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“Cynical Political Posturing”: Don’t Let The Right Wing Co-Opt Dr. King’s Progressive Vision

Washington, D.C. is gearing up for events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I will be among thousands of Americans gathering on the national mall this weekend to remember those marchers and to rededicate ourselves to their demand that the country make good on its promises of equality and opportunity for all.

The fact that politicians from across the political spectrum want to associate themselves with King is a big change. Fifty years ago, he was reviled as a Communist sympathizer trying to undermine what some said was God’s design that the races live separately. March organizer Bayard Rustin was denounced by segregationist Strom Thurmond on the floor of the Senate for being a communist, draft-dodger, and homosexual. This year, Rustin will be posthumously awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

So it is a reflection of social progress that so many conservative Republican lawmakers and right-wing leaders try to wrap themselves in the moral authority of the civil rights movement. But it’s also a reflection of cynical political posturing.

Right-wing leaders are fond of rhetorically embracing King’s dream for an America in which children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Unfortunately, they often use the quote to justify their opposition to any policies that are designed to address the ongoing effects of racial discrimination.

Right-wing politicians shouldn’t be allowed to get away with pretending to share King’s moral high ground simply because legally mandated segregation is now unthinkable in America. There was so much more to King’s — and the movement’s — vision.

King was an advocate for government intervention in the economy to address poverty and economic inequality. He was a supporter of Planned Parenthood and women’s right to choose. He endorsed the 1960s Supreme Court decisions on church-state separation that Religious Right leaders denounce as attacks on faith and freedom. One of his most valued advisors, Bayard Rustin, was an openly gay man at a time when it was far more personally and politically dangerous to be so.

How many Republican leaders today will embrace that Martin Luther King?

It is true that a strong majority of congressional Republicans voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act. It is true that many of our civil rights advances were made with bipartisan support. But today many Republican leaders at the state level are pushing unfair voting laws that could keep millions of people away from the polls. And many not only cheered the Supreme Court’s recent decision gutting the Voting Rights Act but moved immediately to put new voting restrictions in place.

Today’s Republican leaders are also captive to the anti-government ideology fomented by the Tea Party and its right-wing backers. Let’s remember that the official name of the event we are commemorating is the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Among the marchers’ demands were a higher minimum wage and a “massive federal program” to provide unemployed people with decent-paying jobs. Sounds like socialism!

Today’s right-wing leaders say it’s wrong to even pay attention to economic inequality. To Rick Santorum, just using the term “middle class” is Marxist.

We must not allow this historic anniversary to become a moment that perpetuates an ersatz, sanitized, co-opted version of King and the movement he led. Let’s instead reclaim King’s broadly progressive vision — for ourselves and for the history books.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, The Huffington Post, August 23, 2013

August 25, 2013 Posted by | Martin Luther King Jr | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“First Do No Harm”: It’s Time To Rethink The Oath Of Office For People We Vote To Represent Us

First do no harm. That’s a tenet of medical ethics that future doctors worldwide are taught in medical school.

If only the people we elect to represent us were required to take such an oath when they’re sworn into office.

Because they aren’t, folks in Florida are facing having to pay far more for health insurance over the next two years than necessary. And health insurance executives will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Florida state lawmakers, in their ongoing efforts to block the implementation of Obamacare in the Sunshine State, recently passed a law that will allow health insurance companies to gouge Floridians more than any corporate boss dreamed was possible.

And if that weren’t bad enough, insurers will actually be required by law to mislead their Florida customers about why they’re hiking their premiums.

Republicans, who control the governor’s office as well as both houses of the Florida legislature, were confident the U.S. Supreme Court would declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. Not only did they vote to prohibit the state from spending money to implement a law they just knew would be overturned by the high court, they refused to accept money from the federal government that would have enabled the state’s department of insurance to do a better job of regulating health insurers and enforcing new consumer protections in the law.

When the Supreme Court shocked Obamacare opponents last year by upholding the law, Florida lawmakers were in a pickle.

Their response? They passed a bill that prohibits the state’s Office of Insurance Regulation from protecting consumers from unreasonable rate increases for two years.

I learned about what is essentially a “first do as much harm as possible” bill in a letter the nine Democrats in the Florida congressional delegation sent to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius earlier this month pleading with her to step in to protect Floridians by taking an active role in regulating rate increases in the state.

The lawmakers said intervention by HHS was urgently needed because of a law signed in May by Gov. Rick Scott that specifically prohibits Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty from doing his job of reviewing rate increases and rejecting those he and his staff determine are unjustifiably high.

Until the passage of SB 1842, McCarty had the power to do that. Florida state lawmakers who voted for the bill, including a few Democrats who seemed to think HHS has more authority than it does, took the position that since the federal government was requiring insurance companies to be more consumer friendly, the federal government should assume the responsibility of enforcing the new consumer protections in Obamacare. The problem is that Congress gave the federal government no such additional powers. As a consequence, HHS really can’t take over what is still a state responsibility. And since Florida turned down the federal money that McCarty would have used to do his job, Floridians appear to be out of luck.

Last month, McCarty’s office said insurance premiums for individuals in Florida would be significantly higher than they are now. In their letter to Sebelius, the state’s congressional Democrats wrote that those increases are “not a coincidence, but rather the product of a cynical and intentional effort by Gov. Scott and the Florida legislature to undermine the Affordable Care Act and make health insurance premiums on the Florida Health Insurance Marketplace more expensive by refusing to allow the insurance commissioner to negotiate lower rates with companies or refuse rates that are too high.”

As PolitiFact noted in a recent analysis of the charges made by the Democrats in their letter (which PolitiFact ruled are true), the states that have authority to approve or disapprove rates were “able to extract significant reductions.” PolitiFact cited a Palm Beach Post story which noted that Maryland’s insurance department had used its regulatory powers “to push rates for next year’s premiums down by as much as a third.”

As Florida CHAIN, a state advocacy group, pointed out when Scott signed SB 1842, the law not only blocks McCarty’s office from protecting consumers, a provision in the law actually requires insurers to send deceptive and misleading notices about rate increases to consumers — and to blame Obamacare for them.

“The only ’public education’ of any sort authorized by the Legislature related to the ACA (Affordable Care Act) is a requirement … that insurers send extremely biased and incomplete notices this fall about the ACA and its effect on policyholders’ rates,” Florida CHAIN said in a statement.

“The sole purpose of the requirement is to create ‘sticker shock’ that can be blamed on the ACA. There will be no mention of the many uncertainties or any other relevant factors, such as past rate increases or how actual rates will be reduced for many by the availability of premium tax credits (to low and middle income earners.)”

So not only will many Floridians be harmed by SB 1842, they will, by law, be misled about who caused the harm.

Maybe it’s time to rethink the oath of office for people we vote to represent us.

 

By: Wendell Potter, The Center for Public Integrity, August 19, 2013

August 25, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Acknowledging The Usual Suspects”: Justice Ginsburg Says The Supreme Court Is “One Of The Most Activist”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 80, vowed in an interview to stay on the Supreme Court as long as her health and intellect remained strong, saying she was fully engaged in her work as the leader of the liberal opposition on what she called “one of the most activist courts in history.”

In wide-ranging remarks in her chambers on Friday that touched on affirmative action, abortion and same-sex marriage, Justice Ginsburg said she had made a mistake in joining a 2009 opinion that laid the groundwork for the court’s decision in June effectively striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The recent decision, she said, was “stunning in terms of activism.”

Unless they have a book to sell, Supreme Court justices rarely give interviews. Justice Ginsburg has given several this summer, perhaps in reaction to calls from some liberals that she step down in time for President Obama to name her successor.

On Friday, she said repeatedly that the identity of the president who would appoint her replacement did not figure in her retirement planning.

“There will be a president after this one, and I’m hopeful that that president will be a fine president,” she said.

Were Mr. Obama to name Justice Ginsburg’s successor, it would presumably be a one-for-one liberal swap that would not alter the court’s ideological balance. But if a Republican president is elected in 2016 and gets to name her successor, the court would be fundamentally reshaped.

Justice Ginsburg has survived two bouts with cancer, but her health is now good, she said, and her work ethic exceptional. There is no question, on the bench or in chambers, that she has full command of the complex legal issues that reach the court.

Her age has required only minor adjustments.

“I don’t water-ski anymore,” Justice Ginsburg said. “I haven’t gone horseback riding in four years. I haven’t ruled that out entirely. But water-skiing, those days are over.”

Justice Ginsburg, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, said she intended to stay on the court “as long as I can do the job full steam, and that, at my age, is not predictable.”

“I love my job,” she added. “I thought last year I did as well as in past terms.”

With the departure of Justice John Paul Stevens in 2010, Justice Ginsburg became the leader of the court’s four-member liberal wing, a role she seems to enjoy. “I am now the most senior justice when we divide 5-4 with the usual suspects,” she said.

The last two terms, which brought major decisions on Mr. Obama’s health care law, race and same-sex marriage, were, she said, “heady, exhausting, challenging.”

She was especially critical of the voting rights decision, as well as the part of the ruling upholding the health care law that nonetheless said it could not be justified under Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce.

In general, Justice Ginsburg said, “if it’s measured in terms of readiness to overturn legislation, this is one of the most activist courts in history.”

The next term, which begins on Oct. 7, is also likely to produce major decisions, she said, pointing at piles of briefs in cases concerning campaign contribution limits and affirmative action.

There is a framed copy of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 on a wall in her chambers. It is not a judicial decision, of course, but Justice Ginsburg counts it as one of her proudest achievements.

The law was a reaction to her dissent in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, the 2007 ruling that said Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 imposed strict time limits for bringing workplace discrimination suits. She called on Congress to overturn the decision, and it did.

“I’d like to think that that will happen in the two Title VII cases from this term, but this Congress doesn’t seem to be able to move on anything,” she said.

“In so many instances, the court and Congress have been having conversations with each other, particularly recently in the civil rights area,” she said. “So it isn’t good when you have a Congress that can’t react.”

The recent voting rights decision, Shelby County v. Holder, also invited Congress to enact new legislation. But Justice Ginsburg, who dissented, did not sound optimistic.

“The Voting Rights Act passed by overwhelming majorities,” she said of its reauthorization in 2006, “but this Congress I don’t think is equipped to do anything about it.”

Asked if she was disappointed by the almost immediate tightening of voting laws in Texas and North Carolina after the decision, she chose a different word: “Disillusioned.”

The flaw in the court’s decision, she said, was to conclude from the nation’s progress in protecting minority voters that the law was no longer needed. She repeated a line from her dissent: “It is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the majority opinion, and he quoted extensively from a 2009 decision that had, temporarily as it turned out, let the heart of the Voting Rights Act survive. Eight members of the court, including Justice Ginsburg, had signed the earlier decision.

On Friday, she said she did not regret her earlier vote, as the result in the 2009 case was correct. But she said she should have distanced herself from the majority opinion’s language. “If you think it’s going to do real damage, you don’t sign on to it,” she said. “I was mistaken in that case.”

Some commentators have said that the two voting rights decisions are an example of the long game Chief Justice Roberts seems to be playing in several areas of the law, including campaign finance and affirmative action. Justice Ginsburg’s lone dissent in June’s affirmative action case, leaving in place the University of Texas’ admissions plan but requiring lower courts to judge it against a more demanding standard, may suggest that she is alert to the chief justice’s apparent strategy.

Justice Ginsburg is by her own description “this little tiny little woman,” and she speaks in a murmur inflected with a Brooklyn accent. But she is a formidable force on the bench, often asking the first question at oral arguments in a way that frames the discussion that follows.

She has always been “a night person,” she said, but she has worked even later into the small hours since her husband, Martin D. Ginsburg, a tax lawyer, chef and wit, died in 2010. Since then, she said, there is no one to call her to bed and turn out the lights.

She works out twice a week with a trainer and said her doctors at the National Institutes of Health say she is in fine health.

“Ever since my colorectal cancer in 1999, I have been followed by the N.I.H.,” she said. “That was very lucky for me because they detected my pancreatic cancer at a very early stage” in 2009.

Less than three weeks after surgery for that second form of cancer, Justice Ginsburg was back on the bench.

“After the pancreatic cancer, at first I went to N.I.H. every three months, then every four months, then every six months,” she said. “The last time I was there they said come back in a year.”

Justice Ginsburg said her retirement calculations would center on her health and not on who would appoint her successor, even if that new justice could tilt the balance of the court and overturn some of the landmark women’s rights decisions that are a large part of her legacy.

“I don’t see that my majority opinions are going to be undone,” she said. “I do hope that some of my dissents will one day be the law.”

She said that as a general matter the court would be wise to move incrementally and methodically. It had moved too fast, she said, in Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. The court could have struck down only the extremely restrictive Texas law before it.

“I think it’s inescapable that the court gave the anti-abortion forces a single target to aim at,” she said. “The unelected judges decided this question for the country, and never mind that the issue was in flux in the state legislatures.”

The question of same-sex marriage is also in flux around the nation. In June, the court declined to say whether there was a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, allowing the issue to percolate further. But Justice Ginsburg rejected the analogy to the lesson she had taken from the aftermath of the Roe decision.

“I wouldn’t make a connection,” she said.

The fireworks at the end of the last term included three dissents announced from the bench by Justice Ginsburg. Such oral dissents are rare and are reserved for major disagreements.

One was a sharp attack on Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s majority opinion in a job discrimination case, and he made his displeasure known, rolling his eyes and making a face.

Justice Ginsburg said she took it in stride. “It was kind of a replay of the State of the Union, when he didn’t agree with what the president was saying” in 2010 about the Citizens United decision. “It was his natural reaction, but probably if he could do it again, he would have squelched it.”

By: Adam Liptak, The New York Times, August 24, 2013

August 25, 2013 Posted by | Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The GOP In Fantasyland”: Unhinged, Uncontrollable And Fully Capable Of Knocking Themselves Out

The make-believe crusade by publicity-hound Republicans to somehow stop Obamacare is one of the most cynical political exercises we’ve seen in many years. And that, my friends, is saying something.

Charlatans are peddling the fantasy that somehow they can prevent the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act from becoming what it already is: the law of the land. Congress passed it, President Obama signed it, the Supreme Court upheld it, many of its provisions are already in force, and others will soon take effect.

No matter how contemptuous they may be about Obamacare, opponents have only two viable options: Repeal it or get over it.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) the Canadian American who appears to be running for president, has grabbed headlines and air time by being the loudest advocate of an alleged third option: Congress could refuse to fund Obamacare, thereby starving it and effectively killing it. This is a ridiculous fantasy, as Cruz, who has brains beneath all that bombast, surely knows.

Congress needs to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government beyond Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. The idea, if you can call it one, is that Republicans can refuse to pass any funding bill that contains money for implementing Obamacare.

Theoretically, Republicans could pull this off in the House, where they hold the majority. But the chance that a bill stripped of money for the Affordable Care Act could make it through the Senate, where Democrats hold power, is precisely zero. The chance that a House-Senate conference would starve ­Obamacare to death while Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) remains the majority leader is also zero.

And if by some miracle such a bill were to make it to Obama’s desk, the chance he would sign it is way less than zero. To swallow the snake oil that Cruz and some other hard-right conservatives are peddling, you have to believe Obama is willing to nullify the biggest legislative accomplishment of his presidency.

So with the bill vetoed and no authorization to spend money, much of the government would have to shut down.

This gambit damaged the Republican Party back when Newt Gingrich tried it. In today’s toxic political climate, with approval ratings for Congress sinking toward single digits, it could be catastrophic. As things stand, Democrats have an uphill struggle next year to win the 17 House seats they need to regain the majority in that chamber. If the GOP forces a shutdown, however, Democrats’ chances might get better.

The basic elements of Obamacare — including the mandate that compels individuals to buy health insurance or pay a fine — originated in conservative think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation. So it is beyond ironic that Heritage — under its new leader, former senator Jim DeMint — is pushing hard for the defund-Obamacare suicide leap.

DeMint has gone so far as to make a campaign swing through the South and the Midwest, whipping up support among the GOP base. Asked by an audience member in Arkansas why Congress should pass a bill starving Obamacare when everyone knows Obama would never sign it, DeMint replied, “Well, we don’t know that, do we?

Come on. We know.

And we also know that painting Obamacare as the end of America as we know it is an effective way for DeMint to rebrand Heritage , moving it away from mainstream Republican orthodoxy into tea party la-la land. Noisemaking and fundraising go hand in hand; this crazy exercise promises to be very bad for the GOP, but it might end up being very good for the Heritage Foundation’s coffers.

Similarly, Cruz gets to preen before a national audience and demonstrate the fervor of his opposition to Obama and all that he stands for. “If you have an impasse, you know, one side or the other has to blink,” he said recently. “How do we win this fight? Don’t blink.

The GOP establishment is blinking like crazy. Trying to defund Obamacare has little support among Republicans in the Senate. “I’m for stopping Obamacare, but shutting down the government will not stop Obamacare,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said recently, demonstrating a grasp of reality.

The Republican majority in the House, though, is . . . what’s the word? Unpredictable? Uncontrollable? Unhinged? They pay little attention to wise political advice and less attention to their leader, Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. And while they can’t lay a glove on Obamacare, they’re fully capable of knocking themselves out.

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 22, 2013

August 25, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Tough Decision”: Paul Ryan’s Choice, His Constituents Or His Deep Ties To The Koch Brothers

How’s this for irony:

When the City of Kenosha, Wisconsin, was preparing to formally petition Congress to take the necessary actions to get corporate money out of politics and to restore grassroots democracy, the congressman who represents the community was meeting secretly with the Koch brothers to plot election strategies and policy agendas.

Kenosha is the largest city in Wisconsin’s first congressional district, which Congressman Paul Ryan has represented since 1999—thanks to gerrymandered district lines and heavy infusions of cash from out-of-state special interests. With Congress out of session for the August recess and Ryan expected to head home to meet with constituents, members of the Kenosha City Council decided to deliver a message. They voted overwhelmingly to ask Ryan and other Wisconsin representatives “to amend the Constitution to bar corporate wealth from unduly influencing elections.”

That’s not a particularly radical request.

Sixteen states and roughly 500 communities have petitioned Congress to support a constitutional amendment to restore the power of the people—through their federal, state and local representatives—to place limits on the influence of big money, especially corporate money, in American politics. The official calls from states across the country, and from cities such as Kenosha, come in response to the High Court’s decision to remove restrictions on corporate spending to buy elections, which capped a series of rulings that undermined limits on the power of wealthy Americans to dominate the political and governing processes of the nation with unprecedented infusions of campaign money.

Ryan has been among the prime beneficiaries of the money-in-politics moment ushered in by the High Court. As the House Budget Committee chairman, he has collected millions of dollars from individuals and groups that stand to benefit from initiatives such as Social Security privatization and the development of voucher schemes to “reform” Medicaid and Medicare. The congressman has become a favorite of many of the biggest donors in the country, including billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.

The Koch brothers, prime funders of conservative causes and Republican politicians, were enthusiastic backers of placing Ryan on the 2012 Republican ticket. That move entered in a fiasco that saw Ryan fail to deliver Wisconsin for the ticket led by Mitt Romney. Ryan not only lost his hometown of Janesville but many of the other communities in his district, including Kenosha.

Casual observers might guess that Ryan would be listening a little more to his district, especially to the voters in cities such as Kenosha.

But they would guess wrong.

As Kenosha was petitioning for the redress of money-in-politics grievances, the congressman was at a posh resort near Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he had flown as soon as Congress went on recess. The Koch brothers had rented the entire Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and set up a private security perimeter so that no media—and certainly no citizens—could get near the elite retreat. And they invited Paul Ryan to spend several days with them as their guest of honor. Along with House majority leader Eric Cantor, American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks and a few other worthies, the Kochs and their wealthy friends wined and dined with Ryan.

A source that spoke to Politico reported that Ryan was “well-received by donors.” According to the Politico report, “Ryan has developed deep ties to Koch World”—the vast network of political operations controlled by the billionaire brothers.

The question is whether the congressman retains deep ties to Kenosha.

In case the congressman missed the message, the Kenosha City Council was joined in mid-August by the Kenosha County Board—the governing body of the populous southeastern Wisconsin county that is entirely within Ryan’s district—in calling for an amendment to overturn Citizens United. And constituents like Jennifer Franco, of Kenosha, are saying it’s time for their elected representatives to “stand with the people to proclaim that money is not speech, that artificial entities are not persons, and that every person’s voice carries the same weight.”

The juxtaposition of events in New Mexico and Wisconsin leaves Ryan with a clear choice to make: he can either stick with the Koch brothers or he can respond to the call from Kenosha for a meaningful response to the threat posed to democracy by the buying of elections and the policymaking process.

 

By: John Nichols, the Nation, August 22, 2013

August 25, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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