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“America, We’re In Big Trouble!”: A ‘Governing Majority’ That Doesn’t Know How To Govern

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the other day that he hopes the Republican-led Congress can prove to the electorate that his party can be a responsible “governing majority.” And on the surface, that’s a perfectly worthwhile goal.

But it’s been quite a few years since GOP policymakers actually tried to govern effectively, and there’s reason to believe the party no longer remembers how. This week, for example, Republican lawmakers will get right to work, pushing the Keystone oil pipeline and a measure to redefine a full-time worker under the Affordable Care Act. Jonathan Weisman had a good piece on the latter.

The House will take up legislation on Wednesday, the first major bill of the 114th Congress, that would change the definition of a full-time worker under the health law from one who works 30 hours a week to one who works 40 hours. A vote is scheduled for Thursday.

Weisman’s report did a nice job noting that even conservatives seem to realize this is a bad idea, with National Review’s Yuval Levin arguing over the weekend that the legislation “seems likely to be worse than doing nothing.”

Republicans, at some level, must understand this. Indeed, they pushed this exact same idea 11 months ago – in a bill they called the “Save American Workers Act” – and it was deemed ridiculous at the time.

An analysis of the bill, released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation, found that it would cause 1 million people to lose their employer-based insurance coverage. The report projected that more than 500,000 of them would end up getting coverage through Medicaid, the Children’s Health Care Program or the Obamacare exchanges. The rest, CBO and JCT said, would become uninsured.

The legislation would also lower the amount the federal government collects in penalties from businesses who don’t abide by the employer mandate. As a result, the report found, the deficit would go up by $74 billion over 10 years.

Jonathan Cohn explained a while back, “The Congressional Budget Office just taught the Republican Party a lesson. Governing is hard…. [T]hat’s the reality Obamacare’s critics are never willing to confront. They’re great at attacking Obamacare. But they’re lousy at coming up with alternatives that look better by comparison. There’s a reason for that. The downsides of Obamacare are real, but, in many cases, they make possible the upsides. Take away the former and the latter go away, too.”

Faced with this knowledge, the new, massive House Republican majority has effectively declared, “Well, let’s just pass it anyway.”

And what about Keystone? I’ll dig into this in more detail when the vote draws closer, but for now, I’m reminded of President Obama’s comments at his year-end press conference a few weeks ago:

“At issue in Keystone is not American oil. It is Canadian oil that is drawn out of tar sands in Canada. That oil currently is being shipped out through rail or trucks, and it would save Canadian oil companies and the Canadian oil industry an enormous amount of money if they could simply pipe it all the way through the United States down to the Gulf. Once that oil gets to the Gulf, it is then entering into the world market, and it would be sold all around the world.

“So there’s no – I won’t say ‘no’ – there is very little impact, nominal impact, on U.S. gas prices – what the average American consumer cares about – by having this pipeline come through. And sometimes the way this gets sold is, ‘Let’s get this oil and it’s going to come here.’ And the implication is, is that’s going to lower gas prices here in the United States. It’s not. There’s a global oil market. It’s very good for Canadian oil companies and it’s good for the Canadian oil industry, but it’s not going to be a huge benefit to U.S. consumers. It’s not even going to be a nominal benefit to U.S. consumers.

“Now, the construction of the pipeline itself will create probably a couple thousand jobs. Those are temporary jobs until the construction actually happens. There’s probably some additional jobs that can be created in the refining process down in the Gulf. Those aren’t completely insignificant – it’s just like any other project. But when you consider what we could be doing if we were rebuilding our roads and bridges around the country – something that Congress could authorize – we could probably create hundreds of thousands of jobs, or a million jobs. So if that’s the argument, there are a lot more direct ways to create well-paying Americans construction jobs.”

Again, the Republican Congress knows all of this. They know gas prices have already plummeted and that Keystone won’t push them any lower. They know that the project would create a few dozen permanent U.S. jobs. They know this is all about Canadian oil.

But this new “governing majority,” eager to prove how capable they are, have once again effectively declared, “Let’s pass it anyway” – whether it actually makes sense or not.

Republican lawmakers have had months – and by some measures, years – to come up with a policy agenda they’d implement once they controlled all of Congress. This, alas, is what they’ve come up with.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 6, 2014

January 7, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Keystone XL, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Long Read; The GOP’s Offensive Defense”: The Scalise Scandal Is Like A Grain Of Sand On A Very Big Beach

The firestorm over House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s 2002 decision to speak at a white supremacists’ conference might have skipped a news cycle or two over the New Year’s holiday, but it’s not going away anytime soon.

On Monday, the White House got into the act during press secretary Josh Earnest’s daily briefing. Though he said his boss, President Barack Obama, is mum on whether Republicans should kick the Louisiana congressman to the curb, Earnest played up Scalise’s own words and the GOP leadership’s decision to give him rank:

“[Obama] believes it is their decision to make. But there’s no arguing that who Republicans decide to elevate into a leadership position says a lot about what the conference’s priorities and values are. Mr. Scalise reportedly described himself as David Duke without the baggage, so it will be up to Republicans to decide what that says about their conference.”

Over the weekend, however, one new lawmaker simultaneously defended Scalise and helped the GOP subtly push back against its image as a party dominated by white men, despite evidence to the contrary. But incoming Rep. Mia Love of Utah – the Republicans’ first African-American woman elected to the House, and a woman The Washington Post declared is the party’s “racial conscience” – may have done more to remind people of the GOP’s problems than help them forget Scalise.

Post reporter Nia-Malika Henderson argues that Love’s appearance on ABC’s “This Week” made her Scalise’s most powerful defender; she swatted down calls for his dismissal from leadership and vouched for his character. Her rejection of accusations that Scalise is a racist, Henderson writes, “is an argument that tends to carry more weight when it’s made by a minority, which gets at why Love will continue to be so important to the GOP, beyond whatever day-to-day work she does for her Utah constituents.” She goes on:

[Love] is Exhibit No. 1 for Republicans’ claim to be a diverse party at the federal level, a role that makes her the new racial conscience of her party – along with Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) and perhaps Rep.-elect Will Hurd (Tex.), another newly elected black Republican. (Neither of them have commented on Scalise so far).

But there are also limits to how helpful she might be. So far, she has been unwilling to directly address the perception problem that many of her fellow Republicans are raising in discussions about Scalise.

Their worry is not so much about proving whether or not Scalise is a racist, but that the GOP’s brand might take a further hit because of Scalise’s actions more than a decade ago. Colin Powell, for instance, in the past has talked about the “dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party” – a strain not checked enough by party leaders, according to Powell. (He has also not commented on the Scalise incident).

Henderson’s right: Republicans aren’t engaging in a debate on whether Scalise is a good legislator and fit to serve. House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in the chamber, is standing solidly behind Scalise, which for most purposes means his majority whip isn’t going anywhere – unless, of course, some more race stuff surfaces in the next few weeks.

What’s interesting about Henderson’s article, however, is how it indicates the GOP is really concerned about the matter, and how that means we’re likely to see more of Love, a heretofore unknown freshman:

Republicans, or at least the ones who put together the Republican National Committee’s Growth and Opportunity Project memo, are very aware of their brand problems among minorities.

“Public perception of the Party is at record lows. Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country.”

Love’s best answer for this brand problem – described in very stark terms – seems to be simply moving on and trusting that Scalise had no ill intentions. And when it comes to earning that trust, Love clearly has a role to play.

The project memo not surprisingly gives the GOP the benefit of the doubt by declaring that minorities wrongly think that Republicans hate them. There’s plenty of evidence that African-American and Latino hostility toward Republicans stems from the party’s policies, stated and otherwise – its positions on immigration, affirmative action and voting rights come immediately to mind – and not just its demographics.

Henderson concludes:

But how do you convince minorities that they are wrong about Republicans, with Scalise and his associates as the most recent evidence? That’s a much harder problem to solve, with Love’s presence and voice serving as a very small part.

That – given that the GOP leadership is almost exclusively white and male, and its constituency is older and white – is perhaps the greater issue. Putting Love in front of the cameras smacks of tokenism, and that tends to remind minorities of the GOP’s much deeper problems, like the mythical Southern strategy, or maybe the Shelby County vs. Holder case.

When it comes to its problems with minority voters, the Scalise scandal (“Klangate,” maybe? “White Wash”?), seems like a grain of sand on a very big beach.


By: Joseph P. Williams, Washington Whispers, U. S, News and World Report, January 6, 2015

January 7, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Republicans, Steve Scalise | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Populism Is As Much A Problem As Plutocracy”: Mike Huckabee Is Not The Cure For What Ails The GOP

It’s become conventional wisdom among a certain segment of political pundits and conservative intellectuals — especially the so-called Reformicons — that the GOP has a plutocracy problem. Too many high-end tax cuts, too much indifference to the struggles of working-class voters, too many denunciations of the mooching ways of the American people — all of it adds up to a party that looks out of touch and overly beholden to the concerns of wealthy donors at the expense of everyone else.

The solution, supposedly, is populism — Republican candidates who can speak the language and understand the problems of ordinary voters.

Until recently, no one fixing to run for the White House in 2016 looked likely to do so as a populist. But that may have changed over this past weekend, when Mike Huckabee quit his television show on Fox News as a possible first step toward throwing his hat into the ring.

You’d think that the prospect of a Huckabee candidacy would cause the party’s populists to swoon. After all, Huckabee is a folksy Southern evangelical Christian, a bass-playing two-term governor, and an ordained Southern Baptist minister who won eight states (including Iowa) the last time he ran for president in 2008. And that was before he raised his profile with a nationally syndicated radio program and a TV show on the right’s premier cable channel.

And yet the Huckabee news this past Saturday produced the opposite of excitement. Mainstream conservatives mocked the prospect of his candidacy on Twitter, while reformers who’ve been pining for a populist have been muted.

The question is why.

And the answer, I think, is that on some level smart Republicans understand that populism is as much a problem for the party as plutocracy.

Yes, Mitt Romney’s tendency to toady to superrich donors and entrepreneurs — coming on the heels of George W. Bush’s high-end tax cuts — certainly saddled the GOP with a plutocratic image problem. But what about its tendency to flatter culturally alienated middle-class Americans by dismissing evolutionary biology, by mocking professors and “experts” of all kinds, and by pandering to the prejudices of a certain kind of ill-informed, reactionary religious believer?

The fact is that the Republican Party has long since become a bizarre only-in-America hybrid of fat cats and rednecks.

Deep down Republicans know that while a Huckabee candidacy might help address the image problems associated with the first half of that equation, he’d make those wrapped up with the second half far worse.

Consider some of Huckabee’s public statements in recent years:

Praising the work of a hack historian lionized by Know Nothing evangelicals, Huckabee declared in 2011, “I almost wish that…all Americans would be forced, at gunpoint, to listen to every David Barton message.” (Thank goodness for that “almost”!)

Responding to the Sandy Hook school massacre of 2012, Huckabee suggested that schools had become “place[s] of carnage” because “we have systematically removed God from our schools.”

Last winter, Huckabee stated in a speech (not unscripted remarks) that “if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that 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 or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.”

Huckabee’s latest book, slated to appear on Jan. 20, is titled God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy.

That, my friends, is what right-wing American populism sounds like in the second decade of the 21st century. It is the irritable mental gesture of a provincial (rural or exurban) white America that can’t tell the difference between cultural signaling and a cogent argument. And it treats the details of public policy as an afterthought or a matter of indifference.

Would-be Republican reformers can look for a better vehicle than Mike Huckabee for the populism they favor, but they’re unlikely to find one. Huckabee — or someone like him — is the only game in town.

The authentic reform of the GOP — its refashioning into a genuinely national party — requires more than the shedding of its plutocratic image. It also requires that the party’s leading lights give up on their impossible populist dreams.


By: Damon Linker, The Week, January 6, 2014

January 7, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Mike Huckabee, Populism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Perpetuating Itself”: America’s War Machine Sells Fear And Loathing Beyond Ferguson; Black And Brown People Pay The Price

The War Machine is the violent nexus of military and economic forces that grinds us up to perpetuate itself. With politicians of all stripes in its pockets and buoyed by lobbyists, the War Machine is beyond the reach of civil government and easily tramples individual souls, especially when they inhabit bodies of color. War is a big, multi-trillion-dollar business, requiring the sales, construction and operation of guns, drones, missiles, governmental armies, private armies, public prisons, private prisons and the like.

While the War Machine has been operated most obviously overseas in places like the Middle East, and domestically behind bars, it is now increasingly clear that the War Machine is also operating on America’s streets.

The War Machine has always made for strange bedfellows. Even as the conflict in Afghanistan, America’s longest foreign war, ostensibly ends, America’s largest police department and its union are in sometimes open conflict against their civilian commander, supported by a right wing that normally hates public unions.

The NYPD’s beef with its chief? That Mayor Bill de Blasio merely said he had “the talk” about police that all parents of black boys have with their sons. My father had it with me, as did every parent of every black person I know. But the War Machine will accept no criticism, ever: not for torturing brown people overseas, nor for making brown children fear police at home.

Beware she who dares to speak out at such times. When a Fox affiliate selectively edits the words of Baltimore protester Tawanda Jones to make it sound as if she said “kill a cop” when she did not, it is an example of how the War Machine hates dissent. Speech feels as under assault now as it did after 9/11, because it’s one thing for the press to express its belief, however misguided, that the exercise of free speech isn’t warranted. But it should be another for government officials to declare if, when and how dissent is appropriate. In 2001, George W Bush’s press secretary, Ari Fleischer, once warned “all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do”; in 2014, de Blasio declared after the shooting of two police officers that it was time to “put aside political debates, put aside protests”. Protest and dissent scare the War Machine.

Moments of crisis are a prime time to sell fear, and “patriotic” policy, and guns. Demanding considerations of peace leading up to a foreign war threaten those sales. Demanding a consideration of the 1,100 people killed by American police last year, even after two police officers have been killed, may similarly threaten the standard narrative – and that’s why it’s so important for protesters to keep forcing this conversation, about real lives and real justice and real reform, right now.

Because Washington won’t. Our national consciousness may now be raised about the dangers of arming of our local police departments with military-grade weapons after citizens across the nation demanded that black lives, indeed, matter. Our eyes may have been opened to torture committed by our military. But neither the right nor the “left” in Washington have any plans to punish the torturers – nor stem the flow of military equipment intended for use against civilians into Ferguson, Brooklyn and beyond – anytime soon.

When I watched, with horror, as the mother of Antonio Martin realized live on Ustream that her son had just been shot by police, I thought to myself, “The War Machine will be gunning for her next.” It will blame her for being the cause of police violence against black bodies, and not examine the context in which that violence occurred. The War Machine does not want us as a society to ask of ourselves the difficult questions about why it is that black people, abroad and at home, have been kept in the margins and away from economic opportunity, employment, education and safety. It prefers that we maintain the status quo and uncritically support the state, no matter how violent and oppressive.

The War Machine will say, at best, that the answer to such violence against civilians is merely technological, because driving up the sale of body-cams and more guns is what it does so well. But, more likely, the War Machine will want to make an example of Antonio Martin’s mother: that she and her son are a good excuse for more surveillance of black bodies, even though we know over-policing does not reduce crime.

Of course, the War Machine doesn’t care particularly about black mothers or black women. The story of a deranged man from Georgia going on a shooting spree has been entirely about the death of two police officers in New York, and hardly at all about the shooting of Shaneka Thompson in Baltimore. Similarly, the War Machine doesn’t care especially about Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos as individuals; like Ismaaiyl Brinsley did, it just sees them as cops. To the War Machine, violence must repeat itself: that’s why those officers’ deaths are being heralded as an occasion to suspend dissent – as a moment of “grieving, not grievance” – and not as a time to question American violence overall.

The War Machine has always had an insatiable need for bodies of color from before the birth of this nation. The genocide of Native Americans, the Atlantic Slave trade of Africans, the conquest of Mexicans, the colonization of Filipinos and Hawaiians, the mass importation of Chinese workers subsequently denied citizenship under the Chinese Exclusion Act: the War Machine created and then expanded the size of the United States using non-white bodies, waging war against them, and making them second-class citizens (when it deigned to make them citizens at all). Though the 13th Amendment ended legal slavery, it did not end the War Machine’s assault on black people, which has simply morphed from slavery, sharecropping and Jim Crow segregation, to modern day schools which are just as segregated, police violence, economic exploitation and mass incarceration. The War Machine has so effectively decimated the black community, for example, that for the few of us who do manage to get, say, an education, it is almost meaningless as a way to move up in the world.

The Black Lives Matter movement is about more than just justice for our deaths: it’s about the depreciation of black life in the service of accumulation of stuff for white people, from slavery to “security” to shopping. This status quo is protected, often violently, by police. And now as the War on Terror (allegedly) scales down, there is an oversupply of “stuff” used to commit violence in the name of quelling it – and an undersupply of violence to quell. The “ongoing slippage between policing and war that still visibly characterizes the present”, as the historian Nikhil Pal Singh recently observed, shouldn’t be seen as mere coincidence: it’s the War Machine coming home, and coming home as hungry as ever.


By: Steven W. Thrasher, The Guardian, January 5, 2014

January 7, 2015 Posted by | NYPD, Police Abuse, War Machine | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Doesn’t Even Rise To The Level Of Pitiful”: Sorry, Republicans; The Keystone XL Pipeline Is Not A Jobs Agenda

In the new Congress, Republicans will have the majority in both the Senate and the House for the first time in eight years. As they get ready to take power, their rhetorical focus is clear: jobs, the economy, and more jobs.

So far, there are two main proposals on deck for the GOP. First, the Hire More Heroes Act, which would make it easier for small businesses that hire veterans to deny health care to their employees. Second, they want to immediately build the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that would transport oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

On their own, these are both extremely small-bore policies. But as a jobs agenda, this doesn’t even rise to the level of pitiful. It’s the latest evidence that Republicans continue to struggle with basic macroeconomics — and it does not bode well for the nation should they win the White House in 2016.

Let’s examine the Hire More Heroes Act first. ObamaCare requires that all businesses that have over 50 full-time employees provide health-insurance benefits. This law would exempt veterans from counting toward that cap, thus making it easier to expand a business over 50 employees if you hire veterans.

On its face, this might not even be a terrible idea. Health-care policy experts have long argued that funneling American health care through employer subsidies is bad, locking people into jobs they don’t like for fear of losing coverage, and increasing health-care spending. Rolling that system back very slightly might be a good thing. My problem is that there’s no reason to direct general social spending to veterans so preferentially.

But make no mistake, this is a tiny, tiny policy involving a relative handful of people and jobs.

Keystone XL is bigger in one respect. Generous estimates predict that the pipeline would create around 42,000 temporary jobs — about 2,000 construction jobs and the rest in supplying goods and services.

How many long-term jobs? Fifty. That’s right, 50 whole long-term jobs. (One more, and the pipeline would have to get health insurance for them! Unless they hired veterans, I suppose.)

Furthermore, the argument that Keystone XL would help by lowering gas prices just had the legs kicked out from under it, with the price of oil plummeting toward $50 per barrel with no sign of stopping. This was always a bogus argument, since the pipeline is a drop in the bucket compared with world supply, but now it makes even less sense.

To get a sense of the bigger picture, the U.S. economy pumped out probably close to 3 million jobs total last year. The GOP’s proposals, if enacted, will fail to make more than a small ripple in the job market.

The problem with the American economy is the same problem we’ve had since 2007: a lack of demand. With factories idle and workers unemployed, there’s not enough spending and not enough investment. Nations have two options for attacking this problem. First, spend money, through government investment in things like infrastructure, or handouts to citizens in the form of checks or tax cuts (fiscal policy). Second, use control of the money supply to ease credit and stimulate lending (monetary policy).

Republicans used to accept this framework, proposing a $713 billion government stimulus bill as recently as 2009. But they’ve since regressed intellectually to the pre–Great Depression era. The economic policy of the GOP today is almost indistinguishable from the days of Herbert Hoover and Andrew Mellon. Their platform is muddled on fiscal policy, proposing massive spending-side cuts coupled with large tax cuts for the rich — which in macro terms would cancel each other out. On monetary policy, they propose tighter money and reexamining the gold standard — which would slow the economy and throw people out of work. At best, it’s a large net negative for workers.

After the colossal failure of Hoover, when the Republican Party was largely locked out of national politics for a generation, they learned that parties ignore the lessons of Keynes at their peril. But it seems they will have to learn them again — and if they win full power in 2016, it will be at everyone’s expense.


By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, January 6, 2014

January 7, 2015 Posted by | Jobs, Keystone XL, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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