“Kansas Has Gone Full Tea Party”: Kansas’ Experiment In Concentrated Conservatism Keeps Getting Grimmer
Kansas is in the midst of a grim experiment putting crackpot supply-side economic theories into practice. While these economic anti-reforms will have devastating results for poor people in the state, in other respects Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and his legislative allies have made the government more intrusive into the private lives of the state’s citizens. April has provided some particularly egregious examples of this disastrous turn.
Kansas has been a Republican state for a long time. Since 1936, the only time the state has given its electoral votes to a Democratic candidate was to Lyndon Johnson in the massive landslide of 1964. Despite this, Kansas has historically not been a far-right state. Prominent Kansas Republicans have generally been moderates, like Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum. Kathleen Sebelius, President Obama’s former secretary of health and human services, was the state’s Democratic governor as recently as 2009.
But since the election of Brownback, Kansas has gone full Tea Party. Kansas Republicans have enacted massive upper-class tax cuts, with the idea that they would produce such an explosion of economic growth that the state would actually gain revenues. This makes no sense in theory and has been a catastrophe in practice. Revenues have cratered, while economic growth lags behind neighboring states. Spending on the poor has decreased, while the tax burden on the poor has increased. Needless to say, Kansas has rejected the Medicaid expansion offered by the Affordable Care Act, denying access to health care for many poor Kansans.
Kansas Republicans certainly have no intention of taking responsibility for this disaster, which means a search for scapegoats. The targets should not be surprising: poor people, women, and gay people.
Earlier this month, Brownback signed a bill that, among other things, prevents welfare recipients from spending government-provided funds on things poor people do not spend their money on, such as cruise ships. As Emily Badger of The Washington Post observes, this reflects a trend in Republican-governed states of placing burdens and restrictions on poor people that do not apply to any other recipients of government benefits — and for no good reason.
The demeaning of the poor doesn’t end there. Recipients of funds from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program will have their daily withdrawals, using the provided ATM cards, limited to $25 a day, not only creating needless inconvenience, but effectively transferring money from the poorest citizens in the state to banks in the forms of additional fees.
Brownback rose to prominence as more of a social conservative than a fiscal conservative. So it’s not surprising that Kansas is placing irrational legal burdens on women as well. Kansas passed a bill banning dilation and evacuation abortions (under the junk science name “dismemberment abortions.”) The procedure is safe — so there is no health-related justification for banning it — and is the most common one used for second-trimester abortions, which women have a constitutional right to obtain.
Even worse, the ban does not contain exceptions for rape, incest, or most threats to a woman’s health. The law puts women’s health at risk by interfering with the judgment of doctors in order to punish women for exercising their constitutional rights in a way Kansas legislators disapprove of.
Brownback’s attacks on basic justice and equality don’t end there. In 2007, Sebelius issued an order banning discrimination against LGBT state employees. Earlier this year, Brownback rescinded the order, creating a new standard under which state employees could be fired simply because of their sexual orientation. Brownback defended the order using the traditionally disingenuous “special rights” language so often employed by those who favor legal protection for bigotry: “This Executive Order ensures that state employees enjoy the same civil rights as all Kansans without creating additional ‘protected classes’ as the previous order did.”
This argument would make sense — if you think that gay and straight people are equally likely to be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. In the actually existing world, Brownback’s measure does not guarantee civil rights to all Kansans, opening the door for discrimination against gays and lesbians based on their sexual orientation.
Under Brownback, Kansas has offered a concentrated form of what most national Republicans claim to want. Tax cuts for the wealthy, tax increases and reduced benefits for the poor, arbitrary interference with the reproductive freedom of women, and increased discrimination against gays and lesbians. Voters next November should ask themselves whether they want this ghastly agenda to be repeated on a national scale.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article mistakenly asserted that Kansas recently banned dilation and extraction abortions, but these were already illegal.
By: Scott Lemieux, The Week, April 24, 2015
“Rand Paul Consistently Defends Discrimination”: And Opposes The Government’s Right To Protect People From Discrimination
In the past, when Senator Rand Paul has been asked about enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or other civil rights bills, he’s fallen back on the idea that you can better assure, for example, desegregated lunch counters by denying that particular Woolworth’s your business than by enacting federal legislation. When it came to housing, he said this, “Decisions concerning private property and associations should in a free society be unhindered. As a consequence, some associations will discriminate.”
Using this rough logic, if you can call it that, people who seek to order lunch or buy a home are behaving a certain way. And people who deny patrons a meal or won’t sell them a house are also behaving a certain way. And people should be free to behave pretty much however they want. In a free society, some people will exhibit racist behaviors: “some associations will discriminate.” Other people will try to do certain things and find that they can’t accomplish them because of their race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. But no one told them that they couldn’t try.
For Rand Paul, the best way to change someone’s behaviors is to behave some way yourself. Like Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who said he wouldn’t continue to eat at a restaurant that turned away gay couples, Rand Paul thinks that businesses can best be persuaded to serve all people by the threat of lost business from customers whose patronage they actually want.
So, pretty much across the board, Senator Rand Paul thinks about civil rights as a matter of how people behave rather than a matter well-suited for legal solutions or protections.
But, then, look at this:
“I don’t think I’ve ever used the word gay rights, because I don’t really believe in rights based on your behavior.” –Senator Rand Paul
The logic of that statement appears straightforward. Being black or a woman, how old you are, are not things you can change through behavioral modifications, but who you are physically attracted to is purely a matter of choice. Someone can deny you a sandwich or a wedding cake based on their perception of your sexual orientation because the presumption is that you behave a certain way, not that you are a certain way.
So, suddenly, the gay couple seeking dinner is distinct from the black gentleman seeking lunch, even though their behaviors are nearly identical.
If you’re seeking some consistency here, it’s not that hard to find. Rand Paul, in all circumstances, defends the right to discriminate and opposes the government’s right to protect people from discrimination.
He’ll shift around how he justifies these positions, but the positions remain the same.
There’s a certain appeal to the Paulista philosophy that has the potential to attract a lot of people in the younger generations, but here we see him running afoul of a core value of our youth, which is that gays should not be denied the same rights as everyone else.
It’s not just that he seems to be insisting that sexual orientation is a choice, but also that he wants to defend people’s right to behave any way they want, even in an openly discriminatory manner, unless their behavior involves sex.
This is not a winning position and it will hurt Paul badly with the very generations that might otherwise flock to his campaign.
By: Martin Longman, Ten Miles Square, The Washington Monthly, [Cross-posted at Progress Pond], March 31, 2015
“Let’s Not Worry About Civil Rights In This Country”: Tom Cotton; Opponents Of Anti-Gay Law Need ‘Perspective’
I’m starting to long for the good old days, just weeks ago, when nobody had to think about Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas.
Mr. Cotton, you will remember, was the primary author of the constitutionally outrageous and substantively mindless letter from Republican senators telling the leaders of Iran that they shouldn’t negotiate on nuclear weapons with President Obama. Now, he is adding his voice to those who are telling gay Americans that they shouldn’t get too pushy about their civil rights.
Mr. Cotton was asked by Wolf Blitzer on CNN yesterday about a law passed by legislators in his home state that is clearly intended to permit businesses and individuals to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation.
“In Arkansas,” he began, “we believe in religious freedom.” Mr. Blitzer, to his credit, pointed out that “everybody believes in religious freedom.”
Mr. Cotton countered with the irrelevant fact that President Clinton signed a federal law on which the current assault on gay rights is based. (The comically named Religious Freedom Restoration Act). That’s true. He also signed the Defense of Marriage Act, an outrageous infringement on the constitutional rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans. And he signed the bill that turned military policy against gays and lesbians serving openly in the armed forces into the moronic law known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
So Mr. Clinton was lousy on this civil rights issue. What’s Mr. Cotton’s point?
“It’s important that we have a sense of perspective about our priorities,” he said. “In Iran they hang you for the crime of being gay.”
So, let’s not worry about civil rights in this country, which Mr. Cotton and other lawmakers can actually protect, but rather in Iran. Why Iran?
I’m so glad you asked — because Mr. Cotton wanted to turn the conversation to his current propaganda campaign about Iran. “We should focus on the most important priorities facing our country, right now,” he said, adding that the prospect of a “nuclear-armed Iran” is one such priority.
So why is Mr. Cotton trying so hard to scuttle the talks in Switzerland that could actually lead to limits on Iran’s nuclear programs?
By: Andrew Rosenthal, Taking Note, The Editorial Page, Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, April 2, 2015
“A Large Pizza With A Side Of Hate”: The Next Time You Order An Extra-Large Pepperoni, Tell Them To Hold The Hate
As events this week have shown, the nation is becoming intolerant of intolerance. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) insisted that the absurdly titled “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” was not meant to enable discrimination. But no sooner had the ink dried on the new law than a local pizzeria announced it was just raring to discriminate.
“If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,” said Crystal O’Connor, whose family owns and operates Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Ind.
As a practical matter, I’m betting that few couples, gay or straight, would be devastated to go without pizza at their wedding reception. But that’s not the point. O’Connor correctly understood that the law was intended to let her discriminate against gay couples. Her family’s Christian beliefs, she said, lead her to disapprove of same-sex marriage.
It is her right to believe whatever she wants. Religious liberty is guaranteed by the Constitution. But in a pluralistic society, freedom of worship cannot mean a business that serves the general public can discriminate. When I was growing up in the South, there were business owners who believed the Lord didn’t intend for different races to mix, much less marry. Federal civil rights legislation barred these businesses from acting on that belief. The proprietors got over it.
At Pence’s urging, the Indiana legislature quickly came up with a proposal to amend the law to prohibit discrimination based on “race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service.” Pence signed it into law on Thursday. In other words: Never mind the whole thing, and we’re sorry we bothered everyone.
Read that list and contemplate the supreme irony: Indiana has ended up with an anti-discrimination law protecting the LGBT community that is among the toughest in the nation. Apparently, there will be pizza for everyone.
Doubtless with an eye toward Pence’s travails, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) announced that he will not sign the religious-freedom law his legislature just handed him without significant changes, probably along the lines of those done in Indiana.
Pence was a big supporter of the original law, so why the rapid moonwalk in the opposite direction? Because the business community, both locally and nationally, announced its opposition and activists began talking about a boycott of the state. Because the NCAA, which is holding the Final Four tournament in Indianapolis this weekend, announced its urgent concern. Because Apple chief executive Tim Cook, who heads the most valuable company in the universe, wrote a Post op-ed denouncing the Indiana law as discriminatory.
In Arkansas, Hutchinson heard expressions of concern from Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer — which happens to be headquartered in Bentonville, Ark. When Wal-Mart calls, and you’re governor of Arkansas, you pick up the phone.
About 20 states already have these religious-freedom laws on the books, although most are not as far-reaching as Indiana’s. There is no indication that rampant discrimination is taking place — but that’s not the point. The clear target is same-sex marriage, and the intention is to reassure citizens that discrimination against same-sex couples is at least theoretically permissible.
The fact that we don’t hear of these laws actually being used proves a truth about same-sex marriage that should be blindingly obvious: Whether two men or two women decide to marry has not the slightest impact on anyone else.
Just a decade ago, most gay activists considered same-sex marriage a bridge too far. Today, it’s the law in 37 states and the District. The world has not come to an end. “Traditional” marriage has not been threatened. Opponents cannot cite one negative impact on society, unless you count the deprivation felt by citizens who need somebody, anybody, to discriminate against.
With a few exceptions, such as Hobby Lobby, the business community has decided that bigotry is bad for the bottom line. Politicians can fight the likes of Apple, Wal-Mart and the NCAA if they want. It’s just not a high-percentage move.
Which brings me to the wrenching struggle the Republican Party is having with itself over the issue. It’s time for the GOP to get on the right side of history. The next time you order an extra-large pepperoni, tell them to hold the hate.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 2, 2015
“We Don’t Want You”: Indiana ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill Lets Businesses, Individuals Decide Who Gets Equal Treatment
Indiana’s state motto is “The Crossroads of America.” This week, two important roads in American politics and jurisprudence are crossing in Indiana.
One of those roads is the ongoing quest to give real protection to the rights and liberties of racial and religious minorities, women and gay people.
The other path, a reactionary one, wants to vastly expand one particular American right, the free expression of religion, to allow businesses and individuals to pick and choose who they think deserves equal treatment.
Indiana’s House and Senate have passed an Orwellian-named “religious freedom” law that Republican Governor Mike Pence said he would sign [Ed. note: Pence signed the bill into law on Thursday morning]. The bill protects businesses and individuals from having to do things — and to obey laws — that would be a “substantial burden” on their religious freedom.
Gay marriage is the most visible and politicized arena where this rights conflict is being fought. Some businesses and individuals say it would violate their religious freedom if they had to, say, provide flowers, pastries or appetizers to a gay wedding. Indiana’s new law agrees and would protect them.
This is a radical new understanding of the right of religious expression that would trump the civil rights of others.
The Indiana law is the wholly predictable and unfortunate consequence of the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell last summer. In that famous case, the Supreme Court said that by forcing Hobby Lobby to provide its employees with health insurance that covered some forms of contraception, the Affordable Care Act violated the company’s religious rights.
One odd facet of the decision is that for-profit companies have the same religious rights as individuals, something common sense has a very hard time with.
More importantly, the court majority in Hobby Lobby said religious freedom no longer only meant protecting how one worships in private and in church, but also means protection from any compromise of beliefs that may come up in the public world of business and everyday life. “In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her dissent.
Dissenters correctly predicted that the decision would set the table for a continuing course of new litigation, new laws and new ways to justify old discrimination. That is exactly what is happening.
If it is legal for a company to refuse to cover contraception in its insurance plan, couldn’t a Christian Scientist company refuse to provide health insurance at all? If it’s okay to refuse catering services at a gay wedding, what about at an interracial marriage? They violate some religious beliefs, too. What if a corner store owned by Muslims didn’t want to serve Jews, or vice versa?
It isn’t hard to make this a long list. Indiana is on the verge of sanctioning and empowering this very un-American mutation of a fundamental American principle.
Earlier this week, Senator Ted Cruz launched his presidential campaign at a convocation service at a Christian fundamentalist university. What a powerful message that sends to Americans who aren’t Christian — Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, atheists and, the biggest category of all, “none of the above.” The message is simply: We don’t want you.
Indiana is at a crossroads and is about to send that very same message, enshrined in a law.
By: Dick Meyer, Chief Washington Correspondent for the Scripps Washington Bureau and DecodeDC; The National Memo, March 27, 2015