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“The Psyche Of An Uninformed Conservative”: Rand Paul Needs To Stop Writing A Revisionist History Of Civil Rights

I understand that a revisionist history of the civil rights movement is of great psychological importance to some conservatives. We’ll probably hear a lot more of it on Monday in conjunction with a MLK Holiday many of their forebears opposed.

But Rand Paul’s forays into this area are just plain ill-advised. Last April he gave a speech at Howard University that pursued the ridiculous theory that the New Deal was essentially a complement to Jim Crow in its “enslavement” of African-Americans to the terrible indignity of material living assistance. And now we have this, via WaPo’s Aaron Blake:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), in an interview Thursday, likened President Obama’s governing philosophy to the kind of “majority rule” that led to Jim Crow laws and Japanese internment camps.

Speaking on Fox News, Paul reacted to Obama’s repeated assertions that Republicans should win elections if they want to control the agenda in Washington. Obama has also suggested in recent days that he might pursue more executive actions — changes made without Congress.

“The danger to majority rule — to him sort of thinking, well, the majority voted for me, now I’m the majority, I can do whatever I want, and that there are no rules that restrain me — that’s what gave us Jim Crow,” Paul said. “That’s what gave us the internment of the Japanese — that the majority said you don’t have individual rights, and individual rights don’t come from your creator, and they’re not guaranteed by the Constitution. It’s just whatever the majority wants.”

Paul added: “There’s a real danger to that viewpoint, but it’s consistent with the progressive viewpoint. … Progressives believe in majority rule, not constitutional rule.”

Don’t be confused with the conflation of the Japanese interment outrage—a temporary product of wartime hysteria which no one at the time regarded as “progressive”—with Jim Crow. The original Constitution which Paul and his followers worship certainly didn’t concern itself with the rights of racial minorities. It took the most egregious exercise of “majority rule” in U.S. history—the Civil War—to abolish slavery. Only a majority given extraordinary power by the self-exclusion of southerners was in a position to pass the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution, the most important efforts taken until 1964 to vindicate the rights of racial minorities. It was a failure of will by the majority that led to the abandonment of Reconstruction and the establishment of the Jim Crow regime. And it was the power of the minority in the Senate (and by the 1930s or so, the minority in the Democratic Party) to thwart majority rule via the filibuster that kept Jim Crow in place for so very long.

And BTW, it’s conservatives, far more than progressives, who perpetually chafe at judicial enforcement of individual rights, unless it happens to coincide with their own policy goals. But in any event, Paul and others like him really need to stop trying to invoke the legacy of the Civil Rights movement to attack “majority rule” on behalf of a “constitutional conservatism” aimed at creating a oligarchical or even theocratic dictatorship of absolute private property rights and puny government. The “minorities” they want to protect are snowy white and very privileged.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, January 17, 2014

January 19, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Only Card They Have To Play”: What Can Republicans Do If Obamacare Isn’t A Disaster?

As the 2014 midterms draw nearer, the Republican Party has developed a simple, Costanza-esque plan for the election season: Nothing.

The theory, which is reportedly being pushed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) over the objections of some House members, goes as follows: As the rollout of the Affordable Care Act continues, Republicans should fade to the background and watch it “collapse under its own weight,” as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is prone to saying. That will allow Republicans to eliminate any distractions as they relentlessly hammer Democrats over the law’s failures, on the way to maintaining their House majority and winning the net six seats needed to take control of the Senate.

The Republican strategy makes some sense on its face — after all, no issue fires up Republican loyalists quite like the Affordable Care Act, and there’s no question that the law’s troubled rollout has been a massive political headache for Democrats.

But there’s a question that should keep every Republican strategist up at night: What happens if health care reform isn’t the electoral albatross that Republicans assume?

It’s not an unrealistic proposition. After all, despite the massively publicized problems with the launch of the law, the percentage of Americans who want it scaled back or repealed has hardly changed over the past two years. There are more reasons to be optimistic that the law will work as intended than there have been at any point since its rollout. Americans still have no faith in the Republican Party to create a constructive alternative. And, crucially, at least one poll suggests that the public is more concerned with job creation, gun reform, and immigration reform — bread-and-butter issues for Democrats — than with reducing the deficit or repealing Obamacare (the central tenets of the GOP platform, such as it exists).

In fact, according to the final Democracy Corps battleground survey of 2013, Republicans may actually pay a political price for their unyielding attacks on the health care reform law. As pollster Erica Seifert put it, “battling on Obamacare is [Republicans’] weakest case for re-election. In fact, it undermines it.”

So if the Affordable Care Act doesn’t crash and burn, destroying the Democratic Party with it, what is the Republican Party’s plan B?

It appears that their guess is as good as yours.

Speaker Boehner has reportedly been trumpeting the results of a recent survey finding that the public now primarily blames President Obama for the nation’s economic problems, rather than the policies of his predecessor.

“Since he can’t blame George W. Bush anymore, the president has chosen to talk about rising income inequality, unemployment, and the need to extend emergency unemployment benefits,” Boehner told House Republicans, according to The Hill. “After five years in office, Barack Obama still doesn’t have an answer to the question: Where are the jobs?”

The problem for Boehner is twofold: First, Americans very clearly want to have the conversation that President Obama has begun. Second, if Republicans have an answer to the “where are the jobs?” question, they are keeping it awfully close to the vest.

The Republican Party’s official “Plan for Economic Growth & Jobs” is incredibly thin on details. In fact, with the exception of repealing Obamacare — and replacing it with yet-undefined “patient-centered reforms” — it does not offer a single specific policy prescription. (By contrast, the White House jobs page leads directly to a description of the American Jobs Act, which, regardless of what one thinks of its merits, is undisputably an actual plan.)

The GOP has similar problems discussing other top issues of the day. Tacit in Boehner’s barb about President Obama “distracting” Americans with a discussion of inequality is the fact that Republicans have few productive ideas to add to the conversation. Immigration reform is similarly treacherous territory for the party. As is any conversation on “reforming” Social Security or Medicare.

It’s not as though Republicans aren’t aware of the issue; after the 2012 presidential election, the Republican National Committee made a concerted effort to change its image from that of a party that’s only “talking to itself” (it has not been going well, by the way).

Perhaps in an attempt to fill out its pitch to voters, on Thursday the Republican National Committee tweeted a link to a “campaign strategy survey,” urging its followers to “tell us your top issues” so the party can “win big in 2014.”

In a reflection of the party’s priorities, however, question one — “Which of the following should be the top priority for the Republican Party in the next 18 months?” — offers a choice between “Elect principled conservatives to the U.S. House and U.S. Senate,” “Rally a grassroots movement,” “Stop the liberal agenda by defeating Democrats,” and “Unite the party.” In other words, the “strategy” isn’t exactly technocratic.

It’s entirely possible that Republican predictions are right, and merely opposing Democrats — with a specific focus on their health care reforms — will be enough to carry them through the midterm elections. After all, the map and the electorate (which history suggests will be smaller, older, and whiter than 2012) favor the GOP. But if they’re wrong, and Obamacare does not ruin the Democrats, then Republicans could be in serious trouble. Because unless they have a major surprise up their sleeves, this is the only card they have to play.


By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, January 17, 2014

January 19, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There Are Definitely People Jumping Ship”: The Republican Party Poobahs Are On The Brink Of Panic

Gov. Chris Christie (R) is scheduled to attend some political events in Florida over the weekend, where he’ll connect with Gov. Rick Scott (R). (The two will not appear in public with one another, raising questions as to which one might be more embarrassed by the other.)

The New Jersey governor will not necessarily receive a warm welcome from every Republican in the Sunshine State. Brian Ballard, Mitt Romney’s Florida finance chairman in 2012 and a major Rick Scott fundraiser, told the Wall Street Journal he sees Christie as a “colossal ego” and a “maniacal bully,” traits he said would make Christie “too dangerous to be our nominee.”

And in response, the governor’s aides sent theWall Street Journal a 5,600-word collection of positive remarks from Republicans and conservative commentators – evidence, a spokesman said, “of an outpouring of support across the country.”

So, who’s right? Is Brian Ballard’s criticism an aberration against the backdrop of a party that broadly supports Christie or are those negative sentiments more widely held? McKay Coppins has an interesting report suggesting, at a minimum, GOP trepidation. Indeed, Coppins talked with “a dozen party officials, fundraisers, and strategists,” and found “party poobahs … on the brink of panic.”

“My sense is they’re hoping against hope there aren’t more shoes to drop,” said Keith Appell, a Republican strategist with ties to the tea party who has been critical of Christie’s moderate streak. “They really want to support him … but they can’t control anything if another shoe drops.”

A Republican operative at a large super PAC used the same metaphor – a favorite among political observers at the moment – to describe the unease in the party.

“Everyone thinks there’s probably a 60% chance the other shoe will drop,” said the operative, who like many of the people quoted in this story, requested anonymity to speak freely about a situation that is still evolving. “When I saw the press conference, I said, I don’t think he’s lying… But for the deputy chief of staff to do something like that requires a culture in the office that he would have set, and it probably requires other examples that would have made her feel like that was acceptable to do.” He added, “My gut is that they’ll probably find something else.”

Coppins talked to one Republican fundraising operative who has met with Christie who said of donors, “There are definitely people jumping ship.”

This afternoon’s news probably won’t help matters.

Because today, some subpoenas landed in some interesting hands.

The state Assembly committee investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal released a partial list of names of the 17 high-level Port Authority and Christie administration officials who received subpoenas within the last 24 hours.

The subpoenas request documents concerning: “All aspects of the finances, operations and management of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey , including but not limited to, the reassignment of access lanes in Fort Lee, N.J. to the George Washington Bridge, and any other matter raising concerns about of abuse of power.”

Among those subpoenaed? The Office of the Governor, in addition to Christie’s spokesperson, communications director, incoming chief of staff, and former chief of staff (who now also happens to be the governor’s nominee for state attorney general).


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 17, 2014

January 19, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Culture Of Privatization And Deregulation”: West Virginia Spill, Where “Regulation” Is A Dirty Word, Shady Businesses Flourish

Asked about the spill of thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals into a West Virginia river – a disaster that shut down schools and businesses, sent hundreds of residents seeking medical treatment and left an estimated 300,000 Mountain Staters without potable water – Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told reporters that he is “entirely confident that there are ample regulations already on the books to protect the health and safety of the American people.”

Others weren’t as sanguine. “We have a culture of deregulation – regulation has been turned into a dirty word down here,” says Russell Mokhiber, the West Virginia-based editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter. “Both the Democratic and Republican parties are complicit,” he told Moyers & Company.“The chemical and coal industries have a stranglehold on most institutions in the state. The political situation is locked up.”

Jennifer Sass, a lecturer in environmental health at George Washington University told The New York Times, “West Virginia has a pattern of resisting federal oversight and what they consider EPA interference, and that really puts workers and the population at risk.”

A 2009 investigation by the Times found that “hundreds of workplaces in West Virginia had violated pollution laws without paying fines.”

Current and former West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection employees said their enforcement efforts had been undermined by bureaucratic disorganization; a departmental preference to let polluters escape punishment if they promised to try harder; and a revolving door of regulators who left for higher-paying jobs at the companies they once policed.

But this isn’t just a story of anti-regulatory zeal – and the price hundreds of thousands of West Virginians paid for it. As new details emerge about Freedom Industries, the company responsible for the leak, it’s becoming clear that it’s also a tale of how shady businesses can prosper in an environment where regulatory capture by an industry is so deeply entrenched.

Even the history of Freedom Industries is murky. It was co-founded in 1992 by Carl Kennedy and Gary Southern — who during a Friday press conference sipped bottled water and told reporters that he’d had a really trying day. Southern had been president but the firm’s website now lists Dennis Farrell, a college friend of Kennedy’s (with whom he also opened a sports bar in 2002), as president instead. As Businessweek put it, “That clearly needs sorting out.” According to The Charleston Gazette, Southern is also the president of Enviromine, “which makes products to help remediate environmental problems from mining.”

Kennedy may or may not remain with the company; according to The Gazette, he’s still listed on documents the firm filed with the Secretary of State’s office, but a woman who answered the phone at the company said he was no longer with Freedom Industries.

That may be a distinction without a difference. Only weeks ago, the firm merged with several others: Etowah River Terminal, Poca Blending and Crete Technologies. According to The Gazette, in 2007, Kennedy claimed to have stakes in both Etowah River Terminal and Poca Blending. Prior to the merger, these companies already had complementary operations in the Kanawha Valley, known as “Chemical Valley.”

Carl Kennedy’s history reads like that of a character in an Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen novel. In 1987, he pleaded guilty to selling between 10 and 12 ounces of cocaine in a case that would lead to the federal prosecution of then-Charleston Mayor Mike Roark, a former prosecutor himself who, according to The New York Times, “was once nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’ for his zeal in fighting drug abuse.” He was charged with 30 counts of cocaine possession.

The Gazette’s David Gutman reports that in the early 2000s, when Kennedy was the accountant for Freedom Industries, Poca Blending and New River Chemical Co., he pled guilty to withholding $1 million in taxes from employees’ paychecks and pocketing it rather than sending it to Uncle Sam. He also owed $200,000 in unpaid state taxes. Sentenced to three years in prison, Kennedy got his time cut in half “after he cooperated with authorities by making controlled cocaine buys and wearing a wire in conversations with a former business associate.”

In 2005, Etowah River Terminal lost its license for failing to file an annual report. It was resurrected in 2011, according to The Gazette.

Despite Kennedy’s reluctance to send tax dollars to Washington, in 2009 Freedom Industries was happy to accept stimulus funds which helped the company stay afloat. David Gutman recalled that “sand, silt and mud had built up in the river, making it difficult for barges to travel the 2.5 miles from the company’s river terminal to the Elk’s confluence with the Kanawha.”

The company was in deep trouble until the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the waterway, thanks to a $400,000 grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. “It could’ve put us out of business,” Dennis Farrell told the Charleston Daily Mail. “At some point we wouldn’t have been economically fit to run the facility. That’s our claim to fame: the barges.”

Questionable Response

Last week, Gary Southern told reporters that Freedom Industries’ employees had discovered the spill, but that claim was contradicted by reports that officials from the state’s Environmental Protection Agency found it independently after nearby residents complained of a suspicious odor.

According to the Daily Mail, a team of inspectors visited the facility this week, and issued five violations for poor maintenance and operations, insufficient employee training and reporting, and storing chemicals in an above-ground tank without a secondary containment wall.

As The New York Times noted, “lawmakers have yet to explain why the storage facility was allowed to sit on the river and so close to a water treatment plant that is the largest in the state.” The facility hasn’t been inspected since 1991 because, unlike other states, West Virginia requires it only of chemical manufacturers and emitters, not storage facilities.

According to The Gazette, in 2010, experts from the US Chemical Safety Board asked the state to create a new program to prevent accidents and releases in Chemical Valley. Those recommendations followed a 2008 fatal explosion at a Bayer Chemicals plant. They were ignored.

The chemical released last week, 4-methylcyclohexane methane, isn’t classified as a hazardous material, which under state law would have required the leak to be reported within 15 minutes. The Daily Mail reported that “a different legislative rule states a facility must give ‘immediate’ notice of a spill, but leaves it up to the head of the [state’s Department of Environmental Protection] to determine what ‘immediate’ means in each case.”

The chemical’s classification as non-hazardous may also explain why state officials didn’t have an emergency response plan in place, despite the facility’s close proximity to a major water supply.

That 4-methylcyclohexane methane isn’t considered hazardous doesn’t mean it’s safe. Richard Denison, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, told Mother Jones that little is known about its potential effects in humans. According to Denison, studies have found the substance to be lethal in rats at high doses, but it’s impossible to extrapolate from those data how humans might respond to smaller quantities of the chemical.

Today, many West Virginia residents are angry that they had no idea of the hazards posed by the storage facility. Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, told The Huffington Post, “No one seemed to be aware or care that this dangerous chemical was upstream from our largest drinking water intake in the state. It was a recipe for disaster.” The same chemicals are stored in above ground tanks across the state, but it’s difficult for public health and environmental activists to know where.

That’s why Russell Mokhiber cautions against focusing too much on Freedom Industries itself. “It’s really not about an individual corporation,” he said. “It’s a question of why the state has allowed the chemical and coal industry to get away with this. Because however you slice it, you see privatization and deregulation at the heart of these kinds of cases.”


By: James Holland, Bill Moyer’s Blog, January 16, 2014

January 19, 2014 Posted by | Environment, Public Safety | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Proximity Of Firearms”: People Are More Likely To Kill When They Have A Gun

Even though there is steadily accumulating evidence of the futility of criticizing the gun culture, certain episodes prod me to go there. One of those occurred last week, when an unarmed man was shot dead after assaulting a fellow movie patron with, ah, popcorn.

This particular incident wasn’t one of those that dominate newscasts, that summon President Obama to a press conference, that propel some members of Congress to insist on tighter gun control laws. It didn’t pack the awful, gut-wrenching punch of the Newtown, Conn., massacre, in which 20 young children and six adults were gunned down by a psychopath.

The power of this recent episode lies in its more mundane nature: Person with gun gets angry, loses control and shoots an unarmed person. It’s a more common occurrence than gun advocates care to admit.

And it contradicts several of the gun lobby’s central arguments because it demonstrates that the proximity of firearms can change circumstances. It undermines that dumb and overused cliché, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” That may be true, but people are much more apt to kill when they have a gun.

As it happens, this shooting occurred in Florida, where an ill-considered “Stand Your Ground” law has prompted many a trigger-happy bully to pull a gun and shoot a stranger (or, sometimes, an acquaintance). Curtis Reeves, 71, has been charged with second-degree homicide in the death of Chad Oulson, 43, on Jan. 13, according to the Tampa Tribune.

The newspaper reported that Reeves got angry because Oulson, who was sitting in front of him, was using his cellphone during previews before the film Lone Survivor started. Reeves, after asking him several times to stop, went into the lobby to complain to a theater employee about Oulson — who was apparently communicating with his child’s babysitter.

When Reeves returned, the two again exchanged words, and Oulson reportedly showered Reeves with popcorn. Reeves drew a .380-caliber handgun and shot Oulson in the chest. Oulson’s wife was wounded because she reached for her husband as the shot was fired, the Tribune said.

You know how the gun lobby always insists that the antidote to gun violence is to allow more properly trained citizens to carry guns everywhere — inside nightclubs and schools and churches? Well, Reeves could hardly be better trained in the use of firearms. He’s a retired Tampa police captain and a former security officer for Busch Gardens.

Reeves had a permit to carry a concealed weapon. (The chain that owns the movie house, Cobb Theaters, says its policy bans weapons.) Few gun owners would know more about gun safety. But that hardly helped Reeves control his temper.

Human beings have a limitless capacity for irrational acts, bizarre confrontations, moments of utter craziness — and that includes those of us who are usually mature, sane and rational beings. If we allow firearms everywhere, we simply increase the odds that one of those crazy moments will result in bloodshed.

The Violence Policy Center (VPC) notes that 554 other people have been killed since May 2007 by people licensed to carry concealed weapons in incidents that did not involve self-defense.

“The examples we have collected in our Concealed Carry Killers database show that with alarming regularity, individuals licensed to carry concealed weapons instigate fatal shootings that have nothing to do with self-defense,” said VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand in a statement on the center’s website.

The facts notwithstanding, the National Rifle Association and its allies across the country are busy pressing friendly legislators to expand the wild frontier and permit firearms in ever more venues. The Georgia General Assembly, for one, is considering a measure to allow guns on the state’s college campuses.

That’s a recipe for more stupid confrontations like the one that has landed a retired police officer behind bars, charged with homicide, and a husband and father dead.


Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, January 18, 2014

January 19, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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