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Today’s GOP Makes Mississippi Look Liberal

The flailing Rick Perry is trying to revive his sinking campaign by histrionically announcing he’s changed his views on abortion and now opposes it even in cases of rape and incest. Apparently Perry met a young woman who’d been conceived as a result of rape, and that changed his mind.

“Looking in her eyes, I couldn’t come up with an answer to defend the exemptions for rape and incest,” he said at a “tele-town hall” sponsored by far-right Iowa radio host Steve Deace. “And over the course of the last few weeks, the Christmas holidays and reflecting on that … all I can say is that God was working on my heart.”

It’s just one more step toward society’s political margins for the GOP contenders. Perry has already announced his support for the “personhood” movement, which declares that life begins the moment an egg is fertilized, a measure that was rejected by the deep-red state of Mississippi as too extreme. But Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum also back the personhood crusade. That’s your modern Republican Party: It makes Mississippi look liberal. They’d like women to have more rights before they’re born than after.

It’s obvious the Tea Party is pulling the GOP even further to the right. While the movement’s fans used to insist it was about the economy, not social issues, in fact its House caucus has used its year in office working harder to stop all funding for Planned Parenthood than to reduce unemployment. The House even passed a bill that lets health providers “exercise their conscience” and refuse to perform an abortion even in cases where the woman would die without the procedure. (h/t Digby)

But their target is no longer just abortion, but contraception as well. At Tuesday’s “tele-town hall,” Bachmann lied about President Obama’s Plan B stance, insisting the president is “putting abortion pills for young minors, girls as young as 8 years of age or 11 years of age, on [the] bubblegum aisle.” Of course, Obama backed HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ decision to override the FDA and refuse to allow Plan B to be sold on drugstore shelves, specifically citing concerns about young girls. Personhood legislation would make the IUD illegal, as well as any measure that interferes with a fertilized egg attaching itself to the uterine wall, including some fertility treatments.

Resurgent front-runner Mitt Romney stands apart from the far right on some of these issues. He hasn’t supported personhood legislation, for instance (yet). But in some ways Romney’s flip-flopping on abortion is as disturbing as his rivals’ extreme anti-choice fanaticism. Running for Massachusetts governor, Romney told voters he’d become pro-choice after a close family friend died due to a botched illegal abortion. (Salon’s Justin Elliott told the tragic story here.) What happened to his feeling for that friend? How could he flip-flop again, after a supposed moral and political awakening like that? And libertarian Ron Paul opposes full liberty for women: He’s antiabortion (though he’d leave it to each state to decide). The man who wants to deregulate industry wants to regulate women’s bodies. That doesn’t sound like libertarianism to me.

Will the GOP’s continuing shift right on abortion, clearly intended to court the religious-right base during the primaries, hurt the party in the general election? I have to assume so. Ever since Ronald Reagan campaigned with the blessing of the Christian right, there’s been a pronounced difference between men and women when it comes to their attitude toward the Republican Party. Women have been registering and voting increasingly Democratic, not just because of abortion rights or other so-called women’s issues. It’s also because women are more likely to believe in a government safety net, to back programs like Head Start, education funding and other services for poor families as well as Social Security and Medicare. I don’t think that means women are more compassionate than men; I think it reflects their greater economic vulnerability, since poverty rates are higher and median incomes lower for women than men. Clearly the far-right GOP is writing off increasing numbers of women, as well as blacks and Latinos, immigrants, and gay people. Good luck with that, long term.

There are two warring forces at work in the world: One is the empowerment of women, especially in the developing world. There is no magic bullet for global poverty, but the only thing that comes close is expanding education and human rights for girls. Educated girls have children later, and when they do become mothers, their children are healthier and better educated. Their family incomes rise, and so do the living standards of their community. It is clear that promoting the rights and status of women improves the well-being of the entire society; some people, and governments, get that, globally.

But there’s also an intensifying hostility to full freedom for women in all corners of the world. One of Wednesday’s most disturbing stories was the New York Times tale of an 8-year-old Orthodox Jewish Israeli girl spat upon and abused by ultra-Orthodox bullies because even her modest outfits didn’t conform to their stifling dress code for girls and women. Israel, which was once defended as a European enlightenment outpost in the supposedly backward Middle East, is facing a rising tide of far-right religious activism trying to ensure that women are neither seen nor heard outside the home. Literally. These crusaders believe in separate worship for each gender, because men are not supposed to hear a woman’s voice in public, not even singing hymns. On some bus lines serving ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, women are literally made to sit at the back of the bus.

Meanwhile, the Arab Spring hasn’t ushered in more rights for women. In the “new” post-Mubarak Egypt, men are using sexual assault and violence to suppress female activists. Islamic fundamentalists, like their ultra-Orthodox Jewish brothers, likewise want to make women second-class citizens.

No, I’m not comparing the personhood movement or the GOP contenders to violent misogynist Egyptians or to the religious extremists who want to exclude women from Israeli or Arab public life.  But the increasing extremism on choice that is now seeping into public policy on contraception reflects a related discomfort with full personhood for women. There is no freedom or equality for women without reproductive freedom. Having been raised a Catholic, I understand religious objections to abortion, and my only answer is, by all means, don’t have one. Work to make them less common. A rape victim who doesn’t want an abortion is of course free to make that decision. But a secular society has no business imposing one religion’s values on everyone.  (Lost in all the insanity about abortion is the fact that the incidence of abortion has declined by at least a third since the 1980s.)


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, December 29, 2011

December 30, 2011 Posted by | Abortion, Right Wing, Teaparty, Womens Rights | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Government Has Not Failed The People As It Did In 1860

For all its current shortcomings, the United States government remains intact, and the issues it faces are not as resistant to compromise as slavery, which means that 2011 was not as bad as 1860, a year that nearly ended the existence of the United States.

In 1860, “the government” failed on four distinct levels: a major political party, the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the electorate. At the Democratic National Convention in April, delegates from 10 states walked out in response to the nomination of a presidential candidate and the adoption of a platform of which they disapproved, and formed a breakaway party. That break severed one of few remaining national institutions, and opened the way for the victory of Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln. Before Lincoln took office, seven states left the Union.

Neither the legislative nor the executive branches responded well. An incendiary public letter decrying compromise issued by southern congressmen on Dece. 13, 1860, made it obvious that congressional attempts at compromise were exercises in futility. President James Buchanan simply counted days until he could get out of Washington, while members of his Cabinet, most egregiously Secretary of War John Floyd, actively aided secessionists.

Then as now, elected officials in Washington do not have a corner on blame, for if “We the people” in our Constitution’s preamble means anything, then government is not a faraway them; it is us. The electorate shares responsibility. Self-government works if and only if all parties abide by election results whether or not they like them. If a dissatisfied part of the electorate decides it need not be bound by election results, then self-government loses all legitimacy, and the American experiment in self-government fails, which was what Lincoln meant when he explained that secession in response to election results presented “to the whole family of man, the question, whether a constitutional republic, or a democracy–a government of the people, by the same people” could survive.

We may shake our heads in frustration, but we do not face issues as essentially impervious to compromise as slavery, nor do we seriously question the government’s survival, which reminds us that things could be worse. But 1860 should also remind us that if we are to look for the sources of our government’s problems, then “We the People” cannot exempt ourselves from some of the scrutiny.


By: Chandra Manning, U. S. News and World Report, December 30, 2011

December 30, 2011 Posted by | Constitution, Democracy, Government | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Feel Free To Ignore Iowa: The Iowa Caucuses Are Really Ridiculous

Only days until the Iowa caucuses! Can you believe it? Less than 8,000 minutes to go!

Perhaps this would be a good time to point out that the Iowa caucuses are really ridiculous.

Not Iowa itself, which is a lovely place despite being the only state besides Mississippi to never have elected a woman as governor or a member of Congress. (See if you can get to work on that, Iowa.) It has many things to recommend, including the Iowa State Fair, which, in my opinion, really sets the planetary pace when it comes to butter sculptures.

And Iowans are extremely nice people. I still have fond memories of the hot dog salesman at an aluminum-siding factory in Grinnell who rescued me from the Steve Forbes for President bus during a snowstorm.

Iowa does have terrible winters. Which limits participation in the caucuses, where attendance is already restricted to registered voters who are prepared to show up for a neighborhood meeting at 7 p.m. on Jan. 3.

The Republicans, who are really the only game in town this year, hope to get more than 100,000 participants. That is approximately the number of people who go to Michigan Stadium to watch the Wolverines play football. However, the Wolverines’ fans do not get free cookies.

Maybe the Republicans will hit 150,000! That is about the same number of people in Pomona, Calif. Imagine your reaction to seeing a story saying that a plurality of people in Pomona, Calif., thought Newt Gingrich would be the best G.O.P. presidential candidate. Would you say, “Wow! I guess Newt is now the de facto front-runner?” Possibly not.

Iowa caucusgoers are supposed to be particularly committed citizens who can make informed choices because they’ve had an opportunity to personally meet and interact with the candidates. Some of that does happen. In 2008, at the Democratic caucus I attended in Des Moines, there was unusually high support for Bill Richardson, mostly from people who said he had been to their house.

“Caucuses tend to foster more grass-roots participation,” said Caroline Tolbert, a professor at the University of Iowa and author of “Why Iowa?” — a question we should all be asking ourselves.

But, this year, the major candidates haven’t even spent all that much time in Iowa. Until recently, Gingrich only showed up for book signings and the occasional brain science lecture. And Iowa is actually not very good at picking the ultimate winner. The theory is that its caucuses winnow the field, that if you can’t manage to come in at least fourth, you are presidential toast. (John McCain came in fourth in 2008, with the support of 15,500 Iowans. This is approximately the number of people who live on my block.)

It’s that fourth-place goal that has Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry staggering around the state trying to visit all 99 counties and eat at least one meal a day at a Pizza Ranch outlet. (Pizza Ranch is a Christian-based, Iowa-based chain that has found success in the conviction that pizza tastes best in a cowboy-themed setting.)

“We have a good plan, and people like us,” Santorum told The Des Moines Register this week. “I hear this all the time. They say, ‘We really like you. You are on my list. You are No. 2 or No. 3 or No. 1,’ and that is a good place to be.”

People, if you had spent the last year doing virtually nothing but visiting with small clumps of voters across the state of Iowa, would you be energized when somebody told you he had you No. 3 on the list? At this point, polls suggest that Santorum could come in anywhere from first to fifth. But he’s still like a kid who so desperately lusts after the most popular girl in the class that he is thrilled by being told he will be permitted to drive said girl and her date to the prom.

On Tuesday, our Iowa voters will go off to 1,774 local caucuses, most of which will be held somewhere other than the normal neighborhood polling place. Those who figure out where to go will have to sit and listen to speeches on behalf of all the candidates. Scratch anybody who was hoping to dash out of work during a coffee break.

History suggests that in some rural districts, the entire caucus will consist of one guy named Earl. History also suggests that the majority of the caucusgoers will be social conservatives, which is perhaps a clue as to why Rick Perry discovered this week that he was actually against abortion even in the case of rape or incest.

To summarize: On Tuesday, there will be a contest to select the preferred candidate of a small group of people who are older, wealthier and whiter than American voters in general, and more politically extreme than the average Iowa Republican. The whole world will be watching. The cookies will be excellent.


By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 28, 2011

December 30, 2011 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Iowa Caucuses | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich Hit By Republican’s Drive To Block Voters

Rick Perry said the laws were “among the most onerous in the nation,” and possibly even unconstitutional. Newt Gingrich compared their impact to Pearl Harbor. Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum were so intimidated that they simply slunk away without a fight.

Social Security? Obamacare? Dodd-Frank? Nope. Virginia’s ballot-access laws. Of the seven candidates still in serious contention for the Republican nomination for the presidency, only two of them — Mitt Romney and Ron Paul — will be appearing in the Virginia primary on March 6.

Republicans are furious. Some of them blame the candidates who failed to qualify. Ed Morrissey, writing at the conservative website, says Perry and Gingrich are “failing the competence primary.” He’s more sympathetic to Bachmann, Huntsman and Santorum, as he sees their failure to qualify in Virginia as“a strategic deployment of very finite resources.”

But other Republicans — and most of the candidates — have turned their fire on Virginia. Ken Cuccinelli, the state’s attorney general, was particularly unsparing about the access laws. “Virginia won’t be nearly as ‘fought over’ as it should be in the midst of such a wide open nomination contest,” he wrote in an e-mail to supporters. “Our own laws have reduced our relevance. Sad. I hope our new GOP majorities will fix this problem so that neither party confronts it again.”

He hopes, in other words, that Virginia will make it easier for Republican candidates to get on the ballot, so Virginia’s voters are better able to participate in the election. It’s a noble goal, and one many Republicans share right now. But it runs directly counter to the efforts Republicans have mounted in dozens of states to make it more difficult for ordinary Americans to participate in the 2012 election.

Block That Vote

In a paper published by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, Wendy R. Weiser and Lawrence Norden described the changes made to the voting laws since the 2008 election particularly bluntly. “Over the past century, our nation expanded the franchise and knocked down myriad barriers to full electoral participation,” they wrote. “In 2011, however, that momentum abruptly shifted.”

The changes take a few different forms. Thirty-four states have introduced — and seven have passed — strict laws requiring photo IDs. That may not seem like a big deal, but as Weiser and Norden note, “11% of American citizens do not possess a government-issued photo ID; that is over 21 million citizens”– and poor and black Americans are disproportionately represented in that total.

It’s not just photo ID laws, of course. Thirteen states have introduced bills to end same-day and election-day voter registration. Nine states have introduced laws restricting early voting, and four more have introduced proposals to restrict absentee voting. Two states have reversed decisions allowing ex-convicts to vote, and 12 states have introduced laws requiring proof of citizenship. Nationally, House Republicans voted to do away with the Election Assistance Commission.

As Ari Berman detailed in an article this summer for Rolling Stone, these laws have mostly been introduced by Republicans, who have justified them largely on fraud-prevention grounds. The only problem is that it’s been extremely hard for advocates of more restrictive voting laws to prove that fraud is a problem.

As Berman wrote, “A major probe by the Justice Departmentbetween 2002 and 2007 failed to prosecute a single person for going to the polls and impersonating an eligible voter, which the anti-fraud laws are supposedly designed to stop. Out of the 300 million votes cast in that period, federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for voter fraud — and many of the cases involved immigrants and former felons who were simply unaware of their ineligibility.” Joked Stephen Colbert: “Our democracy is under siege from an enemy so small it could be hiding anywhere.”

Changing the Rules

One of the most restrictive laws in the nation, in fact, was signed by Texas Governor Rick Perry. The bill, which Perry fast-tracked by designating it as “emergency” legislation, enforces a photo ID requirement that can be met by a concealed handgun permit but not by a student ID from a state university. And under the law only a Texas citizen who has passed a mandatory training program can register voters.

That would be the same Perry who is now challenging Virginia’s rules. But the differences between the law Perry signed, and the law he’s challenging, are instructive.

Perry is an experienced politician who has hired a professional staff for the express purpose of navigating the logistical hurdle of ballot access. And he still failed to make the Virginia ballot, despite the fact that the rules were well known and unchanged since the last election.

In Texas, however, Perry has sharply changed the rules, changed them on people who do not have a staff dedicated to helping them vote, and in fact made it harder for outside groups to send professionals into the state to help potential voters navigate the new law.

I would normally end a column like this on an ambivalent note. Something like: “Perhaps Perry’s recent experience with applying for Virginia’s ballot will make him — and his colleagues across the country — rethink the laws they have passed making it harder for ordinary Americans to get their ballots counted.” But they won’t. The open secret of these laws is that they hurt turnout among Democratic constituencies –students, minorities, low-income voters, etc. — which helps Republican politicians get elected. Virginia is just an odd case where restrictive ballot-access laws are hurting Republican politicians.


By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, December 28, 2011

December 30, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Elections | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Americans Elect: Goo-Goo Mischief-Makers

I’ve been ignoring the whole Americans Elect phenomenon in the hopes that it would somehow go away, like many earlier do-gooder efforts aimed at creating a third party that avoids the messy process of actually believing in something other than its own nobility. But now that the group is using its hedge-fund donations to buy ballot access in a significant number of states, it’s probably time to pay attention. It’s been generally assumed that the whole enterprise was created to give Michael Bloomberg the option of running for president if that strikes his fancy, but Americans Elect’s ballot lines could become a tempting target for other billionaires or for crazy people. Indeed, as Ruth Marcus recently pointed out, the “democratic” internet-based process Americans Elect says it will use for choosing a presidential ticket seems tailor-made for exploitation by, say, the Ron Paul Revolution or somebody like Donald Trump.

That, of course, is that rationalization for the anti-democratic measures built into Americans Elect’s structure: the power of a board to set aside (subject to a veto override from “voters”) the People’s Choice in order to create a legitimately “balanced, centrist” ticket, whatever that means.

As Jon Chait notes today, it’s all a recipe for mischief, and perhaps multiple third-party candidacies:

[T]he picture is that you could have any of Trump, Paul, or [Gary] Johnson, running on the Americans Elect line, or possibly in addition to an Americans Elect candidate. All these decisions will be heavily influenced by behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Americans Elect may not have only a struggle between its voters and its elites. Surely the Republican and Democratic Parties will try to get involved. Since third parties tend to hurt major party candidates most ideologically similar to themselves, the GOP will try to push liberal alternatives, like Bloomberg, into the race, while the Democrats will try to get right-wingers like Trump or Paul to run. Obama’s aides are warning loudly against the undemocratic nature of Americans Elect’s leadership. They don’t care about transparency, they care about letting Americans Elect help their candidate rather than hurt him. The outcome of these maneuverings could have a far larger impact than many of the stories the media is obsessively covering.

Yep. Sinister or simply naive, the organizers of Americans Elect could be opening a real-life Pandora’s Box.

By: Ed Kilgore, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 29, 2011

December 30, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Voters | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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