Overwhelming Majority’ in Favor of EPA Clean Power Plan

“Americans support the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan by a margin of nearly two to one, a new poll from the League of Conservation Voters found.”

“Despite the rhetoric from some Republican governors, 70 percent of Americans want their states to develop plans to meet the EPA’s guidelines.”

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“According to the poll, conducted for the League of Conservation Voters by Hart Research, supporters of the plan outnumber opponents pretty much across the board.”

“’A majority of voters in every region of the country support it, as do a majority of voters in every age, education, and income category,’ the researchers found. And while there is majority support among both Democrats and Independents, Republicans are not far behind: 56 percent of ‘non-conservative’ Republicans are generally in favor of the Clean Power Plan, and 58 percent of all Republicans want their state to comply with the EPA rule — even if they don’t support it.

(Excerpted from Wonk Wire 8/28/15)

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Why Republicans Reject the Iran Deal — and All Diplomacy

Since the nuclear deal with Iran was announced on July 14, Republicans have attacked it with fire-and-brimstone zeal. They have called it everything from appeasement to betrayal. President Obama has fired back, arguing that opposition to the deal stems from the same worldview that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq: “A mind-set characterized by a preference for military action over diplomacy.”

But this strain of thinking goes beyond Iraq. Although not all conservative Republicans share it, the tendency to reject diplomatic deals is rooted on the right of the American political spectrum.

Since the early 1950s, many conservatives — conditioned to think in Manichean terms of absolute victory or total surrender — have opposed major peace initiatives on the grounds that they were forms of surrender and appeasement. Rather than making the world safer, they argued, such diplomatic deals weakened America’s global standing.

“….negotiation with enemies was the same as surrender; co-existence was the same as defeat.”….Defining foreign policy in such ideologically rigid terms helped set the litmus test for the conservative movement: no diplomacy with mortal enemies.

After a decade in the background, the 9/11 attacks brought back the hardline approach in the form of the Bush doctrine of unilateralism, pre-emption and regime change in a world divided between good and evil. And as the backlash against the Iran deal and the recent Republican presidential primary debates have demonstrated, the mind-set that began at Yalta has left a lasting imprint on Republican foreign-policy thinking.

Iran may be a radical and deeply anti-Western regime that has sponsored brutal militias across the Middle East. But in the face of such foes, American interests have in the past been advanced best through diplomacy, not isolation.

In hurling brickbats at the president, the modern-day inheritors of the hardline tradition….are simply reminding Americans of earlier episodes of right-wing rejectionism. Today, those past backlashes against important diplomatic overtures appear discredited and foolish.

(Excerpted from New York Times 8/2/15)

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KURT SCHAEFER WAS “A VERY MODERATE CANDIDATE.” BUT NOW HE’S TRYING TO WIN A GOP PRIMARY

Once upon a time, Senator Kurt Schaefer described himself as “a very moderate candidate.” He said he supported expanding Medicaid eligibility to 100% of the Federal Poverty Level.  His re-election to the Senate to represent Boone and Cooper Counties was all about “putting politics aside” and bipartisanship. As the National Review notes, Schaefer told voters in 2012 that “he supports ‘the status quo that we have right now’” on abortion laws. Henry J. Waters II of The Columbia Daily Tribune, a Schaefer fan, wrote in 2013 that the Senator was “a moderate, even liberal, friend of the [University of Missouri] and other causes of interest to Central Missouri.” Schaefer even “sought the support of the 13th Circuit Democratic Committee for nomination to an open judicial seat” in 2002.

But since his 2012 re-election, Kurt Schaefer has decided to seek the GOP nomination for Attorney General. And to win over Todd Akin voters, the former “very moderate” — “even liberal” — Republican Senator has attempted to remake himself as an extremely conservative firebrand. His primary opponent in the race, Josh Hawley, appears to have always been such a conservative. Now, Schaefer “often wanders into uninformed, near-hysterical verbiage.”

Here’s how Waters described the transformation in 2013:

A TEXTBOOK EXAMPLE OF THIS PHENOMENON [RUNNING TO THE RIGHT IN A COMPETITIVE GOP PRIMARY] IS THE EVOLVING POLITICS OF SEN. KURT SCHAEFER. HE WAS ELECTED IN A TRADITIONALLY DEMOCRATIC DISTRICT AND SERVED TWO TERMS AS A MODERATE, EVEN LIBERAL, FRIEND OF THE UNIVERSITY AND OTHER CAUSES OF INTEREST TO CENTRAL MISSOURI. ALL OF A SUDDEN HIS ELECTORAL INTEREST SHIFTED STATEWIDE, AND THE CHANGE IN HIS APPARENT PHILOSOPHY COULD NOT HAVE BEEN MORE DRAMATIC. TODAY HE COULD NOT BE ELECTED FROM THIS DISTRICT. HE IS TRYING TO MOVE TO THE RIGHT FAR ENOUGH TO WIN A REPUBLICAN PRIMARY FOR STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL. HE CAN BARELY SEE BOONE COUNTY IN HIS REARVIEW MIRROR.

Waters maintains that Schaefer doesn’t mean what he says, and that he doesn’t really believe in his now-extreme positions. We are to plan ahead for ‘ignoring’ his extreme comments and actions, no matter who is hurt by his grandstanding or refusal to act in the best interest of his constituents. Waters, writing in August 2015:

IF YOU’RE A SCHAEFER FAN LIKE I AM, YOU HAVE TO GIVE HIM A LOT OF SLACK FOR PRE-PRIMARY COMMENTS THAT MUST LATER BE IGNORED IN HIS GENERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN. I THINK KURT SCHAEFER COULD MOUNT AN EFFECTIVE CAMPAIGN FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL WITHOUT THESE EXCESSES. MY DEMOCRAT FRIENDS SAY I GIVE HIM TOO MUCH SLACK, THAT SCHAEFER IS MUCH MORE OF A RIGHT-WING IDEOLOGUE THAN I RECKON HE IS.

His predicament illustrates clearly what’s wrong with today’s Republican Party. Does it also bring forth a disturbing cant in his personal beliefs? With a guy this talented, I like to give benefit of doubt. As his campaign unfolds, I’ll be looking for evidence to support my — naïve? — belief in the real Kurt Schaefer.

Schaefer’s transformation is transparent for all to see. Here’s Richard Callow of St. Louis, in July:

Waters and Callow are too forgiving, however. Schaefer’s stubborn obstruction to Medicaid expansion — lost lives,lost economic opportunity, facts and previous positions be damned — has been a disaster for the families of Missouri, and cannot be ignored just because the Senator used to be less awful. Same goes for Schaefer’s poorly-crafted Amendment 5, and his refusal to deal with the very predictable consequences of the measure.

 If only Schaefer could have remained the bipartisan, moderate he once claimed to be. And once was.

(Excerpted from Progress Missouri 8/13/15)

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How Discrimination Persists Under the Banner of ‘Religious Freedom’

Garrett Epps comments on the ruling, made by District Judge David L. Bunning, in Miller v. Davis, that orders Kim Davis, Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, to issue state marriage licenses to all qualified couples who seek them … On Friday, she defied the order.”

“’Kim Davis did not sign up as a clerk to issue same-sex marriage licenses,’ said a statement from her public-interest lawyers, Liberty Counsel. ‘At a minimum, her religious convictions should be accommodated.’”

“Is it possible to agree on what religious freedom is not? It’s not a right to wear a Marine uniform but refuse to fight. It’s not a right to be a county clerk and decide which citizens you will serve and which you won’t. Religious ‘accommodation’ doesn’t mean what Liberty Counsel thinks it means. If a person can perform the duties of a job with some adjustment for religious belief, that’s an accommodation. If they’re not willing to do the job, they have to leave. That’s not just a requirement of law; honor requires it as well.”

“The Kim Davises of the world have no monopoly on faith or conscience. Many same-sex couples have married because of their religious beliefs, and many religious bodies, and people, regard those marriages as sacred. Allowing others to disrespect those unions offends some consciences as surely as forbidding it offends others. Civil-rights laws must balance the harms carefully, with attention to both sides. Religious freedom cuts both ways.”

(Excerpted from Wonk Wire 8/17/15)

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Republicans Against Retirement

The issue in question is the future of Social Security, which turned 80 last week. The retirement program is, of course, both extremely popular and a long-term target of conservatives, who want to kill it precisely because its popularity helps legitimize government action in general. As the right-wing activist Stephen Moore (now chief economist of the Heritage Foundation) once declared, Social Security is “the soft underbelly of the welfare state”; “jab your spear through that” and you can undermine the whole thing.

hus, Jeb Bush says that the retirement age should be pushed back to “68 or 70”. Scott Walker has echoed that position. Marco Rubio wants both to raise the retirement age and to cut benefits for higher-income seniors. Rand Paul wants to raise the retirement age to 70 and means-test benefits. Ted Cruz wants to revive the Bush privatization plan.

For the record, these proposals would be really bad public policy — a harsh blow to Americans in the bottom half of the income distribution, who depend on Social Security, often have jobs that involve manual labor, and have not, in fact, seen a big rise in life expectancy. Meanwhile, the decline of private pensions has left working Americans more reliant on Social Security than ever.

And no, Social Security does not face a financial crisis; its long-term funding shortfall could easily be closed with modest increases in revenue.

Still, nobody should be surprised at the spectacle of politicians enthusiastically endorsing destructive policies. What’s puzzling about the renewed Republican assault on Social Security is that it looks like bad politics as well as bad policy. Americans love Social Security, so why aren’t the candidates at least pretending to share that sentiment?

The answer, I’d suggest, is that it’s all about the big money.

Wealthy individuals have long played a disproportionate role in politics, but we’ve never seen anything like what’s happening now: domination of campaign finance, especially on the Republican side, by a tiny group of immensely wealthy donors. Indeed, more than half the funds raised by Republican candidates through June came from just 130 families.

And while most Americans love Social Security, the wealthy don’t. Two years ago a pioneering study of the policy preferences of the very wealthy found many contrasts with the views of the general public; as you might expect, the rich are politically different from you and me. But nowhere are they as different as they are on the matter of Social Security. By a very wide margin, ordinary Americans want to see Social Security expanded. But by an even wider margin, Americans in the top 1 percent want to see it cut. And guess whose preferences are prevailing among Republican candidates.

You often see political analyses pointing out, rightly, that voting in actual primaries is preceded by an “invisible primary” in which candidates compete for the support of crucial elites. But who are these elites? In the past, it might have been members of the political establishment and other opinion leaders. But what the new attack on Social Security tells us is that the rules have changed. Nowadays, at least on the Republican side, the invisible primary has been reduced to a stark competition for the affections and, of course, the money of a few dozen plutocrats.

What this means, in turn, is that the eventual Republican nominee — assuming that it’s not Mr. Trump —will be committed not just to a renewed attack on Social Security but to a broader plutocratic agenda. Whatever the rhetoric, the GOP is on track to nominate someone who has won over the big money by promising government by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent.

(Excerpted from Krugman New York Times 8/17/15)

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80 Years Later, Social Security Is Still A Bedrock of Economic Security For American Workers

Eighty years ago today, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. Today, Social Security continues to serve as an essential tool providing economic security for American workers and their families in the event of retirement, disability, or the death of a primary breadwinner.

Some 239 million workers ages 20 and older are insured under the program. Here are just a few numbers showing how essential Social Security has become:

  • 60 million: In 2014 alone, Social Security provided benefit payments tonearly 60 million people, including 42 million retired workers and dependents of retired workers, 6 million survivors of deceased workers, and 11 million disabled workers their spouses and their dependents.
  • 27 million: Each year the program keeps some 27 million Americans out of poverty.
  • 66 percent: Nearly two-thirds of seniors rely on the program for most of their income.
  • 80 percent: More than eight in ten disabled workers rely on the program for most of their income.
  • 3.4 million: More than 3.4 million children receive vital benefits from the program, making it the largest income security program for children.

Despite the essential role Social Security plays in millions of Americans’ lives, conservatives remain intent on undermining this effective program and cutting its modest benefits through calls for privatization, means-testing, and raising the retirement age. As wage stagnation and income inequality continue to eat away at families’ economic security, calls to cut Social Security are harmful to the millions of hardworking Americans who rightfully earned these benefits, and wildly out of step with what the American people want.

BOTTOM LINE: Now is the time for Congress to strengthen – not cut – Social Security. For the last 80 years, Social Security has been the foundation of economic security for American workers and their families. So join us for a toast to 80 years of Social Security and another 80 years to come!

(Excerpted from Think Progress 8/14/15)

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Why Kurt Schaefer is the scariest person in Missouri government

If someone were to ask me who is the scariest person in the Missouri government right now, I would say Kurt Schaefer.

This is quite a distinction. The state Capitol, as we have learned, has its share of intern harassers and after-hours miscreants. Schaefer, the Republican senator from Columbia, is neither of those.

He is a different kind of scary — a politician with the talent and ambition to acquire power and a willingness to misuse it.

Schaefer is chairman of the Missouri Senate’s appropriations committee. That gives him an outsized voice in who or what receives state funding. He also is a candidate to be Missouri’s next attorney general. Those two roles have proven to be a dangerous combination.

Barely a week goes by any more without Schaefer setting off some type of tremor.

There he was on Thursday berating staffers at the state Department of Health and Senior Services at a “sanctity of life committee” hearing, grasping for some kind of irregularity in Planned Parenthood’s application to resume abortion services at its Columbia clinic.

There he was last month suggesting that the General Assembly should wipe out Kansas City’s earnings tax in retaliation for the City Council’s ordinance increasing the minimum wage.

And the legislature isn’t even in session.

Schaefer’s frenetic activity has to do with his attorney general campaign. He has a GOP primary opponent, Josh Hawley, whose impeccable conservative credentials include arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of “religious freedom” in the contraceptives case involving the Hobby Lobby stores.

Hawley teaches at the University of Missouri School of Law in Columbia, which has granted him a leave of absence without pay in order to campaign. The university is now juggling multiple Sunshine Law requests related to that decision. Schaefer’s allies want to know if Hawley received any undue consideration in obtaining the leave. Hawley’s allies want to know if Schaefer hinted at budgetary consequences if the university granted the leave.

So far, there is nothing concrete to confirm either suspicion. But the early nasty tone of the attorney general’s race has put Schaefer in pitbull mode.

A lawyer and former Missouri assistant attorney general, he entered political life as a moderate. He gained a reputation for being smart and pragmatic and landed the coveted appropriations chairmanship. He won re-election easily in 2012.

Then everything changed. Looking ahead to his statewide race, Schaefer made a hard, screeching turn to the right. And he began using his Senate chairmanship as political muscle.

When word got out in 2013 that the Department of Revenue was scanning driver’s license documents, including concealed carry permits, into a database, Schaefer proposed cutting the budget of the motor vehicle division by a third. Better not to issue licenses at all than to violate the privacy of gun owners, he reasoned.

This year, Schaefer used the budget process to make Medicaid funding contingent on the state hiring for-profit managed care companies to administer much of the program. Using threats and sheer stamina, Schaefer got the legislature to go along with the dramatic change without hearings or even much information. The state is now trying to figure out how to make the transition work.

Schaefer’s power-mongering is another toxic aspect of Missouri government. People inside of government are overly cowed by him. And people outside of government already are weighing the repercussions of donating to Schaefer’s political opponent.

If Schaefer wants to make a stand for good government, he’ll resign from his appropriations chairmanship to avoid the appearance of more power plays while he’s running for attorney general.

If he won’t — which seems likely — then the Senate’s incoming new leadership should take the decision out of his hands.

(Excerpted from Kansas City Star 8/13/15)

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Jeb Bush Provided Distorted Version of Iraq History

Jeb Bush, in his speech this week that was billed as a major foreign policy address, “provided a distorted version of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq and an incorrect account of the origins of the Islamic State,” according to McClatchy.

“Bush vowed that if elected he would expand U.S. military intervention in the Middle East significantly. His version of events, however, seemed intended to absolve his brother, President George W. Bush, of blame in destabilizing the region while trying to pin the region’s current bloodshed on President Obama and his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.”

“Bush’s account of the withdrawal as a ‘case of blind haste’ omitted the fact that it was his brother who’d set the withdrawal date of Dec. 31, 2011, in an agreement that he signed with the Iraqi government in 2008. He also neglected to note that the Iraqi government strongly opposed the continued presence of U.S. forces.”

(Excerpted from Political Wire 8/13/15)

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American Exceptionalism

The United States Is The Only Developed Nation Without Paid Maternity Leave

In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Carly Fiorina, the only female GOP candidate, said that she “oppose[s] the government mandating paid maternity leave.” Fiorina doesn’t want government “to dictate to the private sector how to manage their businesses,” ignoring the fact that paid family leave has been shown to be good for businesses.

The United States is exceptional when it comes to paid family leave, and not for good reason: the U.S. is the only developed country in the world that does not guarantee mothers any paid time off and one of only a few nations that does not offer broader paid family leave. Research, however, shows such policies have strong economic benefits. Here are just a few examples:
•Paid leave increases labor force participation. A lack of paid family leave is one of the reasons that the United States is falling behind other developed countries in the growth of the percentage of women in the labor force.
•Paid leave helps businesses. A vast majority of businesses in California, one of the few states to offer paid family leave, report that paid leave helped reduce turnover and did not affect profitability. Economists estimate that the savings in turnover saved California businesses $89 million.
•Paid leave could provide critical support to the workers who need it most. Only 12 percent of private-sector workers in the United States receive paid family leave from their employers, and most of these workers work in mostly higher-income, white-collar jobs. Just 5 percent of the lowest-paid 25 percent of employees get paid family leave. When surveyed, nearly half of workers who reported that they needed such leave said they could not afford to take it without pay.
•Paid leave increases lifetime earnings and retirement security among workers, especially women. Paid family leave enables workers to remain in the labor force while taking leave, enabling workers to better prepare for retirement. On average, women lose a total of $274,044 and men lose a total of $233,716 in lifetime wages and Social Security benefits from leaving the workforce due to caregiving responsibilities.

Fiorina isn’t alone in her opposition to paid leave. While her comments focused specifically on paid maternity leave for mothers, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and Scott Walker have all voted against laws that would have enabled millions of workers from earning paid sick days that can be used for short-term illnesses like the flu.

Paid family leave and paid sick days are just two of the numerous policies GOP candidates oppose at the expense of working families. Another is the minimum wage, which, if increased to $12 by 2020, would help more than 35 million workers while saving taxpayers $52.7 billion over the next 10 years. Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker, who calls the minimum wage “lame,” oppose raising the minimum wage, despite the fact that the minimum wage is on track to be the lowest in 70 years in real terms in 2025. Fiorina and other GOP candidates also oppose policies that increase wages and promote greater equity for women, such as the Paycheck Fairness Act that helps close the gender wage gap.

Another important policy for working families is raising the overtime threshold. The U.S. Department of Labor has proposed a rule that would raise the overtime threshold, enabling 5 million workers to receive fair compensation for their work beyond 40 hours a week. Though 79 percent of Americans support raising the threshold, which is currently below the federal poverty line for a family of 4, those in opposition, such as Jeb Bush, cite the same failed trickle-down theory that helps boost CEO pay at the expense of workers.

BOTTOM LINE: If Carly Fiorina and other GOP candidates truly want the United States to be exceptional, they should invest in workers and support paid family leave. But that is just one of a list of policies many of these candidates oppose, including increasing the federal minimum wage and raising the overtime threshold, which would help working families get ahead.
(Excerpted from Think Progress 8/11/15)

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Vindictive Missouri legislative threat

…a cabal of lawmakers is threatening to retaliate for a Kansas City ordinance enacting a minimum wage increase by terminating the 1 percent earnings tax used to provide services such as police and fire protection.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Republican from Columbia, first broached the idea in June, when Kansas City and St. Louis were both discussing gradual minimum wage increases up to $15 an hour.

Last month, the Kansas City Council passed an ordinance gradually increasing the minimum wage to $13 an hour

In a letter to other senators, Schaefer, who often wanders into uninformed, near-hysterical verbiage, wrote that local minimum wage increases would “cause a tremendous amount of damage to our state’s economy.”

The only way to undo the damage and protect local businesses, he wrote, is for the legislature to eliminate the earnings taxes enacted in Kansas City and St. Louis with the authority of local voters.

For starters, there is no conclusive evidence that sensible minimum wage increases harm a region’s economy. Many studies show that regions fare better economically when workers have more money to spend.

Then there’s the question of how Missouri’s economy would be aided by blowing a $200 million hole in Kansas City’s budget, leaving it unable to adequately provide basic services.

While Schaefer’s idea appears to have limited support thus far, his position as chairman of the Senate appropriations committee gives it some weight. The prospective chairman of the House budget committee also says retaliation should be “on the table.”

Schaefer, who is running for the GOP nomination for state attorney general, appears to be doing the bidding of multimillionaire Rex Sinquefield.

Sinquefield’s abhorrence of the earnings tax is the reason Kansas Citizens must vote to renew the tax every five years. He achieved that with a ballot initiative in 2010. What better way for the hyper-ambitious Schaefer to curry favor with the state’s most prolific campaign contributor than to stage an attack on the revenue source?

State politicians like Schaefer tend to become so full of themselves they forget they are public servants, not dictators. The well-organized citizens’ coalition that supports a live able wage should remind them who’s really in charge by moving forward with a statewide ballot initiative to substantially raise the minimum wage throughout Missouri.

(Excerpted from Kansas City Star 8/10/15)

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The Voting Rights Act at 50

For the first 48 years of its existence, the Voting Rights Act — signed by President Lyndon Johnson 50 years ago this week — was one of the most popular and effective civil rights laws in American history. Centuries of slavery, segregation and officially sanctioned discrimination had kept African-Americans from having any real voice in the nation’s politics. Under the aggressive new law, black voter registration and turnout soared, as did the number of black elected officials.

Recognizing its success, Congress repeatedly reaffirmed the act and expanded its protections. The last time, in 2006, overwhelming majorities in both houses extended the law for another 25 years. But only seven years later, in 2013, five Supreme Court justices elbowed in and concluded, on scant evidence, that there was no longer a need for the law’s most powerful tool; the Voting Rights Act, they claimed, had done its job.

In truth, the battle for voting rights has had to be unrelenting, and the act itself has been under constant assault from the start. As Ari Berman writes in his new history of the law, “Give Us the Ballot,” the act’s revolutionary success “spawned an equally committed group of counterrevolutionaries” who have aimed to dismantle the central achievements of the civil rights movement.

Today there are no poll taxes or literacy tests. Instead there are strict and unnecessary voter-identification requirements, or cutbacks to early voting and same-day registration — all of which are known to disproportionately burden black voters.

The relative subtlety of the newer measures does not make them any less insidious. But it does make them more resistant to charges of illegality. A federal trial that ended last week in North Carolina provided the clearest example of the challenges faced by those who want to protect democracy’s most fundamental right.

If North Carolina were under federal supervision, as much of the state had been before the Supreme Court’s ruling, H.B. 589 would almost surely have been blocked for its disproportionate impact on black voters, who tend to vote Democratic. But because of the ruling, the state’s legislators were free to impose a raft of restrictions based on bogus claims of electoral integrity and efficiency. The legislators refused to testify at trial.

Powerful voting-rights advocacy groups — including the N.A.A.C.P., the A.C.L.U., the League of Women Voters and the Advancement Project — sued immediately upon the law’s passage, claiming that it intentionally targeted minority voters, and yet more than two years and one federal election later, it remains largely in place and may well survive the current challenge.

This demonstrates the need for the Voting Rights Act’s supervision scheme, which the Supreme Court eliminated. If there was any question that the court had misjudged the reality on the ground, it was answered by the speed with which North Carolina, Texas and other states moved to impose discriminatory new voting laws.

State officials complain that it is not fair to keep punishing them for the sins of the past. But as the plaintiffs’ lawyer argued during the North Carolina trial, “the fight for equal voting rights is not ancient history.” Rather it “has been an arduous, slow effort to overcome one barrier placed in the path of African Americans after another.”

In North Carolina, as in many places around the country that are determined to undermine the right to vote, the past is far from over.

(Excerpted from New York Times 8/5/15)

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GAO: States With Expanded Medicaid Can Better Treat Mental Illness: Almost 20 percent of the uninsured have a behavioral health condition, according to a new GAO report.

As states still grapple with whether to expand Medicaid three years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act doesn’t require them to, new information from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) indicates that expansion states have been able to provide health insurance to additional residents without incurring additional costs.

Some 29 states and the District of Columbia chose to extend health-care benefits to people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s an annual income of $32,923 for a family of four, or $16,242 for an individual. The remaining 21 states have so far refused.

The GAO analyzed Medicaid enrollment from July 2014 until June 2015 and conducted interviews from behavioral health agencies in 10 states. The report concludes that states that chose to expand Medicaid are better able to treat low-income people suffering from mental health disorders and addiction than the states that opted out of expansion — and that they’re able to do so without negative fiscal repercussions, at least so far, because the federal government covers the entire cost of expansion.

In the survey of expansion states selected, behavioral health officials reported that Medicaid expansion increased the quality and availability of treatment options to low-income people. Conversely, officials from non-expansion states are forced to focus care on adults with the most serious conditions while consigning uninsured people with more moderate conditions to waiting lists.

The GAO selected four non-expansion states — Missouri, Montana, Texas, and Wisconsin — each varying in population size, adult Medicaid enrollment, per capita number of behavioral health professionals and geographic region. Although these states have treatment options for uninsured poor people with severe mental illnesses, they lack the resources to effectively treat the uninsured with more moderate problems. Without an increase in state or federal funding, uninsured poor people with addictions or serious psychiatric conditions cannot get psychiatric assessments, visits with medical providers, counseling or prescription medications. Behavioral health agencies simply add uninsured patients to waiting lists and send them away without care. In Missouri, there were 3,723 people on the waiting list for substance use treatment as of January 2015.

The GAO concludes that Medicaid expansion offers more treatment options to more low-income people without compromising a state’s fiscal responsibilities.

 (Excerpted from Governing 8/3/15)

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Understanding President Obama’s new climate rules, in 4 graphs

On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency released the Clean Power Plan, a framework under which the United States — as in, each of the 50 states — would cumulatively cut carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent by the year 2030.

It’s certain that the proposal — almost without question the most aggressive greenhouse gas reduction plan the country has ever seen — will result in harsh political backlash, particularly as the Republican presidential fight continues to roil.

1. Coal was already in decline.

Our Steven Mufson has a good overview of coal’s recent struggles and the role the new proposal will have in exacerbating them. It’s important to remember, though, that coal’s sharp decline is already several years old.

The graph below uses data on electricity generation by source from the Energy Information Administration.

Notice that coal’s drop doesn’t correlate to growth in wind power or solar. It’s natural gas that’s eating into coal’s market, a function of improvements in hydraulic fracturing (better known as “fracking”). Only a few weeks ago, natural gas passed coal as a source of electricity. When burned, coal produces far, far more carbon dioxide than natural gas.

2. The carbon dioxide reduction goal is set against a recent high, not current emissions.

The new proposal sets a benchmark of 32 percent reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants versus 2005 levels. Data from the EPA shows that emissions were already down steeply in 2013 versus 2005 (though theyticked up again in 2014).

Notice, too, that this only addresses one part of the total carbon dioxide emissions of the United States.

3. This rule won’t solve the problem by itself …

That’s why Obama’s agreement with Chinese leader Xi Jinping is so important. It uses diplomacy to try and pressure other high-polluting countries to cut emissions, too.

4. … But it should reduce how disproportionately the U.S. is responsible.

While we aren’t the biggest polluters, we still produce the most carbon dioxide per person.

Obama’s plan is ambitious enough that it will have an effect — albeit a small one — on climate change, and will inspire a ferocious political fight domestically. For environmentalists, having a president willing to engage in the latter is almost as noteworthy as one willing to attempt the former.

(Excerpted from The Fix, Washington Post 8/3/15)

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Republicans slam brakes on voting rights bill

House Republican leaders are slamming the brakes on voting rights legislation, insisting that any movement on the issue go through a key Republican committee chairman who opposes the proposal.

House Democrats are pressing hard on GOP leaders to bring the new voter protections directly to the floor.

That would sidestep consideration in the House Judiciary Committee, where Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has rejected a bipartisan proposal to update the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) in the wake of a 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted a central provision of that law.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Republican leaders say the bill must go through Judiciary. That position effectively kills the legislation, as Goodlatte, after staging a hearing on the issue in 2013, has maintained that a congressional response is unnecessary because the Court left intact other parts of the VRA ensuring voters are protected.

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Koch Rebranding

Over the weekend, at a political conference organized by the Koch Brothers where mega-donors and Republican presidential candidates rubbed elbows, Charles Koch compared his network’s influence over U.S. elections to past “freedom movements.”

“Look at the American revolution, the anti-slavery movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement,” he said. “All of these struck a moral chord with the American people. They all sought to overcome an injustice. And we, too, are seeking to right injustices that are holding our country back.”

Koch also repeatedly cited his crusade for shrinking the government as a gift to the nation’s poor, as well as his organization’s criminal justice reform push.

Yet the Koch Brothers’ have a checkered record on civil rights, and continue to support policies that harm voters of color.

The brothers have long backed efforts to make all states demand a voter ID at the polls, a policy that disproportionately suppresses the voters of people of color, the elderly, students, and the poor — all demographics that tend to vote for Democrats.

The Koch-funded organization Americans for Prosperity has similarly fought tooth and nailagainst the expansion of Medicaid, which has most harmed African Americans who live in southern states.

The Kochs have also spent big in recent years to oppose raising the minimum wage — or having one at all — though a raise could lift millions of black and Latino workers out of poverty.

Additionally, the brothers’ past political summits have hosted speakers with explicitly racist views. Author Charles Murray — who has argued that African Americans and Latinos are genetically inferior to white people — was a celebrated keynote speaker at the Koch summit in 2014.

And though Koch Industries has received waves of positive press attention for their criminal justice reform, the network continues to back politicians known for doubling down on long sentences for non-violent drug crimes and expanding the use of private prisons.

This isn’t the first time the Koch empire has attempted to re-brand itself. Earlier this year, the brothers launched a media charm offensive in which they described themselves as economically conservative and socially liberal — despite spending tens of millions of dollars on campaigns to ban abortion and gay marriage, among other socially conservative causes.

(Excerpted from Think Progress 8/3/15)

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Obamacare Has Improved Access to Health Care

Jonathan Cohn points to new research suggesting that since Obamacare’s implementation, Americans have better access to health care.

“It’s one more reason to think Obamacare is not the fiasco that critics claim it to be.”

“In a new paper for the Journal of the American Medical Association, a group of scholars attempt to produce a before-and-after picture of the health care law’s implementation. To do so, they draw on three years of data from Gallup’s ongoing ‘well-being index’ survey.”

The researchers “adjusted the responses for variables like unemployment, in an attempt to isolate the effects of the health care law from other factors, such as the recovering economy. The researchers also looked specifically at the trends — in other words, whether access to care was getting worse before the health care law’s implementation, and, if so, whether that deterioration stopped.”

“Every trend had been getting worse — and then, with the health law’s full implementation, either stopped getting worse or started getting better. Lead author Benjamin Sommers … said the difference amounted to 11 million more adults saying they can afford their health care and 6.8 million reporting they were in good health.”

“The ACA’s first 2 open enrollment periods were associated with significantly improved trends in self-reported coverage, access to primary care and medications, affordability, and health.

(Excerpted from Wonkwire 7/29/15)

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Wealth Bubble Distorts Views of the Poor

Washington Post: A new study in Psychological Science “confirms, that the rich and poor have skewed views about each other — and that, as a result, the rich may be less likely to support programs for the poor.”

“The wealthy, surrounded by other wealthy people, generally believed the U.S. population was wealthier than it actually is. It’s easy to imagine why they might make this mistake: If you look around you and see few poor people — on the street, in your child’s classroom, at the grocery store — you may think poverty is pretty rare.”

“The communities we see immediately around us, the authors argue, shape our sense of how rich America is. And those perceptions, in turn, can influence how we feel about government policies for the poor. In this study, wealthier people who overestimated the extent of wealth in the U.S. were also more likely to perceive the economy as fair and more likely to oppose redistribution policies.”

“This finding is particularly worrisome given that economic segregation is worsening in America.”

(Excerpted from Wonkwire 7/29/15)

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Missouri’s cruel treatment of undocumented students

This year, the Missouri Legislature passed numerous punitive bills. In each case, language was carefully crafted to eliminate educational options for students who have been approved under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Two of those bills (SB224 and HB3) combine to effectively price undocumented students out of higher education. SB224 states that undocumented students will not qualify for the A+ scholarship program.

In HB3 (the higher education budget bill) language was inserted in the preamble that states that Missouri public colleges and universities must charge undocumented (including DACA) students the highest possible rate of tuition — whether that’s out-of-state or international. The bill further asserts that they’re not eligible for any institutional scholarships and threatens the universities’ budget allocation if they don’t comply. Some say it’s unconstitutional to attempt to legislate via the state budget. I am not a legal scholar, but I have seen first-hand how punitive legislation affects real people.

It’s the end of July. Some students have no idea that this punitive legislation affects them. International rates can be three times higher than in-state rates at some Missouri institutions. Some institutions have notified their students but many have not. Some responded to a phone survey I conducted by indicating that they have no intention to notify students.

On July 11, Gov, Nixon traveled to Kansas City to attend the conference of National Council of La Raza, the largest civil rights group for Latinos. While at this conference, he announced his veto of SB224, claiming that it is immoral and bad for the state to penalize students who have worked hard and followed the rules. He received a standing ovation. People from all over the country attend NCLR and may not have been as in tune with the extent of Missouri’s punitive policies, but I know what this really means.

Although the governor vetoed this bill, the veto session begins in September, well after school has started. If his veto is overridden, students will experience a spike in their tuition that they may not anticipate and probably cannot sustain. This, again, is wrong. While the governor was receiving a standing ovation, many of us worried that students’ dreams will be crushed in the aftermath of bad politics.

)(Excerpted from St. Louis Post Dispatch 7/29/15)

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Birth control, sex education prevent abortions better than gotcha videos

Serious opponents of abortion should be lined up to support birth control clinics. They should sponsor sex education programs. They should help mothers find work so they can feed and educate their children.

They shouldn’t be using hidden cameras to obtain secret video of doctors who work for Planned Parenthood discussing the distribution of fetal tissue and body parts with people who have misrepresented themselves. Those tactics are more about gotcha politics and about defunding a nonprofit organization that provides services to women and poor people than they are about helping women prevent unwanted pregnancies.

As the late Dr. Alan Guttmacher, former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and a leader in the International Planned Parenthood Federation, wrote after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, “those who oppose and those who favor legalization of abortion share a common goal — the elimination of all abortion,” through better, safer, cheaper contraception.

In private, many — if not most — medical professionals are not necessarily delicate about describing medical procedures. It is clear from watching the videos that the doctors do not know they are being videotaped and are talking frankly with people who claimed to be fetal tissue buyers.

What’s murky is that the public can’t tell from the videos exactly what is being discussed. David Daleiden, founder of the California-based Center for Medical Progress, is a well-known anti-abortion activist who has previously used undercover sting operations and heavily edited videotape to try to discredit Planned Parenthood.

His group says the first video shows the organization’s plan to “sell baby parts,” and the second shows the doctor “haggling over baby-part pricing.”

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, disagrees with that interpretation. She said the videos are part of a “smear” campaign and were heavily edited to distort and take out of context the talks that were underway.

For too many Americans, whatever description a person believes will depend on which echo chamber he or she listens to, and what a person believes about abortion, women’s health care and when life begins.

What’s indisputable is that the videos are about politics, not about helping women prevent unwanted pregnancies. Planned Parenthood inflames at least two political passions — opposition to abortion and opposition to government programs for the poor. As long as Republicans keep the organization under attack, the party appeals to some elements and antagonizes others.

Misinformation doesn’t stop with doctored videos, either. In 2011, then-Senate Republican whip Jon Kyl of Arizona said on the floor of the Senate that abortion constitutes “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.”

When Planned Parenthood countered that abortions make up less than 3 percent of its services, a staff member for the senator said that Mr. Kyl’s comment “was not intended to be a factual statement.”

(Excerpted from St. Louis Post Dispatch 7/28/15)

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