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.
This Week in Taxes
This is the week our income taxes are due. Nobody enjoys the process of figuring out how much one owes, or how much of a refund one might receive, and most of us don't enjoy writing those checks to the IRS. Some feel that they pay too much in income taxes, although the truth is otherwise--our tax rates are at near historic lows, and globally, we finance our government at a far lower rate than the world's other developed countries.
We here at TWiA World Headquarters don't love writing those checks, either, but we like what they do, and here's why we think you should, too.
Our country doesn't compel us to put on a military uniform, pick up a gun, and defend our interests. It doesn't require us to apprehend lawbreakers or incarcerate them in our homes. It doesn't demand that we protect our own borders against incursion. It doesn't make us hold the hoses when a building burns. It doesn't insist that we repair and maintain our own roads and bridges and ports, or inspect our own food, or determine the safety of chemical plants, or control the air space overhead, or staff our own schools, or build our own libraries, or provide for those in need, or take care of our elderly.
Some people do those things, for pay or out of a strong sense of community and volunteerism, or both. But nobody is made to. We're not even forced to vote (though it's a good idea).
Taxes are not theft. Taxes do not destroy our freedom. Taxes are the minimal duty of citizenship. Paying them is the thing we do--the only thing we're required to do--to protect our freedom, our health, our lives, our property, and all the rest. You might not like some of the uses to which your tax dollars are put, but chances are you like most of them. And whether you like them or not, you benefit from them. We all do.
So this April 15, and every one to follow, let's not curse the tax man. He's only trying to make sure we stay free and safe.
This Week in Lawlessness
There were two big stories in the news this week that we haven't seen anybody look at as really one story, but they are one story. We'll explain.
Over in Philadelphia, there was an African-American drug dealer, a small-time guy originally, who started to use his ill-gotten gains in some creative ways. He figured out how to get the federal government to send him dozens of welfare checks, to provide him with all the food stamps he'd ever need, to give him free health care. Although his income grew to enormous proportions, he refused to pay taxes on any of it. And when the feds finally got wise to him, they told him they were coming to his house to arrest him. He called up the Black Panthers, the Bloods, the Crips, and other armed groups, and they came to his place, surrounded it, and dared the feds to enter. Fox "News" hailed the heroism of the law enforcement officers who tried to bring this criminal, this societal "taker," to justice and--
No, wait. None of that happened.
Instead, a Nevada cattle rancher named Cliven Bundy decided he wanted to run cattle on federal land--on land that belongs not to him, but to all of us. Only this particular land had been declared off-limits to grazing. And although every honest rancher in the country pays the grazing fees they negotiate with the government, Bundy hasn't paid them for 20 years. Now he owes the federal coffers more than a million dollars in fees, and he refuses to move his cattle off land that's not legally his to use.
So when the federal government moved to take his cattle off our land--to enforce the laws of our nation, in other words--Bundy complained and called them tyrants. Hundreds of armed militia members and private citizens scurried from the woodwork to surround Bundy's place, holding the feds at bay. Fox "News," Americans for Prosperity, and the right-wing media declared Bundy a heroic freedom fighter and agreed that the feds were out of line. Various right-wing elected officials, in Nevada and elsewhere, supported these characterizations, even though some of them are part of that same "tyrannical" government.
Eventually, the feds backed off. Bundy and his armed thugs declared victory. Nevada senator Harry Reid (D) said that it's not over, that people aren't allowed to blatantly flout the law and get away with it because they have guns. Bundy said that county sheriffs should "disarm" federal law enforcement agents in "every county across the United States." Bundy, in fact, doesn't seem to be sure that there is a United States; he has said, "I don't recognize [the] United States Government as even existing."
Those same right-wing media outlets and conservative politicians declare daily that President Obama is a tyrant because he defies the law, or refuses to enforce it (although when members of Congress say that, it's obvious that it's just lip service, since if they truly saw illegal activity they'd be bound by their oath to bring impeachment proceedings). If that fictional black man in Philadelphia was violating the law, they'd be overjoyed by a strong federal response. But a white rancher in Nevada? He's a "hero."
Let's get something straight, here. We're all in favor of ranchers. We live in ranch country, and count ranchers among our friends (and suppliers of delicious meats). But honest ranchers graze their cattle where they're supposed to, and they pay their fees. Refusing to do those things isn't heroic, it's criminal. There's nothing admirable about it. And bringing guns into an already tense situation to defend a criminal against law enforcement isn't patriotic, it's un-American. Cliven Bundy's livestock should get off our land, and Cliven Bundy should be in prison. (Meanwhile, the "victorious" militias are already looking for another opportunity to point guns at federal officials. Civil War, anyone?)
The other, related story is that of Frazier Glenn Cross, aka Frazier Glenn Miller, aka Glenn Miller, the 73-year-old neo-Nazi and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon who murdered three people at a Jewish community center and a Jewish assisted-living facility in Overland Park, KS.
Cross is an avowed white supremacist, racist, and anti-Semite, well known to those who track such individuals. He's been in and out of prison, involved in the establishment of various paramilitary organizations, convicted of attempted murder and the amassing of huge quantities of firearms. He's active in online hate groups, as are many other murderers and would-be murderers, networking together to reinforce their hatred and congratulate each other for their violent acts.
The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks hate groups and "Patriot" groups, which, with their antigovernment rhetoric and activities, are anything but patriotic. Between 2008--the year President Obama was elected--and 2012, the number of active "Patriot" groups in the US jumped from 149 to 1360 (they also spiked during the Clinton administration, and dropped off significantly during the Bush years). Between 2012 and 2013, it dropped to 1096--still a frightening number. Hate groups hit a high of 1018 in 2011, but dropped to 939 in 2013. Again, that's a frightening number of people organized around their mutual hatred of their fellow human beings.
There are many reasons for the decline in the numbers of these groups--described by the SPLC as the "radical right." Much of what they predicted so confidently--a declaration of martial law by President Obama, an attempt to snatch away everybody's guns, a UN invasion, the institution of Shariah Law--never happened. They're not going to. Those sinister black helicopters only fly in the nightmares of the tinfoil-hat crowd. Some of the decrease is attributed by the SPLC to the fact that ever-more-extremist elected Republicans are stealing the show. Agenda 21--a completely voluntary sustainability effort signed by that radical leftist, President George H. W. Bush, in 1992--has not affected the nation in any way in 22 years, but, as the SPLC describes, "in January 2012 the Republican National Committee adopted a resolution describing it as a 'destructive and insidious' scheme that will impose 'socialist/communist redistribution of wealth' on America." With one of America's two largest political parties putting out such nonsense, what's left for the conspiracy-mongers of the far right to do? Obviously, some think their work is done and leave the movement. But the rest, the truly hardcore, stay and become ever more embittered, ever more willing to do harm.
What links the stories of Bundy and Cross is radical right-wing extremists with guns. Of course, most mainstream conservatives want nothing to do with such groups, and would not choose to be associated with them in any way. Nor do most of them support Cliven Bundy (as this story also demonstrates). But they still vote for politicians owned lock, stock, and gun-barrel by the NRA; politicians who block every reasonable attempt to control firearms, no matter how popular it might be with the public. The result is a nation awash in guns, in which we lose 31,000 of our brothers and sisters every year, sacrificed to the altar of some version of freedom that would be unrecognizable to the Founding Fathers. America suffers vastly more gun deaths every year than any other developed nation. Instead of a nation at peace--at least at home--our gun death statistics look more those of a country in the midst of a civil war.
With firearms so plentiful and easy to come by, hate groups and "Patriot" groups--and individuals who may or may not be associated with them, but are spurred on in their unreasoning hatred of government by the right-wing media and the lunatic websites--have no problem arming themselves. Sometimes it's a single deranged individual, sometimes it's hundreds of people showing up at a remote ranch to point their guns at American law enforcement officials.
But this is not one individual here and there. It's organized terror against the United States. These people know each other, they communicate online and through the mail, they band together in groups that stoke one another's fear and rage. For a terrifying litany of the radical right's crimes against the nation since 1995, see this list.
As long as reasonable Republicans continue to support elected officials who refuse to address the ocean of guns spilling innocent American blood, the purveyors of hate will be able to arm themselves. As long as the party practices institutionalized racism, as with voter intimidation tactics aimed directly at reducing minority voting, hardcore racists will be emboldened. As long as people watch Fox "News" and pay attention to the hate-filled voices of people like Glenn Beck and Alex Jones and Matt Drudge, the ideas espoused by those outlets will continue to be twisted into dangerous rhetoric that spurs violent acts. As long as right-wing politicians preach that government is the enemy, that the president is shredding the Constitution and taking away our freedoms, as long as they openly discuss secession and nullification, the radical right will continue to believe that action must be taken. Unless the Republican Party is pulled back from the brink of madness, its principles will be co-opted by those who would rather kill than vote.
These days, there's less and less daylight between extremist Republican elected officials and the radical right haters. We yearn for the days when the Republican Party was a party of principled fiscal conservatives, and not a breeding ground for conspiracy theories designed to make Americans distrust one another and their own government. We don't know if the haters vote Republican, or if they vote at all. (It's far from evidentiary, but at least geographically coincidental, that the hate groups are mostly based in the South and the intermountain West, which are also the two strongest Republican strongholds.) But we do know that Republican rhetoric validates the haters' beliefs that American government is oppressive and tyrannical and needs to be opposed.
We've had enough of killing, enough of people expressing their political beliefs with powder and lead, enough of politicians espousing "Second Amendment solutions" and drawing crosshairs over their political opponents and holding campaign rallies featuring automatic weapons. We're sick to death of it. Please, Republican voters, make it stop. Elect those who love this country, not those who want to tear it down.
Side Note 1: Frazier Glenn Cross, or whoever he is this week, appears to have been a fan of former Representative (R/TX), failed presidential candidate, and Libertarian hero Ron Paul. This is no surprise--although he downplayed it when he ran for president, Paul has always had wide support among the white supremacist/anti-Semite movements. He stoked that support with frankly bigoted writings in his newsletters (which he later denied having written, or even having read, though they were published under his name). His son, Senator Rand Paul (R/KY), has had his own widely publicized associations with neo-Confederates and white supremacists. Again, we can't say they're racists, though the evidence seems strong in Ron's case. But we can say for certain that they're not averse to hanging out with racists, to putting them on their payrolls, and to feeding their fears and prejudices. They're not the kind of people we think should be representing Americans in Congress, or anywhere else--or the kind of people we'd let across our threshold if they knocked on the door.
Side Note 2: Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens describes how the conservative majority on SCOTUS willfully misinterpreted the Second Amendment in two recent decisions, and how even those misinterpretations don't support the "any gun, anywhere, any time" stance adopted by Second Amendment absolutists. As we've argued in this space many times, as much as they'd like to, those absolutists can't cherry-pick which parts of those decisions apply to them and which don't. District of Columbia v. Heller found (wrongly, according to Stevens) that the whole "militia" part of the Amendment doesn't really count, allowing individuals to own guns. But the same decision found that some categories of guns and some uses of guns can and should be regulated. The absolutists like to cite that first part, without mentioning the second. Justice Stevens's essay should be required reading for anyone interested in this debate.
Side Note 3: Republicans are once again attacking minority voting rights (and those of seniors and young people), this time in Missouri. According to the Kansas City Star, "Republicans in the Missouri General Assembly are mounting a two-pronged effort to make voting more difficult for certain citizens, who are most likely to be elderly, low-income, students or minorities. They're not even subtle about it." The Star also notes (as is the case across the country, since voter fraud is essentially nonexistent and statistically meaningless), "Republicans have been able to produce zero examples of voter identity fraud in Missouri."
This Week in Health Care
Speaking of Fox "News," we have to share this tidbit. Fox, and a variety of conservative media outlets, special interest groups, and politicians spent most of the last year telling people not to enroll in the Affordable Care Act's health insurance coverage. Going without health insurance, they said without explaining why, would be better than subjecting yourself to the socialism of ObamaCare.
Now that the ACA's open enrollment period for the year is over (as with every insurance plan everywhere, you have to sign up during a given period), Fox is outraged--outraged--that people who didn't sign up won't get to until the next open enrollment period: "There is yet another ObamaCare surprise waiting for consumers: from now until the next open enrollment at the end of this year, most people will simply not be able to buy any health insurance at all, even outside the exchanges...That means that with few exceptions, tens of millions of people will be locked out of the health insurance market for the rest of this year."
Maybe if you hadn't worked so hard to persuade tens of millions of people to skip buying insurance, Fox, they wouldn't be in this boat. But don't pretend like you care about their health prospects now, when you didn't last month.
Sometimes the hypocrisy is just staggering.
In other health care news, a Gallup survey finds that 12 million Americans who didn't have health insurance last fall have it now.
As we know, some people had insurance but at tremendous cost, crippling their financial futures. Science fiction writer Elizabeth Hand was one of those. Now, she says, "The way I look at it, in my first month of coverage, ACA has already saved me about $4,350 — and maybe my life."
(Thanks for TWiA special Writer's Lives correspondent Marcy Rockwell for the tip.)
United HealthCare, the country's biggest insurer, is bullish on the ACA.
There's a new right-wing conspiracy theory making the rounds: President Obama has ordered the Census Bureau to change how they ask about health insurance coverage, in order to disguise the failure of the ACA. Like almost every other right-wing conspiracy theory that ever existed, this one's nonsense--these changes have been in the works for a decade, and they will make it easier, not harder, to judge the impact of the ACA.
And--big surprise--states that make an effort to improve coverage, by embracing the Medicaid expansion and setting up ACA exchanges, are having significantly better results than states that don't. This is good news, as long as you live in one of those states.
This Week in History
And speaking of Rand Paul, to the long, long, long list of things Senator Paul doesn't understand, we now have to add recent American history. He spoke at something called a "Freedom Summit" this week, where he said, "When is the last time in our country we created millions of jobs? It was under Ronald Reagan … Did he say, ‘Oh let’s just cut taxes for low-income people?’ No, he said forthrightly, ‘Let’s cut everyone’s taxes’ … The top rate was 70% … he lowered it … to 28% … and 20 million jobs were created.”
Yeah, no. Not even close, Senator.
Even setting aside the most obvious points, which are that A) presidents don't raise or lower taxes, Congress does (though often at the president's urging), and B), it's impossible to make a direct correlation between job gains or losses and presidential administrations, because so many of the crucial factors are not controlled by a president, just about every word Rand uttered is wrong.
Every president in the modern era "created" millions of jobs, including President Obama. Many presidents have come after Reagan, so when Paul says "the last time," it's unclear what he's talking about. But probably what he meant to say is "President Clinton," who "created" more than 23 million jobs. Reagan's number is only around 16 million, so Paul is off by 4 million. He is, to use his phrase, wrong by "millions of jobs."
Reagan did lower the top tax rate. Then the economy suffered, so he raised taxes, multiple times. Job creation during his administration didn't take off until after he started raising taxes. During the Reagan-Bush era--from 1980-1990--average inflation-adjusted income for the top 1% soared, while that of the other 90% actually went down. Poverty rates had been dropping since President Johnson's War on Poverty began, but during the Reagan years, it started ticking back up again (then fell again under Clinton). Reagan's economic policies created inequality, not broad prosperity.
Clinton, on the other hand, raised the top rate and saw widespread prosperity and the best job creation of our lifetimes. George W. Bush cut the top rate again, and saw the worst job creation of modern times--a net of only 1.5 million, with 4.4 million jobs lost during the last year of his presidency. If there's a correlation between top tax rates and job creations, it's that higher top rates produce more jobs--the opposite of what Paul claims.
If private-sector job creation is the measuring stick of an economy, Republicans might as well all retire. According to calculations done in 2012 (the most recent year we have statistics for, although private sector jobs have continued to grow during every month of Obama's presidency since then, so the intervening two years would just add to the difference), since President Kennedy, Republicans have held the White House for 28 years, Democrats for 23 years. During that span, under Republican presidents, 24 million jobs were created. Under Democratic ones, 42 million jobs were created.
Moral: If you want more private sector jobs, elect Democrats to the White House.
Rand Paul is trying to say one thing, but the facts point to the opposite conclusion. Is the senator ignorant, or is he lying? It's got to be one of those; there are no other options. You decide.
Side Note 1: Republicans pretend to be opposed to public-sector jobs and in favor of small government. Indeed, during the Great Recession, the loss of public-sector jobs has inhibited recovery and kept unemployment statistics high. But the same data mentioned above also show that in the years in question, Democrats only created 6.3 million government jobs, while Republicans created 7.1 million of them. There's your "small government" party for you.
Side Note 2: The most recent 4-week average of new unemployment claims is the lowest since October 2007, two months before the Great Recession hit. These numbers are a constantly moving target, but it's good news for the economy.
This Week in Gerrymandering
In the 2012 House of Representatives elections, Democratic candidates won 1.4 million more votes than Republicans--but Republicans won more seats than Democrats. Here's why, and what lessons we can learn from Canada's example. They're bad at bacon, but pretty good at democracy.
This Week in School
Do you think private schools achieve better academic results than public schools? If so, you're wrong.
This Week in How You Can Help
We here at TWiA World Headquarters have supported the Southern Poverty Law Center with a monthly donation, for years. It's not a lot, but it adds up, and every little bit helps. The Center does important work. Check it out, and give if you can.
This Week in Bears
Looking to see a whole mess o' grizzlies? Who isn't? Here's where to go.