Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Last Call

Good news, America!  House Republicans have passed an extension to the payroll tax cut!  They just have a few, teensy-weensy things they want in exchange.

In a private conversation Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid again warned House Speaker John Boehner that his bill remains dead on arrival in the Senate. In particular, Democrats and the White House oppose a number of GOP-backed provisions: a measure forcing the Obama administration to expedite its decision about whether to green light construction the Keystone XL pipeline; out-year spending caps that could further reduce funding to key federal programs; and other restrictions including one that would allow states to drug test unemployment applicants.

The GOP bill also includes a steep increase in Medicare costs for middle class and upper class beneficiaries to help offset the cost of the payroll holiday. Per the Associated Press, it would “rais[e] premiums for ‘high-income’ Medicare beneficiaries, now defined as those making $85,000 and above for individuals, or $170,000 for families.”
Some would pay as much as several hundred dollars a month additional for Medicare outpatient and prescription coverage. Millions who don’t consider themselves wealthy would also end up paying more. 
Just the top 5 percent of Medicare recipients currently pay higher premiums, a change that took effect a few years ago. The new GOP proposal would expand that over time to include the highest-earning one-fourth of seniors.
The White House issued an official veto threat Tuesday afternoon. But Republicans are insisting on going through the motions. 

The bill also has a number of other poison pills, it would also gut health care reform, specifically federal subsidies to states for setting up insurance exchanges and for funding preventative care, force all unemployment benefits applicants to get their GED, would require all children to have Social Security numbers in order for their parents to qualify for federal income tax credits for kids and would even deregulate boilers and incinerators...and cut up to 40 weeks in unemployment benefits.

Republicans call this "compromise."  President Obama calls it "dead on arrival."  The GOP threw their own poop at the wall and called it a bill, because the Senate has already tied the bill to the budget shutdown measure on the docket for Friday, meaning the GOP had already lost (hence all the crazy stuff including the unicorn and the new Lamborghini in the driveway.)

We'll see what happens the rest of this week, but time's getting a mite short at this point, just three days left until things get ugly.

When The Abyss Keeps Staring Back At You, Everything's An Abyss

First, the actual story, and it's an important one:  As part of UN Human Rights Day this weekend, Occupy movement protesters made "Occupy the Voting Booth" a top priority, and today Attorney General Eric Holder will give a major speech on voting rights at the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library in Texas.  Ari Berman:

Holder’s speech could not come at a more critical time. Over the last year we’ve witnessed an unprecedented GOP war on voting, with a dozen Republican governors and state legislators passing laws to restrict voter registration drives, require birth certificates to register to vote, curtail early voting, mandate government-issued photo IDs to cast a ballot and disenfranchise ex-felons who’ve served their time. The Brennan Center for Justice has estimated that “these new laws could make it significantly harder for more than 5 million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012,” and notes that “these new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities.”

The story of GOP voter suppression continues to be the major headline in 2011 and that will continue into 2012.  If there is one demonstrable difference between the two parties, it's that Democrats want as many eligible people to be registered to vote as possible, and that the Republicans want to restrict voting to as few people as possible.  Period.

The wingers immediately come up with nonsense like this to attack that truth.

The Democrats will use their constituent organizations to whip up a frenzy of opposition to “voter suppression,” while DOJ launches, or threatens to launch, legal challenges to selected state statutes. This will energize the Democrats’ base by pretending that Republicans are trying to disenfranchise voters. It also may succeed in increasing the illegal votes that Democrats rely on at the margins of close elections.

Democrats want felons to vote, because an overwhelming majority of them will vote Democratic. They want illegal aliens to vote for the same reason. And they want loyal Democrats to vote more than once where they are able to do so. Where there is no voter security, these abuses will increase. So, either through legal rulings or through intimidation, the Democrats want to disable the states from protecting the integrity of the ballot box. It appears that Obama’s politicized Department of Justice will be in the forefront of this effort.

This is such rabid idiocy as to deserve open scorn.  John Hinderaker here is openly accusing the President, the Attorney General, and the Democratic Party of massive voter fraud, and he has no proof whatsoever, he just assumes it to be true because it has to be, else how did we end up with a black President?  What is true is that Republicans tend to win in general elections when turnout is low, and Republicans want to keep turnout as low as possible among the poor and working class, those of us who don't have the luxury of being able to take time off to vote on a Tuesday and miss work.

If you disenfranchise the poor and urban voters, you affect Democratic voter turnout.  It really is that simple, and that's why Republicans want to make it as difficult as possible, so they win.  Instead of admitting that, we get that it must be "the politicized Obama Justice Department orchestrating massive voter fraud!"

Which one makes more sense to you, Republicans going out of their way to add hurdles to voting in multiple states so that they can lower turnout among the poor and college students by needlessly passing Voter ID laws that wouldn't actually prevent voter fraud but would actually prevent eligible people from voting, or Hinderaker's ACORN BLARGLE BLOOGITY BLOO BLAH here?

The fact is, the reason Hinderaker doesn't have proof of his insane accusations is that the "voter fraud" that Republicans are fighting doesn't exist.  In his eyes, the only fraud out there is poor people, minorities, young people, and the elderly being allowed to vote for Democrats.

And Republicans are making every effort to "correct" that fraud in state after state.

Million Dollar (Cry) Baby

As a GOP one percenter, how much would you pay to get rid of Newt Gingrich if you were convinced his nomination as the Republican candidate for President guaranteed a second term for President Obama?


If you're Michael Savage, the particular price tag for putting Mitt back in his crib is a cool million bucks of his own filthy lucre as he announced on his radio show his intent to buy off Gingrich.

“Newt Gingrich is unelectable,” Savage continued in his screed. “Mitt Romney is the only candidiate with a chance of defeating Barack Obama…therefore, I am offering Newt Gingrich $1 million dollars to drop out of the presidential race for the sake of the nation.”

Savage added that Gingrich “will come off badly compared to Obama” in the debates and he would “look like nothing more than what he is: a fat, old, white man. If Newt Gingrich really loves this country as much as he says he does, if he really wants what is best for America, he will set his ego aside, call me, and accept my offer. His continued candidacy spells nothing but ruin for conservatives, Republicans and all true American patriots. One million dollars in exchange for preserving the nation, Newt. I say take the money and don’t run.”

Yeah Mike, because the condescending blue blood former CEO with the charisma of a frozen Vienna sausage who made a fortune buying companies in order to lay thousands of people off will look so much better against President Obama in the general than Newt Gingrich.

Savage should take that million and buy himself a clue with all the added features.

Don't Bite The Hand That... Well, You Know

Okay, the title made me laugh.  But this is a serious story for a few reasons.  Normally, I wouldn't dive into a married couple's issue like this but since they went public I figure it's all up for grabs.

A former top Alabama official who campaigned against gay marriage in his failed bid for governor has donated sperm to several lesbian couples in New Zealand while doing earthquake-recovery work, according to The New Zealand Herald. His wife described the news as "the utmost of betrayal."

Bill Johnson, 52, who describes himself as a conservative Christian, used an online alias to meet women wanting to get pregnant, the paper says. He said he could not have biological children with his wife, Kathy, who had a hysterectomy before they married in 2004. She has three children from a previous relationship.

There's a lot more going on. His wife didn't know he was doing this, and he says he believes she knew he would continue donating. It's hard to imagine a miscommunication like that, but I digress. His wife is pissed and doesn't even pretend to be flexible on the matter.

"My heart is broken. I told Bill when I talked to him this morning after receiving your call that I simply can't talk. I can't even breathe.

"I have no idea what life holds for us in the coming days."

"He knows I am shocked and deeply hurt and even angry. It's not something a wife ever wants to experience. It's very personal and very tragic and we'll have to work through this as a family.

"I just can't believe this could be true. I don't believe he would put the reputation he has earned at risk by acting in such an irresponsible, selfish manner."

Well now, wait a minute now. Someone with that stance probably didn't misunderstand or fail to clarify her feelings on the subject. You don't do something like this without the full consent of your spouse, period. He has opened their family up to legal, ethical and financial peril and it sounds like he at the very least pushed the boundaries of what is preferred from donor parents. It's actually a cool thing to do, when your own partner is comfortable with it and has been in on the process. It's a really crappy thing to blindside someone with and then ask how they feel. They feel lied to and violated, and the fact that (hopefully) happy healthy babies are now with parents who really want them won't diminish the betrayal.

Now knowing what the future holds says enough.  Happy babies, lying jackass, I'm so conflicted about how to tag this one.

Tis The Season To Be Thoughtful

Holidays.  Christmas cheer.  Dinner with family and friends.  These are all things to look forward to, and most of us get into the holiday season with an exhausted good cheer that carries us through, even events we don't enjoy.  Not to be a Scrooge, but now is also the time to realize holidays aren't pleasant for everyone, and we may be causing someone grief through well-intended actions.  A few articles have come out about this, giving tips on dealing with loneliness and how much families can vary in how they celebrate Christmas.

People may be down for several reasaons.  The economy has taken some of the joy out of shopping.  Not everyone has a family nearby, or a family at all.  They may be marking the "first" of everything after losing a loved one.  Christmas has a way of making one think about their family, and not every family situation is pleasant to think about.  If you miss someone, you seem to miss them extra during this entire season.

What to do? How to help?  There likely isn't a lot to do, just be mindful that someone who doesn't do backflips over Rudolph decorations or nativity scenes isn't a "Scrooge" and shouldn't be pressured to fit in or fake it.  When extending invitations, let everyone be welcome but nobody be pressured.  If you are one of the people who suffers from holiday doldrums, consider volunteering.  It is a great thing, it makes you feel great, and it's also a reminder that the magic of the season still worked and something good came out of it.  For those who are grieving, reaching out to a nursing home or church program can build new and better memories to associate with the holidays.

The Laws Of Unintended Consequences

TPM's Brian Beutler explores the Republican argument against health care reforms Medicaid expansion provision.  Conservatives argue that by declaring that states expand the coverage of Medicaid to 133% of the poverty line, adding millions of people to the program, the federal government is using its financial power to coerce the states to do what Congress wants.

The problem with that argument as Beutler points out is that basically that's what the Hyde Amendment does: a favorite federal provision of conservatives that they want to strengthen to prevent any state from using federal money, such as health care reform funding, to subsidize any insurance plan that would cover abortion or to include those plans in state insurance exchanges.

“When it has suited social conservatives, they’re all for coercion,” says Sara Rosenbaum, a law professor at George Washington University, where she’s also the chair of the Department of Health Policy.

The plaintiffs will ask the Supreme Court to rule narrowly that the Medicaid expansion is an unconstitutional use of Congress powers to tax and spend. If the court follows suit, though, it will invite a flood of challenges to other statutes, many of which conservatives adore, but all of which rely on Congress’ power to impose conditions on money they provide to states.

“It opens a tremendous Pandora’s box of other spending clause statutes that might be considered coercive with no clear limiting principles,” Rosenbaum said. “At what point does something become a coercion.”

Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University who has been monitoring the health care lawsuits very closely runs through some of these: “Title IX of the Civil Rights Act and national security programs and No Child Left Behind and all kinds of other programs.”

The list is long. It includes requirements that universities receiving federal funds allow the military to recruit on their campuses. And, both Jost and Rosenbaum note, if conservatives get their way, it will also include a stronger version of the so-called Hyde Amendment, which severely restricts the use of federal funds to provide abortions.

“The House of Representatives has been fashioning a very different kind of Hyde amendment … restrictions say that no federal funds go to the insurance program if that coverage offers more than the [federal] minimum for abortions,” Rosenbaum said.

What are the implications here? Several states that help provide abortion coverage with their own funds would have to pare back that funding or drop out of Medicaid. That’s a federal power conservatives are happy to exercise — but one they’d stand to lose if they get their way in the Supreme Court next year.

“If the states were to prevail on the issue of expansion, then the [abortion] mandate would presumably fall,” Rosenbaum said.

On the other hand, if winning the coercion battle meant losing on the Hyde Amendment but also the end of Title IX and the Civil Rights Act, I'm betting Republicans would be more than happy to take that outcome.  I'd have to say they're well aware of the potential tradeoff here.

Iron Flagpole In A Velvet Railgun

My views on Jennifer Rubin, Hackzilla are well-documented at this point, but Jon Chait does that best job yet that I've seen of dismantling her so completely that she's probably not aware at all of the missing bolts.  He discovers that there's actually something that Jennifer Rubin will defend more than Israel, if that's even possible:  Mitt Romney.

If you’re not in on the joke, allow me to explain. Rubin holds extremely right-wing views on Israel, and is highly prone to inflammatory and false charges. Gingrich’s comments on Palestinian nationality fit snugly within Rubin’s worldview – if anything, they are a bit too staid for her taste. Yet here she is denouncing him for his excessive anti-Palestinian bluster! If Gingrich simply quoted Rubin, I wonder if Rubin would denounce him for it.

Aside from demonstrating just how far Rubin is willing to follow the cause of advocating for her candidate of choice, it sheds some light on a controversy that arose last week over the term “Israel-firster,” a term of derision used by some left-wing critics to describe Israel hawks. The term implies that certain Americans, American Jews, place the interests of Israel above those of their own country. Rubin’s reaction to the Gingrich-Palestinian controversy offers a neat refutation of the charge. You can’t find a more passionate Israel hawk than Rubin. She is faced with a choice between her loyalty to the Republican Party and her loyalty to Israeli nationalism. And she sides with the former, clearly showing that her loyalty to the GOP – and, by extension, America – sits above her fidelity to Israel.

You've heard of an iron fist in a velvet glove.  In this case, it was an iron flagpole loaded into a velvet railgun and fired through Jennifer Rubin's front door, and I'm not sure it made any noise greater than a whisper.  If Chait were any drier, you'd have to keep rare manuscripts in him.

Well played, man.  Well played indeed.


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