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“The 2014 Midterms Do Matter”: McConnell Eyes More Shutdowns Following GOP Gains

It’s tempting to think the 2014 midterms may not matter much. Assuming Republicans keep their House majority, which seems very likely, the legislative process in 2015 and 2016 will probably look an awful lot like the legislative process since 2011 – congressional inaction. GOP lawmakers will continue to reject compromises and negotiations no matter who controls the upper chamber.

As this line of thought goes, the part that enjoys the Senate majority will have the power to watch the other party filibuster, and little more.

But there’s a flaw in these assumptions: if rewarded by voters with their first Senate majority in a decade, Republicans don’t intend to use their new-found congressional power to just spin their wheels. Manu Raju reports today that GOP leaders have a very different kind of plan in mind.

Mitch McConnell has a game plan to confront President Barack Obama with a stark choice next year: Accept bills reining in the administration’s policies or risk a government shutdown.

In an extensive interview here, the typically reserved McConnell laid out his clearest thinking yet of how he would lead the Senate if Republicans gain control of the chamber. The emerging strategy: Attach riders to spending bills that would limit Obama policies on everything from the environment to health care, consider using an arcane budget tactic to circumvent Democratic filibusters and force the president to “move to the center” if he wants to get any new legislation through Congress.

In short, it’s a recipe for a confrontational end to the Obama presidency.

McConnell told Politico, “We’re going to pass spending bills, and they’re going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy. That’s something [President Obama] won’t like, but that will be done. I guarantee it.”

There’s no reason to think this is campaign-season bluster. McConnell is more than comfortable making demonstrably false claims about public policy and his partisan rivals, but when it comes to process and legislative strategy, the Kentucky Republican is one of Capitol Hill’s most candid officials.

The result, however, is a curious pitch: just 76 days before this year’s midterm elections, the Senate’s top GOP leader wants the voting public to know that a vote for Republicans is a vote for government shutdowns.

Indeed, McConnell isn’t even being subtle about it. If his party is rewarded by voters in the fall, GOP senators, working with a Republican House majority, will add measures to spending bills that undo the progress of the last several years. If the White House refuses to go along, Republicans will simply shut down the government – yes, again – until the president gives the new GOP majority what it wants.

In other words, the 2014 midterms do matter. As ridiculous as Congress has become of late, McConnell has mapped out a deliberate strategy to make things considerably worse. The question isn’t whether he’ll follow through on his threats; the question is whether voters will empower him to do so.

Update: I should add that McConnell’s strategy is an interesting departure from four years ago, when GOP leaders suggested that they’d still govern if Republicans took the House majority. At the time, some pundits even believed them. Now, however, McConnell isn’t even bothering with the pretense.

 

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

August 21, 2014 Posted by | Election 2014, Government Shut Down, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Disease Of American Democracy”: The Monied Interests Are Doing What They Do Best – Making Money

Americans are sick of politics. Only 13 percent approve of the job Congress is doing, a near record low. The President’s approval ratings are also in the basement.

A large portion of the public doesn’t even bother voting. Only 57.5 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots in the 2012 presidential election.

Put simply, most Americans feel powerless, and assume the political game is fixed. So why bother?

A new study scheduled to be published in this fall by Princeton’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern University’s Benjamin Page confirms our worst suspicions.

Gilens and Page analyzed 1,799 policy issues in detail, determining the relative influence on them of economic elites, business groups, mass-based interest groups, and average citizens.

Their conclusion: “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

Instead, lawmakers respond to the policy demands of wealthy individuals and monied business interests – those with the most lobbying prowess and deepest pockets to bankroll campaigns.

Before you’re tempted to say “duh,” wait a moment. Gilens’ and Page’s data come from the period 1981 to 2002. This was before the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to big money in “Citizens United,” prior to SuperPACs, and before the Wall Street bailout.

So it’s likely to be even worse now.

But did the average citizen ever have much power? The eminent journalist and commentator Walter Lippman argued in his 1922 book “Public Opinion” that the broad public didn’t know or care about public policy. Its consent was “manufactured” by an elite that manipulated it. “It is no longer possible … to believe in the original dogma of democracy,” Lippman concluded.

Yet American democracy seemed robust compared to other nations that in the first half of the twentieth century succumbed to communism or totalitarianism.

Political scientists after World War II hypothesized that even though the voices of individual Americans counted for little, most people belonged to a variety of interest groups and membership organizations – clubs, associations, political parties, unions – to which politicians were responsive.

“Interest-group pluralism,” as it was called, thereby channeled the views of individual citizens, and made American democracy function.

What’s more, the political power of big corporations and Wall Street was offset by the power of labor unions, farm cooperatives, retailers, and smaller banks.

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith approvingly dubbed it “countervailing power.” These alternative power centers ensured that America’s vast middle and working classes received a significant share of the gains from economic growth.

Starting in 1980, something profoundly changed. It wasn’t just that big corporations and wealthy individuals became more politically potent, as Gilens and Page document. It was also that other interest groups began to wither.

Grass-roots membership organizations shrank because Americans had less time for them. As wages stagnated, most people had to devote more time to work in order to makes ends meet. That included the time of wives and mothers who began streaming into the paid workforce to prop up family incomes.

At the same time, union membership plunged because corporations began sending jobs abroad and fighting attempts to unionize. (Ronald Reagan helped legitimized these moves when he fired striking air traffic controllers.)

Other centers of countervailing power – retailers, farm cooperatives, and local and regional banks – also lost ground to national discount chains, big agribusiness, and Wall Street. Deregulation sealed their fates.

Meanwhile, political parties stopped representing the views of most constituents. As the costs of campaigns escalated, parties morphing from state and local membership organizations into national fund-raising machines.

We entered a vicious cycle in which political power became more concentrated in monied interests that used the power to their advantage – getting tax cuts, expanding tax loopholes, benefiting from corporate welfare and free-trade agreements, slicing safety nets, enacting anti-union legislation, and reducing public investments.

These moves further concentrated economic gains at the top, while leaving out most of the rest of America.

No wonder Americans feel powerless. No surprise we’re sick of politics, and many of us aren’t even voting.

But if we give up on politics, we’re done for. Powerlessness is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The only way back toward a democracy and economy that work for the majority is for most of us to get politically active once again, becoming organized and mobilized.

We have to establish a new countervailing power.

The monied interests are doing what they do best – making money. The rest of us need to do what we can do best – use our voices, our vigor, and our votes.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, August 18, 2014

August 21, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Politics, Public Policy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ferguson, Watts And A Dream Deferred”: Things Have Gone Off Track And Unlikely To Be Reversed In The Foreseeable Future

When rioting broke out in the Watts section of Los Angeles in the summer of 1965, African-Americans didn’t — couldn’t — know it yet, but the next three decades would turn out to be a period of sustained gains in terms of income, jobs, education and the status of blacks relative to whites.

The rioting this past week in Ferguson, Mo., by contrast, follows more than a decade of economic stagnation and worse for many black Americans, a trend that appears unlikely to be reversed in the foreseeable future.

The Watts riots – set off by the traffic arrest of a 21-year-old black driver by a white police officer — left 34 dead, 1,032 people injured, and 600 buildings damaged or destroyed.

The week of violence in L.A. began just five days after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and 13 months after he had signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – the impact of which had not yet been felt in the daily lives of African-Americans.

During the decades following this landmark legislation, African-Americans made immense progress. The percentage of blacks over the age 25 with a high school degree more than tripled, going from just under 20 percent, or less than half the white rate, to more than 70 percent, nearly matching the white rate. The percentage of blacks over 25 with a college degree quadrupled from 3 to 12 percent over the same period.

Similarly, black median household income grew, in inflation-adjusted dollars, from $22,974 in 1967 to $30,439 in 2000, a 32.5 percent increase, more than double the 14.2 percent increase for whites. Although black household income remained well below white levels in 2000 – 66.3 percent of the white median – it was significantly better than it had been in 1967, when it was 57.1 percent of white median income.

Things went off track, however, as the 21st century approached. The riots in Ferguson follow a period of setback for African-Americans, despite the fact that we have a sitting black president in the White House.

While the economic downturns of the last decade-and-a-half have taken their toll on the median income of all races and ethnic groups, blacks have been the hardest hit. By 2012, black median household income had fallen to 58.4 percent of white income, almost back to where it was in 1967 — 7.9 points below its level in 1999. (This Census Bureau chart shows the long-term income trends for major demographic groups in America.)

Income is a powerful measure of well-being, but equally important is the chance a person has of improving his or her position in life — of whether expectations are rising or falling.

Inequality in America is not news, and there have been a number of studies published recently that challenge the old notion that the United States is the land of opportunity for all, but for African Americans, the findings are particularly bleak.

From 1965 to 2000, the poverty rate among blacks fell from 41.8 percent to 22.5 percent. Since then, it has risen to 27.2 percent. The white poverty rate also rose during this period, but by a more modest 3.2 points.

Blacks suffered more than whites as a result of the 2008-9 financial meltdown and its aftermath, but the negative trends for African-Americans began before then.

A 2007 pre-recession Brookings Institution study by Julia Isaacs, “Economic Mobility of Black and White Families,” found that “a majority of blacks born to middle-income parents grow up to have less income than their parents. Only 31 percent of black children born to parents in the middle of the income distribution have family income greater than their parents, compared to 68 percent of white children from the same income bracket.”

White children, Isaacs reports, “are more likely to move up the ladder while black children are more likely to fall down.” Thirty-seven percent of white children born to families in the middle quintile of the income distribution move up to the top two quintiles, compared with only 17 percent of black children. Forty-five percent of black children from solidly middle class families “end up falling to the bottom of the income distribution, compared with only 16 percent of white children,” Isaacs found.

A more recent April 2014 study of black and white mobility by Bhashkar Mazumder, a senior economist at the Chicago Federal Reserve, showed similar results. That report is even more explicitly pessimistic.

The Chicago Fed study found that among black children born between the late 1950s and the early 1980s into families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution, half remained there as adults, compared with 26 percent of whites born in the bottom quintile.

Of black children born to families in the top half of the income distribution, 60 percent fell into the bottom half as working age adults, compared with 36 percent of similarly situated whites.

Mazumder concluded that if future generations of white and black Americans continued to experience the same rates of intergenerational mobility, “we should expect to see that blacks on average would not make any relative progress.” He noted that this recent time period stood “in direct contrast to other epochs in which blacks have made steady progress reducing racial differentials.”

One optimistic note is that the white reaction to events in Ferguson, including the commentary of some outspoken white conservatives, has been sympathetic to the anger and outrage over the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager. This stands in sharp distinction to the aftermath of the violence in Los Angeles in 1965.

Watts – and the string of urban riots in African-American neighborhoods from 1964 to 1968 — was crucial to the expansion of the conservative coalition that dominated most federal elections from 1966 to 2004. Fear of violence helped elect Ronald Reagan governor of California in 1966 and Richard Nixon to the presidency in 1968. Law and order, white backlash, the silent majority, and racial integration became core political preoccupations for once loyal Democratic whites as they converted to the Republican Party.

Just two years after the Democratic landslide of 1964, in the 1966 midterm election, Republicans picked up 47 seats in the House. “How long are we going to abdicate law and order favor of a soft social theory that the man who heaves a brick through your window or tosses a firebomb into your car is simply the misunderstood and underprivileged product of a broken home?” Gerald Ford, then the House minority leader, asked, with the answer assumed by the question.

Nearly half a century later, however, conservatives have voiced ambivalent responses to the Ferguson rioting. On Aug. 15, Erick Erickson, a popular conservative blogger at Red State, wrote a widely circulated posting titled “Must We Have a Dead White Kid?”

“Given what happened in Ferguson, the community had every right to be angry,” Erickson wrote. “The police bungled their handling of the matter, became very defensive and behaved more like a paramilitary unit than a police force. Property damage and violence by the citizenry cannot be excused, but is also the result of a community seeing those who are supposed to protect and serve instead suiting up and playing soldier.”

Erickson was by no means alone among conservatives. Sharing his views were Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a prospective Republican presidential candidate, and Charles C. W. Cooke, a National Review columnist, who argued that conservatives should “acknowledge that — even when our understanding of the facts is limited — incidents such as this open old and real wounds.”

The fatal shooting of Michael Brown has produced a rare right-left convergence, a shared recognition that the overwhelmingly white police department of Ferguson has become a hostile occupying force for much of the town’s majority black population.

There is, however, no left-right consensus about how to turn back the grim economic trends for African-Americans, much less what caused them.

Competing explanations for the difficulties that continue to plague African-Americans are a central element in the contemporary polarization between left and right; in fact, they help define it.

Liberals and conservatives disagree vehemently over the role of such factors as the decline of manufacturing jobs, the rise of single parenthood, racial discrimination, the poor quality of public schools, residential segregation, high incarceration rates, test score differentials, parental investment, crime rates, welfare incentives, the lack of engaged fathers – the list goes on.

Democrats in the main are convinced that impediments to black advancement are structural, amenable to government intervention: a strong and better-funded safety net; public investment in manufacturing and infrastructure employment; more rigorous enforcement of anti-discrimination laws.

Many Republicans focus instead on what they see as moral collapse and the erosion of such values as hard work and traditional family formation among the poor. Government spending on social programs, according to this view, creates disincentives to work and more trouble.

The urban riots of the second half of the 1960s prompted Washington to pump out money, legislation, judicial decisions and regulatory change to outlaw de jure discrimination, to bring African-Americans to the ballot box, to create jobs and to vastly expand the scope of anti-poverty programs.

Civil unrest also drew attention to the necessity of addressing police brutality.

Today, however, political and policy-making stasis driven by gridlock — despite a momentary concordance between left and right on this particular shooting — insures that we will undertake no comparable initiatives to reverse or even stem the trends that have put black Americans at an increasing disadvantage in relation to whites — a situation that plays no small part in fueling the rage currently on display in Ferguson.

 

By: Thomas B. Edsall, Contributing Op-Ed Writer, The New York Times, August 19, 2014

August 21, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Economic Inequality, Poverty | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What We’ve Paid For War In Afghanistan And Iraq”: Apparently, ‘Mission Accomplished’ Means ‘Mission Never-Ending’

War is hell.

Major General Harold Greene could certainly tell you all about that — but, sadly, he’s dead. On August 5, General Greene became the highest-ranking American soldier to die in our unfathomable, 13-year war in Afghanistan, joining 2,339 other servicemembers who’ve paid the ultimate price for being sent by warmongering politicians into that fight for… well, for what?

No president or congressional leader has ever offered a coherent or credible answer, much less a compelling one, for why our troops have been made to sacrifice so much for so little. Indeed, how bitterly ironic that the general was not killed by the Taliban or al Qaeda, whom we’re supposedly fighting, but by one of the Afghan government’s own soldiers, whom we’re supposedly helping.

Another blunt reminder of the hellish absurdity of our political leaders’ quick-draw approach to war can be seen in a recent report by the Congressional Research Service. Military budget analysts in this non-partisan congressional agency keep track of how much the Afghanistan and Iraq wars are costing us taxpayers. The tally has now topped a trillion dollars — and that amount doesn’t count the cost of the the future health care bill for veterans or the enormous interest payments that’ll be made on that debt, which will multiply the trillion-dollar outlay three- or fourfold.

And the meter is still running. The Pentagon, White House, and Congress intend to keep a contingent of soldiers and trainers in both countries for the foreseeable future, plus provide billions more of our tax dollars to both countries for building their infrastructure and education systems. Meanwhile, a trillion dollars and so many American lives later, Iraq is in chaos and falling apart, and Afghanistan is mired in corruption and facing a Taliban takeover.

And — ready or not — here we go again. Our military has been hurled back into the chaos of Iraq. Apparently, “Mission Accomplished” is “Mission Never-Ending.”

We’re told that, for now, America will provide only jet fighters, drones, weaponry, humanitarian airdrops, military advice, training — and, of course, our money — to the cause of making this unworkable country work. At least President Obama has put his foot down and sensibly pledged that there will be no American “boots on the ground.”

However, in the politics of Iraq, don’t count on “sensible” surviving the chaos. The Shia-Sunni-Kurdish divide still rages on there, now exacerbated by the theocratic Islamic State’s sudden sadistic invasion. Plus, Iraq’s former prime minister (a corrupt autocrat whom our foreign policy geniuses installed during the disastrous Bush-Cheney reign of errors) was so detested by practically everyone that the parliament dumped him. However, he added slapstick to Iraq’s chaos by desperately trying to cling to power, finally having to be almost physically hauled away.

But the least sensible factor affecting Iraq is our own red-faced, militaristic, warmongering members of Congress, demanding that we must go to war. For example, GOP Senator Lindsey Graham is filled with bloodlust over the ferocious rise of the Islamic State in Iraq, so he says we have no choice but to return there to destroy the fanatics.

Of course, by “we,” congressional warriors like Lindsey don’t mean them, their loved ones, or anyone else they actually know.

Since the end of World War II, practically every American president, backed by Congress, has sent our troops to die in wars of lies and political flimflam. From Vietnam to Grenada to Iraq, our soldiers have been in senseless wars nearly non-stop for 70 years. It’s time to tell the perennial political sword-rattlers that they should wield the swords themselves. War is hell…and this one is stupid.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, August 20, 2014

August 21, 2014 Posted by | Afghanistan, Bush-Cheney Administration, Iraq | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It’s Time To Leave The 19th Century Behind”: Let’s Stop Whistling Dixie; Missouri’s Toxic Political Culture Must Change

Quite properly, journalistic reaction to events in Ferguson, Missouri, has focused on the militarization of the police, on the role of racism in the killing of unarmed African-American men, and on the political disenfranchisement that allows communities like Ferguson to operate in obvious defiance of public sentiment.

But there is another element peculiar to Missouri politics that must have light shed upon it. That is the sharp right-ward turn conservative politics in that State has taken. In its best moments, conservatism stands for caution, for prudence, for a government that is efficient yet serves the needs of all.

There was a time when conservatives in Missouri stood for these things, but that is no longer the case. Rather, what is visible to the outside observer is a dangerous movement towards the outermost fringes. For it is fair to say that a toxic neo-confederatism has emerged as a force to be reckoned with at the very heart of Missouri’s government — its state legislature.

Let’s consider Brian Nieves, a State Senator from West St. Louis. Nieves is not some obscure back-bencher. He’s been a member of the State Legislature since 2002, rising to the position of House Majority Whip before moving on to the Senate, where he now chairs the Committee on General Laws.

And what has Senator Nieves been doing in this position of trust? He has injected neo-confederatism into the law-making function. Consider Senate Joint Resolution 45, a state constitutional amendment Nieves proposed in January, 2012, which sought to revive the discredited Confederate principle of state nullification. The amendment would have declared that Missouri enjoyed the “sovereign” right to treat as null and void all federal law on gun control; abortion; climate change; federally-subsidized health care; same-sex marriage; hate crimes; and a range of other topics. In other words, had this amendment been adopted, Missouri would have been free to reject as non-binding a large body of federal statutes and judicial decisions.

Nullification, of which this is a modern manifestation, is an idea that has its origins in the efforts of the Southern planter class of the 1820’s and 1830’s to defend slavery against an encroaching federal government. In 1832, the federal government tried to enforce a tariff in South Carolina that posed a threat to the profitability of the slave-based cotton trade that formed the cornerstone of that State’s economy.

Purporting to defend the Constitution from an allegedly unconstitutional tariff, the South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification declared that laws which “violated the true meaning and intent [of the Constitution] are null, void, and no law.” When President Andrew Jackson threatened a military response, South Carolina backed down, although three decades later it chose secession rather than recognize Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States.

Nieves’ joint resolution did not carry the day. But that did not deter the nullificationists in the State Legislature from a second, more successful attempt to assert Missouri’s self-proclaimed right to nullify federal law.

“The Second Amendment Preservation Act,” it was called, and it was introduced in January, 2014. It took direct aim at federal gun control legislation. Listing numerous federal laws on the subject, it declared the named provisions “shall be invalid in this state, shall not be recognized by this state, are specifically rejected by this state, and shall be considered null and void and of no effect in this state.” Just like the South Carolina slave owners of the 1830s, the bill’s sponsor declared that the proposed law was needed to defend the Constitution against an aggressive and out-of-control federal government.

This time, the nullificationists enjoyed greater success. In February, 2014, the Missouri Senate approved the bill by a vote of 23-10, with near-unanimous Republican support. The Missouri Tea Party rejoiced. In April, 2014, the State House of Representatives also passed the bill.

It is past time, way past time, 150 years past time, to be playing around with Confederate ideology. That Republicans in the Missouri legislature gave overwhelming support to a piece of legislation whose origins can be traced to the ugliest moments in America’s slave-owning past stands as a badge of infamy. The Missouri Republican Party would do well to repudiate this legislation and promise to stop playing with the dynamite of nullification.

I’ve got news for Missouri’s political class. They need to stop reviving the odious, discredited ideology of the Southern slaveocracy. They must instead return to reality and address the social crisis Ferguson represents. For in truth, African-Americans face substantial obstacles in Missouri. The four-year high-school graduation rate for African-Americans is 76 percent (as of 2009/2010). (The white graduation rate is 89 percent). The poverty rate for African-Americans is 27.7 percent (as of 2007/2011). The white poverty rate for the same period is 12.1 percent. The unemployment rate of African-Americans (2008/2012) is 18.0 percent. (For white Missourians it is 7.3 percent). The incarceration rate for African-Americans (as of June 30, 2012) is 38.2 percent.

It’s time for Missouri’s right-wingers to leave the nineteenth century behind. It is time for all Missourians — indeed, time for all Americans — to start building a more just and equitable world, one free of institutional racism and yawning racial disparities. Missouri was once the home of far-sighted progressives. Harry Truman desegregated the Armed Forces in 1948. Democratic Senator Stuart Symington voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act at great political risk. Missouri, it is time to get serious. The world is watching.

 

By: Charles J. Reid, Jr., The Huffington Post Blog, August 20, 2014

August 21, 2014 Posted by | Missouri, Missouri Legislature | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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