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“A Fanatical Group Of Nihilists”: The Upcoming Shutdowns And Defaults Are Symptoms Of A Deeper Republican Malady

Congressional Republicans have gone directly from conservatism to fanaticism without any intervening period of sanity.

First, John Boehner, bowing to Republican extremists, ushers a bill through the House that continues to fund the government after September 30 but doesn’t fund the Affordable Care Act. Anyone with half a brain knows Senate Democrats and the President won’t accept this — which means, if House Republicans stick to their guns, a government shut-down.

A shutdown would be crippling. Soldiers would get IOUs instead of paychecks. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees would be furloughed without pay. National parks would close. Millions of Americans would feel the effects.

And who will get blamed?

House Republicans think the public hates the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) so much they’ll support their tactics. But the fact is, regardless of Americans’  attitudes toward that Act — which, not incidentally, passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by the President, who was re-elected with over 50 percent of the vote, and constitutionality was upheld by the Supreme Court — Americans hate even more one party using the United States government as a pawn in their power games.

According to a recent CNN poll, 51 percent of Americans say they’d blame the Republicans for a shutdown; 33 percent would blame the President. They blamed Republicans for the last shutdown at the end of 1995 and start of 1996 — contributing to Republican losses of seven out of 11 gubernatorial races in 1996, 53 state legislative seats, 3 House seats, and the presidency.

So what are Senate Republicans doing about this impending train wreck for the country and the GOP?

Senator Ted Cruz is now trying to round up 40 Senate Republicans to vote against — not for, but against — the House bill when it comes to the Senate floor next week. Why? Because Cruz and company don’t want the Senate to enact any funding bill at all. That’s because once any bill is enacted, Senate Democrats can then amend it with only 51 votes — striking out the measure that de-funds Obamacare, and even possibly increasing funds in the continuing resolution to keep the government running.

So if Ted Cruz gets his way and the Senate doesn’t vote out any funding bill at all, what happens? The government runs out of money September 30. That spells shutdown.

The only difference between the Cruz and Boehner scenarios is that under Boehner we get a government shutdown and the public blames the GOP. Under Cruz, we get a shutdown and the public blames the GOP even more, because Republicans wouldn’t even allow a spending bill to come to the Senate floor.

In truth, the fanatics now calling the shots in the Republican Party don’t really care what the public thinks because they’re too busy worrying about even more extremist right-wing challengers in their next primary — courtesy of gerrymandering by Republican state legislators, and big-spending right-wing gonzo groups like the Club for Growth.

The Republican Party is no longer capable of governing the nation. It’s now a fanatical group run out of right-wing states by a cadre of nihilists, Know-nothings, and a handful of billionaires.

But America needs two parties both capable of governing the nation. We cannot do with just one. The upcoming shutdowns and possible defaults are just symptoms of this deeper malady.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, September 21, 2013

September 25, 2013 Posted by | Government Shut Down, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Foraging For Food”: What Harry Reid Learned At The Grocery Store

The speaker is Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic Leader. The place is the Senate floor. The time is last week, after the House Republicans committed the latest outrage, voting to cut the food stamp program, always part of the farm bill – until now. Hear Harry speak on one of life’s simple pleasures:

One of my favorite things that I really like to do in Nevada and here, in Washington, is go grocery shopping. It’s such a diversion for me. I love going grocery shopping to look around, buy the things. Landra and I are without our children and our grandchildren. We live alone. But we still buy food. And I enjoy that so very, very much.

So I know, have a good idea how much $4 will buy or $4.50 to be specific. That’s not money to buy … a pound of hamburger. They have different grades of hamburger. They have the expensive kind, not so expensive and the cheaper kind. Even the cheaper kind you couldn’t buy a pound of that most of the time. A gallon of milk (is) about $4. You couldn’t buy them both the same day. It’s possible to (make) important reforms in both the farm and food stamp programs without balancing the budget on the backs of people who are hungry.

This is one of the most humane speeches I’ve ever come across in the Senate. It may be a first. Seldom does a majority leader, who holds so much power in his hands, seem so humble and down to earth. More often than not, the voices in that clubby chamber drone on longer than necessary, with nobody listening, trying to summon the spirit of Daniel Webster.

The straightforward Reid put his finger on the universal importance of going out to find – or forage – food for yourself and your family. Whether you are man, woman or child, that is an elemental need and the ancient way that we became civilized, by sitting down to break bread, cook meat or gather berries together.

In times of trouble, the government should be your friend trying to help you, not an enemy scheming to take away what little you have. That is not “conservative.” That’s firebrand radical. Federal food stamp assistance goes back to the Great Depression, for heaven’s sake, when government lent a helping hand.

Harold Ickes, an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, famously observed the obvious: “People need to eat three times a day.” A blunt statement with sense and compassion between the lines.

I hope everyone knows by now the food stamp troublemakers – the same ones who threaten to shut down the government – are about 40 House Republicans, most of them tea party people who were elected in 2010. They promised to create chaos here in Washington – and then they spit out “D.C.” They ran for office on a platform of practically burning the building down, or least closing the Capitol, the citadel of our democracy.

They have no knowledge of Congress and no interest in its traditions. They respect neither seniority nor authority. They don’t even listen to their own Speaker, John Boehner. Poor country club guy from small-town Ohio, Boehner can’t control these angry white people who showed up with everything but their pitchforks. Sorry, but they are an intolerable faction and this latest act is unconscionable. In fact, let’s call it what it is: un-American.

Paul Krugman, the op-ed columnist for The New York Times, spoke out strongly against “the war on food stamps.” He quoted the GOP golden boy, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, disparaging food and nutrition assistance as “a hammock” instead of a safety net. Ryan is a sharp-tongued instigator of all the madness – in both senses of the word. I have news for Krugman: These people, except for Ryan, are not likely to read The New York Times. They are anti-establishment, anti-intellectual, anti-government, anti-immigrant. If anything, they would take take criticism from The Times as a compliment.

The political party they resemble most is the one Abraham Lincoln despised, the defiant Know-Nothings, back before the Civil War. I think that’s why President Obama can’t wrap his mind around how much damage they plan to do to his presidency and the government and the American people. He’s a man of reason living in unreasonable times. He has the milk of human kindness in his bones; but his political foes have no mercy on the less fortunate among us, not even on children. They would take food out of the mouths of babes.

Reid said it best in his un-common sense statement: Don’t balance the budget on the backs of people who are hungry. Amen.

 

By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, September 24, 2013

September 25, 2013 Posted by | Poverty | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Making The Law Look Better”: How Not To Argue Against Obamacare

One of the more talked about pieces in conservative media yesterday came by way of Forbes, and it caused quite a stir. If you missed it, the article, based on American Enterprise Institute research, said the typical American family of four should expect $7,450 in additional health care costs, all because of the Affordable Care Act.

If true, that certainly sounds problematic. With a weak economy and stagnant wages, an average household would struggle to afford those increased costs.

The problem, as Igor Volsky explained, is that the Forbes piece is entirely wrong.

To translate that number to a “typical American family,” [the AEI’s Chris Conover] took “the latest year-by-year projections, divided by the projected U.S. population to determine the added amount per person,” multiplied that result by four and voila: Obamacare will add $7,450 to average health spending for a family of four between 2014 and 2022!

One economist interviewed by ThinkProgress, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities’ Paul Van de Water, described this calculation as one of the stupidest things he’s read in a long time and likened it to arguing that college costs will increase for a “typical” family if the federal government adopts policies that help lower-income Americans afford college educations. Yes, the nation will spend more on education if more students enroll in colleges and universities, but the “typical” student already attending college won’t; she or he will continuing paying tuition at more or less the same rate, while the newly-enrolled student will presumably benefit from some sort of subsidized tuition rate.

The same is true here. The so-called “typical” family that Conover describes already receives health care insurance through their employer. The existence of 30 million newly-insured people — many of whom will receive tax credits if they purchase insurance in the law’s exchanges — won’t do much to move their premiums in one way or another.

MIT’s Jonathan Gruber went on to Volsky, “This is a typically misleading use of data by opponents of Obamacare.”

I no longer find myself surprised by developments like these. Conservative opponents of the Affordable Care Act have been pushing easily discredited attacks for quite a while, in some cases because conservative wonks just aren’t very good, and in other cases because the right feels justified in making claims they know to be untrue.

But I’m always left with the same question: if “Obamacare” were really so awful, shouldn’t conservative criticism be a lot easier?

Much to the chagrin of the right (and to Politico), most of the news surrounding the Affordable Care Act has been pretty encouraging of late. That said, if the law’s critics want to focus on areas of concern, there are legitimate criticisms they can point to.

We’re already seeing, for example, some glitches in the Obamacare exchanges. As Jonathan Cohn explained, they’re not worth freaking out over, but if you’re a Republican desperate to shine a light on implementation problems, you can seize on something like this to advance a partisan cause.

There are also legitimate concerns about the law pushing private insurers to restrict provider options for those who get coverage through exchanges. If conservatives wanted to jump up and down about this, too, they’d at least be dealing with reality. Does it mean the law is a fiasco, doomed to failure? No. Is it a real problem worthy of attention? Sure.

But our discourse has become so stunted and unproductive that we’re instead stuck with nonsense such as the Forbes piece, which had been thoroughly debunked before close of business. (Of course, if recent history is any guide, the fact that the claims have been discredited won’t stop Republican members of Congress from repeating them on national television every day for the foreseeable future.)

Note to Obamacare’s detractors: when you cling to evidence that’s wrong, you make the law look better, not worse. If the law was as bad as you claim, you’d have real defects to point to, not made-up stuff.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 24, 2013

September 25, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Conservatives | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Case For Gun Liability Laws”: Guns Are The Only Consumer Product In America With No Safety Oversight

Knives. Automobiles. Cold medicine. Alcohol. Cigarettes. Coffee.

What do these items have in common?

They’re all held to a higher safety standard than firearms.

Because of product-liability law, manufacturers must equip them with proper warnings, limitations and built-in designs that enhance their safety.

If they don’t, consumers can sue them for harm caused by the product. And all consumer products manufacturers are required to ensure that their products are free of design defects and don’t threaten public safety.

Guns, as Jonathan Lowy of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s Legal Action Project has said, are “the only consumer product in America with no federal safety oversight.”

Firearms haven’t always been a protected class; but as the industry lost millions in lawsuits over the years, liability protection became the NRA’s holy grail.

Before 2005, the Brady Center — named for President Reagan’s press secretary James Brady, who was shot and paralyzed in a failed assassination attempt on the president — had launched multiple lawsuits around the country. Los Angeles, New York and 30 other cities, counties and states had filed civil lawsuits against gun manufacturers — including a $100 million suit against the gun industry by Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1999. The pain inflicted on negligent manufacturers was real and it was expensive. In 2003, Bryco Arms declared bankruptcy after paying $24 million in the case of a 7-year-old boy who was paralyzed by a defective gun.

Then, in 2005, after a civil lawsuit brought after the Washington, D.C., sniper killings left the manufacturer Bushmaster with a $2 million bill, the NRA aggressively and successfully lobbied for the passage of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act , which offered permanent protection to gun makers.

There is absolutely no reason that the manufacturers of deadly weapons should be given a free pass. Yet, after a week of carnage that included the Navy Yard shooting and a Chicago killing spree, Congress — a wholly owned subsidiary of the NRA — isn’t even bothering with gun-control legislation.

The public is expected to move on, with a weary shrug of the shoulders and a passive shake of the head, resigned to the inaction of our elected officials.

But the seventh mass shooting in a year combined with data predicting another one in February are not signs that we should give up.

They are a reminder that change takes time, patience and resolve, even when the moving images of tearful families are pushed to the back of our collective cultural memory.

Following the 1981 shooting of Brady, it took over five years for Congress to introduce meaningful gun legislation. The Brady Law requiring background checks wasn’t signed until 1993.

As gun violence increases, so too does the NRA’s stock — and the stock price of the publicly held gun manufacturers that fund it. In the wake of the December 2012 Newtown massacre, gun sales increased across the country. And the NRA gets a dollar for every gun or package of ammunition sold at participating stores.

A lot of those dollars go directly into Congressional coffers. The Center for Public Integrity reported that the NRA, Gun Owners of America and other allied groups have poured nearly $81 million into House, Senate and presidential races since 2000. Of the 46 senators who blocked a federal background checks bill in April, 43 have received millions of dollars from pro-gun interests in the last decade. And if elected officials weren’t already scared of being unseated by NRA-funded ads and campaigns, they need only look to the two Colorado state legislators who were recently recalled for supporting gun-control legislation.

Yet, there may be an opening to once again revisit common-sense legislation, including changing liability laws. After all, those who voted against the background check bill saw their approval ratings in their states drop as a result. And as recalled Colorado Sen. Angela Giron recently wrote, there is, in fact, a growing counterbalance to the gun lobby, with more organizations standing up for those who favor sensible gun reform.

Before the gun lobby successfully killed all gun-control legislation, there were some key wins in the fight to hold gun manufacturers liable. Last year, the New York State appellate court ruled that a Buffalo man who was shot nearly a decade ago could sue the gun manufacturer, distributor and dealer. In August of this year, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in favor of a plaintiff who filed a negligence lawsuit against the owners of a gun shop.

The NRA will paint product liability legislation as a threat to law-abiding gun owners. After all, guns are meant to injure and kill. But gun manufacturers could control distribution enough to prevent guns from entering the criminal market.

When the government is worried that you might use that second bottle of NyQuil to cook meth, it’s not unreasonable to ask why someone needs to buy 15 assault rifles in one sitting.

Washington’s shameful cowardice aside, there are leaders across the country who have courageously done the right thing, paying a political price so that innocent Americans don’t have to pay the ultimate price. As Sen. Giron said of her experience, “Today, Colorado is safer because of the laws we passed. I have no regrets about that.”

If more of our elected officials were inspired by her example, we might all have fewer regrets.

 

By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 24, 2013

September 25, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Purposely Stripped Of Context”: When Obamacare Polls Are Accurate Without Being True

As Republicans form a circular firing squad, nervous Democrats continue to believe that this is a depressing time when the future of Obamacare is on the line.

There is some reason for worry: the Koch brothers are spending millions trying to get young people to “opt out” of seeking health insurance at the state level, which could wreck the risk pool essential for the program’s success.

But young people, who as a group support President Obama, aren’t likely to buy Koch lies. And Hollywood progressives are about to unveil a strange-bedfellows alliance with insurance companies that will spend tens of millions of dollars telling Americans the truth — that they are better off with Obamacare being fully implemented.

Meanwhile, the chances of the Affordable Care Act being defunded in Washington are between zero and none, as many Republicans are now acknowledging. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) doesn’t have the votes for his strategy of threatening a government shutdown over Obamacare, and everyone but Cruz knows it. Karl Rove wrote an impassioned plea to Republicans not to use this “ill-conceived tactic.” Some analysts believe a government shutdown, which would almost certainly be blamed on the GOP,  could even give Democrats an outside shot at winning back the House in 2014.

So why the jitters on the left? At least part of the explanation lies in polls on Obamacare that have been misunderstood or stripped of context. Over and over, Americans have been told that the public doesn’t support the president’s signature achievement. This is true in only the most literal sense of the word. It turns out that the idea behind the new law — universal coverage — is backed by a strong majority.

To get a sense of how the media are misreporting the story, consider a September 15 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. As David Weigel has noted in Slate, this is one of the most reliable polls around.  It found public widespread ignorance about the law, which will be implemented beginning October 1, and a high level of skepticism about Obamacare’s ability to improve people’s lives The poll reported that 30 percent of respondents thought it would have a negative impact on their families and only 12 percent were convinced it would be positive. More than half felt — accurately — that it would have no impact on their families.

But those weren’t the results that made headlines. It was the overall figure — 43 percent support Obamacare and 54 percent oppose it — that received wide coverage, just as similar poll numbers have in the past.

This is a classic example of something being accurate without being true.

As New York Times columnist Charles Blow has noted, a new CNN/ORC Poll shows that while 35 percent of the public (the conservative base) oppose Obamacare because it’s too liberal, 16 percent oppose it because it isn’t liberal enough.

In other words, 59 percent of the American public either supports Obamacare or wants it to go further.

This casts an entirely new light on the health care debate and further isolates the obstructionists. They are now exposed as radicals who believe in extortion rather than elections — a fringe group of what John McCain in another context called “wacko birds.”

More evidence to bolster that point comes from a CNBC poll that shows the public opposed to cutting off funding for Obamacare by 44 to 38 percent. If it meant a government shutdown, nearly 60 percent oppose defunding. Surely if a majority opposed the idea of Obamacare, a similar majority would oppose the funding of it.

Liberals are justifiably upset about the way public opinion has been misreported on this issue, and most of the blame rests with reporters who don’t probe the internals of polls deeply enough.

But progressives have a role to play in changing the way the polling looks.

Longtime supporters of a single-payer system (I am among them) need to stop telling pollsters that they don’t like Obamacare, even if its provisions seem inadequate to them. Otherwise they will continue to be lumped in with Tea Party types and depicted as standing against a landmark achievement that liberals have been seeking since universal coverage first appeared in Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive Party (Bull Moose) Platform of 1912.

 

By: Jonathan Alter, The National Memo, September 23, 2013

September 25, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Public Option | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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