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A Threat To “Religious Freedom”: Are Church Foreclosures By Banks Off Limits To Criticism?

Here’s a sad item from Reuters’ Tim Reid:

Banks are foreclosing on America’s churches in record numbers as lenders increasingly lose patience with religious facilities that have defaulted on their mortgages, according to new data.

The surge in church foreclosures represents a new wave of distressed property seizures triggered by the 2008 financial crash, analysts say, with many banks no longer willing to grant struggling religious organizations forbearance.

Since 2010, 270 churches have been sold after defaulting on their loans, with 90 percent of those sales coming after a lender-triggered foreclosure, according to the real estate information company CoStar Group.

In 2011, 138 churches were sold by banks, an annual record, with no sign that these religious foreclosures are abating, according to CoStar. That compares to just 24 sales in 2008 and only a handful in the decade before.

The church foreclosures have hit all denominations across America, black and white, but with small to medium size houses of worship the worst. Most of these institutions have ended up being purchased by other churches.

The highest percentage have occurred in some of the states hardest hit by the home foreclosure crisis: California, Georgia, Florida and Michigan.

Do you perhaps think the closure of churches in the midst of a Great Recession might be as much a threat to the free exercrise of religious expression as, say, a requirement that church-affiliated institutions allow their insurance companies to provide contraception coverage for their employees? I haven’t heard a peep about it from major religious leaders, much less conservative politicians. Bankers wanting their payments are apparently off-limits to criticism, unlike a president trying to ensure something within shouting distance of equality in access to health care.


By: Ed Kilgore, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 10, 2012

March 10, 2012 Posted by | Banks, Religion | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Mean Girl Racist Cheerleader” Sarah Palin: Obama Wants to Make White People Slaves

Sarah Palin is back in the news again for all the wrong reasons. Last night on The Sean Hannity Show, she proclaimed that President Obama wants to take America back to the days before the Civil War. Yes, you read that correctly. The African-American president wants to make us slaves again. Sigh.

Palin’s over the top proclamation was coded in one of her specialty word salads that few can translate. Since I have been called the Palin Whisperer by one of my Twitter followers, let me give you the short version: Obama wants to make white people slaves!!!! In case you don’t want to watch the video, here’s the transcript:

PALIN: Well, what we can glean from this is an understanding of why we are all on the road that we are on and it’s based on what went into his thinking, being surrounded by radicals. He is bringing us back Sean to days that… you can harken back to days before the Civil War, when unfortunately too many Americans mistakenly believed that not all men were created equal. And it was the Civil War that began the codification of the truth here in America… yes, we are equal and we all have equal opportunities, not based on the color of your skin.

You have equal opportunities to work hard and to succeed and to embrace the opportunities, god given opportunities to develop resources and work extremely hard and as I say, to succeed.

Now, it has taken all these years for many Americans to understand that that gravity, that mistake, took place before the Civil War and why the Civil War had to really start changing America. What Barack Obama seems to want to do is go back to before those days when we were in different classes based on income, based on color of skin.

Why are we allowing our country to move backwards instead of moving forward with that understanding that as our charters of liberty spell out for us, we are all created equally.

Palin’s civil war screed was in the middle of a longersegment about the supposed smoking gun video from the late Andrew Breitbart, with then law student Barack Obama, introducing Prof. Derrick Bell at Harvard. Bell, a noted scholar on race who passed away recently, is being vilified by conservatives as one of the terrorist types, like Bill Ayers or Jeremiah Wright that the president had associations with. The video has been seen by the public before, and was shock-edited by Brietbart and his minions in much the same way that the Shirley Sherrod video was. The video is at best innocuous, but Palin, in her Fox News role as mean girl racist cheerleader, is still beating Breitbart’s fake drums of scandal even after his death.

Palin’s offensive word salad on Sean Hannity was a Tour de farce in her attempt to turn people away from the HBO movie Game Change which focuses in on the choice of Palin as the vice presidential candidate and the trouble that ensued from bringing her on the Republican Ticket. Palin has been in full-tilt mode, bringing out her supporters to condemn the movie, in an attempt to deflect the depiction of her performance as a troubled, unstable VP candidate. Palin’s obsession with President Obama’s vetting as a candidate only serves to put the spotlight back on how unprepared Palin was not only as a candidate, but to take the office of vice president.

Make no mistake Palin may not be running for president, but she is trying every way she knows how to get back into play. By dog whistling “race” through a convoluted reinterpretation of the president, Palin is tuning up her white-mother-of-the-nation racist rally-cry back in full-throated roar. Palin may confound the media, but her loyalists completely understand her scrambled message.

Palin is also teasing about a brokered convention, and being willing to serve. These are merely code words to try to rally her flagging base of supporters to give money to SarahPac. To push back on the HBO movie, SarahPac commissioned a video, “Game change we can believe in,” a highlight reel of Palin on the 2008 campaign trail. Of course, the Pac is fundraising on the movie, hoping to get $20.12 for the 2012 race.

While Rick Santorum has taken Palin’s 2008 role over as Super Christian out on the campaign trail (with songs being written about him, no less), Palin’s star is on the wane. Since proclaiming she would not run for president in 2012, Palin has been in political limbo. Her followers at Conservatives 4 Palin have waned, and she even accepted a speaking role at CPAC, a convention she turned down three years running. Palin’s glory days are in her rearview mirror, but if she wants to keep up, she needs a Game Change. Bumpits, high-heeled shoes, and a bad attitude just aren’t working for her like they used to.


By: Anthea Butler, Religion Dispatches, March 9, 2012

March 10, 2012 Posted by | Civil War, Racism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Message Is Always The Same”: The Race-Baiting Continues

I’ve been holding off on writing something about the bizarre spectacle of the Derrick Bell “exposé” that has consumed the nuttier corners of the right in the last couple of days, simply because it’s so weird and pathetic that I wasn’t sure exactly how to talk about it beyond simple ridicule.

In case you missed it, here’s the story, briefly: Just before he died, conservative provocateur Andrew Breitbart said his web enterprises would soon release an explosive video that would transform the 2012 election by revealing Barack Obama’s radical ties.

The video turned out to be of something that was not only utterly unremarkable, but had been reported before. In 1991, when Obama was a student at Harvard Law School, the school was embroiled in a controversy over the under-representation of minorities on the faculty. Derrick Bell, the first black tenured professor at the school and a widely admired figure in legal circles, announced that he would take a leave until the school made efforts to hire more minority faculty. Obama spoke at a rally in support of Bell, and in support of more minorities on the faculty. And that’s the shocking revelation. Oh, and one more thing that conservatives are up in arms about—they hugged. Really.

Over at Breitbart’s web site, I count eight separate pieces on Derrick Bell (who died last year), trying to make the case that he was some kind of insane radical pushing radical theories of radicalism, all with the intention of oppressing white people, which is obviously what Barack Obama is up to as well. Just to get a flavor, here’s an excerpt from one of the articles:

Racialism is so woven into the thinking of Bell, and many believe Barack Obama, any white individual, regardless of ideology or personal attribute lacks the ability to understand and relate racism in America. Consequently, the notion of racial quotas is not simply based upon some idea of equality of opportunity, they must be imposed as white’s [sic] are inferior to blacks in an area Bell and Obama see as critical. While we like to think of equality as color blind, that is not the view Bell shared as a “truth” Obama embraced and encouraged others to do, as well.

You’ll notice the chain of logic, though I use that term loosely: Here’s an exaggeration of something Derrick Bell once said, “many believe” Obama thinks in the same way, here’s a leap to a parody of policies Obama doesn’t actually support, here’s a conclusion about how Obama hates white people and wants to screw them.

From the beginning of Breitbart’s enterprise, race-baiting was a key element of his attack on Barack Obama, one that continues even after his death. And he always had plenty of company, from Glenn Beck saying Obama “has a deep-seated hatred of white people,” to Rush Limbaugh’s repeated insistence to his white listeners that Obama was motivated by racial hatred in everything he did. “Obama’s entire economic program is reparations,” Limbaugh proclaimed. “The days of [minorities] not having any power are over, and they are angry,” he said. “And they want to use their power as a means of retribution. That’s what Obama’s about, gang.” When in 2009 he found a story about a white kid getting beaten up by a black kid on a school bus, Limbaugh said, “In Obama’s America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, ‘Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on.'” And yes, he did that last part in an exaggerated “black” accent.

The message is always the same: Obama and the blacks are mad, and they’re coming for you. Yet people like the Breitbart folks and Limbaugh have two problems. First, they’re running out of material. There aren’t any more shocking revelations to be had. The best they can do is try to make mountains of racial resentment out of the most innocuous molehills, like the fact that Obama supported Derrick Bell’s effort to diversify the faculty when he was a law student. And second, by now anyone who can be convinced that Obama is a secret Black Panther never thought otherwise. The guy has been president for three years. Americans are pretty familiar with him. He hasn’t actually started herding white people into concentration camps, and it’s an awfully tough sell to tell people that he might any day now.

This is a version of the larger problem conservatives have as we get into the 2012 election. The argument many of them will be making, in various forms, is this: Forget about what Obama has actually done. That doesn’t tell you anything. Let me tell you a story about his secret desires, his wicked thoughts, his venomous heart. That’s what your decision should be based on. You hear it from media bloviators, you hear it from interest groups, like the NRA screeching that if he’s re-elected Obama will outlaw guns, and you hear it from Mitt Romney, who is forever claiming that deep down Obama doesn’t much love America and wants to turn it into a European-style social-welfare state. Who are you going to believe, them, me, or or your own eyes?

Watching this stuff is immensely dispiriting, I’ll grant you. But it should be some consolation that it doesn’t seem to be working.


By: Paul Waldman, The American Prospect, March 9, 2012

March 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Leveraging Influence”: Why The Koch Brothers Want To Refine The Cato Institute

It seems that the effort by billionaires Charles and David Koch to take control of the libertarian Cato Institute is going poorly. “We are not acting in a partisan manner, we seek no ‘takeover’ and this is not a hostile action,” Charles Koch told Bloomberg News. When you are denying partisanship, takeover ambitions and hostile intentions in one sentence, you probably need to rethink your PR strategy.

The Koch brothers have long supported Cato, which they helped found in Washington in 1977. Recently, however, they have come to consider their creation politically unreliable. In a meeting with Robert Levy, the chairman of Cato’s board of directors, they expressed their intention to remake the institute into a party organ that would aid their effort to unseat President Obama. To do so, however, they need control of the board. They intend to get it by suing the widow of William Niskanen, a recently deceased board member, for control of Niskanen’s shares.

Whether they can pull off this coup is for the courts to decide. But the bigger question is: Why in the world would they want to?

In 2006, the first page of Cato’s annual report included an admiring quote from, well, me. “The libertarian Cato Institute is the foremost advocate for small-government principles in American life,” I wrote.

I am not exactly a libertarian. I’m a technocrat. I believe in the government’s ability, and occasionally its responsibility, to help solve problems that the market can’t or won’t resolve on its own. I find much of Cato’s hard-line libertarianism — to the point of purging Will Wilkinson and Brink Lindsey, libertarians who explored making common cause with liberals on select issues — naive, callous and occasionally absurd. And yet, it’s among a handful of think tanks whose work I regularly read and trust.

That’s because Cato is, well, “the foremost advocate for small-government principles in American life.” It advocates those principles when Democrats are in power, and when Republicans are in power. When I read Cato’s take on a policy question, I can trust that it is informed by more than partisan convenience. The same can’t be said for other think tanks in town.

The Heritage Foundation, for instance, is a conservative think tank that professes to pursue goals similar to Cato’s. Where Cato’s motto is “individual liberty, free markets, and peace,” Heritage’s mission is the advancement of “conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.”

In practice, however, whatever the Republican Party wants, so does Heritage. In 1989, Heritage helped develop the idea of universal health care delivered by the private sector through an individual mandate. In the early 1990s, it helped Senate Republicans build that concept into a legislative alternative to President Bill Clinton’s proposed reforms. In the early 2000s, Heritage worked with then-Governor Mitt Romney to implement the plan in Massachusetts. Then, when Obama won office and Democrats adopted Heritage’s idea, Heritage promptly fell into step with the Republican Party and turned ferociously against it.

Similarly, when Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was developing his budget and needed a friendly think tank to run the numbers, he turned to the Heritage Foundation. And boy, it made those numbers sprint. Heritage’s analysis showed Ryan’s budget driving down the unemployment rate to 2.8 percent. When the mockery that ensued proved too much for the think tank to bear, it quietly replaced the analysis with another that didn’t include unemployment predictions.

On policy, I probably agree more frequently with the Heritage Foundation than with Cato. But I can’t trust Heritage. I trust Cato. I don’t agree with its health-care expert, Michael Cannon, who considers universal coverage an absurd and deleterious goal. But I take his analysis seriously, and his critiques have informed my thinking. I’m certainly more skeptical of single-payer programs than I would have been without having read his arguments.

Similarly, I never considered myself particularly concerned with executive power, but in his book “The Cult of the Presidency,” Cato Vice President Gene Healy convinced me that “we begin by looking to the president as the solution to all our problems, and we end up believing he’s the source of all our problems,” contributing directly to Washington’s dysfunction. That has grown into a recurring theme in my writing. This column, for example, bears Healy’s imprint at the top. (I pause here to note that Cato is literally giving away Healy’s book, and you should absolutely accept the offer.)

I never had very strong views on intellectual property, but Cato’s Julian Sanchez — who is a friend — has convinced me that our intellectual-property system has become a protection racket for incumbent firms and is an impediment to innovation.

The list could go on, but the point is this: The Koch brothers’ fortune is estimated at more than $60 billion, a couple of thousand times Cato’s annual operating budget. The brothers have started many advocacy organizations, many of which spend their time — and the Kochs’ money — trying to influence the next election. They could begin another such group, one dedicated to providing campaign-season ammunition, without noticing the expense.

What’s puzzling is why the Kochs started this campaign in the first place. It’s easy enough to see what they hoped to achieve: They would quietly take control of Cato and then leverage its credibility to help elect a Republican president. Unfortunately for them, the cries from inside Cato made the “quietly” part impossible. But it would have been impossible in any case: Cato’s credibility is derived from its independence; it wouldn’t last long separated from it.

What the Kochs have in Cato is an advocacy organization that matters in the years between elections, even when the brothers’ preferred candidate doesn’t win, even to people who don’t share their ideology. Cato is an organization that can have more than a marginal impact on elections. It can have a significant impact on policy and governance.

That’s a level of influence that even the Kochs can’t buy. When two of the right wing’s most influential funders don’t recognize that, it should cheer liberals immensely.


By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, March 8, 2012

March 10, 2012 Posted by | Elections, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Inextricably Linked”: Scott Brown’s Mitt Romney Problem

When Republican Scott Brown stunned the political world in 2010 by winning the Senate seat in Massachusetts that Democrat Edward M. Kennedy had held for 46 years, it was Mitt Romney, a former governor of the state, who introduced Brown at the victory party in Boston.

A few weeks later, still basking in the rock-star glow of that unexpected win, Brown returned the favor. He introduced Romney at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference as “one of the Republican Party’s bright lights” and “my very, very dear friend.”

But now, as the two men anticipate tough general-election battles in the fall, their paths are beginning to diverge. Brown, who will face a difficult reelection fight, probably against Harvard professor and former Obama administration official Elizabeth Warren, is working hard to define himself as a “Massachusetts moderate,” hoping to build support among Democrats in the deeply blue state.

Romney, meanwhile, has been working equally hard to escape that label, which his rivals for the GOP presidential nomination have used as a slur against him during the primary campaign.

The likely result is that Brown will be forced into a delicate dance in the coming months to distance himself from a political mentor and his state’s other most prominent Republican politician. It is a twist of irony unique to Massachusetts but one that could hold broad significance to the marquee race.

Recent polls show Brown leading Warren, who has drawn national support because of her outspoken warnings about the excesses of Wall Street. But the November contest is widely considered a tossup, and the electoral math is difficult for Brown.

In the small world of Republican Massachusetts politics, the links between the two campaigns are especially close. Gail Gitcho, Romney’s communications director, once served that role for Brown. Colin Reed, Brown’s chief spokesman, used to work for Romney.

Robert Maginn, chairman of the state Republican Party, who is responsible for helping to get Brown reelected and boosting Romney’s chances if he becomes the party’s presidential nominee, is a Romney ally and a former board member at Bain Capital, which Romney founded.

And both campaigns employ strategist Eric Fehrnstrom to craft essentially opposite messages for the candidates — helping Romney argue that he is a reliable conservative and Brown present himself as an independent centrist.

“It might be easier for Brown if one of these other candidates were the nominee,” said Todd Domke, a Massachusetts-based Republican strategist. “Then he’d just distance himself totally and run as an independent. But he can’t plausibly do that entirely from Romney. The links between them are inextricable.”

Fehrnstrom referred questions to Brown’s campaign manager, Jim Barnett, who said that the campaigns’ overlap is “deep inside baseball” and that Massachusetts voters will support Brown’s moderate approach over what he said would be an overtly partisan turn by Warren.

“I don’t think voters care about the hired help,” he said of the shared consultants. “Massachusetts voters are very sophisticated, and they recognize that Scott Brown is an independent Republican and his own person.”

With movie-star good looks and an everyman image, Brown won the 2010 special election against Attorney General Martha Coakley, in part by rallying a small group of tea party activists behind his promise to oppose Democratic efforts to reform the health-care system.

Since his election, he has sometimes angered those core supporters with his willingness to cross party lines and vote with Democrats on key issues, an increasingly rare trait in Washington as moderates such as Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) prepare to depart.

Some observers say he will use those efforts to present himself to the Democratic state as a different kind of candidate than Romney.

“Scott Brown has to sell himself as very different from Mitt Romney,” said Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University. “He will have to convey that he’s one of the few people left in American politics who’s willing to cross party lines and be that moderate voice so missing in American politics right now.”

Brown was an early endorser of Romney’s presidential campaign. But a Romney victory in the Massachusetts Republican primary Tuesday was a forgone conclusion — he took more than 72 percent of the vote — which meant that Brown did not need stump for him in in the state in recent weeks.

With the Senate in session, Brown was in Washington on Tuesday and did not attend Romney’s Super Tuesday rally in Boston.

As many as 800,000 more residents are expected to vote in November than took part in the special election that Brown won. Many of them are Democrats who support Obama’s reelection.

To win, Brown probably would have to persuade several hundred thousand people who vote for Obama to cross party lines and support him for the Senate.

With those voters in mind, he is pitching his independence — in contrast to Romney, who has been trying to frame his tenure as Massachusetts governor as “severely conservative.”

“I don’t worry about the party line. I don’t get caught up in petty fights,” Brown told a crowd in Worcester in January as he began his reelection effort.

But in the face of an effort by Warren to nationalize the race, Brown may find it more difficult to distance himself from his fellow Massachusetts Republican than he would from a different nominee.

Warren — who will compete in a primary for the Democratic nomination in September, although no Democrat has mounted a serious challenge — will say that Democrats who support Obama should vote against Brown. Her argument is that a vote for Brown would help Republicans take over the Senate and thwart the president’s agenda — Brown and Romney are no different, she says.

Last week, for instance, her campaign highlighted Brown’s support for a controversial amendment in the Senate that would allow employers to avoid providing insurance coverage for contraception if they hold moral objections to it.

Democrats think that Warren, who helped create the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is the perfect messenger in a campaign that they think will revolve, nationally and in Massachusetts, around restoring a balance between the middle class and corporations and the wealthy. A well-known figure on the left, she is likely to receive support from Democrats nationwide, although Brown starts with a significantly larger campaign war chest than Warren.

“The easiest way to tie somebody to something is with their own words. Scott Brown’s endorsement of Mitt Romney, his long history, their shared staffers and advisers — there’s a close tie between these two guys,” said John Walsh, chairman of the state Democratic Party.

But there are some areas in which Brown could easily draw distinctions with the former governor: He supports abortion rights, favors stem-cell research and backed ending the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gay service members.

Enraging many conservatives, Brown supported the Dodd-Frank financial legislation, which all of the Republican presidential candidates have vowed to repeal.

And while Romney struggles to overcome a reputation as a stiff campaigner uncomfortable with his wealth, Brown has an appealing personal story of overcoming a hardscrabble childhood. He famously drives a pickup truck and wears a barn coat.

When Romney awkwardly told a group of voters in Michigan last week that his wife, Ann, drives “a couple of Cadillacs,” a spokesman for presidential rival Newt Gingrich invoked Brown’s name to mock the former Massachusetts governor.

“Just doesn’t have the same Scott Brown ring to it,” R.C. Hammond tweeted.

Some Massachusetts strategists said Brown’s plan to focus on state issues might be made easier, ironically, by the lack of a competitive presidential race in the state. Because Obama is expected to win Massachusetts easily, all the electoral excitement in the state will focus almost exclusively on the Senate contest.

“Massachusetts voters understand the presidential election is not in doubt in the state. The focus will be on the Senate,” said Rob Gray, a Boston-based Republican strategist who worked for Romney when he was governor. “It could be awkward, but Scott will do what he has to do to distance himself. And depending on the dynamics of the race, it may come to transpire that he does not have to distance himself that much.”


By: Rosalind S. Helderman, The Washington Post, March 8, 2012


March 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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