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“Catering To A Small Minority Of Voters”: Don’t Be Fooled; Republicans Are Still As Extreme On Abortion As Ever

A group of Republican men took to the House floor on Wednesday evening and delivered emotional speeches about the need to restrict women’s right to abortion. “A deeply personal issue,” Utah representative Chris Smith noted without a trace of irony, before musing on the pleasures of being a grandfather. Ted Yoho of Florida likened fetuses to an endangered species. “How can we as a nation have laws that protect the sea turtle or bald eagle, but yet refuse to protect the same of our own species?” he asked.

Their speeches anticipated a vote on the so-called Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban most abortions after twenty weeks of pregnancy. Originally scheduled for Thursday, the vote has now been indefinitely “delayed” because the bill, it turns out, was too extreme even for some members of the GOP. A number of female members objected to a provision that would have exempted rape victims from the ban only after they reported to police. Dissent grew throughout the week, and with as many as two-dozen Republicans ready to vote against the bill by late Wednesday, leaders pulled the whole thing.

Oh, well. Republicans immediately found another piece of bad meat to throw the mass of anti-abortion protestors who descended on Washington on Thursday for the annual March for Life: the No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act Titled just as misleadingly as the “Pain-Capable” legislation, this bill would have the most damaging effects in the private insurance marketplace, as Medicaid and other publicly funded programs are already barred from covering abortion services. House Republicans passed that legislation Thursday afternoon, as the anti-choice chants echoed across Capitol Hill.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, the bill “could result in the entire private insurance market dropping abortion coverage, thereby making such coverage unavailable to anyone.” It would permanently codify bans on abortion coverage for federal employees, residents of the District of Columbia, female inmates, women insured through the Indian Health Service, and women covered by Medicaid. It would also raise taxes on most small businesses.

The pivot was pure pandering. Representative Trent Franks, who introduced the twenty week ban along with Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn, had noted previously that the vote was scheduled for the same day at the March for Life because of the “symbolism.” Many of the members who spoke on Wednesday in support of the ban gave more attention to promoting the march than to bill itself. “This week, the defenders of life in the thousands have and will come to Washington DC to support the sanctity of life,” said New Jersey Representative Chris Smith. “I want them to know we will keep fighting to defend the silent, unborn child.”

While reproductive rights groups received the failure of the twenty-week ban with glee, they quickly condemned the scramble to find a substitute bill. “Today’s exercise in the House is not about making public policy, nor is it about helping American women and families. It is about catering to a small minority of voters—anti-abortion activists who are descending on Washington for their annual march,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America President (and Nation contributor) Ilyse Hogue in a statement released Thursday.

It’s tempting to probe the political significance of a few female Republicans having the will, and enough muscle, to scuttle a bill that passed the House in similar form just two years ago. Maybe this one instance in which GOP leaders resisted the far-right fringe signals they’re finally waking up to the conclusion, encapsulated in the 2012 election post-mortem, that the party’s long-term success depends on women and minorities. And maybe not. (Call me when the House takes up immigration reform.)

But don’t overestimate the practical significance. Republicans are increasingly policing their optics and broadening their rhetoric—read Ran Paul’s rebuttal to the State of the Union for some silver tongue work concerning poverty, for example—but they are not ending their siege of legal abortion at the federal level or in the states, where the worst damage is being done. This would not be the first time that a high-level Republican chose not to highlight their extreme anti-woman principles and yet stuck to them. The twenty-week ban is likely to come up again this year, and it would be a dangerous bill even with a broader exception for rape victims. And out of the shadow of the March for Life, a vote will still be merely symbolic, as it’s unlikely to get through the Senate or to cross the president’s desk without a veto.


By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, January 22, 2015

January 23, 2015 Posted by | Abortion, Reproductive Choice, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP Response; The Breadbags Of Empathy”: From Tiny Booties Made From Hostess Twinkie Wrappers To Bidding For Plutocrats

Imagine going to the doctor and saying, “My back is killing me. I can barely move. What can you do to help me? Should we do an X-ray? Physical therapy? Medication?” And the doctor responds, “Yeah, I hurt my back once. It was awful. So I know exactly what you’re feeling. Anyway, thanks for coming in—just see the receptionist on the way out to pay your bill.”

That’s not too far off from what we heard from Senator Joni Ernst in the GOP response to the State of the Union address last night. I’m particularly interested in this part:

As a young girl, I plowed the fields of our family farm. I worked construction with my dad. To save for college, I worked the morning biscuit line at Hardees.

We were raised to live simply, not to waste. It was a lesson my mother taught me every rainy morning.

You see, growing up, I had only one good pair of shoes. So on rainy school days, my mom would slip plastic bread bags over them to keep them dry.

But I was never embarrassed. Because the school bus would be filled with rows and rows of young Iowans with bread bags slipped over their feet.

Our parents may not have had much, but they worked hard for what they did have.

These days though, many families feel like they’re working harder and harder, with less and less to show for it.

Because America is still the home of the world’s most creative and inspiring strivers, within minutes people were not only posting pictures of themselves with bread bags on their feet to Twitter, some even crafted shoes out of bread to photograph. But what, precisely, is the point of the bread bag story supposed to be?

The point is affinity, saying to ordinary people, in Christine O’Donnell’s immortal words, “I’m you.” I understand your struggles and fears, because I’ve experienced them. I don’t need to walk a mile in your shoes to feel your pain, because I’ve already done it, though mine were covered in bread bags. At a time like this, Ernst’s ability to tell stories about her hardscrabble roots is no doubt one of the big reasons Republican leaders chose her to deliver their response.

There’s a second part of this message that no Republican is going to lay out too explicitly, and Ernst certainly doesn’t, which is that because I’m just like you, when it comes time to make decisions about the policies that will affect you, I will have your interests at heart.

But there’s a problem with that, because despite the years she spent trudging through the snow in her bread bag feet, Joni Ernst’s beliefs about economics are no different from Mitt Romney’s, Jeb Bush’s, or those of any other Republican whose childhood feet were shod in loafers hand crafted from the finest Siberian tiger leather. There’s almost perfect unanimity within the GOP on economic issues, an agreement that the minimum wage should not be raised, that taxes on the wealthy are onerous and oppressive and should be reduced, that regulations on corporations should be loosened, and that government programs designed to help those of modest means only serve to make them indolent and slothful, their hands so atrophied that bootstrap-pulling becomes all but impossible.

But now that both parties agree that they must address economic inequality and stagnant wages, you really need to follow up the tale of long-ago hard times with some specifics about what you want to do now. And this is where things break down. When Ernst got to laying out the GOP economic agenda, here’s what she offered: First, the Keystone XL pipeline, which as an economic stimulus is a joke. For whatever combination of reasons—the fact that environmentalists hate it is the most important—Republicans have locked themselves into arguing that a project that will create at most a few thousand temporary jobs is the most important thing we can do to boost the American economy. Second, Ernst said, “Let’s tear down trade barriers in places like Europe and the Pacific.” Kind of vague there, but nobody likes trade barriers. She didn’t elaborate, however. And finally, “Let’s simplify America’s outdated and loophole-ridden tax code.” Which, again, nobody disagrees with in the abstract, but I doubt there are too many struggling families saying that their biggest problem is that the tax code is riddled with loopholes.

So that isn’t much of a program. But she did close by saying that America is “the greatest nation the world has ever known.” And it’s inspiring that someone like Joni Ernst can start life in the most modest of circumstances, fitted as a baby with tiny booties made from Hostess Twinkie wrappers, then graduate to bread bags as she learned to castrate hogs (they do help keep the blood off your one good pair of shoes), and eventually grow up to do the bidding of the nation’s noblest plutocrats. It shows what’s possible in this great country of ours.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, January 21, 2015

January 23, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Joni Ernst, Plutocrats | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The GOP’s Big Weekend”: So Much Extremism, So Little Time

If you want to know the current state of the Republican Party, look no further than the activities that the party’s leading presidential hopefuls have planned for this weekend. With two such extreme choices, how does a candidate pick just one?

Several top GOP contenders — including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry — will be spending Saturday in Iowa at a conference organized by the party’s most vocal anti-immigrant extremist, Rep. Steve King, and featuring King’s favorite birther ally, Donald Trump.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, meanwhile, has a different strategy. He’ll be spending this weekend with radical Christian nationalists and anti-gay extremists to pray for the day when they gain total political control of the country.

How do you choose?

Each candidate seems to want to find just the right right-wing niche to launch his candidacy.

Republican leaders sometimes like to make a show of distancing themselves from Steve King — John Boehner memorably called him an “asshole” after he described DREAM Act beneficiaries as drug mules with “calves the size of cantaloupes” — but that hasn’t stopped them from allowing him to have plenty of influence over immigration policy. Last summer, the House GOP handed over its immigration policy to King, passing a bill repealing deportation relief for DREAMers that King gushed was like he “ordered off the menu.” And his influence is anything but fading.

The fact that potential Republican presidential candidates are flocking to King’s “Iowa Freedom Summit” is telling enough. The fact that it is cohosted by Citizens United — an organization now synonymous with the defense of big money in politics — and features Donald Trump — a man who has dedicated himself over the past few years to proving that President Obama was born in Kenya — is just icing on the cake. Anti-immigrant hatred, racist birther theories, and legalized corruption all in one conference — truly tempting!

One person was evidently able to resist: Bobby Jindal, who already had plans to cater to another set of extremists the same weekend.

Jindal has apparently decided that if he’s going to run for president, his role model will be Rick Perry.

In 2011, as Perry was zeroing in on a presidential run, he decided to solidify his base in the religious right by holding “The Response,” a massive “prayer rally” in Texas organized by the wildly anti-gay American Family Association (AFA) and their Christian nationalist allies at the “International House of Prayer” (yes, IHOP), featuring an impressive collection of right-wing extremists. Although one participant reported that the prayer rally cured Texas of a curse left by Native American cannibals, it failed to launch Perry into the presidency.

But Jindal seems to be confident that the second time will be the charm. Jindal has signed on with the AFA to host “The Response: Baton Rouge” on the campus of Louisiana State University, which he says will cause the nation to “turn back to God” and “put these United States of America back in the right path.” Also helping to organize the rally is David Lane, a quietly influential Christian-right activist who has built strong alliances within the Republican Party in his effort to establish a U.S. government that reflects his theocratic worldview.

Jindal was already working hard, if somewhat more quietly, to solidify his ties with the religious right — for instance, by pouring millions of dollars in taxpayer money into religious schools that teach junk science and revisionist history. But what Jindal doesn’t appear to have counted on is that when you partner with extremists to host a massive public rally, it’s hard to hide the fact that you’re partnering with extremists to host a massive public rally. The AFA, which is footing most of the bill for the event, is most notorious for the bigoted ranting of its chief spokesperson, Bryan Fischer, who, from his perch at the organization’s radio network, manages to regularly insult and demean LGBT people, Muslim Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, women, and even Medal of Honor recipients. He also frequently declares that the First Amendment is meant to protect only Christians, a category in which he does not include Mormons, and calls Hinduism — the faith of Jindal’s parents — a “doctrine of demons.”

And that’s just one person! The AFA is the kind of group that boycotts Home Depot for participating in gay pride parades, dabbles in anti-Obama conspiracy theories, and is leading the charge against the “War on Christmas.”

Lane, for his part, has predicted that car bombings in major American cities will soon be part of God’s “mercy” on the country for such sins as letting an openly gay poet read at a presidential inauguration, and hopes for the day when the Bible is used as the “principle textbook” in American schools.

On top of all of this, Jindal has found it somewhat hard to back away from a “prayer guide” distributed by organizers of his rally that blamed Hurricane Katrina on gay people getting married, a claim that the AFA cheerfully stood behind even after it started to get Jindal in trouble.

Not that it’s unusual for Jindal to partner with these people. The AFA is a top sponsor of the annual Values Voter Summit, which always draws a who’s who of Republican leaders. And Lane has partnered with Perry, Huckabee, Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Pence and the Republican National Committee.

As the presidential primary approaches, the GOP’s candidates are scrambling to win the support of theocrats, bigots and anti-immigrant extremists. What they don’t seem to realize is that that will make it much harder for them to win the respect of the rest of us.


By: Michael Keegan, President, People For the American Way; The Blog, The Huffington Post, January 22, 2015

January 23, 2015 Posted by | Bobby Jindal, GOP Presidential Candidates, Religious Right | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP Has Been Wrong For The Past Six Years”: Mitch McConnell’s “No Compromise” Strategy Is Finally Failing

In his seventh State of the Union on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama touted the low unemployment rate, low gas prices, increase in clean energy production, lower teen pregnancy rates and host of other statistics that supported his optimistic vision. “The shadow of crisis has passed,” he said. “And the state of the union is strong.”

Giving the official Tea Party response to Obama’s address, Representative Curt Clawson painted a very different picture of the state of America. “In 2014, our economy continued sluggish growth and millions of Americans are still out of work,” he said. “We know them. We see them.” This message was echoed in every other Republican response to Obama’s speechfive in all.

These dual visions of America have been competing since the midterms, when Republicans trounced Democrats in races across the country. But every day, since then it’s become increasingly clear that Obama’s message is a much more accurate depiction of the United States than what Republicans are offeringand the GOP message will likely look more ridiculous as the 2016 presidential election approaches.

Take the Affordable Care Act. Republicans have been arguing for years that Obamacare would cripple the health care system and destroy the economy. Clawson repeated those claims in his response. “We also need to lift the economic shackles of Obamacare,” he said. “It makes us uncompetitive.” These are ridiculous arguments. The odds that Obamacare would cause a death spiral in the insurance industry, for instance, were always exaggerated. But the topline metrics now show that Obamacare is working. Millions more people now have insurance. Health care cost growth has slowed, although it’s unclear how much of that is due to the health care law. Insurers aren’t fleeing the exchanges and premiums aren’t skyrocketing. All of the fatal scenarios that the GOP predicted aren’t happening. It’s possible those trends will change dramatically in the years to come, but right now, there are no signs of that.

Or take the economy. Remember threats that Obamanomics would strangle the recovery? That hasn’t played out either. The unemployment rate is down to 5.6 percent. Growth is strong. Obama can’t take all the credit for the recovery. The Federal Reserve’s willingness to ignore inflation hawks and keep interest rates at zero is a key reason why the U.S.’s recovery is the envy of the developed world, for instance. But the fact is that the economy really has strengthened considerably over the past year. Republican arguments that Obama’s policies would stifle growth and prevent the economy from bouncing back no longer are credible.

As Senator Elizabeth Warren points out, the recovery has not been felt equallywages are still stagnant. Obama made that point in his address. Yet, lower gas prices, even though they aren’t due to Obama’s actions, are effectively acting as a tax cut for middle class Americans across the country. In turn, optimism in the economy has ticked up considerably over the past two monthsand so have Obama’s approval ratings. Americans are starting to believe in the recoveryand to give Obama credit for it.

Republican talking points largely haven’t adjusted to this new reality. “We see our neighbors agonize over stagnant wages and lost jobs,” said Senator Joni Ernst in the official Republican response to Obama’s State of the Union. “We see the hurt caused by canceled healthcare plans and higher monthly insurance bills. We see too many moms and dads put their own dreams on hold while growing more fearful about the kind of future they’ll be able to leave to their children.” Clawson even said Obama’s speech was “pretty much the same rhetoric we’ve heard for the past six years,” which is simply not true.

But some Republicans are starting to realize that this message doesn’t jibe with an improved economy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for instance, opened the 114th Congress by trying to take credit for the recovery. But even if more Republicans adopt new talking points, the president and his party are generally the ones who benefit, politically, from an improving economy. Given Republicans’ doomsday predictions through the first six years of Obama’s presidency, it’s hard to imagine voters crediting the GOP for the recovery over Obama.

McConnell has largely been treated as a political mastermind during Obama’s presidency. He was one of the leaders of “no compromise” strategy that the party adopted to stifle Obama’s agenda and prevent him from claiming credit for any bipartisan accomplishments. In many ways, it was a success. Republicans won landslide victories in 2010 and 2014. They soured the country on the president and have, until now, sunk his approval ratings on many issues.

But it came at a major cost, and the cost seems to be getting greater by the day: Republicans lost all ability to shape policy, especially in the first two years of Obama’s presidency. Instead of compromising on issues like health care reform, financial regulation, and fiscal stimulus, Republicans sidelined themselves in lockstep opposition, determined not to leave fingerprints on the legislation. In turn, they adopted a message that each of Obama’s major legislative achievementsObamacare, the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law, and the stimuluswere going to crush the economy and destroy different industries. It was an appealing message when the economy was still struggling. Now it’s rapidly becoming a political liability.

That doesn’t mean McConnell’s strategy was wrong. If the GOP had compromised with Obama and pulled his policy rightward, voters almost certainly would have rewarded Democrats. The country might even be in better shape, but the Republican Party probably wouldn’t be. Ultimately, Republicans were in an impossible position. The economy was eventually going to recover, and Obama was going to get credit for it.

The president has spent the first six years of his presidency waiting for the moment he could take that credit, knowing it was coming. On Tuesday night, it came. Even with five separate responses to the president’s address, there was nothing Republicans could say to fight the growing sense that Obama’s policies are working and that the GOP has been wrong for the past six years.


By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, January 20, 2015

January 23, 2015 Posted by | Economy, GOP, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bold Moves”: Obama’s State Of The Union Address Offered An Ambitious Vision To Address Income Inequality

I don’t know what President Barack Obama is eating, drinking or smoking these days but someone should give some of it to every Democrat in Congress. Since the midterm election debacle, the president has unleashed enough bold policy initiatives to choke a horse. Some progressives wonder why it took so long for the president to push a populist agenda. My take is that late is better than never.

Last night in his State of the Union speech, the chief executive proposed a version of the “Robin Hood” tax which would provide tax credits and tax cuts to struggling middle-class families at the expense of the wealthy Americans who have reaped most of the benefits of the economic recovery. Previously the president signed a presidential memorandum that would provide federal employees access to paid sick leave to care for a new child and proposed a program that would allow students to attend two years of community college, tuition free.

In addition to his initiatives to combat income inequality, the president took executive action that eased deportation for undocumented immigrants and opened the door for diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba.

But Obama’s tax proposal is a turning point in recent American political history. He has boldly gone where no Democratic president of this generation has gone before. Since the days of Ronald Reagan, Democrats have been on the defensive on tax issues. Republican presidents have proposed tax cuts for wealthy Americans, and Democrats simply reacted and tried to mitigate the damage to working families. Last night the president played offense and proposed tax credits and tax cuts that will help hard-working, middle-class families finally get a piece of the economic recovery.

This is how the president framed the issue last night. “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?” Americans are concerned about income inequality. In a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, a majority of people said the income gap between rich and poor is a major problem.

Republicans predictably lambasted the president’s proposal. But the president’s initiative placed the burden on congressional Republicans to explain why they won’t cut taxes for middle-class families. Most congressional Democrats favor the idea of middle-class tax relief. But even some of those Democrats are not enthusiastic since they know the proposal will die a quick death on Capitol Hill. Nevertheless, Obama is looking at the big picture, which is the need to rise above the debate on the federal budget deficit and discuss taxes in terms favorable to working families and his party.

The best thing about the president’s activism is that his job rating has increased significantly while he has been laying it out on the line for the last two months. The Washington Post-ABC News poll also shows that for the first time in a long time, there are more Americans who approve (50 percent) of the president’s performance than there are who disapprove (44 percent).

Obama used his State of the Union address to create an environment for a serious national discussion of the pernicious effects of income inequality. Occupy Wall Street put the income equity problem on the table, and last night the president made it the main course. The president may have created his legacy last night.


By: Brad Bannon, U. S. News and World Report, January 21, 2015

January 23, 2015 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Middle Class, State of the Union | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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