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 Rank Dishonesty
Over the course of an adult lifetime studying and observing (some might say obsessing over) American politics, we've seen a lot of politicians tell a lot of lies. They do it for various reasons--sometimes for national security, if they have to talk about something but they're not allowed to say what they really know, sometimes for political expediency, sometimes to cover up misbehavior or illegal acts, or for reasons none of us will ever fully understand. Not every politician lies, of course, though the perception that they do is one factor that causes people to disengage from the political process.
But over that lifetime, we have never seen a major-party presidential candidate lie as frequently or as determinedly as Gov. Mitt Romney (R/MA). Mendacious Mitt seemed to have almost no regard for the truth; he told big lies and small, easily disproved ones, ones about important subjects and others about trivial things. Trying to catalog his lies became a cottage industry, for this blog and others. President George W. Bush was a fundamentally dishonest man whose lies got more than 4,000 of our fellow Americans killed, and writing for another outlet (since taken down from the web, unfortunately--but we still have our drafts in the TWiA archives), we worked at cataloging his many lies. But Mitt told at least as many lies during the course of a single campaign as Bush did in two campaigns and two terms in office.
Not only did Romney tell them, but once he had, he stuck to them, even long after they had been roundly debunked. One of the most egregious was when he claimed that President Obama had ended work requirements for welfare.
Of course, that wasn't close to true. What Obama had done--in response to longstanding pleas from governors of both parties--was to give states flexibility in how they handled the bureaucracy surrounding the welfare/work requirements. Allowing the states more freedom to handle their own affairs is ordinarily a conservative goal, but in this case Romney asserted that it was a problem. What's more telling is that one of the first governors to sign on to the request for those waivers was--wait for it--Governor Mitt Romney.
Every fact-checker in the business reported that Romney's story wasn't true (and the Romney campaign announced that it would not be run by fact-checkers--a sure sign that they knew they were not dealing with facts). But Romney stuck to it. Why?
He knew it wasn't true--he had been one of the people asking for more freedom to run the welfare/work requirement in a way that made sense for his state. But "welfare" is a racially loaded word in America, and when you use it in the context of the first black president, and you say, as one of his many welfare-oriented ads did, that “under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and you wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you a check and welfare to work goes back to being plain old welfare,” you're sending a crystal-clear racial message. Research conducted at the time concluded that: "Romney’s welfare ads are not racist. But the evidence suggests that they work particularly well if the viewer is racist, or at least racially resentful. And these are the ads that are working so unexpectedly well that welfare is now the spine of Romney’s 2012 on-air message in the battleground states."
Presidential campaigns don't just throw ads out there and hope they'll work. They focus-group-test those ads, so they know what effect they're likely to have on those who view them. And the campaign was running more ads pushing the welfare lie than on any other topic.
The Romney campaign knew that they needed at least 61% of the white vote to win. And Gov. Romney wanted to win. He wanted to win so bad that he repeated over and over again, in speeches and in ads, an assertion he knew to be a lie, but which he hoped would stir racial resentment against the president.
Presidential politics can be an ugly business, but rarely in recent cycles has it been quite so ugly.
Which is why it's disturbing that the easily and oft-debunked welfare lie came back this week--not from Romney, but from the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Rep. John Boehner (R/OH).
In an op-ed defending his ridiculous lawsuit against the president, Boehner wrote, "I believe the president's actions in a number of areas — including job-destroying energy regulations, releasing the 'Taliban 5' from Guantanamo without notice and waiving the work requirements in welfare — exceed his constitutional authority."
It's a curious argument altogether, since the possible release of the "Taliban 5" had been discussed for months and months (and prisoners of war are required to be released at war's end, anyway), and the US is currently enjoying an energy boom, with thousands upon thousands of energy jobs being created. But "waiving the work requirements in welfare"? Unless the speaker slept through the entire 2012 campaign, he knows that's not true. If he doesn't know it, then he's the wrong person to be two heartbeats away from the presidency. If he knows it and repeated the lie anyway, then the same statement applies.
There are only two possible explanations here. Boehner knows he's lying, and like Romney, he's trying to stir up racial resentment. Or he's woefully ignorant of a very basic bit of policy that became a huge issue not so long ago.
Neither explanation is flattering. Neither generates confidence in the speaker's intellect or character. And one of them has to be true.
We wish Speaker Boehner would publicly retract his statement before Congress basically adjourns for the rest of the year. We don't have any real expectation that he will. But we'd be delighted to be surprised.
This Week in Health Care
It was all too predictable, except that some of us thought that even conservative governors and state legislatures might care about their states' finances, if not the human beings living in their states. Instead, ideology trumped decency and fiscal sanity, and those states that have refused to sign on with the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion are suffering economically.
It's too early to tell for sure what the health outcomes for the residents of those states will be over the long term, but early evidence seems to point in the expected direction--people who have health coverage will be healthier than those who don't. And going in, the states where the populations were healthier tended to be the ones embracing Medicaid reform, while the unhealthy states were largely the ones who skipped it, so the existing trends will just be exacerbated.
Here in TWiA's home state of Arizona, the ACA has already reduced unpaid hospital bills by 31%. That's a great boon to those hospitals (not just in Arizona) and the people who staff them, and a plus for the state's taxpayers since they won't be on the hook for covering those bills and the cost of medical care won't spike accordingly. In the states that have rejected Medicaid expansion, federal tax dollars are still leaving the state--taxpayers there are paying for Arizona and other states to enjoy the fruits of that expansion, while not getting the benefit of it themselves.
Governors and legislators who let their dislike of President Obama or their ideological opposition to the ACA overwhelm conscience or fiscal reality are doing their populations no favors at all.
Side Note 1: The ACA has also strengthened Medicare's finances.
Side Note 2: Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (R), who has opposed the ACA from the start, refused the Medicaid expansion, and refused to work to implement the law in his state, blames the ACA for the fact that his is the only state in which the number of uninsured people has increased. Gov. Bryant is deeply foolish.
This Week in the Economy
According to the latest figures, growth in the US economy accelerated faster than it was expected to (and revisions of first quarter growth showed less of a drop than originally believed). Although these figures are encouraging, they'd be better if we were at our full potential, but we're not. The recovery is real, and it's starting to gain steam, but there's still some distance to go.
The big problem is that the middle class isn't feeling it as much as we should. Despite the recovery, the middle class as a whole is less well off than it was in 1984. The decline in wealth is 20%, which is a significant number.
There are lots of reasons for that. Workplace productivity and corporate profits are up, but those gains haven't trickled down from the executive suites; wages have been stagnant or dropping, even as cost of living has gone up dramatically. From food to fuel to housing to college, everything that makes the middle class what it is costs more than it used to. But with the money coming into the household not keeping pace, those households are poorer than they were.
This same period also includes steep gains in executive paychecks, and a booming stock market. The very rich have gotten very richer, while the middle class slumps closer to poverty. During that time, unions were losing members, fewer businesses were unionized, so workers lost an effective bargaining tool that had helped keep pay in line with the cost of living. Government investments in scientific and medical research were cut--research that more than pays for itself with benefits to the private sector. And during that same span, deregulation became epidemic, with the result that financial institutions were able to sell the middle class (directly, and through things like pension fund investments) a bunch of "financial products" that sent home foreclosures through the roof, wiped away housing wealth, and finally precipitated the economic collapse we're still climbing out of.
None of this had to happen. Although the Clinton presidency didn't work to quell deregulation fever, it had started under President Reagan. It continued through the first Bush administration, Clinton's two terms, and two George W. Bush terms. Clinton turned around tax cuts for the rich, but Bush put them into play again, and the lowering of tax rates on the wealthy since the 1960s has resulted in cuts in services and programs the poor and the middle class depend on--infrastructure, transportation, libraries, parks, unemployment insurance, higher education--the list is almost endless. That shift--more money in the hands of the pockets of the rich, increased privatization of things that were once largely government-provided, fewer available services--was a massive redistribution of wealth, from those who could least afford it to those who least needed it.
All these factors, working in concert, gutted the American middle class.
The economy is picking up steam. But economies really soar when the middle class thrives. How much better off would we all be if that redistribution and deregulation hadn't happened? And given this history, why do conservative politicians continue to push for the same policies that have proven such an abject failure?
Side Note: We don't really know why the American economy performs better under Democratic presidents, but the fact that it does is well-researched and undeniable.
This Week on the Border
The current humanitarian crisis on the border, largely involving children being sent here to escape rampant violence in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, has nothing to do with border security (these kids aren't trying to sneak over, they're coming over and turning themselves in to the first uniformed officers they can find) or President Obama's decision not to deport "Dreamers," who are, by definition, kids who were brought to this country as children, prior to 2007, and have never known another home. But House Republicans want to make it about those things. So, ignoring the fact that Border Patrol is stretched thin and our capabilities to deal with these refugee children are strained (though the tide is lessening all the time), they decided to ignore the president's request for $3.7 billion to cover necessary costs, including housing and feeding the children, providing legal counsel for kids who will have to make their requests for refugee status in the courts of a country they don't know, in the words of a language they don't know, and returning them home if their appeal is denied (all of which is required under current law). The Senate passed a bill that shaved a billion off the president's figure. But the House decided on a bill that offered very little in the way of funds, and instead focused on border security and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program--the two factors not at play here.
Then, after Speaker Boehner brought the bill to the floor, he couldn't muster enough of his own caucus to get it passed. He had sweetened the pot for the right-wing fringe by adding in a bill that would basically spank the president's hand, but even with that enticement, the bill didn't go. Boehner had to pull it and delay the start of the members' month-plus-long vacation to try to do something else.
Of course, the Senate would not have approved the pathetic House version of the bill, nor would the president have signed it. This is a serious situation and it deserves serious attention, not a bill that ignores the real issues in favor of making a partisan argument. So the Speaker's consternation was over a bit of theater that had no chance of becoming law. Which is part of the problem with the House--they refuse to actually govern, and instead spend their time behaving like petulant brats throwing tantrums in the toy aisle because Mommy won't buy them the action figure they want.
This is yet another humiliation for Speaker Boehner, in a long line of them, and a win for Sen. Ted Cruz (R/TX) who, overwhelmingly despised by his Senate colleagues, has set himself up as the de facto Speaker of the House's crazy wing. And if the House can't come to grips with reality, it's a loss for the country, because those costs have to be covered somehow.
Side Note: Boehner and the House leadership issued a statement on Thursday, reading in part, "There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action, to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries." This comes a day after the House voted to go sue the president for acting unilaterally on various issues without waiting for congressional action. It's a high bar, but we're pretty sure Boehner has set a new benchmark in political hypocrisy.
This Week in Fiscal Conservatism
Republicans often claim to be interested in reining in government spending (except on wars or tax breaks for millionaires, billionaires, and corporations, which are somehow deemed to be worth any expense). But as this article points out, if they were serious about saving money, they'd be adamant that we act on climate change now, rather than pretending it doesn't exist. The longer we wait, the more it costs.
Side Note: This week, the Senate's No. 1 climate change denier, Sen. James Inhofe (R/OK) blocked a resolution that would not have required action of any kind on the issue, but would have confirmed that the Senate acknowledges the reality of climate change. Inhofe, who has called climate change "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," apparently prefers delusion to reality.
This Week in Voting
The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld a voter-suppression law pushed by Governor Scott Walker (R) and his friends in the legislature. The court found the law constitutional, as long as the state doesn't require people to pay for the necessary voter ID (it doesn't seem to have ruled on what people should do if they work on weekdays and can't get time off to go get the ID, or if they don't have transportation to the state offices where the ID is available--there are many ways to disenfranchise the poor).
As a demonstration of the necessity for the law, the court's decision cites a single case, in a footnote: "A recent filing in Milwaukee County demonstrates that voter fraud is a concern. See State v. Monroe, 2014CF2625 (June 20, 2014), wherein the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office filed a criminal complaint against Robert Monroe that alleged 13 counts of voter fraud, including multiple voting in elections and providing false information to election officials in order to vote."
Trouble is, the one particular case they cite was of a man arrested for casting multiple ballots--a man who was a rabid supporter of Gov. Walker, and whose most egregious offense was voting five times against the effort to recall the governor. And he was caught, without the voter ID law. And a voter ID law would not have prevented any of those 13 incidents.
So the court's justification for this ruling rests entirely on a case that the ruling wouldn't apply to. And once again, the only verifiable instance of voter fraud would have helped the party pushing for the bill. Makes one wonder what the real purpose of these laws is, doesn't it?
This Week in Spies
The CIA has apologized for the spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee that the CIA claimed it didn't do. Spies are supposed to spy on other country's governments, not our own.
This Week in Gun Safety
Before 1980, semiautomatic handguns were relatively rare in the US, accounting for fewer than a third of the handguns produced here. As a result, when doctors treated gunshot victims, the vast majority of them had only been shot once. That changed rapidly; by the beginning of the next decade, 74% of domestically produced handguns were semiautomatic, and over that span, multiple bullet wounds became far more common. Annual gun death rates zoomed up, peaking in 1993, then dropping after the assault weapons ban went into effect in 1994. Since that law expired in 2004, the rate of gun deaths has been rising again.
What prompted the change in the early 1980s? The Army put out a call for a new standard-issue handgun. Soldiers needed handguns that held more rounds and were more efficient. The Beretta M9 won the race, and it didn't take long for Beretta to release a similar civilian model. Meanwhile, other manufacturers had also designed guns to meet the Army's needs, and without the Army contract, they put those weapons into the civilian market. Suddenly, the six-shot revolver was no longer the most common handgun in America. More rounds meant more bullets in bodies, and more corpses in the morgues.
That change coincided, in 1986, with the Firearms Owners Protection Act, a law that made it much harder to convict someone of breaking federal firearms laws, lessened the penalties for breaking those laws, and decreased funding for the ATF--all of which made it easier for guns to get into the hands of criminals.
This week, the Army told the gun manufacturers what it wants in a new standard-issue handgun. One requirement? More powerful cartridges, with more stopping power. Useful in a combat setting. But on our streets and in our homes? Not so necessary. Still, we're going to see them showing up in the civilian market, and pro-gun death organizations like the NRA will argue that everybody should have access to them. That organization and those like it will have ever more blood on their hands. Let's hope it's not yours, or mine, or our children's. It'll be somebody's children's, just the same.
Side Note 1; There's a long-standing myth among the pro-gun death forces that more citizens carrying concealed weapons somehow results in less crime. That belief is largely based on a faulty and thoroughly debunked 1997 paper. In fact, more recent research all points the other way. The "best study," according to the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, concludes, "Overall, the most consistent, albeit not uniform, finding to emerge from both the state and the county panel data models conducted over the entire 1977–2006 period with and without state trends and using three different models is that aggravated assault rises when [right-to-carry] laws are adopted."
It's not uniform because different states have different rules governing how hard it is to get a concealed carry permit, how much training is required, and so on. But the gist of it is clear--more guns equals more gun violence, not less.
And we would know still more, of course, had not the pro-gun death organizations managed to prevent the CDC from carrying out any gun violence research. Why would they do that, if they think their "facts" are right? Answer: they wouldn't. They don't want the research done because they know what it would find.
Side Note 2: Speaking of the pro-gun death NRA, turns out their top lawyer confessed to and was convicted of killing a woman--with a gun--but his conviction was later overturned when some of the evidence against him was thrown out due to issues with the way it was collected.
This Week in Corporate Personhood
The Supreme Court keeps saying that corporations have rights we've previously granted only to human beings. This Washington Post piece looks at what it would mean if people, therefore, could have the same rights as corporations. For one thing, a lot more money in your pockets.
Side Note: If you weren't familiar with the term "inversion" in the WaPo piece, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman explains what it means, and why it's stealing billions from federal tax revenues (leaving individuals and small businesses to pick up the slack).
This Week in Forewarned is Forearmed
Senator Rand Paul (R/KY) is "writing" a new book, scheduled to come out next year. No word yet on whether his ghost writer will be a well-known neo-confederate who idolizes John Wilkes Booth, or what previously existing texts Paul might steal from, but we'll be watching.
Side Note: Speaking of Sen. Paul and dishonest presidential candidates, although Paul isn't one officially yet, he's off to a good start in the lying sweepstakes. Interviewed four years ago as a Senate candidate, Paul repeatedly said he disagreed with the part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibited private business owners from discriminating against would-be customers. He said he would have worked to prevent that from becoming law. Asked about it this week--after he spent this summer's 50th anniversary of the Act proclaiming his love for it--he refused to acknowledge that he'd ever had a problem with any part of it. He fussed like a toddler who needs a nap, and his lie was transparent. We have grown to accept Sen. Paul's intellectual challenges (and his ethical ones), so we'll grant the possibility that he fails to understand that in today's world, we have machines that can remember the words he says on one occasion and can repeat them on another.
This Week in Bears
Two individuals in the United States have their own zip codes: the president, and Smokey Bear. Smokey's was taken away in 1994, but it was reactivated this week, ahead of his 70th birthday on August 9 (start planning your parties now). Also, Smokey won't be leaving the Ohio State Fairgrounds any time soon.