TWiA explores the intersection of policy and politics, and most importantly, how that intersection affects real people. It's dedicated to the proposition that good government is possible, it matters, and taxpayers deserve nothing less. Its starting point is that facts are facts, science is real, data are real, and we can and must learn from history. Below you'll find facts and opinions that derive from fact, informed by a close and careful study of these issues that began in 1968 and has never stopped. Note, when we discuss generic "Democrats" and "Republicans" or "conservatives" and "liberals," etc., we're talking about elected officials, unless otherwise noted. Also, bonus bear news and other awesomeness. We appreciate comments and arguments, so please chime in, and if you like it, spread the word.
Some weeks, TWiA is long. The other weeks, it's even longer. That's what happened this week--just too much going on--so we had a midweek post, and this more standard end-of-the-week post.
This Week in Voting
Ohio is the swingin'est of all swing states. In almost every presidential election, as Ohio goes, so goes the whole shebang. Back in 2004, so many Ohioans wanted to vote that long lines hampered the process, so Ohio's legislature created new processes, including expanded early voting, to fix the problem. As a result, in 2008, voting was much less of an ordeal.
But in 2008, the state went for Barack Obama, so in the runup to 2012, Ohio's Republican Secretary of State John Husted decided to build in some roadblocks. The courts objected, and though the case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, that court overturned Husted's new rules just in time for Ohioans to go to the polls.
But apparently Husted's motto is, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." With the help of the Republican-led legislature, Ohio has, in recent days, enacted multiple obstacles to voting:
"On party lines, the House voted 59-37 to approve a GOP bill that would cut six days from the state’s early voting period. More importantly, it would end the so-called 'Golden Week,' when Ohioans can register and vote on the same day. Same-day registration is among the most effective ways for bringing new voters into the process, election experts say.
"The House also voted by 60-38 to approve a bill that would effectively end the state’s successful program of mailing absentee ballots to all registered voters. Under the bill, the secretary of state would need approval from lawmakers to mail absentee ballots, and individual counties could not do so at all. Nearly 1.3 million Ohioans voted absentee in 2012. The bill also would make it easier to reject absentee ballots for missing information."
This week, without relying on the legislature, Husted went a step further:
"Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Tuesday he is cutting early voting on Sundays and weekday evenings, dealing another blow to the voting rights effort in the nation’s most pivotal swing state.
"Husted’s change would spell doom for a voting method that’s popular among African-Americans in Ohio and elsewhere. Many churches and community groups lead 'Souls to the Polls' drives after church on the Sunday before the election.
"There’s little doubt that cuts to early voting target blacks disproportionately. In 2008, black voters were 56% of all weekend voters in Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s largest, even though they made up just 28% of the county’s population."
Not even Husted pretends voter fraud is rampant in Ohio. Even if it were, cutting early voting and Souls to the Polls opportunities wouldn't address it.
Instead, this is a solution to a different problem: the fact that African-Americans have the vote--won the vote, with their sweat and their blood, despite the fact that, as Americans, they should have had it anyway.
Ohio had settled on a perfectly good system, one that addressed the issues they'd had trouble with in 2004. Now they've gone backwards, creating problems where none existed, and directing the placement of roadblocks in front of a particular demographic group. That's undemocratic, and it's wrong. If John Husted had a working conscience, he would resign in shame.
This Week in Schools
Our public schools are failing us. We need vouchers, charter schools, to privatize the education process.
Or so some people say, and have been saying since 1980, when conservative economist Milton Friedman launched an effort to turn taxpayer funding of public schools into a source of profits for private corporations. And Friedman had friends in high places:
"Armed with Friedman’s ideas, President Reagan began calling for vouchers. In 1983, his National Commission on Excellence in Education issued 'A Nation At Risk,' a report that declared, 'the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.'
"It also said, 'If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.'
"For a document that’s had such lasting impact, 'A Nation At Risk' is remarkably free of facts and solid data. Not so the Sandia Report, a little-known follow-up study commissioned by Admiral James Watkins, Reagan’s secretary of energy; it discovered that the falling test scores which caused such an uproar were really a matter of an expansion in the number of students taking the tests. In truth, standardized-test scores were going up for every economic and ethnic segment of students—it’s just that, as more and more students began taking these tests over the 20-year period of the study, this more representative sample of America’s youth better reflected the true national average. It wasn’t a teacher problem. It was a statistical misread."
The discovery of that math error didn't change the minds of those pushing for privatization. To make their case, the anti-public school forces had to "prove" that schools were failing our kids. Hence the emphasis on standardized tests, embraced by the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations alike.
For-profit schools (like for-profit prisons) are, by their nature, less economical uses of tax dollars than public ones. Every dollar that goes into profit is a dollar that doesn't go into educating our kids. And every dollar diverted from public schools is another nail in the coffin for what was once--and could still be--the finest K-12 educational system in the world.
Not a single tax dollar should be so diverted. Public money should go toward public education. For-profit schools should be shuttered. Our nation is indeed at risk--not from public schools, but from putting the profit motive ahead of the ideal of educating our children.
This is an important piece of journalism, one that should be read by every parent and concerned citizen in the land. And this associated infographic should be studied by everyone who wants to understand how private corporations rake in public funds while providing ever-worse educations to American kids.
This Week in Infrastructure
President Obama announced a $302 billion infrastructure plan this week, to repair and maintain roads, bridges, tunnels, and rail lines. Although that sounds like a lot of money, as explained here, there's really only $90 billion in new spending, and most economists think he's calling for way too little. That said, everyone expects congressional Republicans to block even that much (despite the fact that they all use roads, bridges, etc., and the fact that infrastructure projects are great job creators, and that the deficit they're constantly touting as a major concern is shrinking fast).
Side Note: Senate Republicans this week also cited the deficit as one of their reasons for blocking a bill that would have expanded health care and education programs for veterans. The other reason was that they wanted to include an amendment increasing sanctions on Iran, an amendment that a) doesn't belong in a bill on veterans' benefits, and b) would undermine ongoing diplomatic efforts aimed at stopping Iran's nuclear weapons program.
This Week in Equality
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed SB 1062, as most of the nation expected she would do. She was under pressure to do so from most of the state's business community and most of its residents (and from the US Constitution, which it clearly violated). Still, she could have chosen to side with the culture warriors and signed it, legalizing discrimination and setting off a series of court battles. In the end, she did what was best for the state.
Was it also best for Jan Brewer? That's harder to say. Many believe that the veto was a tacit admission that she won't try to run for governor again (Arizona's state constitution says, "No member of the executive department shall hold that office for more than two consecutive terms." Her lawyer has indicated that she and her team don't believe that applies in her case, because she first got the position by succeeding Governor Janet Napolitano when President Obama tapped her to run the Department of Homeland Security, and served out less than half of Napolitano's term). Signing the bill would have ensured her support by the hard right, which is no small part of the Arizona electorate. It also would have cemented her popularity with the Tea Party nationwide, buttressing a possible run for vice president at some future date.
That said, polls indicated that SB 1062 was unpopular with the majority of Arizona voters, including most Republicans. So the veto could indicate that she is planning another run (though most politics-watchers in the state don't think she is) and believes that more widespread support would do her more good than the narrow but vocal support of the right wing. On the national stage, her veto made her, once again, a household name, and has forced legislators in other states to rethink their approach to similar bills.
We here at TWiA World Headquarters, therefore, don't think the veto is a defining signal either way. We have rarely agreed with Governor Brewer on policy, but there have been times when she has done the right thing, and we freely admit that she has grown while in office, moving from rabidly partisan to someone who tries, at least occasionally, to consider the state's overall best interests. And those running to replace her are, for the most part, no improvement. We don't think she's VP material, but we applaud her decision in this case, whatever her motivation.
Red, red Texas is just the latest state to have its anti-same sex marriage laws declared unconstitutional. The judge's ruling won't take effect immediately, but given the historic trend, it will likely stand. Texas Attorney General (and Ted Nugent buddy) Greg Abbott intends to appeal, but he's trying to stand in the path of the proverbial unstoppable force. Recent weeks have seen important victories for same-sex marriages in Illinois, Kentucky, Utah, Oklahoma, and Virginia. At this rate, it won't take much longer for the entire country to be on the same page.
According to a new poll, the number of Americans who strongly favor legalizing same-sex marriage (22%) has moved ahead of those who strongly oppose it (20%). That wasn't the case 10 years ago, when only 9% supported to 35% opposing. Democrats now support it by a 30% margin over Republicans.
On a related topic, the poll finds: "Solid majorities of both political parties and every major religious group support workplace nondiscrimination laws for gay and lesbian people.
"Three-quarters (75%) of Americans incorrectly believe it is currently illegal under federal law to fire or refuse to hire someone because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Only 15% of Americans correctly say that such discrimination is currently legal under federal law, while nearly 1-in-10 (9%) offer no opinion."
Note the word "incorrectly" up there. It's perfectly legal, except in a few states, for a person to be fired (or not hired) because he or she is LGBT. There is a bill that addresses this injustice, called the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, or ENDA. House Speaker John Boehner (R/OH) refuses to bring ENDA up for a vote, despite solid support from Americans across the board, because, he says, "I am opposed to discrimination of any kind in the workplace or anyplace else, but I think this legislation … is unnecessary and would provide a basis for frivolous lawsuits. People are already protected in the workplace."
He's wrong. Most Americans are equally wrong, but most Americans aren't third in line to the presidency. He has a duty to know these things, and to discuss them with some degree of honesty.
Side Note: The eminently reasonable Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne argues that social and religious conservatives should be glad Gov. Brewer vetoed SB 1062, writing, "But the promiscuous resort to conscience exemptions is a more immediate danger to religious groups. Religious accommodations in our laws reflect our devotion to liberty and pluralism. They involve an ongoing effort to balance robust protections for faith groups on the one hand with the need for laws of general application on the other. Destroying the equilibrium would undercut the search for accommodation."
This Week in Health Care
Another day, another dishonest anti-Affordable Care Act ad put out by phony grassroots organization Americans for Prosperity. It's getting to the point where they shouldn't bother putting together the ads, because they're so easily debunked.
Because the debunking is so thorough, opponents of the ACA have come up with a cynical new strategy. To attack these dishonest ads, they claim, is to attack the genuinely suffering people who appear in them (in those cases when it's not an actor playing a suffering person, that is).
There's nothing noble about using people facing terrible diseases in dishonest ways. Defending it by demanding that their dishonesty be allowed to go unscrutinized adds another layer of smarminess to the whole effort. And the fact that the effort is aimed at eliminating health insurance for the millions of people who can now take advantage of it--putting them all at greater risk of serious illness--is disgusting.
Speaking of rank hypocrisy, the Senate Republican leadership this week sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. A press release about it reads, in part: "In a letter, the lawmakers urged Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to suspend the administration’s 'misguided policies' aimed at weakening the Medicare Advantage and prescription drug programs. The letter was signed by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (KY), Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (TX), Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (SD), Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso (WY), National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran (KS) and Conference Vice Chair Roy Blunt (MO)."
That's all well and good, except that the policies Senate Republicans are complaining about are ones they have supported and endorsed and voted for many times, and which still exist in the most recent version of the Republicans' budget proposal. They hope nobody notices that they're arguing against that which they usually argue for, because they figure in an election year they need to pretend to be more in favor of Medicare than the Democrats. But the truth is that while they would use the Medicare cost savings contained in the ACA in a slightly different way (their way would not, in fact, strenghen Medicare, as they claim), the cost savings in the ACA and their budget plan are the same, and they come from the same "cuts."
This Week in Lost Causes
Senator Rand Paul (R/KY) just can't seem to keep himself out of TWiA, mostly because he has a propensity for grabbing headlines by saying the most inane things imaginable.
This week, he's objecting to President Obama's nomination of the eminently qualified Dr. Vivek Murthy to serve as Surgeon General. Paul wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D/NV) announcing that he's placing a hold on Dr. Murthy's nomination. In the letter, he writes, "As a physician, I am deeply concerned that he has advocated that doctors use their position of trust to ask patients, including minors, details about gun ownership in the home."
That "as a physician" part is funny, since Rand Paul is, in fact, a self-certified ophthalmologist.
The justification for Paul's complaint is lacking, too. Basically, he's objecting to the fact that the President of the United States would nominate someone whose views on health care roughly correspond with his own. Paul writes, "The primary policy goals of Dr. Murthy's organization have been focused on advancing stricter gun control laws and promoting the Affordable Care Act. In his efforts to curtail Second Amendment rights, Dr. Murthy has continually referred to guns as a public health issue on par with heart disease and has diminished the role of mental health in gun violence."
According to Think Progress: "But Paul is actually out of step with most physicians. The idea that gun violence is a danger to public health is utterly uncontroversial among doctors’ groups, academic institutions that focus on public health, and children’s safety advocates. Although Paul criticizes Murthy’s position that physicians and pediatricians should ask patients about the presence of guns in their households, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a resolution in 2011 officially opposing any law that bars doctors from having open conversations about gun safety and the risks of having firearms in a household with their patients. In fact, just yesterday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued new guidelines recommending that households with children who are diagnosed with depression should remove guns and ammunition from their homes entirely."
Gun violence is undeniably a public health issue, and entirely within the purview of the Surgeon General. Ronald Reagan's Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, thought so, too.
"Physician" Paul doesn't think the president should be allowed to appoint someone who agrees with him, even though Dr. Murthy also agrees with the vast majority of real doctors and doctors' organizations in the country. Thanks to the rules change regarding presidential nominations that Republican obstruction forced on the Senate, Paul's "hold" is meaningless unless he can persuade at least 50 additional senators to go along with him. Once again, Paul demonstrates how little he understands about the place he works, or the job he's supposed to be doing there. We would suggest he return to his old job, except we'd be concerned about the ocular health of his patients. Maybe he could just stay home and write a... no, scratch that idea, too.
This Week in Separated at Birth?
Speaking of Rand Paul, here are two headlines noted on Wednesday, February 26:
From conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin: Rand Paul defends Putin, earns scorn from the right
From liberal news/opinon site Talking Points Memo: Rand Paul Defends McConnell: He's No Arlen Specter
We're not sure what the takeaway is. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R/KY) and Russian President Vladimir Putin are two sides of the same coin?
This Week in Confirmation
A new paper released by the International Monetary Fund argues that economic inequality is a drag on GDP growth, and that reducing inequality encourages growth. Austerity and tax cuts for the rich, they find, are not the answer to slow growth. Efforts to reduce inequality are.
And a new report released jointly by the US National Academy of Sciences and the UK's Royal Society, two of the most respected scientific organizations in the world, shows that the scientific community is more certain than ever that the global climate is changing, and the conversation should move from "is it?" to "how do we address its impact on society?"
We here at TWiA World Headquarters have long held both of these positions, but are always grateful for confirmation by more august sources than ourselves.
This Week in Gun Safety
Pro-gun death advocates often claim that laws restricting gun ownership don't work, so therefore there's no reason to pass more of them. The Brady Law, passed 20 years ago this week (after President Reagan and James Brady were both shot) begs to differ. Since 1994, background checks required by the law have prevented:
More than a million felons
291,000 domestic abusers
from buying guns. On average, the law blocks 171 felons a day from buying guns.
Of course, those felons, abusers, and fugitives have other options, because around 40% of gun purchases don't require background checks. If they did--if the law that 90% of Americans agree with could be passed--imagine how many of those people would be stopped from buying guns.
The law works, but it's not broad enough.
This Week in Waste
Remember back when there was a supposed scandal surrounding the IRS? A scandal quickly debunked when it turned out that the IRS was scrutinizing nonprofits of every political persuasion, to see if that nonprofit status was warranted, and although some progressive groups were dinged, not a single conservative group was? And how, despite that knowledge, Rep. Darrel Issa (R/CA), the wealthiest man in Congress, kept hammering on it?
So far, Issa's obsession has cost taxpayers $14 million--and that's just on the IRS side. It doesn't include the hours and hours of testimony, of staff work, of Issa's salary or any other representative's, etc. $14 million tax dollars just for the IRS to respond to claims that we've known almost from day one were bogus.
This Week in Bears
February 27 was International Polar Bear Day. To celebrate, we have 14 Fascinating Facts About Polar Bears (No. 7 is made of cute), Google Street View of polar bear country, and Polar Bears from space. (Thanks to TWiA special Arctic correspondent Maryelizabeth Hart for the last two.)