"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Driving While Impaired”: After Falling In Sequester Ditch, GOPers Look For Way Out

Remember the Republicans’ debt-ceiling crisis in 2011? It was about a year and a half ago when GOP leaders handed President Obama a ransom note: accept more than $2 trillion in debt reduction or the economy gets it. The parties agreed to more than $1 trillion in cuts, but agreed they needed more time to work on a larger agreement.

So, they crafted a mechanism intended to force both sides to the negotiating table — a sword of Damocles hanging over Washington’s head that would be so severe, Democrats and Republicans would have a strong incentive to strike a deal to avoid the drastic consequences.

The mechanism was automatic sequestration cuts — or “the sequester” — valued at about $1.2 trillion, half of which would come from the Pentagon. (Democrats originally wanted automatic tax hikes to motivate the GOP, but Republicans refused — even hypothetical tax increases were deemed outrageous — and deep Defense cuts were used instead.)

These cuts kick in three weeks from today, and so far, the two sides aren’t close. Democrats want a balanced deal the GOP should find tolerable — spending cuts on one side of the ledger, revenue from closed tax loopholes on the other. Republicans, meanwhile, say they’re prepared to simply let the sequester happen, regardless of the consequences to the economy, the military, or the public.

At least, that’s what they say publicly. Behind the scenes, the GOP strategy is on shaky ground.

One thing is becoming clear: Republicans want to find a way to replace the cuts in the sequester, despite some loud rhetoric to the contrary.

Top House Republican aides privately concede that the politics of allowing the cuts to hit — layoffs, furloughs and a stalled economic recovery — are tough to stomach and they would prefer to make a deal, on their terms of course. […]

A top GOP leadership aide, speaking anonymously to divulge internal thinking, laid out 10 options that the House GOP leadership would be willing to accept, along with savings estimates developed by GOP policy aides, in order to avoid the sequester.

So, the good news is, Republicans are not actively seeking a course that would hurt the country on purpose. The bad news is, they’re still struggling with the whole “compromise” concept.

To date, with just 21 days to go, Republicans leaders have offered nothing — there is no sequester alternative on the table, and in this Congress, no bills to replace the sequester have even been written. There are reportedly 10 different scenarios Republican leaders would be willing to consider, but all 10 are made up entirely of deep spending cuts and would not include so much as a penny in additional revenue.

In other words, Republicans want to replace sequestration with a package that gives them 100% of what they want and 0% of what Democrats want.

This after a national campaign in which Democrats voiced support for a balanced approach, and the American electorate strongly agreed.

It’s nice, I suppose, that there are so many Republican-friendly options to choose from — the menu includes everything from raising the Medicare eligibility age to chained CPI, cutting federal pensions to cutting agricultural subsidies — but so long as GOP officials expect a 100%/0% deal, the likelihood of a breakthrough is remote.

That said, with three weeks to go, I expect some movement away from the intransigent status quo. Put aside the rhetoric and the posturing and we’re left with a picture in which Democrats and Republicans actually have the same goal: to get rid of the sequester. The GOP doesn’t want to admit it, but a bipartisan deal, featuring a combination of spending cuts and revenue from closed tax loopholes and unnecessary deductions could come together with relative ease.

What’s more, if the automatic sequestration cuts happen, and the economy tanks, Republicans probably realize this will be their fault and they’ll likely get the blame. It’s why Josh Green wrote late yesterday that a “Republican crackup over the sequester” almost seems inevitable.

As the process unfolds, I’d like to take a moment to throw in my own suggestion: get rid of the sequester. Don’t try to replace it, don’t struggle to find some satisfying ratio that pleases both sides, don’t delay it for a few months, just cancel it. The deficit is already shrinking, spending has already been cut, and if policymakers want to do even more to improve the nation’s long-term finances, they can work on a deal without some dangerous threat hanging over their heads.

Sequestration was a bad idea. There’s no reason both sides can’t agree to get rid of the darn thing and start fighting over something else.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 7, 2013

February 8, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Wah, Wah”: When Did The Republicans Become Such Whiners?

When did rural, Republican voters become namby-pamby whiners? A number of things have bothered me about the GOP plan to gerrymander the Electoral College, not least of which being the anti-democratic (as opposed to anti-Democratic) quality to it—what I have characterized as an iniquitous attempt to bargain with an unfriendly reality, and what New York Magazine‘s Jonathan Chait calls winning without actually having to win.

Sure the shameless power grab is deeply annoying. But so are the pusillanimous excuses foisted by its advocates.

In case you missed it, some swing-state Republicans want to change the way their states allot electoral votes. The states in question all went for Obama and have Republican governors; the scheme floated would allocate electors by congressional district, in many cases awarding the majority of electoral votes to the candidate who got a minority of the votes. Like I said, it’s a pretty transparent attempt to rig the Electoral College, and as such has mostly collapsed under its own weight as the media and the public focus on it.

But it’s worth listening to the excuses proffered for the idea. Virginia state Sen. Charles Carrico Sr., who sponsored the defunct bill in the commonwealth, told the Washington Post that his constituents “were concerned that it didn’t matter what they did, that more densely populated areas were going to outvote them.” And, as Chait relays, there’s Jase Bolger, the speaker of the Michigan house:

I hear that more and more from our citizens in various parts of the state of Michigan, that they don’t feel like their vote for president counts, because another area of the state may dominate that or could sway their vote.

Or to sum up Carrico and Bolger: “Wah!”

Their constituents worry that they might lose elections because their views are in a minority? Suck it up and try to talk your way back into the majority. They don’t feel like their vote counts because they might lose? Losing is a part of life and it’s concomitant with politics in a free society. Participating in the political system is a right—winning is a privilege that has to be earned by dint of getting a majority of your fellow citizens to cast their precious ballots for you. (And, by the way, voting is a right which tends to be much easier to exercise in rural areas than in urban ones where lines can stretch for hours.)

And guess what—the fact is that being in the political minority is neither an excuse not to vote nor an excuse try to rig the process.

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, February 7, 2013

February 8, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Indifference To The Truth”: Modern-Day Know-Nothings Take Control In The South

For as long as I’ve lived in Arkansas — most of my adult life — people like the now-famous state senator Jason Rapert have made most of the noise and lost most of the elections. Now they’ve come to power, courtesy of Southern Republicans’ cult-like rejection of President Obama and large infusions of corporate campaign cash. And with the state legislature in session, the tragi-comedy is under way.

It’s happening all across the South. Sample news story: “Representatives approved a bill titled ‘The Church Protection Act of 2013′…85-8, to permit concealed handguns in churches and other houses of worship.”

Because Jesus, of course, was all about smiting them dead before thou art smitten.

Anyway, “famous” may be an exaggeration with regard to Sen. Rapert. But a YouTube clip of the man haranguing a 2011 Tea Party gathering about his anger at “minorities” running the country has gotten Arkansas lots of unfavorable national attention. Meanwhile, his indignant, if not particularly honest, denials have succeeded only in generating more ill will and bad feeling.

Full disclosure: this same Jason Rapert is also my neighbor in rural Perry County, AR. He invited us to a Memorial Day Picnic three years ago, where his bluegrass band provided the entertainment. He’s a genial host and a terrific country fiddler and guitarist. A few days later, his wife graciously dropped off a CD the band had recorded. She pretended not to mind when my horse left deep hoofprints in their yard. The couple has two lovely young daughters.

However, the same fellow is also a stone religious crank who’s absolutely certain that God agrees with every one of his opinions; also that everybody who disagrees with God and him is going straight to hell. Jason’s not shy about telling you about it, either. He once advised me to leave the U.S. on account of supporting Obamacare. I reminded him that my side had won the 2008 election. (And good luck finding a country without “socialist” health care and with indoor plumbing.)

But I’d never have suspected him capable of the kind of insidious rhetoric he displayed for the Tea Partiers. The video, first unearthed by Lee Fang in The Nation, captures Rapert in full revivalist mode. No, his speech wasn’t “racist” in the simplistic way liberals often charge. I’m confident he’d vote for Condoleezza Rice, for example.

It’s not President Obama’s color that offends Rapert’s sensibilities—although I’m less sure about his audience’s. It’s everything else about the man that makes him suspect from a paranoid, neo-nativist perspective.

Delivered in a countrified drawl that’s more his preacher’s voice than the one he uses in his daytime job as an investment advisor, Rapert’s speech hits all the conspiratorial high spots: Obama’s supposedly missing birth certificate; his sympathy with gay rights; also, most ominously, his secret belief in the wrong God.

Anyway, here’s the business end of Rapert’s speech:

“You’ve got to change the hearts and minds of the people that live around you. You’ve gotta pray. It says ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.’ And I wonder sometimes when they invited all the Muslims to come into the White House and have them a little Ramadan supper, when our president could not take the time to go attend a National Prayer Breakfast — I wonder what he stands for.

“You know what, what they told us is …what you do speaks so loudly that what you say I cannot hear. I hear you loud and clear, Barack Obama. You don’t represent the country that I grew up with. And your values is not goin’ to save us. We’re gonna try to take this country back for the Lord. We’re gonna try to take this country back for conservatism. And we’re not going to allow minorities to run roughshod over what you people believe in.”

Does it help to know that President George W. Bush never missed a Ramadan dinner? Nor has President Obama skipped a National Prayer Breakfast. New York magazine posted photos of him presiding at every single one.

What’s most alarming isn’t Rapert’s racial views, but his continuing indifference to the truth and his disdain for religious liberty. His views are scarcely distinguishable from those of the Know-Nothing party of the 1850s. Then it was German and Irish Catholics who were suspect; today, it’s Muslims.

Over time, it’s a losing strategy. Eventually, Americans come around to supporting the First Amendment and rejecting religious bigotry.

How things will play out in the shorter term is harder to say. It’s one thing to dislike Obama, quite another to embarrass an entire state, region and political party. Arkansans in particular have been touchy about their image dating back to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and beyond.

If politicians like Rapert don’t learn to moderate their tone, even in the South their ascendancy could be a short one.


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, February 6, 2013

February 8, 2013 Posted by | Bigotry, Racism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“For The Right Reasons”: Yes, Let’s Weigh In On Chris Christie

Every week, it seems, New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s name inches higher on the list of potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates.

As a result, unlike any public figure in recent memory, he is increasingly compelled to assure reporters and the general public that his weight does not impair his ability to lead.

Christie, by any measure, is obese. This has provided endless fodder for late-night talk show hosts — David Letterman has ridiculed him for years — and politicos who hope to use his weight against him.

Stereotypes masquerade as facts: Fat is undisciplined. Fat is lazy. Fat is bound for an early grave.

Fat makes for great TV, too, the theory goes, from sitcoms to cable news shows. So after Christie jokingly pulled out a doughnut on Letterman’s show earlier this week, former White House physician Connie Mariano diagnosed the governor from afar on CNN:

“I worry that he may have a heart attack,” she said. “He may have a stroke. It’s almost like a time bomb waiting to happen unless he addresses those issues before he runs for office.”

Mariano worked for three presidents and wrote memoirs about her time at the White House. Visit her website, however, and you’ll find a photo of her only with former President Bill Clinton and a quote from him extolling her book. Combine her on-air interview with her website and she comes off as unprofessional and partisan.

Christie’s response to Mariano was typically brusque: Unless she does what a doctor is supposed to do — examine the patient and record his family history — “she should shut up.”


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than one-third of Americans are obese. Still, fat jokes are a popular form of entertainment in this country. If you’re on Facebook, for example, you probably have seen the photos of morbidly obese customers at Walmart. The comment threads about the ample backsides of unsuspecting shoppers will make you lose faith in humanity, I swear.

Such cruelty can play out differently in politics, which brings us back to Christie. His approval ratings soared in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Even those who hated him had to concede that he was there for the people of his state — so much so that he hugged the president and then fired back at those who dared to criticize him for his gratitude.

The flood lines receded, and the fat jokes returned, but Christie’s political opponents — Republicans and Democrats alike — are ill-advised to make his size a campaign issue. When it comes to the governor’s struggles with weight, millions of Americans are on his side. Don’t think for a minute that Christie doesn’t know that, too.

“If you talked to anybody who has struggled with their weight, what they would tell you is, ‘Every week, every month, every year, there’s a plan,’” Christie said Tuesday at a news conference in New Jersey. “The idea that somehow I don’t care about this — of course I care about it, and I’m making the best effort I can.”

Sounding like millions of other Americans, 50-year-old Christie acknowledged that dieting has been a regular part of his life for decades.

“Sometimes I’m successful, and other times I’m not,” he said. “And sometimes periods of great success are followed by periods of great failure.”

But I’m not a Christie fan, because of his version of America. He has consistently attempted to demonize public-school teachers and called their union leaders “political thugs.” When a woman asked him, during an interview on a local television show, whether it was fair for him to cut funding to public schools when his children attend private school, he smacked her down.

“None of your business,” he said. “I don’t ask you where you send your kids to school. Don’t bother me where I send mine.”

Christie opposes marriage equality for gay Americans and vetoed a bill last year that would have allowed it.

He is also anti-choice. He’s just fine with turning over control of a woman’s body to the government. He’s got an attitude problem with women, too. Responding to a female heckler at a Mitt Romney rally last year, he said, “You know, something may go down tonight, but it ain’t gonna be jobs, sweetheart.”

Those are just some of the reasons Christie should never be president. There are plenty more.

Enough with the speculation about Christie’s health.

It’s the weight of his politics that could threaten the well-being of Americans.

By: Connie Schultz, The National Memo, February 7, 2013

February 8, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Easy Scapegoats”: Guns, Not The Mentally Ill, Kill People

After a year of violent tragedies that culminated with the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, America is finally having a conversation about gun control. For the many who want to decrease access to firearms in the wake of several mass shootings, new laws being proposed around the country to limit and regulate guns and ammunition represent a momentous first step.

But running through the gun-control debate is a more delicate conversation: how to handle mental-health treatment in America. Among both Democrats and Republicans, in both the pro-gun and anti-gun lobbies, there’s a widespread belief that mental-health treatment and monitoring is key to decreasing gun violence. Shining more light on the needs and struggles of the mentally ill would normally be a positive change; mental-health programs and services have been cut year after year in the name of austerity. But in the context of gun violence, those with mental illness have become easy scapegoats. Rather than offering solutions to the existing problems that patients and providers face, policymakers instead promise to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. The trouble is, that often means presenting policies that are actually detrimental to mental-health treatment—threatening doctor-patient confidentiality, expanding forced treatment rather than successful voluntary programs, and further stigmatizing people with databases that track who’s been committed to hospitals or mental institutions.

The National Rifle Association has led the charge to blame those with mental illness. “The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters—people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them,” NRA executive vice president Wayne Lapierre said at his December 21 press conference. “How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?” Ann Coulter was more succinct: “Guns don’t kill people, the mentally ill do.”

It’s not just the NRA and the right wing who are turning mentally ill Americans into political pawns. See, for instance, New York’s new gun-control law, the first passed after Newtown. In addition to banning assault weapons and semiautomatic guns with military-level components, the legislation requires therapists, nurses and other mental-health-care providers to alert state health authorities if they deem a patient is a danger to self or others. That would then allow the state to confiscate the person’s guns. The measure broadens the confiscation powers to include those who voluntarily seek commitment to a mental-health facility—in other words, the people who get help without being forced. Finally, it strengthens Kendra’s Law, which allows the courts to involuntarily commit the mentally ill.

Other states will very likely follow suit. Legislatures in Ohio and Colorado will both consider measures to make it easier to commit people. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley wants to broaden the range of people banned from owning guns to include those who have been civilly committed to mental institutions at any time. Policymakers in Louisiana, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Utah have also proposed measures aimed specifically at keeping the mentally ill from getting guns.

The new rules and proposals perpetuate the assumption that people with mental illness are dangerous; instead of making people safer, the requirements may hurt efforts to get the mentally ill treatment. For instance, the expanded reporting requirements mean mental-health providers must alert officials if a patient may harm herself or others. Law-enforcement officials can then show up and confiscate any guns the patient owns. Mental-health providers are already supposed to report if a patient seems in imminent danger of doing harm, but the new law broadens that rule. It could easily chip away trust between therapists and their patients. The threat of gun confiscation may make it less likely that folks like policeman and veterans suffering from trauma to get help, since many are gun owners. “It’s very hard to get people to come forward and get help,” says Ron Honberg, the national director for policy and legal affairs at the mental-health advocacy group National Alliance on Mental Illness. “If they’re aware that by seeking help they’re going to lose their right to have a gun, we’re concerned it’s going to have a chilling effect.”

It’s also not likely to slow down the violence. Predicting murderous behavior is extremely difficult and most of the time, the providers can’t do it accurately. “We’re making an assumption that violence can be predicted,” Honberg says. In fact, it’s lack of treatment, combined with substance abuse and a history of violence, that tend to be the best predictors of future violence. Yet many of New York’s new laws—like the reporting requirements and the push to put more mentally ill people in government databases—target those who are already getting help.

The issue is not that mental-health advocates want to arm more people, but that those with mental illness are being singled out by often well-intended gun control measures, which could increase the stigma around getting help. By focusing on keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill specifically—and not those who have histories of substance abuse, domestic violence, and other predictors of violent behavior—these laws perpetuate the idea that the mentally ill are an overwhelming threat. So did a recent report from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which highlighted the gaps in reporting mentally ill people to the NICS database; in red pullout text, it prominently displayed examples of mentally ill people responsible for violence.

The stereotype that the mentally ill are very violent is simply incorrect. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, people with severe mental illness, like schizophrenia, are up to three times more likely to be violent, but “most people with [severe mental illness] are not violent and most violent acts are not committed by people with [severe mental illness.]” On the whole, those with mental illness are responsible for only 5 percent of violent crimes.

“People with mental illness are so much more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators that it’s almost immeasurable,” says Debbie Plotnick, the senior director of state policy at Mental Health America, an advocacy group for mental-health treatment. According to one study, people with mental illness are 11 times more likely to be the victims of violence.

Fortunately, the national conversation hasn’t been entirely negative. Advocates see an undeniable opportunity to get more funding and attention to mental-health services. For the first time in recent memory, governors and lawmakers across the political spectrum are pushing for more dollars to help those with mental illness. That’s particularly important because over the past four years, $4.35 billion was cut in funding for Medicaid mental-health funding, substance abuse, housing, and other mental-health programs at the state and federal level. Now, even Kansas’s ultra-conservative Governor Sam Brownback is pushing for $10 million more for mental-health care. South Carolina Governor Nicki Haley, a Tea Party favorite, has also argued for an increase in funding. In Oklahoma, Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, legislatures will very likely consider investing more heavily in treatment of mental illness.

The investment is badly needed. Over the years, most states have cut back to only providing emergency and crisis care for mental illnesses. That’s both expensive and ineffective. Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitative Services, says the most successful programs are those that focus on getting a patient help wherever they are, while providing other necessities like housing. For instance, the “housing first” model provides housing to people who might not otherwise qualify and then layers on services like mental health and substance abuse treatment. Such programs, like New York’s Pathways to Housing, have an astounding 85 percent retention rate, and according to Rosenthal, they’re successful because they tailor to a person’s specific needs rather than telling patients “you’re mentally ill and you need medicine.”

More attention to the cracks in care for the mentally ill is a good thing. While it may not have much to do with gun violence, there is a serious mental-health-care problem in the country.


By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, February 7, 2013

February 8, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


%d bloggers like this: