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“Upside-Down Tea Party Dogma In Arkansas”: Contrary To Tea Party Fantasies, It Wasn’t Private Entrepreneurs Who Paved The Roads

When we moved to our Arkansas cattle farm, a friend lent us a book titled A Straw in the Sun. Published in 1945, Charlie Mae Simon’s beautifully written memoir of homesteading here in Perry County, Arkansas during the 1930s was long out of print—maybe because the hardscrabble life it depicts is too recent for nostalgia.

Like much of the rural South before World War II, Perry County was essentially the Third World. So was Yell County, immediately to the west, home of U.S. Senate candidate Tom Cotton. Except for a lot of wasteful government spending he affects to deplore, it would still be.

Cotton’s campaign against Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor reflects everything upside-down about Tea Party dogma and the tycoons who fund it—a local story with national implications.

Originally featured as New Yorker essays, Simon’s book wasn’t intended as social protest. Even so, many forget that millions of Americans lived as subsistence-level peasant farmers within living memory.

Simon and her neighbors grew their own food and slaughtered their own hogs; they cut firewood, dug wells, built outhouses, made candles and fermented corn liquor. Electricity and telephones weren’t available; cash commerce all but non-existent. To file her essays, Simon walked hours to the general store or hitched rides on mule-drawn wagons along dirt roads that became impassible in wet weather. The simple life proved terribly complicated.

During the same period, writes historian S. Charles Bolton in the Arkansas Historical Quarterly, roughly 1/3 of black and 1/5 of rural white Arkansans emigrated to places like Chicago or Los Angeles. Others found work in town. Today, large parts of Perry and Yell counties are in the Ouachita National Forest. They had more residents then than now.

But here’s the thing: Contrary to Tea Party fantasies, it wasn’t plucky private entrepreneurs that paved the roads, strung the wire, saved grandpa from penury and made organized commerce across the rural South possible. It was federal and state investment.

Even today, such prosperity as Yell County enjoys—it’s the 64th wealthiest of Arkansas’s 75 counties—derives from timber cutting and the proximity of three scenic lakes built and maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Not to mention, of course, agricultural price supports from the 2014 Farm Bill that Rep. Cotton voted against.

But enough history. There’s plenty of strictly contemporary reality that self-styled “conservatives” also ignore. In TV commercials, Cotton depicts himself as the dutiful son of a “cattle rancher” who taught him farmers can’t spend money they don’t have.

Cotton’s father does run a small cattle farm near Dardanelle. However, it’s also a fact that Len Cotton retired as District Supervisor of the Arkansas Health Department after a 37-year career. The senior Cotton has also served on the Arkansas Veterans Commission, the Tri-County Regional Water Board, etc.

The candidate’s mother Avis taught in public schools for 40 years. She retired in 2012 as principal of the Dardanelle middle school. Career government bureaucrats, both, bless their public-spirited hearts.

So I’m guessing Len Cotton raises cattle for the same reasons I do: because it’s an absorbing hobby with considerable tax advantages.

Meanwhile, the thing about the Farm Bill that urban liberals often don’t get, and that a poser like Tom Cotton’s being disingenuous about, is this that it’s damn near impossible to farm without risking money you don’t have.

The largest recipient of agricultural subsidies in Arkansas is Riceland Rice—a member-owned co-op representing 5,800 farmers.

Farmers who have to pay for seeds, fertilizer, and diesel fuel to pump water; also to finance tractors and combines more costly than the land. Farmers who borrow every spring in the hope of turning a profit in the fall. And who risk losing the entire crop to pests, floods, drought, tornadoes, to cheap soybeans from Brazil, etc. If there’s fraud and waste, cut it out. However, it’s in the national interest to keep agriculture strong.

But let’s head back to town, shall we? One of the fastest growing GOP strongholds in Arkansas is the college town of Conway, just across the Arkansas River. Tom Cotton’s sure to do well there.

And why does Conway prosper? Basically, government largesse. Located along Interstate 40, it’s the home of the University of Central Arkansas, a growing state school. It’s got a brand-new, federally-funded airport, two private colleges supported by state scholarships funded by the Arkansas Lottery, and an excellent non-profit hospital (Medicare, Medicaid), etc.

The city’s biggest private employers are Internet-oriented Acxiom and Hewlett Packard. (Pentagon researchers created the Internet.) Furthermore, everybody in Conway receives electricity, water, sewage, cable TV, Internet and telephone service from the Conway Corporation—a city-owned co-op begun in the 1920s, as efficient an example of municipal socialism as you’ll find this side of Stockholm, Sweden.

Dogma notwithstanding, all successful modern economies are mixed economies.

No politician who tells you differently is your friend.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, October 1, 2014

October 6, 2014 Posted by | Arkansas, Tea Party, Tom Cotton | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“An Unlikely Opportunity?”: It Could Come Down To Kansas, Where GOP Trails Badly

The news for Democrats in the latest round of Senate polling is sobering: Republicans have +4 point leads in enough states to give them a 50 Senate seats. That’s just one short of what they need to win control of the Senate.

Four other seats are also up for grabs, placing Democrats in danger of losing the majority in Iowa, North Carolina, Colorado and Kansas. Even so, while polling shows the first three of these races as tossups, Democrats have been showing remarkable resilience maintaining slim edges or even odds.

If Democrats do hold their ground in Iowa, North Carolina and Colorado, control of the Senate would come down to Kansas. Not exactly fertile ground for Democrats under normal circumstances, but the rank incompetence of the GOP combined with the distant hubris of Senator Roberts has allowed independent Greg Orman to open up a blistering 10-point lead.

That’s a big deficit to make up before the first mail-in voters get their ballots less than two weeks from today, and there’s little indication that Greg Orman would caucus with the Republicans should he be elected.

Kansas is a strange place for Democrats to pin their hopes, but it does provide hope that even in the reddest of red states, Republican overreach and self-destructive policies may open up unlikely opportunities for unexpected gains.

 

By: David Atkins, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 5, 2014

October 6, 2014 Posted by | Kansas, Pat Roberts, Senate | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Voodoo Economics, The Next Generation”: The True Believers Show No Sign Of Wavering

Even if Republicans take the Senate this year, gaining control of both houses of Congress, they won’t gain much in conventional terms: They’re already able to block legislation, and they still won’t be able to pass anything over the president’s veto. One thing they will be able to do, however, is impose their will on the Congressional Budget Office, heretofore a nonpartisan referee on policy proposals.

As a result, we may soon find ourselves in deep voodoo.

During his failed bid for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination George H. W. Bush famously described Ronald Reagan’s “supply side” doctrine — the claim that cutting taxes on high incomes would lead to spectacular economic growth, so that tax cuts would pay for themselves — as “voodoo economic policy.” Bush was right. Even the rapid recovery from the 1981-82 recession was driven by interest-rate cuts, not tax cuts. Still, for a time the voodoo faithful claimed vindication.

The 1990s, however, were bad news for voodoo. Conservatives confidently predicted economic disaster after Bill Clinton’s 1993 tax hike. What happened instead was a boom that surpassed the Reagan expansion in every dimension: G.D.P., jobs, wages and family incomes.

And while there was never any admission by the usual suspects that their god had failed, it’s noteworthy that the Bush II administration — never shy about selling its policies on false pretenses — didn’t try to justify its tax cuts with extravagant claims about their economic payoff. George W. Bush’s economists didn’t believe in supply-side hype, and more important, his political handlers believed that such hype would play badly with the public. And we should also note that the Bush-era Congressional Budget Office behaved well, sticking to its nonpartisan mandate.

But now it looks as if voodoo is making a comeback. At the state level, Republican governors — and Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, in particular — have been going all in on tax cuts despite troubled budgets, with confident assertions that growth will solve all problems. It’s not happening, and in Kansas a rebellion by moderates may deliver the state to Democrats. But the true believers show no sign of wavering.

Meanwhile, in Congress Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, is dropping broad hints that after the election he and his colleagues will do what the Bushies never did, try to push the budget office into adopting “dynamic scoring,” that is, assuming a big economic payoff from tax cuts.

So why is this happening now? It’s not because voodoo economics has become any more credible. True, recovery from the 2007-9 recession has been sluggish, but it has actually been a bit faster than the typical recovery from financial crisis, despite unprecedented cuts in government spending and employment. In fact, the recovery in private-sector employment has been faster than it was during the “Bush boom” last decade. At the same time, researchers at the International Monetary Fund, surveying cross-country evidence, have found that redistribution of income from the affluent to the poor, which conservatives insist kills growth, actually seems to boost economies.

But facts won’t stop the voodoo comeback, for two main reasons.

First, voodoo economics has dominated the conservative movement for so long that it has become an inward-looking cult, whose members know what they know and are impervious to contrary evidence. Fifteen years ago leading Republicans may have been aware that the Clinton boom posed a problem for their ideology. Today someone like Senator Rand Paul can say: “When is the last time in our country we created millions of jobs? It was under Ronald Reagan.” Clinton who?

Second, the nature of the budget debate means that Republican leaders need to believe in the ways of magic. For years people like Mr. Ryan have posed as champions of fiscal discipline even while advocating huge tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations. They have also called for savage cuts in aid to the poor, but these have never been big enough to offset the revenue loss. So how can they make things add up?

Well, for years they have relied on magic asterisks — claims that they will make up for lost revenue by closing loopholes and slashing spending, details to follow. But this dodge has been losing effectiveness as the years go by and the specifics keep not coming. Inevitably, then, they’re feeling the pull of that old black magic — and if they take the Senate, they’ll be able to infuse voodoo into supposedly neutral analysis.

Would they actually do it? It would destroy the credibility of a very important institution, one that has served the country well. But have you seen any evidence that the modern conservative movement cares about such things?

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 5, 2014

October 6, 2014 Posted by | Congressional Budget Office, Conservatives, Federal Budget | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Layaway Purchase Plan”: GOP Nightmare Reveals Secret Corporate Donors

Some people have myriad recurring nightmares about being publicly embarrassed, such as rising to give a speech and realizing you know nothing about the topic — then realizing you’re naked.

You might be surprised to learn though, that corporations also have such nightmares. OK, corporations aren’t really people, no matter what the Supreme Court fabulists claim, so they can’t dream, but their top executives can, and several recently suffered the same chilling hallucination. Only, it wasn’t a dream… it was real.

Perhaps you think that corporations use their campaign donations to buy privileged access to state and national policymakers. Perhaps you even think that their political money actually buys those politicians — after all, they do deliver the public policies the corporate donors want. Perhaps you think this whole monetized political system is corrupt, anti-democratic, and…well, stinky.

You would, of course, be right about all of the above. As Lily Tomlin has put it, “No matter how cynical you get, it’s almost impossible to keep up.”

The corporate purchase of Washington, DC is pretty widely reported, but — keep up now — for the kleptocratic stinkiness fast consuming our statehouses as well. The Republican Governors Association has devised a layaway purchase plan allowing brand-name corporations to make secret donations of $100,000 or more a year to the RGA in support of the corporate-friendly agenda of various GOP governors. And a lot of execs have been buying.

These are chieftains of brand-name corporate giants who have secretly funneled millions of their shareholders’ dollars into the “dark money” vault of the Republican Governors Association. In turn, the RGA channels the political cash into the campaigns of assorted right-wing governors. This underground pipeline has been a dream come true for corporations, for it lets them elect anti-consumer, anti-worker, anti-environment governors without having to let their customers or shareholders know they’re doing it.

But — oops! — the RGA made a coding error in its database of dark-money donors. So in September, a mess of the GOP’s secret-money corporations were suddenly exposed, standing buck-naked in front of customers, employees, stockholders and others who were startled and angered to learn that the companies they supported were working against their interests.

A lifelong champion of political money reform, Fred Wertheimer, put it this way: “This is a classic example of how corporations are trying to use secret money hidden from the American people to buy influence, and how the Governors Association is selling it,”

Feed the RGA’s political favor meter with $250,000 a year (as Coca-Cola, the Koch brothers, and others do), and the association cynically anoints your corporation with the ironic title of “Statesman,” opening up gubernatorial doors throughout the country. Well, sniff the participants, the money buys nothing but “access” to policymakers. But wait — when was that access put on the auction block? Shouldn’t everyone have access to our public officials? Of course, but call your governor and see if you can even get an office intern to call back.

If you’re an RGA corporate “Statesman,” however, you could get a tête-à-tête with Rick Perry, the recently indicted governor of Texas, or a private breakfast with Bob McDonnell, the now-convicted former governor of Virginia. See, membership in the corrupt club has its privileges.

Now let’s call the roll of some of the privileged corporate dreamers that were pulling the wool over our eyes, hoping we would slumber in ignorance: Aetna, Aflac, Blue Cross, Coca-Cola, Comcast, Exxon Mobil, Hewlett-Packard, Koch Industries, Microsoft, Novartis, Pfizer, Shell Oil, United Health, Verizon, Walgreens and Walmart.

The corporate donors to this previously secret scheme of plutocratic rule says it’s OK, for they also give money to Democrats. Oh, bipartisan corruption — that makes me feel so much better… how about you?

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, October 1, 2014

October 6, 2014 Posted by | Corporations, GOP, Republican Governors Association | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Crisis Turned Catastrophe In Texas”: Women Have Been Relegated To Second Class Citizenship

Last night, a decision by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals left Texas with no more than eight remaining abortion clinics. You would think by now the willingness of state lawmakers to deliberately create a health crisis among their constituents – and the willingness of the courts to allow it – would be no surprise. But I continue to be shocked.

“All Texas women have been relegated today to a second class of citizens whose constitutional rights are lesser than those in states less hostile to reproductive autonomy, and women facing difficult economic circumstances will be particularly hard hit by this devastating blow,” said the Center for Reproductive Rights’ Nancy Northrup.

House Bill 2 could be the grand finale in Texas’ efforts to completely dismantle its reproductive health infrastructure on which women – particularly poor women, women of color, young women, and immigrant women – have relied for decades. Pretty soon there won’t be any clinics left to close. Just three years ago, conservative lawmakers gutted the state’s family planning program, which closed approximately 80 family planning providers across the state, caused 55 more to reduce hours, and left hundreds of thousands of women without access to reproductive healthcare. Even before those programs were eviscerated, they provided care and services to only 20 percent of women in need.

And as if that wasn’t enough, lawmakers introduced HB2, a bill that imposes onerous restrictions on abortion providers and demands that all clinics meet costly – upwards of $1 million – building requirements to qualify them as ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs). Lawmakers claimed these regulations were critical to protecting the lives and health of Texas women, but that’s simply not the case. Currently more than three-quarters of the state’s ASCs have waivers that allow them to circumvent certain requirements: unsurprisingly, abortion providers are prohibited from obtaining those same waivers. HB2 quickly closed the majority of the state’s 41 clinics that offered abortion services – clinics that also provided birth control, pap smears, breast exams, pregnancy tests, and a host of other services. There are few, if any, providers to take their place.

These new restrictions add an unbearable weight to the burdens that too many of Texas’ women already shoulder. Texas has one of the nation’s highest unintended and teen birth rates. The nation’s lowest percentage of pregnant women receiving prenatal care in their first trimester. The highest percentage of uninsured children in the nation. High rates of poverty and unemployment and a woefully inadequate social safety net. And lawmakers who refuse to expand Medicaid, leaving nearly 700,000 women who would qualify for coverage without it.

Just a few weeks ago, Judge Lee Yeakel of the United States District Court in Austin gave health advocates an iota of hope when he ruled HB2 to be an undue burden on women’s constitutionally guaranteed right to an abortion. Yeakel’s decision wasn’t just significant because it delivered a win for humanity in Texas after countless losses, or because the concept of an undue burden was finally being used to protect – not erode – women’s right to chose, but because it was based on facts. Facts! Judge Yeakel relied on incontrovertible data to call BS on a law that purports to protect women, but has only ever been about abolishing abortion access.

He argued that for many women, HB2 might as well be an outright ban on abortion. He asked how the eight (at most) providers left could ever each serve between 7,500 and 10,000 patients. How would they cope with the more than 1,200 women per month who would be vying for limited appointments? “That the State suggests that these seven or eight providers could meet the demand of the entire state stretches credulity,” he said.

Yeakel acknowledged the complex intersections of women’s health and economic (in)security:

The record conclusively establishes that increased travel distances combine with practical concerns unique to every woman. These practical concerns include lack of availability of child care, unavailability of appointments at abortion facilities, unavailability of time off from work, immigration status and inability to pass border checkpoints, poverty level, the time and expense involved in traveling long distances, and other inarticulable psychological obstacles. These factors combine with increased travel distances to establish a de facto barrier to obtaining an abortion for a large number of Texas women of reproductive age who might choose seek a legal abortion.

Yeakel warned that the stated goal of improving women’s health would not come to pass. And it won’t. The increased delays in seeking early abortion care, risks associated with longer travel, the potential increases in self-induced abortions “almost certainly cancel out any potential health benefit associated with the requirement,” he said.

But Yeakel’s arguments were not compelling enough for the 5th Circuit, which finds it perfectly acceptable that more than one million women now need to travel more than 300 miles (and many women even further) to access health care that is constitutionally guaranteed to them.

This decision will have a ripple effect. Other anti-choice lawmakers across the country are following Texas’ lead, imposing similar restrictions on clinics and physicians who provide abortions. The vindication of Texas lawmakers who have used their legislative power to wreak havoc on the lives of women and families will only continue to embolden other states seeking the same goals.

Conservatives like to argue that they are not waging a war on women. Today there are a whole lot of us who find it impossible to argue otherwise.

 

By: Andrea Flynn, Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, The National Memo, October 3, 2014

 

 

October 6, 2014 Posted by | Reproductive Choice, Texas, War On Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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