Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Politix Update: The Republican Party's Very Bad Case Of Future Shock

How can Republicans avoid losing the popular vote in 2016 for the sixth time in seven elections when the party is not only increasingly out of step with public opinion but seems determined to look back and not forward? 

Polls show widespread support for increasing the minimum wage.  The Republican Party is opposed.  For a more inclusive immigration policy.  Ditto.  For access to health care.  Ditto.  For addressing climate change.  Ditto.  Against restrictions on abortion.  Ditto.  Against tax breaks for the rich.  Ditto.  And then there's the seismic shift in support for gay rights and same-sex marriage.  Ditto, ditto.

Meanwhile, a new Gallup poll shows that Americans identifying themselves as liberal are at a 23-year high, which makes the reality of "a recalcitrant minority trying to hold off a tolerant majority," as one conservative deep thinker puts it, even more worrisome for Republican moderates who believe that the way back to the White House is to be cognizant of how out of step with the mainstream the party has become and a willingness to become more inclusive.  And, might I suggest, less bigoted.
There is an undercurrent of angst about the state of the GOP in the otherwise happy-face pronouncements of many Republicans in talking about 2016, and it is not difficult to see how the GOP has gotten itself into such a fix:  Its once-vaunted ability to speak with one voice was overrated to begin with, while it is Democrats who have closed ranks, especially on social issues.  The party is attracting young voters (aka those damned Millennials) in droves and they tend to be liberal, and while its solid black and Hispanic bases are not so liberal, they generally are progressive when it comes to those social issues.  
Richard Land, the Evangelical darling of many Republican right wingers and a guy who claims to always have God on speed dial, was unintentionally revealing about the GOP's plight following the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage ruling when he opined that "It's a sad day for the country, and now the battlefield shifts to freedom of conscience."
Republicans of the right-wing and Evangelical persuasions, which is to say the people who have methodically torn down the Big Tent that the GOP once was, have continued to fight the culture wars despite ample evidence that such battling is the political equivalent of hemlock tea.
Jonathan Martin, punditizing in The New York Times about all the recent developments that have gone against the Republican grain, wrote: "Conservatives have, in short order, endured a series of setbacks on ideas that, for some on the right, are definitional: that marriage is between a man and a woman, that Southern heritage and its symbols are to be unambivalently revered and that the federal government should play a limited role in the lives of Americans."
So far so good.
But then Martin posits, minus any real evidence, that while 2015 "could be remembered as a Liberal Spring," this gives the GOP an opening to turn away from lost causes sharply out of step with the public and focus on a more conservative approach on economic issues and national security.
This assumes some things that aren't likely to happen.
* That Republican presidential wannabes now have a grace period to sort out their differences on same-sex marriage, as well as other contentious social issues, since the high court ruled on the third-rail issue six months before the first primary vote is cast.  I just don't see that happening. 
* That a ceasefire will be called in the culture wars, which seems extremely unlikely because the foot soldiers in these wars are not live-and-let-live folks to begin with, co-existence is an alien concept to them, and pluralism is their perceived enemy. 
* That a more conservative approach to an economy that is creating jobs at the healthiest pace in 15 years will really improve things, and better protecting the homeland against jihadists when over half of all domestic terror attacks since 9/11 have been perpetrated by crazy white guys will both be Election Day non-starters.
It sure didn't look like Republicans were out of touch on access to health care when they opposed the Affordable Care Act way back in in 2010.   (Doesn't that seem like ages ago?) But five years later they are. 
The reasons are several and complex, but two predominate:.
* The party's Chicken Little schtick, which included unrelenting chest beating about "death panels" and other dire consequences it claimed Obamacare would wrought, as well as over 50 House votes to repeal it, eventually had a numbing effect.  Then there is my favorite definition of insanity: "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
* By the time the Supreme Court weighed in the other day on the federal insurance exchange question, the ACA was providing benefits to millions of people who could not have afforded health care otherwise.  And as history has proven with Social Security and Medicare, once the social safety net expands, it's pretty much impossible to reverse it.
Although members of the GOP asylum like John Boehner and Ted Cruz vow to continue to try to repeal Obamacare, it has suddenly gone poof! as a viable 2016 campaign issue.  That's a good thing for feckless Republicans because they have one fewer indefensible thing to defend against, according to the conventional wisdom, but it still remains fertile ground for Democratic attacks on the eventual Republican nominee. 
I can picture the attack ads already:
(Fill in candidate's name) wanted to take away Uncle Leo's pacemaker and leave Aunt Sue's cancer untreated.  Now he wants to (fill in outrage).
There are historic precedents for a political party being so out of step, but you have to go back a way -- a long way.
Kyle Kondik is managing editor of Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball, Sabato being an astute political scientist with an uncannily accurate knack for calling elections.  (He nailed it in 2012, including the number of electoral votes Obama won.)
"You might look at the Whigs in the mid-1800s," Kondik said. "The party was effectively nativist in its outlook, losing votes from immigrants in that timeframe, and it ended up on the wrong side of territorial expansion, at least as history is concerned. The Whigs of course disappeared and re-emerged as the Republicans. But I’m not sure the historical parallels are there, though maybe if the GOP doesn’t start to do better amongst modern immigrant groups (Hispanics, most notably) or continue to improve with white voters, they could have a harder and harder time winning presidential elections."
Chris Christie has muscled his serious bulk into the already overcrowded Republican presidential primary clown car, not merely defying the odds but logic, as well, since he has made an extraordinary mess of New Jersey and his ethical lapses are egregious and many. 
Christie long ago crossed the line from "brash and bold," which he invariably cites as his chief virtue, to "belligerent and obnoxious," which is what a majority of his Garden State constituents will tell you. And he lies a lot.
"Don’t misunderstand me. They all lie," wrote Newark Star-Ledger editorial page editor Tom Moran of politicians in general. "But Christie does it with such audacity, and such frequency, that he stands out."
It's been a tough summer for the Killa From Wasilla and it's barely July.  First Sarah Palin's abstinence-minded daughter, Bristol, fell on a penis and got pregnant.  Then Fox News cancelled the Mama Grizzly's contract.
As one pundit noted, the only thing that makes a Fox News viewer disappear is death, but not so for the conservative network's talking heads.  Palin has been so incomprehensible during recent Fox appearances and has become so irrelevant (I recently called her "a Tea Party carnival sideshow freak") in terms of the national political scene that she had to go.
Bottom line: Palin needed Fox more than Fox needed Palin.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Politix Update: Fuggedabout The Here And Now, It's All About The Legacy

The lineage of the term Obamacare pretty much tells you all you need to know about how history will view President Barack Obama.  That is to say, what his legacy will be.
In a (relatively) short five years, Obamacare has morphed from having a Republican-driven derogatory connotation to being an appropriate honorific for the man who against formidable odds has finally brought meaningful reform to a vastly dysfunctional sector of the economy.  Or more precisely, made a damned good start despite an obdurate opposition party that continues to believe that providing affordable health care to the poor and middle class violates Americans' "freedom and liberty".
Legacies are, of course, in the eyes of the beholder.  While few people would begrudge George Washington and Abraham Lincoln their legacies as great presidents, the tenures of Richard Nixon and even Franklin Delano Roosevelt are too recent.  And George W. Bush's is still too raw.

Nixon's legacy is mixed because beyond his constitutional criminality and stealth war in Cambodia were some notable accomplishments, including environment-friendly initiatives and laws, ending the draft and signing Title IX, while FDR will long be skewered by conservatives as the father of Social Security and big government and not for shepherding the U.S. through the Great Depression and leading the charge in beating back fascism.

Beyond Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act and now twice upheld by the Supreme Court, the president's greatest legacies -- amidst innumerable vicissitudes -- may be to show that big government can work in an era when Washington is widely distrusted, if not detested, as well as his willingness to engage in costly political fights from the day he took office.  Although not necessarily always the right ones, mind you. 

People who na├»vely believed Obama could settle the issue of race in America are bound to be disappointed, his tour de force eulogy in Charleston notwithstanding.  But isn't it a hoot that his legacy and that of Supreme Court Chief John G. Roberts Jr. are likely to be intertwined although they represent opposite ends of the political spectrum.
What impact might George W. Bush have on Obama's legacy?
While Dubya left a hell of a mess and Obama cleaned up much of it, including dragging the nation out of recession and presiding over the most robust job growth in 15 years, as well as ending a war or two, historians are not likely to factor in those things in assessing Obama's legacy.  I tend to agree.
It is bemusing that Obama's foes continue to paint him as unpatriotic when his love of country has been so obvious and his commitment to public service -- from Southside Chicago community organizer to the first African-American president -- has been a constant in his life.  Both are guaranteed legacy builders as our more immediate memories fade with the passage of time.
When Obama commented on the iffy chances of the ACA passing on the eve of the make-or-break 2010 Senate vote, he quoted Lincoln in saying "I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true."  And when his signature achievement survived another near-death experience in the Supreme Court last week, he noted "That's when America soars, when we look out for one another, when we take care of each other.  That’s why we do what we do. That’s the whole point of public service."
Donald Trump is the best thing to happen to the Democratic Party since . . . well, George W. Bush.

Although the celebrity gadzillionaire has no chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination, his loud mouth is been increasingly viewed by GOP insiders is a serious obstacle to taking back the White House.

"Donald Trump is like watching a roadside accident," said former Dubya press secretary Ari Fleischer. "Everybody pulls over to see the mess. And Trump thinks that's entertainment. But running for president is serious. And the risk for the party is he tarnishes everybody."
Trump is in eighth place among Republicans, according to the RealClearPolitics' average of national polls.  That puts him ahead of so-called serious presidential wannabes like former Texas Governor Rick Perry and Governors Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Chris Christie of New Jersey, as well as former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.  That also likely qualifies him for the first two GOP debates,  which means taking away face time from so-called more serious candidates like Jeb Bush . . . er, Jeb!
Fleischer, who backs Bush the Younger and is a co-author of a Republican National Committee report on why the party got clobbered in the 2012 presidential election, said Trump embodies all of the party's problems with nonwhite voters.
"He's irresponsible, he's divisive, he's hurtful,” Fleischer said, inadvertently describing exactly why the GOP continues to marginalize itself nationally.
Trump has no intention of letting up on the personal attacks on other candidates and has eschewed the advice of advisers who want him to dump the vitriol, executive jets and helicopters and present a, shall we say, more humble image to voters. 
"They [other candidates] should be worried about Donald Trump," declared campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.  Indeed, Trump's capacity to say outrageous things seems to have no limit, like blaming Jeb Bush for the Supreme Court decision validating same-sex marriage.
He reasons (pardon the term) that Bush, as Florida governor, helped his brother steal the 2000 election, his brother then  nominated John Roberts to head the Supreme Court, and even though Roberts was on the dissenting side of the gay marriage decision, it's Jeb's fault anyhow. 
Got that? 
I have written that the Republicans seem to have a limitless capacity to bite themselves in the ass by staking out positions that come back to haunt them, whether in governance, in court decisions as we have recently seen, and at the ballot box in national elections.  The modern-day GOP surely isn't the first political entity to have a franchise of short-sightedness, but I cannot think of a comparable situation in American political history.  Can you?
I'd appreciate your help and insight for a future post on the subject.  You can leave a comment or email me at Thank you in advance.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.

From Soup To Nuts: An Index To 'Politix Update' Posts

(July 1)  The Republican Party's Very Bad Case Of Future Shock.  LINK

(June 29) Fuggedabout The Here and Now, It's All About The Legacy. LINK.

(June 25)  They're Making News Without Even (Officially) Running. LINK.

(June 21) Bow Down To The Republican Doctrine Of Perpetual War. LINK.

(June 17) Why The GOP Is Screwed No Matter How The Supremes Rule.  LINK.

(June 11) The Nightmarish Scenario Of A Case of Clinton Fatigue. LINK.
(June 8) Hillary Asks, 'What Part of Democracy Are They Afraid Of?" LINK.
(June 5) We've Come A Long Way Since 9/11, Or Have We? LINK.
(June 2) Objects In Your Mirror Are Not As Close As They Appear. LINK.
(May 18) Jeb Bush Pisses On A Third Rail Of American Politics. LINK.
(May 6) GOP Field Insures That Hillary Will Keep The Inside Track. LINK.
(March 31) GOP Has Uphill Fight Not Just Because Of Idiots Like Cruz. LINK.


Chris Squire (1948-2015)



Saturday, June 27, 2015

Guest Post: 'The New South African Flag Never Looked So Beautiful'

EASTERN CAPE, South Africa -- One of my favorite memories of the historical work I did in South Africa was when a car full of black South Africans -- a community leader's four tough and well armed bodyguards -- saw the new South African flag flying for the first time.

It was during the first democratic election in April, 1994, which took place over four days. I was moving around the countryside with provincial ANC leader Smuts Ngonyama, who had been to hell and back during the struggle and transition years. He had survived and had cast his vote for the first time. Smuts wanted to see what was happening in the outlying towns . . . villages, really . . . so I was squished behind two armed bruisers in the backseat of a VW Golf. A real life "shotgun" rider was in the front, and an armed driver was wheeling along the country roads at an insanely fast speed.  Smuts, an ANC colleague, and two more bodyguards were in the car in front of us.

It had been a rough year. It had actually been a rough life, but the previous two years of the transitional phase were particularly bruising for ANC leaders like Smuts in this region called Ciskei.

Ciskei was a country that never existed to the rest of the world. It was one of nine imaginary countries, called Tribal Homelands, established by the apartheid government of South Africa, designed to deny black South Africans citizenship to white South Africa. By drawing boundaries around the traditional black (known as African) areas and by brute force shoving all Africans into those areas, they created both white security and a ready source of cheap labor by then issuing passes to those homeland residents so they could hold jobs and live in hostels in white South Africa. The homelands had their own governments, presidents, and armies, supported by the South African government. The homeland officials were considered to be collaborators.

When the handwriting was on the wall that the homelands would be dissolved into a new and democratic South Africa, and those homeland leaders would lose their jobs, some threw mighty tantrums in the form of brutal assassinations of ANC leaders whom they held responsible for this change in the weather.

The whole thing was bizarre.

For my first trip to South Africa in 1988 I had a visa for South Africa. But, to be able to travel into the rural areas where the villages were, I had to get a separate visa from the Transkei Homeland office in Washington. On my last day in South Africa I passed through a border post into Transkei- like any other border post. I would not be allowed into South Africa again, and would have to fly out of Umtata, a small Transkei town, and be treated as a transit visitor to make a connection in Johannesburg for London.

Transkei residents had Transkei passports but because Transkei was not recognized as a real country by the rest of the world, those passports were virtually worthless for international travel. Which victimized those Africans twice over.

Once I was in Transkei, I discovered there were many back roads that did not have border posts, that went in and out of the small pockets of white South Africa that were within the greater Transkei borders. The telltale sign was the quality of the roads and electrical service.

Ciskei was like Transkei with a major border post on the main road, but not on the back roads. The border post had official customs agents, and above it flew the South African and Ciskei flags.

During the years that Smuts Ngonyama was at the top of the Ciskei president’s assassination list, he had to be very careful of where those invisible borders were. In 1992, simply by crossing an invisible line, we knew he had just sprouted a huge bulls eye on his back. Then it went from being bizarre to downright scary. The Ciskei troops were adept at assassination. We had already visited a village home in which residents had been killed by grenades. We also attended the funeral of a colleague, also killed by grenade on his front porch.

A few days before the 1994 election, I attended  a ceremony in front of the Ciskei Parliament building in Bisho, the capital of Ciskei, with Smuts. It was just a short distance from the Bisho stadium where, in 1992, Ciskei troops mowed down protestors who were carrying a letter to the Ciskei president, begging him to stop the violence against the ANC. Thirty-nine protestors died. Smuts was a survivor.

The ceremony was the lowering of the Ciskei flag and the raising of the new South African flag. After an hour of blather about the worthiness of the Ciskei leaders until a preacher stood up and spoke the truth about the corrupt system and then there was a deathly silence. Everyone knew it was the truth. Then the Ciskei Troops -- the ones who had carried out the assassinations and terror over the years -- did a final march around the square. The people in the stands cheered them! I was dumbfounded. Smuts said, "The people are showing their forgiveness of those men." That was one of my first lessons in TIA -- This is Africa.

The pre-election violence continued to be hectic until the first day of the election. Then, a peaceful hush settled over the entire country as the residents of all races, of all regions- now citizens- cast their votes. It was a miracle.

But it didn’t feel like it, two days later, as I was suffering in the back seat of that VW Golf with those scary guys with their scary guns praying the scary driver will not go too fast around a curve and kill us all. Or, that some suspicious character will come too close to the cars and a frantic shooting spree would start. Still, I make a mental note that some day I would return to this area to photograph the beautiful countryside around me.

When darkness had fallen and there was nothing to see - the rural homes did not have electricity then -  I saw the Ciskei Border Post ahead. There had been some discussion among Smuts and the bodyguards as to whether they should take the route that passed the border post. Would they have trouble crossing it? It had always been something to avoid. But, the post was deserted. And, above it, in the glory of a huge Hollywood spotlight, was the new South African flag.

It has never looked so beautiful.

Those scarred and scary men, who had spent years in violent combat of one form or another, became little boys in their joy and amazement. I didn’t need to understand their language to know that. That flag, that piece of cloth was the end of oppression to them. It made change and hope a reality. It gave them citizenship of the land on which we travelled. The war was over.
It's 2015 and I live on a farm a few miles outside Bisho, which is now spelled Bhisho, most of the time. I can see the town from some parts of my land. It remains busy, as it now holds government offices for the Eastern Cape Province, which now incorporates Ciskei and most of Transkei.

Warfare for us is about invading goats and meercat poaching.

There is a large memorial garden next to the Bhisho Stadium where the 39 protestors were killed by Ciskei troops. A community center has been under construction next door to the memorial for over two years now and doesn’t appear to be anywhere near completion. TIA.

The horizon upon which I gaze from the front veranda of my home stretches across rolling fields toward the Amatola Mountains. The sun sets behind those mountains. On a clear day I can see distant African communities. It has only been in recent years that I have been able to see them at night, as they have become electrified.

When I drive toward town, I pass a site on which some large concrete pieces of construction remain. It is what remains of the Ciskei Border Post, the rest of that building having been redistributed for better uses among the locals a long time ago. (TIA- nothing goes to waste)

All that remains is the name. Because now, this location is called "Border Post."  I would bet that a good many of the "Born Free's," those born after 1994, don’t know why.

How wonderful it would be if a new generation of Americans could look at a picture of the Confederate flag and see it as a symbol of a distant past. The lowering of that flag is a significant step in the right direction. Maybe a new United States needs a new flag.
Susan Winters is a photojournalist and humanitarian who has lived in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa since 1997. She previously was a staff photographer for the Philadelphia Daily News, where I was her editor when she made several trips to South Africa to chronicle the enormous changes in that country after future President Nelson Mandela's release from prison. 
Winters' photo essays on a regional African National Congress leader's struggle to survive transitional political violence and on life in squalid townships where few white journalists would go won the prestigious 1994 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, the Pulitzer for photojournalists. From 1997 to 2003, Winters published an AIDS education periodical and has produced several documentaries.  She is the author of Nozuko's Story: The Story of an African Family, which chronicles in words and photographs a young woman's journey through sickness and survival, hope and despair, and brave activism on behalf of HIV/AIDS sufferers.

Patrick Macnee (1922-2015)


Friday, June 26, 2015

Top Court Concurs With The Obvious: Same-Sex Marriage Is Constitutional

Another day, another U.S. Supreme Court decision that should remind us things that once made America a great country like tolerance and helping the downtrodden are not entirely extinct.

A mere 24 hours after the high court dealt a major blow to conservatives in ruling 6-3 that a key provision of the Affordable Care Act passed muster, it ruled 5-4 that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage, providing gays a long-sought civil rights victory -- a victory coming too many years after rights for blacks and women had been validated -- that mirrored a seismic shift in public opinion.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who has long been sympathetic to gay rights, wrote the majority opinion. He was joined by the court's four liberal justices.  Chief Justice John G. Robert Jr., who had written the majority opinion in the ACA case, was joined in dissent by the court's three conservative justices.

"No union is more profound than marriage," Kennedy wrote in declaring that gay and lesbian couples have a fundamental right to wed. "[I]t embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were."

"It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage," Kennedy said of the couples who challenged state bans on same-sex marriage. "Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."

Roberts' dissent was laced with backhanded praise.

“If you are among the many Americans -- of whatever sexual orientation -- who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today's decision," Roberts wrote. "Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it."
 In an allusion to the rapidly increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage, Justice Kennedy noted that the Constitution's power rests with its ability to evolve along with society's consciousness, a view that further ignited reliably inflammatory and deeply conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
As in the ACA ruling, Scalia did not merely dissent but again showed evidence of being mentally unhinged and unsuitable even for a court that has tacked hard to the right in many cases.  Using his trademark snide mockery, Scalia called the ruling a "judicial Putsch" that threatened American democracy itself.  "This is a naked judicial claim to legislative -- indeed, super-legislative -- power," he wrote. "A system of government that makes the people subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy."

In ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges, the court used cases from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, where restrictions on same-sex marriage were upheld by an appeals court last year, to find that the Constitution does not allow such prohibitions.

In 2013, when the justices last confronted the issue of same-sex marriage,  a similarly slim majority said that a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act -- withholding the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriages -- was unconstitutional, but in a separate case, the court said procedural issues kept it from answering the constitutional question in a case from California, but allowed same-sex marriages to resume in that state.

Since then, courts across the nation with the notable exception of the federal appeals court in Cincinnati, which left intact the restrictions in the four states at issue, have struck down prohibition after prohibition against same-sex marriage.  Couples may now marry in 37 states and the District of Columbia.

The court focused on the constitutionality of same-sex unions and did not directly address the next battlefield for gay-rights advocates and civil libertarians: Isn't the argument that religious values may dictate public policy regarding secular institutions now legally invalid?  And does not the decision reaffirm the separation of church and state? The answer to both should be a resounding "yes," although conservatives and many religious leaders will vehemently disagree. 
Kennedy did allude to the issue in saying that people who disagree with same-sex marriage for religious or other reasons have the freedom to believe and to speak as they wish. "But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy," he wrote, "the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied."

Speaking at the White House, President Obama called the ruling "a victory for America" and said it arrived "like a thunderbolt" after so many battles over same-sex marriage. "[It] will strengthen all of our communities," he added.
The consequences of the ruling for the Republican Party, which has used gay bashing as a cudgel in its ceaseless cultural war waging, are perhaps not as drastic as the ACA decision, but nevertheless large in terms of the 2016 election.
Six in 10 Americans support same-sex marriage, a number that jumps to seven in 10 when the respondents know someone who is gay or lesbian, and eight in 10 among those ages 18 to 29.  Next year's election will be the first in which gay rights could be a major issue and that will put Republicans on the wrong side of history, as well as public opinion.  Not exactly a winning formula.
Beyond the GOP having worked so hard to bite itself in the electoral ass and, in the process, continue its marginalization as a national political force, there is a deep irony here: The party that has blathered on and on . . . and on and on and on . . . about Family Values finds itself diametrically opposed to Americans who value access to affordable health care for their families and value people no matter what their sexual orientation happens to be. 

Like I said, not exactly a winning formula.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Reason Trumps Political Gamesmanship In Historic Obamacare Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court today dealt a major blow to conservatives who have used everything from bare-knuckle politics to legislative sleight-of hand to frivolous litigation in a years-long effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act, a flawed but ultimately workable effort to bring affordable health care to all Americans as well as President Obama's signature achievement.

In a momentous 6-3 ruling, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in the majority opinion, as I had predicted, that Washington may indeed provide tax subsidies to help poor and middle-class people buy health insurance through federal-run exchanges.  He and Justice Anthony Kennedy and the four justices in the court's so-called liberal bloc found that there was no merit to the claim of the cynically motivated and Koch brothers-bankrolled plaintiffs in King vs. Burwell that although the law familiarly known as Obamacare seems to say the subsidies are available only to people buying insurance on "an exchange established by the state," those words must be understood in a larger statutory context.

"In this instance,” Roberts wrote in a blow for reason over mean-spirited political gamesmanship, "the context and structure of the act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase. . . . Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.  If at all possible, we must interpret the act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter."
The Supreme Court has become a tarnished institution, but it is to the credit of Roberts and the concurring justices that they interpreted the ACA and did not try to rewrite it.  Said Roberts:  "In a democracy, the power to make the law rests with those chosen by the people. Our role is more confined—to say what the law is."
As expected, the court's three most conservative members -- Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. -- dissented. Scalia ignored the fact the entire case rested on a four-word legislative glitch and accused the majority of "interpretive jiggery-pokery" in an ideological farce of a case the court never should have taken up in the first place.  "We should start calling this law SCOTUScare," the reliably spiteful justice added.
The case was freighted with heavy baggage.

An estimated 32.2 million people are enrolled in health insurance plans on state and federal exchanges under the ACA, while the percentage of adults who lack health insurance  is at a record low of 11.9 percent, according to a new Gallup-Healthways poll.  But had the court ruled for the plaintiffs, an estimated 7 million people in 34 states with federal exchanges would be impacted and their health care costs could spike by almost 300 percent, according to some estimates. 
The court's majority seemed particularly concerned about the consequences if the federal exchanges, with their subsidies for low- and some middle-income people, imploded.  Or as Roberts put it, "The combination of no tax credits and an ineffective coverage requirement could well push a state's individual insurance market into a death spiral."  And let's not forget that the court is reliably pro-big business, in this instance the gigantic health care and insurance industries.
The knots that Republicans have tied themselves in over the ACA had been getting tighter and tighter. 

After years of condemning the greatest leap forward in health-care reform since Medicare laws were enacted in 1966, including scare mongering about "death panels" and other lies on an epic scale, as well as dozens of unsuccessful House repeal votes, the GOP noise machine has fallen silent.  This is because a growing majority of Americans now understand that Obamacare works, warts and all, and the GOP would have been faced with some very unpleasant realities if the Supreme Court granted the party its wish and gutted the law.

Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, would not have known what to do if the high court nixed the federal exchange subsidies, while extending those subsidies by congressional fiat would have incurred the the wrath of the party's reliably cantankerous conservative base and most of the dozen or so (but then who's counting?) wannabes crowded into the GOP presidential primary clown car. 

The Obama administration professed to have no back-up plan.

The decision was the second major high court ruling for the ACA and the second written by Roberts.  In the first in 2012, the plaintiffs unsuccessfully argued that the individual mandate provision of the law -- requiring people who lack health insurance to buy it -- was unconstitutional because Congress overstepped its bounds in regulating interstate commerce, while the provision in the law expanding Medicaid to cover millions of additional low-income people was an unconstitutional use of power over the states.

While Republicans have been all over the place in fighting Obamacare, their core arguments have been that requiring Americans to buy health insurance is a violation of their "freedom and liberty" and the law "a massive power grab" by the president.

Beyond helping those 32.2 million people buy health insurance, the law caps insurance premiums for the poor, helps those under age 26 stay on their parents' health plans, protects those with pre-existing conditions, covers mental health care, requires insurers to spend most of every premium dollar on medical care, as opposed to administrative and advertising costs, has accelerated a modest decrease in health care costs, and provided generous tax credits to small businesses who provide health insurance for their employees.
Federal marketplace subsidies appear to be doing exactly as was intended. 
Some 87 percent of people enrolled in those marketplaces receive subsidies in the form of tax credits to help pay their insurance premiums, and many would otherwise be unable to buy insurance.  The subsidies also appear to have attracted younger and healthier individuals into the new insurance markets, stabilizing premiums, even for people who pay the full cost themselves.
It should not be forgotten, however, that the ruling is a victory for the profit-greedy health care  and health insurance industries, further decreasing the chances of a fairer and more cost-effective and fair single-payer system.
Conservatives in general and Republicans in particular have now been handed their teeth on Obamacare in Congress (2010), at the ballot box (2012), and twice in the Supreme Court (2012, 2015), so it is difficult to see where they might now turn despite their claims that Obamacare remains deeply unpopular. In fact, 47 percent of Americans approve of the law in the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, a five-year high, and pollsters find that the more people understand what the law is about the more people approve of it.

Republicans facing re-election in states with federal exchanges are sure to have been secretly relieved that they won't face the inevitable backlash a ruling against the law would have provoked.  And the decision provides an opportunity for a bipartisan effort to improve aspects of the law that need fine tuning.  That is not going to happen, of course, and within minutes of the decision being announced there were predictable demands that Republicans controlling the House and Senate increase their efforts to repeal the law through a filibuster-proof budget procedure known as reconciliation.

The problem for the GOP is that President Obama would never sign repeal legislation, reconciliation is an iffy procedure, and efforts to nibble away at aspects of the law faces mixed chances of success. While the House voted this week to eliminate a special payment advisory board created by the law in a worthy effort to hold down costs because of specious claims that the board would ration health care, the proposal stands no chance in the Senate where it can be filibustered by Democrats.
"The American people believe both subsidies and mandates are wrong, so it's now up to Congress to use reconciliation to repeal Obamacare, and Congress should continue to do so until there is a president who is willing to sign that repeal,” harrumphed David McIntosh, a former Republican House member who is president of the free-market Club for Growth.

If that president is Hillary Clinton, then it will be more of the same Republican whining and obfuscation.  But if a Republican wins next year, which is a long shot at this point, all bets are off.

Politix Update: They're Making News Without Even (Officially) Running

Call him the Panic Candidate.
Even though Ohio Governor John Kasich has not formally announced that he's joining the already crowded Republican presidential field, he seems to be everywhere except back home these days.  That is everywhere there might be potential donors who believe this swing state governor may just be the guy to rally what's left of the GOP's moderate base as an alternative to the floundering candidacy of Jeb Bush.
The mainstream media had all but handed Bush the nomination a few short months ago on the strength of his prodigious fund raising, close ties to party moderates, and the belief that an establishment-oriented candidate like himself had the best chance of beating Hillary Clinton.  But as I wrote in a recent Politix Update, the media pretty much got it wrong: Bush has many more challengers for the nomination than it was presumed there would be, while fellow Floridian Marco Rubio is running even if Mitt Romney is not, and while he may be establishment oriented his party is increasingly less so.  He also has run a lackluster campaign and has not figured out how to deal with the deep antipathy with which many Republicans view his big brother for sullying the party brand, a reality that in the end may be impossible to overcome.
Kasich's big problem is that he is getting in late, if he gets in at all.  And while his moderate bona fides will appeal to voters outside the GOP's increasingly white and right wing base, and he served two terms in Congress, just because he's a lot like Jeb Bush on policy issues doesn't mean he can pre-empt him by benefiting from the panic felt by party moderates who believe the Bush campaign has run out of steam.  
There's also his tacit support of the Affordable Care Act by expanding Medicaid coverage for low-income adults in Ohio two years ago.  This will alienate him from the Republicans nationally who believe that access to affordable health care is a socialist evil, or something, as well as distance him from the many presidential wannabes who have either voted to repeal Obamacare or vociferously oppose it.  His allies counter that Kasich won reelection last year with 64 percent of the vote in part because of what they call a courageous economic and moral stand for the poor.
Nor does a Kasich bid mean that conservative candidates like Rubio are going to roll over.  Conservatives believe, naively in my view, that this is their year to take back the White House after the disappointing showings by moderates John McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012.
A key to whether Kasich runs is if he can corral the support of Rupert Murdoch, the media tycoon and Fox News owner who has an oversized voice in Republican Party affairs.  Politico notes that Murdoch and Kasich, who was a Fox News host for six years, are close friends and Kasich has gotten Murdoch to contribute lavishly to Republican causes in the past.  So how about his own cause?
In any event, Kasich seems to be making points, in part because of his reputation for not mincing words.
"That was more candor in 30 minutes than I've heard in three hours of listening to other politicians talk," said Wes Climer, chairman of the York County (S.C.) Republican Party, after hosting a Kasich appearance.  And at an appearance before big donors in Southern California, one of them told Kasich that she disagreed with the governor's decision to expand Medicaid coverage.  "I don't know about you, lady," he fired back, "But when I get to the pearly gates, I'm going to have to answer for what I've done for the poor."
Call him the Phantom Candidate.
Vice President Biden has not said he will be running for president, but neither has he ruled it out, which gives hope to Democrats -- at this point a small handful, anyway -- who do not much care for presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton and believe Biden would be the best Democrat to carry on the legacy of Barack Obama.
Will Pierce, an Army Reserve captain who served in Iraq, chairs the Draft Biden movement, which he runs out of a small office in Chicago.  He says the movement has collected 81,000 petition signatures, is fundraising and hopes to lure Biden into the race after a series of campaign rallies.
"We’re bringing on more people. We just want to show the vice president the support he has," says Pierce. "When and if he gets into the race, he'll have a foundation. He'll have some endorsers. He'll have a grass-roots organization ready to go."
In the unlikely event Biden decided to run, that almost certainly would be predicated on Clinton having to withdraw from the race for, say, health reasons.  If Biden was then nominated -- and the possibility that he would beat whomever the Republicans threw at him -- he would be 77 at the end of a first term, making him the oldest of any president in history.  That alone would seem to rule against run.  Meanwhile, Biden has been in Washington for 42 years and, one would think, is pretty damned tired of life in the public eye. 
Add to that the recent death of his son, Beau, to brain cancer at age 48 and it's difficult to see Biden doing anything other than going home to tiny Delaware after a outsized career.
So you're a Republican governor but your ambitions are higher.  Much higher -- liking running for president.  So at this stage of the game, your focus is on the early primary states more than your own, and while your policy decisions might go over well among the Republican burghers of Iowa or New Hampshire, members of your own party are in revolt back home.
It has happened to Chris Christie in New Jersey and Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, and now Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is feeling the slings and arrows of Republican legislators over his repeated demands to do more with less, like pay for $1.3 billion in bridge and road repairs without raising taxes.  While this so-called fiscal responsibility may play well with conservatives nationally, what Walker really wants to do is borrow that $1.3 billion, which his legislative colleagues say is irresponsible.  
Campaigning in Iowa and elsewhere, Walker boasts of lowering taxes by $2 billion and lowering unemployment, but he does not mention that Wisconsin ranked 35th in job growth in the nation during his first term, and that it trails its upper Midwest neighbors.
The no-new-taxes pledge is indeed a winner out on the hustings, but Wisconsin legislators are more interested in bridges that don't fall down and roads that don't fall apart.  Kinda like Kansas, where Governor Sam Brownback's anti-tax extremism has won him applause among conservatives but infuriated legislators and plunged the state into a fiscal crisis.  And in the long run destroyed any chance of Brownback being taken seriously as presidential material.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.

    Wednesday, June 24, 2015

    Is This The Year The Old South Finally Will Fall Again? Let Us Hope So.

    Somebody needs to say a good word for slavery. Where in the world are the Negroes better off today than in America? ~ JACK KERSHAW, League of the South board member
    I wrote at the beginning of 2011 — the 150th anniversary of the onset of the American Civil War — that it would be the year the South would rise again. Given the rapid-fire developments in the week since the racism-fueled massacre of nine black people in a Charleston church, will 2015 be the year that the South would be put back in its box? Is the Lost Cause finally and truly lost?
    There is an immense difference between the Civil War and every other war in American history. This is because the Civil War, which cleaved a still young nation into two parts and led to the loss of a horrific 620,000 lives, is that it is still being fought by a rag bag of organizations like the League of the South and Council of Conservative Citizens that are fueled by Lost Causers who many generations on remain willfully wrong about the roll that slavery played in the destruction of their precious South. The latest generation of these delusionists include 21-year-old Confederate battle flag wearer and church shooter Dylann Roof, whose anti-black manifesto references the council, a contributor to no fewer than three Republican presidential candidates.
    Yes, there were other reasons for the Civil War, including states rights and collapse of the two-political party system and emergence of the Whigs as personified by Abraham Lincoln, whose overriding purpose well into the war was to keep the union together and not to abolish slavery, a fact conveniently lost on the descendants of Northerners who in their own way also have abridged history to fit a more convenient story line and have their own share of racists.
    But there is no other explanation than a purposeful ignorance based on racism for the endurance of flag-waving Lost Causers, their fanaticism stoked by Southern politicians who worshipfully embrace the Lost Cause with quotidian regularity and just as regularly walk back from their shameful statements after the damage is yet again done.
    Yet this time is different, perhaps because the cumulative fantasy of the defenders of displaying the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina statehouse and thousands of other public places throughout the South that they are honoring their brave ancestors and not being racists became too monstrous to be contained any longer and exploded in their white faces with the massacre of the pastor and eight congregants at historically African-American Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17.
    The Confederate battle flag and like symbols have long existed in a sort of shadow land between a fictive present and a factual past, and among the many lies told by white denialists is that the flag always has been displayed in the South.  The truth is that only during the Jim Crow era and since was the flag reintroduced and defiantly flown as a reminder of white supremacy.

    This is something that Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. bravely acknowledged in saying that even though the flag symbolized “Southern pride” to some people, it had a deeply sinister meaning to others.  And, might I add, this is not merely a matter of free speech.
    "When it is so often used as a symbol of hate," Riley said, "of defiance to civil rights, to equal rights, equality among the races, a symbol used by the Klan, a symbol you saw at every protest event during times of integration and racial progress, then, in front of the State Capitol, for those who harbor any of those kinds of feelings -- and we hope they are very few -- it nonetheless sends the wrong kind of message."
    How good it was of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, in for the removal of the flag from the capitol, to suddenly understand that it was time to do just that after years of defending the flag’s presence. What had begun as scattered calls to strip symbols of the Confederacy from public places, license plates and stores online and off, had quickly morphed into a nationwide movement. Amazon, eBay, Walmart and Sears fell into step, announcing that they would no longer allow the sale of Confederate flags and similarly themed merchandise.
    I give Haley very little credit and retailers even less. She could have ordered removal of the flag and asked the state Legislature to validate her order. She did not, and the collective cowards known as the Republican presidential field predictably suddenly found their voices, silently thanking Haley for letting them off the hook.
    Typical among them was Scott Walker, who declared “I support her decision” within hours after his campaign sheepishly announcing that it was donating a contribution from Dylan Roof’s favorite organization to charity.  All of this mushy-mouthedness in the face, lest we forget, of the amazing grace of the families of the church massacre victims in saying that they forgave the sick young man who exterminated their loved ones.
    Opined conservative commentator Jennifer Rubin, of all people: "That any member of the party of Lincoln could not condemn veneration of the flag for which the martyred president and hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives to defeat is, frankly, stunning. Many who seek to lead the party and country in a divisive time showed they are just not up to the task."
    * * * * *
    It comes as no surprise that in the 14 years since the 9/11attacks, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, anti-government fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims. After all, the Charleston church massacre was only the latest lethal attack by people spewing racial hatred and hostility to government.
    Since 9/11, 48 people have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists, according to a survey by New America, a Washington research center.
    But many of us do not want to acknowledge that sobering truth.
    Efforts by government agencies to conduct research on right-wing extremism since the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American president, repeatedly have run into resistance from Republicans. A 2009 report by the Department of Homeland Security that warned an ailing economy and the election of the first black president might prompt a violent reaction from white supremacists, was withdrawn in the face of conservative criticism. 
    In other words, Republicans have defended the most vile and deeply sociopathic elements in our society like Dylann Roof.  It does not matter whether they have done so unwittingly or not.  How else to construe that?

    * * * * *
    Things certainly would be simpler today if the Civil War had not been about slavery.
    We could content ourselves with arguing about who was the better general, why the Confederacy was able to survive for so long despite an overwhelming disadvantage in troops and materiel, whether Pickett’s Charge was an avoidable mistake or Sherman was a war criminal because of his fiery March to the Sea.
    "If the war actually weren’t about slavery, I think all our lives would be a lot easier," writes the inestimable Ta-Nehisi Coates, the blogger descendant of slaves who has studied the war with an enviably clear-eyed detachment.
    "But as I thought on it, my sadness was stupid," he says. "What undergirds all of this alleged honoring of the Confederacy, is a kind of ancestor-worship that isn’t. The Lost Cause is necromancy — it summons the dead and enslaves them to the need of their vainglorious, self-styled descendants."
    The greatest crime of the Lost Causers — and crime is not too strong a word in the context of the pain, beyond the neverending epidemic of hate crimes they continue to cause right-minded people of all colors — is that they deny the humanity of the very people whom they claim to venerate. In "honoring" the past they cannot cope with the present.
    Although this comparison is not perfect, it works well enough: The Germans have fessed up to their history, the Japanese have denied it, while the Lost Causers have simply rewritten it.
    Lowering the flag of the Old South will not erase the church massacre or return the lives of the many thousands, including civil rights workers, extinguished in the cause of racial justice.  But may we be united in prayer that our nation will begin to turn the corner in renouncing our hateful past -- and present.