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“The Romney-Ryan Emperors Have No Clothes”: The Republican Party Deserves The Todd Akin Mess

I am going to get in trouble for this.

For years many of my Republican friends have admitted to me that they couldn’t give a damn about social issues—abortion, gay marriage, or the Ten Commandments being posted on schools and public buildings. They are contemptuous of the religious right and find many of them “wackos.” In short, the religious right has driven them crazy for years.

But these are political people and they know they need the religious right to activate the Republican base. Ever since the late 1970s and the rise of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, Republicans have made sure they were inside the tent. They were not Ronald Reagan’s cup of tea but he brought them in, as did the Bushes.

But, more and more, the Michele Bachmanns, Paul Ryans, Todd Akins are the Republican Party and some political pros have begun to worry. In fact, a leading voice of the anti-tax conservative movement, Grover Norquist, is known to have contempt for the right wing social activists. He has admitted when his guard was down that he thinks the issues are “nuts.” But he has also said that it is so easy just to push these hot button social issues and boy, off they go, in full gallop!

The problem now—as illustrated by Rep. Todd Akin, a sincere and true believer in these issues, his church, and a strict religious moral code—is the “regular Republicans” who have used these religious activists now want to jettison them or at least keep them quiet. I debated Todd Akin at Harvard a number of years ago—we disagreed heartily but I found him to be a very committed and consistent social conservative. He was not a cynic; he was not going through the motions. He was a believer and he lived his values.

Now, the Republican Party operatives find themselves so wedded to this faction after exploiting it for nearly 30 years that they don’t know what to do when the mechanisms of the party have been taken over by the far right. The Republican Party platform for the last three cycles, including this year, makes no exception for terminating a pregnancy caused by rape and incest. It does not even allow for the life of the mother. Women (and men) are not supposed to notice? The party embraces “personhood” amendments and refuses to support the morning-after pill, again even if a rape is involved. “De-fund Planned Parenthood” is their battle cry.

And no one at this Tampa convention has the guts to speak up. All they do is condemn Todd Akin—because, really, he presents a “political problem.” But they are as quiet as church mice when it comes to amending the Akin anti-abortion platform plank.

Some of these religious conservatives should be hopping mad. They are being played. They are being used by presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. No one in his Boston headquarters wants the public to know that his VP pick Rep. Paul Ryan has been locked at the hip with Todd Akin. Their views are exactly the same on these issues, one slip of the tongue on rape not withstanding. They want the religious right’s money, they want them to work on their campaign, they want them to turn out at the polls, but they want them quiet, behind the curtain. They have no intention of overturning Roe v. Wade, they know that the train has left the station on gay and lesbian rights, they know that tolerance and diversity will rule the day, but they won’t change their party platform because the far right that they used over the past three decades has taken over their party. They do not want the public to know where they stand on these issues, because they know their deficit with women could be 20 points. They could lose the suburban vote, they could further anger young voters, they could be unmasked as the right wing, extremist party that their 2012 platform says they are.

In short, they want Todd Akin and others to leave the limelight right now because that light shows what we all know—the Republican emperors of Romney-Ryan have no clothes. (And we’re not talking about skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee!)


By: Peter Fenn, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, August 23, 2012

August 24, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Akin Plank”: Talking About The Party’s Platform Is The GOP’s New Fireable Offense

At the rate prominent Republicans are turning on Todd Akin this week, you’d think he actually said something to offend them.

When Akin told an interviewer that rape victims don’t need abortion rights because victims of “legitimate rape” don’t get pregnant, he wasn’t going rogue. Instead, he was simply repeating the GOP’s official position on reproductive rights in a really, really tasteless way. If Akin’s example is any guide, straying from right-wing orthodoxy in today’s Republican party is less of a crime than simply calling attention to it.

It’s true that Akin’s bizarre belief that rape victims have ways to “shut that whole thing down” is common only among the fringe of the fringe Right. But the anti-abortion orthodoxy that is now part of the official Republican platform is a direct result of that sort of magical thinking. It helps, when denying reproductive choice to all women, to imagine it only benefits a certain type of abortion-craving bogey-woman who brought this on herself. Sometimes that requires some helpful mythology and weird science to smooth over the reality of women’s lives.

It’s the reality of real people that Republican leaders are desperately trying to avoid. As soon as Akin’s comments hit the national news, prominent Republicans starting calling for him to step out of the Senate race in Missouri. Par for the course, once it became clear that that was the thing to do, Mitt Romney eventually joined the onslaught.

What’s puzzling is that Romney and the others aren’t criticizing the substance of Akin’s remarks. They’re just really angry that he’s making them look bad.

It’s strange, but you almost have to admire the right-wingers who are standing up for Akin. At least they’re being honest about what their real position is. Akin’s fellow unhinged congressman Steve King of Iowa backed up his friend’s comments, saying he had never “heard of” someone getting pregnant through statutory rape or incest. Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh said Akin was “wrong” but that he couldn’t understand why his fellow Republicans were in a “rush to pile on.”

Here is what Romney and his fellow Republicans need to do if they want to actually convince Americans that they respect women: stop catering to the wishes of anti-choice extremists and start listening to women.

But I wouldn’t hold my breath. Two days into this controversy the GOP platform committee approved the “Akin plank” codifying the no-exception policy that Republicans up for election were trying to sweep under the rug. Two weeks after the Akin plank is officially endorsed by the party, vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, an unflinching supporter of the policy, will speak at the Values Voter Summit, an annual confab supported by some of the most extreme anti-choice groups out there. Two of those groups, the American Family Association and the Family Research Council, were among the first to defend Akin. AFA spokesman Bryan Fischer even went as far as to compare Akin himself to a victim of rape.

Romney and his party are trying to run from Akin while holding on to everything he stands for. It’s a tough trick to pull off. So far, they aren’t getting away with it.


By: Michael B. Keegan, The Huffington Post Blog, August 23, 2012

August 24, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Terrifying Implications”: Texas Says “No Thanks” To Women’s Health Care

If you haven’t been worn down reading about Todd Akin’s bizarre and ignorant views about the female reproductive system, now turn to Texas, where women’s uteruses may soon have to move out of state to find health care. Late Tuesday night, a federal court of appeals ruled that Texas can exclude Planned Parenthood from the Women’s Health Program, which provides basic preventative care—like birth control and cancer screenings—for low-income women. The decision has terrifying implications in a state where women’s access to health care is already poor.

One in four women in Texas is uninsured, and the state also has the third-highest rate of cervical cancer in the country. In Texas, women’s health-care clinics serving low-income populations rely on two sources of funding: the Women’s Health Program and general state family-planning dollars. Lawmakers have attacked both streams.

In 2011, the state legislature slashed state funding for family planning—you know, the thing that prevents abortions—by two-thirds. A recent report from the Texas Observer revealed that 60 family planning facilities have already closed as a result of the cuts. While a full picture of the effect is still emerging, the Legislative Budget Board, a bipartisan committee, had estimated that when all was said and done, the cuts would lead to 20,000 additional births (which Medicaid would have to pay for). Projections show that around 180,000 women would lose health services.

Then there’s the damage to the state Women’s Health Program (WHP), a separate program that serves 130,000 low-income women. Created in 2005, the WHP is a crucial state service that provides preventative health care and family-planning services. It’s run through Medicaid, so the feds paid for 90 percent of the $40 million program. While it only serves women who are not pregnant, it saved around $75.2 million in 2009 by preventing a projected 6,700 births. The program seemed like a win-win; it decreased unplanned pregnancies and abortions, while increasing access to health care.

But the WHP may soon not exist, or at least not in a recognizable way. Lawmakers added new rules in 2011 that excluded Planned Parenthood from receiving funding. The trouble is, Planned Parenthood provided services to nearly half the women covered under the program and received about 25 percent of the program’s total funding last year. Barring the organization leaves many wondering whether those clinics left would meet demand.

Furthermore, the state violated federal policy by slashing Planned Parenthood funding, which means Medicaid can no longer foot the bill for the Women’s Health Program. Texas supposedly has a plan to transition to a state-run program by November 1; that plan will continue to exclude Planned Parenthood. The influential organization is fighting the state’s decision, and in October, the two parties begin court proceedings on whether Texas can permanently exclude the main provider of women’s health from its Women’s Health Program.

Yesterday’s decision means that between now and the court case, Texas can halt funding to Planned Parenthood clinics. It’s only a few months, but the clinics are already reeling from the family-planning cuts. The loss of WHP funding is a double whammy. Twelve Planned Parenthood clinics have already shut down, alongside the many clinics with no relation to the organization. Meanwhile, if the courts ultimately decide Texas cannot exclude Planned Parenthood from the WHP, the state may opt to shut down the program entirely.

Many, including the attorney general and Governor Rick Perry, celebrated the decision, and the state Health and Human Services Commission announced it would immediately halt funding to the group. Meanwhile, for the hundreds of thousands of low-income women in the state, there are fewer and fewer health-care options.


By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, August 22, 2012

August 24, 2012 Posted by | Women's Health | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Who’s Paying For What?”: The Flood Of Secret Campaign Cash Is Not All Citizens United

The emergence of nonprofits [1] as the leading conduit for anonymous spending in this year’s presidential campaign is often attributed to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United [2] ruling, which opened the money spigot, allowing corporations and unions to buy ads urging people to vote for or against specific candidates.

But a closer look [3] shows that there are several reasons that tens of millions of dollars of secret money are flooding this year’s campaign. Actions — and inaction — by both the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service have contributed just as much to the flood of tens of millions of dollars of secret money into the 2012 campaign. Congress did not act on a bill that would have required disclosure after Citizens United and other court rulings opened the door to secret political spending.

To understand how all this happened, it’s worth returning to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion [4] in Citizens United, and the political system the court envisioned. In the decision’s key finding, Kennedy and four other justices said the First Amendment entitled corporations and unions to the same unlimited rights of political speech and spending as any citizen.

But in a less-noticed portion of the ruling, Kennedy and seven of his colleagues upheld disclosure rules and emphasized the role of transparency. Undue corporate or union influence on elections, he wrote, could be addressed by informed voters and shareholders who would instantly access campaign finance facts from their laptops or smart phones.

“With the advent of the Internet,” Kennedy wrote, “prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.”

If a company wasted money on politics, the justices agreed, its shareholders could use the publicly available information to “determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits.” Separately, the sunshine of public disclosure will let “citizens see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.”

“The First Amendment protects political speech; and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way,” Kennedy concluded. “This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”

A very different system has taken shape. As our reporting this week showed, money for political ads is pouring into non-profits ostensibly dedicated to promoting social welfare. These groups are paying for many of the negative ads clogging the airwaves, but are not disclosing their donors.

As a result, it’s entirely unclear whether these ads are being paid for by unions and corporations empowered by Citizens United or by wealthy individuals.

Separately, corporations have resisted calls [5] to list their donations to political social welfare nonprofits or other political spending. So far, the Securities and Exchange Commission has not responded to a rulemaking petition [6] asking for it to develop rules to require public companies to disclose that spending.

The Supreme Court’s opening of the door to hefty flows of secret money began years before Citizens United. In a 2007 case (PDF) [7] involving a nonprofit called Wisconsin Right to Life [8], the justices ruled that unions and corporations could buy ads that mentioned a candidate in the weeks before an election as long as the commercials stopped short of directly advocating the candidate’s election or defeat. Even if these ads, known as “electioneering communications,” clearly attacked the positions of one candidate, they were permissible unless they were “susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.”

The flood began and the identities of hardly any of the donors were disclosed. The reason? A decision by the FEC, the oversight panel with three Republicans and three Democrats who frequently deadlock.

After Wisconsin Right to Life, the FEC told social welfare nonprofits that they had to disclose only if the donors specifically earmarked the money for political ads. “It proved to be the exception that swallowed the rule,” said Paul S. Ryan, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit, non-partisan group that tracks campaign finance. The day the FEC adopted this rule, Ryan wrote on his blog that it would allow massive amounts of secret money into politics. He proved correct.

In 2006, ads bought by groups that didn’t disclose their donors amounted to less than 2 percent of outside spending, excluding party committees, research by the Center for Responsive Politics [9] shows. By 2008, that number hit 25 percent; by 2010, more than 40 percent.

All of this raises an intriguing question: Was Kennedy aware when he drafted the January 2010 Citizens United opinion that nonprofits were being widely used to avoid public disclosure of political spending?

At the least, critics say, Kennedy was poorly informed.

“Justice Kennedy was living in a fantasy land,” said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a professor at Stetson University College of Law who tracks campaign finance issues. “I wish the world he envisaged exists. It doesn’t.”

Instead, this is the disclosure world that exists: Someone who gives up to $2,500 to the campaign of President Barack Obama or challenger Mitt Romney will have his or her name, address and profession listed on the FEC website for all to see. But that same person can give $1 million or more to a social welfare group that buys ads supporting or attacking those same candidates and stay anonymous.

This year, a federal judge struck down the FEC rule stemming from Wisconsin Right to Life. The FEC announced in July that major donors to electioneering communications — ads that focus on issues without directly advocating for candidates — would have to be named.

Already, groups are looking for work-arounds. They’re running different kinds of ads. Some will name other social welfare nonprofits as their donors.

The loose oversight by the FEC helped bring so much anonymous money into campaign finance. But no one expects the commission to take a more assertive role anytime soon. Dan Backer, a lawyer who represents several conservative nonprofits, likened the deadlocked agency to a “cute bunny” while referring to the IRS as a “500-pound gorilla.”

The IRS or Congress are more plausible avenues for change, experts say. Ryan said he was hopeful that Congress and the IRS might some day limit ads from groups that don’t disclose their donors. The 2012 campaign, though, appears to be a lost cause. “I think this election will be mired and perhaps overwhelmed by secret money,” Ryan said.


By: Stephen Engelberg and Kim Barker, ProPublica, August 23, 2012

August 24, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pandering To The Stupid”: Why The GOP Breeds Politicians Like Todd Akin

The embarrassing fall of Todd Akin should induce Republicans to confront their own responsibility for the low quality of politicians they are inflicting on us (and themselves). Having developed an extremist culture that encourages figures such as Akin to seek legislative office, GOP leaders should hardly be surprised when idiotic and reprehensible remarks spill from the mouths of their candidates. (Candidates who insist, by the way, that English should be our official language when their own diction is often incomprehensible.)

Yet those same leaders insist they were shocked – yes, shocked and appalled – by Akin’s “legitimate rape” utterance, as if other Republican figures don’t blurt bizarre, nonsensical, and dumb comments as regularly as cows pass gas. Memories dim from cycle to cycle, but how can they forget Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party queen whose defeat of an intelligent moderate Republican legislator sparked celebrations among “conservatives” across the country?

She had accused “American scientific companies” of cross-breeding animals with humans to produce “mice with fully functioning human brains,” and warned that co-educational colleges would lead to “orgy rooms.” Regarding evolution, she said the scientific theory is “a myth,” asking “Why aren’t monkeys still evolving into humans?” But her shaky grip on reality didn’t matter because she eagerly adopted the party line on economic and social issues.

O’Donnell was colorful but hardly unique. Across the country in Nevada, Sharron Angle became the party’s standard-bearer against Senator Harry Reid, proceeding to disqualify herself with calls for armed insurrection and ugly, racially charged remarks to Hispanic students. In Kentucky, Rand Paul easily won a Senate seat, whereupon he let the nation know that the Supreme Court doesn’t decide the constitutionality of laws in this country. Evidently he thinks that he does.

Cretinism of the same caliber can be found in news archives under the names of candidates failed and elected, from Carl Paladino in New York and Ken Buck in Colorado to Ron Johnson in Wisconsin and — topping any such list – Michele Bachmann in Minnesota, who once suggested that Democratic presidencies coincided with swine flu outbreaks because they had occurred under Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama. (Actually, the 1976 epidemic occurred under Gerald Ford, a Republican, but Bachmann is almost always confused about dates, places, and history.)

Dim politicians of all stripes have always been with us as an unfortunate byproduct of democracy. In that vein, it must be noted that there are plenty of bright conservatives and some not-so-bright liberals, too. But have there ever been so many nominated nimrods, so concentrated within a single major party, and so enthusiastically encouraged in their ambition by powerful people who should know better?

The most famous and damning example, of course, is Sarah Palin, the blindingly ignorant vice-presidential nominee in 2008, brought to the brink of executive power by neoconservative leader William Kristol and the seasoned campaign veterans advising John McCain, notably Steve Schmidt.

We are meant to assume that the Palin episode was a freakish accident, but the irresponsibility of Ivy-educated right-wing intellectuals like Kristol and sophisticated operatives like Schmidt in promoting her was symptomatic of a broader ailment. Major financial and media powers, including the Club for Growth, the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, Rush Limbaugh, the National Review and a host of other forces within the GOP have aggressively supported candidates whose extremist views only emphasize their feeble intellect and lack of basic knowledge. For the party of the right, no standards need be imposed on those who are supposed to write laws, negotiate budgets, and oversee executive and judicial authorities. Like in the old Soviet Union, anybody who parrots the party line will do.

Don’t expect the Akin incident – or last year’s gong-show presidential primary — to provoke introspection among the top operatives and financiers of the right. Their style of politics is a daily insult to their country, but they will continue to believe that pandering to stupid is the shortest path to power.


By: The National Memo, August 23, 2012

August 24, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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