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Then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld speaks to reporters in the briefing room at the Pentagon on Oct. 26, 2006 in Arlington, Va.

Rumsfeld and a 'sad commentary on governance'

04/15/14 05:03PM

Though at first this seemed like an odd joke, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld apparently sent a 310-word harangue to the Internal Revenue Service today, complaining about the difficulty he has completing his tax returns. On Twitter, Rumsfeld described it as his "annual letter" to the IRS.
If I've transcribed it correctly, the entirety of the letter reads as follows:
I have sent in our federal income tax and our gift tax returns for 2013. As in prior years, it is important for you to know that I have absolutely no idea whether our tax returns and our tax payments are accurate. I say that despite the fact that I a college graduate and I try hard to make sure our tax returns are accurate.
The tax code is so complex and the forms are so complicated, that I know I cannot have any confidence that I know what is being requested and therefore I cannot and do not know, as I suspect a great many Americans cannot know, whether or not their tax returns are accurate. As in past years, I have spent more money that I wanted to spend to hire an accounting firm to prepare our tax returns and I believe they are well qualified.
This note is to alert you folks that I know that I do not know whether or not my tax returns are accurate, which is a sad commentary on governance in our nation's capital.
If you have any questions, let me know and I will ask our accounts to be in touch with you to try to provide any additional information you may think you need.
I do hope that at some point in my lifetime, and I am now in my 80s, so there are not many years left, they U.S. government will simply the U.S. tax code so that those citizens who sincerely want to pay what they should, are able to do it right, and know that they have done it right.
I should add that my wife of 59 years, also a college graduate, has signed our joint return, but she also knows that she does not have any idea whether or not our tax payments are accurate.
Well then.
Ted Yoho

'Is it constitutional, the Civil Rights Act?'

04/15/14 04:20PM

For the better part of a generation, there was broad agreement within the American mainstream about the legitimacy and utility of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It wasn't until quite recently that some prominent Republican lawmakers began approaching the landmark law in a very different way.
Perhaps the most striking example came in 2010, when then Senate candidate Rand Paul (R-Ky.) initially said he disagreed with parts of the Civil Right Act. In one especially memorable exchange, Rachel asked Paul on the air, "Do you think that a private business has the right to say, 'We don't serve black people'?" Paul replied, "Yes."
Four years later, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) wasn't willing to go quite this far, but Scott Keyes noted that the congressman isn't convinced the Civil Right Act is legally permissible.
Last week, former presidents and dignitaries celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, which bans many forms of employment discrimination and whites-only lunch counters, among other things. This week, a Republican congressman declared that he's not sure if the Civil Rights Act is even constitutional.
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), a freshman congressman aligned with the Tea Party, held a town hall Monday evening in Gainesville where he fielded a wide range of questions from constituents. One such voter was Melvin Flournoy, a 57-year-old African American from Gainesville, who asked Yoho whether he believes the Civil Rights Act is constitutional.
The correct answer is, "Of course it is." Regrettably that's not what Yoho said.
"Is it constitutional, the Civil Rights Act?" the Florida Republican replied. "I wish I could answer that 100 percent. I know a lot of things that were passed are not constitutional, but I know it's the law of the land."
The "law of the land" reference presumably suggests Yoho doesn't intend to repeal the Civil Rights Act, but the congressman is nevertheless unsure of the law's constitutional legitimacy.
Dozens of uninsured residents of Montgomery County stand in line at the Department of Health and Human Services of the Silver Spring Center to sign up for insurance on March 26, 2014.

The Census changes aren't quite what they appear to be

04/15/14 03:33PM

If you haven't already receive an email today from your uncle who watches Fox News all day, it's a safe bet his next missive will be about this.
The Census Bureau, the authoritative source of health insurance data for more than three decades, is changing its annual survey so thoroughly that it will be difficult to measure the effects of President Obama's health care law in the next report, due this fall, census officials said.
The changes are intended to improve the accuracy of the survey, being conducted this month in interviews with tens of thousands of households around the country. But the new questions are so different that the findings will not be comparable, the officials said.
Kevin Drum foresees "a whole new set of conspiracy theories ... about to take flight," predicting this story is poised to become Fox News' "new pet rock."
And at first blush, it's pretty easy to imagine what the talking points will be. Clearly, Affordable Care Act critics will say, that rascally White House changed the wording of the Census surveys in order to keep truth about "Obamacare" failures from the public.
The truth isn't nearly as provocative: the new Census data will begin in 2013 (before ACA enrollment), not in 2014 (after ACA enrollment).

Leaving political capital on the table

04/15/14 12:48PM

The political influence wealthy Americans enjoy over the policymaking process is well documented: the more money you have, the more likely it is politicians are going to take your concerns seriously.
Demos published a new report on this and related issue -- "Stacked Deck: How the Dominance of Politics by the Affluent & Business Undermines Economic Mobility in America" -- and included a striking chart, breaking down voting participation by income.
All forms of political participation matter, but voting is among the most concrete ways that citizens influence public policy -- and the wealthier are far more likely to vote. According to the Census Bureau, 81.6 percent of Americans making over $150,000 reported that they voted in the 2008 presidential election.  In contrast, roughly half of citizens making under $30,000 reported voting.
The chart shows the breakdown in 2008 -- a presidential election in which turnout was fairly high -- but it's worth noting that the participation rates are not only down across the board in midterm cycles, it also further exaggerates the gap. The Demos report added, "The gap in voter turnout in 2010 was slightly larger, with affluent citizens voting at rates as high as 35 percentage points more than low-income citizens."
Ezra Klein added, "The Doom Loop of Oligarchy isn't just driven by super-rich Americans spending huge sums to influence politics. It's also driven by working-class Americans disengaging from the political process, which leaves politicians more desperate for the votes and the contributions of the affluent."
It's important to appreciate the consequences of this dynamic.
The moon is partly covered in the Earth's shadow during a phase of the lunar eclipse on Feb. 20, 2008 in Miami, Florida.

Blaming Obama for the 'blood moon'

04/15/14 11:45AM

Overnight, sky gazers were able to enjoy a rare and beautiful sight: a so-called "blood moon" in which Earth's shadow completely covers the moon
It wouldn't have occurred to me to connect this to politics in any way, but as Brian Tashman noted this morning, WorldNetDaily manages to "fit criticism of President Obama into nearly everything it publishes, including its story in Monday's lunar eclipse."
Citing the president's comments from January -- "I've got a pen and I've got a phone" -- about using executive orders and executive actions in the face of congressional obstruction, right-wing pastor Mark Biltz told WND today that the "blood moon" is a divine warning to Obama that God has "more than a pen and a phone in his hand."
"In the book of Joel it mentions three times about the sun and the moon going dark and in context it also mentions Divine wrath against all countries that want to divide or part the land of Israel," Biltz said, touching on a frequent Religious Right claim that Obama administration efforts to broker a Mideast peace deal will lead to divine punishment.
"Like Pharaoh the leaders and pundits of today will realize when it comes to crossing the red lines of the Creator of the universe he has more than a pen and a phone in his hand."
The WorldNetDaily piece, which I assure you was not published as satire, added a quote from the pastor that "blood moons" carry "great historic and prophetic significance," adding, "I believe the moons are like flashing red warning lights at a heavenly intersection."
To be sure, both blitz and the publishers of WorldNetDaily are welcome to believe whatever they wish about astronomical phenomena. Their interpretations of eclipses are their business, whether the beliefs seem amusing or not.
But I remain more interested in the political connections to WorldNetDaily than in the political connections to shadows on the moon.
Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, huddles with fellow minority Democrats during a break in the floor debate on a minimum wage bill in Juneau, Alaska, April 13, 2014.

Alaska GOP pulling a fast one on minimum wage

04/15/14 10:49AM

There's been quite a bit of activity on raising the minimum wage recently, with Connecticut, Maryland, and Minnesota each recently approving wage hikes, and states like Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Vermont poised to do the same. As we discussed last week, all six of these states have something in common: they're all "blue" states governed by Democratic legislatures working with Democratic governors.
But then there's Alaska, which has a Republican governor working with a Republican legislature, but where a minimum-wage increase is nevertheless advancing. Reid Wilson reported:
What if they held a vote to increase the minimum wage and most of the Democrats voted no? That's what happened in Alaska on Sunday, where the vast majority of Democrats in the state House voted against a measure that would have given low-income workers one of the highest minimum wages in the entire country.
The state House voted by a 21-19 margin to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour on July 1, 2014, and to $10 an hour the following year. Twelve of the no votes came from Democrats, while just two voted to raise the wage.
If you're thinking there has to be more to this story, you're right.
"It's a strange vote, and it's going to be difficult to justify to my voters," state Rep. Scott Kawasaki (D) said during the debate. "I simply think this is a disingenuous piece of legislation."
And in this case, Kawasaki's concerns are well justified.
Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., attends the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, March 14, 2013.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

GOP's Cotton endorses affordable care for 'every American'

04/15/14 10:02AM

The Affordable Care Act is proving to be quite important nationwide, but it's been especially significant in Arkansas, where Medicaid expansion has brought coverage to more than 100,000 low-income Arkansans. Republicans in the state nearly blocked the policy, but there a compromise was reached: under the "private option," beneficiaries buying private coverage with Medicaid funds.
Because it's making such a difference in the lives of so many, the policy has left Arkansas Republicans in an awkward position: to oppose the private option and Medicaid expansion is to endorse taking coverage away from more than 100,000 Arkansans who need it. Or more to the point, to repeal "Obamacare" is to cut these struggling families off at the knees.
With this in mind, the Arkansas Times' David Ramsey asked U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton (R), currently a competitive U.S. Senate candidate, about his intention to destroy the Affordable Care Act in its entirety.
"We would repeal Obamacare and replace it entirely with many reforms for our health care program," Cotton said. I asked whether he had a specific replacement plan which would cover all the folks who would lose their coverage if Cotton succeeded in repealing the law. He trotted out some tried-and-true Republican talking points which would do no such thing, such as allowing insurance to be sold across state lines. "We want every Arkansan, we want every American, to have quality, affordable access to health care," Cotton said.
Really? Because if so, that's an interesting position for a Republican to lock himself into. In fact, GOP candidates and policymakers have generally avoided endorsing such a progressive goal because they realize guaranteeing affordable access to health care for "every American" is difficult -- and Republican proposals, when they exist, invariably fall short.
So, if Cotton supports giving everyone in the country access to medical care they can afford, why doesn't he support his own state's Medicaid expansion policy?
"The private option is a state-based issue," he said.
That's a nice try, I suppose, but it's not much of an answer. Cotton represents Arkansas constituents; he's running for statewide office in Arkansas, and he's being asked about whether Arkansas should accept federal resources for health care. Taking a pass on the question shouldn't be one of his choices.
But there's a lot of this going around.
Pro-choice activists hold a vigil outside the U.S. Supreme Court on January 23, 2012 in Washington, DC.

Florida shields pages from abortion debate

04/15/14 09:17AM

The list of states working on new reproductive-rights restrictions got a little longer last week, when state lawmakers in Florida advanced a couple of new measures of their own.
Election-year politics and an assertive Republican majority passed two bills in the Florida House on Friday that are certain to score points with a conservative base.
One bill would tighten the state's already restrictive abortion laws. A second would add penalties to anyone convicted of a crime if the act harms a fetus. Similar legislation passed the House last year but stalled in the Senate when abortion-rights advocates argued it was intended to create "personhood" rights for fetuses.
As expected, the bills passed the state House late last week with members voting largely along party lines.
Under the proposed abortion restrictions, Floridians are already prohibited from terminating a pregnancy after 24 weeks, but this new measure would require doctors to conduct an exam and determine whether a fetus is sustainable outside the womb "through standard medical measures." In effect, the intention is to move the legal line from 24 weeks to 20 weeks.
As for the other bill, proponents cited a recent incident in which a Tampa Bay woman was tricked by an ex-boyfriend into taking pills that caused her to miscarry in order to justify new legislation. Democratic state Rep. Elaine Schwartz asked, "How are you going to know that the miscarriage was caused by some event, even months ago? This is much too broad. It's unenforceable and it's part of a war on women."
Nevertheless, this argument did not carry the day and the issue now goes to the state Senate.
But what struck me as especially interesting was, of all things, what lawmakers did with the legislative pages during the debate.
Image: Protesters place a sign on a bridge near the Bureau of Land Management 's base camp where seized cattle, that belonged to rancher Cliven Bundy, are being held at near Bunkerville

Reid says Bundy Ranch standoff 'not over'

04/15/14 08:37AM

Following up on yesterday's item, officials with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management backed off over the weekend at Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch, deescalating a potentially dangerous situation. The underlying issues, however, haven't changed at all.
We're still looking at a situation in which in a rancher has been illegally grazing, ignoring federal laws, blowing off federal court rulings he disagrees with, and refusing to pay fines. Federal officials saw well-armed protestors and decided to scale back rather than risk bloodshed, but it wasn't long before everyone involved asked the same question: now what?
Nevada's senior senator, who also happens to be the Senate Majority Leader, weighed in late yesterday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid weighed in on the tensions in his state between rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management, saying, "It's not over."
"Well, it's not over," Reid told NBC's Nevada affiliate KRNV on Monday. "We can't have an American people that violate the law and then just walk away from it. So it's not over."
And that makes sense. Even among those who may be sympathetic to Bundy's situation -- members of his family have been cattle ranchers in that area for generations -- most fair-minded folks would probably concede that Americans can't ignore laws they don't like and prevent laws from being enforced through the threat of possible violence.
By this reasoning, of course "it's not over." As we discussed yesterday, there's an obvious problem with establishing a precedent that says Americans can disregard court orders.
Meanwhile, Bundy is weighing in on where things stand, too.
Bobby Jindal

Jindal is 'not going to go down that path'

04/15/14 08:00AM

The New York Times talked the other day with a Louisiana voter named Patsy Edmondson, who lives in Rep. Vance McAllister's (R) West Monroe district. Asked about her congressman's extra-marital dalliance, after pledging to "defend our Christian way of life" during his campaign last year, Edmondson rolled her eyes at her state's "history of tawdry politics."
But she also added an interesting point.
A number of voters here identified a double standard in the Republican state leadership for denouncing Mr. McAllister but issuing no such rebuke to Senator David Vitter during a 2007 prostitution scandal. Mr. Vitter apologized for "a very serious sin in my past" and said he had asked for and received forgiveness from his wife and from God. He was re-elected to the Senate in 2010 and is considered as a favorite to succeed [current Gov. Bobby Jindal] in the 2015 governor's race.
Ms. Edmondson said the place to judge Mr. McAllister would be at the ballot box. "If Jindal is going to ask him to resign, why is it not right for David Vitter to resign?" she said.
I've been wondering that myself. In fact, it's tough to reconcile the competing standards: two Louisiana Republicans run as family-values conservatives, one gets caught with prostitutes, one gets caught kissing a staffer. The former remains in his party's good graces, wins re-election, and is poised for a promotion; the latter is persona non grata among his ostensible allies.
I think there's a rational explanation for the disjointed reactions, but we haven't heard any leading Republican officials address the question head on.
To that end, it was good to see reporters ask Louisiana's Republican governor yesterday why he's coming down hard on McAllister, while giving Vitter a pass.

One year after Boston and other headlines

04/15/14 07:56AM

A reunion at the finish line one year after the Boston Marathon bombings. (Boston Globe) Ukraine says it has begun military operation in the East. (NY Times) Republicans try to address 'war on women' with an army of young volunteers. (Washington Post) Social Security will stop seizing tax refunds to collect old debt. (Time) read more

GOP schizophrenia on display at state level

GOP schizophrenia on display at state level

04/14/14 10:37PM

Kasie Hunt, NBC News political reporter, talks with Steve Kornacki about how the radically different elements of the Republican Party contrast with each other in state politics across the country. (Koch statement: watch