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“Makers, Takers, Fakers”: A Major Rhetorial Shift For The Party Of Sneering Plutocrats

Republicans have a problem. For years they could shout down any attempt to point out the extent to which their policies favored the elite over the poor and the middle class; all they had to do was yell “Class warfare!” and Democrats scurried away. In the 2012 election, however, that didn’t work: the picture of the G.O.P. as the party of sneering plutocrats stuck, even as Democrats became more openly populist than they have been in decades.

As a result, prominent Republicans have begun acknowledging that their party needs to improve its image. But here’s the thing: Their proposals for a makeover all involve changing the sales pitch rather than the product. When it comes to substance, the G.O.P. is more committed than ever to policies that take from most Americans and give to a wealthy handful.

Consider, as a case in point, how a widely reported recent speech by Bobby Jindal the governor of Louisiana, compares with his actual policies.

Mr. Jindal posed the problem in a way that would, I believe, have been unthinkable for a leading Republican even a year ago. “We must not,” he declared, “be the party that simply protects the well off so they can keep their toys. We have to be the party that shows all Americans how they can thrive.” After a campaign in which Mitt Romney denounced any attempt to talk about class divisions as an “attack on success,” this represents a major rhetorical shift.

But Mr. Jindal didn’t offer any suggestions about how Republicans might demonstrate that they aren’t just about letting the rich keep their toys, other than claiming even more loudly that their policies are good for everyone.

Meanwhile, back in Louisiana Mr. Jindal is pushing a plan to eliminate the state’s income tax, which falls most heavily on the affluent, and make up for the lost revenue by raising sales taxes, which fall much more heavily on the poor and the middle class. The result would be big gains for the top 1 percent, substantial losses for the bottom 60 percent. Similar plans are being pushed by a number of other Republican governors as well.

Like the new acknowledgment that the perception of being the party of the rich is a problem, this represents a departure for the G.O.P. — but in the opposite direction. In the past, Republicans would justify tax cuts for the rich either by claiming that they would pay for themselves or by claiming that they could make up for lost revenue by cutting wasteful spending. But what we’re seeing now is open, explicit reverse Robin Hoodism: taking from ordinary families and giving to the rich. That is, even as Republicans look for a way to sound more sympathetic and less extreme, their actual policies are taking another sharp right turn.

Why is this happening? In particular, why is it happening now, just after an election in which the G.O.P. paid a price for its anti-populist stand?

Well, I don’t have a full answer, but I think it’s important to understand the extent to which leading Republicans live in an intellectual bubble. They get their news from Fox and other captive media, they get their policy analysis from billionaire-financed right-wing think tanks, and they’re often blissfully unaware both of contrary evidence and of how their positions sound to outsiders.

So when Mr. Romney made his infamous “47 percent” remarks, he wasn’t, in his own mind, saying anything outrageous or even controversial. He was just repeating a view that has become increasingly dominant inside the right-wing bubble, namely that a large and ever-growing proportion of Americans won’t take responsibility for their own lives and are mooching off the hard-working wealthy. Rising unemployment claims demonstrate laziness, not lack of jobs; rising disability claims represent malingering, not the real health problems of an aging work force.

And given that worldview, Republicans see it as entirely appropriate to cut taxes on the rich while making everyone else pay more.

Now, national politicians learned last year that this kind of talk plays badly with the public, so they’re trying to obscure their positions. Paul Ryan, for example, has lately made a transparently dishonest attempt to claim that when he spoke about “takers” living off the efforts of the “makers” — at one point he assigned 60 percent of Americans to the taker category — he wasn’t talking about people receiving Social Security and Medicare. (He was.)

But in deep red states like Louisiana or Kansas, Republicans are much freer to act on their beliefs — which means moving strongly to comfort the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted.

Which brings me back to Mr. Jindal, who declared in his speech that “we are a populist party.” No, you aren’t. You’re a party that holds a large proportion of Americans in contempt. And the public may have figured that out.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 27, 2013

January 28, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Same Unpopular Policies And Priorities”: There Are No real “Reformers” In The Republican Party

There’s a lot of chatter this morning about the forceful speech Governor Bobby Jindal has delivered to the Republican National Committee on the future of the GOP — partly because he’s a possible contender for 2016, and partly because the GOP’s “soul searching” about the way forward continues.

The speech was directed towards conservatives (the Washington Examiner called it “dynamic”), assuring listeners that Jindal won’t compromise conservative values: “I am not one of those who believe we should moderate, equivocate, or otherwise abandon our principles.”

It also positioned Jindal as a reform-minded outsider: “Washington has spent a generation trying to bribe our citizens and extort our states,” Jindal said. “As Republicans, it’s time to quit arguing around the edges of that corrupt system.”

But there’s just little in the way of “reform” here — after all, he has no interest in actually moderating the party’s conservatism. This highlights a larger problem: There aren’t any real “reformers” in the GOP.

Jindal himself embodies the same right-wing policies that sank Mitt Romney and damaged the GOP’s appeal to middle and working-class Americans. Under Jindal, for instance, Louisiana has made deep cuts to public services, slashing millions in spending from education and health care. Jindal has proposed a tax regime that goes far beyond the Ryan plan in its regressiveness. The Louisiana governor wants to abolish corporate and income taxes in his state, providing a huge windfall for wealthy, entrenched interests — corporate and income taxes account for more than half of Louisiana’s annual revenue.

The only other way to make up for this lost revenue is to raise sales taxes, which fall hardest on poor and working-class Americans, who consume a larger share of their income than their higher-income counterparts. For Louisiana to close the revenue hole, explains the Tax Policy Center, it will have to more than double its sales taxes, from the current joint (state and local) rate of 8.86 percent to a far higher 17.72 percent. And if the state wants to maintain its sales tax exemptions on groceries and other necessities, it will have to raise that number even higher. “For households that don’t pay income taxes and save little or no income,” writes the Tax Policy Center, “this amounts to close to a 4 percentage point drop in after-tax income.”

The fact of the matter is there are no real reformers among the leadership class of the Republican Party. Not Bobby Jindal. Not Marco Rubio (who, despite his feints in the direction of immigration reform, is hewing to the NRA line on guns). And not Paul Ryan (who will soon be submitting a budget that supposedly wipes away the deficit in 10 years, with no new revenues, which would require savage and deep cuts to government programs that help the poor and elderly). At most, these leaders offer a whitewash: Underneath all the new rhetoric of change and inclusiveness lurk the same unpopular policies and priorities skewed in favor of the rich and against the middle class and poor.


By: Jamelle Bouie, The Washington Post Plum Line, January 25, 2013

January 28, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Politics | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Proud Up-Yours Tradition”: Arizona Bill Would Require Immigration Checks In Hospitals

Republicans have long claimed that there’s no such thing as an uninsured patient in America since anyone can just go to the emergency room for their health care. Sure that’s inefficient and expensive, but a proposed Arizona law might reduce some of those costs by making clear to undocumented immigrants that they’re not welcome in the state’s hospitals at all.

The latest in the Arizona’s proud tradition of “up yours” legislation, H.B. 2293 would require that to would require hospitals to check the immigration status of patients and report undocumented patients to the authorities. Republican State Representative Steve Smith, who’s sponsoring the bill, said that it’s a way to gauge how much Arizona is spending on care for non-Americans:

The local ABC affiliate reported:

“That’s it, we don’t deny anybody, they don’t come in and not get treated, everything stays the same, we just want it documented,” said Smith.

Smith said his goal is to find out the amount of money hospitals spend to treat undocumented immigrants.

He later said that he has “no clue” about whether hospitals would enforce the law. It’s currently in the early stages of the legislative process but if it passed it would likely dissuade undocumented immigrants from seeking health care since their presence in the emergency room would trigger a call to the cops or feds.

“When does this begin or end?” asked Pete Wertheim of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association to the Arizona Daily Sun. “What other industry should be screening their customers for citizenship verification?”

We cannot detain them,” he said of those suspected of being illegal immigrants. And he said not every one of the 1.2 million uninsured in Arizona — people who would lack the evidence of valid health insurance that triggers what Smith’s bill would require — are here illegally.

Smith has also advocated for citizenship checks in public schools.


By: Alex Halperin, Salon, January 27, 2013

January 28, 2013 Posted by | Immigration | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Wrong Winners”: The Long Past And Perilous Future Of Gaming The Electoral College system

Following another bitter presidential loss, Republicans in several states are pushing for rule changes that would boost their odds in future races — essentially, switching the Electoral College allocation method in Democratic-leaning swing states from the current winner-take-all system to one that would help Republicans capture at least some electoral votes in those battlegrounds.

In the short run, of course, such changes would probably help Republicans siphon off electoral votes in states like Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. But these rule changes would also make a mockery of the concept of fair elections, and harm the twin Republican principles of conservativism and federalism.

Currently, all but two states award Electoral College votes using a winner-take-all system (called the Unit Rule). The Unit Rule is not mandatory. Other methods have been used in the past, including having the state legislature hand out the electoral votes however it sees fit. Another popular alternative method, one that is currently used by Maine and Nebraska, is giving one electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district.

The Unit Rule is widely used today because of its political benefits. In the early days of the republic, it was not clear which system was best. Some politicians were strong proponents of the district-based system — including Thomas Jefferson. But this philosophical position quickly gave way to expediency. When Jefferson ran for president in 1800, his native Virginia transferred over to the Unit Rule to hand Jefferson the full allotment of his home state’s votes.

In the ensuing elections, many states switched allocation methods. Eventually, the trend toward a more democratic system in the 1820s led to the phasing out of the state legislatures’ allocating votes. At the same time, politicians realized that the district system diluted the impact of a state’s vote, and prevented state lawmakers from delivering their entire electoral bounty to their preferred candidate. By 1836, all states except South Carolina used the winner-take-all method.

However, over the years, there have been occasional attempts to switch to a different plan to help various favored candidates. For instance, in 1892, Michigan switched to the district plan to help Grover Cleveland, and then switched back to the Unit Rule for the 1896 election.

Fast forward to the modern day. Since the super-tight 2000 election, there have been numerous attempts to switch the allocation methods of states. Republicans tried to loosen Democrats’ stranglehold on deep-blue California by pushing for a district-based system, which would have been devastating to Democrats. Liberals have made similar noises about revising the laws of North Carolina and Colorado. None of these plans have come fruition.

Since Obama’s landslide victory in November, all of the talk about changing the system — and there has been a lot of it — has been on the Republican side. Thanks to the GOP’s big wins in the 2010 elections, Republicans control the legislatures and the governors’ offices of a number of states that voted for Obama, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Virginia. These states are now targets for a switch to the district-based method.

This would clearly damage Democrats’ short-term political prospects. For example, under the system proposed by Virginia, the state’s electoral votes would have gone from 13 for Obama to 9-4 in favor of Mitt Romney — because he won a bunch of congressional districts despite decisively losing the state’s popular vote.

Such rule changes would immediately nationalize state legislative elections. Thanks to their role in gerrymandering, state legislative elections are already receiving increased attention from national figures. If states started fussing with the rules of the Electoral College, this attention would skyrocket. Consider this: In the 2011 Wisconsin recalls of nine state senators, total campaign spending topped $44 million. Imagine how much would be spent if the presidency were thought to be on the line.

From the point of view of federalism, this would destroy the ideal of state governments as “laboratories of democracy.” These state legislative races would no longer focus on local issues — instead, they would be decided by national topics that have nothing to do with an average legislator’s job. We could also expect an increase in recall elections run to gain a majority in a closely divided legislature.

Gerrymandering, already a bipartisan blight on our political system, would only grow in importance. Mid-decade gerrymandering would become the norm. Essentially, every election would become an attempt to game the system.

We’ve actually seen this before. It goes on every four years, as states try to rejigger the rules, and especially the dates, of their presidential nominating contests. It is not pretty, and it is not a good way to run a system.

Another problem is with the conservative ideal of keeping the Electoral College intact. The Electoral College managed to survive the 2000 presidential debacle. Part of the reason was politics, and part of the reason was that there was a clear villain in the process, namely Florida’s botched election system. But yet another part is that whatever the merits of the complaints against the Electoral College, it’s a historic and relatively straightforward process — win a state, win its votes.

Of course, the current electoral allocation method skews attention to swing states, and ignores voters in any states that are solidly blue or red, including three of the four biggest states (California, New York, and Texas). Switching to the district-based system would result in more attention for these states’ local issues. However, the district-based system may be more likely to misfire. It would have increased Bush’s Electoral College totals in 2000, despite his losing the popular vote to Al Gore.

Indeed, the district-based system proposed by Republicans (and occasionally, in the past, Democrats) would actually be designed to increase the likelihood of “wrong winners” — someone who loses the popular vote but wins the presidency.

Can the Electoral College handle being a continual contra-indicator of the national popular vote? It is likely that repeated misfires of the Electoral College would fatally undermine the system. Eventually, if one party is specifically disadvantaged, it would have to go all-in to replace the Electoral College with a national popular vote system. And at some point in the future, a party would accomplish that.

Attempts to game the Electoral College for short-term political gain may temporarily help Republican candidates. But in the long term, they would have a devastating impact on the concept of fair elections, and on the ideals of federalism and conservativism. Republicans would be well advised to consider whether the short-term pleasure is worth the long-term pain.


By: Joshua Spivak, The Week, January 25, 2013

January 28, 2013 Posted by | Democracy, Federalism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Eeerily Similar Marketing Stragety Of The Tobacco Industry”: Gun Industry Aims To Sell Youth On Assault Weapons

Responding to Americans’ declining interest in shooting sports, gun manufacturers are developing programs to market their products to younger children. The National Shooting Sports Foundation trade association and the industry-funded National Rifle Association spend millions of dollars annually to recruit kids as gun enthusiasts. And those efforts increasingly focus on pushing semi-automatic assault weapons, including the very model used by the shooter in the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy.

The New York Times reports:

The pages of Junior Shooters, an industry-supported magazine that seeks to get children involved in the recreational use of firearms, once featured a smiling 15-year-old girl clutching a semiautomatic rifle. At the end of an accompanying article that extolled target shooting with a Bushmaster AR-15 — an advertisement elsewhere in the magazine directed readers to a coupon for buying one — the author encouraged youngsters to share the article with a parent.

“Who knows?” it said. “Maybe you’ll find a Bushmaster AR-15 under your tree some frosty Christmas morning!”

The industry’s youth-marketing effort is backed by extensive social research and is carried out by an array of nonprofit groups financed by the gun industry, an examination by The New York Times found. The campaign picked up steam about five years ago with the completion of a major study that urged a stronger emphasis on the “recruitment and retention” of new hunters and target shooters.

Federal law prohibits the sale of rifles to those under age 18. But through programs at Boy Scout camps and 4-H clubs, the NRA trains children on how to safely shoot single-shot rifles. And, according to the report: “Newer initiatives by other organizations go further, seeking to introduce children to high-powered rifles and handguns while invoking the same rationale of those older, more traditional programs: that firearms can teach ‘life skills’ like responsibility, ethics and citizenship.”

This effort seems eerily similar to the marketing strategy employed by the tobacco industry in the 1980s. Recognizing that the number of smokers in America was declining — and dying off — cigarette companies sought to addict underage children to ensure a continuing market for their product. A now infamous 1981 Philip Morris corporate memo noted that “[t]oday’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer, and the overwhelming majority of smokers first begin to smoke while still in their teens. In addition, the 10 years following the teenage years is the period during which average daily consumption per smoker increases to the average adult level. The smoking patterns of teenagers are particularly important to Philip Morris.”

One gun-industry study noted a similar need to “start them young,” observing that “stakeholders such as managers and manufacturers should target programs toward youth 12 years old and younger… This is the time that youth are being targeted with competing activities. It is important to consider more hunting and target-shooting recruitment programs aimed at middle school level, or earlier.”


By: Josh Israel, Think Progress, January 27, 2013

January 28, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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