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“A Particularly Cruel Joke”: Texas Lawmakers Celebrate “Achievements” In Women’s Health As Thousands Go Without Care

The consequences of Texas’ sweeping new abortion restrictions are now being felt across the state, but the status of reproductive healthcare in Texas had been dire long before conservative lawmakers passed the omnibus measure to shutter reproductive health clinics, restrict safe abortion services and leave thousands of women without access to necessary care.

Texas lawmakers passed a two-year budget in 2011 that cut $73 million from family planning programs; the following year, Rick Perry dissolved the state’s partnership with the federal Women’s Health Program, forfeiting millions in Medicaid funding for low-income women’s healthcare. Lawmakers restored some of this funding in 2013, but reproductive health providers like Planned Parenthood are barred from receiving it. That Perry has refused the Medicaid expansion has further compounded the crisis that has been building in the state, the blunt impact of which disproportionately impacts low-income women of color.

Republican “reforms” to the system have resulted in a 77 percent drop in the number of women being served by state health clinics at an additional cost of around 20 percent. The maternal mortality rate — particularly among women of color — is on the rise, and Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation.

It is in this context that the Texas Health and Human Services committee’s decision to hold a hearing on the “progress” the state has made in women’s healthcare seems like a particularly cruel joke. The committee intends to “build on previous legislative achievements in women’s healthcare,” according to a statement on the hearing.

Activists in the state, who have remained focused on challenging the rollback of reproductive rights in the months since Wendy Davis’ marathon filibuster, descended on Austin Thursday to provide testimony and protest the show hearing.

“When I heard about the hearing — well, I felt like if the Daily Show was going to create a parody, they couldn’t have done a better job,” Amy Kamp, one of the women providing testimony at the hearing, told ThinkProgress. “If Texas wants to protect women’s health, I have a helpful suggestion. Just reinstate the old program we used to have!”

“It’s laughable that the same politicians that have devastated Texas women’s access to healthcare — cancer screenings, birth control, and safe, legal abortion — are now touting their so-called achievements in women’s health,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund. ”If that’s what they call help for Texas women, we’ve had quite enough of it.”

 

By: Katie McDonough, Assistant Editor, Salon, February 20, 2014

February 21, 2014 Posted by | Reproductive Rights, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rand Paul Is Wrong”: Why The GOP Should Be Moving Backward, Not Forward

Rand Paul says he wants a “new” Republican Party.

“I think Republicans will not win again in my lifetime for the presidency unless they become a new GOP, a new Republican Party,” the senator from Kentucky and all-but-announced 2016 presidential contender said last week.

Paul’s not talking cosmetic changes. He says the GOP must undergo “a transformation, not a little tweaking at the edges.” He wants the party to start talking about dialing down Ronald Reagan’s “war on drugs,” with an acknowledgement that “it’s disproportionately affected the poor and the black and brown among us.” He wants the party to defend basic liberties. And he reminds his fellow partisans that serious conversations about “big government” must deal with the looming presence of the military-industrial complex.

Paul’s points are well taken—up to a point.

But if he’s serious about making the Republican Party viable nationally, he’s got his directions confused.

This talk of a “new Republican Party” is silly.

If the GOP wants to get serious about reaching out to people of color, defending civil rights and civil liberties, and addressing the military-industrial complex, it doesn’t have to become “new.” It has to become old.

It must return to the values that gave it birth and that animated its progress at a time when the party contributed mightily to the advance of the American experiment.

The Republican Party was, after all, founded by abolitionists and radical immigrants who had fled Europe after the popular revolutions of 1848. They dismissed existing parties that compromised America’s founding promise of equality, and secured the presidency for a man who declared that “Republicans…are for both the man and the dollar, but in case of conflict the man before the dollar.”

The Republican Party became the home of the trust-busters and progressive reformers who laid the groundwork for a New Deal that borrowed ideas from not just Democratic platforms but from Republican agendas. It served as the vehicle of Wendell Willkie, who promoted racial justice at home, supported unions and outlined a “one-world” internationalism that sought to assure that a United Nations, rather than an overburdened United States, would police the planet in the aftermath of World War II. And it ushered into the presidency one Dwight David Eisenhower, who would finish his tenure with this warning:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Indeed, if talk turns to changing the Republican brand into one that might appeal to the great mass of Americans—as Rand Paul suggests it does not now do—it must abandon the dictates of the Wall Street speculators, hedge-fund managers and right-wing billionaires who have defined its agenda toward such extremes.

Where to begin? Why not consider what made the party so appealng when it re-elected Eisenhower in 1956?

In that quite competitive election year, when the Republican ticket carried every state outside the Deep South except Missouri, the party platform declared, “We are proud of and shall continue our far-reaching and sound advances in matters of basic human needs—expansion of social security—broadened coverage in unemployment insurance—improved housing—and better health protection for all our people. We are determined that our government remain warmly responsive to the urgent social and economic problems of our people.”

The Republicans of 1956 decried “the bitter toll in casualties and resources” of military interventions abroad, promoted arms reduction, supported humanitarian aid to struggling countries and promised “vigorously to support the United Nations.”

On the domestic front, the party of Lincoln pledged to:

· “Fight for the elimination of discrimination in employment because of race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry or sex.”

· “Assure equal pay for equal work regardless of sex.”

· “Extend the protection of the Federal minimum wage laws to as many more workers as is possible and practicable.”

· “Stimulate improved job safety of our workers.”

· “Strengthen and improve the Federal-State Employment Service and improve the effectiveness of the unemployment insurance system.”

· “Protect by law, the assets of employee welfare and benefit plans so that workers who are the beneficiaries can be assured of their rightful benefits.”

But, recognizing that the government could not protect every worker in every workplace, the Republican Party declared its enthusiastic approval of trade unions and collective bargaining. Noting that “unions have grown in strength and responsibility, and have increased their membership by 2 million” since Eisenhower’s initial election in 1952, the party celebrated the fact that “the process of free collective bargaining has been strengthened by the insistence of this Administration that labor and management settle their differences at the bargaining table without the intervention of the Government.”

Eisenhower’s Republicans promised that a GOP administration and Congress would direct federal dollars toward the construction of schools, hospitals and public housing. The party pledged to fight for “the largest increase in research funds ever sought in one year to intensify attacks on cancer, mental illness, heart disease and other dread diseases” and to provide “federal assistance to help build facilities to train more physicians and scientists.”

And, of course, the Grand Old Party made a commitment to “continue to seek extension and perfection of a sound Social Security system.”

Eisenhower was no left-winger. Many Republicans who came before him (arguably Willkie, certainly Robert M. La Follette) were more liberal, as were a few (George Romney and John Lindsay) who came after him. The thirty-fourth president was, at most, a moderate, who urged the Republican Party to renew its attachment to “the overall philosophy of Lincoln: In all those things which deal with people, be liberal, be human. In all those things which deal with the people’s money or their economy, or their form of government, be conservative.” He spoke always of a balance that respected the power of government to address the great challenges of society while at the same time feared the excesses and abuses that could occur when government aligned with economic elites and industries at the expense of what he described as the nation’s essential goal: “peace with justice.”

Eisenhower closed his presidency with a prayer: “That all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.”

What Willkie, Eisenhower and their allies advocated was sometimes referred to as “modern Republicanism.” But, at its most fundamental level, what they advocated was an old Republicanism, renewed and repurposed for a modern age.

In the roughly fifty years since the party was wrestled from the grip of the “modern Republicans,” it has not become “new.” It has simply abandoned its values, its ideals, its basic premises.

Rand Paul says “you can transform a party,” and he notes, correctly, that “the parties have switched places many times throughout history.” But the transformation that the Republican Party needs—and that the United States needs the Republican Party to make—is not toward something “new.”

It is toward something older, and better, than its current incarnation.

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, February 18, 2014

February 21, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Didn’t See That One Coming”: How Paul Ryan Helped Save Medicare And Social Security By Trying To Gut Them

President Obama’s new budget will not include a proposal to implement “chained CPI” to slow the growth of Social Security benefits, according to White House officials.

And there’s one man who deserves most of the credit for making sure there will be no cuts to benefits to seniors until at least 2017 — ironically the politician who has worked the hardest to reduce the promises made to America’s retirees — Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

The president had included the reform measure in his 2013 budget as an attempt to provoke a so-called Grand Bargain with House Republican leaders. Such a deal would have required them to end some tax breaks for the rich. That was never going to happen and the White House’s acceptance of this fact helps focus the 2014 elections on votes most Republicans in Congress have taken in the past to cut both Social Security and Medicare, thanks to Paul Ryan.

The chairman of the House Budget Committee’s first budget plan in 2011 not only privatized Social Security — a proposal that President George W. Bush could not even get a vote on when the GOP controlled both houses of Congress — it remade Medicare into a voucher program that radically shifted the financial burden to seniors without doing much to reduce the overall cost of health care. The plan was so popular — at least with Republican donors — that it instantly made Ryan a national hero and possible presidential candidate.

The chances of enacting the plan with President Obama in office were zero, but Ryan, buoyed by his new stardom, helped guide House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) into a debt-limit crisis that shook global markets still dizzy from the financial crisis. House Republicans demanded a dollar in cuts for every dollar the debt ceiling was raised and President Obama obliged with a plan that not only included chained CPI, but also raised the Medicare eligibility age. To sell this plan to Democrats, the president demanded a small percentage of new revenues by ending tax breaks on upper-income Americans.

Boehner was about to make the deal, when Ryan “dropped a bomb” on it, fearing it would guarantee Obama’s re-election. Instead both sides settled on the sequester.

Ryan released another budget in 2012 that dropped Social Security privatization and added a public option to his Medicare plan.  Desperate for Tea Party credibility, Mitt Romney selected Ryan to be his running mate after being forced to embrace the congressman’s budget during the primary. Together, the two men re-elected the president.

After Obama’s re-election, Speaker Boehner reportedly tried to take the offer Ryan had rejected in 2011. The president told him it was off the table, and likely will be for the rest of his term unless Republicans consider higher taxes on the rich, which they won’t.

In the past two years, the deficit has been cut in half and is projected to be even lower within 10 years as a share of GDP than if the Simpson-Bowles debt plan or Paul Ryan’s first budget had become law. If the reforms to Medicare implemented in the Affordable Care Act continue to slow the growth of costs as they have since 2010, our long-term debt crisis may be solved, despite Paul Ryan’s best efforts.

 

By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, February 20, 2014

February 21, 2014 Posted by | Medicare, Paul Ryan, Social Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Affront To Democracy In Ohio”: It Appears Ohio Republicans Didn’t Get The Message

About a month ago, President Obama’s non-partisan commission on voting issued a detailed report, urging state and local election officials to make it easier for Americans to access their own democracy.

It appears Ohio Republicans didn’t get the message. Zachary Roth reports:

On party lines, the [Ohio state] House voted 59-37 to approve a GOP bill that would cut six days from the state’s early voting period. More importantly, it would end the so-called “Golden Week,” when Ohioans can register and vote on the same day. Same-day registration is among the most effective ways for bringing new voters into the process, election experts say.

The House also voted by 60-38 to approve a bill that would effectively end the state’s successful program of mailing absentee ballots to all registered voters. Under the bill, the secretary of state would need approval from lawmakers to mail absentee ballots, and individual counties could not do so at all. Nearly 1.3 million Ohioans voted absentee in 2012. The bill also would make it easier to reject absentee ballots for missing information.

The Senate quickly approved minor changes to both bills and sent them to the desk of Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, who is expected to sign them.

At the same time, Ohio Democrats spearheaded a new “Voters’ Bill of Rights,” intended to expand early voting and make it harder to disqualify ballots, among other things. Proponents hoped to put the measure on the ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment, but state Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) announced this week that he’s blocking the effort, citing what he called “misrepresentations” in the text of the proposed amendment.

In an editorial  published before yesterday’s votes in the legislature, the Cleveland Plain Dealer argued, “Ohio House Republicans appear poised to pass two measures that, disguises aside, aim to limit voting by Ohioans who might vote for Democrats. That’s not just political hardball. It’s an affront to democracy. Voting is supposed to be about holding elected officials accountable. They won’t be, though, if those same officials massage Ohio law to, in effect, pick their own voters.”

In the larger context, let’s not forget Ohio’s recent history. A decade ago, during the 2004 elections, the state struggled badly with long voting lines, so state policymakers decided to make things better. And in 2008, Ohio’s voting system worked quite well and voters enjoyed a much smoother process.

So smooth, in fact, that Ohio Republicans have worked in recent years to reverse the progress. I’m reminded of Rachel’s segment from Nov. 20 of last year.

“[T]his is not a hypothetical thing in Ohio. The state has a really recent history of it being terribly difficult to vote in heavily populated, especially Democratic-leaning parts of the state. It was really bad in ‘04, and they fixed that problem by making changes like expanding early voting so the lines wouldn’t be so long on Election Day. About a third of Ohio voted early last year. It is much easier to do that.

“And the fact that so many people like early voting and are thereby finding their ways to the polls, that, of course, is a problem for Ohio Republicans. And so, Ohio Republicans moved to break that system again, to go back to the old broken system that didn’t work before. Today, Ohio Republicans voted to cut back early voting by six full days in Ohio. They’re also voting to end same day voter registration, to make it harder to get your vote counted if you have to cast a provisional ballot, and they’re considering cutting back on the number of voting machines at the polls.

“Yes, we’ve always had way too many of those. Your state government at work, Ohio. You’re hoping that your local state legislator would go to Columbus and start working overtly to make the process of voting a lot harder and a lot slower for you? Congratulations, if you voted for a Republican, you got what you paid for.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 20, 2014

February 21, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Charisma-Free Divider”: Scott Walker’s Pathetic Fall, Another One Bites The Dust

On the very day that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s scandals became big national news, Politico’s Mike Allen is out with his Playbook Snapshot 2016 – the top 16 Republicans most mentioned in Beltway chatter – and Walker is at the top of the list (along with erratic Tea Party Sen. Rand Paul). It’s a perfect example of how and why Walker has persisted as a top presidential contender: the national media knows little and cares less about Wisconsin politics.

Walker is an interesting contrast with embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Poor Christie. Live by the media, die by the media. There’s no question that the national media made Christie, though he gave them plenty to work with. He is an outsize personality, and the fact that he’s the governor of New Jersey and used to be a federal prosecutor working in the world’s major media market played a huge role in his rise as a national figure. Now, though, the attention of the national media is (however belatedly) focused obsessively on Christie’s troubles, and every new subpoena, every wronged mayor, and every unsavory crony tied to the George Washington Bridge scandal is a major story.

Scott Walker, by contrast, has actually managed to benefit from his distance from the national media. Sure, it kept him only in the second tier of potential 2016 candidates – but tough media scrutiny would have excluded him from any tier. No one has ever explained how a governor can have six associates convicted of illegal campaign activities – including three “top aides who sat just feet from his desk,” in the words of the Wisconsin State Journal — and come away from it entirely unsullied. At minimum it raises questions of management and judgment.

But even leaving aside the two John Doe investigations that have ensnared his office, Walker has never been ready for national prime time. He’s a charisma-free divider who got big attention for ending collective bargaining for public employees and then surviving a union-led recall election. All of that made him a hero on the right, of course, but Walker was never going to survive close inspection. He’s given to dim-bulb platitudes, like defending a state law requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before an abortion by saying blithely, “I don’t have any problem with ultrasound. I think most people think ultrasounds are just fine.” As though the procedure involved looking at kidney stones, not invading a woman’s privacy. In a cycle when Republicans are supposed to be trying to solve their problems with women, that’s not all. Walker signed a bill repealing Wisconsin’s equal pay for women law and has crusaded against Planned Parenthood.

Personally, I thought Walker was toast when he got pranked by someone pretending to be David Koch, and he yukked it up about how “stereotypical blue-collar workers” supported his attacks on unions, but I was wrong about that. No one really cared.

I firmly believe that if the global media establishment was based in Milwaukee, the idea that Walker had the political talent to become a top tier presidential candidate would never have taken hold. Even Mike Allen would know better.

Well, the treasure rove of 27,000 emails related to the first John Doe investigation of Walker’s office – which led to the criminal conviction of six Walker staffers, including three top aides – is forcing national reporters to pay attention. In the last 24 hours we’ve learned that Walker staff set up a secret email system, complete with a separate router, where public workers could plot strategy with campaign staffers – and Walker regularly participated in the email round-robin.

“Consider yourself now in the ‘inner circle,’” administration director Cynthia Archer wrote to Walker deputy chief of staff Kelly Rindfleisch (who was convicted in the first John Doe probe) after they exchanged a message to test the system. “I use this private account quite a bit to communicate with SKW [Walker] and [Walker chief of staff Tom] Nardelli,” Archer confided. “You should be sure you check it throughout the day,” she wrote. Walker defenders say the governor didn’t know about the secret email system though he participated.

The newly released email also featured staffers forwarding racist jokes, making light of the death of a mental hospital patient because “no one cares about crazy people,” and recording Walker’s personal decision to fire a public health doctor because she had once modeled thongs. The emails show Walker ran a daily conference call that mixed his public and his campaign staff “so we can better coordinate sound, timely responses, so we all know what the others are doing,” according to Nardelli. Although the first John Doe investigation ended in convictions for six associates but no charges against Walker, a second probe, into whether his recall campaign illegally coordinated with outside right-wing backers, is ongoing.

Now, some in Wisconsin say even the new revelations won’t doom his reelection, though it certainly makes it more of a fight. But Mike Allen notwithstanding, it seriously damages the boomlet that has made him the potential establishment “front-runner.” To benefit from Christie’s stumble, and become the big donors’ new savior, Walker had to be squeaky clean, in contrast with the investigation-tarnished Christie. With his own ethical troubles now growing, and renewed attention on the scandal he survived, Walker is almost as bad an investment for donors as Christie.

As I’ve written before, that “deep bench” of Republican 2016 contenders has completely splintered. Walker was a second string candidate who was on the verge of becoming a contender only because of the troubles of Christie, toxic Ted Cruz, Florida’s Marco Rubio, Louisiana’s deeply unpopular Gov. Bobby Jindal and disgraced former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

But hey, there are always folks ready to step up. Allen’s Playbook 2016 list features South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as “rising.” If only.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, February 20, 2014

February 21, 2014 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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