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“The War On ACORN Must Never Die”: The Nonsense Is Back, Republicans Tackling Imaginary Problems

Remember the community group called ACORN? Rest assured, congressional Republicans do.

As regular readers know, I’ve occasionally marveled at the right’s preoccupation with the organization, which permanently closed its doors several years ago. As recently as two years ago, Public Policy Polling found that nearly half of Republican voters believed President Obama only won re-election because of ACORN’s interference – even though ACORN didn’t exist at the time.

Such paranoia has been especially common in Congress, where Republicans continued to insist on provisions in spending bills that blocked ACORN from receiving public funding, despite its non-existence.

All of that changed, however, over the summer, when GOP lawmakers seemed to realize it was time to move on. House Republicans finally appeared to be “throwing in the towel” in its campaign against the organization, dropping the anti-ACORN language from their spending bills. It was a bright, new, reality-based day.

And now that day is over. Zach Carter reports that the nonsense is back with a vengeance.

Fear not, America. House Republicans have resumed their war on the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, an anti-poverty nonprofit staffed by low-income people, a scant 4 1/2 years after the organization officially folded. […]

On Tuesday, House negotiators unveiled a bill to fend off a looming government shutdown that included the following ominous provision: “None of the funds made available under this or any other Act, or any prior Appropriations Act, may be provided to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, allied organizations, or successors.”

Remember, at present, there is no ACORN. Denying it funding is about as sensible as cutting off unicorn research.

All of which leads to the larger issue of Republicans tackling imaginary problems.

As we talked about over the summer,  House Republicans also voted this year to prevent the Department of Energy from blocking offshore-drilling permits, despite the fact that the Department of Energy has nothing to do with offshore-drilling permits.

Last year, House Republicans also approved a measure to block an Obama administration policy on welfare reform that didn’t exist. Some Republicans have taken up measures to prevent the imposition of “Sharia law” on the public, despite the fact that there is no effort to impose such a policy. My personal favorite was the effort to stop the “NAFTA Super-Highway,” which never really existed outside the overheated imaginations of the political fringe and Ron Paul.

But anti-ACORN provisions remain the quintessential example of the phenomenon. When will Republicans move on? At this pace, probably never.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 10, 2014

December 11, 2014 Posted by | ACORN, Congress, House Republicans | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Haves And The Have-It-Alls”: The Pain Of Inequality Among Yacht Buyers

In this season of mass commercialism, let’s pause to consider the plight of simple millionaires.

Why? Because we now share a common cause: Inequality. You don’t hear much about it, but millionaires are suffering a wealth gap, too, and it’s having a depressing impact on both their level of consumption and their psychological well-being. While it’s true that millionaires certainly are still quite rich — indeed, they’re counted as full members of the 1 percent club. But that generalization overlooks the painful and personally grating fact that mere millionaires today are ranked as “lesser 1 percenters.” They don’t dwell in the same zip codes as the uber-rich few, who comprise the uppermost 100th of the 1 percenters, with wealth starting in the hundreds of millions of dollars and spiraling up into multiple billions.

No doubt you’ll be saddened to learn that this divide between The Haves and The Have-it-Alls is widening. Astonishingly, plain old millionaires are being abandoned by retailers that are now catering to the most lux of the luxury market. For example, have you checked out what is happening in the yacht market recently? Sales of your 100- to 150-footers are down by as much as 50 percent from 2008, and that is just one indicator of the hidden suffering being endured by the merely rich.

In the same time period, however, yacht sales of your 300-footers, with price tags above $200 million, are at all-time highs. As noted by Robert Frank, a New York Times wealth columnist (yes, such a rarefied beat does exist), “For decades, a rising tide lifted all yachts. Now it is mainly lifting megayachts.”

“Whether the product is yachts, diamonds, art, wine, or even handbags,” says the Times‘ chronicler of American wealth, “the strongest growth and biggest profits are now coming from billionaires and nine-figure millionaires, rather than from mere millionaires.” What this reflects is not the widely acknowledged wealth divide between the 1 percenters and the rest of us, but a stunning concentration of America’s total wealth in the vaults of the ever-richer 0.01 percenters.

They are the elitest of the elites, an extravagant moneyed aristocracy, sitting so high above our society that they largely go unseen. This exclusive club includes only a tiny fraction of American families, with each holding fortunes of more than $110 million. The riches of these privileged ones keep snowballing — their outsized share of our national wealth has doubled since 2002, and their holdings are expanding twice as fast as other 1 percenters.

Their growing control of wealth is distorting high-end consumerism, including not just yachts, but private jets as well. Sales of your common millionaire-sized jets are down by two-thirds since the 2008 Wall Street crash. So jet makers have shifted to the billionaire buyers, including some who are spending eye-popping levels of lucre to possess such pretties as their very own Boeing 777-300 — which normally carries 400 passengers, rather than one gabillionaire.

Imagine how this makes people with only a few million dollars feel. This extreme, obscene concentration of wealth is creating an intolerable inequality that will implode our economy and explode America’s essential, uniting sense of egalitarianism. It’s important to remember that money is like manure — it does no good unless you spread it all around.

In the spirit of holiday harmony and good will toward all, I say it’s time for you working stiffs (and even those of you who’ve been badly stiffed and still can’t find work in this jobless economic recovery) to extend your hands in a gesture of solidarity with America’s millionaires. Let’s reach out to comfort our downcast brothers and sisters. Tell them, “We’re all in this inequality fight together,” and invite them to come to the next rally in your area to raise America’s minimum wage above the poverty level.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, December 10, 2014

December 11, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Plutocrats, Wealthy | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Senate As A Gangster’s Paradise”: Guess Who The Two Republican Senators Are With “Gang” Records As Long As Your Arm?

When I read articles like today’s piece in The Hill with the headline “Senate Republicans feud over whether to keep nuke option,” I feel a quick burst of the cynicism hormone. Aside from confusion over the term “nuclear option” (which means adoption of filibuster rules by a majority-vote rules resolution, not the rules themselves), we’re given the unlikely impression that GOPers are agonizing over showing themselves as hypocritically inclined to reverse the loudly expressed objections they made when Democrats provided for majority-vote approval of executive and non-SCOTUS judicial nominations:

While many expressed anger over last years’ move by the Democrats and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to unilaterally change the rules through a procedure known as the “nuclear option,” some say the new rules should be kept in case a Republican wins the White House in 2016.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said Republicans will take their time reaching a decision.

“A lot of our guys still feel very strongly about just the wrongness of what [Reid] did and the position it’s put everybody here in the Senate in,” Thune said.

“Now we’re having to go through a fairly lengthy process to figure out, in the majority, how we want to proceed.”

Yeah, well, or you’re trying to display an agonized uncertainty before you do the predictable thing of making life easy for a future Republican president, with the knowledge that during the next two years a Senate Republican majority makes filibustering Obama’s appointees unnecessary.

But this does give me slight pause:

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) both said keeping the new rules would be dangerous

Graham said that, while some Republicans are “salivating” over the possibility of being able to more easily confirm their picks under a Republican president, removing the filibuster destroys incentives “to go across the aisle and pick up a few votes.”

This is code for “removing the filibuster eliminates the need for bipartisan ‘gangs’ to navigate the confirmation process.” Guess who the two Republican senators are with “gang” records as long as your arm? Yep, it’s the Amigos.

Now if you are a believer in bipartisanship as an end in itself, that all sounds fine. But if you think maintaining the filibuster not only makes governing very hard but empowers deal-cutting oligarchs producing logrolling abominations, then maybe you are less happy with the Senate as a Gangster’s Paradise.

In any event, if Republicans are determined to keep the limited majority-vote rules in place, and particularly if they are interested in expanding them, they ought to be able to–ironically, given Graham’s rationalization for keeping the Good Old Rules–“go across the aisle and pick up a few votes” from progressive Democrats committed to eroding the filibuster by any means necessary.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 10, 2014

December 11, 2014 Posted by | Filibuster, Republicans, Senate | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Court Ends Florida Governor Scott’s Plan On Drug Tests”: Impaired Public Official’s Can Do More Harm Than The Impaired Unemployed

Gov. Rick Scott’s callous and condescending plan to drug-test welfare recipients has been demolished by a federal appeals court.

In a 54-page rebuke, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vigorously upheld a lower court’s ruling that it’s unconstitutional to make welfare applicants undergo warrantless and “suspicionless” drug screens, as mandated in a law championed and signed by Scott.

“The State has failed to establish a demonstrable or peculiar drug-use problem among (welfare applicants),” the three-judge panel said unanimously. “If anything, the evidence extant suggests quite the opposite.”

Scott’s law, it concluded, “offends the Fourth Amendment,” which protects Americans against unreasonable search and seizure.

The opinion was written by Judge Stanley Marcus, not exactly a raging liberal. A former organized-crime prosecutor and U.S. Attorney in Miami, Marcus was nominated for the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan.

Although experts had warned that Florida’s broad drug-testing statute wouldn’t survive a court challenge, Scott and the Republican-led Legislature sanctimoniously charged ahead. Now the state’s clanking legal appeals are costing taxpayers a fortune.

The man who upended the law was Luis W. Lebron, a Navy veteran and college student in Orlando. At the time the ACLU filed suit on Lebron’s behalf, he was the single father of a young child, and was also taking care of his disabled mother.

He’d applied for benefits under a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The maximum amount he could have received was about $241 monthly over a cumulative period not to exceed 48 months.

At first Lebron consented to a urine test, but later changed his mind. The Department of Children and Families then said he was ineligible for benefits.

The controversial drug law was in effect less than four months before a court intervened in 2011. The state insisted it had the right to require urine tests (paid for by the applicants themselves) in order to protect their children.

As witnesses it offered a Georgetown University psychiatrist who had done some reading on the subject, and two DCF employees who told anecdotes about possible drug use among TANF recipients.

One of the workers said he had “personally detected the odor of marijuana on applicants.” The other said he often met welfare cases who had slurred speech or bloodshot eyes.

That was basically Scott’s whole case. It was shamefully weak.

Marcus ruled that the state “presented no evidence that children of TANF parents face a danger or harm from drug use that is different from the general threat to all children in all families.”

He pointed to a 2000 study done by DCF itself, called the Demonstration Project. Only 335 out of 6,462 TANF applicants tested positive for drugs.

That trend of relatively low usage was “altogether consistent” with data collected 11 years later, after Scott’s law took effect. Of 4,046 TANF applicants who gave urine samples, a measly 2.67 percent tested positive.

By contrast, the rate for the general population is 9.2 percent, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

About a third of those who started a TANF application didn’t finish it, and never took the drug screen. There’s no way to determine if they were substance users, couldn’t afford the test — or were simply offended by the idea of it.

“Citizens,” wrote Marcus, “do not abandon all hope of privacy by applying for government assistance.”

In another case arising from the governor’s urine crusade, the 11th Circuit also struck down his initiative to randomly drug-test state employees for pot, meth, coke, opiates and PCP.

Among those who would have been excluded from that dope screen were Scott himself and all 160 elected members of the House and Senate. Several times I’ve offered to pay the cost for each of them to pee in a cup and send it to a lab, yet there’s no enthusiasm in Tallahassee for that proposal.

Why not? An impaired public official can do way more harm than an impaired unemployed person.

If the governor and legislators are so worried about drug use by others, they should stand up (or sit down) and do the right thing.

Set an example by giving a sample.

If you can’t prove that you’re smart, at least prove that you’re clean.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, December 9, 2014

December 11, 2014 Posted by | Drug Testing, Rick Scott, Welfare Recipients | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Miscreants Escaping Accountability”: The Senate Torture Report; Crimes Without Punishment

With the release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the use of torture by the Central Intelligence Agency after 9/11, the final defense of the indefensible by its perpetrators, advocates, and publicists is falling apart before our eyes.

Not only did “enhanced interrogation,” the Nazi euphemism adopted by the Bush-Cheney administration, employ methods outlawed and prosecuted by our country for more than a century, such as waterboarding; and not only did those “activities,” as Dick Cheney called them, violate American law, the Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, and the conventions on torture; but we now know with great certainty that the agency executed this secret program with horrific incompetence — and that it produced nothing of significant value.

Indeed, the Senate Intelligence report concludes, contrary to the boasting of Cheney and many others, that torture was proved “not an effective means of gathering intelligence,” let alone saving millions of Americans from jihadi plots, and actually “complicated and in some cases impeded the national security missions.” The overseers of the torture program, themselves of dubious competence, were unable even to assess the impact or effectiveness of their orders.

As Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations points out, the CIA itself has admitted, in its otherwise aggressive response to the SSCI, that it lacked the “structure, expertise, and methodologies” to “systematically evaluate the effectiveness of our covert programs. They literally didn’t know what they were doing. But they were doing grave damage to themselves and to us.

Unavoidably, the Senate Intelligence report dwells on the details of these true nightmares, revealing facts that anyone would regret learning: the “rectal rehydration” of detainees by shoving food up the wrong way, with the infliction of excruciating pain; the “black sites” where detainees were held for months in total darkness, loud music constantly playing, and only a bucket for their waste; the cells where detainees suffered such freezing temperatures that at least one died of hypothermia overnight; the beatings, the near-drownings, the constant infliction of pain, hunger, and threats of rape and murder.

According to the report, some episodes of interrogation were so blatantly sadistic and so obviously criminal that the men who witnessed them actually wept. More than one officer broke down and fled, through retirement or transfer, while the White House and the Pentagon continued to lie about the extent – and the supposed necessity – of these unprecedented crimes. Those lies were designed to prevent investigations or oversight from revealing the horrific facts that are now emerging.

Yet despite a long and ongoing cover-up –and notwithstanding the specific revelations highlighted in the report – the basic outline has been known since 2009, when portions of the CIA inspector general’s report on torture were released by the Obama Justice Department in 2009.

Back then, the spy agency’s own investigation – in the words of a Bush appointee and torture enthusiast — “[found it] difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations have provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks.” In other words, the agency could never prove any instance when the sole justification for these gross violations of US and international law – breaking up a plot targeting American lives – had been fulfilled since 9/11. And unsurprisingly, that is still the case.

The searing issue we now confront, as a society governed by law, is that these lawbreakers will not be prosecuted or even required to testify publicly about their grave offenses. The Obama administration is apparently willing to expose their lawlessness, but unable to do anything to punish it. Even the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero, has abandoned any hope of prosecutions, noting that the torturers have in effect been pardoned. Romero has urged President Obama to make those pardons official – which would at least stamp the actions of the torturers and their accomplices as crimes.

What we have needed for years, but evidently will never get, is a truth and reconciliation process that might have granted freedom from prosecution to witnesses who testified publicly, honestly, and completely about the crimes of the Bush administration. Instead, those miscreants will escape accountability altogether – except in the pages of history, where the Senate Intelligence report will indict them over and over again.

 

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, December 10, 2014

December 11, 2014 Posted by | CIA, Senate, Torture | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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