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 gets ridiculously long. And some weeks, there's so much to discuss early in the week that we have to split it into two posts. That's the case this week, so here's the midweek post. There'll be more on Friday.
This Week in Dubious Honors
Congress, during the Obama years, has become increasingly dysfunctional. That fact can only be blamed on far-right members of both houses who consider compromise an obscenity and came to Capitol Hill not to govern, but to make the case that governing is impossible, and set about proving it by making governing impossible. Various right-wing advocacy groups make the situation worse by "scoring" votes and issuing scorecards that claim to identify those members who are not conservative enough--those, in other words, willing to negotiate and compromise across party lines, those who are willing to do the work for which we taxpayers pay them.
The extremist group Club for Growth has put out its 2013 scorecard. Unsurprisingly, the most conservative Senators turn out to be those publicity hounds who pushed for a government shutdown, argued to let the country default on its obligations, and generally turn their back on all that's best for America while they grab headlines for themselves: Ted Cruz (R/TX), Mike Lee (R/UT), and Rand Paul (R/KY). Not one of these gentlemen has shown an understanding of the policy issues the Senate faces, or a willingness to learn them. They have not distinguished themselves through legislative achievements--combined, Cruz and Paul have written as many laws as the authors of TWiA have, despite the fact that we've never been members of Congress. They demonstrate, almost daily, their contempt for the country they "serve" and the Constitution to which they swore an oath. They are, in other words, the Club for Growth's favorite senators.
Over on the House side, it turns out, to our everlasting shame, that three of the four most conservative members hail from TWiA's home state of Arizona. The four representatives who earned 100% scores are Trent Franks, Matt Salmon, and Davis Schweikert, joined by California's Tom McClintock.
Remember these names, come election day. These are the people who put cause before country, who let extreme ideology trump reality when they cast their votes. None of them deserve their jobs.
Side Note: Speaking of Rand Paul, his fascination with former President Bill Clinton's penis has gone beyond creepy. We really wish he would find a new hobby.
This Week in Civil Rights
Speaking of Arizona, there's been a lot of talk lately about Arizona's SB 1062, the bill passed by the legislature ostensibly in the name of religious liberty, but in fact meant to legalize discrimination against LGBT people. Arizona's not alone in this--similar efforts are under way in multiple states.
This points out one of the main objections to conservatism that we here at TWiA World Headquarters have long held. There is certainly room in political discourse for conservative principles, and the tug-of-war between right and left can help pull each side back from the fringes and toward a common center, which is where most Americans live. But in the area of civil rights, conservatives have, as a group, traditionally had the same response: No! Loudly, emphatically, no.
The civil rights struggle in America has lasted for as long as there's been an America. As Richard Hofstadter pointed out in his 1964 essay The Paranoid Style in American Politics (which is required reading for TWiA readers, and should be for every American), the right wing has always needed a group it can rally against. The sweep of American history has been inclusive--eventually, every group is granted the rights of the majority (although not every group has had the same results)--but every group has had to struggle against entrenched interests on the right to be included. Whether it's Irish or Germans or Catholics, American Indians or blacks or women or Hispanics, there has been a right-wing effort to halt progress, to hold that group back from being considered fully American.
In pursuit of that goal, the right has always had to demonize the group against which it was aligned. In the 1800s, they argued that Catholics were flooding our shores, determined to advance the spread of "Popery" throughout the land, some going so far as to claim a Papal encylical--entirely phony--that called upon American Catholics to "exterminate all heretics." Conservatives have argued that blacks were too lazy and shiftless to be given equal rights, that allowing women to work outside the home would destroy American families, that most Mexican immigrants are smuggling drugs into the country. Now--although they're also trying to limit the voting rights of at African-Americans, the young, and senior citizens--much of their energy is directed at anti-gay efforts. Same-sex marriage, they claim, threatens traditional marriage. It's bad for the children. Anyway, they spread disease and they can't be trusted.
The current argument requires one to believe that a corporation can have a religion, that allowing LGBT people to have the same rights as the rest of the country threatens one's religous expression, and that the religious beliefs of the Christian majority must necessarily prevail over those rights. Blacks can no longer be barred from the Woolworth's lunch counter (if there were still Woolworth's lunch counters), but under SB 1062, gays could be--private businesses would be allowed to choose, on the basis of the general criterion of sexual preference, not to accept people as customers. They could, effectively, post signs on the doors reading "No gays allowed."
This question was settled a long time ago. Businesses can refuse service to specific individuals for specific reasons, but they cannot enforce blanket prohibitions against select groups of Americans. If an American has the coin, she can buy the goods or services she chooses. The far right doesn't have to like it, and they can--as they always have--come up with religious arguments for discrimination and oppression. But the spirit of America demands that we all be accorded the same rights and privileges. Conservatives too often stand against that spirit, and in the end, they always lose. They will this time, too.
SB 1062 is blatantly unconstitutional on multiple grounds, most notably its violation of the Constitution's equal protection clause: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." It would never survive a court battle, and Arizona taxpayers would have to foot the bill to defend the indefensible. The state legislature should be deeply ashamed of having passed it.
Side Note 1: Not all of Arizona's faith leaders support SB 1062, as this open letter to the governor shows.
Side Note 2: Within days of voting in favor of SB 1062, Republican State Senators Steve Pierce, Bob Worsley, and Adam Driggs admitted that it was a mistake, and called upon Republican Governor Jan Brewer to veto it. Although they didn't get to vote on the matter, both of Arizona's US Senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake (both R), also argued for a veto, as have Arizona's Chamber of Commerce, a variety of private-sector businesses (including the NFL, which intends to hold its next Super Bowl in the state), and a solid majority of Arizona Republicans.
This Week in School
Another, considerably less discussed, bit of legislation passed through an Arizona Senate committee last week, on its way to the Senate floor:
"Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, who championed SB 1310, said he believes the concept of some nationally recognized standards started out as a 'pretty admirable pursuit by the private sector and governors.'
"'It got hijacked by Washington, by the federal government,' said Melvin, a candidate for governor, and “as a conservative Reagan Republican I’m suspect about the U.S. Department of Education in general, but also any standards that are coming out of that department.'
"Melvin’s comments led Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, to ask him whether he’s actually read the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by 45 states.
"'I’ve been exposed to them,' Melvin responded.
"Pressed by Bradley for specifics, Melvin said he understands 'some of the reading material is borderline pornographic.' And he said the program uses 'fuzzy math,' substituting letters for numbers in some examples."
Apparently Sen. Melvin has never been exposed to educational standards of any kind, including basic algebra.
There are reasonable, reality-based arguments to make for and against Common Core standards. But allowing a state to decide its educational policy on the basis of the sheer idiocy expressed by Sen. Melvin--or the breathless Arizona conspiracy theorists trying to tie Common Core to the hated United Nations and its global power-grab, Agenda 21 (please note our sarcastic tone; Agenda 21 really isn't a such bad idea, and there's no way for it to be enforced in the US even if it were) is to put the state's children at risk of falling ever further behind the rest of the country (and the developed world). We need to elect a legislature that doesn't include folks like Sen. Melvin, and does actually consider issues based on facts, not "exposure" to right-wing nonsense. And, by the say, Sen. Melvin, by championing this bill, you've just disqualified yourself for governor.
This Week in Climate
One of the usual arguments climate change deniers cling to is that, okay, maybe climate change is real, but doing anything about it would cost more than it's worth. The facts, as usual, point to a different conclusion--we can't afford not to act. "Economists at Goldman Sachs have tried to figure out exactly what’s been going on, writing up the findings in a recent report. They've found the cold, snowy weather to be a factor in slowing down housing growth, hiring and retail sales. Goldman estimates that the weather subtracted 0.2 percentage points of economic growth during the fourth quarter of 2013 and 0.5 percentage points of economic growth in the first quarter of this year." Also, this. Consumer spending drives 70% of our economy. When consumers are hit by absurdly high energy bills, their spending on everything else is going to drop.
It's long past time for the deniers to stop denying reality and standing in the way of us taking the necessary steps to try to mitigate this disaster-in-the-making.
This Week in the Fed
Anyone who doesn't think Janet Yellen was the right person to be put at the head of the Federal Reserve should read the recently released transcripts of 2008 Fed minutes. During the early days of the financial crisis that catapulted us into the Great Recession, Yellen was the one who saw the writing on the wall--and who understood that it was ordinary Americans, not big banks, who would have the worst of it. According to the New York Times: "What the transcripts show is a woman who was constantly pushing her peers — and also cleverly cajoling them — to do more to help ordinary households, not just financial institutions. At the same time, she urged her colleagues to look at the flaws in the banks that caused the crisis in the first place. “I don’t believe in gradualism in circumstances like these,” Ms. Yellen said in March 2008, months before the situation came to a boil."
This Week in Defense Spending
When Vice President Dick Cheney and his fellow neocons pushed us into two decade-long wars, he didn't insist that those wars be factored into the national budget--in fact, that spending was intentionally kept off the books, contributing to the huge deficit President Obama inherited in 2009. "Deficits don't matter," Cheney famously said at the time.
Now Cheney and other voices on the right are decrying the administration's proposed military "cuts," made as we close out the second of the Bush-Cheney wars and our need for massive numbers of ground troops diminishes. Because they are complaining, we thought it important to remind them that the administration's "cuts" are, in fact, an increase over the defense spending levels demanded by the sequestration that Congressional Republicans have fought so hard to preserve. The fight isn't going to be to get Congress to go along with reducing the defense budget, but to get them to allow it to grow beyond what they have already established as their ideal. To call them "cuts" is plainly absurd.
This Week in Health Care
Opponents of the Affordable Care Act keep bringing out one "victim" after another of the ACA's tyranny. And every time they do, a more-than-cursory glance at the facts shows that such victims are either being misrepresented or simply didn't make the effort to learn what their options were under the law. One of the latest such "victims" is a cancer patient who's suffering from the fact that her insurance premiums have decreased, while she gets better coverage and keeps her own doctor. But the facts of her case are not as the right is trying to paint them. The son of another cancer patient caused a right-wing furor with a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week; again, though, the anti-ACA screed doesn't tell the whole story. Cancer sucks, and we have every sympathy for the situation in which these people find themselves. Letting those opposed to expanded health insurance coverage turn them into billboards (which then leads to reporters looking into the facts, as opposed to the hype, and debunking their stories) does them no favors, though.
The question, as always, is this: if the law is so terrible, why do its critics have to misrepresent the facts? Why can't they come up with genuinely sympathetic people who've been harmed by it? And since they can't, shouldn't we conclude that it's helping far, far more Americans than it's hurting, and stop trying to persuade Americans not to get covered? Or trying to repeal the law, and yank health insurance out from under the millions who have it now but didn't a year ago?
This Week in Tyranny
Obama's putting monitors in every newsroom in the country!
Oh, wait. Upon further reflection, no. No, he's not.
But clearly, the paranoid style is alive and well in American politics.
This Week in Gun Safety
"Rogers shot DeWitt once in the chest with a .308 Remington assault rifle from a distance of 18 inches or less, defense attorneys said. DeWitt and his girlfriend had gone to Rogers' house to drink beer and had spent the night, according to his arrest report, and the next day the group had made a 10 a.m. trip to the store to buy more beer."
"Rogers has a history of violence. Four years ago, he fired 15 rounds from a handgun at Michael Rogers, his roommate and cousin, following a night of drinking and fighting in Geneva, according to court records."
Here are the multiple punch lines to this not-funny joke. After the inebriated John Rogers shot his friend James DeWitt to death, a judge decided that "stand your ground" laws applied--did we mention this happened in Florida? Did we have to?--and dismissed the charges against Rogers. Upon doing so, he ruled that the guns confiscated from Rogers had to be returned to him.
The other punch line is that John Rogers, who likes to drink and then shoot friends and family, is legally blind. But he needs his guns, you see, for "self-defense."
Speaking of drinking and shooting: "The girlfriend told authorities that the man had been drinking all day and was explaining to her that his three handguns are safe when they aren’t loaded, according to Oakland County Undersheriff Michael McCabe. He demonstrated by placing the guns against his head and pulling the trigger. When he pulled the trigger on the third handgun, it discharged. The man was pronounced dead at the scene."
This Week in Texas
Oh, Texas. "She has an arrest record for shoplifting, which she openly acknowledges and cites as an example of how she turned a life of desperation and dependence on the government into an American success story." Yes, government dependence turned Tea Party candidate for the House seat of Rep. Pete Sessions (R/TX) Katrina Pierson into a shoplifter.
Fortunately, she's overcome that disadvantage. Or has she? "On Sunday night, the Quorum Report’s Scott Braddock pointed out that Pierson received some $11,000 in unemployment benefits from the Texas Workforce Commission from January 2012 to November 2013—meaning she was receiving government support during a period in which she consulted for Ted Cruz’s senate campaign and was planning for her own run.
"Pierson has been a hyperactive tea party organizer for years, doing countless media appearances and traveling extensively around the country to spread her message. When I first met her in the summer of 2011, she was teaching a darkly conspiratorial class on the United Nation’s 'Agenda 21' at a meeting of the Waco Tea Party. Under the UN’s aegis, she told the frightened crowd, Americans would be forced into crowded apartment buildings, and UN-empowered block captains would be 'given police power over your neighborhoods.'
So she's delusional, to boot. Must be all that government dependence.
This Week in How You Can Help
Bestselling author James Patterson has been doing a lot for literacy and bookstores lately, and it's encouraging to see a guy who made so good giving back so readily. Check out his website ReadKiddoRead, and see what you can do to help excite kids about reading. (Thanks to special TWiA bookstore correspondent Maryelizabeth Hart for the tip.)
This Week in Bears
Meet Marley, the grizzly bear with two broken elbows.