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“Divorced From Reality And Science”: The GOP’s “Mad Max” Fantasy”; Lindsey Graham Fires The Latest Shot In The War On Women

It turns out Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) campaign for president isn’t just about damning the torpedoes and declaring war on any nation that dares to give America the side-eye. This week, Graham transparently pandered to the far-right base by reminding everyone that he also happens to be a total ghoul on the issue of reproductive rights.

On Thursday, Graham introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate titled “The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” A version of the bill was passed in the House already and, along the same lines, Graham’s version would ban all abortions with few exceptions after the 20th week of pregnancy. The twisted reasoning goes like this: After 20 weeks, fetuses can feel pain. That’s what they say. And by “they,” I don’t mean actual doctors. We’ll circle back to that presently.

Said Graham, “Why do we want to let this happen five months into the pregnancy? I am dying for that debate. I’m going to quite frankly insist that we have that debate.”

Once again, Graham and the modern Republican Party have entirely divorced themselves from both reality and science. Before we dig into the science behind why Graham and the anti-choice base are horrendously wrong, the reality is that states where there are few if any anti-choice laws, abortion rates are dropping precipitously.

Author and activist Kimberley Johnson brought to our attention a new study conducted by the AP, showing that pro-choice states such as New York, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, New Mexico, Nevada, Rhode Island and Connecticut showed steep declines in abortions by as much as 20 to 30 percent since 2010. Elsewhere, states like Louisiana and Michigan showed increases in abortions as women seeking access to abortion services in neighboring anti-choice states, including Texas, fled the restrictive laws in their home states.

It turns out, states that restrict abortion access showed slower declines in the abortion rate than pro-choice states, chiefly due to the fact that pro-choice states tend to also provide greater access to contraception. Naturally, this makes perfect sense given how affordable, readily-available contraception not only prevents unplanned pregnancies but also prevents abortions. Incongruously, however, anti-choice Republicans and activists have zero compulsion to help make contraception more available. Indeed, the exact opposite is true. This is transparently regressive and misogynistic, given how it effectively blocks women from either having or, indeed, preventing an abortion. Graham and the others are cynically cutting off all access to reproductive services, and it’s not difficult to see this as anything other than a legislative war on women.

Back to Lindsey Graham. The newly-minted presidential candidate is not only a leading conspirator in the crusade to slowly roll back reproductive rights; he also opposes the Affordable Care Act and its mandate for free access to contraception, including morning-after birth control (which merely prevents conception, not implantation, by the way). So, what’s the deal with this arbitrary-sounding 20 week threshold? Again, Graham and the others are trying to tell us that after 20 weeks, fetuses feel pain. It turns out the Journal of the American Medical Association contradict’s Graham’s clueless take on fetal biology.

Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.

So, not only is the evidence for fetal pain sketchy in the first place, but the journal of record states quite clearly that fetuses really can’t feel pain until the third trimester — 24 weeks or later. Not 20. That said, since when do scientific experts in the field serve as any kind of bulwark against Republicans who legislate against women, the LGBT community or, come to think of it, the climate by eschewing scientific consensus?

Furthermore:

“As an ob-gyn, I know firsthand the reasons why women may need abortion care after 20 weeks, and I have seen the pain that many of these women are in when confronting these decisions,” said Dr. Mark DeFrancesco, president of ACOG, in a statement. “Yet this ban would force physicians to deny services, even to women who have made the difficult decision to end pregnancies for reasons including fetal anomalies diagnosed later in pregnancy or other unexpected obstetric outcomes. This is simply cruel.”

Obviously, the nightmarish pain that women experience while caught in the vortex of this decision is irrelevant. For Graham and his party, it’s all about shepherding unplanned pregnancies to birth, after which these babies will be entirely ignored by the GOP, which has no interest in pushing for affordable natal and post-natal healthcare; no interest in paid maternity leave; no interest in expanding aid to homeless women and children; no interest in equality for girls or gay children or transgender children; and definitely no interest in expanding education. As Barney Frank famously said (paraphrasing): Republicans believe life begins at conception and ends at birth.

As the window for legal access to reproductive services grows narrower, state-by-state, the effort to return women to an era of subjugation continues to expand and metastasize as conservative politicians return purview over intimate, personal, female decisions to those who believe women have to be controlled. It’s a real world manifestation of the “Mad Max: Fury Road” hellscape — an “Immortan Joe” post-apocalyptic utopia in which women are kept as legal property and exploited for breast milk and birthing more War Babies. But with Graham and the broader anti-choice movement, it’s cleverly packaged and sold as messianic compassion for the unborn, without any regard for women or, for that matter, the birthed children the anti-choice movement claims to be rescuing.

 

By: Bob Cesca, Salon, June 13, 2014

June 16, 2015 Posted by | Lindsey Graham, Reproductive Rights, War On Women, Women's Health | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Strange Justice”: A Victory For Right-Wing Ideology, But A Profound And Deep Loss For Racial Justice

Yesterday marked the twentieth anniversary of one of the great wrong turns in American civil-rights history, a grotesque decision that helped those who falsely and nonsensically believe that eliminating federal efforts to establish racial equality will somehow, in and of itself, establish racial equality. The horror of that day still reverberates, the pain of that moment still sears.

On June 12, 1995, the United States Supreme Court, in a ghastly 5-4 decision known as Adarand Constructors v. Pena, gutted the legal infrastructure upholding the country’s affirmative action programs:

In refusing for the first time to uphold a federal affirmative action policy, the court said that such race-based policies enacted by Congress must now survive the same judicial standard that state and local programs have faced since 1989. Known as ‘strict scrutiny,’ it is the toughest judicial standard to meet. To survive, a program must serve a compelling governmental interest and must be narrowly tailored to address identifiable past discrimination.

“Government may treat people differently because of their race only for the most compelling reasons,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote for the court. She said the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws protects “persons, not groups” of people.

“It follows from that principle that all governmental action based on race – a group classification long recognized as . . . irrelevant and therefore prohibited – should be subjected to detailed judicial inquiry to ensure that the personal right to equal protection of the laws has not been infringed.”

O’Connor and her conservative court colleagues effectively struck Rep. John Lewis in the head one more time with this disgusting and destructive ruling, which was, of course, seized upon by right-wing ideologues to block pathways to black progress. The Adarand decision represented the Supreme Court’s shout-out to those who believed that the federal government had done too much to combat past and present-day discrimination.

Perhaps the most repugnant aspect of this decision was the concurring opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas–an opinion that rhetorically lynched his own black brothers and sisters. Then-TIME Magazine columnist Jack E. White was correct beyond refutation when he observed:

These days Washington seems to be filled with white men who make black people uneasy, like Newt [Gingrich] the slasher, Bill [Clinton] the waffler and Jesse the crank—Helms, that is, not Jackson. But the scariest of all the hobgoblins may well be a fellow African American, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. In the four years since George Bush chose him to fill the “black seat” vacated by Thurgood Marshall, Thomas has emerged as the high court’s most aggressive advocate of rolling back the gains Marshall fought so hard for. The maddening irony is that Thomas owes his seat to precisely the kind of racial preference he goes to such lengths to excoriate. And as long as he is on the court, no other black need apply: Thomas fills a quota of one.

The most disturbing thing about Thomas is not his conclusions, but his twisted reasoning and bilious rage. In his written opinions, he begins with premises that no self-respecting black would disagree with, then veers off into a neverland of color-blind philosophizing in which all race-based policies, from Jim Crow laws designed to oppress minorities to affirmative-action measures seeking to assist them, are conflated into one morally and legally pernicious whole. He delights in gratuitously tongue-lashing the majority of blacks who disagree with him on almost every civil rights issue. He heaps scorn on federal judges who have used the bench to enforce and expand civil rights, accusing them of a paternalistic belief in black inferiority…

[Thomas] does not hesitate to incorporate dubious theories into his opinions when they suit his purposes. In his brief concurring opinion in the court’s Adarand Constructors v. Pena, in which the court suggested that federal set-aside programs for minority contractors may be unconstitutional, Thomas wrote, “Inevitably, such programs engender attitudes of superiority or, alternatively, provoke resentment among those who believe that they have been wronged by the government’s use of race. These programs stamp minorities with a badge of inferiority and may cause them to develop dependencies or to adopt an attitude that they are entitled to preferences.” That claim reflects the wisdom of Gingrich country, where, as the House Speaker opined last week, most problems poor black people face are caused by their own “bad habits.”

What Thomas, O’Connor and their right-wing friends will never admit is that bigotry will always be with us; it is hard-wired into our very nature, and thus the federal government will always need to take measures to ensure that bigotry does not strangle the aspirations of Americans of color. To that end, there will never be a day that we can get rid of affirmative action. We will always need goals, timetables, set-asides, preferences and yes, even the dreaded quotas, as they are nothing more than tangible measures by which we seek to reduce racial inequality.

The Adarand decision did great violence to the dream of racial equality. It empowered aggrieved right-wing whites to attack affirmative action programs with vicious vehemence, and put white progressives on the defensive against dubious claims of so-called reverse discrimination. The case was a victory for right-wing ideology, but a profound and deep loss for racial justice.

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 13, 2015

June 16, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights, Racial Justice, SCOTUS | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“From TPA To TPP; A Trade Deal Explainer”: A Mix Of Policy, Procedure, And 2016 Politics

There is no shortage of acronyms or confusion surrounding the trade deal legislation being debated in Washington.

Hillary Clinton weighed in on the trade debate Sunday during a campaign stop in Iowa. Or maybe she didn’t. Or she did, but not in the way people thought she did. Confused or frustrated yet? You’re not alone. Between TPP, TPA, TAA, TTIP, and any other number of letter t-laden acronyms, it has become difficult to pinpoint what, specifically, lawmakers are actually talking about as this process moves forward. That’s a problem.

Trade policy is complicated. Congressional procedure is complicated. Politics are often deliberately made complicated by lawmakers or candidates who see limited benefit in weighing in on thorny or increasingly complex issues. The ongoing fight on Capitol Hill over trade combines them all—a mix of policy, procedure, and 2016 politics. That means it’s probably worth breaking down a few top-line points on all three.

The policy

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the name of the 12-nation trade talks that are currently ongoing. There is no deal, though Obama administration officials say they are closing in on one. President Barack Obama has made reaching a deal on TPP one of the top goals of his second term and a cornerstone of his foreign and domestic policy agenda. It is also a top priority of Republican leadership in the House and Senate. Many Democrats, stung by past major trade agreements, are skeptical of the direction of the negotiations. But it’s important to note, again, there is technically no deal … yet.

Think about negotiating with 11 other countries. They’ve all got their own politics, their own legislatures, and their own powerful industries. How could you possibly get all 11 to agree on the same principles, let alone a specific trade deal? It’s not easy. So it would make sense to create a mechanism to try and streamline the process, right? Meet the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). TPA is not the trade deal (again, that’s TPP). It is, more or less, a procedural mechanism designed to ease the passage of any deal. TPA, also known as “fast-track,” doesn’t prevent lawmakers from voting on a final deal, but it does prevent amendments. Obama administration officials say explicitly they need TPA to reach a final agreement on TPP. Other nations, as Obama’s team explains it, simply don’t trust that the U.S. can get a deal through Congress untouched without it. (This is a serious point of disagreement between Obama and Democrats opposed to the trade deal.)

While TPA is not (repeat: is not) the actual trade deal, it does require legislation and a vote. Democrats opposed or who are wavering on trade see that bill as one of the last points of leverage should Obama actually finalize a deal. If TPA passes and Obama’s team reaches an agreement on TPP, there’s little confidence within the ranks of those opposed to a deal that momentum could be halted at that point. For a unified labor movement, progressive activists, and Democrats opposed to the deal, that has painted TPA as a must-kill item on the agenda.

The procedure

Last week House Democrats chose to vote to sink their own priority, Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), in order to slow down Obama’s (TPA). So what the heck does this have to do with TPA? Well, nothing really. Except that program, used to provide aid to U.S. workers displaced due to trade, is expiring. Democrats, who are overwhelmingly supportive of the program, saw an opening in the TPA legislation and it became the vehicle to extend (and actually expand) the program.

House Democrats opposed to the underlying trade negotiations quietly settled on a strategy to deliberately kill their own priority in order to re-set the broader trade debate. That meant voting against TAA, even in the wake of (and perhaps because of in some cases) personal lobbying from Obama. In an interesting twist, House lawmakers actually had the votes to pass the TPA measure separately, but without TAA attached, that goes nowhere for the moment.

Obama and Republican leaders are now left with trying to find another route to get TPA to the president’s desk. One possibility is swinging a huge number of Democrats who just a few days ago voted against TAA. That seems unlikely, save for an epic weekend of lobbying by the White House legislative affairs team. But House and Senate leaders can get quite crafty when it comes to passing bills they badly want to move. So it’s safe to say there’s more to be written in this story.

The politics

The procedure and the policy have presented a political conundrum on the campaign trail for Clinton. She was Obama’s secretary of state when negotiations on TPP started and was supportive at the time. But the party continues to hold a general distrust for trade deals. As Clinton presses for a “better agreement” and leaves the door open to eventually supporting a final deal, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley have made attacking the trade deal a central point of their campaigns. Both weighed in to oppose TPA.

Clinton, for her part, has held her fire, instead broadly focusing on the need for a strong final deal on the TPP. There’s a reason. Read through the previous sections above. Does that sound like a process a presidential candidate would want to explain on the campaign trail? No. Especially not when the underlying issue is so divisive among the most activated members of the party, as it is for Democrats. Clinton, on Sunday, was talking about the broader trade negotiations, not the specifics of the fast-track legislative process. That, it appears, is something that her team has decided there is simply no benefit to weigh in on. As Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, said on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday: “The back and forth that’s happening right now is about procedures and parliamentary this and that.”

Conclusion

This stuff is complex, and that’s even before one gets into the specifics of TPP itself—an enormously important negotiation that touches on just about every sector of the U.S. economy and more than 40 percent of the world’s. That, in a nutshell, is exactly why figuring out what each lawmaker or candidate means when they say something on the issue, matters. No matter how many times they use the letter “T” in the acronyms.

 

By: Phil Mattingly, Bloomberg Politics, June 14, 2015

June 16, 2015 Posted by | Economy, Election 2016, Trade Promotion Authority, Trans Pacific Partnership | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pure Fanaticism”: Tax-Cutting Sam Brownback Pushing Huge Tax Increase–But Not For His Corporate Friends

As noted at Lunch Buffet, Louisiana Republicans finally caved in to Bobby Jindal’s demands that the state budget he’s screwed up can only be fixed if Grover Norquist goes along. Their counterparts in Kansas have not yet thrown in the towel in their fight to keep Sam Brownback from dragging them and the state to the bottom of fiscal hell. But he’s refusing to bend, and is now pre-blaming legislators for across-the-board budget cuts he says he’ll be forced to impose if solons don’t give him a budget that reflects his fanatical faith in supply-side economics.

According to the Topeka Capital-Journal‘s Tim Carpenter, it’s getting tense in Republican circles in that city, and Brownback even got “choked up” in one meeting with GOP legislators. And that’s understandable. He wants to insulate the out-of-state corporations to whom he’s given a huge tax cut from any budgetary pain, and can’t seem to figure out why legislators don’t just go along with his proposal to hike sales taxes on everybody else. If he’s rebuffed, obviously he has to cut the budget more, right?

Today it looks like Brownback may dry his tears, and in the words of Kansas City Star columnist Yael Abouhalkah, even have the “last laugh:”

Gov. Sam Brownback edged closer early Friday morning to his second greatest victory as the leader of Kansas government.

Shortly after 4 a.m., the House took the spineless way out and approved the largest tax increase in state history.

It was badly needed to fill the huge budget hole created by Brownback’s greatest “victory” — income tax cuts he pushed in 2012 for thousands of businesses.

Those cuts — as everyone knows by now — slashed state revenues by more than $600 million a year, imperiled funding for education and other state services, and caused the Kansas Legislature to continue meeting until Friday, the 113th day of a scheduled 90-day session….

[T]he Kansas Senate has already passed a similar bill to boost the sales tax — by the narrowest of margins last Sunday — but would still have to vote Friday to endorse the House’s action.

If that happens — and let’s hope it doesn’t — Brownback will have succeeded in making the Legislature come up with a solution for a mess he created, and for which he has never taken responsibility.

At least Bobby Jindal has the excuse of wanting really really badly to become President of the United States, and convincing himself his party and constituents owe it to him to help out by gutting their own public services and making a hash of the state tax code. In Brownback’s case, it’s pure fanaticism.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 12, 2015

June 16, 2015 Posted by | Kansas, Sam Brownback, Tax Increases | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Same Priorities She’s Emphasizing Now”: What Hillary Said About Paid Leave, Child Care, Inequality — Yesterday And 20 Years Ago

Following Hillary Clinton’s first major campaign speech on Saturday, purveyors of conventional wisdom have assured us again that she is tacking toward the left to deflect her challengers and mollify her party’s liberal base. Such assertions usually hint that Clinton is not progressive herself, but merely swayed that way by polls and consultants.

On the evening before her big event in Four Freedoms Park, New York’s memorial to its favorite son, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, I picked up a copy of her 1996 bestseller, It Takes A Village. (While many journalists once thumbed through it, few seem to remember its contents.) Published during an era when the nation showed few signs of turning leftward, Clinton’s first book offered pithy arguments for the same priorities she is emphasizing now. Consider the views she expressed on family leave — and, in particular, the limitations of the law signed by her husband in 1993:

As I have mentioned, the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees unpaid leave to employees in firms with more than fifty workers. That is a good beginning. Many parents, however, cannot afford to forgo pay for even a few weeks, and very few employers in America offer paid maternity and paternity leave….

Other countries have figured out that honoring the family by giving it adequate time for caregiving is not only right for the family and smart for society but good for employers, who reap the benefits of workers’ increased loyalty and peace of mind. The Germans, for example, guarantee working mothers fourteen weeks’ maternity leave (six weeks before and eight weeks after delivery) at full salary…

Other European countries provide similarly generous leave, some of them to fathers as well as mothers. In Sweden, for example, couples receive fifteen months of job-guaranteed, paid leave to share between them…

As First Lady, Clinton obviously was in no position to demand that her husband’s administration (or the Republican-dominated Congress) institute paid family leave, but her own opinion was clear enough. So was her view of early childhood education, another current issue that she highlighted on Saturday:

Imagine a country in which nearly all children between the ages of three and five attend preschool in sparkling classrooms, with teachers recruited and trained as child care professionals. Imagine a country that conceives of child care as a program to “welcome” children into the larger community and “awaken” their potential for learning and growing.

It may sound too good to be true, but it’s not….More than 90 percent of French children between ages three and five attend free or inexpensive preschools called écoles maternelles…

While I was in France, I had conversations with a number of political leaders, from Socialists to Conservatives. “How,” I asked, “can you transcend your political differences and come to an agreement on the issue of government-subsidized child care?” One after another of them looked at me in astonishment. “How can you not invest in children and expect to have a healthy country?” was the reply I heard over and over again.

Finally, Clinton drew sharp attention to the social instabilities of the post-industrial American economy and the role of government in redressing what she called a “crisis.” Observing that “long-established expectations about doing business have given way under the pressures of the modern economy,” she warned bluntly:

Too many companies, especially large ones, are driven more and more narrowly by the need to ensure that investors get good quarterly returns and to justify executives’ high salaries. Too often, this means that they view most employees as costs, not investments, and that they expend less and less concern on job training, employee profit sharing, family-friendly policies…or even fair pay raises that share with workers – not to mention their families and communities – gains from productivity and profits…

Despite record profits for many companies, the gap in income between top executives and the average worker has widened dramatically….This growing inequality of incomes has serious implications for our children.

She went on to again praise Germany, where “there is a general consensus that government and business should play a role in evening out inequities in the free market system” — and where higher base wages, universal health care, and superb job training guaranteed “a distribution of income that is not so skewed as ours is.”

Writing 20 years ago, when President Clinton was running for re-election against the odds, Hillary hedged her message — and yet she was prescient in addressing the harms of an increasingly unfair economy. What she said then undergirds what she is still saying, more and more forcefully, in this campaign.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, June 15, 2015

June 16, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Economic Inequality, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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