The Supreme Court in our times is troubled with more that an "appearance of corruption." With its recent decisions gutting the regulation of campaign finance, the majority on the Roberts Court has shown itself a partisan combatant on the side of a most dangerously corrupt form of injustice. Justice should be understood as the antidote to the rule of power. When there is no justice, then we fall into the kind of world described by the ancient Athenians as they sought to compel a weaker people to do their bidding-- or else:
"[Y]ou know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must"
Our founders' great contribution to human history was to devise a government to solve that problem. Saying that "all men are created equal," they established a system to equalize power among the citizens. With each citizen given an equal voice in deciding the nation's destiny through the election process- that equality would eliminate the dichotomy between the strong and the weak.
That's the justice of our democracy.
But here comes John Roberts and his majority - Republican appointees every one of them - telling us with a straight face that there is no problem of corruption (or even its appearance) unless there's outright bribery. That kind of quid pro quo of selling favors is, of course, already against the law. But anyone with half a brain can see that government can be bought without such blatant transactions. And these justices are not stupid.
Can anyone honestly say, when we see presidential hopefuls trooping to Las Vegas to kiss the ring of a billionaire, that there is no appearance of corruption?
Eric Cantor, Randy Forbes, Bob Goodlatte, Robert Hurt, Scott Rigell, Rob Wittman, Frank Wolf
Now, why was this vote so horrendous?
*According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "some 69 percent of the cuts in House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's new budget would come from programs that serve people of limited means." For instance, "Under the Ryan plan, at least 40 million low- and moderate-income people - that's 1 in 8 Americans - would become uninsured by 2024."
*As if that's not bad enough, the "Ryan budget cuts SNAP (formerly food stamps) by $137 billion over the next decade."
*The Ryan/Republican budget also "cuts Pell Grants for low- and moderate-income students by up to $125 billion" and "cuts an additional $385 billion - beyond its SNAP cuts - from the budget category containing many mandatory programs for low - and moderate-income Americans, such as Supplemental Security Income for the elderly and disabled, the school lunch and child nutrition programs, and the Earned Income and Child Tax Credits for lower-income working families."
*In addition, the Ryan/Republican budget would "cut Medicare spending by $356 billion over the 2013 - 2023 period compared to CBPP's current-policy baseline" and "replace Medicare's guarantee of health coverage with a flat premium-support payment, or voucher."
*Finally, can we say "war on women?" According to the National Women's Law Center, this budget would: "Put families at risk for losing coverage;" "Prevent low-income women from receiving the services they need;" "Put coverage for the most vulnerable women at risk;" "Roll back coverage for women currently insured by Medicaid;" "Threaten older women's economic well-being;" "Allow insurance companies to discriminate against women;" "Cause millions of women to lose [health care] coverage;" etc.
Next time you hear a Republican try to claim that the "war on women" is a figment of Democrats' imaginations, just point them to the National Women's Law Center - and laugh at them. As for Republicans being anything other than the party of the rich and privileged, the near-unanimous GOP adoption of this Ayn Randian fever dream of a budget settles that argument. Oh, and note how even supposed "moderate" Republicans like Frank Wolf voted for this war on working people and women? Hmmmm...perhaps the Washington Post and others who claimed for years that Wolf really was a "moderate" were not quite right about that?
Several years ago, you did the nation a good service by declaring, "There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning." Good for you for helping Americans see through the propaganda that seeks to disable us from protecting our democratic heritage.
I am sure you'll agree, however, that since then things have unfortunately grown worse in terms of the ability of the rich to substitute "one dollar, one vote" for "one person, one vote." Since then, for example, we've had the atrocious Citizens United decision, opening the floodgates wide for plutocracy to subvert our democracy.
And nowhere is this subversion more grotesquely on display than with the Koch Brothers' use of their riches to move our government in ways of their choosing. Using organizations like ALEC and Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Brothers are working systematically to take this country in directions contrary to our basic democratic values and (for example in the case of climate change) contrary to the long-term interests of the American people.
In view of this serious threat to rob the American people of their birthright, as members of a democratic society and inhabitants of a healthy planet, I would like to call upon you to make the following public announcement:
"Rep. Bobby Scott speaks on the floor in opposition to H.R. 1459, which would restrict the President's authority under the Antiquities Act. The Antiquities Act was essential in protecting Fort Monroe and establishing the Fort Monroe National Monument in 2011."
Great stuff from Rep. Jim Moran, who argues, "this is supposed to be a democracy." But not for House Republicans unfortunately. Also, see President Obama's statement below.
Statement by the President on Immigration Reform
Last year, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate came together to pass a commonsense bill to fix our broken immigration system - a bill that would grow our economy, shrink our deficits, and reward businesses and workers that play by the rules. But so far, Republicans in the House have refused to allow meaningful immigration reform legislation to even come up for a vote.
That's why, today, I applaud the efforts of Democrats in the House to give immigration reform the yes-or-no vote it deserves. Like the Senate bill, the House bill would strengthen our borders, modernize our legal immigration system, and keep more families together. It would make sure everyone plays by the same rules by providing a pathway to earned citizenship for those who are living in the shadows. And according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, it would grow our economy and reduce our deficits by $900 billion over the next 20 years.
Immigration reform is the right thing to do for our economy, our security, and our future. A vast majority of the American people agree. The only thing standing in the way is the unwillingness of Republicans in Congress to catch up with the rest of the country. And I want to thank the leaders in Congress who are doing their part to move us forward.
[This piece is the first of a series with which, along with the series of talks described below, I am launching my new campaign to change the national conversation.]
Please listen to me if you want to turn back the force that's taken over the Republican Party.
Please listen to me if you've been frustrated by the failure of the Democrats to call out the Republican Party for what it has become:
A force that's insatiable in its lust for power and wealth.
Even though we have the greatest income inequality that we've had in living memory, this force works continually to widen that gap still further. All their budgetary proposals take from average Americans to give more to those who already have the most. As they protect those who have tripled their share of our national income, they cut food stamps to the most vulnerable Americans at a time when jobs are scarce and even the middle class is struggling.
In the realm of political power, this force has given us a Supreme Court that's handed down that disgraceful decision in Citizens United, making it still easier for the nation's widening inequalities of wealth to be translated into inequalities of political power. With our government put up for auction, "All men are created equal" gets swamped by the Almighty Dollar. The Republicans have been working to turn our government from one "by the people" one by those giant so-called "persons" that make up the corporate world.
According to Rep. Gerry Connolly, the behavior of Rep. Darrell Issa (R) yesterday was not just some "inside baseball" or "petty squabbling," but was "all about minority rights." What Issa demonstrated yesterday was "profound disrespect...with respect to one of the most distinguished members of our caucus, the ranking member, Elija Cummings, who's a real statesman." As Connolly explains, "to have a chairman of a committee cut off another member's microphone because he doesn't want him to be able to speak while considering contempt against a woman who has invoked her constitutionally protected privilege, the 5th amendment, is a mountainous irony...a shameful episode." To put it another way, Darrell Issa is a disgrace to the country and to the Congress, a throwback to the McCarthyism of the 1950s, and fundamentally unAmerican in the way he operates.
P.S. Connolly adds that "if I were a Tea Party Republican in this country, I would be really concerned about the actions of Darrell Issa and Company" in suppressing 1st Amendment rights while simultaneously undermining the 5th Amendment.
I've often heard it said that the people in the Republican base, who believe the patent falsehoods purveyed by their leaders, are "stupid." But I don't think that's how they're to be understood. I've known too many people who buy the almost transparent lies nonetheless show real intelligence in other areas of their lives.
Here's what I think we're looking at that may look like "stupidity."
A person's consciousness --- the form their awareness takes --- is not all of a piece, not identical in every situation. We tend to operate differently in different contexts, to have different capacities that get engaged in different aspects of our lives. We might think of people as having different "modules" of consciousness that kick in depending on what "programs" they've learned to apply in each realm of their lives.
With the people on the right, in our times, what I believe is that they've been taught over time to bring a far-from-best self into the specifically political realm. Part of the teaching has been from the deep, long-established culture, which inculcates in those who grow up in it certain ways of dealing with issues of power and authority and rage and pain. But, most recently and most visibly, they've been systematically taught -- for a full generation now by skilled and completely unprincipled propagandists, like Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and Karl Rove -- how to be members in good standing in the right-wing political culture.
These propagandists have worked to get people to look at politics through a particular, warped lens. Feeding their fears and hatreds, and turning off their intelligence in the political realm. Over the years, a module has been constructed in their minds for how to think and feel when the cross into the political world-- a module that gradually transferred a bunch of sane Republicans into a bunch of people who support the very opposite of what they think they're supporting.
Mistaking the evil for the good is surely a manifestation of profound brokenness. And the error is built upon brokenness.
President Obama was born in 1961, so I was thinking it might be fun on Presidents Day to rank the U.S. presidents since 1961 from worst to best. I'll also explain my reasoning.
10. George W. Bush (2001-2009) - No doubt, one of the worst U.S. presidents in our history, a disaster on almost every front (starting with massive tax cuts to the wealthy and failures to heed major warnings about a potential terrorist attack on the U.S. in the months leading up to 9/11). The only saving grace, really, was his reaction to the financial meltdown in the fall of 2008. For once, instead of just doing the right-wing ideological thing, he actually did what was necessary to save the U.S. (and world) economy from total meltdown. Other than that, he was horrible: turning budget surpluses into deficits for no good reason, misleading the country on the reasons for war with Iraq, failing to take action on climate change, allowing freakin' torture to take place on his watch, the Katrina debacle/disaster, letting Dick Cheney and others corrupt/buy the government for their cronies, screwing up the North Korea situation big time, on and on and on...near-total #FAIL.
9. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) - The Iran-Contra scandal alone puts Reagan down towards the bottom of the list. Then add to that the Lebanon fiasco, in which 241 American servicemen were killed after the Reagan Administration pretty much did everything wrong -- mission creep, no clue what we were doing there, an indefensible position, inadequate security, "cutting and running" as the right-wing would say if it were a Democrat in office, etc, etc. (also note that the Lebanon disaster was a gazillion times worse than the Benghazi tragedy, yet Democrats did NOT pile on Reagan for it). Then add to that Reagan's disastrous economic, environmental, and many other policies. Plus, he raised tensions with the Soviet Union to dangerous levels; invaded Grenada for no good reason; helped lay the groundwork for the rise of Al Qaeda by heavily funding and supplying the Afghan mujahadeen; putting the horrendous Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court; etc. The saving grace of Reagan, ironically, was that despite the worshipful attitude towards him by many on the right, he committed a series of heresies: raising taxes multiple times, increasing government spending and the size of government, offering to get rid of all nuclear weapons, granting "amnesty" to 3 million undocumented immigrants, etc.
What a distraction, this military pension debate; pandering to a small entitled constituency and using misdirection to play to an emotional and uninformed public. The discussion is superficial. Always missing is the financial rationale for the military retirement system. This change is being called a cut. But is it really?
When you compare the retirement benefits of a Viet Nam era military retiree, even with the cost of living (COLA) adjustment reduction of a percent a year, at current pay scales very few future retirees would receive less compensation in real dollars than those who retired in 1970. In fact, the vast majority would receive significantly greater compensation, not only after the COLA is restored after age 62, but even during the years of the COLA adjustments. In real dollars, enlisted personnel start retirement at compensation amounts that are 12 to 19% higher (commissioned officers 5 to 6% greater) than their Viet Nam era contemporaries. And job prospects are significantly better for these retirees who are better educated and connected than their predecessors ever dreamt.
Fewer than 10% of all veterans are military retirees. Congress does little more than pay lip service to the remaining 90%, many of whom go unacknowledged beyond gratuitous platitudes during campaigns. With this approach, those whose service resulted in debilitating injury often end up relying upon the kindness of strangers.
Although politicians frame this as a veterans' issue, it isn't. Consider that not many military veterans are retired. Next, the pension program in place is a conscription era relic the Reagan administration tried to reform. The recent aborted attempt by Republicans to hold the debt ceiling hostage leveraging military retirements failed because members of Congress know that even "reduced," this retirement system is more than generous.
For more than a year, since the 2012 election, I have been working to devise a new strategy to help turn America's dangerous political dynamic around. Now I've come up with a plan.
With the talk described below, I'm launching a new "campaign." This one is not for elective office, but it is at least as ambitious.
It's a campaign to have an impact on our national public discourse. More specifically, it is a campaign to bring to the center of our national conversation what I believe to be the central political reality of our times: the rise on the political right of an unprecedentedly destructive and dishonest force, and the weakness of Liberal America in calling out this force for what it is.
America desperately needs an "Emperor's New Clothes" moment, and I believe this new campaign has a chance of helping to bring it about.
With the talk described below in Harrisonburg this coming Wednesday (February 12), and a similar public event I gave in Berkeley on January 29, and another talk to come in Washington, D.C. on March 24, I am launching this new campaign.
I invite you to come to Harrisonburg, if it is within your reach. And I would welcome the opportunity to speak in other venues.
Here is the flyer for the talk, with all the pertinent information about the time and date and nature of the event.
Sailing a couple of ships into the Black Sea accomplishes what? One is there to protect the other. The other is there to command and control...nothing. This is grandstanding. If tragedy occurs and Americans are involved, this self-licking ice cream cone will be revealed. What to really watch for?
The Russian "ring of steel" illustrates the dilemma faced when confronting an asymmetrical threat. The choice to harden a target is the choice to uncover others. There is only so much mass to go around and Russia's focus has been around the main venues and Sochi itself. But the greatest vulnerabilities are the routes to the venues on the slopes miles from Sochi. These are perfect targets for remotely detonated improvised explosive devices, the types of which Americans leaned to counter in Iraq and Afghanistan. But for pragmatic reasons, the United States has not shared that technology with Russia. To compensate, thousands of Russian soldiers guard those routes; a miserable assignment with many distractions.
That lack of cooperation has not been lost on the Russians and the situation in the Ukraine has washed over this event. If it comes time to react (and that is all we would be able to do since we are not integrated into the force end of the security plan) we can only wait for clearance from the Russians to respond. Sadly, that may be too late. We have observed the "lack of finesse" by Russian forces in hostage situations involving insurgents. Their doctrine is more focused on killing the perpetrators than saving the victims.
Are we are supposed to be reassured by the staging of military airlift aircraft in Europe? They are hours away and would compete with aircraft from any and every other nation for clearance and space at the airhead(s) in Sochi. A real capability in the Black Sea would include air and landing craft that are truly expeditionary with forces to conduct an evacuation to ships with hospitals at the ready. Instead, after waiting to gain access to Sochi, American aircraft will serve victims that may or may not be Americans (we always have protocols with other nations in these situations) and who may or may not have been properly triaged. These aircraft will not all immediately have access to medical personnel and equipment for care during transit. Hard choices could be forced on the tarmac in Sochi. Do you evacuate victims who may not survive the long journey leaving persons who would survive vulnerable to further violence while waiting for later evacuation?
This piece ran as an op/ed in almost all the major newspapers of Virginia's 6th congressional district.
Oh how I wish the people of America - liberal and conservative - could join together to protect our common interests and shared values. While focusing on issues that divide us, we are in danger of losing our birthright.
Power in America has shifted from the citizenry to the corporate system. The role of money in American politics - always a problem - has greatly expanded. At the same time, wealth has been drained from the middle class and increasingly concentrated in the hands of giant corporations and the relatively few individuals who run them.
As our democratic government becomes ever more an instrument of the corporate system, our nation's constitutional doctrine is being pried open ever wider to allow corporations the political rights of actual "persons."
We Americans should be asking, "What kind of 'persons' are these corporate giants whose rights and powers in our political system are expanding so dramatically?"
I strongly agree with Senator Kaine on this one; let's give diplomacy a serious chance before we rush into...god knows what.
KAINE: GIVE DIPLOMACY A CHANCE TO PREVENT IRANIAN NUCLEAR WEAPON
WASHINGTON, D.C. - In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today on Iran, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Near Eastern, Southern and Central Asian Affairs, advocated strongly for exhausting all diplomatic options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He argued that despite "good faith differences" in tactics, both sides in the Iran sanctions debate actually have the same goal: a nuclear weapons-free Iran achieved through diplomacy, rather than military force.
"We have got to be able to look our allies and our citizens - especially the men and women we would ask to fight that battle - in the eye and tell them we have exhausted every diplomatic effort prior to undertaking that significant step," Kaine said.
Kaine also applauded the work of Senator Menendez and others in Congress for putting the tough sanctions in place that brought Iran to the negotiating table, as well as reiterated his support for additional sanctions should current diplomatic efforts falter.
Kaine said, "I support the sanctions, and I'll easily and gladly vote for more if we cannot find an agreement. ... The joint plan of action slows and even reverses critical aspects of the Iranian nuclear program, which sanctions alone have not been able to do. And it also provides this country and our partners around the world a better, early warning system about whether or not Iran is cheating. We get more time on the clock and a better, early warning system because of this deal."
In closing, Kaine called aggressive diplomacy an under-exercised muscle, and urged his colleagues in Congress and the administration to make this negotiation about Iran's good faith.
The most obvious example is Republican support for our government killing people, explicitly and in cold blood. That's what the death penalty is. State sanctioned killing of a citizen in cold blood. Regardless of your position on the morality or constitutionality of the death penalty, it is, quite simply, support for state-sanctioned death. And as an example of the bedrock principle for Republicans that the state should be allowed to kill its citizens, there is no better example.
How about Republican's opposition to reasonable gun safety legislation? To the point of actively repealing gun safety legislation already in place when they take control of a state? Did you know that Missouri repealed background checks for gun purchases recently? And when it did, gun murders went up 25%?
"Hey, this legislation will cause more people to be violently murdered!"
Emails obtained by ThinkProgress reveal that the [Washington ***skins] consulted with a group of high-profile Republican advisers, some of whose involvement with the team has not been previously reported, about how to handle this reporter's questions about the organization's approach to the campaign to change the team's name.
Included in the email chain were Frank Luntz, the Republican messaging consultant famous for coining phrases like "climate change" and "death tax"; Ari Fleischer, who served as White House press secretary under George W. Bush from 2001 and 2003 and now runs a consulting firm called Ari Fleischer Sports Communications; George Allen, the former Virginia governor and U.S. senator who now runs the consulting firm George Allen Strategies; and Bruce Allen, George Allen's brother and the organization's general manager. Both Allens are the son of former Redskins head coach George Allen. The web sites for neither Fleischer nor Luntz's firms include client lists. The Redskins' vice president of communications, Tony Wyllie, confirmed that while Luntz had conducted a focus group on behalf the team, he has not been paid for other work with the Redskins, and that Fleischer and George Allen's firm do not have contracts with the team. Fleischer, Luntz, and George Allen had not responded to requests for confirmation at press time.
But the fact that the men participated in the email chain at all is revealing. Last summer, when ThinkProgress first reported Luntz's involvement in the team's efforts to focus group the name, the Redskins and Luntz declined to confirm that Luntz or his firm, Luntz Global, were involved in the project.
The email chain shows that after this reporter requested comment on a number of issues related to the Redskins name and claims made by its opponents, Wyllie, forwarded the email to Luntz, Fleischer, and the Allens. George Allen's response is the first included in the chain, and it suggests that the team reiterate its story about changing its name to honor Lone Star Dietz, even though the team can't prove its claims.
Again, let's just remind everyone that George Allen is the same guy who attacked a young Indian-American staffer for the Jim Webb for Senate campaign in 2006 as a "macaca" (racist term used in his mother's native Tunisia). George Allen is also the same guy who reportedly "used the 'n word' habitually," who loved the Confederate flag when he was growing up in the south...of California, that is; as a joke, stuck a severed deer head in a black man's mailbox; referred to areas of Virginia with high minority populations as not constituting the "real Virginia;" etc. Yet THIS is one of the main people - along with the despicable/evil Frank Luntz - advising the Washington ***skins on how to (not) deal with their racist name? Lovely.
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