Time once again for a wrap-up of the week's newsiest news, interspersed with opinions from right here at TWiA World Headquarters. And as we should remind readers more often than we do, when we're discussing "Republicans" or "Democrats," "conservatives" or "liberals" in the abstract, most often we're referring to elected officials, not the ordinary citizens who elected 'em.
This Week in Heroes
The NRA* likes to tell us we need to arm teachers and school staff to prevent school shootings. What they don't tell us is that armed civilians have never stopped a mass shooter once he's opened fire, and that arming civilians would make our schools less safe. What we really need in schools is more people like bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff, who talked would-be school shooter Michael Brandon Hill into laying down his arms and surrendering his ammunition, before a single student was injured.
Hill is obviously a troubled young man. Had he shot even one of those kids, his life would have been over, one way or another. Thanks to Ms. Tuff, the students are safe, and Hill has the opportunity to get help (presumably while spending time in prison for exhanging fire with police).
Antoinette Tuff, for your courage and calm and wisdom, TWiA salutes you as the first official TWiA Hero of the Week.
*Side Note: Remember when the Senate couldn't pass middle-of-the-road, bipartisan gun legislation because people like Senators Rand Paul (R/KY) and Ted Cruz (R/TX) joined with the NRA to spread the paranoid fantasy that the bill would somehow create a national gun registry database, even though the bill specifically made it a felony to create such a database?
Turns out, there is such a database. Which underhanded government department put it together? you might ask. None. It's the NRA--the anti-database people have been building their own database of gun owners. As Buzzfeed reports, "But in fact, the sort of vast, secret database the NRA often warns of already exists, despite having been assembled largely without the knowledge or consent of gun owners. It is housed in the Virginia offices of the NRA itself." (Above emphasis mine).
So the Senate blocked legislation that might have kept people like Michael Hill from gaining access to the weapons they intended to kill children with, largely on the basis of dishonest statements made by certain senators and the very organization that has built the database they claimed to be afraid of. No, the database isn't in the hands of the government. But ask me who I trust more, the government or the NRA. That's an easy one.
This Week in Arizona
Some legislators in Arizona seemingly don't understand how the Constitution works, and they're hoping voters are just as ignorant as they are.
Arizona is one of the fifty states that make up the United States of America. As such, federal laws apply to Arizona, as they do to the other forty-nine states. We're pretty sure this was covered on Schoolhouse Rock, so if those legislators don't understand, they can break out the VHS machine (or the YouTube) and watch it again.
In a doomed attempt to ignore federal laws they don't like, said legislators have put a measure on the 2014 ballot that would give the state permission to refuse to enforce those laws. Deciding which federal laws will apply in any given state is not up to the states, and while states sometimes have leeway in how rigorously they enforce or implement laws, our legislators should remember that laws are laws, not suggestions.
If this passes, it will go to court. It will be struck down, because it's blatantly unconstitutional. But the state's taxpayers, and federal taxpayers, will have to pay for the court case, despite the fact that the verdict is clear, all these months in advance. Good use of our tax dollars, legislators. We would also like to call out the measure's creator, Chester Crandall (R/Heber). Perhaps the court case could be funded by diverting his salary for the rest of his life?
One has to wonder, as well, if Crandall understands that Arizona is one of the "taker" states, getting far more back from the federal government in spending than we kick their way in taxes. If he wants the state to secede from the union, he'll find that we're in serious financial trouble right from the jump.
Speaking of that, we have, in the past, occasionally mentioned the time losing congressional candidate Jesse Kelly (R) debated winning candidate Gabrielle Giffords (D) and, standing on the stage of a public high school, in a city where the largest employer by far is a US Army base, in a county where the other big employers are the Border Patrol, city and county governments, and state and county prisons, said, "Government never created a single job," to a roar of approval from a sadly uninformed audience.
Well, Mr. Kelly, you were wrong then, and you're still wrong:Az reaps jobs, funds from decades-long boom in federal contracting
"Federal contract spending in Arizona grew more than three times faster than the national rate over the past 20 years, according to a Cronkite News Service analysis of government data."
and"More than 150,000 Arizonans worked in defense contracting in 2012, fifth-highest among states, according to a report done for the Aerospace Industries Association of America last year. 'These jobs are one of the important drivers of the state’s economy.”'
This Week in Voting
How bad is North Carolina's new voter-suppression law? Election law expert Rick Hasen calls it the "most restrictive coting law we’ve seen since the 1965 enactment of the VRA." Prominent Republican Colin Powell said (in a speech, with NC Governor Pat McCrory in the audience), "You can say what you like, but there is no voter fraud. How can it be widespread and undetected?" and, "What it really says to the minority voters is ... 'We really are sort-of punishing you.'" And here's a fascinating story about how a Republican-controlled elections board changed the minutes of a meeting--rewriting history--because it didn't go their way.
It's not just North Carolina, of course, though they're perhaps the most egregious case. This week the Justice Department announced that they'll take the state of Texas to court to prevent racially motivated voter disenfranchisement there. Writing about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech this week, I said that the "fundamental purpose" of government is to protect equal rights for all Americans, and I'm glad to see the DOJ act.
Should any readers think I'm exaggerating this situation, or making the issue racial when it's really not, ask yourself this: Why, within hours or days or weeks of the Supreme Court dismantling the "preclearance" protection offered by the Civil Rights Act, did so many Republican-controlled legislatures suddenly push through their voter suppression bills? If this wasn't racial, why were they holding off before that ruling, and then ramming them through legislatures immediately after? Obviously those states understood that what they wanted to do would have been denied under the old Voting Rights Act standards, specifically because these bills were racially motivated.
You might also ask yourself when the last time was that a Democratic-controlled state legislature passed a law intended to prevent people from voting. Don't know the answer? That's right. This is not a both-sides-do-it issue--this is an assault by elected and appointed Republicans against the most fundamental freedom in our representative democracy--the right to vote.
Racism is vile. But racism on a broad scale, conducted by people in positions of power for purposes of political advantage, is worse than vile. This should not be okay with any American. These Republican officials are trying to turn the clock back fifty years. This is a direct assault on what makes this country great.
This Week in Motherhood
It was ridiculous and insulting when far-right bigots made the President of the United States show his birth certificate (and some of them continue questioning it today). It's equally ridiculous and insulting when somebody (presumably liberals, though I haven't seen a lot of hue and cry about it on the left) made Senator Ted Cruz show his. Their mothers were American, therefore they are American, whether they were born in Honolulu or Calgary, Alberta, whether their fathers were from Kenya or Cuba.
There's plenty to complain about in Cruz's positions on issues that matter, including his desire to crash the economy the government if Congress and the president don't agree to deny millions of Americans health insurance*, and his apparent willingness to impeach the president without actually naming any crimes or acts of treason he believe the president committed. This, however, is not an issue that matters. Birthers on every side, knock it off. Also, Jim Schutze of the Dallas Observer has just the right take on the "Canadian terror baby" that is Ted Cruz.
And although it did not, in fact, make any real difference as far as presidential eligibility goes [his beyond-the-fringe views, slender legislative record, and unpopularity with everyody who knows him (a trait held over from college days, apparently) might, however], Cruz has renounced the Canadian citizenship his birth there automatically afforded him. It could take 8 months before he no longer has dual citizenship, but is purely American.
*Side Note 1: It's worth remembering, as Cruz and his fellow extremists Rand Paul** and Mike Lee (R/UT) threaten to undo our economic recovery because of their blind hatred for the Affordable Care Act, just what it is that's under discussion:
For most Americans, Obamacare will be a non-issue, because most Americans with health insurance get it through an employer. That doesn't change (and it's also worth noting that employers can, and do, switch plans on their employees all the time--you're never guaranted that you're going to keep your favorite doctor, because your employer can move you from Blue Cross to HealthNet, say, and your doctor might not accept both plans. But the idea that Obamacare means you don't get to pick your own doctor and our previous system did is simply false). Also, most Americans don't have preexisting conditions, and most Americans will never hit their lifetime limit, so the aspects of the ACA affecting those situations won't often apply. People who get their health coverage from Medicare or Medicaid won't feel much difference, except that the "donut hole" in Medicare shrinks and prescription drugs become more affordable, and in the states that accepted the federal offer to expand Medicaid, more poor people will become covered that way. If anything, the effect most people will feel is that the ACA will slow the rise of health care costs (it already has. Really.) and eventually turn that around, so that health care costs will eat up less of our GDP.
The ACA is not a "government takeover of health care." Before the ACA, the federal government's expenditures on health care were 4th highest in the world--only three countries' central governments spent more on their populations' health care than the US (Norway, Monaco, and Luxembourg in real dollars; Norway, Netherlands, and Luxembourg in per capita dollars). We haven't had a purely free market system for many decades, longer than most people who aren't on Medicare have been alive. The ACA is an incremental increase in government's involvement, made necessary by the desire to cover more people, not a "takeover."
The ACA is not socialist, or even radical. In 2008, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R/GA) wrote a book called Real Change in which he recommended: "We should insist that everyone above a certain level buy coverage (or, if they are opposed to insurance, post a bond). Meanwhile, we should provide tax credits or subsidize private insurance for the poor.” That pretty much describes Obamacare--an individual mandate combined with subsidies. Republican Governor Mitt Romney passed a similar program in Massachusetts. Senator Bob Dole (R/KS) had the same suggestions when he ran against Bill Clinton for the presidency, and Hillary Clinton adopted a plan that was essentially Dole's when she ran in 2008. The arch-conservative advocacy group the Heritage Foundation supported the same approach back in 1993. The idea that more people should be insured goes back farther than that--politicians and presidents have been looking for a way to provide universal coverage for the last hundred years. The ACA is a synthesis of conservative/Republican ideas that were adopted instead of the primary liberal/Democrat concept of a single-payer system, or Medicare-for-all, to solve a problem everybody agreed needed to be solved. Conservatives should be crowing about their policy victory, instead of trying to kill it.
The ACA is not as unpopular as Republicans would like us to believe. In the most recent polling, Democrats maintain a 10-point edge on health care issues. More people are signing up than the administration expected. Even Texas Governor Rick Perry (R), one of Obamacare's most vocal critics, is now asking for federal money for a program created by Obamacare. And as more benefits reach more people, it's likely to become ever more popular (though again, most people will never realize they're being helped by it, even as it holds costs down, provides better coverage, and cuts the deficit, because they won't be interacting with some governmental body called "Obamacare").
The ACA isn't a job-killer. Says USA Today: "Small-business hiring and confidence about the future are rising, a signal of the economy's growing strength and diminishing concerns about employee insurance coverage required by the new health care law." And Politico: "American history is replete with warnings that employer mandates we now take for granted — about minimum wages and workplace safety, for example — would have large and disruptive impacts. But the problems are never what they’re cracked up to be. In the case of health reform, we recognize that the part-time incentive exists. But it hasn’t shown up in the data yet, which is trending the way we would expect as the job market slowly recovers." And the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "As a politician, what do you do when a law you've derided as a job-killer — and have vowed to repeal if possible — creates 600 new jobs in your district? That's the question for the three men who represent Wentzville in the Missouri Legislature and in Congress. All three are Republican opponents to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. As the Post-Dispatch reported today, a Virginia-based government contractor is planning to hire 600 people over the next three months to staff a processing center in the St. Charles County suburb, to handle applications for health insurance under new law."
Obamacare does not prevent someone who is a patient's legal guardian from serving as that patient's caregiver, as has been (mis)reported recently in Oregon.
The people Cruz, Paul, and Lee want to deny health insurance to include dedicated Republican activists like this guy. He deserves to have health insurance, and not to be forced into bankruptcy by his medical bills. So do other people--millions of them. We can help them stay healthy and financially sound while helping the economy as a whole by reducing what we're spending on health care in the long run. The reasons not to support full implementation of the ACA are...well, there aren't any. None that make sense.
**Side Note 2: Rand Paul did say recently that he's opposed to shutting down the government, but that he wants to use the threat of a shutdown to force a compromise (though it's hard to know how much leverage he has, if he admits up front that he doesn't want to shut it down. It's also hard to know what kind of a compromise he has in mind, since his position is that the law of the land should be repealed and Americans should be left, for no good reason, without health insurance. That's an all-or-nothing proposition. A compromise would be to work together to improve the law, which Republicans in Congress have refused to do). Nonetheless, there are still plenty of hard-liners, particularly in the House, who have expressed a willingness--even a desire--to hold the debt ceiling hostage, which would by most appraisals be even more harmful to the global economy than a temporary shutdown.
This Week in Immigration Reform
House Republicans are still dithering on immigration reform, instead of passing legislation resembling the bill that easily passed in the Senate. Why? The prevailing wisdom is that while Senators, who face statewide elections, understand the urgency of limiting the Democratic advantage with Latino voters, House members are elected in mostly safe districts, where the impact of the Latino vote has been minimized through redistricting.
But if the economic well-being of their districts matters, they might want to think again. According to a new report from a conservative-leaning advocacy group, American Action Network, the Senate's bill would create an average of 14,000 jobs per district over the next 10 years.
This Week in Clueless
Once again, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gives a speech, and once again he demonstrates how little he understands about the country he lives in. Referring to the Court's decisions in same-sex marriage cases, Scalia said, "It’s not up to the courts to invent new minorities that get special protections.”
No, Justice Scalia, the courts shouldn't invent new minorities. And they didn't. Gay and lesbian people have been a minority all along. And "special protections?" They'd like to be able to get married, just like every other consenting adult can. That's not a special protection, that's an equal right.
Look, we here at TWiA World Headquarters understand that a SCOTUS appointment is a lifetime gig. But when a justice has so little comprehension and such a dearth of compassion for his fellow human beings, and says things as inane as this guy does on a regular basis, maybe there should be a loophole. Sadly, as Chico Marx said in A Night at the Opera, "You can't fool me. There ain't no Sanity Clause."
This Week in the Two-Party System
Remember those halcyon days of yore when we had two political parties with opposing views on most of the issues of the day, but the ability to compromise and work together to advance the common good? It wasn't that long ago. The sad fact is that the once-proud Republican Party is disintegrating before our eyes, and we can only hope it regains its footing before it completely falls apart. Discussing the collapse are Politico, the Washington Post, Republican campaign consultant Mike Murphy, and the former co-chairman of the Polk County, Iowa Republican Party (Iowa's most populous county), who decries the party's "hateful" rhetoric and "war on science and common sense."
*Side Note: Here's a sad example of rank-and-file Republicans exhibiting a definite lack of common sense: In Louisiana, 28% of Republicans think then-President George W. Bush was to blame for the slow federal response to 2005's devastating Hurricane Katrina. But more Republicans--29%--think Barack Obama (who, at the time, was a junior senator from Illinois) was to blame, and 44% of Republicans aren't sure which man shoulders the burden.
This Week in Climate
UN panel finds it's 95 percent likely humans cause of climate change. And the task force responsible for coming up with a post-Hurricane Sandy rebuilding plan is--necessarily and correctly--taking climate change very seriously indeed. Deniers are, more than ever, stuck on a melting ice floe without a paddle.
This Week in News
NBC's Richard Engel is one of the best reporters in the TV news business. He knows his beat, which is primarily the Middle East, and he can explain it well. He knows the languages and he knows the people and he knows how to get to the heart of a story and bring it to American audiences. He's been kidnapped and threatened but he keeps going back, because reporting from the world's troubled spots is an important task.
Now--during a time when many news organizations are pulling back on overseas bureaus and on-the-ground reporting in foreign countries--NBC is giving Engel his own production unit, enabling him to keep doing his hard reporting but also to create long-form pieces. Couldn't happen to a better reporter, and it's vital to us that we try to understand what's going on in that critical part of the world.
This Week in Good Riddance
Seeya, former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner (D). You won't be missed. At all.
This Week in Headlines
Chubby Checker can sue HP over penis size app, judge rules. You're going to click on that? Are you crazy?
This Week in Birthdays
The National Park Service--still one of America's best ideas--turns 97 on August 25.
This Week in Bears
Seven bear attacks in seven days. The lesson here is, once you hear about an attack anywhere, you're safe for the rest of the day.
This Week in RIP
A sad farewell to Elmore "Dutch" Leonard, one of the giants of crime and western fiction.
Art by my good friend and partner Francesco Francavilla