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File Photo: Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks during the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 28, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, File)

Sandoval steps up on jobless aid

04/16/14 09:54AM

It took four months of effort, but the Senate finally approved a bipartisan compromise last week on extended unemployment benefits. The bill's prospects in the Republican-led House are, at least for now, non-existent -- as Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) put it, "I don't think there is a great sense of pressure on our members."
Putting aside whether lawmakers should only act when "pressured" to do the right thing, the debate took an interesting twist yesterday when two governors -- one from each party -- began trying to compel the House to vote on the pending jobless aid.
The governors of the two states with the highest unemployment rates are urging Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio to take up the Senate's unemployment extension bill.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a Democrat, wrote to  Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. D-Calif., asking that the House take up the Senate-passed bill.
In their letter, Sandoval and Chafee wrote, "As you know, long-term unemployment remains unacceptably high despite the fact that our economy has been recovering from the worst recession in generations. When our country has experienced similar rates of long-term unemployment in the past, Congress has consistently acted in a bipartisan fashion to extend emergency unemployment benefits."
That true, Congress has consistently acted in a bipartisan fashion to extend emergency unemployment benefits, especially when the jobless rate is as high as it is now. But that was before the current crop of House GOP lawmakers took power.
In the larger context, House Republicans obviously find it easy to condemn Democratic ideas. But on jobless aid, House Republicans now want the public to believe everyone is wrong: several Republican senators, Republican voters, at least one Republican governor, the Congressional Budget Office, the White House, independent economists, etc.
Phyllis Schlafly speaks during an interview in her office Wednesday, March 7, 2007 in Clayton, Mo.

Who wants to increase the pay gap between men and women?

04/16/14 09:21AM

During the recent debate over the Paycheck Fairness Act, Republican opponents carefully stuck to some specific talking points, intended to sound palatable to the American mainstream. They're against wage discrimination, GOP officials said, and support equal pay for equal work, but don't want to bother "job creators" with pesky measures like these.
In other words, for Republicans, it's not that the pay gap is a good thing, but rather, legislative remedies to address the pay gap are more trouble than they're worth.
As Kyle Mantyla at Right Wing Watch noted yesterday, however, Phyllis Schlafly, a long-time Republican activist and leader in the religious right movement, is bringing an entirely different perspective to the debate.
Given [her anti-feminist] outlook, it is not surprising that Schlafly opposes things like the Paycheck Fairness Act and efforts to close the gender pay gap, arguing in an op-ed published in The Christian Post that closing the pay gap will actually harm women.
As Schlafly sees it, women want to marry a man who makes more money than they do.  As such, if women and men make the same amount, then women will be less likely to get married because they will be "unable to find what they regard as a suitable mate."
The solution, obviously, is to increase the pay gap so that men will earn more than women so that women, in turn, will have a better opportunity to find husbands.
There was indication that Schlafly was kidding. On the contrary, she specifically wrote that if the pay gap between men and women were eliminated, "simple arithmetic suggests that half of women would be unable to find what they regard as a suitable mate."
And who wants to argue with simple arithmetic?
In Schlafly's vision, women will benefit economically after men get better jobs: "The best way to improve economic prospects for women is to improve job prospects for the men in their lives, even if that means increasing the so-called pay gap."
To be sure, Schlafly isn't quite as powerful a political player as she used to be, but it's worth noting that as recently as 2012 -- less than two years ago -- she was a member of the platform committee at the Republican National Convention.
Nevada Rancher And Federal Gov't Face Off Over Land Use Battle

'And then you go, 'Uh oh''

04/16/14 08:43AM

As became clear late last week and over the weekend, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy has a core group of supporters, many of whom happen to have weapons they're willing to bring to a protest. Bundy, who's been ignoring federal laws and court rulings for many years, also has his champions among conservative media personalities.
But David Nather noted that there seems to be a ceiling on Bundy support among conservatives who ordinarily enjoy railing against "big government," but who fail to see a "powerful rallying cry" in this story.
"It's like, really, Glenn Beck? This is the issue you want to get behind?" said one Nevada conservative activist who has followed the story for years. "People who aren't in tune with the story just jumped all over it. And then you go back and read the facts of the story, and then you go, 'Uh oh.'"
Uh oh, indeed. The new right-wing cause celebre is a man who doesn't recognize the legitimacy of the United States government, and whose supporters appeared prepared for a confrontation -- a potentially violent confrontation -- with American law enforcement.
The Politico report noted that Republicans and Tea Partiers are eager to talk about the Affordable Care Act and the IRS, but took a pass on Bundy: "Officials at the top Republican campaign organizations, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, didn't respond to requests for comment. Top lawmakers were silent. And a spokesman for the Tea Party Patriots said there was no one available to talk about the rancher issue on Tuesday."
I suppose that's preferable to the alternative -- GOP leaders cheering Bundy on -- but the silence isn't altogether comforting, either.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin speaks to the media in Oklahoma City, September 3, 2013.

Oklahoma's regressive approach to the minimum wage

04/16/14 08:00AM

Several states from coast to coast have given up waiting for Congress to act on the minimum wage and are instead acting on their own. Connecticut, Maryland, and Minnesota each recently approved wage hikes, while Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Vermont are poised to do the same.
Oklahoma, meanwhile, is also implementing a new statewide law on the minimum wage. But in this case, the Republican-led state is a very different approach. As Ned Resnikoff reported:
Oklahoma cities are now banned from raising their own minimum wages above the state level, thanks to a law signed by Republican Governor Mary Fallin on Tuesday. The law will also prevent cities in Oklahoma from crafting their own mandatory paid sick day laws.
Oklahoma's minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour, the same as the federal minimum wage. The new law would stymie labor's attempts to raise the minimum wage in Oklahoma City, where activists have been organizing around a proposed ballot initiative to raise the city-level minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
In contemporary conservatism, "local control" is an important principle. The right tends to believe the government that's closest to the people -- literally, geographically -- is best able to respond to the public's needs.
Except, of course, when local government considers progressive measures Republicans don't like, at which point it's time to intervene and snuff local control out.
Wait, it gets slightly worse.

NRA challenge and other headlines

04/16/14 07:58AM

Bloomberg plans a $50 million challenge to the NRA. (NY Times) The backpacks dropped at the Boston Marathon finish line contained a hoax bomb and equipment belonging to the news media . (NBC News) Ukraine suffers setback in bid to confront pro-Russian militias. (NY Times) AZ Gov. Brewer signs bill on surprise abortion-clinic inspections. (Arizona Republic) Duke Energy presents plan for coal-ash spill cleanup. (Greensboro News & Record) read more

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.