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“Red State America”: Moochers Against Welfare

First, Atlas shrugged. Then he scratched his head in puzzlement.

Modern Republicans are very, very conservative; you might even (if you were Mitt Romney) say, severely conservative. Political scientists who use Congressional votes to measure such things find that the current G.O.P. majority is the most conservative since 1879, which is as far back as their estimates go.

And what these severe conservatives hate, above all, is reliance on government programs. Rick Santorum declares that President Obama is getting America hooked on “the narcotic of dependency.” Mr. Romney warns that government programs “foster passivity and sloth.” Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, requires that staffers read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” in which heroic capitalists struggle against the “moochers” trying to steal their totally deserved wealth, a struggle the heroes win by withdrawing their productive effort and giving interminable speeches.

Many readers of The Times were, therefore, surprised to learn, from an excellent article published last weekend, that the regions of America most hooked on Mr. Santorum’s narcotic — the regions in which government programs account for the largest share of personal income — are precisely the regions electing those severe conservatives. Wasn’t Red America supposed to be the land of traditional values, where people don’t eat Thai food and don’t rely on handouts?

The article made its case with maps showing the distribution of dependency, but you get the same story from a more formal comparison. Aaron Carroll of Indiana University tells us that in 2010, residents of the 10 states Gallup ranks as “most conservative” received 21.2 percent of their income in government transfers, while the number for the 10 most liberal states was only 17.1 percent.

Now, there’s no mystery about red-state reliance on government programs. These states are relatively poor, which means both that people have fewer sources of income other than safety-net programs and that more of them qualify for “means-tested” programs such as Medicaid.

By the way, the same logic explains why there has been a jump in dependency since 2008. Contrary to what Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney suggest, Mr. Obama has not radically expanded the safety net. Rather, the dire state of the economy has reduced incomes and made more people eligible for benefits, especially unemployment benefits. Basically, the safety net is the same, but more people are falling into it.

But why do regions that rely on the safety net elect politicians who want to tear it down? I’ve seen three main explanations.

First, there is Thomas Frank’s thesis in his book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?”: working-class Americans are induced to vote against their own interests by the G.O.P.’s exploitation of social issues. And it’s true that, for example, Americans who regularly attend church are much more likely to vote Republican, at any given level of income, than those who don’t.

Still, as Columbia University’s Andrew Gelman points out, the really striking red-blue voting divide is among the affluent: High-income residents of red states are overwhelmingly Republican; high-income residents of blue states only mildly more Republican than their poorer neighbors. Like Mr. Frank, Mr. Gelman invokes social issues, but in the opposite direction. Affluent voters in the Northeast tend to be social liberals who would benefit from tax cuts but are repelled by things like the G.O.P.’s war on contraception.

Finally, Cornell University’s Suzanne Mettler points out that many beneficiaries of government programs seem confused about their own place in the system. She tells us that 44 percent of Social Security recipients, 43 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits, and 40 percent of those on Medicare say that they “have not used a government program.”

Presumably, then, voters imagine that pledges to slash government spending mean cutting programs for the idle poor, not things they themselves count on. And this is a confusion politicians deliberately encourage. For example, when Mr. Romney responded to the new Obama budget, he condemned Mr. Obama for not taking on entitlement spending — and, in the very next breath, attacked him for cutting Medicare.

The truth, of course, is that the vast bulk of entitlement spending goes to the elderly, the disabled, and working families, so any significant cuts would have to fall largely on people who believe that they don’t use any government program.

The message I take from all this is that pundits who describe America as a fundamentally conservative country are wrong. Yes, voters sent some severe conservatives to Washington. But those voters would be both shocked and angry if such politicians actually imposed their small-government agenda.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 16, 2012

February 19, 2012 Posted by | States, Welfare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Culture Wars: Republicans Are “Unprotected” on Contraception

During the 1928 presidential campaign, nutty right-wing  Protestants claimed that Al Smith, the first Catholic nominated for president by  a major party, was planning to extend New York’s Holland Tunnel all the way to  the Vatican.

Today’s tunnel would run from the Vatican to a suburban  Pentecostal megachurch.

We learned this week that U.S. Catholics support President  Barack Obama’s Feb. 10 compromise on contraception in almost identical numbers  to the population as a whole. Many of those sticking with the Catholic bishops  in opposition are evangelical Protestants.

Historians are rubbing their eyes in wonder that the spiritual  and political descendants of Protestants who founded the Know Nothing Party in  the 1850s on anti-Papist ideas — who hassled not just Al Smith but also John F.  Kennedy for supposed ties to Rome — are now embracing Catholics. Rick Santorum  was recently greeted at Oral Roberts University by an enthusiastic crowd of  4,000.

Yes, politics makes strange bedfellows, and in this case, the  Republicans, by throwing in their lot with the bishops, are using no protection.  Like the controversy over the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation withdrawing  support from Planned Parenthood over its provision of abortion services, this  struggle leaves Republicans politically exposed.

Redefining the Debate

At first, the Komen case looked like just another example of  anti-abortion activists flexing their muscles against hapless women’s health  advocates. Then came a furious, highly effective counterassault fueled by  liberal social media, a new counterweight to conservative talk radio in defining  the terms of debate. The outcome of that flap, in which the Komen foundation  reversed itself and apologized, shows that bashing Planned Parenthood may work  in Republican primaries but will be poison in the general election.

The demand for “conscience” exemptions from Obamacare for  Catholic hospitals, schools and charities (churches were already exempt) also  looked good for the Republicans initially. Conservatives thought that they had a  chance to revive the “culture wars” — the wedge-issue appeals to faith and  family that have worked so well in the past. For more than a week, Republicans  made Obama look like the guy who ordered Joan of Arc burned at the stake.

Their problem is that they never know when to stop. Recall the  case of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman in a persistent vegetative state whose  plight led conservative lawmakers to champion federal legislation in 2005 to  keep her alive. The measure passed, but public opinion polls afterward showed  the law was widely unpopular and a clear case of congressional overreach.

This time conservatives stuck with the argument that the  president was abusing religious freedom even when that attack was no longer  plausible. By decreeing that insurance companies, not Catholic institutions,  will pay for contraceptives in employee health-care plans (as allowed under the  Affordable Care Act), the president successfully shifted the subject back to  birth control, where he’s on solid political footing.

Obama’s like a quarterback who calls a bad play and seems  trapped in the pocket, then scrambles for big yardage.

Put Into Context

The bad play resulted from poor political planning inside the  White House, which failed to line up supporters to defend its decision. But it’s  a little more defensible when you know the context. For months, the pressure  seemed to come from the left. The White House learned that 28 states (including  Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts) already require that health plans under their  jurisdiction cover contraceptives. These rules had survived court challenges on  religious freedom grounds. In fact, women’s groups were threatening lawsuits if  Obamacare didn’t also require such coverage, and some government lawyers argued  that the new law provided no authority for any exemptions for institutions  receiving federal money.

Obama’s team debated the issue and, contrary to published  reports, the discussion didn’t break down cleanly along gender lines, with women  on one side and Catholic men on the other. When the rule was made public on Jan.  20, White House press secretary Jay Carney faced not a single question about it.  Then the regional and religious press embraced the story, and within a week even  liberal Catholic columnists like E.J. Dionne and Mark Shields were up in  arms.

But the firestorm may prove to be a political blessing. If the  president had started on Jan. 20 with the compromise he eventually arrived at on  Feb. 10, it would have been a one-day story for health-care policy wonks. Birth  control would never have surfaced as a political issue.

Instead contraception is now the elephant in the bedroom —  the issue that no one in the Republican establishment wants to talk about  because they know it’s a disaster for them.

The Republicans may end up with a nominee, Rick Santorum, who  has warned of “the dangers of contraception in this country.” He said: “It’s not  OK because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to  how things are supposed to be.”

This from a candidate who recently said of the president: “He  thinks he knows better how to run your lives.”

Imagine what Obama would do with that in a debate.

Instead of running away from Santorum, many Republicans are  running toward him — once again, failing to get the memo on when to stop.  Senator Scott Brown co-sponsored a bill this week with Senator Roy Blunt that  would let any employer with a “moral conviction” (a term left undefined in the  legislation) deny access to any health service, including contraception, they  personally oppose. This weapon is aimed at Obamacare, but it will probably  boomerang on Brown, who is locked in a tight re- election campaign in  Massachusetts against Elizabeth Warren.

With all the major candidates this year enjoying seemingly  happy marriages, it didn’t seem as if sex would figure much in this campaign.  Wrong. The independent women who will help determine the election want the  government — and their bosses – – out of their private lives.

The culture wars are over, and the Republicans lost.


By: Jonathan Alter, Bloomberg News, February 19, 2012


February 19, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why I Wish Catholic Leaders Would Stop Saying Our Church Is Under Attack

On Friday the White House reached a compromise on the contraception mandate that can satisfy both reproductive health advocates and Catholic hospitals. For those like Rick Santorum, though, who have been loudly and repeatedly accusing the Obama administration of engaging in “overt hostility to faith in America,”  this isn’t enough. But if this is really a war against religion, maybe it’s time to ask the people of faith who are supposedly under attack. People like me.

My expertise on this topic is personal. Mine is a family in which priests and nuns outweigh any other profession except nurses. My mom taught nursing and medicine at a Catholic college, and placed nursing students in Catholic hospitals for 40 years. Family, faith, and taking care of people—these values are at the core of what we were taught growing up. Perhaps that is why the harsh tones, the imaginary division of the world into two camps—the faithful under attack and the attackers—seems more politics than theology. Certainly it is extremely distant from the millions of lives that could be affected by these conservative outcries. This would merely be entertaining election year political shenanigans if there were not so many lives at stake. More than 11 million women use birth control; millions more will have access to it under the new law.

In fact, birth control use is nearly universal in the United States, even among Catholic women. One recent study shows that 98 percent of sexually experienced Catholic women will have used birth control at some point in their lives. Nearly 60 percent of women use birth control pills for something other than, or in addition to, contraception. For example for women at risk for ovarian cancer, taking birth control pills for five years reduces their risk of getting cancer by 50%. Should women have to explain to employers they need coverage for serious illnesses, not birth control, in order to obtain the medicine their doctor prescribes?

Yes, there is a religious freedom question at stake, not only for employers but also employees. But much of this is already settled territory. The wide use of contraception long ago opened up the complex nature of religion in the public square and already found resolution, well before these election year political attacks. The new Department of Health and Human Services rule comes years after advances in 28 states, where regulations similar to the HHS rule have prompted religious leaders and policy makers to create solutions that serve women and their families and faith-based organizations. Take, for example, DePaul University, the nation’s largest Catholic college, which has confirmed that its employee benefits include prescription birth control coverage. DePaul is not alone—the Archdiocese of New York provided contraceptive coverage for medical reasons even prior to a state law mandating it, as did Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the Diocese itself now provides coverage under Wisconsin law.

I agree with the Bishops that there are cases when the religious freedom of an employer trumps that of an employee. For example, when I was a secretary at the Sacred Heart Rectory, I wouldn’t expect my health care plan to include prescription contraception because I worked for the church. Under Obama’s regulation, religious institutions, like the church I grew up in, are exempt.  Synagogues and other houses of worship do not have to provide contraception. Period.

But when Notre Dame is the single largest employer in South Bend, Indiana, with Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center not far behind, how could we say, “Sorry, you should move if you want to have affordable access to these health services.” It is discordant with my Catholic and my American values that a receptionist at the local hospital making around $26,000 a year should have to shell out nearly $600 for birth control or cede control to her employer over when to start a family, when she is already paying in to her health care plan. The new agreement would take this difficult question off the table by allowing the women and men working at these religious affiliated organizations to receive the equal and affordable access through their insurers directly without engaging their employers.

It is about time we raise the policy debate in Washington to keep up with complexity of faith, health and family that most Americans already navigate in their daily lives. Most Americans are religious. Fifty-five percent told Gallup that religion is “very important” to them. But these same Americans are also focused on the health of their families and they are, in fact, using birth control. Newt, Mitt, Rick, and all the other gentlemen trying to demagogue this issue would be best served listening to the folks in the pews before launching any more pious screeds. Most of America’s faithful families aren’t under attack from a “war on religion.” I for one don’t feel under attack—except perhaps from a small group of Republican presidential candidates who keep ignoring the voices, values, and lives of women like me.


By: Tara McGuinness, The New Republic, February 13, 2012

February 19, 2012 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Women's Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

U. S. Supreme Court Stays Montana Decision Undermining Citizens United

Late last year, the Montana Supreme Court handed down a decision that was widely viewed as openly defying the U.S. Supreme Court’s election-buying decision in Citizens United. Last night, the U.S. Supremes issued an entirely unsurprising order staying that decision. As a result, Montana will now face the same epidemic of corporate and other wealthy donor money that infected the other 49 states in the wake of the Citizens Uniteddecision.

There are, however, two possible silver linings in last night’s decision. The first is that the Supreme Court did not agree to the corporate parties’ request in this case to simply reverse the Montana decision without a full hearing or even necessarily an opinion. Yesterday’s order suspends the Montana decision “pending the timely filing and disposition of a petition for a writ of certiorari,” meaning that there is still a possibility that the Court could give the case a full hearing that would almost certainly raise the question of whether Citizens United should be overruled.

The second silver lining is a separate statement from Justices Ginsburg and Breyer attached to yesterday’s order:

Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” A petition for certiorari will give the Court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway. Because lower courts are bound to follow this Court’s decisions until they are withdrawn or modified, however, I vote to grant the stay.

This statement suggests that there are at least two votes on the Supreme Court eager to reconsider one of the modern Supreme Court’s most erroneous opinions just two years after it was decided. Such a swift reversal would very unusual, if not entirely unprecedented. In light of the massive influx of corporate and wealthy donor money flooding our democracy and threatening to elect a generation of candidates personally beholden to wealthy benefactors, however, this kind of swift admission of error by the justices is entirely necessary.


By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, February 18, 2012

February 19, 2012 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Elections | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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