public housing programs. . . .

All told, the country’s housing authorities still need $22 billion to $32 billion to rehabilitate their buildings, said David Lipsetz, a senior adviser in the Office of Public and Indian Housing with the Department of Housing and Urban Development — an average of $25,000 for each of the 1.175 million public housing units. But that figure is based on a 1998 study, he said; an updated report is in the works. . . .

A $4 billion federal stimulus infusion helped, but “with that capital backlog,” he said, “they’re never catching up.”

So, we need federal money to augment state funding to fix up over a million housing units. It’s never been cheaper to borrow that money.  The skills needed match up with thousands of unemployed skilled workers  in the depressed housing industry. We know how to fund programs; the Fed knows how to create money.

The logic of what needs to be done is so simple a child could figure it out. But unfortunately, the people we’re about to elect don’t have the good sense of most kids and certainly aren’t behaving as adults. And no one is asking them to grow up.

On November 3, the Republicans who wanted to be in power will own the shambles of a nation and all its problems.  They’ll have the equivalent of a moderate Republican President anxious to work with them.  So  the first thing we need to ask the new Congress, and keep asking them every day, is: why haven’t you fixed the faucets, the toilets, the heaters, and the leaking roofs?  Not to mention the bridges, the roads, schools, sewer systems, gas lines, communications, and police systems and all those aging dirty power plants?

Where’s your plan?  Do something.

John Chandley

Separate Church and State? Christine O’Donnell Doesn’t Get US Constitution

9:05 am in Uncategorized by Scarecrow

I can’t wait for Ross Douthat to address the "myth" that Republican Tea Party candidates are completely clueless about the U.S. Constitution, never mind huge chunks of US history. Perhaps he can start with Christine O’Donnell’s surprise at hearing that the doctrine of separation of church and state emanates from the First Amendment’s "establishment clause" and was put there at the insistence of early conservative Christians, among others.

My handy pocket version, a gift from the American Civil Liberties Union, a group whose function is to defend the freedoms and personal rights in the Constitution, quotes the 1st Amendment as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, or petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The folks who first ratified the Constitution did so on the condition that this first and possibly most important of the Bill of Rights would be quickly added to the new framework to make sure that the new Government they were creating respected profound and essential constraints on its power to force any person what to believe, profess, write, publish and say. No one who doesn’t understand these foundational Amendments has any business exercising the powers of a U.S. Senator.

But here’s Delaware Tea Party-Republican Senate candidate, Christine O’Donnell, revealing in a debate she doesn’t have a clue. Via AP at HuffPost:

The exchange came in a debate before an audience of legal scholars and law students at Widener University Law School, as O’Donnell criticized Democratic nominee Chris Coons’ position that teaching creationism in public school would violate the First Amendment by promoting religious doctrine.

Coons said private and parochial schools are free to teach creationism but that "religious doctrine doesn’t belong in our public schools."

"Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?" O’Donnell asked him.

When Coons responded that the First Amendment bars Congress from making laws respecting the establishment of religion, O’Donnell asked: "You’re telling me that’s in the First Amendment?"

Her comments, in a debate aired on radio station WDEL, generated a buzz in the audience.

PBS has been running a fascinating history called God in America: How religious liberty shaped America. One of the episodes describes how the establishment and free exercise clauses of the 1st Amendment came to be.

It’s a long story, not merely of religious intolerance and persecution in Europe — the common school book version we learned as kids — but more importantly, a history of how Jews, Catholics, evangelist Christians, fundamentalists and others demanded the right to believe and worship as they chose even though the established Anglican Church in some American colonies often sought to suppress and exclude competing faiths.

For example, Baptists were not allowed to practice in some Southern colonies, because Anglicans used the power of the state to maintain a privileged and exclusive status. The Baptists sought Thomas Jefferson’s help securing religious freedom from oppression by the established church, which banned their meetings and ministries and imprisoned their early preachers.

Like all other faiths, Baptists needed not only the right to practice their religion, but an assurance that the Anglicans, or whatever religion dominated the state, did not use the power of the state to discriminate against them and other sects. And they particularly didn’t want the new federal government to establish or prefer a dominant religion, because the preferred sect would use government to harass, ban and even criminalize other sects. Making sure that no particular religion, no matter how popular, could use government that way became the basis for prohibiting the establishment of any religion — what came later to be called, the wall of separation of church and state.

Christine O’Donnell is hardly the only Tea Party candidate either ignorant of or confused by the U.S. Constitution while claiming to be staunch defenders. In fact, there’s very little about the Constitution that Tea Party candidates actually accept.

During this campaign, we’ve seen Tea Party/Republicans tell us they firmly believe in the Constitution, but they don’t mean that in the usual sense. They believe in the 1st Amendments’s free exercise clause, except when they’re telling Muslims where they can’t worship; the Establishment clause doesn’t mean anything and government can impose their preferred religious views in public schools; the First Amendment is fine for them, but not for you. Freedom of the press means private guards can arrest and handcuff reporters asking candidates questions in public buildings. The Second Amendment does not include the phrase, "a well regulated militia . . ."

They’ve never heard of the Fourth Amendment, because it’s okay for government to spy on its citizens without cause or court warrants. The Fifth Amendment apparently doesn’t preclude torture and forced confessions or using those in criminal trials, not does its due process clause apply to people or their private property; it apparently only protects corporations foreclosing on your house. And the Sixth Amendment’s right to a speedy trial doesn’t apply to people whom we label terrorists. The 14th Amendment as it applies to states is similarly up for grabs.

But it’s not just the Bill of Rights they selectively believe in. They don’t have a problem with the expansion of executive power way beyond it’s terms, as long as the President is not a Democrat, liberal or black man. The founders gave the Congress extensive powers, but the Tea Party/Republicans can’t stand the commerce clause, unless it’s interpreted by Justices who thought child labor laws were an infringement on the sanctity of contracts and free enterprise; they can’t find the "necessary and proper" clause and give no credit to the Preamble’s mandate to "promote the general welfare."

Having ignored some of the most important provisions of the Constitution, it then becomes possible for them to read into the 10th Amendment everything they oppose. Thus the federal government can’t protect workers, can’t set minimum wages, can’t regulate businesses when they pollute or commit fraud, can’t establish a system of national health insurance (even if purchased from private insurers), and can’t provide social security. But just in case government tries, let’s take the Senate out of democracy and repeal the 17th Amendment, and while we’re at it, let’s make sure the government can’t collect an income tax.

These people are free to advocate for a different form of government, but they shouldn’t be believed when they claim that what they prefer bears any resemblance to the U.S. Constitution. They just don’t believe in that.

Wish We Had Something to Vote For

12:30 pm in Uncategorized by Scarecrow

President Obama and his team keep sending me e-mails urging me to get fired up about voting in the midterms, and I keep reading these trying to understand their argument. So far, it escapes me.

As I see our situation, the country is in desperate economic condition, faced with profoundly moral choices with frightening consequences for the country and the planet if we choose badly. Yet instead of addressing those issues, we’re sliding backwards into what could become an even darker period than the decade from which we hoped we were escaping. Since that’s my assessment, I’m logically drawn to anyone that has a clue how to get out of this mess, but where are they?

Oh, I find plenty of commentary with good proposals, but none of these commentators speaks for either of the two major parties. Instead, even fairly influential folks like Krugman et al seem to be screaming about the need to wake up and address the problems, but no one in charge is listening. Worse, this White House, apparently seeking to deflect blame for voters’ lack of enthusiasm, has chosen to criticize and insult those sounding the alarms and offering solutions.

The nation’s economy appears to be stuck in a failed recovery with no plausible mechanism underway to pull us out. There are no mechanisms underway that will substantially reduce unemployment and the attendant human suffering or even strengthen the safety nets we’ll need until we do recover. And I think the nation’s voters fully understand that there’s little relief on the horizon.

So with an election coming up, you’d think that the two major parties would be offering competing visions about how to address these issues and confront voter’s concerns, but that’s not the case.

The Republican Party has become so nutty, so callous, extreme and radicalized that we can’t even have a rational conversation with them about possible solutions. If you doubt that, watch Rachel Maddow’s interview of that kook in Oregon (you don’t need to do that again, Rachel). Aside from successfully deflecting blame from themselves for causing a near depression and sponsoring the bailouts, and then blaming the wrong people for the worst of reasons, they don’t even have a plausible economic or social theory about how to end the recession and to put 8-15 million people back to work.

Instead, their budgetary theory and governing philosophy — to cut taxes no matter what and even if it enlarges the deficits they claim to fear — have already made matters worse via large state/local budget cuts. Employment reports released Friday show that over 100,000 people were recently layed off by governments, because all Republicans and the most irresponsible faux Democrats would not allow Congress to prevent those layoffs from happening. Among them were tens of thousands of teachers, firemen, police. Another 250,000 low-income people will likely soon lose their jobs, because the same Republicans and faux Democrats refused to continue stimulus funding for highly successful and popular jobs-subsidies programs.

So the Republican-ConservaDem Party’s unofficial position is that we should increase unemployment while voting to obstruct any federal efforts to ameliorate the suffering. Then to satisfy their most rabid, hate-filled supporters, they demonize the victims as unworthy "others" who can only be helped by violating the Constitution and robbing Tea Party patriots. The strategy is not just cynical and willfully ignorant; it’s evil.

Faced with the Republican’s cruel, indefensible positions, the Democrats should be offering the opposite. That means not merely supporting the modest relief/recovery measures proposed so far, but giving top priority to substantially greater funding for jobs programs, state budget support, infrastructure stimulus and increases in safety net spending.

You’d expect Democrats facing election challenges to be presenting a bold platform to the voters fashioned on providing hundreds of thousands or possibly millions of WPA-type jobs, rebuilding American infrastructure, temporarily augmenting Social Security payments, extending food stamps and unemployment/health benefits, and so on. There’s a large movement of talented and committed folks who would enthusiastically cheer such efforts and proudly defend them against the nihilists. Want to cure our lack of enthusiasm? Give us something worth fighting for!

But for reasons that defy common sense and basic humanity, the Democratic Party is mostly silent. We don’t know what, if anything it would do if left in charge. How can they explain their silence?

When I read Mr. Obama’s e-mails, there’s hardly a word about what else he thinks needs to be done. It’s all about how great the health and financial bills were, or more likely, how crazy the Republicans have become, and how we can’t go back to them. But I/we knew that long before he acknowledged it, and we said so while he and his loyalists were criticizing us for calling out the faux Democrats for echoing and enabling the Republican craziness. He’s a little late to that party.

But you can search in vain for anything in OFA/Obama/Harry Reid e-mails for a Democratic agenda for ending the real recession and putting millions of people back to work. They can’t even promise they’ll work to end tax cuts for the richest people and use that money to create jobs to rebuild the country’s infrastructure. How hard is that?

Of course, all their political consultants are feeding them carefully poll-tested slogans to use and not use. But so far, they’re all empty slogans; none of this advice seems to include telling voters how they’re going to solve the problems voters care about.

If the Democrats or the White House have a plan, it’s a secret. But frankly, I don’t think they’ve got a plan, because the geniuses who advise this President, the people he’s appointed from Bernanke to Geithner to Summers, and the President himself, seem to believe that they’ve done everything they needed to do, and moreover, they think everything they’ve done is just fine. Excuse me, guys, but no one with an ounce of sense agrees with that, because it’s just not true.

No one can explain, as Jane Hamsher noted recently, why they’ve got Tim Geithner out there telling us what a great thing TARP was, and hailing that as a Bush and Obama Administration success. That may sell on about four square blocks of Manhattan, but probably not elsewhere.

Or we find the soon-to-leave Larry Summers telling us that this is a really good time for us to be making large infrastructure investments because the costs of labor, materials and money/borrowing are cheaper now than ever, and there’s so much we need to be doing. Great idea, Larry, but that’s what we told you over a year and a half ago. But when you had the chance to push hundreds of billions into that in the ARRA stimulus bill, you blinked. And I don’t hear the Democrats telling voters, "if you reelect us, we’ll go after that $2.5 trillion backlog of infrastructure investments as though the country’s economic life depended on it, because it does." Please, just leave.

The point is that Democrats generally are not running on what they plan to do to confront the nation’s massive problems. They don’t seem to have a recovery plan, a jobs plan, a plan to address the harmful degree of income/wealth inequality. And you can go down the list. They’re not running on a platform of finally addressing global climate change; they’re not proposing major reforms in Senate rules to make it less dysfunctional and more democratic; they’re not running on any meaningful fix for the dangerous degree of corporate influence over government and our elections; they’ve got no plan to solve the housing/foreclosure disaster; there’s no plan to get us out of our indeterminate wars of occupation or end our unlawful detention programs; and they’re not running to fix immigration. And on an on.

The Republican Party is proposing to make every one on these problems much worse, either knowingly in support of greed and a mean-spirited philosophy, or ignorantly by denying there is a problem, or dishonestly by denying the science/studies/facts that tell us there’s a problem. These people are psychotic and dangerous, and there’s no excuse for voting for any of them.

But the Democratic Party, while not in total denial, is not running on a platform to address any of these problems. They’re silent. And without knowing what, if anything, they plan to do about the monstrous issues facing the country, and trying to enlist the voters’ support in tackling those issues, they’ve given the voters no reason to vote for them.

More: For another view, see Digby, who argues persuasively, I think, that what people are voting for is not simply alternative proposals but rather a candidate’s expected moral/intellectual response to any given problem. After providing numerous links to stories of politicians on both sides reacting to the emerging foreclosure scandals, she notes:

The Dems are far from blameless and it’s true that the owners exert outsized influence over both the parties. But in situations like this you can see a clear distinction between the moral and ethical impulses that make a politician — and a voter — choose one party over another.

Okay, so why aren’t these impulses directly translated into an electoral agenda?

Axelrod and McConnell Take ABC’s Amanpour and US Down the Rabbit Hole

9:51 am in Uncategorized by Scarecrow

The polls tell us there are more people enthusiastic about voting for Republicans than for Democrats. After watching White House Adviser David Axelrod on ABC’s This Week, one can easily understand the lack of enthusiasm for an aimless Democratic Party that can’t even stand up and fight for what it’s supporters believe because it’s led from the top down by incompetent and corrupt corporatists.

Axelrod chose to pound on the two parties’ difference in tax cuts for the middle class versus the rich. But he offered no explanation for why his own party was afraid to take that difference to a vote in the Congress.

Obama’s team had already failed to offer a Plan B for jobs and economic recovery to replace their sputtering Plan A, and he said nothing about the rest of the more worthwhile job-producing stimulus tax cuts that are due to expire this week. It’s now obvious there’s no one minding the store, and with everyone preoccupied with leaving, we’re not about to get a credible jobs/economic recovery plan from this Administration. Next, please?

So that explains much of the Democrats’ malaise, but you have to inhabit an alternative universe in which up is down, right is wrong, and facts are lies and myths to account for the willingness of voters to even consider voting Republican.

The deeply cynical Senate Republican Leader, Mitch McConnell, managed to evade every question asked by ABC This Week’s Christiane Amanpour. She came armed with videos and quotes showing what a hypocrite he is and how embarrassed any rational person would be by the nutty positions expressed by Republican candidates like Sharon Angle, Rand Paul, Joe Miller, and Christine O’Donnell and the rest of the horror show that has become the Republican Party. But McConnell dodged every question; Amanpour simply gave up trying to get direct, let alone honest, answers.

McConnell avoided defending the nutcases that now define the Republican Party by saying that since Sharon Angle was polling even with the Democratic Senate Leader, why should he question the voters’ judgment? Well, Mitch, it’s because you’re supposed to care about your Party’s integrity and sanity and the country’s interests. But of course, Mitch didn’t want to answer the question Amanpour was asking: how can you defend candidates that are consistently making stupid and dangerous statements? He can’t, so he dodged.

McConnell’s evasiveness on the implicit label of lunacy was to charge the Democrats with extremism, characterizing the Administration’s efforts to rescue the economy from the depression McConnell’s Party left us as "extreme." Amanpour did not think to ask how Republicans would have reversed the depression they created, nor how they could argue tax cuts for the richest Americans would rescue the economy but tax cuts for the middle class, jobs programs, infrastructure investments, and emergency relief to states to avoid layoffs were "extreme." He should have been asked: How can you explain not voting for any of these?

Nor did Amanpour effectively pressure McConnell to unpack his argument that we shouldn’t be increasing taxes in the middle of a recession. The question is what measures work best to stimulate jobs and recovery, and the first answer is, tax cuts for the rich are the least effective. So the issue is between continuing tax cuts primarily for the middle class versus those exclusively for the richest 2 percent, whose revenues could be used in vastly more worthwhile, job-creating ways.

McConnell dodged that by noting that 31 House Democrats and perhaps 5-6 Senate Democrats agreed with the Republican position of further enriching the rich. Thanks a lot, Blue Dogs and conservaDems, for bailing out the man who wants to be your next Senate Majority Leader. You own him.

But that wasn’t the only moment when McConnell used corrupt and foolish Democrats to defend the indefensible. When Amanpour asked where Republicans would cut spending to achieve their preposterous claims of cutting deficits while extending massive tax cuts for everyone, McConnell noted that President Obama’s Deficit ("Catfood") Commission would report in December, and he’d be happy to consider their recommendations. Which translated means: we said Thursday we won’t harm seniors, but on Sunday I’m saying if the Commission says, "let them eat catfood," that’s how we’ll balance the budget. Thanks, Obama.

So once again, we find the White House and conservative Democrats helping Republicans make the argument that Republicans should replace Democrats in Congress and never be required to say or do anything remotely sensible or helpful in addressing the nation’s staggering problems. You’d think the Republicans won the 2008 elections, and maybe they did.

Republicans Introduce Their Pledge to Screw America Again (FDL Translation)

8:02 pm in Uncategorized by Scarecrow

CBS reports it has obtained an advance copy of the Republican "Pledge to America," summarizing the GOP’s proposals for "Jobs," "Cutting Spending,"" Reforming Congress," and "Defense." Nothing new; just the usual GOP double talk and nonsense.

Unlike the cynical gibberish the Republicans will release today, FDL has compiled a summary of actual Republican policies and beliefs, based on their actual votes, public statements and past performance. So here, after an exhaustive 5-minute search of my memory (feel free to add stuff I forgot), is your 2010 Republican Party:

The Real Republican Pledge to America, based on their actual votes, history and statements:

1.  Create More Jobless, then Screw Them:

– Run the economy into ditch; worst recession since 1930s; put millions out of work

– Deregulate predator financial institutions; then bail them out and shield them from oversight

– Let banks/lenders prey on consumers; oppose, shackle consumer protection

– Use Fed and Treasury to rescue Wall Street, ignore Mainstreet’s recession

– Obstruct jobs programs,

– Oppose and cripple stimulus, then claim credit for the jobs it creates

– Obstruct help to states trying to avoid teacher, firemen, police layoffs

2.  Actual Spending Policies:

– Double debt over last ten years and support $700 billion more deficit next ten years in tax gifts to the richest Americans

– Start two wars (est. cost: $3 trillion) without raising revenues to pay for them

– Support efforts to cripple state revenues, then . . .

– Vote against money to help struggling states avoid teacher, firemen, police, parks, healthcare layoffs

– Deny funding for unemployment benefits

– Deny funding health care; threaten to defund/repeal insurance reforms that stop discrimination and arbitary coverage denials

– Enable worst poverty in 30 years, propose nothing to relieve it

– Create highest number of uninsured, ever; ignore it

– Recreate egregious inequality, in which the richest own most of the wealth; applaud it

– Redirect wealth upwards, to put the middle class under siege

– Curtail investments in alternative energy, infrastructure, public goods

– Cut support for veterans

– Privatize Social Security, Medicare and VA health system

3. Congressional "Reform"

– Ignore pay-go when they’re in charge

– Set records for abuse of filibuster

– Abuse Senate holds to stall nominations for personal earmarks

– Shut down government when they lose elections

4. Defense Policies:

– Create national fear/hatred of a billion Muslims;

– Begin endless wars against a billion Muslims

– Fund every weapon system the Pentagon and contractors ask for; cripple oversight of wasted, fraud

– Destroy Constitutional rights to create fear-based intelligence/terror state

– Endorse kidnapping, rendition, torture, indefinite detention, black sites, assassinations, even of Americans

5.  Family Values

– Lie, make up stories, demagogue about Obama’s birth, religion, beliefs and policies to destroy the legitimacy of a democratically elected Democratic President

– Invent an alternative faux reality based on lies and relentlessly disseminate it via an ideologically controlled media

– Cynically demonize, distort the meaning of common words and issues that might undermine this alternate reality

– Cynically provoke fear of "others," usually immigrants, Muslims, non-Christians, "them," to sustain heightened support for war and executive power over individual liberty

– Undermine religious liberty for any but the preferred Christian religions; encourage religious zealotry and hatred

– Promote religious uniformity via state control over individuals and use of state to establish the preferred belief systems

– Oppose universal health care, student aid, consumer protection, environmental protection

– Teach their children to reject science, climate realities, evolution or anything that might question their alternative reality

– Bully, intimidate, shut down public meetings so we can’t even talk about public issues; convince yourselves the purpose of the 2nd Amendment is to threaten/shoot those you disagree with (h/t Kathryn in MA)

– Listen only to corporate shills who deny actual problems revealed by science where it conflicts with corporate agenda of those manipulating the ignorant

– Oppose federal assistance to those harmed by corporate malfeasance and related economic forces

– Oppose efforts to reduce income inequality; strangle efforts to preserve the middle class

– Oppose efforts to end discrimination against women, blacks, Latinos, gays, or any other "them"

– Oppose efforts to curtail the power of mega-corporations that control how people live, what they buy, what they eat, wear, watch

– Oppose any efforts by the state to regulate corporate power in the public interest

It’s an astonishing record; its [im]morality rivals anything in the Bible’s Old Testament. They’ve become the most irresponsible, ignorant and morally repugnant party in my lifetime.

And based on all that, they say, "Vote Republican."

*Any resemblance to policies, votes or actions of corporate Democrats/conseraDems or the current Administration, is both likely and inexcusable, but it just might explain that "enthusiasm gap" thing.

John Chandley

HuffPost, Sam Stein: GOP Pledge Director Lobbied for AIG, EXXON, Pfizer, Chamber

Republicans Reveal Their Plans to Make Americans Sicker, Poorer, Less Secure

9:04 am in Uncategorized by Scarecrow

I’m going to depart from the usual we-told-you-so polemic on the health care reform act. I’ve written my share of those, but no one should be silent as Republicans arrogantly and shamelessly announce their plans to dismantle and/or cripple even the most beneficial and promising aspects of the health and insurance reforms.

There are lots of things Congress could have done and might still do to fix the problems and improve the benefits of the law. Just google, e.g., "Firedoglake, Jon Walker, health reform." These measures would actually improve health care, expand and improve coverage, or reduce its costs. Further reforms would also confront the uncompetitive industry that forces Americans to pay 50 to 100 percent more to providers and drug makers than other nations for care that is at best no better and covers millions fewer of us, while enhancing coverage fairness and affordability.

But nothing, absolutely nothing the Republicans are proposing would improve health care in America. The essential public interest in better, more affordable health care, by which any proposal should be judged, is entirely missing from the Republican proposals. So reporters covering the Republican plans should demand to know why Americans should shoot themselves in the foot and pocketbook by putting these clowns back in charge.

Instead, virtually every one of their still vague proposals would leave Americans sicker, raise health care costs, reduce coverage, allow or encourage insurers to bilk consumers and further liberate anti-competitive health care providers to fix prices and collude, and keep charging far more than their European counterparts.

As the New York Times Robert Pear reports, the Republicans are following a scripted plan to highlight their "repeal" proposal by September 23, when several of the reform bills benefits take effect:

In general, insurers will be required to offer coverage to children with pre-existing conditions; will have to allow many young adults to stay on their parents’ policies up to age 26; cannot impose lifetime limits on coverage of “essential health benefits”; and cannot charge co-payments for recommended preventive services.

So Pear and colleagues summarize a dozen or so Republican proposals handed out by Republican sources, but Pear doesn’t assess whether the proposals would help or hurt health care in America, though the Times editorial board has previously done so.

The Act has unpopular features, particularly its mandate to purchase insurance and its various taxes to help cover the costs of expanded coverage. But Republicans propose outright repeals of these features without offering any measures to solve the associated problems: how do you get universal health care at an affordable cost and then fairly allocate those costs? As was true throughout the health reform debate, they have nothing to offer that makes any sense — and it was a strategic blunder for President Obama to insist they did. We will now pay for that blunder in Republican attacks on the worthwhile reforms. Yet those attacks are nothing less than an assault on acceptable health care for millions of Americans

– The Republicans say they want "choice" and "competition," but they don’t propose the choice of a public option or the possibility of Medicare for all, and they do nothing to solve the anti-competitive features of the American health care system.

– They want to keep the more popular insurance reforms that outlaw discrimination and inhumane coverage denials, but they would cripple the regulatory and pricing mechanisms that encourage and enforce those reforms; one might as well equate profit-driven insurers with the tooth fairy.

– They want to withhold funding for Medicaid expansion, one of several promising features that could help millions of currently uninsured Americans; but they offer nothing to help these people or help states pay for the resulting problems. They would leave the states either stranded and bankrupt or unable to provide essential care for their own citizens.

– They want lower costs, but instead of empowering the Federal Trade Commission and the new Medicare Advisory entity to go after anti-competitive drug and provider pricing, they would further cripple or repeal the Advisory entity altogether.

– Some of them would repeal penalties on employers for not providing insurance to their employees (but President Snowe implies the penalties are too low to induce compliance), but then they’d strangle the revenues to help subsidize coverage offered by small businesses. They do nothing to slow down the inexorable trend of businesses transferring costs to employees or dumping coverage altogether. Employees would be left increasingly on their own, with no affordable options.

– They claim to be against fraud and waste, but they would cripple or disband the entity authorized to compile data on what treatments/drugs work and which are a waste of money or worse.

. . . and on and on.

This is not a health plan for America as a whole or even for individual citizens. It does nothing to improve health care in America or make it more affordable, or even require insurers to improve health-related economic security. With the number of uninsured Americans now over 50 million, poverty at record levels, and states strangling under Republican anti-tax initiatives and obstruction of federal economic relief, the Republican plans would make things even worse. So this is not about health care, it’s just another particularly vicious and inhumane version of drowning government, and more important, its citizens, in the bathtub:

“They’ll get not one dime from us,” the House Republican leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, told The Cincinnati Enquirer recently. “Not a dime. There is no fixing this.”

That is the cry of a privileged elite, protecting his class, and telling the rest of the country, "hell no!"

Congressman Alan Grayson was only partly right when he said the Republican health care plan is "don’t get sick; and if you do, die quickly." The Republicans’ shameless proposals would force more sick Americans to die slowly and broke.

Author! Author! Which WH Strategist Proposed “We Quit!” As the Way to Lead Their Administration and Party to Collapse?

5:41 am in Uncategorized by Scarecrow

When the August polls highlighted by the good Attaturk this morning signal your party is about to get drubbed only two years after getting a strong and unmistakable mandate to reverse the politics and policies of the Republican Party, it’s only fair to ask your party’s leaders whom you should hold accountable for squandering that mandate and doing so much to resurrect the Republican Party.

After all, Karl Rove and the war-loving neocons so incompetently mismanaged the Bush Administration that by the end of 2008 everyone except Fox News recognized these political geniuses had managed to destroy the Republican brand. Enabled by that failure, the crazies who have now captured the Party and intimidated its nominal leaders into incoherent babbling, religious intolerance, race baiting and nihilism have rejected Rove despite Fox News efforts at rehabilitation.

So someone in the Obama White House needs to drop the cowardly anonymity and take responsibility for a WH political strategy that is destroying the Congressional Democratic majorities and declaring "we give up!" only 18 months into Obama’s Presidency.

And give up they have. They’ve quit. They’re barely making even a token effort. They don’t seem willing to do anything more to help the economy and 15 million unemployed– and please, don’t try to tell us that puny business tax proposal would make a serious dent in unemployment.

Apparently no one in this White House ever heard of FDR. They never learned that a government committed to jobs can create real jobs, millions of them if it puts its best minds to it. And it’s not as though there aren’t thousands of public oriented jobs that need doing. Or hundreds of thousands of teachers, firemen, police and other dedicated public professionals that need to be rehired.

So we have to accept clowns like Simpson and listen to Geithner’s happy talk and read about how Bernanke, the man we warned them would do nothing to help unemployment when it mattered explain why the Fed would be happy to take action if things get really bad, while he and his out of touch MOTU ignore all the realities of how bad it is.

But unlike the case of Sarah Palin, who had the grace to leave when she quit, we’re still stuck with these quitters. Get off the mat, or get out of the ring.

Sarah Palin, Idiot Child, Knows Whom to Blame For Oil Drilling Catastrophes

7:26 pm in Uncategorized by Scarecrow

No matter how insane and catastrophic their policies turn out to be, the Republican Party’s looniest shills (and that’s virtually all of them, these days) will find a way to blame it on those who warned them not to pursue those policies. Understanding cause/effect — and taking responsibility when they cause disasters — are simply not among their mental abilities.

And so we must put up with Sarah Palin, the poster idiot-child for "drill, baby drill," lecturing those "radical environmentalists" whom she holds responsible for the BP oil disaster. You see, if the enviros had only allowed us to extract oil from the safest places, which are located at . . . uh . . . those safe places, the oil companies would not have been forced by the environmentalists to drill where it’s inherently unsafe.

From the idiot-child’s FaceBook page:

With your nonsensical efforts to lock up safer drilling areas, all you’re doing is outsourcing energy development, which makes us more controlled by foreign countries, less safe, and less prosperous on a dirtier planet. Your hypocrisy is showing. You’re not preventing environmental hazards; you’re outsourcing them and making drilling more dangerous.

Extreme deep water drilling is not the preferred choice to meet our country’s energy needs, but your protests and lawsuits and lies about onshore and shallow water drilling have locked up safer areas. It’s catching up with you. The tragic, unprecedented deep water Gulf oil spill proves it.

I can just see those rabid enviros bludgeoning hovering BP officials like baby seals, forcing them to submit drilling plans for deepwater areas, when Iran and Iraq, Colorado and Alaska were there for the taking. I can picture the enviros infiltrating MMS and Interior so they could rubber stamp ludicrously dishonest environmental and safety documents, while an army of eco-terrorists occupied the rigs demanding dangerous cost-cutting measures at every drilling step. More mud? Nah, too dirty.

Those extreme greenies could have told the country how it might save energy or use it more efficiently and thus minimize drilling. The could have urged America to develop more environmentally benign alternative energy sources and technologies, or pushed electric cars and urban public transit and rapid electric intercity rail. They could have produced scientific studies and reports and filed comments and lawsuits explaining how our dependence on fossil/carbon fuels and subsidizing their extraction while hiding their true costs were creating environmental and national security disasters. They could have pleaded with city planners not to build sprawling suburbs that required more driving, or coaxed utilities/regulators to redirect investments to renewables and efficiency.

But no, for 35-40 years or more those nutty enviros demanded more gas guzzlers and urged Detroit to build and the public to buy large SUVs built like armored personnel carriers — don’t you remember the NRDC promotional Humvee? Or Friends of the Earth’s "Free gasoline day"? Or Sierra Club’s "stop hiking and start driving" campaign? Then they urged Congress to strip funding for wind and solar and biomass, and energy efficiency standards for autos and appliances and retrofits for buildings. James Watt was their guy for Interior, wasn’t he? And didn’t they plead for invading Iraq, knowing the US military is the largest energy consumer around?

Bad enviros. Bad, bad, bad. See what you’ve done?

Now America is paying the price for stunningly irresponsible behavior. For surely, someone’s behavior has been unforgivably irresponsible, and the American people want to know why.

– John Chandley (aka scarecrow), who pleads guilty for a lot of that bad stuff we shoulda done.

Misc edits this a.m.