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“About That ‘Worst President’ Poll”: A Problematic Conclusion For The Media And Republicans To Draw

I’ve thought a couple of times about writing something on that annoying Quinnipiac poll conservative gabbers are gabbing about that shows Barack Obama eclipsing past bad presidents as the “worst” president. But Sean Trende of RCP did a better job of debunking it than I could, so here’s his take:

A poll from Quinnipiac has been making the rounds of late, with the media focusing in on a question that purportedly shows Americans consider Barack Obama the worst president since World War II (he led all others with 33 percent of the responses). But that is a problematic conclusion to draw from this particular question. First, we could just as easily state that 67 percent of Americans believe that someone other than Obama is the worst postwar president.

More importantly, these sorts of “multiple choice” questions, which pop up from time to time in various contexts, tend to raise eyebrows, because partisan unity can drive the results. And what really drives this particular finding is that Republicans are much more unified in their dislike of Obama than Democrats are in their dislike of any particular GOP president. A full 63 percent of Republicans identify Obama as the worst, with Jimmy Carter lagging far behind at 14 percent, an almost 50-percentage-point differential.

Among Democrats, however, 54 percent name George W. Bush as the worst president, followed by Richard Nixon at 20 percent, a 34-point differential. Had Democrats been able to agree more on their least-favorite president, Obama might not have come in first.

Indeed, if we add up the percentages for all the Democratic and Republican presidents on the list, 49 percent of respondents named a Republican commander-in-chief, while 47 percent named a Democratic one. (Among Independents, 50 percent named a Democrat, while 43 percent named a Republican, but this probably reflects the disproportionate number of disaffected Republicans who currently consider themselves Independent).

The bottom line is that Republican presidents offer a target-rich environment for ratings of the “worst.” And that shouldn’t be anything for them to brag about.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly, Political Animal, July 3, 2014

July 5, 2014 Posted by | Politics, Polls | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hobby Lobby Decision Is Not About Religious Freedom”: One More Battleground In The Never-Ending Culture War

Why are we still arguing over contraception?

Of all the mind-blowing medical advances of the last 50 years — in-utero surgery, genetic testing, face transplants — why is it that the sale and use of convenient, reliable birth control pills and devices still sparks such controversy?

The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision — in which the court’s conservative wing gave religious rights to corporations — is just one more battleground in the never-ending culture war. The high court ruled that the Affordable Care Act violates the religious rights of two family-held corporations whose owners objected to a requirement that they provide employees with health insurance policies that pay for a variety of contraceptives. Hobby Lobby, a crafts chain owned by Southern Baptists, and Conestoga Wood, owned by Mennonites, objected to four contraceptives that they mistakenly consider abortifacients.

If abortion were the animating issue, then liberals, conservatives and moderates would have joined forces long ago to promote more effective family planning. That would be the best way to limit abortions, which are usually the result of unintended pregnancies. Instead, the religious right continues to stand in the way of birth control.

The high court’s ruling, issued last week, hardly seems calamitous since it was limited to those four family planning methods. But the decision, by five male justices, still points to a curious sexism that pervades much of the political discussion around contraception. It’s no wonder that conservatives are accused of waging a “war on women.”

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her dissent, “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.” In other words, the remarkable cultural transformation that has allowed women to assume leadership roles in corporations, in the military and in politics was assisted by the revolution in reliable contraception, starting with the introduction of “the pill” in 1960.

History reminds us, though, that family planning has long been political. In 1879, the state of Connecticut passed a law prohibiting the use of “any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception.” Remarkably, the Supreme Court didn’t strike down that intrusive law until 1965, nearly a hundred years later.

In the decades since, women — and men — have largely taken for granted the right to convenient and reliable birth control. That’s true even among Roman Catholics, although papal doctrine still forbids it. According to the Pew Research Center, only 15 percent of Catholics view contraceptive use as “morally wrong.”

Yet, the backlash among ultraconservatives has become more evident in recent years, especially since the mandate on contraception coverage in Obamacare. In 2012, a young Georgetown law student named Sandra Fluke incited the ire of conservatives when she insisted that her university should offer contraceptives in its health insurance policies, despite its church affiliation. Among the more memorable comments that have been directed her way, Rush Limbaugh labeled her a “slut” and a “prostitute.”

Several months ago, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a Fox News commentator still popular on the ultraconservative lecture circuit, was explicitly sexist as he blasted Democrats’ support for contraceptive coverage in the ACA, claiming they want women to think “they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido …”

Indeed, Republican politicians and their allies have showered invective on women who believe that health insurance plans should pay for a full range of reproductive services, including birth control devices and medications. Their rhetoric is full of offensive references to women’s sexuality, which tells you all you need to know about where they’re coming from.

Of course, Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, was much more circumspect in his language. Still, the majority’s outdated ideology shines through — partly because they made clear that their reasoning applies only to contraceptives and not to other medical care. There is no religious exemption for, say, a company owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses that doesn’t want its health insurance policies to pay for blood transfusions.

This ruling had little to do with religious liberty and much to do with women’s reproductive freedom.


By: Cynthia Tucker, Visiting Professor at The University of Georgia; The National Memo, July 5, 2014

July 5, 2014 Posted by | Contraception, Hobby Lobby, Reproductive Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Christie Vetoes Another Gun-Safety Measure”: It’s A Real Shame To See What Some Republicans Will Do In Advance Of A GOP Primary

In early 2013, not long after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) endorsed a series of gun reforms, including a ban on .50-cabliber weapons, saying there was no need for consumers to purchase these kinds of firearms. It was a sensible point – .50-cabliber weapons fire ammunition the size of carrots, have the capacity to pierce steel plate armor from several hundred yards away, and can even shoot down airplanes.

But when New Jersey’s Democratic legislature approved a ban on .50-cabliber weapons, Christie vetoed the bill. The pandering to the Republican Party’s far-right base had begun.

It’s an ongoing exercise.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a gun control bill on Wednesday that would have banned magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

The potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate called the restriction of the number of bullets “trivial,” and denied such a limit could prevent future mass shootings.

“Mass violence will not end by changing the number of bullets loaded into a gun,” Christie said in his veto message.

Well, no, of course not. But the point isn’t to end mass violence with one gun-safety reform; the point is to potentially reduce the number of casualties the next time a gunman goes on a rampage.

The governor must have some basic understanding of this, making his statement a classic example of willful ignorance.

I’ve never really understood why limits on high-capacity gun magazines are a problem for so many Republicans. These limits aren’t unconstitutional; they don’t affect hunters; and they don’t prevent Americans from buying firearms to protect themselves.

They might, however, help take the “mass” out of “mass shootings.” So what’s the problem? Other than the NRA telling Republicans that all reforms are bad reforms?

There’s some evidence that the shooter in Newtown paused to reload during the massacre. Nicole Hockley, whose six-year-old son Dylan was killed, said last year, “We have learned that in the time it took him to reload in one of the classrooms, 11 children were able to escape. We ask ourselves every day – every minute – if those magazines had held 10 rounds, forcing the shooter to reload at least six more times, would our children be alive today?”

It’s against this backdrop that Chris Christie vetoed a measure to limit magazine capacity, saying, “I will not support such a trivial approach to the sanctity of human life, because this is not governing.”

I haven’t the foggiest idea what that even means. What’s “trivial” about limiting magazine capacity in an attempt to save lives? If it’s “not governing,” what is it?

It’s a real shame to see what some Republicans have to do in advance of a GOP primary.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 3, 2014

July 5, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, Gun Control, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Subtle Forms Of Discrimination”: Without Economic And Educational Justice, There Is No Racial Justice

Student civil rights activists join hands and sing as they prepare to leave Ohio to register black voters in Mississippi. The 1964 voter registration campaign was known as Freedom Summer.

On a hot, dusty June day fifty years ago, during what became known as Freedom Summer, college students began to arrive in Mississippi—then the most closed society in America—to help register black residents to vote. Three civil rights workers were brutally murdered, a trauma that pierced the heart of our nation and thrust into the open the racist oppression of black political rights by Mississippi’s leaders.

Since that momentous summer, our country has made great strides to extend civil and political rights to all Americans regardless of race. Still, African Americans today face obstacles just as real as poll taxes and segregated restrooms; the difference is that these obstacles are now embedded in our institutions and social structures instead of being posted on public walls.

The reality is that, a half-century after Freedom Summer, African Americans continue to face severe barriers not just to voting but also to economic security. In fact, on the economic front, some indicators have even gotten worse and problems more entrenched in recent decades. The gap between black and white household incomes, for example, is actually wider today than it was in the mid-1960s. So if the primary Civil Rights struggle 50 years ago was for basic political rights, today it is for equal access to the ladder of economic mobility.

A key factor behind persistent racial inequality involves the failures of our education system. While African Americans may no longer be barred from attending school with white children, they still face disproportionate challenges in accessing the quality education that is a stepping stone to a decent life in America. One example is that black students today must survive a climate of punitive and discriminatory discipline that unfairly pushes them out of school and into the criminal justice system. Only last year, a sweeping federal settlement of charges of discriminatory discipline was finalized in the town of Meridian—the same town from which the three murdered civil rights workers left in 1964 on their final day of advocacy. Continued support is needed for such efforts to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

The job market is another area still rife with racial inequities. While high school graduation rates for African Americans have improved dramatically since 1964, nearly 35 percent of recent black male high school graduates nationwide have no job—a far higher jobless rate than any other group. However, this summer, 100 of these students in the Mississippi Delta and Biloxi are now working full time in a project to support the restoration of federal summer jobs programs. Although it was launched on short notice, this initiative was flooded with three times more applications than available positions. Providing summer jobs opportunities is a vital first step towards ensuring economic stability.

In higher education, the white-black gap in college graduation has worsened, setting the stage for similar racial disparities in the job market. One problem is that African Americans seeking to advance beyond a minimum wage job often are recruited through targeted advertising into fast-track for-profit career schools as an alternative to traditional college education. Many of these companies charge hefty tuition fees, even as they fail to deliver degrees that qualify people for their intended career. Over the past several months, the U. S. Department of Education has proposed regulations to curb the misconduct of these predatory schools and ensure that career degrees lead to employment. Reining in these predatory schools will require support for strong final regulations, which are to be issued this fall.

It’s not just education and jobs: Deregulation in the lending industry in the 1980s further narrowed opportunities for many working African American families. Even as families supported by a minimum wage earner sank below the poverty line, state legislatures enabled the emergence of the predatory payday lending industry by carving out exceptions to their usury laws to allow small dollar, high-interest loans. So, just as the paychecks of poor families no longer met basic survival needs, and as traditional banks withdrew service from low-income neighborhoods, the payday industry ramped up pressure to ensnare borrowers into a cycle of high-interest loans that become a revolving door of debt.

In Mississippi, after fast-cash lobbyists blocked reforms in the state legislature, the Mississippi Center for Justice launched a new model for providing loans to low-income borrowers: the New Roots Credit Partnership, an alliance between employers and banks to provide emergency loans on fair, non-predatory terms. A growing number of Mississippi employers are signing up for this program, which is a promising model for helping low-income families achieve economic security. We need to expand such efforts and ensure all Americans have access to fair banking services.

Fifty years after Freedom Summer, we recognize that America cannot know true racial justice until there is economic justice. We should attack those more subtle forms of discrimination with just as much energy and determination as did those who started a powerful movement in the long, hot summer of 1964.


By: Reilly Morse, The American Prospect, July 3, 2014

July 5, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Discrimination, Economic Inequality, Racism | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Build We Won’t”: Weakening The Economy In The Short Run While Undermining Its Prospects For The Long Run

You often find people talking about our economic difficulties as if they were complicated and mysterious, with no obvious solution. As the economist Dean Baker recently pointed out, nothing could be further from the truth. The basic story of what went wrong is, in fact, almost absurdly simple: We had an immense housing bubble, and, when the bubble burst, it left a huge hole in spending. Everything else is footnotes.

And the appropriate policy response was simple, too: Fill that hole in demand. In particular, the aftermath of the bursting bubble was (and still is) a very good time to invest in infrastructure. In prosperous times, public spending on roads, bridges and so on competes with the private sector for resources. Since 2008, however, our economy has been awash in unemployed workers (especially construction workers) and capital with no place to go (which is why government borrowing costs are at historic lows). Putting those idle resources to work building useful stuff should have been a no-brainer.

But what actually happened was exactly the opposite: an unprecedented plunge in infrastructure spending. Adjusted for inflation and population growth, public expenditures on construction have fallen more than 20 percent since early 2008. In policy terms, this represents an almost surreally awful wrong turn; we’ve managed to weaken the economy in the short run even as we undermine its prospects for the long run. Well played!

And it’s about to get even worse. The federal highway trust fund, which pays for a large part of American road construction and maintenance, is almost exhausted. Unless Congress agrees to top up the fund somehow, road work all across the country will have to be scaled back just a few weeks from now. If this were to happen, it would quickly cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs, which might derail the employment recovery that finally seems to be gaining steam. And it would also reduce long-run economic potential.

How did things go so wrong? As with so many of our problems, the answer is the combined effect of rigid ideology and scorched-earth political tactics. The highway fund crisis is just one example of a much broader problem.

So, about the highway fund: Road spending is traditionally paid for via dedicated taxes on fuel. The federal trust fund, in particular, gets its money from the federal gasoline tax. In recent years, however, revenue from the gas tax has consistently fallen short of needs. That’s mainly because the tax rate, at 18.4 cents per gallon, hasn’t changed since 1993, even as the overall level of prices has risen more than 60 percent.

It’s hard to think of any good reason why taxes on gasoline should be so low, and it’s easy to think of reasons, ranging from climate concerns to reducing dependence on the Middle East, why gas should cost more. So there’s a very strong case for raising the gas tax, even aside from the need to pay for road work. But even if we aren’t ready to do that right now — if, say, we want to avoid raising taxes until the economy is stronger — we don’t have to stop building and repairing roads. Congress can and has topped up the highway trust fund from general revenue. In fact, it has thrown $54 billion into the hat since 2008. Why not do it again?

But no. We can’t simply write a check to the highway fund, we’re told, because that would increase the deficit. And deficits are evil, at least when there’s a Democrat in the White House, even if the government can borrow at incredibly low interest rates. And we can’t raise gas taxes because that would be a tax increase, and tax increases are even more evil than deficits. So our roads must be allowed to fall into disrepair.

If this sounds crazy, that’s because it is. But similar logic lies behind the overall plunge in public investment. Most such investment is carried out by state and local governments, which generally must run balanced budgets and saw revenue decline after the housing bust. But the federal government could have supported public investment through deficit-financed grants, and states themselves could have raised more revenue (which some but not all did). The collapse of public investment was, therefore, a political choice.

What’s useful about the looming highway crisis is that it illustrates just how self-destructive that political choice has become. It’s one thing to block green investment, or high-speed rail, or even school construction. I’m for such things, but many on the right aren’t. But everyone from progressive think tanks to the United States Chamber of Commerce thinks we need good roads. Yet the combination of anti-tax ideology and deficit hysteria (itself mostly whipped up in an attempt to bully President Obama into spending cuts) means that we’re letting our highways, and our future, erode away.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 3, 2014

July 5, 2014 Posted by | Economy, Infrastructure | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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