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“Between The Right And A Hard Place”: Hey Republicans, Why Should My Family Suffer Because You Have A Partisan Axe To Grind?

When it comes to the federal health care system, congressional Republicans have found themselves in an increasingly awkward position. Their far-right base and allied right-wing activist groups continue to push GOP lawmakers to shut down the government — and quite possibly default on U.S. debts — in the hopes of sabotaging the Affordable Care Act.

And yet, many Americans who recognize the benefits of “Obamacare” continue to push in the opposite direction. We saw this two weeks ago in North Carolina, last week in Florida, and yesterday, this amazing clip out of Nevada was released by American Bridge. Watch on YouTube

In this clip, we see a small business owner in Las Vegas who had some straightforward questions for Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.): “Why would you oppose the ACA at every turn?” and “Why would you oppose something that’s helping me now?”

When local events erupted during the 2009 August recess, months before the Affordable Care Act became law, the right found it fairly easy to exploit public confusion — throw around some garbage talking points about “death panels” and “socialism,” and wait for scared people to go berserk.

But as Greg Sargent explained well yesterday, ” We’re a long way from the anti-Obamacare town halls of the magical Summer of ’09.” The public is starting to get a better sense of the benefits of the law, how it will help them and their families, and town-hall meetings that used to serve as opportunities to feed red meat to Fox viewers are suddenly becoming opportunities for mainstream Americans to ask Republican lawmakers aloud, “Why should my family suffer because you have a partisan axe to grind?”

Also note just how few answers GOP lawmakers have in response.

For the right, Republicans are eager to boast about voting to repeal the federal health care law several dozen times, but conservatives are unimpressed — the votes were a vanity exercise with no practical value for anyone on either side of the argument.

For the left, Republicans, as we see with Joe Heck in the above video, have tired cliches and shallow talking points about the number of pages in the legislation.

And for everyone in between, as we’ve seen in Nevada, Kentucky, and North Carolina, Republicans offer reassurances that there are some provisions in “Obamacare” that the GOP likes and wants to keep, which makes it that much more difficult to understand why those same Republicans have voted literally dozens of times to eliminate the Affordable Care Act in its entirety — including the parts they now say they support.

All the while, Republicans have said for nearly four years they’re ready to present a credible alternative to the reform law that’ll work even better than that darned Democratic version, but we’re still waiting, and by all appearances, the party still doesn’t have an actual health care policy.

Can’t anybody here play this game?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 20, 2013

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rotten To The Core”: The Race To Implement Or Kill Common Core Standards

I’ve argued off and on for a while that the steady and accelerating abandonment of standards-and-assessments-based education reform on the Right is one of the most under-reported stories of the year. And at the crucial point where states are on the brink of implementing the most ambitious “standards upgrade” initiative by far, the Common Core Standards endorsed by nearly all governors from both parties (see this Special Report from the May/June 2012 issue of the Washington Monthly for a thorough description), the withdrawal of conservative support is becoming an epidemic. The New York Times‘ Bill Keller has penned a useful op-ed on the subject:

[T]he Common Core was created with a broad, nonpartisan consensus of educators, convinced that after decades of embarrassing decline in K-12 education, the country had to come together on a way to hold our public schools accountable. Come together it did — for a while.

The backlash began with a few of the usual right-wing suspects. Glenn Beck warned that under “this insidious menace to our children and to our families” students would be “indoctrinated with extreme leftist ideology….”

Beck’s soul mate Michelle Malkin warned that the Common Core was “about top-down control engineered through government-administered tests and left-wing textbook monopolies.” Before long, FreedomWorks — the love child of Koch brothers cash and Tea Party passion — and the American Principles Project, a religious-right lobby, had joined the cause. Opponents have mobilized Tea Partyers to barnstorm in state capitals and boiled this complex issue down to an obvious slogan, “ObamaCore!”….

In April the Republican National Committee surrendered to the fringe and urged states to renounce Common Core. The presidential aspirant Marco Rubio, trying to appease conservatives angry at his moderate stance on immigration, last month abandoned his support for the standards. And state by red state, the effort to disavow or defund is under way. Indiana has put the Common Core on hold. Michigan’s legislature cut off money for implementing the standards and is now contemplating pulling out altogether. Last month, Georgia withdrew from a 22-state consortium, one of two groups designing tests pegged to the new standards, ostensibly because of the costs. (The new tests are expected to cost about $29 per student; grading them is more labor-intensive because in addition to multiple-choice questions they include written essays and show-your-work math problems that will be graded by actual humans. “You’re talking about 30 bucks a kid, in an education system that now spends upwards of $9,000 or $10,000 per student per year,” said Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute.)

The Common Core is imperiled in Oklahoma, Utah, Alabama and Pennsylvania. All of the retreat, you will notice, has been in Republican-controlled states.

It’s hard to tell how much of the opposition is coming from conservatives who now oppose public education (or as an increasing number now call it, “government schools”) itself, or who think “national” standards will inhibit state-based or local efforts to undermine traditional public schools in favor of subsidies for private schools or home-schooling, but it’s clearly growing, and the heavy investment of the business community in Common Core is at best slowing down the revolt.

I strongly suspect opposition to Common Core will be a major theme for up-and-coming conservative state-level candidates in 2014, particularly for GOP primary challengers seeking to attract “base” activist support and/or to overcome suspicions of RINOism. In the race between Common Core implementation and efforts to stop it (and yes, there is opposition from the Left as well, and some concerns and misgivings across the spectrum, but nothing like what we are seeing on the Right), it’s currently a dead heat with the horse named “No!” gaining fast.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly POlitical Animal, August 19, 2013

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Education Reform | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Orange Is The New Black”: It’s Time To End The Needless Social Harm Our Justice System Inflicts

America is facing up to one of its greatest failures: our grossly unfair criminal justice system.

In and out of the public eye, corrections officials, legislatures and law enforcement authorities have been inching toward reforming it.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced a historic about-face on how low-level, nonviolent drug crimes will be prosecuted; in particular, he instructed U.S. attorneys to avoid bringing charges against certain offenders that would trigger severe federal mandatory sentencing. If allowed to go forward, Holder’s gambit could lead to significant reductions in the number of people locked up in America.

The U.S. holds the distinction of the world’s highest incarceration rate. One in every 100 adults — 2.3 million people — was behind bars in 2010, according to the Pew Center on the States.

Holder’s announcement is the obvious follow-up to the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act. The legislation sought to correct the inequities between the sentencing of people caught with crack cocaine and those convicted of crimes related to powdered coke. Five grams of crack, the form of cocaine more likely to be in the possession of African-Americans, carried the same obligatory sentence as that triggered by 500 grams of powder, the preference for many white people.

An ongoing issue is whether the legislation will apply retroactively, something that both Congress and the courts are weighing.

A July report by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that about half the states have taken significant steps in recent years to reduce the size of their prison populations, thereby cutting costs to taxpayers. Reforms such as alternative sentencing and lower mandatory sentences for some crimes all played a role.

Also this summer, the Federal Communications Commission voted to lower interstate prison phone rates. This change helps the families of more than 2 million inmates who often paid predatory rates when their incarcerated loved ones called them. The decision was more than 10 years in the making and will greatly affect the ability of families to stay in touch, crucial for reducing recidivism.

While these changes are encouraging, reshaping America’s prisons and our punitive mentality will not be easy. What is the human cost of our penchant for revenge, our emphasis on punishment without much attention to the equal need for rehabilitation? Just consider the newest Muppet introduced by the Sesame Workshop. “Alex,” whose story appears online only, is a character whose father is serving time.

Alex was introduced for a good reason. One in 28 children has a parent who is imprisoned. More than half of America’s prisoners are mothers and fathers with a child under the age of 18. And two-thirds of those parents are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.

Consider that deeply. It’s the equivalent of nearly one child from every elementary school classroom in America. Twenty-five years ago, the number was 1 in 125.

Are people really that much more criminally minded than in the past? Or did America decide that locking people up would be more expedient than providing addiction treatment and mental health care and increasing the supervision of those on parole?

It’s not a tough question. And after years of policy that financed the war on drugs, more thoughtful considerations are finally gaining traction.

The fact that violent crime rates are at near generational lows helps. Cutting some sentences, providing more support for low-level offenders, can save on the high cost of prisons for taxpayers, without compromising public safety.

And don’t tell me that this is being “soft on crime.” Those involved in violent and repeat offenses will still have the book thrown at them.

The more the public learns about how mandatory sentencing needlessly degrades nonviolent drug offenders and harms their families, the sooner our legislators will restore sanity and mercy to the criminal justice system. So bravo to Netflix for creating the new series Orange is the New Black. Yes, it’s another “insider’s view” of life behind bars, a genre we can’t get enough of. It conveys the experiences of an educated, well-to-do woman used as a pawn in the drug trade, based on a memoir.

Kudos also to Piper Kerman, the memoir’s author and the one who experienced 11 months in a low-security women’s prison for a drug crime, who is also speaking out about the children of inmates.

She’s using her newfound celebrity to promote alternative, in-home sentencing for some mothers with small children. As she wrote in The New York Times, this program would not only save money but also “rehabilitate women … (and) keep families together — which we know is an effective way to reduce crime and to stop a cycle that can condemn entire families to the penal system.”

And that, more than ever, needs to be our priority.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, The National Memo, August 20, 2013

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Criminal Justice System | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obama Hates White People”: Loose Lipped Maine Gov Paul LePage’s Penchant For Ignorance And Gross Stupidity

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) announced last month that he would run for re-election in 2014.

LePage squeaked into office in 2010 with some help from the Tea Party — he won just 38 percent of the vote in a three-way race — and has since earned a reputation as a blunt, loose-lipped politician with a penchant for controversy. Think a less diplomatic version of Chris Christie.

Things got so bad that in June, Assistant Senate Republican Leader Roger Katz wrote an op-ed saying he was “embarrassed” by LePage’s “unfortunate tone.”

With LePage gearing up to pursue a second term, here’s a look back at some of his more memorable controversies.

“Obama hates white people”

Move over, Kanye West.

At a fundraiser in August, LePage reportedly told a group of Republican lawmakers and supporters that President Obama “hates white people,” according to an account one attendee gave to the Bangor Daily News.

The chairman of the state GOP, Rick Bennett, told the Daily News he personally had not heard the remark, but said LePage did discuss how “President Obama had an opportunity to unify the country on race, but didn’t do anything.”

“The governor is not a racist,” he added.

“Blow it up”

LePage is no fan of newspapers (more on that below). Just how much does he hate the print news business? Enough to joke about bombing it to smithereens, apparently.

LePage had the chance to test out a fighter jet simulator this summer. While sitting in the cockpit, he was asked, “What would you like to do?”

His response: “I want to find the [Portland] Press Herald building and blow it up.”

A spokesman for the governor later said he was “clearly joking.”

“Vaseline”

LePage came under fire in June for making a vulgar sexual reference about a Democratic state senator, Troy Jackson, while discussing the state’s deadlocked budget negotiations.

“Senator Jackson claims to be for the people, but he’s the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline,” LePage said in an interview with Maine’s WMTW News.

LePage then walked away, only to return a little later with a semi-apology.

“Damnit,” he said. “That comment is not politically correct, but we’ve got to understand who this man is. This man is a bad person. He doesn’t only have no brains, he has a black heart.”

“Governor LePage tells Obama to go to hell”

On the campaign trail in 2010, LePage told voters they should elect him because he would defend them from the federal government’s tyranny. He added, “As your governor, you’re gonna be seeing a lot of me on the front page saying, ‘Governor LePage tells Obama to go to hell.'”

“The new Gestapo, the IRS”

There have been a number of criticisms of the Affordable Care Act: It’s unconstitutional; it’s unwieldy; it hinders job growth. LePage, responding to the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the law, added a new one, likening the IRS, which will enforce much of that law, to Nazi Germany’s police force.

“We the people have been told there is no choice,” he said during a weekly radio address. “You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo, the IRS.”

After catching flak, LePage clarified one week later that the IRS isn’t actually the Gestapo.

“What I am trying to say is the Holocaust was a horrific crime against humanity and, frankly, I would never want to see that repeated,” he said. “Maybe the IRS is not quite as bad — yet.”

“Kiss my butt”

Shortly after assuming office in 2011, LePage said he would not attend Martin Luther King Day events hosted by the NAACP, explaining his decision by saying, “I am not going to be held hostage by a special interest group.”

When asked about the NAACP’s criticism of him for turning down those invites, LePage told a reporter, “Tell them to kiss my butt.”

“Some women may have little beards”

In 2011, the Maine Board of Environmental Protection recommended banning bisphenol A, or BPA, in all reusable food and beverage containers sold in the state. Studies have linked BPA to health problems in young children and fetuses, prompting the European Union and several U.S. states to regulate the chemical’s use.

LePage, unconvinced that the science behind those studies was sound, disagreed with the environmental agency’s recommendation.

“The only thing that I’ve heard is if you take a plastic bottle and put it in the microwave and you heat it up, it gives off a chemical similar to estrogen,” he said. “So the worst case is some women may have little beards.”

“Newspapers”

LePage is terrified of Maine’s newspapers.

While visiting a grade school, LePage told the students, “My greatest fear in the state of Maine: Newspapers. I’m not a fan of newspapers.”

TV and radio news were all right, LePage added, because they don’t “spin” the news.

“Brainwash the masses”

Months into his first term, LePage ordered that a mural depicting labor triumphs and notable figures like Rosie the Riveter be removed from the state’s Department of Labor building, saying the mural was too one-sided.

A spokesperson for LePage said he had made the decision after receiving an anonymous fax likening it to “communist North Korea where they use these murals to brainwash the masses.”

“The Department of Labor is a state agency that works very closely with both employees and employers, and we need to have a decor that represents neutrality,” the spokesperson added.

The U.S. Labor Department, which helped pay for the mural with a $60,000 grant, filed a federal lawsuit demanding that it be returned. A judge threw out that lawsuit, but LePage placed the mural back on display in the Maine State Museum earlier this year.
 

By: Jon Terbush, The Week, August 20, 2013; Editor’s note: This story was first published on July 3, 2013, and updated on August 20.

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Non-Citizens, United”: Republicans Want To Create A New Social Stratum Of Sub-Citizens

Lots of leading Republicans are saying they want to pass “immigration reform” this year. But those scare-quotes are there for good reason — the reform many of them are talking about is an assortment of bad ideas, most of them involving multiple layers of enforcement — the fence-‘em-out, lock-‘em-up strategy that has been failing America for, oh, the last quarter-century.

It’s an old, familiar line. But there is one new idea in the Republican mix. It’s legalization without citizenship – giving some of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants a chance to live and work here, but not to become Americans.  Not now, probably not ever.

America sees itself as a land of opportunity and equality, but Republicans want to carve out an exception. If you have ever been “illegal,” no citizenship for you.

The Republican National Committee passed a resolution opposing “any form of amnesty that would propose a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens.”

United States Representative Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who heads the House Judiciary Committee, told a town hall meeting in Verona, Va., that he opposes the immigration bill that passed the Senate because it contains what he calls a “special path” to citizenship.

“The folks who want to have a path to citizenship have held everything else hostage,” Mr. Goodlatte said. “Now we want to say, ‘Look, we understand what you want, but we think a legal status in the United States but not a special path to citizenship might be appropriate.’”

That Senate bill he was criticizing has a lot of enforcement measures that Republicans insisted on. It also contains a long, difficult, expensive but at least potentially achievable path to move from unauthorized immigrant to American.

Polls show that most Americans agree with the Senate’s approach. They support giving immigrants a chance to naturalize, as long as they get right with the law and go to the back of the citizenship line. But hard-core Republicans don’t want that, and those were the people Mr. Goodlatte was trying not to rile up.

Immigration-reform advocates are turning up the heat this month with rallies and town-hall meetings, warning the world that the Republican option — creating a new social stratum of sub-citizens — is not acceptable. These are the citizens and aspiring citizens whom Mr. Goodlatte is likening to hostage-takers.

Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigrant organization America’s Voice, is right: “America is at its best when we extend the welcome mat to people regardless of race, religion and national origin, and we have been at our worst when we don’t.”

Or, as the guitarist Ry Cooder put it in a song on his politically enraged 2011 album, “Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down”

Republicans changed the lock on Heaven’s door.
Keys to the kingdom don’t fit no more.

 

By: Lawrence Downes, Editors Blog, The New York Times, August 20, 2013

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Immigration Reform, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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