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“With Every Waking Moment”: Republicans Seeing The World Through An ACA Lens

On Saturday night, for the first time in a generation, the West and Iran reached a diplomatic breakthrough. Love the deal or hate it, the agreement on Iran’s nuclear program was a historic development with sweeping international implications.

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), an 11-year veteran of the institution and the second most powerful Republican in the chamber, immediately turned to Twitter: “Amazing what WH will do to distract attention from O-care.”

I kept waiting for the “just kidding, folks” follow-up, which never came. The Republican leader wasn’t mocking the caricature of unhinged GOP lawmakers; he’d become the caricature of unhinged GOP lawmakers. Indeed, as the notoriety of Cornyn’s message spread, he added, “Isn’t it true that WH are masters of distraction?”

It’s unsettling, of course, when powerful congressional leaders approach foreign policy with all the seriousness of a right-wing blog’s comments section, but it was even more disappointing when CBS’s Bob Schieffer asked House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on “Face the Nation” yesterday:

“You know, I was on airplanes this weekend, and more than one person I was talking to about this whole deal pending with Iran, and they were saying, this might be a diversionary tactic by the administration, which is desperately looking for good news. Would you put it in that category yet?”

Why lend credence to such silly conspiracy theories? The international diplomacy, involving major world powers, involved months of behind-the-scenes talks. Why would any serious person perceive this as a domestic political ploy, intended to “distract” or “divert” attention from a health care website that’s slowly improving?

The answer, I suspect, is that Republicans and much of the political establishment has become preoccupied with the Affordable Care Act in ways that are hard to defend.

Late last week, for example, National Review’s Jonathan Strong published an interesting piece, explaining why the Republican response to the “nuclear option” was muted: “Harry Reid may have detonated a nuclear bomb, but Senate Republicans don’t want a war if it would distract from the disastrous Obamacare rollout, senior GOP aides say.”

As hard as this may be to believe, many Capitol Hill Republicans believe Senate Democrats rebelled against obstructionism, not to improve the confirmation process, but to shift the focus from “Obamacare” and bait Republicans into a big fight that has nothing to do with health care.

Naturally, then, when months of diplomacy resulted in a deal with Iran, Republicans once more assumed this, too, must relate to the health care law – because “Obamacare” is the prism through which all light shines.

The obsession has reached farcical levels and it’s well past time for a reality-check. To think that every development, everywhere, is some kind of ploy related to is to lose all sense of reason. Democrats are heavily invested in improving Americans’ health care security, but it doesn’t dominate their every waking moment.

I don’t seriously expect Republicans to end their crusade against moderate health care law first championed by Mitt Romney, but a little perspective is clearly in order.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 25, 2013

November 26, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Iran | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fried, Whipped And Canned”: Thanksgiving Isn’t Healthy And I Don’t Care!

The guests at Ilyssa Israel’s Thanksgiving table will get a chance to try a couple new healthy dishes she’s adding to her menu, such as roasted Brussels sprouts with quinoa and cranberries and garlic mashed cauliflower instead of potatoes. But those will be served alongside the traditional green bean casserole she makes every year – you know, the kind with cream-of-mushroom soup and those fried onion bits that come in a can.

Israel, 37, an executive assistant from Secaucus, N.J., will use her late mother’s recipe of sprinkling breadcrumbs on top followed by six pats of butter. “It’s so not healthy for you, but I don’t care,” she says. “It’s comfort food. My mom passed away when I was 27. When I think back to our Thanksgivings together, I think of happy times, and that meal always included this string bean casserole.”

What is it about holiday comfort foods that evoke such strong nostalgia? During this time of year, we crave items we wouldn’t touch any other day: gelatin deserts with fake whipped cream, deep-fried turkey or canned cranberries. Even the most die-hard foodies find themselves saying, “It’s not Thanksgiving until I have Mom’s maple-flavored, marshmallow-whipped sweet potato mash.” And recent research shows that a bit of nostalgia is good for us. When we think of fond memories from our past, we feel more socially connected and optimistic about the future.

The smells, tastes and traditions of Thanksgiving food tap into such powerful emotions, says Dr. Charlotte Biltekoff, assistant professor of American studies at the University of California, Davis and author of “Eating Right in America: The Cultural Politics of Dietary Health.”

“The rituals around holiday food connect us to the fantasy we have of the past, which we imagine was more wholesome, natural and simple,” says Biltekoff. “These connections are stronger than the reasons that normally govern our eating choices, like taste, convenience and health.” In other words, comfort foods temporarily make us feel better about living in a complicated, fragmented world.

The foods we choose to celebrate our national holiday also reveal our deeper values as a country, adds Rachel Laudan, a British food historian and author of “Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History.” Unlike other cultures that celebrate festivals with fancier fare, Americans stick with the basics of turkey, gravy and potatoes. “You don’t have fancy sauces or mousses or elaborate desserts,” she says. “It’s a meal that anyone can cook and encapsulates the middle-class ideal.” It’s also a family holiday and symbolizes motherhood and nurturing, she added.

For Israel, that green bean casserole takes her back to the square, white-walled kitchen of the house she grew up in. “As soon as I take a bite, I feel like my mother is with me,” she says. “We’re laughing and reminiscing, and it’s like she hasn’t been gone for the last 10 years.”


By: Sarah Elizabeth Richards, Contributor, TODAY Health, November 25, 2013

November 26, 2013 Posted by | Family Values | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Less Than American”: It Is In The Public Interest To Have People Assimilated And Participating Stakeholders In Our Democracy

Not so long ago, it seemed the debate over immigration reform was all about borders. Politicians competed to offer the most draconian solutions — higher fences, longer fences, electrified fences, armies of guards, fleets of drones, moats and crocodiles. Never mind that the Border Patrol had already more than doubled in a decade. Never mind that many of those here illegally never hopped a fence but simply overstayed a student or tourist visa. The nativist mythology has us under siege from relentless hordes striding toward Arizona on, in the fevered imagination of Tea Party Congressman Steve King, “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” To pacify the border neurotics, authors of the bill that passed the Senate last summer included $46.3 billion to militarize our southern flank.

Now, with the bill stranded in the House, it seems the immigration debate is all about citizenship. To opponents, the idea of offering 11-plus million undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship — even a 13-year slog like the one envisioned by the Senate bill — is anathema, so politically toxic that the measure’s most prominent Republican sponsor, Senator Marco Rubio, pulled back as if he’d put his hand on a lit stove. To proponents of comprehensive reform, or at least to activists on the issue, citizenship is the prize, and nonnegotiable.

It’s beginning to look as if advocates of fixing our broken immigration system will face an unpleasant choice: no bill at all, or a bill that legalizes the foreigners who are already here but does not offer most of them a chance to become citizens. On Capitol Hill several lawmakers are quietly drafting compromises that give the undocumented millions little hope of full membership in America.

The first thing to note is that this is progress. The Republican mainstream view has moved in the last year or so, from Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” to something considerably less callous. Most Republicans in Congress now say they can live with legalizing the undocumented as long as (a) we don’t call it amnesty and (b) we don’t reward lawbreakers by bestowing the precious gift of citizenship.

The second point that needs making — and my Times colleague Julia Preston made it last week — is that while citizenship is the priority for pro-immigration activists, to immigrants living here as a fearful underclass the aim is not so clear cut. For many of them, the priority is to be made legal, to come out of hiding and live their lives without the threat of deportation, without the risk of exploitation by unscrupulous employers, without wondering whether your spouse will make it home at night.

“The entire narrative behind comprehensive immigration reform has elevated the path to citizenship as this must-have component of an acceptable bill,” said Oscar Chacon, executive director of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, a network of immigrant organizations that includes many foreigners here without visas. “What you hear from the undocumented is: ‘We like the idea of citizenship, but what really hurts us is that we are vulnerable, that I can’t easily get a job to feed my family, that I can’t drive a car without being at risk, that I want to be able to visit relatives back home and come back safely.”

Just to be clear, I believe (and so does Oscar Chacon) that deliberately creating a class of disenfranchised residents goes against the American grain. There are few precedents for consigning whole categories of people to a sub-citizen limbo, and they are not proud moments in our history. (See the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.) It is clearly in the public interest to have people become assimilated, taxpaying, participating stakeholders in our democracy. Most Americans polled, including a majority of Republicans, agree that those now in the country illegally should be allowed to eventually apply for citizenship.

If House Speaker John Boehner is willing to brave the fury of his extreme flank and put the matter to a vote, a path to citizenship stands a decent chance of passing the House with a majority of Democrats and a minority of Republicans. You might even think Republicans would want to get immigration settled and off the table so they could begin wooing Hispanic voters on more favorable ground — social issues, taxes, education. But among the people most immersed in this issue, I can’t find many who expect Boehner to suddenly become a statesman and defy his fanatics. In part, let’s be honest, that’s because the Republican stance is, “We protect America from Obama.” It is also in part because they fear newly enfranchised Hispanics will become Democrats — which the Republicans, by opposing citizenship, make a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So it may well be that supporters of immigration reform have to choose between half a loaf and none at all. Half a loaf might include a prospect of citizenship for some undocumented immigrants — the so-called Dreamers, who entered the country as children, and those in the military — but not the majority. If that’s the option, should Democrats swallow hard and take it?

Yes, and here’s why.

First, even without a prospect of citizenship, legalization would make the undocumented much safer from the family-wrecking heartbreak of deportation, which has continued at record numbers under President Obama. It would free them to press for better education for their children, to approach the police when they are victims of crime, to challenge abusive employers, to seek medical care without fear of exposure. Some advocates of citizenship-or-nothing suggest that the president should simply use his prosecutorial discretion to stop deportations altogether, as he has done for the Dreamers and undocumented soldiers. But the public would view that as a grievous abuse of power, and Congress might very well take away his authority. An executive order is no substitute for a protection enshrined in the law.

Second, the legislation has other good things going for it. It puts a little sense into our archaic legal immigration system, and establishes some meaningful protection against future illegal immigration (like holding employers rigorously accountable for assuring their workers have legal status, much more important than fortifying the border.)

Third, this is not the end of the story. We elect a new Congress in 2014, and another in 2016, and so on, and the electoral clout of Hispanics will continue to grow. “I’m a firm believer in the notion of incremental change,” Chacon told me. “The best public policies — look at gay rights — have evolved, they didn’t happen all at once.”

And fourth, even if many undocumented workers never make it to citizenship, the injustice will last for just one generation. Their children are citizens by birth. Young Latinos are reaching voting age at the rate of about 50,000 per month. I suspect many in that rising generation will remember, and punish, the politicians who decided their parents should remain less than American.


By: Bill Keller, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, November 24, 2013

November 26, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No, The World Didn’t End”: Maybe We’ll All Survive After All

I’m a bit amused at some of the articles dribbling out of Washington at present that find various silver linings for the demise of the filibuster against executive-branch and lower-court-judicial appointments. I mean, we all know it Killed the Senate As We Know It, at which act the angels are still weeping, and it spoiled the great and dignified work of the “gangs” cutting ad hoc deals to avoid this or that filibuster. I know it’s hard to imagine anything that would significantly offset such terrible damage–what will Lindsey Graham do between primary challenges?–but The Hill‘s Elise Viebeck finds one that has the added bonus of giving Republicans a trophy to mount on its wall:

Kathleen Sebelius may become the biggest loser in the Senate’s approval of filibuster reform.

The Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary has kept her job despite the botched rollout of ObamaCare’s insurance exchanges, but it will now be easier for Obama to replace her.

After the Senate’s vote, confirming an executive-branch nominee now takes just 51 Senate votes. Some think that raises the likelihood Sebelius will soon be a former Cabinet member.

“The president’s hands were previously tied,” said John Hudak, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, who wrote a piece on the topic Thursday.

“Now, he has more breathing room and he is able to fire whoever he wants at HHS. That’s a very, very appealing approach, whether it fixes the problems with ObamaCare’s rollout or not.”

Better yet, Democrats can approve appointments to the Obamacare Death Panel without Republicans getting their hands dirty with complicity in genocide.

The filibuster vote could also make it easier for Obama to fill the healthcare law’s controversial cost-cutting board, another big advantage for the president.

Known as IPAB, the panel has no members yet is meant to submit its first proposed cuts in January. Any nominees from Obama require Senate confirmation, which is now an easier prospect.

Before Thursday’s vote, Obama’s nominees needed 60 votes to survive procedural motions. Now they need 51.

And hey, maybe the nuclear option shattered the deal-making dreams of “moderate” Republicans, but it might help keep some Democratic “centrists” in the Senate:

Beyond helping Obama, the change could make life easier for some of the Senate Democrats who face tough reelection contests in 2014. The chamber is controlled by 53 Democrats and two Independents who caucus with the majority party.

“Obama now has breathing room among Democrats,” Hudak said.

“He can actually let some of the Democrats who are in tough races off the hook, which has some real electoral implications for those members.”

So see? Maybe we’ll all survive after all.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, November 25, 2013

November 26, 2013 Posted by | Filibuster, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The More We See”: Trayvon Martin Or George Zimmerman, Who’s The Real Thug?

With George Zimmerman out on bail last week after his latest run-in with police, it seems an opportune time to discuss the second killing of Trayvon Martin.

The first, of course, has been discussed ad infinitum since Zimmerman shot the unarmed 17-year-old to death last year. But then Trayvon was killed again. The conservative noise machine engaged in a ritual execution of his character and worth, setting out with breathtaking indifference to facts and callous disregard for simple decency to murder the memory of a dead child.

Geraldo Rivera blamed him for his own death because he wore a hooded sweatshirt — in the rain, yet. Glenn Beck’s website suggested he might have been an arsonist, kidnapper or killer. Rush Limbaugh made jokes about “Trayvon Martin Luther King.”

Some conservative readers even chastised me for referring to him as a “child” or a “boy” though at 17, he was legally both. Makes him seem too sympathetic, they said. One man assured me, absent any evidence or, apparently, any need of it, that contrary to reports, Trayvon was not walking to where he was staying that day but was in fact “casing” the neighborhood.

One woman forwarded a chain email depicting a tough-looking, light-skinned African-American man with tattoos on his face. It was headlined: “The Real Trayvon Martin,” which it wasn’t. It was actually a then-32-year-old rapper who calls himself The Game. But the message was clear: Trayvon was a scary black man who deserved what he got.

I sent that woman an image of Trayvon from the Zimmerman trial. It shows him lying open-eyed and dead on the grass. “This is the real Trayvon,” I wrote.

It was a waste of time. “They’re both pictures of Trayvon,” she insisted. So deeply, bizarrely invested was she in the idea of Trayvon as thug that she could not distinguish between a fair-skinned man with tattoos, and a brown boy with no visible markings. Literally, they all look alike to her.

And once again, a conservative movement which argues with airy assurance that American racism died long ago, disproves its thesis with its actions.

Here, someone wants it pointed out that Trayvon Martin was not an angel. Well, he wasn’t. He took pictures flipping the bird. He used marijuana. He was suspended from school at the time of his shooting. Obviously, he needed guidance. The same is true of many boys. Indeed, it is rumored that there are even white children who use marijuana.

But here’s the thing: Why did some of us need Trayvon to be an angel in the first place? Why did they feel such a pressing urgency to magnify — and manufacture — his failings? Why was it so important to them to make him unworthy of sympathy?

It is a question that assumes new potency the more we see of George Zimmerman. On the day he shot Trayvon, this hero of the conservative noise machine, this righteous white Hispanic man who was, they say, just standing his ground, already had a record that included an accusation he attacked an undercover police officer. That same year — 2005 — a woman sought a restraining order against him, alleging domestic violence.

In September, Zimmerman had a fresh run-in with police over a domestic violence accusation by his estranged wife. In this latest episode, a girlfriend said he pulled a gun on her. In court, she said that once, he even tried to choke her.

Granted, none of these charges has been adjudicated, but there is certainly a pattern here. It ought to give decent people pause and the conservative noise machine shame — assuming it is capable of that emotion. That pattern paints in neon the machine’s willful blindness, the reflexive alacrity with which it assigns the thug label to the black kid — and innocence to the white man.

Well, look again. George Zimmerman seems awfully darn thuggish to me.


By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Featured Post, The National Memo, November 25, 2013

November 26, 2013 Posted by | George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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