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“You Need To Look At Your Facts”: A Novel Idea That Continuously Escapes Republicans

As regular viewers have no doubt noticed, “All in with Chris Hayes,” which airs just before “The Rachel Maddow Show” weeknights on msnbc, is consistently an exceptionally informative program. And while every night features lively and engaged discussions, there was one segment in particular this week that stood out as unique.

Chris talked – or at least tried to talk – to Jennifer Stefano, the Pennsylvania state director of the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity, ostensibly about health care reform, though as viewers quickly realized, the guest was quite a bit more animated than the voices that usually appear on “All In.”

The segment apparently generated quite a bit of conversation soon after, with reform supporters and opponents “arguing over which side got schooled.” I don’t much care who was “schooled,” but because I’ve been interested in AFP messaging, it seemed worthwhile to do what our pal Ari Melber did last night: fact check Jennifer Stefano’s claims.

The AFP official claimed, for example, that as a result of the Affordable Care Act, “we really are having our choices removed from us as mothers.” Is that true?

Probably not. I say “probably” because Stefano didn’t specify what “choices” she thinks are being “removed,” and it’s tough to fact-check vague assertions, but there’s nothing in the reform law intended to take mothers’ choices away. On the contrary, parents seem to have far more health care options now than before the reform law was passed.

She added, “This law has made 7 million people lose their insurance.” Is that true?

There’s no evidence to support the claim. Estimates vary as to exactly how many consumers received cancelation notices, but (a) even the most conservative Republicans in Congress don’t put the total at 7 million; (b) millions lost their insurance routine under the old system, so the point is rather dubious; and (c) it’s misleading to suggest consumers “lost their insurance,” since most of these Americans really just made a transition from one plan to a different plan.

Stefano then argued, “For the people who have actually signed up on the exchange … only 14 percent of them are actually people without coverage.” Is this true?

No, it’s not. In fact, the conservative activist appeared to be citing a study that concedes it “did not break down their results for people who specifically purchased insurance through Obamacare.”

She also argued that Medicaid expansion would apply to “people making $94,000 a year.” Chris referred to this as “a math train wreck.” Who’s right?

Well, not Stefano.

Finally, Stefano argued, “Here’s what I want, stick to the facts…. Stick to the facts, talk about facts.”
That sounds like a great idea.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 28, 2014

March 29, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Koch Brothers, Obamacare | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Christie’s Creepy Misogyny”: Behold His Despicable “Blame Bridget” Strategy

Gov. Chris Christie’s million-dollar taxpayer-funded self-exoneration in the Bridgegate scandal certainly found a bad guy — and it’s a gal.

Randy Mastro’s report put the blame squarely on two fired staffers, David Wildstein and deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly. But its treatment of Kelly was mind-blowingly mean, describing her as “emotional,” “erratic” and as a liar; confirming Trenton gossip that she was “personally involved” with chief of staff Bill Stepien, and that Stepien apparently dumped her; alleging that she asked an aide to delete an incriminating email when the investigation began, thus implicating her not only in the plot’s execution but its coverup.

It even recommended that Christie abolish the department Kelly headed and fold it into another office. Mastro stopped just short of suggesting the state torch Kelly’s office and salt the earth it once stood on. That may be what Christie plans to announce at his press conference this afternoon.

Christie’s lawyers’ treatment of Kelly was so shoddy that Stepien, formerly the governor’s former right-hand man, was forced to release a statement denouncing the report’s “gratuitous reference” to his “brief” relationship with Kelly as “a regrettable distraction.”

Blaming the woman goes back to Eve, so it shouldn’t be particularly surprising. But I still find this story bizarre: Why is Christie so determined not only to blame his former allies, but to shame them? He himself called Kelly “stupid” in his two-hour pity-party last January, while he depicted Wildstein as a high-school loser to his student-athlete-president demigod. Now his lawyers have used Stepien to smear Kelly – and that’s pissed off not only Stepien but Kelly’s friends, who took to the New York Times to denounce the report’s heaping dose of sexism in its depiction of Christie’s once fiercely loyal aide.

Mastro’s report maligns Kelly’s competence from the beginning, noting that she was promoted to Stepien’s old job “though she lacked Stepien’s expertise and background.” It even resorts to inaccuracies to heap blame on Kelly, the New York Times reports, accusing her of canceling meetings with Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop after he declined to endorse Christie, when documents show others in the administration canceled the meetings.

Mastro’s report has done the seemingly impossible: It cost Christie the affection of the guys at “Morning Joe,” which has been Christie’s clubhouse throughout the scandal. As Taylor Marsh details (I missed it), Mark Halperin called the attacks on Kelly “sexist and gratuitous,” while Scarborough compared Mastro to “Baghdad Bob.” Of course, they’re still protecting Christie by blaming the sexism on Mastro, when it’s unthinkable that the million-dollar report would have dumped on Kelly without Christie’s say-so.

Knowing Christie’s M.O., if the Mastro report becomes a new liability for him, he’ll probably throw the former prosecutor under the bus with Kelly and Wildstein. But he won’t do it with the textbook misogyny he broke out for Kelly. Christie is delusionally headed to Las Vegas to kiss the ring of Sheldon Adelson at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting this weekend, still believing he has a chance to run for president in 2016. Good luck courting the women’s vote, Gov. Christie! Bridgegate is turning into Bridgetgate, another story about Christie’s bullying sexism.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, March 28, 2014

March 29, 2014 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The New Billionaire Political Bosses”: Political Power Tends To Rise To Where The Money Is

Charles and David Koch should not be blamed for having more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans put together. Nor should they be condemned for their petrochemical empire. As far as I know, they’ve played by the rules and obeyed the laws.

They’re also entitled to their own right-wing political views. It’s a free country.

But in using their vast wealth to change those rules and laws in order to fit their political views, the Koch brothers are undermining our democracy. That’s a betrayal of the most precious thing Americans share.

The Kochs exemplify a new reality that strikes at the heart of America. The vast wealth that has accumulated at the top of the American economy is not itself the problem. The problem is that political power tends to rise to where the money is. And this combination of great wealth with political power leads to greater and greater accumulations and concentrations of both — tilting the playing field in favor of the Kochs and their ilk, and against the rest of us.

America is not yet an oligarchy, but that’s where the Koch’s and a few other billionaires are taking us.

American democracy used to depend on political parties that more or less represented most of us. Political scientists of the 1950s and 1960s marveled at American “pluralism,” by which they meant the capacities of parties and other membership groups to reflect the preferences of the vast majority of citizens.

Then around a quarter century ago, as income and wealth began concentrating at the top, the Republican and Democratic Parties started to morph into mechanisms for extracting money, mostly from wealthy people.

Finally, after the Supreme Court’s “Citizen’s United” decision in 2010, billionaires began creating their own political mechanisms, separate from the political parties. They started providing big money directly to political candidates of their choice, and creating their own media campaigns to sway public opinion toward their own views.

So far in the 2014 election cycle, “Americans for Prosperity,” the Koch brother’s political front group, has aired more than 17,000 broadcast TV commercials, compared with only 2,100 aired by Republican Party groups.

“Americans for Prosperity” has also been outspending top Democratic super PACs in nearly all of the Senate races Republicans are targeting this year. In seven of the nine races the difference in total spending is at least two-to-one and Democratic super PACs have had virtually no air presence in five of the nine states.

The Kochs have spawned several imitators. Through the end of February, four of the top five contributors to 2014 super-PACs are now giving money to political operations they themselves created, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

For example, billionaire TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts and his son, Todd, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, have their own $25 million political operation called “Ending Spending.” The group is now investing heavily in TV ads against Republican Representative Walter Jones in a North Carolina primary (they blame Jones for too often voting with Obama).

Their ad attacking Democratic New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen for supporting Obama’s health-care law has become a template for similar ads funded by the Koch’s “Americans for Prosperity” in Senate races across the country.

When billionaires supplant political parties, candidates are beholden directly to the billionaires. And if and when those candidates win election, the billionaires will be completely in charge.

At this very moment, Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson (worth an estimated $37.9 billion) is busy interviewing potential Republican candidates whom he might fund, in what’s being called the “Sheldon Primary.”

“Certainly the ‘Sheldon Primary’ is an important primary for any Republican running for president,” says Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary under President George W. Bush. “It goes without saying that anybody running for the Republican nomination would want to have Sheldon at his side.”

The new billionaire political bosses aren’t limited to Republicans. Democratic-leaning billionaires Tom Steyer, a former hedge-fund manager, and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have also created their own political groups. But even if the two sides were equal, billionaires squaring off against each other isn’t remotely a democracy.

In his much-talked-about new book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” economist Thomas Piketty explains why the rich have become steadily richer while the share of national income going to wages continues to drop. He shows that when wealth is concentrated in relatively few hands, and the income generated by that wealth grows more rapidly than the overall economy – as has been the case in the United States and many other advanced economies for years – the richest receive almost all the income growth.

Logically, this leads to greater and greater concentrations of income and wealth in the future – dynastic fortunes that are handed down from generation to generation, as they were prior to the twentieth century in much of the world.

The trend was reversed temporarily in the twentieth century by the Great Depression, two terrible wars, the development of the modern welfare state, and strong labor unions. But Piketty is justifiably concerned about the future.

A new gilded age is starting to look a lot like the old one. The only way to stop this is through concerted political action. Yet the only large-scale political action we’re witnessing is that of Charles and David Koch, and their billionaire imitators.

 

By: Robert Reich, the Robert Reich Blog, March 25, 2014

 

 

 

March 29, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Clear Partisan Purpose”: GOP Steps Up Attack On Early Voting In Key Swing States

On Election Night 2012, referring to the long lines in states like Florida and Ohio, Barack Obama declared, “We have to fix that.”

The waits in Florida and Ohio were no accident, but rather the direct consequence of GOP efforts to curtail the number of days and hours that people had to vote. On January 22, 2014, the president’s bipartisan election commission released a comprehensive report detailing how voting could be smoother, faster and more convenient. It urged states to reduce long lines by adopting “measures to improve access to the polls through expansion of the period for voting before the traditional Election Day.”

That would seem like an uncontroversial and common sense suggestion, but too many GOP-controlled states continue to move in the opposite direction, reducing access to the ballot instead of expanding it. The most prominent recent examples are the swing states of Wisconsin and Ohio.

Yesterday Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed legislation eliminating early voting hours on weekends and nights, when it’s most convenient for many voters to go to the polls. When they took over state government in 2011, Wisconsin Republicans reduced the early voting period from three weeks to two weeks and only one weekend. Now they’ve eliminated weekend voting altogether.

Over 250,000 Wisconsinites voted early in 2012, one in twelve overall voters. Cutting early voting has a clear partisan purpose: those who voted early voted for Obama 58 to 41 percent in Wisconsin in 2012, compared to his 51 to 48 percent margin on Election Day. Extended early voting hours were particularly critical with respect to high voter turnout in big cities like Milwaukee and Madison. “It’s just sad when a political party has so lost faith in its ideas that it’s pouring all of its energy into election mechanics,” said Wisconsin GOP State Senator Dale Schultz, a critic of the legislation.

A month ago, Ohio passed legislation cutting early voting by a week, eliminating same-day voter registration and restricting the availability of absentee ballots while Secretary of State Jon Husted issued a directive doing away with early voting on weeknights and Sundays as well. 600,000 Ohioans, ten percent of the electorate, voted early in 2012. The cuts in Ohio, like Wisconsin, have a clear partisan and racial underpinning—in Cleveland, for example, African-Americans made up 56 percent of those who voted on weekends in 2008.

Republicans are adopting the early voting cuts under the guise of “uniformity”—claiming they want all counties to have the same hours, which punishes large urban counties if small rural counties don’t have the money or manpower for extended early voting hours.

But few believe that’s the only reason why early voting is on the chopping block. Many Republicans are predictably reluctant to admit that the main reason they suddenly disfavor early voting is because too many Democrats are using it or because they actually believe, in the words of Jonah Goldberg, that “voting should be harder, not easier—for everybody.” (See Rick Hasen’s piece “The new conservative assault on early voting.”)

The latter argument was endorsed by Florida GOP State Senator Mike Bennett in 2011, who said: “I wouldn’t have any problem making it harder…I want the people of the state of Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who’s willing to walk 200 miles…This should not be easy.”

That view was widely repudiated in the aftermath of the 2012 election, when even Florida repealed its cutbacks to early voting. A move to significantly reduce early voting recently failed in the Georgia legislature, which can hardly be described as moderate. But Republicans in Ohio and Wisconsin are stuck on the disgraced idea that the best way to win an election is to make it harder for your opponents to participate in one.

 

By: Ari Berman, The Nation, March 28, 2014

March 29, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“WTF Is ‘Natural Marriage’?”: When You Don’t Like The Way A Debate Is Going, Change The Terms

Today’s Politics 101 pop quiz: In the course of a fierce ideological battle, when it becomes clear that one side is getting its butt kicked, what are leaders of the losing team expected to do? A. Double down. B. Scare the crap out of their followers. C. Beg for money. D. All of the above.

No one really needs help with this one, do they?

So with public acceptance of gay marriage growing faster than Justin Bieber’s rap sheet, the culture warriors at the Family Research Council have been hawking their National Campaign in Defense of Natural Marriage. In multiple email calls to arms, FRC president Tony Perkins is urging people of “character and values” to “take a stand” by signing an on-line petition and, while they’re at it, donating a little something to this “counteroffensive.” By March 31, FRC wants—nay, “needs”—250,000 signatures and $1.1 million to “fund this demanding work of behalf of America’s families.” At that point, the e-petition will be deposited at the feet of the group’s latest hero, Sen. Ted Cruz, “in a public display of support for natural marriage.” Perkins pleads/warns/threatens: “I want to encourage you: natural marriage is not a lost cause in America—unless we give up and let the same-sex ‘marriage’ advocates have their way because we failed to stand up for what is right.”

Now, as a political obsessive subscribed to an unhealthy number of email lists, I receive a daily flood of overwrought solicitations from across the spectrum. Most I toss after a quick glance. But Perkins’s latest entreaties stopped me, not because of their tone or topic but because of their language. Specifically, I somehow missed the moment when “natural marriage” became the preferred term of anti-gay-marriage crusaders. (Sadly, despite several interview requests, the folks at FRC were unavailable to discuss this matter.)

It makes perfect sense when you think about it. As political rhetoric goes, “natural marriage” is ever so much more evocative—and, better yet, provocative—than the more commonly employed term “traditional marriage.” After all, plenty of folks would be amenable to, or perhaps even charmed by, the idea of an untraditional marriage. An unnatural marriage, by contrast, brings to mind all manner of unsavory couplings—like, for instance, the man-on-dog action that keeps Rick Santorum up at night. And, indeed, defenders of “natural marriage” talk a lot about how gay marriage is an affront to God’s “natural law.”

The folks at FRC did not, it should be noted, come up with the phrase on their own. The Catholic Church, for instance, tends to refer to “natural marriage” in contrast to “sacramental marriage”—the former being an exclusive, lifetime covenant between a man and a woman of no particular religious backgrounds, while the latter is specifically the union of a man and woman baptized within the Church. In this context, a natural marriage, while good and legitimate, is nonetheless spiritually inferior to a sacramental one.

Less canonically, “natural marriage” is also at times used as a rough synonym for “common-law marriage.” Even if limited to the hetero variety, such non-ceremonial arrangements, recognized by only a handful of states, would seem to be a far cry from the super-stable family environments that natural-marriage advocates are ostensibly seeking.

Not that any of this much matters now, as “natural marriage”  has become a rallying cry for those looking to beat back, as Perkins puts it, “the agenda of the Progressive Left and radical homosexual lobby.” Back in 2004, a FRC pamphlet promoting hetero-only unions was all about “traditional marriage,” as were many of the group’s other communiques up through 2012. More recently, however, its commentary has been increasingly all “natural,” so to speak. Similarly, conservative groups like the Liberty Counsel (the legal nonprofit that takes up conservative causes pro bono) and Americans for the Truth about Homosexuality are solidly on the “natural” bandwagon.

As conservative spin doctor Frank Luntz taught us, if you don’t like the way a debate is going, you need to change the terms. Literally. Trying to rally a nation against the estate tax is a tough lift. But a “death tax”? Now there’s rhetorical gold. “Global warming” = scary and bad; “climate change,” not so much. In some cases, the differences may amount to no more than a couple of letters—say, the Democratic party vs. the Democrat party. And when it comes to firing up the faithful, not to mention separating them from their cash, “natural marriage” certainly seems to pack more gut-level oomph than its more “traditional” cousin.

The debate in question, however, may be beyond the point of such rhetorical retrofitting. These days, not even the veiled threats of bestiality, polygamy, and other comparably “unnatural” acts seem likely to derail the marriage equality train. Which may explain why, with less than a week left in its petition drive, FRC had yet to crack 10,000 signatories. Only 240,000 to go.

 

By: Michelle Cottle, The Daily Beast, March 27, 2014

March 29, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Marriage Equality | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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