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“What We Left Behind In 2013”: Americans Shouldn’t Accept The Low Standards Of Congress’s New Normal

I think we all breathed a sigh of relief this week when Congress finally did what it was supposed to do and passed a basic budget. Although the budget left many behind, this time there were no shutdowns, no debt ceiling scares, no fears of economic catastrophe. They just got down to work and passed a budget that allows our government to run.

I felt similarly relieved when the Senate changed its rules to put an end to the GOP obstruction that had kept seats on our courts across the country vacant out of misplaced political spite and pure obstructionism. Although Republicans are still doing everything they can to hold up the process, some long-blocked nominees are finally getting confirmed.

Yes, things are getting better. But that’s not saying much. Republicans have lowered the standards of Congress so much that the completion of a basic task like passing a budget or confirming a non-controversial judge is now cause for celebration. Americans shouldn’t accept the low standards of this new normal.

It’s like the relief of having a tooth pulled. The ache that’s been with you for so long is gone, the sharp pain of having it pulled is over. But there’s something missing.

As we look forward to the year ahead, let’s remember the tasks we left behind in the rancorous, bitter 2013. Relief is not enough. Progressives must redouble our efforts not only to make up lost ground but to make positive progress in the coming year.

Relief For Low-Income Americans. It was good news that Congress passed a budget. But that budget left some important programs behind. Last month, 47 million low-income Americans saw their SNAP (food stamp) benefits cut, leaving them with even less money to buy food for their families. Three days after Christmas, 1.3 million Americans will see their emergency unemployment insurance dry up, leaving many of the long-term unemployed with little to keep themselves afloat, and hurting the economy as a whole. Next year, Congress must work to boost our economy in a way that doesn’t leave behind those who are out of work or underemployed.

Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Gay-rights supporters rejoiced last month when the Senate passed a bill banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, a measure that garnered unexpected support from a number of Republicans. But Speaker Boehner shows no desire to bring the bill to the House floor. Progressives need to make sure House Republicans pay a political price if they kill a nondiscrimination bill supported by 70 percent of Americans.

Ending the Judicial Vacancy Crisis. A minority of Senate Republicans can no longer block all of the president’s judicial nominees from getting confirmation votes, but there’s plenty of lost ground to make up. One in ten seats on the federal courts is now or will soon be vacant, and there’s a growing number of urgent “judicial emergencies.” And now Republicans are stepping up their obstruction in other ways, even indicating that they will send 55 nominees back to the president at the end of the year, forcing the White House and the Senate to start the nominations process all over again. The 41-vote filibuster may be dead, but the fight to put good judges on the courts is just as important.

Updating our Immigration Laws. There was a rare bit of bipartisan hope this year when the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of 8” hammered out an agreement for a much-needed update to our immigration laws, including a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The bill provoked a Tea Party uproar and got stuck in the House, but with enough pressure from the public, next year presents an opportunity to create a chance for thousands of immigrant families.

Protecting Voting Rights. As soon as the Supreme Court struck down the key enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act, states across the South started instituting restrictive new voting laws designed to keep people of color, low-income people, and the young from voting. This was an undeniable setback, but we now have an opportunity to update VRA’s protections…if reasonable members of Congress will work together to get it done.

Defending Choice in the States. Congress may have been at a standstill last year, but many state legislatures weren’t. On top of a barrage of voting restrictions, Republican state legislatures continued the recent flood of anti-choice laws making it harder for women to access birth control and abortions. In just the first half of the year, states adopted 43 restrictions on abortion. But there were also positive trends as state legislators across the country worked toward positive, pro-woman policies. The War on Women is far from over, but we have the chance to achieve positive women’s rights victories in the states.

Fighting the Influx of Big Money in Politics. The 2010 Citizens United decision was bad enough, opening the door to unlimited corporate spending in elections. But this year saw the Supreme Court considering another major campaign finance case, McCutcheon v. FEC, that could allow the wealthiest donors to flood our political system with even more money. Luckily, 2013 also made clear that “We the People” have had enough. The movement to reclaim our democracy from special interests has never been stronger. To date, 16 states and more than 500 cities and towns have passed resolutions or ballot initiatives calling on Congress to pass an amendment overturning Citizens United and putting the power of our democracy back in the hands of everyday Americans. And 145 members of the House and Senate are now on record as co-sponsors of an amendment.

Barely functioning is not enough. We have a lot of work to do. Here’s to higher standards in 2014!


By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For the American Way, The Huffington Post Blog, December 20, 2013

December 22, 2013 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Meaning Of A Decent Society”: What Do We Owe One Another As Members Of The Same Society?

It’s the season to show concern for the less fortunate among us. We should also be concerned about the widening gap between the most fortunate and everyone else.

Although it’s still possible to win the lottery (your chance of winning $648 million in the recent Mega Millions sweepstakes was one in 259 million), the biggest lottery of all is what family we’re born into. Our life chances are now determined to an unprecedented degree by the wealth of our parents.

That’s not always been the case. The faith that anyone could move from rags to riches – with enough guts and gumption, hard work and nose to the grindstone – was once at the core of the American Dream.

And equal opportunity was the heart of the American creed. Although imperfectly achieved, that ideal eventually propelled us to overcome legalized segregation by race, and to guarantee civil rights. It fueled efforts to improve all our schools and widen access to higher education. It pushed the nation to help the unemployed, raise the minimum wage, and provide pathways to good jobs. Much of this was financed by taxes on the most fortunate.

But for more than three decades we’ve been going backwards. It’s far more difficult today for a child from a poor family to become a middle-class or wealthy adult. Or even for a middle-class child to become wealthy.

The major reason is widening inequality. The longer the ladder, the harder the climb. America is now more unequal that it’s been for eighty or more years, with the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of all developed nations. Equal opportunity has become a pipe dream.

Rather than respond with policies to reverse the trend and get us back on the road to equal opportunity and widely-shared prosperity, we’ve spent much of the last three decades doing the opposite.

Taxes have been cut on the rich, public schools have deteriorated, higher education has become unaffordable for many, safety nets have been shredded, and the minimum wage has been allowed to drop 30 percent below where it was in 1968, adjusted for inflation.

Congress has just passed a tiny bipartisan budget agreement, and the Federal Reserve has decided to wean the economy off artificially low interest rates. Both decisions reflect Washington’s (and Wall Street’s) assumption that the economy is almost back on track.

But it’s not at all back on the track it was on more than three decades ago.

It’s certainly not on track for the record 4 million Americans now unemployed for more than six months, or for the unprecedented 20 million American children in poverty (we now have the highest rate of child poverty of all developed nations other than Romania), or for the third of all working Americans whose jobs are now part-time or temporary, or for the majority of Americans whose real wages continue to drop.

How can the economy be back on track when 95 percent of the economic gains since the recovery began in 2009 have gone to the richest 1 percent?

The underlying issue is a moral one: What do we owe one another as members of the same society?

Conservatives answer that question by saying it’s a matter of personal choice – of charitable works, philanthropy, and individual acts of kindness joined in “a thousand points of light.”

But that leaves out what we could and should seek to accomplish together as a society. It neglects the organization of our economy, and its social consequences. It minimizes the potential role of democracy in determining the rules of the game, as well as the corruption of democracy by big money. It overlooks our strivings for social justice.

In short, it ducks the meaning of a decent society.

Last month Pope Francis wondered aloud whether “trickle-down theories, which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness…”. Rush Limbaugh accused the Pope of being a Marxist for merely raising the issue.

But the question of how to bring about greater justice and inclusiveness is as American as apple pie. It has animated our efforts for more than a century – during the Progressive Era, the New Deal, the Great Society, and beyond — to make capitalism work for the betterment of all rather merely than the enrichment of a few.

The supply-side, trickle-down, market-fundamentalist views that took root in America in the early 1980s got us fundamentally off track.

To get back to the kind of shared prosperity and upward mobility we once considered normal will require another era of fundamental reform, of both our economy and our democracy.


By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, December 19, 2013

December 22, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Income Gap | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Enough Already”: The New York Times And The ACA, The Yuppie Whine-Athon Continues

I see the New York Times has published yet another article about very privileged people whining about the ACA.

In this case, said article features a couple making $100,000 a year who, under the ACA, will be paying $1,000 a month for health care. Take it away, Dean Baker:

Here they are with a front page story telling us about the tragic situation of the Chapmans, a New Hampshire couple making $100,000 a year who will have to spend $1,000 a month for insurance with Obamacare. This would come to 12 percent of their income. The piece tells readers:

“Experts consider health insurance unaffordable once it exceeds 10 percent of annual income.”

That’s interesting. If we go to the Kaiser Family Foundation website we find that the average employee contribution for an employer provided family plan is $4,240. The average employer contribution is $11,240. That gives us a total of $15,470. Most economists would say that we should treat the employers payment as a cost to the worker since in general employers are no more happy to pay money to health insurance companies than to their workers. If they didn’t pay this money as health insurance then they would be paying it to their workers in wages.

A couple of years ago, when my ex-husband and I were paying for health insurance under COBRA, we were shelling out something like $1,200 a month for just the two of us — and we were making far less than 100K a year. In fact, we were earning more like half that.

Enough already. In the real world we live in, $1,000 a month for good health insurance for two people in the top quintile of U.S. household income is pretty damn good. Upper middle class people, quitcher whining already — and New York Times, please stop enabling this nonsense.


By: Kathleen Geier, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 21, 2013

December 22, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“White Like Me”: Why The Debate About Santa’s Whiteness Actually Matters For Politics

It might seem that an argument about whether Santa Claus and Jesus are “really” white is nothing more than an opportunity for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to make fun of people on Fox News, and not a matter with actual political consequences. After all, Santa is a fictional character whose current visual representations here in America have their origins in early 20th Century newspaper and magazine illustrations, but he’s portrayed in different ways around the world. But before you dismiss this as just silliness, let me suggest that it does have important political effects.

In case you missed it, a few days back, Fox News host Megyn Kelly responded to an article about black kids wishing they could see a Santa who looks more like them by saying, “For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white.” She went on, “Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. Jesus was a white man, too. He was a historical figure. That’s a verifiable fact—as is Santa.” After being roundly ridiculed, Kelly claimed she was joking, though it certainly didn’t sound that way. Then her colleague Bill O’Reilly followed up with a little history lesson, acknowledging that Saint Nicholas was born in what’s now Turkey, yet asserting emphatically that he was, in fact, white. Responding to the assertion that Jesus wasn’t white either, O’Reilly said, “If you go to modern-day Turkey … they don’t consider themselves—the Turks—to be non-white. And if you go to the Holy Land, Judea, back then, they don’t consider themselves to be non-white there. That’s just history.”

I’m not going to bother going into detail about what a howler that is on both counts, but what’s interesting is how O’Reilly is under the impression that even 2,000 years ago, people living in what is now Israel would have had an idea of whiteness that included them. For O’Reilly, “white” seems to mean something like “people I now like,” but in America, whiteness has always been a fluid category. For example, at one time in our history, Italian-Americans weren’t considered white, and many people think that over time, Hispanics will end up being brought into the white category as well (if for no other reason than so whites can remain the majority).

Now here’s why this matters for politics. As you surely know, Republicans have a problem with minority voters. In 2012, President Obama won not only 93 percent of the African-American vote and 71 percent of the votes of Hispanics, the nation’s largest minority group, he also won 73 percent of the votes of Asian-Americans, the country’s fastest-growing minority group. That’s partly a result of a general ideological orientation, and partly a result of disagreement over particular policies, particularly the opposition of Republicans to comprehensive immigration reform. But even more important is the fact that Republicans routinely communicate hostility toward minorities. Mitt Romney got a lot of flack for advocating “self-deportation” of undocumented immigrants, i.e. making their lives so miserable that they’ll leave the country. But that was only one comment in the context of a primary contest in which the candidates were trying to outdo each other to see who could express the most antipathy toward immigrants. And if you’re Hispanic or African American you get a constant stream of messages that conservatives don’t like you and your kind of people, and don’t think you’re American.

The alienation of minorities has to be constantly renewed and maintained, and conservatives, both politicians and media figures, do so with vigor and enthusiasm. This kind of policing of the racial and ethnic borders is heard loud and clear in minority communities. The insistence that Santa is white, the constant race-baiting from people like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, the ugly comments that inevitably crop up whenever immigration is discussed, the actual policy positions of the Republican party—all of it combines into a clear message from conservatives and Republicans, one that says, “You’re not like us, and we don’t like you.” Come Election Day, people don’t forget.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 17, 2013

December 22, 2013 Posted by | Racism | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Thinking, Moral Person Doesn’t Defend Nostalgia For Jim Crow”: What Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson Can Teach Us About Empathy

Yes, I have something to add to the Duck Dynasty controversy, wherein reality TV star Phil Robertson got in trouble for expressing anti-gay views, was suspended by A&E, and has now become the cause celebre of nitwit conservative politicians from across the land. This won’t take long.

I’m not even going to bother addressing the idiocy of the “constitutional conservatives” who think the First Amendment guarantees you the legal right to (1) a cable reality show and (2) never be criticized for anything you say. Nor am I going to talk about Robertson’s anti-gay statement, except to say that nobody buys you couching your bigotry in “biblical” terms just because you call yourself a Christian and throw out some scriptural references. Once you start campaigning to have people who eat shellfish and the sinners who work on the Sabbath executed (the Bible says so!) then we’ll accept that you’re just honoring your religion.

It’s Robertson’s comments about how happy black people were living under Jim Crow that I want to focus on, because they have something to teach us about empathy and individual change. Ta-Nehisi Coates says what needs to be said about the actual reality of which Robertson was so blissfully unaware, but in case you haven’t seen it, here’s what Robertson said about the Louisiana of his youth:

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

I don’t have trouble believing that Phil Robertson never saw the mistreatment of black people with his own eyes, so long as he’s thinking about mistreatment as dramatic things like lynchings and cross-burnings. Maybe as a child, he wasn’t aware of what life was like for black people in Louisiana in those days. But he isn’t a child anymore. He’s a 67-year-old man, and it’s 2013. And part of being a thoughtful adult is realizing that maybe the narrow world of your childhood, as seen through a child’s eyes, was not in fact the entire world. By now, Robertson has had plenty of opportunities to learn about the horror of the Jim Crow era. He can read, and I imagine he owns a television. It shouldn’t be news to him. We’ve had a rather lengthy discussion about it over the last half-century or so.

What Robertson is saying is, “Forget about all that—the real truth lies in what I saw, which is that the black people I knew didn’t complain to me about Jim Crow, so that means that for all intents and purposes it didn’t exist.” But empathy requires us to at least try to imagine that our own experiences might not be the same as everyone’s. Sometimes it even requires that we consider the possibility that our experiences, and the perspective we originally had on them, distort reality. If your neighbor let you borrow his shovel and you thought, “What a nice guy,” and then later you found out that he also used that shovel to bury the 14 runaways he murdered, you wouldn’t say, “He couldn’t be guilty, because he was a nice guy who once lent me his shovel.” You’d understand that the shovel-lending, nice though it may have seemed at the time, didn’t accurately reflect his entire person.

And they may not like it, but white people who grew up in the South during Jim Crow have an extra responsibility to reflect on their own experience, their youthful perspective, and the reality so many people endured. They lived under a terrorist regime that treated them quite well while it committed horrific crimes against their fellow citizens. It may not be fair to say to someone today, “You should have stood against it,” particularly if they were young at the time. But it is fair to say that they now need to understand what it truly was, and if in 2013 they still think that blacks were “singing and happy” before they got welfare and turned all uppity, then they need to wake up.

OK, so I will say one more thing about the conservatives now rallying to Robertson’s cause. The way a thinking, moral person would react to his statements is to say, “Listen, I may not agree with his views about certain things, but he’s only one character on that program, and there’s a lot of value there.” A thinking, moral person doesn’t defend nostalgia for Jim Crow and compare gay people to those who commit bestiality. If you want to love this particular sinner but hate his sin, you’ve got to acknowledge the sin. And my conservative friends, the next time you’re wondering why gay people, black people, and pretty much anybody who is a minority of any kind all consider you intolerant? It isn’t liberals unfairly maligning you. It’s this kind of thing.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 20, 2013


December 22, 2013 Posted by | Bigotry, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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