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“Hiding From Town-Hall Hollering”: GOP Now In Awkward Position Of Disappointing Far-Right Activists They Worked So Hard To Rile Up

About a month ago, the House Republican Conference produced “exceptionally detailed” guides for their members on how best to survive the lengthy August recess. Party officials offered some rather remarkable advice in the “planning kit,” including “planting questions” so local events remain on message.

Of course, that assumes lawmakers will actually host local events in the first place. The New York Times reports today that this summer, many members of Congress have suddenly lost their interest in town-hall forums.

Though Republicans in recent years have harnessed the political power of these open mic, face-the-music sessions, people from both parties say they are noticing a decline in the number of meetings. They also say they are seeing Congressional offices go to greater lengths to conceal when and where the meetings take place. […]

With memories of those angry protests still vivid, it seems that one of the unintended consequences of a movement that thrived on such open, often confrontational interactions with lawmakers is that there are fewer members of Congress now willing to face their constituents.

A unnamed Senate Republican aide told the NYT, “Ninety percent of the audience will be there interested in what you have to say. It’s the other 5 or 10 percent who aren’t. They’re there to make a point and, frankly, to hijack the meeting.”

I don’t want to sound unsympathetic. I’ve never worked for a member of Congress, but I imagine it’s quite frustrating when you go to the trouble of organizing an event and “planting questions,” only to see some local troublemakers derail your plans.

Of course, I’d remind these lawmakers that democracy can be messy, and that hiding from constituents doesn’t seem especially healthy.

The Times piece doesn’t quantify the observation, so it’s hard to say with confidence whether there’s been a significant drop in the number of town-hall discussions or if this is just something “people from both parties say they are noticing.” Once the recess ends, it’d be interesting to see an official tally to bolster the point — counting up all of the meetings held by all of the members, and comparing the totals to previous years.

But if the argument is based on a real trend, it’s worth considering in detail why, exactly, members who used to love town-hall meetings suddenly changed their mind.

It’s easy to blame annoying loudmouths who show up and cause trouble, but I find it hard to believe this is a new phenomenon.

Rather, I think there are two other angles to this. The first is that the Republican Party base is starting to push for things Republican Party lawmakers don’t want to deliver — a government shutdown, national default, impeachment, hearings into the president’s birth certificate, a special committee to investigate Benghazi conspiracy theories — and town-hall forums put GOP officials in an awkward position of disappointing the far-right activists the party has worked so hard to rile up.

The second is the flip-side: the Republican Party base is pushing for extremism, many Republican officials are going along, and invariably someone catches this on video.

Note, for example, that three GOP members of Congress have embraced the birther conspiracy theory in the last two weeks — and in each instance, they were speaking at a town-hall forum, being egged on by birther constituents.

In other words, we’re looking at a dynamic in which Republicans (a) will be pressed to say something stupid; or (b) will go ahead and say something stupid.

Is it any wonder so many members are hiding?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 13, 2013

August 14, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Someone Please, Alert The Media!”: The Budget Deficit Is Shrinking Rapidly And Most Americans Don’t Know It

The deficit is down 37.6 percent for the first 10 months of the 2013 budget year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But a new survey conducted by Google at Paul Krugman’s request finds that more than 50 percent of Americans think it’s still growing.

Last year the government spent $973.8 billion more than it took in for the first 10 months of the budget year. The deficit for the same period this year is $607.4. This year’s deficit is projected to be $670 billion.

As a share of gross domestic product, the deficit was recently as high as 10.1 percent in 2009, when the deficit was $1.4 trillion. It is now closer to 2 percent of GDP, which means the deficit has been cut by more than half since then, in both actual dollars and as a share of GDP.

A poll in February found that only 6 percent of Americans were aware the deficit was shrinking. The new survey finds that a little over 17 percent of those polled know the deficit is shrinking, with only 8.3 percent giving the correct answer: that it has decreased by a lot.

Deficit poll

The perception that the deficit is still growing has been fed by Republicans including House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), who recently said the deficit is growing and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who said last week that we have trillion-dollar deficits.

What’s causing the deficit to drop so drastically? Probably even too quickly?

Economic growth, lower spending, increased taxes, and windfalls from government-sponsored mortgage corporations Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac brought on by the resurgent housing market.

Republicans are intent on keeping the so-called sequester in place, which will cut government spending by $85 billion, leading to the loss of up to 1,600,000 jobs. The government is only funded through September 30 and the debt limit will need to be raised soon after that. House Republicans have vowed to use both deadlines to demand even more cuts in spending, along with a delay in or defunding of Obamacare.

 

By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, August 13, 2013

August 14, 2013 Posted by | Deficits, Public Opinion | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It’s Not Like The TSA”: In The Scheme Of Things, Stop And Frisk Is Worse Than NSA Surveillance

My black friends in New York, particularly those who don’t live in the fancier precincts of Manhattan, have been harassed by the NYPD in a way that I, as a white guy, will never experience.

They’ve been stopped and frisked, for reasons known only to the officers. Almost every young black male I know has a story to tell.

The news today that a federal judge found this deliberate policing policy to be unconstitutional is a welcome one.

If you have never been stopped and frisked by a cop, it might not seem like a big deal.

So you lose, what, a few minutes of your time. You get frisked, there’s nothing on you, and you get sent on your way. It’s like the TSA.

Except that it’s not. It’s an encounter between powerless citizens and highly empowered police officers. It is scary. The confrontations are often aggressive, which is entirely appropriate from the perspective of the police officer: The person might be carrying. You’ve been singled out for your proximity to a place where a crime might be committed and because of the way you look, the way you move, the route you take. Your attitude towards the police will harden.

I think the NYPD is by and large an incredible organization and that its policing strategies have made New York City immeasurably safer; the city’s minority residents live with much less fear than ever before. But I think the “stop and frisk” policy is overzealous and counter-productive. And I think, in a small but tangible way, the practice harms those who come into contact with it.

The NSA’s surveillance capabilities and even its bulk collection programs do not damage or degrade Americans’ rights; they do not harm our ability to participate in the political process. (I think the FBI’s policies are MUCH more worrisome on that end.) To me, the symbolic harm is enough. I want the bright line to exist to prevent potential abuses by unsavory politicians.

There are many, many important debates to have about civil rights and liberties. Because of the NSA’s size, scope, and reach, I would be very concerned if the potential for willful abuse, and by extension, the potential to do something tangibly bad to Americans (and other innocents) was more than negligible. But it is negligible. Figuring out how to make sure NSA does everything right is important, but there is not one iota of evidence that the over-collection, even if it was broad, was (a) willful (b) not immediately reported and (c) ever detected by the Americans whose data passed through computers it shouldn’t have.

Yes, it would make me feel weird if I knew that an analyst somewhere was able to read my email; yes, I am totally and resolutely in favor of strong oversight procedures that are recognized by everyone as legitimate; but all the same, I am not being stopped by the police, or tortured, or arrested, or asked not to write something, or harassed, or, really, impacted in any way by that over-collect.

We have to make distinctions between what gives us the willies and what hurts or harms us. We have to make distinctions, fine ones, within topics; the NSA is not the CIA is not the FBI is not the NYPD.

Torture is evil. False wars are evil. Companies manipulating the data they collect to make you buy things and vote for people — that’s pretty wicked, too. What NSA does is not remotely close to that. To circle back to the point that’s obvious: They’re the government. They personify executive power. Our skepticism ought to be higher. I totally agree. But at the same time, we should not invent a caricature of what NSA does in order to polarize the debate about it. The facts don’t warrant that, just in the same way that the facts about the history of intelligence collection should absolutely force us to be vigilant.

In the scheme of things, the stop and frisk policy is a greater threat to civil rights than the NSA’s bulk collection programs.

 

By: Marc Ambinder, The Week, August 13, 2013

August 14, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Symbol Of Defiance Between GOP Lawmakers”: Will Republicans Shut Down The Government To Spite Karl Rove?

Most Republicans in Congress agree on one thing: Obamacare needs to go. How to get rid of the health care law, however, is a bit more complicated.

The GOP is split between those who believe the sole way to combat The Affordable Care Act is by opposing all fall spending bills that contain funding for the law—resulting in a government shutdown – and those who believe in any strategy that will not involve such extreme action.

Leading the government shutdown movement is Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), arguing: “If you fund this thing, you own it.” In Lee’s world, Republicans who do not believe closing the government is the appropriate measure to combat the Affordable Care Act are automatic backers of the law.

Lee’s intricate plan involves the GOP-controlled House passing a bill funding the government, which would contain a rider from Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA) that would defund the Affordable Care Act — and leaving the ultimate decision to shut down the government or pass the bill with that rider included up to Senate Democrats.

“Would they choose to shut down government? Or do the right thing?” Lee asked of Senate Democrats.

This is a plan that Republican political consultant Karl Rove quickly rejected. According to Politico, Rove “concluded Lee’s effort would backfire and be a replay of 1995, a government shutdown often blamed on the GOP.”

Still, Lee and other Tea Party lawmakers, including Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), believe a government shutdown is the only option. Lee referred to any strategy besides his as an example of Republicans “caving.”

Rove warned, “This is the one strategy, the one tactic that might be able to guarantee that the Democrats pick up seats in the Congress in 2014.”

Rove’s comment echoed a similar thought from Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), who called the effort “self-defeating.” Other Republican leaders have termed it “silly” and “stupid.”

According to the Washington Post, several GOP leaders have realized that Rove’s approach may not be an effective way to prevent the government shutdown. Publicly condemning the strategy can easily backfire; tackling it openly, as Rove did, has already resulted in those in favor of the shutdown painting its opponents as scared and weak Obamacare backers, not willing to “defeat Obama tyranny.”

The Rove-Lee debate on Sean Hannity’s radio show proved that even with Rove pointing out just how ineffective, counterproductive and unnecessary a government shutdown would be, Lee’s position won’t change; instead, it grows more steadfast. Rove’s words serve as Lee’s evidence that the Republican Party is too “weak-kneed” to make a move against the president, and the only way to prove to Rove and other GOP leaders that they are actually impeding the Republican Party, rather than strengthening it, is, perhaps, to call for a government shutdown.

As long as Republican leaders fight publicly, they provide those in favor of the shutdown their greatest argument: Republican leadership is weak, and it’s time to take a stronger and more combative stance against Obamacare, even if it means closing down the government. Suddenly, a shutdown is seen as the ultimate measure of GOP loyalty and leadership.

The government shutdown has become more than just a position on Obamacare; it is a symbol of defiance between GOP lawmakers.

If Rove — or any Republican, for that matter — keeps  publicly calling out the strategy’s obvious idiocy, he is just pushing his more conservative counterparts in Congress to go through with the effort.

Because of this, several GOP leaders have begun to lobby House Republicans privately, rather than openly bash their strategy.

National Review’s Robert Costa reported that, “House insiders say Boehner and Cantor had talked much of their conference away from the edge,” and Republicans are “now confident that House Republicans will not tread into a shutdown battle with the Obama White House.”

Just a week ago, Rubio argued that the government shutdown was “no longer an ideological thing,” and he’s right. Now it is a deeper split in the already divided GOP.

 

By: Elissa Gomez, The National Memo, August 13, 2013

August 14, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Only Discriminate For Partisan Reasons”: Texas Struggles To Defend Discriminatory Voting Policies

It’s been about three weeks since the Justice Department, relying on what’s left of the Voting Rights Act, went after voter-discrimination policies in Texas. The U.S. Supreme Court may have severely damaged the VRA, but the Justice Department nevertheless argued that when “intentional voting discrimination” is found, changes to voting rights cannot be permitted to continue.

This week, as Adam Serwer reported, Texas submitted a brief presenting their defense.

Texas didn’t discriminate against minority voters. It was only because they were Democrats. And even if it did, the racial discrimination Texas engaged in is nowhere near as bad as the stuff that happened in the 1960s.

These are some of the arguments the state of Texas is making in an attempt to stave off federal supervision of its election laws. In late July, citing the state’s recent history of discrimination, the Justice Department asked a federal court to place the entire state back under “preclearance.” That means the state would have to submit its election law changes in advance to the Justice Department, which would ensure Texas wasn’t disenfranchising voters on the basis of race.

The arguments from Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) administration are pretty amazing, especially considering federal courts already found Texas’ election policies discriminatory as recently as two years ago, before the Supreme Court intervened.

As Kevin Drum explained, Texas’ first argument, as pushed by state Attorney General Greg Abbott, “is that, sure, Texas has tried to discriminate as recently as 2011, but their efforts were overturned by a court. So that means there are no current violations, and thus no reason to grant any kind of ‘equitable relief.'”

The second argument is the half-glass-full tack. As Serwer put it, “[T]he state claims, even if Texas did discriminate, and the state stresses that it did not, it was nothing as bad as ‘the ‘pervasive,’ ‘flagrant,’ ‘widespread,’ and ‘rampant’ discrimination that originally justified preclearance in 1965.’ So as long as Texas skies aren’t alight with flames from burning crosses, what’s the big whoop?”

But it’s the third argument that’s truly amazing.

From the brief filed by the state:

DOJ’s accusations of racial discrimination are baseless. In 2011, both houses of the Texas Legislature were controlled by large Republican majorities, and their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats….The redistricting decisions of which DOJ complains were motivated by partisan rather than racial considerations, and the plaintiffs and DOJ have zero evidence to prove the contrary.

Got that? Texas wasn’t trying to discriminate against racial and ethnic minorities; Texas was simply trying to discriminate against racial and ethnic minorities who vote for Democrats.

In other words, Texas’ defense is that state policymakers were trying to crush the Democratic vote, and this led to inadvertent discrimination against African Americans and Latinos. As such, the argument goes, Texas was motivated by crass partisanship, and not racism, so the discrimination doesn’t really count.

Any chance this might be persuasive in court? Brenda Wright, a voting law expert with the liberal think tank Demos, told Serwer, “I don’t think it’s going to work, frankly. The mere desire to achieve partisan advantage does not give Texas a free hand to engage in racial discrimination. If the only way you can protect white incumbents is by diluting the voting strength of Hispanic citizens, you are engaging in intentional racial discrimination, and the courts will see that.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 13, 2013

August 14, 2013 Posted by | Racism, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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