Thursday, July 24, 2014

Obama didn't go to the border;
Republicans accuse him of ignoring the problem.
If he'd gone,
they'd have accused him of a photo-op
on taxpayer money.
Just another Republican coin toss head game:
heads, we win;

tails, Obama loses.
Thank God Obama isn't fooled;
let's hope that We the People aren't, either.


Photo: Give me your tired, your poor...

From Daily Kos: Border completely overrun.... or maybe not

by icemilkcoffee

If you have been watching the news for the past week, you would have had the impression that the entire southern border has been overrun by illegal immigrant youths lured in by Obama's Dream Act deferrals, while border guards are reduced to wringing their hands helplessly. In reality, none of that is even remotely true.
Illegal border crossings have declined dramatically in the last 15 years. Unaccompanied minors from Central America is a crisis and a human tragedy to be sure. But in terms of numbers, it is a relatively minor uptick. And it should be seen in the context of the overall drastic decline in border crossings.
Historical trend chart for total number of apprehensions on the Southwest border, compared to the number of unaccompanied minors from Central America.
attribution: None Specified

The unaccompanied minors number for FY2014 is a projected number from DHS director Jeh Johnson. The total number of apprehensions is unknown, but even if you generously assume 500,000 for the year 2014, it would still be less than 1/3 of what it was back in 1999, and well lower than at any time between 1992 and 2008.

There is, obviously, no hard and fast count on actual illegal border crossings. So border apprehensions will have to serve as a proxy. Now before anyone suggests that border apprehensions could have dropped off because our Border Patrols have been missing in action, keep in mind that the number of Border Patrols at the Southwest border has doubled in this time frame, from around 8000 in 1999, to around 18000 in 2013. Some republicans have called on President Obama to call up the National Guard to patrol the border, on the theory that our Border Patrol has been somehow overwhelmed. Once again, nothing is further from the truth. The number of apprehensions per agent has gone from around 200 per year, in 1999, down to around 22 per year in 2013. Our border Patrol agents are a long way off from being overwhelmed. They are underworked if anything.

Another popular republican talking point is that President Obama's DACA executive order granting temporary stay of deportation to undocumented immigrant minors, has caused this surge of children rushing across the border. Keep in mind that Obama issued this order on 16JUN 2012. The order explicitly spells out that only youths who came in on or before 15JUN 2012, are eligible. Anyone coming in after that date is ineligible. So right off the bat, you can see that it makes no sense for anyone to rush in after that deadline to try to take advantage of DACA. But assuming the Central Americans didn't pay attention to the fine print before plunking down their life savings of close to $10,000 per child to smuggle their kids into the US, does the timing support the republicans' accusation? Let's look at the trend line to see when this surge of minors across the border first took place:
Unaccompanied minors in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement
If you look carefully, you will notice that the first surge took place between Jan and Apr of 2012, when the number of unaccompanied minors referred to ORR custody more than doubled in the span of 3 months. This was a few months before Obama announced his DACA executive order. So the timing definitely contradicts the GOP's allegations.  

Furthermore, this has been misreported as some kind of children's crusade, when the truth of the matter is that everyone, children and adults, has been running away from these Central American countries. DHS does not break out the origins of all apprehended immigrants, but it does separate out mexican nationals apprehended at the southwest border, vs non-mexican nationals. This latter group would be, to a first approximation, migrants from Mexico's immediate southern neighbors including Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador- the 3 countries at the center of the unaccompanied minors crisis.
Historical trend of Central Americans apprehended in total, compared to the number of Central American unaccompanied minors apprehended.
As you can see- there has been a huge increase in Central American migrants in general, not just minors. This is central americans running from violence, not just kids seeking purported amnesty. And they are not just running to the US neither. The UNHCR reported that from 2008 to 2013, the number of asylum applications overall from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras filed in Belize, Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama, has increased by 712%. Meanwhile, here in the US, the number of unaccompanied central american minors have increased from 3304 in FY09, to 20805 in FY2013, for an increase of 629%- fairly comparable to the UNHCR number. In other words, these central american migrants are running for safety everywhere, not just to the US, further undermining the GOP's argument that they are induced to come to the US by Obama's DACA act.
Further reading:
Most of information in my diary came from these two exceptional blog post- and the second one there is actually from a pro-immigration republican blog no less.
Originally posted to icemilkcoffee on Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 09:26 AM PDT.

Also republished by Baja Arizona Kossacks and Community Spotlight.

9 Truly Evil Things Right-Wing Christians Do

Too many devout believers claim a righteous mandate to say and do things that are truly horrible.
Christians may be a super majority in the U.S. They may control the U.S. Congress and, as we all were reminded recently, the Supreme Court. But that hasn’t stopped Bible believers from preparing their children for martyrdom. Web resources abound for church youth leaders who want to make sure their young charges are ready when the lions come for them. Titles include, “Expect to be Persecuted” “Persecution Equals Reward” and “Adventure Game—Persecution of Christians and Paul of Tarsus."
Stuff Fundies Like is a blog by and for people coming out of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist tradition. Recently one former Baptist told how his high school youth group had been divided into two groups, assigned to play the roles of persecutors and martyrs. In 2012 a youth pastor in Pennsylvania made international news by staging the kidnapping of his young charges to help prepare them for the horrors to come.

The Christian persecution complex is absurd. Modern American Christians are not persecuted or under attack.  But for Christians who are truly concerned about hostility toward their faith, I have a bit of advice: Don’t be evil. And don’t let your co-religionists get away with being evil either.

No, really.

In the book of Matthew, Jesus gives his disciples a lot of contradictory advice. Modern day followers pick and choose, but one piece that often gets ignored is this: Be harmless as doves. This advice is not only profoundly moral; it is profoundly self-protective. Far fewer people would be entertaining themselves with fantasies about lions if more Christians took this little nugget seriously. A huge part of the antagonism that even moderate Christians face from outsiders is due to the fact that too many devout believers claim a righteous mandate to say and do things that are truly horrible.

Let me spell it out.

1. Opposing protections and rights for children is evil. Thanks to the influence of biblical Christianity, the U.S. stands alone with Somalia in failing to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Why? Because the Bible instructs parents to hit their children, among other things. Laws that give rights to children go head to head with biblical texts which say in no uncertain terms that children are the property of their fathers, to be punished or even killed in accordance with the father’s religious beliefs and other priorities.

When a Muslim father in Tunisia recently burned his 13 year old daughter to death for walking home with a male classmate, Christians were rightfully appalled. What many fail to acknowledge is that their insistence on elevating religion above universal ethical principles, human rights, and secular laws regularly costs children their lives, not just children with Muslim parents governed by Muslim theocracies, but also children with Christian parents in towns across America.

2. Denying young people accurate information about their bodies is evil. The U.S. government just spent a decade and a billion dollars on failed abstinence-only education programs concocted by Bible believers who live in some delusional world where prohibition works and virginity is next to godliness. Thanks to their influence, straight-faced educators tell teens that a girl who has had sex is a licked lollipop. Instead of medically accurate information and thoughtful conversation about intimacy and childbearing, teens get promise rings and slut shame.

The result?

Here in the U.S., more than one in four girls gets pregnant before she turns 20, often with heartbreaking multigenerational consequences for women, children and whole communities. More than half of girls who give birth during high school drop out, permanently. Only two percent ever graduate college.

3. Demeaning and subjugating women is evil. When it comes to dignity and equality for women, instead of acting as moral torchbearers, Bible believers have been at the back of the pack for generations, along with conservative factions from other Abrahamic traditions ranging from Islam to Mormonism. The American Quiverfull movement, “complementarianism,” the expulsion of Southern Baptist women who were making inroads into the clergy, the Mormon Patriarchy’s threats to excommunicate women who seek equality, the Vatican’s decision to crush nuns who thought poverty was a bigger problem than abortion . . .

Need I say more?

4. Obstructing humanity’s transition to more thoughtful, intentional childbearing is evil. “If a woman dies in [child]bearing, let her die; she is there to do it.” So spoke Martin Luther. But beyond the horrors of women dying after days of labor or bleeding out after unwanted childbirth, lies the incontrovertible evidence that children, families and whole communities do better when parents can plan their families. As one medical student put it, “The failure of any sect to support the benefits to humanity that could be obtained through the use of contraceptive technology is blasphemy.”

If evidence-based compassion—the intersection of truth and love—was at the top of Christian priorities, hunger and destitution would be vastly diminished because millions of mothers would be able to plan and prepare for their babies. But for two generations, Christian patriarchs have been fighting against public health advocates every step of the way. In June alone, Christians in the U.S. congress voted to slash family planning aid by 25 percent, and the five Catholic men on the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the “religious freedom” of corporations is more important than the right of working women to care for their health and their families.

5. Undermining science is evil. Science has been called what we know about how not to fool ourselves.The discovery of empiricism and falsification—a method of inquiry that forces scholars to ask the questions that could show them wrong—is what has differentiated modernity from the Middle Ages. It’s the reason most of our children don’t die before hitting the age of five. It’s the reason broken legs heal straight, sky scrapers don’t collapse, and our houses are warm in the winter. It is what alerted us to the fact that our carbon consumption has become an existential threat.

But the scientific method has also become an existential threat to Bible belief. We know now that the Genesis creation story is myth, neurotransmitters rather than demons cause mental illness, mandrake roots and dove blood don’t improve female fertility or cure skin diseases, and the cognitive structures of the human mind predispose us to certain kinds of religious belief.

It may boggle moral credibility that believers intent on propping up the Bible would sacrifice humanity’s best hope of beating the enormous threats we face, threats like resource depletion, food and water shortages, climate change, and rapidly evolving superbugs. But if there’s any overarching theme to Christian history it is this: the end justifies the means.

6. Promoting holy war is evil. What first flipped my bit, what transformed me from an agnostic into an outspoken full-time antagonist of Bible worship was a conversation with my Evangelical relatives about the Iraq war. From the vantage of my relatives and my childhood church “family,” George Bush needed no diplomatic or cultural expertise; he was Born Again. He didn’t need to seek input from his earthly father about the invasion, because he asked his Heavenly Father. Besides, Jesus is coming soon and war in the Middle East is predicted in the Bible. That makes it not only inevitable, but—in a manner of speaking—desirable.

Evangelical Christians have spent tens of millions of dollars funding the “return” of Jews to Israel and settlements in the West Bank “as it is written in the scripture”—with the perverse expectation that their presence will one day cause blood to flow in the streets as high as a horse’s bridle.

7. Abusing and killing queers is evil. The Bible’s clobber verses may be open to interpretation, but the fact that those verses have caused centuries of suffering is not. For much of American history, the common term for queer was the biblical “sodomite,” implying that gays are so offensive to God that they pose a threat to society as a whole. Thanks to Christian missionaries, African and Latin American queers also have now lived for centuries now under the threat of violent death. As progressive Anglican Gay Clark Jennings observes, “There is no getting around the Bible when searching for the origins of the homophobia that is rampant in many African cultures. What’s more, Europeans and North Americans bear much of the historical responsibility for this sad state of affairs.”

It would be bad enough if we were simply talking about history. But homophobic American Christians, thwarted at home, have turned to inciting oppression in Uganda and Nigeria where their hatred still finds fertile ground.

8. Destroying Earth’s web of life and impoverishing future generations is evil. The book of Genesis may say that only man is made in the image of God and that God gave man dominion over everything that grows or walks the earth. The book of Matthew may say that the return of Jesus is imminent and that his disciples shouldn’t worry about tomorrow, which will take care of itself. The book of Revelation may teach that this world is just a prelude to streets of gold.

But some of us think the lives and loves of other species have moral weight of their own. And some of us think that the intricate web that gave us birth is both precious and precarious, and that the wellbeing of future generations matters. And we think those verses in Genesis and Matthew and Revelation reveal more about the hubris and flawed humanity of the Bible writers (and of Bible believers) than they do about divinity.

9. Trying to suck vulnerable people into your poorly researched worldview is evil. It’s one thing to latch onto the supernatural worldview you were raised in or the one that first triggered for you some radically cool temporal lobe micro-seizure or similar altered state. But then failing to do your homework before using your position of adult American privilege to foist your religion on kindergarteners, or families who live in desperate poverty, or people who just got hit by a natural disaster—in other words people who trust you because you are older or richer or more powerful or have more access to the very information that you have failed to use—now we’re talking about a violation of ethics. Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right.


Some reader is bound to say that without God anything goes and so as a nontheist I have no basis for calling anything evil. A short snarky retort has been making its way around the internet: If you can’t tell right from wrong without appealing to an authority or a sacred text, what you lack is not religion but compassion. The long answer, meaning the evidence showing we really can recognize evil and good without gods, is available in neuroscience, sociology, developmental psychology, and in the lives of individual atheists including the Dalai Lama.

I realize that many Christians are not Bible believers, but rather people who glean through the Christian tradition to claim what seems timeless and wise. I also realize that most Bible believers aren’t trying to do harm—in fact the opposite. I know because I’ve been there. But, when you treat the words of our Iron Age ancestors as if they flowed straight from the mouth of God, you end up putting your life energy, whether you see it that way or not, into bringing back the Iron Age.
The Iron Age was a time of incredible brutality—tribalism, warfare, destitution, disease, murder, misogyny, sexual slavery and superstition of biblical proportions. Most of us would rather not go back, thank you very much. Christians who want a better future are welcome to join in the inquiry and teamwork it will take to get there, and many do. For the rest of you: please forgive the fact that your Iron Age fantasies trigger some of us to experience wry Iron Age fantasies of our own.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of "Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light" and "Deas and Other Imaginings." Her articles can be found at

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hobby Lobby Joins a Cult!

Click here to enlarge:

Restricting the Vote

Sunday, July 20, 2014--The concerted national effort to restrict Americans' voting rights in 2012 was met with an equally dramatic pushback by courts, the press, and engaged citizens.

By Election Day, the worst laws had been blocked, blunted, postponed, or repealed.

At New York University School of Law, Brennan Center For Justice was instrumental in leading this fight.

Representing civil rights groups, Center attorneys helped win court rulings to block harsh voter ID laws in South Carolina and Texas that could have made it harder for hundreds of thousands to cast ballots.

The Center’s suit on behalf of the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote blocked Florida’s new law, which had forced nonpartisan groups to end voter registration in the Sunshine State.

Thousands of voters were registered after the federal court ruled.

The Center led an extensive public opinion research project on attitudes toward voting.

Over 300 organizations used this cutting edge research to help win victories in Colorado, Minnesota, and elsewhere.

Overall in 2012, restrictive voting laws in 14 states were blocked, diluted, repealed, or postponed, which helped protect millions of votes.

Boy, these conservatives are really something, aren't they?
They're all in favor of the unborn.
They will do anything for the unborn.
But once you're born, you're on your own.
Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months.
After that, they don't want to know about you.
They don't want to hear from you.
No nothing.
No neonatal care, no day care, no head start,
no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare,
no nothing.
If you're preborn, you're fine;
if you're preschool, you're f**ked.
George Carlin

I was poor but a GOP die-hard:
How I finally left the politics of shame

By Anonymous in Las Vegas

Wednesday, Jul 16--I was a 20-year-old college dropout with no more than $100 in the bank the day my son was born in 1994.I’d been in the Coast Guard just over six months.

Joining the service was my solution to a lot of problems, not the least of which was being married to a pregnant, 19-year-old fellow dropout.

We were poor, and my overwhelming response to poverty was a profound shame that drove me into the arms of the people least willing to help―conservatives.

Just before our first baby arrived, my wife and I walked into the social services office near the base where I was stationed in rural North Carolina.

“You qualify for WIC and food stamps,” the middle-aged woman said.

I don’t know whether she disapproved of us or if all social services workers in the South oozed an understated unpleasantness.

We took the Women, Infants, Children vouchers for free peanut butter, cheese, and baby formula and got into the food stamp line.

Looking around, I saw no other young servicemen.

Coming from the white working class, I’d always been taught that food stamps were for the “other”―failures, drug addicts, or immigrants, maybe―not for real Americans like me.

I could not bear the stigma, so we walked out before our number was called.

Even though we didn’t take the food stamps, we lived in the warm embrace of the federal government with subsidized housing and utilities, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

Yet I blamed all of my considerable problems on the government, the only institution that was actively working to alleviate my suffering.

I railed against government spending (i.e., raising my own salary).

At the same time, the earned income tax credit was the only way I could balance my budget at the end of the year.

I felt my own poverty was a moral failure.

To support my feelings of inadequacy, every move I made only pushed me deeper into poverty.

I bought a car and got screwed on the financing.

The credit I could get, I overused and was overpriced to start with.

My wife couldn’t get or keep a job, and we could not afford reliable day care in any case.

I was naive, broke, and uneducated but still felt entitled to a middle-class existence.

If you had taken WIC and the EITC away from me, my son would still have eaten, but my life would have been much more miserable.

Without government help, I would have had to borrow money from my family more often.

I borrowed money from my parents less than a handful of times, but I remember every single instance with a burning shame.

To ask for money was to admit defeat, to be a de facto loser.

To make up for my own failures, I voted to give rich people tax cuts, because somewhere deep inside, I knew they were better than me.

They earned it.

My support for conservative politics was atonement for the original sin of being white trash.

In my second tour of duty, I grew in rank and my circumstances improved.

I voted for George W. Bush.

I sent him campaign money, even though I had little to spare.

During the Bush v. Gore recount, I grabbed a sign and walked the streets of San Francisco to protest, carrying my toddler on my shoulders.

I got emotional, thinking of “freedom.”

Sometime after he took office, I watched Bush speak at an event.

He talked of tax cuts.

“It’s the people’s money,” he said.

By then I was making even better money, but I didn’t care about tax cuts for myself.

I was still paying little if any income tax, but I believed in “fairness.”

The “death tax” (aka the estate tax) was unfair and rich people paid more taxes so they should get more of a tax break.

I ignored my own personal struggles when I made political decisions.

By the financial meltdown of 2008, I was out of the military and living in Reno, Nevada―a state hard hit by the downturn.

I voted libertarian that election year, even though the utter failure of the free market was obvious.

The financial crisis proved that rich people are no better than me, and, in fact, are often inferior to average people.

They crash companies, loot pensions and destroy banks, and when they hit a snag, they scream to be rescued by government largess.

By contrast, I continued to pay my oversize mortgage for years, even as my home lost more than half its value.

I viewed my bad investment as yet another moral failure.

When it comes to voting and investing, rich people make calculated decisions, while regular people make “emotional” and “moral” ones.

Despite growing self-awareness, I pushed away reality for another election cycle.

In 2010, I couldn’t support my own Tea Party candidate for Senate because Sharron Angle was an obvious lunatic.

I instead sent money to the Rand Paul campaign.

Immediately the Tea Party-led Congress pushed drastic cuts in government spending that prolonged the economic pain.

The jobs crisis in my own city was exacerbated by the needless gutting of government employment.

The people who crashed the economy―bankers and business people―screamed about government spending and exploited Tea Party outrage to get their own taxes lowered. 

Just months after the Tea Party victory, I realized my mistake, but I could only watch as the people I supported inflicted massive, unnecessary pain on the economy through government shutdowns, spending cuts, and gleeful cruelty.

I finally “got it.”

In 2012, I shunned my self-destructive voting habits and supported Obama.

I only wished there were a major party more liberal than the Democrats for whom I could vote.

Even as I saw the folly of my own lifelong voting record, many of my friends and family moved further into the Tea Party embrace, even as conservative policies made their lives worse.

I have a close friend on permanent disability.

He votes reliably for the most extreme conservative in every election.

Although he’s a Nevadan, he lives just across the border in California, because that progressive state provides better social safety nets for its disabled.

He always votes for the person most likely to slash the program he depends on daily for his own survival.

It’s like clinging to the end of a thin rope and voting for the rope-cutting razor party.

The people who most support the Republicans and the Tea Party carry a secret burden.

Many know that they are one medical emergency or broken down car away from ruin, and they blame the government.

They vote against their own interests, often hurting themselves in concrete ways, in a vain attempt to deal with their own, misguided shame about being poor.

They believe “freedom” is the answer, even though they live a form of wage indenture in a rigged system.

I didn’t become a liberal until I was nearly 40.

By the time I came around, I was an educated professional, married to another professional. 

We’re “making it,” whatever that means these days.

I gladly pay taxes now, but this attitude is also rooted in self-interest.

I have relatives who are poor, and, without government services, I might have to support them.

We can all go back to living in clans, like cavemen, or we can build institutions and programs that help people who need it.

It seems like a great bargain to me.

I’m angry at my younger self, not for being poor, but for supporting politicians who would have kept me poor if they were able.

Despite my personal attempts to destroy the safety net, those benefits helped me.

I earned a bachelor’s degree for free courtesy of a federal program, and after my military service I used the GI Bill to get two graduate degrees, all while making ends meet with the earned income tax credit.

The GI Bill not only helped me, it also created much of the American middle class after World War II.

Conservatives often crow about “supporting the military,” but imagine how much better America would be if the government used just 10 percent of the military budget to pay for universal higher education, rather than saddling 20-year-olds with mortgage-like debt.

Government often fails because the moneyed interests don’t want it to succeed.

They hate government and most especially activist government (aka government that does something useful).

Their hatred for government is really disdain for Americans, except as consumers or underpaid labor.

Sadly, it took me years―decades―to see the logic of supporting people who disdain me.

But I’m a super-slow learner.

I wish I could take the poorest, struggling conservatives and shake them.

I would scream that their circumstances or failures or joblessness are not all their fault.

They should wise up and vote themselves a break.

Rich people vote their self-interest in every single election.

Why don’t poor people?

Remember Jethro on The Beverly Hillbillies?

Doesn't Rick Perry remind you of him?

But Perry sports horned-rimmed glasses now so we're supposed to think he's no longer the moron he showed us on national TV.

Remember? He phucken forgot the third Department he’d eliminate?

He doesn't change from his Superman costume into Clark Kent with his studious look.

There are no longer phone booths...besides, he'd probably get arrested for fumbling with his shorts!

Sorry, Grover, you’re gonna have to come up with something better than glasses for this moron...Hillary’s gonna chew him up and spit him out like cheap chaw!

We're in a time where corporations are treated like people and people are treated like things.

Rev. William Barber

Rev. Barber is president of the North Carolina Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and he spoke these profound words of truth regarding the shutting of water to Detroit residents.

AlterNet / By Joe Conason
July 14, 2014

The Republicans have become the party of perpetual whining.

US Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks during his weekly news conference on February 6, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC
Listening to Republicans in Washington (and Texas and Arizona) scream about the "crisis" of migrant children arriving from Central America on our southern border, it is puzzling to realize they don't actually want to do anything to solve the problem. Nor do these hysterical politicians -- led by that down-home diva Rick Perry, the governor of Texas -- want to let President Barack Obama do anything, either.
Except that they insist the president absolutely must visit the border, in person, preferably with a thousand members of the National Guard (who could join the Border Patrol and local police in accepting the children as they surrender). Strangely enough, these Republicans, along with a few Texas Democrats, seem to believe this is the most important action Obama could undertake.

Understandably, the president is skeptical. "This isn't theater," he responded tartly. "This is a problem. I'm not interested in photo ops. I'm interested in solving a problem." As he knows, this episode is only the latest in a long sequence of similar clown shows, with Republicans citing ridiculous reasons to delay or prevent government action. His irritation is fully justified.

But perhaps Obama should have gone down to the border anyway, stood in the blazing sunlight with the dim governor for as long as Perry wished -- and allowed the television cameras to show that their presence had accomplished exactly nothing. Of course, if Obama showed up at the border, the Republicans assuredly would criticize him for wasting time on a photo op. They have become the party of perpetual whining.

When they aren't bleating about Obama, they're concocting weird theories about his secret plans to destroy America. Only last week, Perry coyly hinted -- although he said he didn't want to be "conspiratorial" -- that the White House must be "in on" the border crossings, because migrant kids couldn't have showed up en masse without "a highly coordinated effort."

Later, he tried to persuade CNN's Kate Bolduan that he didn't really mean what his idiotic words said -- an explanation everyone has heard from him before.

While Perry has taken the lead, he isn't the only elected official whose mouth spews absurdities on this subject. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., offered a policy approach that would please any simpleton, when he explained why the president's request for $3.7 billion in emergency funding looks far too big to him. "I've gone online and have taken a look on Orbitz and taken a look at what does it cost to fly people to El Salvador and Guatemala and Honduras. You have fares as low as $207. There's nonstop flights at $450. You take those numbers and it costs somewhere between $11 million and $30 million to return people in a very humane fashion," he opined.

Evidently nobody informed the Wisconsin senator about the myriad other costs involved in rounding up and caring for these terrified children, who are entitled to a court hearing and other consideration under an anti-trafficking law signed by former President George W. Bush. Anyone who wants to expedite their removal -- a disturbingly inhumane and unnecessary policy -- must first provide more courts, judges and lawyers. And anyone who wants a decent policy, which includes action against the drug warlords who are threatening and killing these innocents, must be prepared to spend more than the cost of an Orbitz ticket.

Some Republicans, notably Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., are urging the president to include their pet projects, such as electronic verification requirements for employers and at border crossings, in his spending bill. And many GOP lawmakers, having demanded action on the border issue from Obama, are equally adamant that the funding must be "offset" by cuts in other programs.

None of these geniuses appears to realize all their barking, carping and moaning are frustrating the president's attempt to address the "crisis" that is agitating them so fiercely. Or more likely, they know exactly what they're doing -- and the point, as usual, is to embarrass Obama.

But not every Republican talks total nonsense about the border and immigration. Alfonso Aguilar, who headed the Office of Citizenship under Bush, recently wrote: "Contrary to the narrative of some opportunistic politicians and pundits, this unfortunate situation is not the result of the Obama administration failing to enforce the law. In reality, most would-be-migrants believe that crossing the border has become much more difficult, and in the last decade, the U.S. government has greatly strengthened border security and interior enforcement."

Meanwhile, the majority of Americans is increasingly repulsed by the primitive nativism and partisan opportunism of Republican leaders on immigration. Democrats, independents and even many rank-and-file Republicans want a more decent and constructive policy. Ultimately, voters must grasp that the GOP is the greatest single obstacle to every vital reform. That day cannot come too soon.

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Have you ever wondered why Republicans are so interested in encouraging people to volunteer in their communities?
It’s because volunteers work for no pay.
Republicans have been trying to get people to work for no pay for a long time.
George Carlin

Tennessee: Ayn Rand’s vision of paradise

The southern state ranks dead last in per capita tax revenue, and its low-income families are paying the price

Tennessee: Ayn Rand's vision of paradise (Credit: PhotosbyAndy via Shutterstock)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.
AlterNet If you’re worried about where America is heading, look no further than Tennessee. Its lush mountains and verdant rolling countryside belie a mean-spirited public policy that only makes sense if you believe deeply in the anti-collectivist, anti-altruist philosophy of Ayn Rand. It’s what you get when you combine hatred for government with disgust for poor people.

Tennessee starves what little government it has, ranking dead last in per capita tax revenue. To fund its minimalist public sector, it makes sure that low-income residents pay as much as possible through heavily regressive sales taxes, which rank 10th highest among all states as a percent of total tax revenues. (For more detailed data see here.)

As you would expect, this translates into hard times for its public school systems, which rank 48th in school revenues per student and 45th in teacher salaries. The failure to invest in education also corresponds with poverty: the state has the 40th worst poverty rate (15%) and the 13th highest state percentage of poor children (26%).

Employment opportunities also are extremely poor for the poor. Only 25% have full-time jobs, 45% are employed part-time, and a whopping 30% have no jobs at all.

So what do you do with all those low-income folks who don’t have decent jobs? You put a good number of them in jail. In fact, only Louisiana, Georgia and New Mexico have higher jail incarceration rates.

From the perspective of Tennessee legislators, it’s all about providing the proper incentives to motivate the poor. For starters, you make sure that no one could possible live on welfare payments (TANF: Temporary Assistance to Needy Families). Although President Clinton’s welfare reform program curtailed how long a family can receive welfare (60 months) and dramatically increased the work requirements, Tennessee set the maximum family welfare payment at only $185 per month.

(That’s how much a top hedge fund manager makes in under one second.) As a result, the Volunteer State ranks 49th in TANF, just above Mississippi ($170).

Kick ‘em when they’re down or tough love?
In the Randian universe, it’s not enough to starve public education and the poor. You also must blame the poor both for their poverty and for the crumbling educational system. If a poor child is failing it must be the fault of low-income parents. So how do you drive the point home? You take away their welfare checks if their kids don’t do well in school, which is precisely what the Tennessee House and Senate are about to do. The reports:
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Vance  Dennis, R-Savannah. It calls for a 30 percent reduction in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits to parents whose children are not making satisfactory progress in school.
More amazing still, the bill originally applied to all children of TANF parents, even if they were severely disabled. Realizing that they had gone too far, the bill was amended so that, “it would not apply when a child has a handicap or learning disability or when the parent takes steps to try improving the youngster’s school performance — such as signing up for a parenting class, arranging a tutoring program or attending a parent-teacher conference.”  (Imagine the uproar if those provision were applied to upper-income parents, assuming any still use the public school system.)

Dennis told the House Health Subcommittee the measure now only applies to “parents who do nothing.” He described the measure as “a carrot and stick approach.”

Obviously, this is insane, right? Not if you’ve already started down the road of whipping the poor into shape. The proposed draconian cuts are just an extension of previous policies that already made welfare contingent on school attendance. As Travis Waldron reports in ThinkProgress:
When Campfield introduced the legislation in January, he said parents have “gotten away with doing absolutely nothing to help their children” in school. “That’s child abuse to me,” he added. Tennessee already ties welfare to education  by mandating a 20 percent cut in benefits if students do not meet attendance standards, but this change would place the burden of maintaining benefits squarely on children, who would face costing their family much-needed assistance if they don’t keep up in school.
By the way, the Tennessee legislature is lily-white: One percent is Latino, 6% African American and 91% Caucasian. But the complexion of poverty is darker. Nearly 80 percent of Tennessee’s poor children are black and brown.

Attacking the poor as the answer to the Wall Street crash?

These attacks on the poor, rather than on poverty, are not peculiar to Tennessee. In fact, similar concepts circulate among political and policy elites in Washington. For Ayn Rand acolytes, Wall Street’s reckless, greedy casinos couldn’t possibly be the real reason the economy crashed. After all, the rich get rich because they are terrific at what they do. We should reward these creators, not blame them for their foresight, their ingenuity and their obvious success. The blame instead should fall on the poor — the takers — and on the collectivist government liberals who cater to them. Didn’t the government force banks to put unqualified poor people in homes they couldn’t afford? (It doesn’t matter that the data shows that low-income buyers who gained loans through the Community Readjustment Act didn’t default in higher numbers than anyone else. The idea of blaming the poor has power.)

Blaming low-income people for chronic unemployment is the next move. As the rate stays stubbornly high (precisely because all Republicans and even a few Democrats don’t want the government in the business of job creation) we hear talk of “structural” unemployment. That’s code for the jobs would be there if only the workers were qualified. But you know, those lower-income workers just don’t have the skills and work habits to compete in our globalized economy. Even older middle-class workers are hopelessly out of date. So there’s really nothing government can do about it.

The final twist is to claim that the richest country in human history doesn’t have the means to eradicate poverty. Instead, we are told, rising debt is forcing us to tighten our belts — rather, we need to tighten the belts of the poor by taking away a few more dollars from Medicaid and Social Security.

How to justify meanness?

It’s not easy to be cruel to someone who is down and out. After all, most of us feel ashamed when walking by a homeless person or watching kids crammed into over-crowded classrooms. It requires several psychological twists and turns to make life even harder for low-income Americans.
  • You have to blame low-income parents for their own economic problems. Even if the unemployment rate is sky-high it must be the poor person’s fault.
  • You need to feel superior — that somehow you got to where you are today not by an accident of birth but rather by your own hard labors. Anyone not as successful as you, by definition, is inferior.
  • You have to believe that meanness really is tough love — that by taking benefits away from the poor you are actually helping them on the road to self sufficiency.
  • It’s helpful to have access to the broader Randian/libertarian philosophy that argues all forms of collective government action are an attack on freedom. In this view, altruism is seen as a curse that justifies collective government programs which essentially steal money from the makers and to waste on the takers. All collective caring by the state, therefore, is evil, so that all support for the poor via government is evil as well.
  • It’s psychologically crucial to have your prejudices confirmed by charismatic alchemists like Ayn Rand, Rand Paul and Paul Ryan who peddle selfishness as the highest form of morality (although only Ayn Rand had the guts to say it so bluntly).
Is Washington locked into increasing inequality?

While the Republicans in Congress are committed to supporting the rich and crushing the poor, smug Democrats can too easily look down upon the bumbling Tennessee legislators. Tie welfare to school success? How crude. But many of these same Democrats also are totally in sync with the Wall Street hucksters who have, for a generation, siphoned off America’s wealth into their bottomless pockets. In fact, both parties again are in competition for Wall Street campaign cash as if nothing much has happened. And both parties clearly are unwilling to break up the big banks, cap obscene financial incomes, or create public banks to serve the public interest.

Washington politicians and pundits from Obama on down (with very few exceptions) are enthralled by Wall Street wizardry. Making a million dollars an hour no longer seems strange or repugnant. Too big to fail, jail and regulate are just the natural order of things. In fact, more than a few public servants can’t wait to race through that revolving door to get in on the big casino games.

This should tell us that the path to social justice requires a new political movement that operates outside the two great corporate parties.

Is it too late?

I ran into a young woman who is very concerned by the enormous gap she sees between life on campus and the hardships of the low-income people. She wants to know what she can do with her life to really change things.

What can we say? I look back over a lifetime in the cause of social justice and I don’t have much to show for it — more war, more poverty, more inequality, more disinvestment in critical human infrastructure. Yes, we’ve made great strides on gender, sexual preference and overt racial discrimination compared to a generation ago. But how can we explain why America has the world’s highest incarceration rates? Why couldn’t we prevent a criminal justice system from sending 40% of young black males to prison? How, on our watch, did our relatively egalitarian country develop the most obscene wealth gap in the world? How is it possible that so many of our cities are in worse shape than a generation ago? It’s almost to impossible to comprehend, and even harder to change.

But that young woman already senses that we have no choice but to try. And that requires building a movement that targets the core of the problem — the systems that allow the economic royalists and their political minions to hijack our country.

It’s a long-term project. After all, it required almost two generations of painstaking work for the Ayn Rand right to take over the national debate. It may take just as long to recapture it. Let’s hope there are enough caring young women and men who still have a sense of the common good. Altruism may have died in Galt’s Gulch, but it’s still alive and well in the hearts of those who share a passion for justice, even in Tennessee.

She's pretty, but she's a misogynist snake...

Typical for FOX Noise--a beautiful blonde woman who tells men it's ok to hate and abuse women is conservative man's wet dream.

Picture this...

I'm bummed that I can't find the cartoon,
but it's oh-so-accurate:

Old, white, cigar-puffing GOP fat-cat glowers over poor, hungry, brown-skinned child holding a “Please don’t cut my food stamps” sign, saying, “Sorry, kid ... I protected you as a fetus and I’ll protect you when you get rich ... But in between, you’re on your own!”

Conservatives say if you don't give the rich more money, they will lose their incentive to invest.
As for the poor, they tell us
they've lost all incentive
because we've given them too much money.
 George Carlin

Another country heard from...

One of my readers sent me the link below, saying, "I knew that the Bush tax cuts were to blame for the continued tanking of the economy, but, not being an economist, I couldn't put my finger on why except for loss of capital for the gov't to use. Turns out there's a very simple explanation: if your tax rates are higher, you (as industry) have to invest more in your company to keep its economic engine running; if your taxes are lower, there's no disincentive to pull your money out whenever you can."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Click here to enlarge:

If you don't want your pay docked
for being a woman,
then don't be one!


From the "Whaaaaaaaaaa?" Department:
Kristol says that Palin makes Republicans look "extreme"

By Vyan at Daily Kos

Yeah, uh, ya think?

From ABC's This Week"

    Kristol seemed to agree [with Eric Holder's withering assessment of Palin] during an ABC News panel discussion on Sunday.

    “No responsible Republican official has called for impeachment,” he explained. “And one problem with it is, of course, is you just get Joe Biden as president. The Republican task is to elect a Republican Senate, and to elect a Republican president in 2016, not to create a phony issue that allows Democrats to make Republicans look extreme.”

    Republican strategist Ann Navarro agreed that “nobody of responsibility, nobody in leadership, nobody of relevance has talked about impeachment… So, can we stick to talking about people who can actually make something happen say, and not just folks who want to make headlines say?”
My my my.... so now we're supposed to only be talking about what "Responsible" Republicans have to say, not what those outside leadership, with no relevance, and who only want to make headlines say or think?

Sniff! I think I smell a really mean, snarky, semi-literate facebook post about Kristol in Palin's immediate future.

And just where exactly does all this put John Boehner and his Impeachment-Lite Plan to Sue the President?  Will it appease the pitchforkers, or simply enrage them further as too little and too late?

Somebody heat up the Reddenbacher...

It's almost cute that Kristol and Navarro think they can credibly sell the idea that somewhere, out there, over-the-rainbow... there are "Responsible Republicans" who should be taken seriously and who don't seem to spend every waking moment attempting to grab a shocking headline.

It's almost like Kristol went to sleep in 1987, then sudden woke up in the raging  drug-soaked, animal ritual sacrifice, frat toga goat-sex party that is today's GOP and can't understand who let all these rabid crazy kids into his house and where the adults are hiding? The thing is, the people with the virgin lamb on the altar about to carve him up live for Chtulu Are the Adults in the room. They're the GOP Base.

After all these years of screaming and crying about untrue bullcrap like "Death Panels", the President's "Muslim Faith", his "Kenyan Birth Certificate", his "Hatred for America" and "Anti-Colonial ways", the evils of "Fast and Furious", then "Benghazi", then "IRSghazi" then "BergdahlGhazi" and now "RefugeeGhazi" - is it any surprise that the term "Responsible Republican" is the very definition of an Oxymoron?

Let's take Texas Governor Rick Perry who thinks the most "humane" thing to do for the Central American Child Refugee Crisis is to put Troops on the border so we can send them back to the Murderers, Gangsters, Thugs, and Drug Runners even faster than we are now.

    Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) argued on Sunday that his plan to deploy the National Guard, and to deport thousands of refugee children back to their countries as quickly as possible was “the most humanitarian thing we can do.”

    In an interview with Fox News, Perry said that the best response to an estimated 50,000 women and children who were fleeing violence was a “show of force” on the border.

    “Because that’s the message that gets sent back very quickly to Central America,” he explained. “It’s important to do that because this flood of children is pulling away the border patrol from their normal duties of keeping bad people — keeping the drug cartels. They’re being distracted. So, that is a very obvious that I would suggest to you that those National Guard troops should come play an important role.”

Because nothing screams "Compassion" better than priming the pumps for the Death Squad Mill.  Even though what Perry is suggesting wouldn't speed up the handling of processing and determining the proper disposition of these kids one iota.  The National Guard have been deployed at the border before, and they haven't been used to interdict and "replace" what Border Patrol does, they've been used as extra sets of eyes to help identify and spot people attempting to cross through the rough terrain in remote areas which are far more difficult to reach and remain less patrolled.
Even Brit Hume realizes that the actual role that the National Guard can fulfill on the border, isn't anything like what Perry - or Palin - think it is.

    "They need to be right on the river. They need to be there as a show of force because that’s the message that gets sent back very quickly to Central America," he said.

    Hume challenged Perry, asking what purpose troops could actually serve.

    "They’re not, under the law, allowed to apprehend any of these children that are crossing, are they?" he asked.

    "The issue is with being able to send that message because it’s the visual of it, I think, that is the most important," Perry responded. "If you don’t stop the bleeding. If you don’t staunch this flow of individuals that are coming up here, this is only going to get worse."

    Hume continued to press Perry.

    "But the question I’m trying to get at with you is this: if these children, who have undergone these harrowing journeys to escape from the most desperate conditions in their home countries, have gotten this far, are they really going to be deterred by the presence of troops along the border who won’t shoot them and can’t arrest them?" he asked.

    "I think we’re talking about two different things here," Perry responded.

No, you're really not.  Hume is Dead-Right to point out that Guard troops are NOT Cops, nor are they Border Patrol.  They can't just walk in there and do what Border Patrol Officers do.
Perry is at least trying to address the issue that got Palin all "Impeachmentified" although he's going about it in exactly the wrong way, we still have to recall this is a long way from the first time a Republican has called to have the President Impeached for things he either didn't do or has no control of, they've been saying this Derp for years now...

    August 8, 2013.  From sea to shining sea, the howls of presidential impeachment have returned to the nation this month in grand fashion. “It would be a dream come true,” said Michigan Representative Kerry Bentivolio. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn has declared Obama “perilously close” to meeting the constitutional standards required for an impeachment trial. Texas Representative Blake Farenthold has said the House GOP probably has the votes to do it.

So it's not like Palin is the first to bring it up.  Republican Talk Show Hosts have written books on it: Impeachable Offenses: The Case for Removing Barack Obama From Office.

But then how valid their arguments for this case, is yet another question entirely.

    A copy of the book released to TIME shows that the arguments for impeaching Obama appear to fall far short of the historical legal threshold. The book claims that one of Obama’s impeachable offenses is signing Obamacare, for example, because the law is “unconstitutional.” This might surprise members of the Supreme Court who affirmed the law’s constitutionality with a 5-to-4 ruling last year.

And who else, including the above,  have brought up the I-Word?  Well...

    Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Reps. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.), Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.), Michael Burgess (R-Tex.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), former congressmen Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) and  Allen West (R-Fla.), and the South Dakota Republican Party. Not all of these folks called for Obama's impeachment directly, but all of them suggested that it is or should be on the table.

The thing here is that to some extent Kristol is right.  None of these people are in GOP "Leadership" so what they say can be somewhat ignored.  However, Leadership isn't always defined by whether someone has granted you a title, but whether you command a following and an audience - which Palin does.

    What none of these folks have, though, is a national following. That's where Palin comes in. She's the first Republican of any significant national stature to make this call. And she's the kind of figure who could potentially recruit others to the cause — people who will want to be heard. Palin surely doesn't carry the kind of weight she once did in the GOP, but she still has a significant tea party following and is highly popular among the conservative base..

Palin is within her very deepest heart, a panderer.  And here, yet again, she is pandering to the GOP Base and Tea Party.  Giving them what they want.  And what they want, since they haven't been able to defeat Obama at the ballot box in 2012, is his head on a pike.

They want blood.

Just like the head of "Moms with Guns" who called for President Obama's Assassination this week
And as the Bloodhounds howl louder, the question is just what will the GOP "Leadership" do about it? Will their doomed attempt to "Sue" the President appease them?

    If a significant pro-impeachment portion of the conservative base does materialize — and that's a big "if" — it will put Republican lawmakers in the unenviable position of responding to questions about whether they, too, agree with the idea of impeachment.

Yes, Senator - how do you feel about "Impeachment"?  And let the squirming begin.  In fact, that questioning has already begun as we see with the current head of the House Judiciary Committee - the committee where Impeachments Begin.

    Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, on Sunday said the House doesn't have grounds to impeach President Obama.

    "We are not working on or drawing up articles of impeachment. The Constitution is very clear as to what constitutes grounds for impeachment of the president of the United States. He has not committed the kind of criminal acts that call for that," Goodlatte said on ABC's "This Week."


    But he still threw his support behind House Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) bill to allow the House to sue Obama for using executive authority to delay the health care law's employer mandate.

    "We do believe that the President is not enforcing the law. And there's a wide array of issues, not just immigration, where we believe that," Goodlatte said. "And that's why the speaker, and many of us in the Congress, are getting ready to take legal action to stand up for the people's right, for their elected representatives to be the part of our government that passes laws, not a president with his pen and his cell phone."

Yeah, good luck with that diversion, pal.

This should be a good show to see just how much their willing to give their base red meat it will never be able to swallow, especially while the Democrats simultaneous pushing forward their legistation to overturn of the Hobby Lobby decision and getting their base out to the polls this November 2014.

The giant rift between establishment Republicans and the Tea Party is one that already took down Eric Cantor - just how much more damage could it do?

Yes, it should be interesting indeed.

Hey, Republicans!

If CHILDREN are such a precious
then why aren't you all
scooping up all those poor
Central American kids
crossing over from Mexico?

Daily Kos: Zombie Lies
Bill Maher calls out all the debunked GOP lies on Obamacare

See the video here:
Transcript below:

And finally, New Rule: Now that there's been an uproar over all the neocons who lied about the Iraq War with no consequences, someone must tell me why there isn't a similar uproar over all the Republicans who lied about Obamacare with no consequences.  (audience applause)  It's been four years since the bill passed.  Has anybody come across even one death panel?  The next liberal to tell a Republican, "you're entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts", should really just admit they've never seen Fox News.  (audience cheering and applause)

Now, look, I get it that neither party has a monopoly on lying, and in fact they all do it so often, they've invented their own word for it — "I misspoke".  But how come the rule for one party — the Republican Party — is that when they get caught in a lie, they don't have to stop telling it?

They said Obamacare would use death panels.  It doesn't.

They said it was a government takeover, and the insurance industry is making record profits.

They said it covered illegals.  It doesn't.

They said it was a job killer.  It hasn't been.

They said there were elves who bake cookies in trees.  Well, almost.  (audience laughter and applause)

Now for sure, Obama also told a lie when he said everybody who likes their health care plan can keep it.  And for about 2% of the population, that did turn out to be false.  The difference is, he stopped saying it!  He stepped up and said, you're right, my bad, because he understands there's this thing called observable reality.  (audience applause)

But on the Republican side, observable reality needs more study.  (audience laughter) Which is why their talking points that have been disproven, remain!  Like a guest who's been asked to leave a party, but does not.

It reminds me of a horror movie where you think you've killed the lie, but it won't stay dead.  Which is why I call them zombie lies.  (thunder crackles and camera shakes)

Ooh, what an effect!  (audience laughter)  Excuse me, I have a weak heart.

Yes, zombie lies.  Remember "fracking doesn't cause earthquakes"?  Zombie lie!  So stop saying it!
Voter fraud?  We studied it, it's not an actual problem.  Stop zombie lying about it.

Their entire economic philosophy — cut taxes for the rich, and it trickles down — is a zombie lie!  (audience cheering and applause)

And all these zombie lies are still out there, roaming the countryside, neither alive nor dead.  Like Dick Cheney.  (audience laughter and applause)

Hungry for brains.  Like Dick Cheney.  (audience laughter)

I mean, we think we've eradicated one, but it turns out it's just lying dormant in a cave full of bat blood, like the ebola virus.  Or Dick Cheney.  (audience laughter)

Dick Cheney, who did not even bother in his recent return from the dead to update the lies he told about Iraq the first time.  He's still out there saying, "Well, Saddam was building a bomb, and he was working with al-Qaeda."

What??  It's like when Chuck Berry sings "Sweet Little Sixteen".  You're 90, man!

There is no shame in their game.  One week they're out there saying, "No one will sign up for Obamacare."

And the next week, "Oh, OK, they signed up?  Sure, OK, but they aren't paying the premiums."

"Oh they are?  OK, uh, well, they're paying, but it's not the young people."

"Oh, it is?  It's the young people?  OK.  Uh, OK, but it only covers you if you're gay."  (audience laughter)

You know, you just wanna go, wait, when did we switch over?  What happened to yesterday's lie? 

It's still out there forever, like a plastic bag in a tree.  But now we're just using the new one?

Yes, because what they do is they pass a zombie lie down to dumber and dumber people, who believe it more and more.

Hank Paulson may be over the one about climate change being a hoax, but it's still good enough for Sean Hannity.  Who then gets quoted by Michele Bachmann.  Who forms the intellectual core of the thinking of Victoria Jackson.  And when you think the zombie lie has finally gone to die at the idea hospice of the absolutely stupidest people on Earth, there it is being retweeted by Donald Trump.

With Tea Party Controlling the House and Zealots in the Supreme Court, Hobby Lobby Is Only the Beginning for Religious Theocrats

Salon / By Paul Rosenberg
July 9, 2014

We're approaching a very scary time.

The United States is still a democratic republic, formally, but what that actually means in practice is increasingly in doubt — and the Hobby Lobby ruling, deeply disingenuous and sharply at odds with centuries of Anglo-American law, exemplifies how that formal reality is increasingly mocked in practice. It is a practice best described as neo-feudalism, taking power away from ordinary citizens, in all their pluralistic, idiosyncratic diversity, and handing it over to corporations and religious dictators in both the public and the private realm. The Supreme Court’s actions are not taking place in a vacuum — though they arefilling one: As Tea Party Republicans in the House increasingly bring democratic self-government to a halt, contracting the power of we the people to act as a cohesive self-governing whole, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority shifts ever more everyday power into the hands of private dictatorships.

Hobby Lobby handed for-profit corporations religious rights for the first time in history — a radical break with all previous precedent, and yet a part of a recent pattern, as Norm Ornstein rightly pointed out:

    [F]or the majority on the Roberts Court, through a series of rulings that favor corporations over labor or other interests, it is clear that corporations are king, superior to individual Americans—with all the special treatment in taxes and protection from legal liability that are unavailable to us individuals, and now all the extra benefits that come with individual citizenship. Call it the new Crony Capitalism.

The expansion of corporate power in Hobby Lobby has gotten too little attention, and I’ll return to discuss this further below. But the advancement of theocracy — religious dictatorship — is even less clearly seen through the fog of right-wing propaganda about “religious liberty.”

First, however, an important highlight of a neglected aspect of the Hobby Lobby case, the fact that Hobby Lobby’s self-professed belief appeared out of nowhere just in time for them to file suit, as Stephanie Mencimer noted in March:

    The company admits in its complaint that until it considered filing the suit in 2012, its generous health insurance plan actually covered Plan B and Ella (though not IUDs). The burden of this coverage was apparently so insignificant that God, and Hobby Lobby executives, never noticed it until the mandate became a political issue.

In short, Hobby Lobby’s “deeply held beliefs” claims are transparently bogus — as well as being scientifically invalid, since none of the methods involved are abortifacients, as Hobby Lobby claims. These would not matter if they only guided individual private conduct; that’s precisely what religious freedom actually means. You’re free to be a religious hypocrite, because letting someone else judge your sincerity can lead too easily to real religious tyranny. But when you’re already in a position to tyrannize others — as Hobby Lobby is — that’s a whole different ballgame. The tyrant’s freedom is everyone else’s slavery.

Historically, theocracy meant top-down religiously sanctioned dictatorship, exemplified in Western history by the divine right of kings philosophy. No one reads John Locke’s “First Treatise on Civil Government” anymore, because it is a refutation of the divine right of kings — one might as well read a refutation of four element theory in physics class. Locke’s “Second Treatise” provided a sharply contrasted legitimate foundation for civil government — the social contract and the consent of the governed. This is the air we breathe, and have been breathing ever since America was born.
And yet, theocracy and democracy are not two utterly distinct phenomena. Theocracy can well hold sway inside the family, for example, while the larger society retains its democratic form. More to the point, one stream of extreme Christian theocratic thinking — the dominion theology of the New Apostolic Reformation — has no problem (initially, at least) assimilating its goals of a theocratic government with the existing two-party electoral system. As researcher Rachel Tabachnick explains:

    Instead of escaping the earth (in the Rapture)* prior to the turmoil of the end times, they [the NAR] teach that believers will defeat evil by taking dominion, or control, over all sectors of society and government, resulting in mass conversions to their brand of Charismatic evangelicalism and a Christian utopia or “Kingdom” on earth.

In early 2010, a leading NAR figure, Edgardo Silvoso, founder of International Transformation Network, which played a major role in promoting and passing Uganda’s anti-gay legislation, confidently said, “It doesn’t matter if the Republican or the Democratic candidate wins the governorship [of Hawaii]. Either one is already in the kingdom.” It didn’t turn out that way, because Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii’s popular long-term U.S. representative, defeated both the NAR-supported candidates — one in the Democratic primary, the other in the general election. Still, Silvoso’s vision might have come true, there could have been a contested two-party election in which both candidates were Christian dominionists — and most in the media (and thereby the public) wouldn’t even have known what was going on.

Sarah Palin was the NAR’s first full-throated state governor (revealing videos here), but Rick Perry has strong NAR connections as well — the religious kickoff to his 2012 presidential campaign was entirely an NAR-run event. But the point here is a broader one: The dividing line between theocracy and a democratic republic is not nearly as sharp as most might suppose, in fact, there may not actually be such a line, only a zone of blurriness for everything involved.

While the NAR represents an international evangelical grass-roots force of remarkable power for how little press attention it has gained, the theocratic push from above in America — duplicity framed in terms of “religious liberty” — comes from a Catholic/Protestant alliance forged in antiabortion political battles of the past 30-plus years, which is also undercovered and poorly understood in the mainstream corporate media, despite being grounded in a phalanx of powerful organizations, from the high-profile Family Research Council and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, through more specialized think tanks and legal advocacy organizations, such as the Becket Fund and the Alliance Defending Freedom. A useful reference is ”Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights” by Jay Michaelson, published by Political Research Associates in March 2013. In it, he writes:

    While the religious liberty debate is a growing front in the ongoing culture wars, it is actually an old argument repurposed for a new context. In the postwar era, the Christian Right defended racial segregation, school prayer, public religious displays, and other religious practices that infringed on the liberties of others by claiming that restrictions on such public acts infringed upon their religious liberty. Then as now, the Christian Right turned antidiscrimination arguments on their heads: instead of African Americans being discriminated against by segregated Christian universities, the universities were being discriminated against by not being allowed to exclude them; instead of public prayers oppressing religious minorities, Christians are being oppressed by not being able to offer them.

    In the “religious liberty” framework, the Christian Right attacks access to contraception, access to abortion, same-sex marriage, and antidiscrimination laws—not on moral grounds (e.g., that contraception is morally wrong or that LGBTQ rights violate “family values”) but because they allegedly impinge upon the religious freedoms of others (e.g., by forcing employers to violate their religion by providing contraception coverage)….

    In fact, there is not a single “religious liberty” claim that does not involve abridging someone else’s rights.

As I’ve already indicated, Hobby Lobby’s “deeply held beliefs” claims are transparently bogus, but this need not always be the case. What is the case is that the inversion Michaelson describes — that of turning anti-discrimination arguments on their heads — both derives from and contributes to states of confusion in which all manner of bogus claims may flourish. As I noted above, there are legitimate reasons why the content of religious beliefs should not be scrutinized when considering questions of free exercise. But when religion is being imposed upon others, the presumptions ought to be reversed; we ought to be extremely reluctant to allow anyone to impose their religious beliefs on anyone else, no matter how light or innocent that imposition might be claimed to be. The views themselves as well as the manner they are imposed on others ought to be scrutinized as rigorously as possible. Don’t want your religious beliefs questioned? Then don’t impose them on others. When push comes to shove, real religious freedom can be just as simple as that.

And the phony “religious freedom” crowd knows it, which helps explain why outright lies repeatedly slip into their arguments, as Michaelson’s report makes clear. For example, anti-gay “religious freedom” advocates routinely repeat the lie that legalizing same-sex marriage means forcing churches to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies against their will — a flat-out lie.

Legalized civil divorce did not force the Catholic Church to marry divorced individuals, and legalized same-sex marriage would not force them to marry gay individuals, either. Institutional religious practice is almost entirely insulated from civil law. What does change are the rules applying to society at large. Michaelson explains:

    Typically, there are five tiers of actors:

    1. Churches, clergy, and religious institutions
    2. Religious organizations
    3. Religiously affiliated organizations
    4. Religiously owned businesses
    5. Religious individuals

    The law treats these tiers differently: churches are rarely required to obey antidiscrimination laws, for example, but religious organizations may be, and religious-owned businesses are. Conservative “religious liberty” rhetoric deliberately misstates harms upward, and tactically expands exemptions downward. On the one side, no clergy will ever have to solemnize any marriage against her/his beliefs, yet restrictions on tier 4 or 5 individuals are cynically extended by conservative messaging to tier 1.

Michaelson then addresses the context of the Hobby Lobby case:

    On the other side, conservative “religious liberty” advocates are clearly pursuing a staged plan to migrate extensions downward. In the current HHS benefit battle, for example, the Obama administration first exempted tiers 1 and 2, and then, in February 2013, exempted tier 3. Yet still the Becket Fund has objected that “millions of Americans”—i.e., tiers 4 and 5—are still unprotected.
And this is precisely the logic that the Hobby Lobby decision pursued. The Obama administration’s exemptions of Tiers 1 and 2 were not seen as signs of respect for religious liberty, in line with traditional practice, nor was its further exemption of Tier 3 seen as going the extra mile in a spirit of conciliation. Instead, the accommodation made for Tier 3 was used by Justice Alito to argue for similar treatment for Tier 4. The end result is that women in more than half the nation’s workforce can now be deprived by their employers of their most basic reproductive rights, involving birth control, not abortion.

But that’s just one side of the story. There’s also the economic, corporate power side, where things are a bit more complicated. I quoted above from Norm Ornstein, making the point that Hobby Lobby was part of a broader pattern of shifting power into corporate hands. But it’s striking that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce did not weigh in on the Hobby Lobby Case — it produced no amicus brief. In fact, as noted by David H. Gans of the Constitutional Accountability Center, “the only noteworthy corporate voices to weigh in — the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce — actually came down against them [Hobby Lobby and its supporters].” Gans also notes another brief from dozens of corporate and criminal law professors, “who argued that Hobby Lobby’s argument would eviscerate the fabric of corporate law, undercutting the corporate veil that protects owners and shareholders from liability for the actions of the corporation.” The brief itself begins laying out its argument thus:

    Hobby Lobby and Conestoga each asserts that the religious values of its present controlling shareholders should pass through to the corporation itself. This Court should reject any such “values pass-through” concept. To do otherwise would run contrary to established principles of corporate law.

    The essence of a corporation is its “separateness” from its shareholders. It is a distinct legal entity, with its own rights and obligations, different from the rights and obligations of its shareholders. This Court has repeatedly recognized this separateness.

This is yet another indication of how radically the Hobby Lobby decision departs from the existing fabric of Anglo-American law. And yet, there are clearly some in the corporate world who welcome this development, and it’s surely no accident that the same five justices produced both Hobby Lobby and Citizens United. So what’s going on here?

The best answer I know of comes from political scientist Corey Robin, and it involves looking much deeper than the framework of corporate law. The day the decision came down, Robin published “A Reader’s Guide to Hobby Lobby,” listing what he called “a few posts I’ve written over the years that should help put the Supreme Court’s decision in theoretical and historical perspective.” They’re all well worth reading, but I want to focus on just one of them, the first of two that Robin described thus:

    2. Second, two posts on free-market types and birth control, how even the most libertarian-ish free-wheeler seeks to control women’s bodies: Love For Sale: Birth Control from Marx to Mises and Probing Tyler Cowen: When Libertarians Get Medieval on Your Vagina.

In “Love for Sale,” Robin discusses Ludwig von Mises‘ classic 1922 text ”Socialism,” and some contemporary discussions concerning it, particularly its fourth chapter, “The Social Order and the Family.” Here is where Robin gets to the heart of the matter:

    The real reason Mises’s arguments about women are so relevant, it seems to me, is that in the course of making them he reveals something larger about the libertarian worldview: libertarianism is not about liberty at all, or at least not about liberty for everyone. In fact, it’s the opposite.

    Here’s Mises describing the socialist program of “free love”:
        Free love is the socialists’ radical solution for sexual problems. The socialistic society abolishes the economic dependence of woman which results from the fact that woman is dependent on the income of her husband. Man and woman have the same economic rights and the same duties, as far as motherhood does not demand special consideration for the women. Public funds provide for the maintenance and education of the children, which are no longer the affairs of the parents but of society. Thus the relations between the sexes are no longer influenced by social and economic conditions….The family disappears and society is confronted with separate individuals only. Choice in love becomes completely free.

Sounds like a libertarian paradise, right? Society is dissolved into atomistic individuals, obstacles to our free choices are removed, everyone has the same rights and duties. But Mises is not celebrating this ideal; he’s criticizing it. Not because it makes people unfree but because it makes people — specifically, women — free. The problem with liberating women from the constraints of “social and economic conditions” is that … women are liberated from the constraints of social and economic conditions.

If you want to know why libertarians reflexively embrace the National Rifle Association’s vision of freedom, but not Planned Parenthood’s (contrasting visions I discussed here), you need look no further. This passage also helps explain why there’s at least a germ of historical sense in the otherwise ridiculous Tea Party accusation that Obama is a “socialist”! By using government to empower women to make their own reproductive choices — not just in theory, but for real — Obamacare’s reproductive healthcare mandate really is acting in the socialist spirit as Mises described it, however market-based the mechanisms involved may be.

But it’s worth lingering a bit further with the socialist vision as Mises describes it, because it is so intimately bound up in what a functioning democratic republic actually does, or at least has the potential to do, when, for example, we take the Constitution’s general welfare clause seriously. What the socialists want, Mises argues, is to eliminate all manner of “natural inequalities”. This would, ironically, make everyone—not just privileged, straight, white males of means — into classic libertarian subjects, exercising their own, individual, unconstrained and uncoerced free choice. And this is the very last thing that libertarians actually want.

This helps explain why, for example, today’s Tea Party Republicans reject unemployment insurance as “socialist” — if someone out of work has any freedom at all to hold out for a job that will cover their mortgage, say, that’s socialism as Mises would describe it. And he has a point: socialism really is just another word for collectively removing the hidden and semi-hidden forms of coercion that otherwise shape and control our everyday lives. That’s why public education is socialist, too — and why Democratic politicians as well as Republicans are so eager to destroy it nowadays. But none of these other examples is quite as visceral or far-reaching as that of giving women reproductive autonomy equal to that of men.

This, then, is the bottom line: Conservatives (including libertarians) stand for the preservation and reinforcement (if necessary) of purportedly “natural” inequalities, which automatically structure all of society into overlapping forms of dominance and submission, in which the vast majority of people are inherently unfree “by nature.” Anycollective action taken to free people from such dependent, powerless living conditions is anathema to them. Democracy itself is anathema to them. And Hobby Lobby is just the latest signal that they are firmly in charge.

Do they contradict themselves? Of course! So what? Do facts or logic matter anymore? Don’t be ridiculous! Dictatorship means never having to say you’re sorry — much less even a teensy bit wrong. The damages done to the structure and logic of corporate law? Irrelevant!

At the beginning, I wrote, “The United States is still a democratic republic, formally, but what that actually means in practice is increasingly in doubt.” This doubt can simply be summarized in the fact that any action to promote the general welfare will be automatically blocked and denounced as “socialism” by Tea Party Republicans in the House, while at the same time, the 5-4 conservative majority in the Supreme Court rewrites decades or centuries of precedent to further empower the most powerful elements in our society, to the ever-deepening detriment of the whole.

Paul Rosenberg is a California-based writer/activist, senior editor for Random Lengths News, and a columnist for Al Jazeera English. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulHRosenberg.

Paul H. Rosenberg is senior editor at Random Lengths News, a biweekly serving the Los Angeles harbor area. He runs the site Merge Left, a community of progressive thinkers free to submit their own content.