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“What Occurred Here Is Unacceptable”: Attempting To Forge Relationships With Republican Is An Exercise In Futility

When reader G.S. emailed me yesterday to tell me Republican lawmakers in Virginia had broken into Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) office, I assumed this was some kind of joke. But as the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported, that’s kind of what happened on Fathers’ Day weekend.

At the urging of House Speaker William J. Howell, the clerk’s office of the House of Delegates enlisted the help of the Capitol Police to enter Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s unoccupied, secure suite of offices on a Sunday afternoon to deliver the state budget.

The highly unusual entry on June 15 took place without the permission of administration officials or the knowledge of the Virginia State Police, which is in charge of protecting the governor. McAuliffe was not in the building.

Let’s back up and review the larger context. GOP lawmakers in the commonwealth recently hatched an ugly scheme, arguably bribing a Democratic state senator – who has since lawyered up – in order to allow GOP control of the chamber. Once the scheme worked and Republicans seized control of the state Senate, GOP lawmakers passed a conservative budget that, among other things, tried to kill Medicaid expansion, denying medical coverage to 400,000 low-income Virginians.

McAuliffe eventually signed the budget bill, but not before using his line-item veto on Medicaid-related provisions. The Democratic governor said at the time that he would have preferred to veto the entire budget, but with state finances expiring on July 1, he didn’t have time – a veto likely would have shut down the state government.

And that’s where the GOP plan to enter McAuliffe’s office without his permission becomes important.

Once Republicans completed work on their version of the budget, the next step was to deliver the document to the governor’s office. GOP lawmakers, however, wanted to give McAuliffe as little time as possible, increasing the pressure that he’d have to sign it to prevent a shutdown.

As the Richmond paper explained, “Once the clerk’s office enrolls a budget and delivers it to the governor, the statutory clock starts ticking. The governor has seven days to take action on the spending plan.”

In this case, however, Republicans decided to start the clock when they knew the governor and his staff weren’t in their offices. Indeed, GOP lawmakers waited until they knew the offices were empty, ignored security protocols, and delivered the budget knowing no one would be there to receive it.

They then sent an email, 15 minutes later, stating for the record that the document had been dropped off (and the clock was ticking).

To put it mildly, the governor’s office was not pleased that lawmakers had entered their workspace, uninvited, knowing no one was there. McAuliffe’s chief of staff, Paul Reagan, wrote an angry letter to Col. Anthony S. Pike, chief of the Virginia Capitol Police, cc’ing GOP leaders and the superintendent of the Virginia State Police, which is responsible for the governor’s security.

“This letter is to inform you that under no circumstances are you or any of your officers authorized to allow employees of the General Assembly to enter the secure areas of the governor’s office without my express permission, or the express permission of Suzette Denslow, the governor’s deputy chief of staff,” Reagan wrote in the letter to Pike, dated June 18.

“What occurred here Sunday is unacceptable,” the letter continues. “Two employees of the speaker of the House of Delegates were given access to an area of the governor’s office where sensitive files and materials are kept.”

I’m reminded of some reports out of Virginia a few months ago. McAuliffe put his “celebrated talents for sociability and salesmanship” to work, trying to forge relationships with Republican lawmakers, inviting them to social events, and throwing open the doors to the Executive Mansion.

So much for that idea.

As Robert Schlesinger explained at the time: “[A]nyone who thinks that back-slapping joviality is the key to ending Washington gridlock need look no further than Richmond for its limits.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 26, 2014

June 27, 2014 Posted by | Terry McAuliffe, Virginia Legislature | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Battle For Freedom”: A Brand Name Conservatives Use To Fill Their Own Ideals

Just over four years ago, The Democratic Strategist (a site where I’m managing editor) and the think tank Demos cosponsored an online forum entitled “Progressive Politics and the Meaning of American Freedom.” We did so in the growing fear that the radicalized conservative movement and its vehicle, the Republican Party, were in danger of reinterpreting and distorting the powerful American value of “freedom” in a way that undermined (very deliberately) most of the great accomplishments of the twentieth century and promoted the interests of wealthy elites.

It’s probably safe to say that progressives are still on the uphill climb in that battle.

For historical ammunition, check out the review of Harvey Kaye’s The Fight for the Four Freedoms by the Century Foundation’s Moshe Marvit, in the new issue of the Washington Monthly.

Kaye’s account covers the formulation of the Four Freedoms as including “freedom from want,” the huge influence it had on the world view of the “greatest generation,” and the vigorous backlash from conservatives ever since.

On this last topic, it’s important to understand that the Tea Party’s dogma of “freedom” meaning strict and eternal limits on government has a very old provenance, even if you exclude its many pre-New-Deal exponents. Here’s Marvit’s quick summary:

Since the Four Freedoms were an important source of radical change—especially once Roosevelt used them in arguing for an economic bill of rights—they were regarded as dangerous by many conservatives. So, taking the advice of Walter Fuller of the National Association of Manufacturers, conservatives and business leaders wasted no time in co-opting Roosevelt’s principles for their own ends. They did this through a process of appending and supplanting. First, the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce passed what they termed the “Fifth Freedom,” the opportunity of free enterprise, arguing that without it the other freedoms were “meaningless.” Similarly, Republican Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts presented a congressional resolution to add the freedom of private enterprise as the Fifth Freedom. Liberals timidly backed away from the radical view embodied in the Four Freedoms, allowing it to be disfigured and contorted. In time the idea became an empty vessel, a brand name, which conservatives used to fill with their own ideals. This transformation was apparent by 1987, when President Ronald Reagan announced his plan to enact an “Economic Bill of Rights that guarantees four fundamental freedoms: The freedom to work. The freedom to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor. The freedom to own and control one’s property. The freedom to participate in a free market.”

The only real difference between Reagan’s approach to freedom and that of his “constitutional conservative” successors is that the latter clearly want to rule out a positive role in economic life for government forever, as a matter of constitutional law and (for most of them) Divine Edict. So in trying to reclaim “freedom” as a positive value, progressives are fighting against a new breed of reactionaries who are truly playing for keeps.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington MOnthly Political Animal, June 26, 2014

June 27, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Federal Government, Freedom | , , , | Leave a comment

“Do What We Tell You To Do, Or We Will Kill You”: The Right To Be Able To Walk Into A Clinic Must Be Protected

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a Massachusetts buffer zone law violates the First Amendment; the justices were unanimous in the ruling. In case you weren’t up to speed on the case, here are the basics: Fourteen years ago, the high court upheld a Colorado law that created an 8-foot “bubble zone” around patients entering or exiting clinics. But Massachusetts’ buffer zone law prohibited demonstrators from standing within 35 feet of the facility, a length the justices seemed dubious of from the start. Walking that length — the size of a school bus — takes approximately seven seconds.

A lot can happen in those seven seconds. A lot can happen when protesters are allowed to enter clinics, physically confront patients or block doors. Massachusetts passed its law in response to aggressive and dangerous conduct from protesters stationed directly outside clinics, including an incident in 1994 where a gunman opened fire at two abortion clinics, killing two people and injuring five others. In its defense of the measure, the state argued before the justices that the buffer law is not a prohibition on speech, but a practical measure to keep access to these facilities “open and clear of all but essential foot traffic, in light of more than two decades of compromised facility access and public safety.”

Lawyers for lead plaintiff Eleanor McCullen argued that the law was an infringement on her First Amendment rights. “It’s America,” she said in an interview with NPR News. “I should be able to walk and talk gently, lovingly, anywhere with anybody.” (Clinic workers and patients may not agree about the gentle and loving nature of confrontations with protestors.)

The high court’s ruling was limited, and doesn’t necessarily mean that all restrictions on protestors outside of clinics violate the First Amendment. As Ian Millhiser from the Center for American Progress noted on Twitter, the ruling “means that some buffer zones can stay, even if this one can’t.” Salon spoke with doctors and clinic escorts about what these laws can do — and can’t do — to protect access to abortion services, their safety and the safety of their patients and colleagues.

Dr. Warren Hern, a provider in Boulder, Colorado.

I think that the harassment of patients is unacceptable. The antiabortion fanatics feel good by making other people feel bad. The patients who come to see me are carrying a tremendous emotional burden to start with, especially my patients who are coming there to end a desired pregnancy because of some fetal catastrophe or their own medical issues. For those women, they don’t want to be here and have an abortion; they want to have a baby. And they’re there in tremendous pain because of that. And so the antiabortion people come and harass these patients and their families, in spite of the fact that they are in tremendous pain and emotional anguish. It’s unsupportable, it’s indecent, it’s indefensible.

So the buffer zone ordinance that was passed in Boulder in 1986 was an attempt to help that. A problem with the buffer zone ordinance is that it requires an actuation, an activity by the patient. She has to object to this and she has to call the police, and she’s not always going to do that. And it does not require the antiabortion demonstrator to keep a certain long distance within a few feet. Well, that’s enough to cause tremendous anguish and pain for the patient.

I accept buffer zones as an important symbolic expression of community sentiment, which they are. Our law is totally supported by the people of Boulder. We all believe in free speech; nobody’s saying they can’t go to the city park and say what they want or stand across the street and picket. But really, I think the bubble zone should be the distance a rifle bullet can travel. Or even better, New Jersey. Make the Boulder buffer zone end somewhere in New Jersey.

I can’t use the front door of my office and I can’t drive out the front driveway with the protesters there. Because all of the doctors who have been assassinated have been assassinated by so-called protesters. All the other people have been killed in Boston and Alabama and so on have been killed by so-called peaceful protesters who “went over the edge.” This is the ultimate expression of what they’re saying. If they can’t use the coercive power of the state to get people to do what they want them to do, they will kill them! And the message from the antiabortion movement, which is the face of fascism in America, is, “Do what we tell you to do, or we will kill you.” So while I believe in its symbolic importance, the buffer zone ordinance is useless against that kind of mentality. These people do not accept basic premises of civilized society and the legal process.

Dr. Cheryl Chastine, a provider in Wichita, Kansas.

Buffer zones help providers feel that their safety is respected and protected. When I travel into my clinic, I know that I am mere feet from people who want to stop me by any means necessary. That’s very intimidating. We are lucky in that we have a gate and a private parking lot that patients can drive into; even still the patients are not able to get away.

They’re not able to prevent the protesters and picketers from approaching them and making personal contact with them. And so when patients come into my clinic, they’re very stressed about the fact that that contact was forced on them. I think that if they chose to make that contact, to seek those people out and talk to them, that would be one thing. But they come to the clinic knowing that they don’t want to speak to a picketer, and yet they have to go directly past them, and it makes them angry and upset and ashamed.

Katie Klabusich, a writer, media contributor and clinic escort in New York, New York. 

Buffer zones don’t stop the harassment, they just make it easier to get people inside.  And just because they haven’t been able to shut down the clinics in your community doesn’t mean that there isn’t a gauntlet that people have to walk to get into their doctor’s office. No matter where you live, that should horrify all of us.

Even before I was standing between patients and people from [extreme antiabortion group] Abolish Human Abortion in New Jersey, I have always seen this as a nationwide fight. Particularly if they can overturn Roe v. Wade — and they have a plan to do this — this is national.

But at the smallest level, the right to be able to walk into a clinic must be protected. There is now a buffer zone in place at the clinic where I escort patients, but before that we had a patient flee in the street — with traffic coming — paralyzed with fear because they were all screaming at her. She started to cry in the middle of the street. You can hear the protesters in the waiting room, in the counseling room. You can hear them blocks away. It’s terrifying.

And I have been targeted for this work. These protesters take images of the people entering and exiting clinics. It is aggressive. They film patients. They film escorts. They are there to be intimidating. The woman who wrote the blog post sharing my photo and name said, “This is a war.” They are using violent rhetoric. They knew anti-choice outlets would pick it up and circulate this violent rhetoric. The idea behind these threats is about “the greater good.” By sharing my name and face and the names and faces of others in this movement online, the message is, “If something happened to those people, it would be OK.”

If this isn’t the intent, then why put our names? Our faces? Our cities?  It’s an escalation. That’s the part that I feel. The visceral feeling is that it’s not OK that they target providers, but they have a history of doing that. They publish their addresses. In a sad way, we somehow almost expect that. Now they are targeting the media and activists, too. This should worry people. We should all be worried.


By: Katie McDonough, Politics Writer, Salon, June 26, 2014

June 27, 2014 Posted by | Abortion, Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obama’s Weakness, Or Ours?”: Swagger And Invasion Are Overrated As Foreign Policy Instruments

The odds are that you think President Obama’s foreign policy is a failure.

That’s the scathing consensus forming, with just 36 percent of Americans approving of Obama’s foreign policy in a New York Times/CBS News poll released this week. Foreign policy used to be a source of strength for the president, and now it’s dragging him down — and probably other Democrats with him.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, warns that Obama “has weakened the national security posture of the United States.” Trent Franks, a Republican member of the House from Arizona, cites foreign policy to suggest that Obama is “the most inept president we have ever had.”

Obama is no Messiah, but this emerging narrative about a failed foreign policy is absurdly harsh. Look at three issues where Republicans have been unfairly jabbing him with pitchforks:

Trading five Taliban prisoners for Bowe Bergdahl was unpopular with the public, and the Obama administration may have made the trade in the incorrect belief that Bergdahl was near death. Then again, here’s an American soldier who spent five years in Taliban custody, some of that reportedly in a cage after trying to escape. If we make heroic efforts to bring back American corpses, how can we begrudge efforts to bring back a soldier who is still alive?

Sure, there are risks. But the five Taliban prisoners have probably aged out of field combat, and, if they return to Afghanistan after their year in Qatar, they would likely have trouble finding American targets because, by then, the United States will no longer be engaged in combat.

More broadly, there’s nothing wrong with negotiating with the Taliban. The blunt truth is that the only way to end the fighting in Afghanistan is a negotiated peace deal involving the Taliban, and maybe this deal can be a step along that journey.

Russian aggression in Ukraine was infuriating, but it’s petty Washington politics to see it as emanating from Obama weakness. After all, President George W. Bush was the most trigger-happy of recent presidents, and he couldn’t prevent Russia from invading Georgia in 2008 and helping carve off two breakaway republics.

Obama diplomacy appears to have worked better than military force would have. Contrary to early expectations, Russia did not seize southeastern Ukraine along with Crimea, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia this week called on Parliament to rescind permission to invade Ukraine. Be wary, but let’s hope the Bear is backing down.

The debacle in Iraq is a political and humanitarian catastrophe, but it’s a little rich for neocons to blame Obama after they created the mess in the first place. Obama was unengaged on Iraq and Syria, but it’s not clear that even if he had been engaged the outcome would have been different.

Suppose Obama had kept 10,000 troops in Iraq as his critics wish. Some would have been killed; others injured. We would have spent another $50 billion or so in the Iraqi sands (that’s more than 25 times what Obama requested to start universal prekindergarten, but Congress balks at the expense). And Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki might have felt even less need to keep Sunni tribes on his side. Would all this really have been the best use of American lives and treasure?

Yes, Obama has made his share of mistakes, especially in Syria, where he doesn’t seem to have much of a policy at all. Partly balancing that, he helped to defuse the Syrian chemical weapons threat.

Look, the world is a minefield. President Clinton was very successful internationally, yet he bungled an inherited operation in Somalia, delayed too long on Bosnia, missed the Rwanda genocide and muffed the beginning of the Asian financial crisis — and all that happened during a particularly skillful administration.

As for former Vice President Dick Cheney complaining about Obama’s foreign policy, that’s a bit like the old definition of chutzpah: killing your parents and then pleading for mercy because you’re an orphan. In the Bush/Cheney years, we lost thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, we became mired in Afghanistan, Iran vastly expanded the number of centrifuges in its nuclear program, and North Korea expanded its arsenal of nuclear weapons. And much of the world came to despise us.

Blowing things up is often satisfying, and Obama’s penchant for muddling along instead, with restraint, is hurting him politically. But that’s our weakness more than his. Obama’s foreign policy is far more deft — and less dangerous — than the public thinks, and he doesn’t deserve the harsh assessments. If there’s one thing we should have learned in the Bush/Cheney years, it’s that swagger and invasion are overrated as foreign policy instruments.


By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 26, 2014

June 27, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, National Security, Neo-Cons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Fight To Protect Voting Rights, One Year Later”: The Key Barrier Is Finding Republican Support

As of yesterday, it’s been exactly a year since conservatives on the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, gutted the Voting Rights Act. The ruling, however, was open-ended in a way – the Republican-appointed justices didn’t say which part of the Constitution the VRA violated, and it invited Congress to “fix” the law (though the justices didn’t say how).

With this in mind, a bipartisan and bicameral group of lawmakers got to work, and in January they unveiled the Voting Rights Amendment Act, a reform bill intended to address the Supreme Court’s concerns. Zachary Roth reported yesterday that proponents haven’t given up the fight.

Civil rights advocates pressed lawmakers Wednesday at a contentious Senate hearing to advance a bill that would strengthen the Voting Rights Act, saying a failure to do so would represent a historic betrayal of African-American aspirations for political equality. But Republicans appeared unmoved.

“If the Voting Rights Act is not modernized, then you are effectively ending the second Reconstruction of the United States,” Rev. Francys Johnson, the president of the Georgia NAACP, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

At this point, the key barrier is finding Republican support. When Congress last considered the VRA, support for the law was nearly unanimous – and in the Senate, it was literally unanimous – but in the wake of the high court ruling, GOP support has evaporated. Indeed, as Roth’s report noted, at yesterday’s hearing, the Republican senators and the conservatives witnesses “acknowledged that race bias in voting still exists”; they just don’t intend to support any new measures to prevent voting discrimination.

As of this afternoon, the Voting Rights Amendment Act has zero Republican co-sponsors.

All of which leads us to a gentleman by the name of Thad Cochran.

Cochran, of course, is the senior senator from Mississippi, and just this week, he survived a very competitive Republican primary thanks in large part to support from African-American Democrats who saw the incumbent’s challenger as vastly more offensive.

I suggested yesterday that Cochran, as a gesture of goodwill and gratitude, can repay the favor by – you guessed it – throwing his support to the new Voting Rights Act. He’d already voted for the old one so it’s really a fairly modest request.

I’m hardly the only one who thought of this.

In an interview with HuffPost Live, Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP, said that Cochran could thank black voters by supporting efforts to re-establish protections in the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court struck down last year.

“Our advocacy towards his office is to support amending the Voting Rights Act, free of any conditions such as voter ID,” Johnson said. “I think this is an opportunity for him to show some reciprocity for African-Americans providing a strong level of support for him.”

The editorial board of the New York Times is on board, too.

The prospect of electing an intemperate Tea Party candidate who was openly nostalgic for Confederate days was so repellent to many black voters in Mississippi that they did a remarkable thing on Tuesday, crossing party lines to help give the Republican Senate nomination to Thad Cochran, in office for 36 years. Now it’s time for Mr. Cochran to return the favor by supporting a stronger Voting Rights Act and actively working to reduce his party’s extreme antigovernment policies.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but Cochran is positioned to keep his job because black voters showed up to save his skin. Why not return the favor by showing some leadership on voting rights?

In practical terms, Cochran’s support wouldn’t necessary help get the bill passed into law – House Republicans will almost certainly kill the Voting Rights Amendment Act anyway – so there’s no real harm in the senator doing the right thing.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 26, 2014

June 27, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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