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Wishing America a Happier Birthday

Friday, July 4th, 2014

democracy_a-challenge@TP. . . And Many Happy Returns

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

—from ¶ 2 of The Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, July 4, 1776

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Bloggers on politics and current affairs tend to welcome the Fourth of July not only for the fireworks and cookouts like everyone else, but also because America’s Birthday provides an occasion for a kind of midsummer Thanksgiving. It’s also a time when we cannot help but feel the contrast between the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and our nation’s present-day actualities. Of course the nation is inevitably found wanting—as any nation would be—but the holiday can be a time to take stock of our fitness, in the same way a person who wants to lose weight or build strength weighs herself, looks in the mirror, and resolves to strive harder and smarter at the gym and the grocery store.

America.2In the neighborhood cinema last week we saw a trailer for America: Imagine the World Without Her, the new film by Dinesh D’Souza (based on his book of the same title), which challenges audiences to imagine the world without the greatness that is the United States of America as we (conservatives) know it, or her. The film shows the Statue of Liberty and other national icons disintegrating as one what-if after another strips away the essential components of our national history.

Now, the film may or may not be worth seeing, but what these images of disintegration called to mind almost immediately was the ravaging effect of the Supreme conservatives and Tea Partiers in Congress and in state legislatures who are dismantling the New Deal, the Great Society, stripping away the social safety net, refusing funding for rebuilding roads, bridges, and levees, revoking hard-won voting rights protections, and blocking access to health care for women and the poor and to common forms of birth control. (See William Greider’s powerful essay “Rolling Back the 20th Century,” a survey that’s as illuminating today as when The Nation published it in 2003.)

Here are some things we are thankful for on the nation’s birthday:

Domestic affairs: Although the Labor Department’s reports are not to be taken at face value because their numbers do not indicate the nearly 6 million who have given up trying to find jobs, we are pleased to see that about 2.5 million jobs were created in the last year, and over 9.4 million jobs have been created over the last several years. A New York Times editorial today (“Jobs Rebound, Prosperity Lags”) reports:

The economy added 288,000 jobs in June, and tallies for April and May were revised upward, bringing job creation over the past year to 2.49 million, the highest level in five years. The unemployment rate also fell to 6.1 percent, the lowest level in nearly six years, and, even better, the decline was unambiguously good news. It resulted from people getting hired and not leaving the work force.

The editorial goes on to note, however, that

Job growth is still falling short by 6.7 million jobs, including government jobs that were lost and not replaced, plus jobs that were needed to keep up with the population but not created. The jobless rate would be 9.6 percent, if it counted nearly six million people who would be looking for work or working if the economy were stronger.

Regrettably (to put it lightly), much of this weakness could be avoided by aggressive congressional action—and it’s never too late. Many, many jobs could be created, and others kept, if another stimulus were to be enacted, a really robust one this time; or if congressional Republicans would allow a vote on the American Jobs Act that President Obama first proposed in a speech to a joint session of Congress in September 2011, and for which he campaigned vigorously. (Click here to see what that act would have provided for—e.g., $35 billion in aid to states and cities to prevent teacher layoffs, and $50 billion for investments in transportation infrastructure.)

Executive actions: We are pleased that President Obama, who for too long tried to be reasonable and conciliatory with an opposition party that had already resolved to block him at every turn and allow no legislative accomplishments, ever, has recently, and with evident relish, turned to executive actions to do what he can on issues that cannot wait—such as raising the minimum wage for federal workers and for workers employed by federal contractors, on making the U.S. better prepared to combat climate change, etc. Other executive orders can be found here. As President Obama remarked before a July 1 cabinet meeting:

. . . what I’m going to be urging all of you to do, and what I’m going to be continually pushing throughout this year and for the next couple of years is that if Congress can’t act on core issues that would actually make a difference in helping middle-class families get ahead, then we’re going to have to be creative about how we can make real progress.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans offer no solutions of their own and continue to block all Democratic attempts at progress on creating jobs, on funding of badly needed infrastructure projects, on comprehensive immigration reform, on gun control, and other matters on which the Obama administration has pushed for legislative action. (See, for instance, “GOP Is Not to Be Trusted with Adult Responsibilities,” LNW 10/17/13, and “Jobs, Jobs . . . Senate Republicans Keep Vets Unemployed,” LNW 9/25/12.)

Foreign affairs: We are reassured (for the most part) that this president is secure enough in his own judgment about national security and the expertise of his advisers that he will not be rushed into a knee-jerk military response to the latest crisis in Iraq (or what used to be known as Iraq). We are relieved, for example, that he does not worry about what John McCain will say. Regarding Iraq and the ISIS crisis, we are writing to the White House and to the Democratic Senate leadership to urge them to keep diplomacy first, to keep U.S. involvement minimal, military action nonexistent if possible, and to use every opportunity to think long-term and use diplomatic pressure to try to bring about more equitable representation of Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds in Iraq’s national government.

We remain impressed that the president opted not to authorize military strikes on Syria, as he considered doing around last Labor Day—that was the right call, in our view, and a courageous exercise of restraint—and that he and Secretary of State John Kerry have worked to reduce Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile (nearly all disposed of now, we’re told), with cooperation from Russia. We also applaud Obama for being a vigorous supporter, since his days in the Senate, of nuclear nonproliferation efforts and of arms reduction agreements with Russia, particularly the New Start Treaty of 2010 (thanks also to former Senator Dick Lugar, Republican of Indiana, along with then-Senator John Kerry).

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“Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends”

vintage-flagWe continue to believe in the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution, and, as long as gross inequities and injustices exist, we expect never to be really satisfied with this nation that has such immense potential. Much has been given to this country, and much is expected of it. Perhaps it is only through our own individual efforts at cultivating peace and protecting liberty, including our neighbors’—the America within each of us—that the nation can be brought closest to its fulfillment.

This formerly (and ever potentially) great country deserves better, so much better, than what many of its elected officials are doing for it at present. (Country First, or Party First?) On this national holiday, the nation’s birthday, let us all, let each of us, recommit to do our part.

“Work as if you are in the early days of a better nation.” —Alasdair Gray

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Further Reading:

On July 4, Yearning for a Progressive American Revolution” (LNW 7/4/13)

Charles M. Blow, New York Times: “Barack the Bear

Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog: “Obama no longer cares whether the GOP is outraged

GOP Is Not to Be Trusted with Adult Responsibilities: Two-Week Tantrum Epitomizes GOP’s Recovery-Strangling Refusal to Share in Work of Governing (LNW, 10/17/13)

Review of Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution 

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Illustration credit: “Democracy . . . a challenge” found at Think Progress.

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Mississippi’s Runoff and Memories of Freedom Summer

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun (1950)

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On the night of the Mississippi GOP primary runoff between U.S. senator Thad Cochran and state senator Chris McDaniel, PBS aired Freedom Summer, a powerful American Experience documentary of the summer of 1964. Fifty years ago, on the invitation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), some 700 college students, mostly white and mostly from the North, volunteered to work in Mississippi to register black people to vote and to teach children and adults. The contrast, and the overlaps and continuities, between Tuesday’s election and 1964’s Freedom Summer are striking.

Many Americans do not know that in the early 1960s black people in Mississippi (though not only in Mississippi) risked being murdered simply for registering to vote. At the least, they could be fired from their jobs or driven from their homes. At the time, only 7 percent of the African American population of Mississippi was registered to vote, compared to about 50 to 70 percent in other southern states. Cochran won, but McDaniel has not conceded. It was widely reported before the election that the Cochran campaign realized they must appeal to Democratic voters, which in Mississippi means primarily black voters, to come out and vote for longtime senator Cochran. Mississippi has open primaries, which means that anyone of any party can vote for any candidate. The McDaniel supporters—mostly Tea Party conservatives who regard Cochran as a Democrat-like sell-out—are furious, and some are urging a break from the Republican Party, which they see as not much different from the Democratic Party.

Is It OK to Vote in Another Party’s Primary?

We confess to having some misgivings about the idea of large numbers of citizens who usually vote for one party getting involved in a primary election organized by a different party. We did not like it when, apparently, GOP operatives were behind the 2010 candidacy of an unemployed African American veteran in a senate primary in South Carolina ultimately won by Jim De Mint; this unemployed veteran’s candidacy drew Democratic votes away from other, more serious Democratic contenders. (Then–House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, a Democrat, also found the whole affair very suspicious.) In short, Republicans have played so many dirty tricks on each other and on Democrats over the years that we have no sympathy when fair play brings about a result that displeases one of their candidates. (And, anyway, the McDaniel campaign was behind the sneak-in photographing of elderly Mrs. Cochran in a nursing home for an anti-Cochran video—in connection with which a Tea Party activist has now committed suicide—and just after the June 3 primary several McDaniel supporters were found after hours in the Hinds County Courthouse where the ballots were kept; that still has not been explained.)

In any case, though, it strikes us as reasonable that in a state with an open primary law, which allows any registered voter to give their ballot to any candidate they choose, to vote against a candidate who one has reason to believe will be harmful to oneself or one’s state. It was clear that McDaniel would not continue the flow of federal funding that Thad Cochran has succeeded in bringing to the very poor state of Mississippi, which needs all the money it can get for better roads, schools, water purification systems, and the like. An anti-government Tea Party firebrand like McDaniel somehow did not instill the same confidence as the 36-year veteran of the Senate. So, if you legally could, why not vote against him?

As reported in Talking Points Memo, McDaniel said, “Naturally sometimes it’s difficult to contest an election, obviously, but we do know that 35,000 Democrats crossed over. And we know many of those Democrats did vote in the Democratic primary just three weeks ago which makes it illegal.”

Who Is This Chris McDaniel?

chris mcdanielMany Democrats voted in the primary runoff to keep a Tea Party Republican from replacing a traditional conservative (but comparatively moderate) Republican who at least believes that government can play a beneficial role in public life. McDaniel said he was not sure he would have voted for federal relief funding after Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the Mississippi Gulf Coast in late August 2005. He has pointed out that education is not mentioned in the United States Constitution. This time last year McDaniel delivered the keynote address at a gathering in Jackson, Miss., of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a neo-Confederate group that contends that the wrong side won the Civil War. A spokesman for the group said McDaniel has addressed the Sons of Confederate Veterans on other occasions as well. Mr. McDaniel is certainly free to address any group he pleases, at any time, but what does this affinity of his say about someone who seeks to represent an entire state in the nation’s capital? It seems to us that he is more likely to be anti-government, certainly unfriendly to the concept of the federal government, and will have pro-secessionist inclinations. How well would such a person “play with others” in an institution whose work, at least historically, calls for occasional cooperation and compromise? And—just one more question—how sympathetic can such a friend of the Confederate Sons be to the aims of Freedom Summer?

Red State Republicans ‘Free at Last’

“The Court’s finding reflects well on the progress states like Mississippi have made over the last five decades.  I think our state can move forward and continue to ensure that our democratic processes are open and fair for all without being subject to excessive scrutiny by the Justice Department.”Senator Thad Cochran, June 25, 2013

Freedom Summer handshakeAlmost exactly one year to the day after the Supreme Court narrow-mindedly struck down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and thus opened the way for new restrictions on likely Democratic voters in the former Confederacy—which GOP-led legislatures in southern states began taking advantage of by introducing new voter I.D. laws and other restrictions on the very day the ruling was issued—a Republican candidate finds himself depending on the votes of the very people his party has worked so assiduously to discourage from the polls. Because the mostly white Republican voter base is increasingly a minority, the party must find ways to prevent the other side from going to the polls in substantial numbers.

[ See “Supreme Conservatives Drag U.S. Ceaselessly into the (Jim Crow) Past,” LNW 6/26/13  •  “How Many White Folks Does It Take to Pass a Jim Crow ‘Brain-Teaser’?” LNW 6/30/13  •  and “The (GOP-Driven) Decline of Black Power in the South,” LNW 7/11/13. ]

Now, Mr. Cochran, Stand Up for Voting Rights Act’s Protections

New York Times editorial, “Thad Cochran’s Debt to Mississippi,” asserts that Cochran owes it to the people of his state—particularly those who helped him keep his job—“to return the favor by supporting a stronger Voting Rights Act and actively working to reduce his party’s extreme antigovernment policies.”

Last year, Mr. Cochran praised the Supreme Court decision that gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act. He can now make it clear that bipartisanship goes both ways by crossing party lines to support a new measure that would restore the act’s protections, becoming the first Republican senator to do so.

It remains to be seen what William Thad Cochran will do with the power he continues to wield, and whether McDaniel will contest the election, or form a third party. McDaniel has signaled that he has no interest in remaining in a timid, “pastel” GOP that is sometimes willing to compromise (or even to speak) with Democrats. He is clever, articulate, photogenic, and he has a strong base of support—not only in Mississippi: allies include talk radio hosts Glenn BeckMark Levin, Sean Hannity, and a former GOP vice presidential candidate this blog prefers not to mention by name. Chaney, Goodman, Schwerner

Early on, a tragic pall was cast over Freedom Summer by the disappearance on June 21, 1964, of civil rights workers James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner (left). Goodman and Schwerner had come to Mississippi earlier than most of the other volunteers and met their SNCC partner James Chaney. It was later found that the three were murdered by members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County’s Sheriff Office, and the Philadelphia Police Department located in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

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Photo of Thad Cochran (top) by Joe Ellis/AP; photo of Chris McDaniel from campaign website.

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7 Million Cheers for ‘Obamacare’

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

more than 7 millionPublic Health, Too, Is ‘National Security’

Congratulation to President Obama, the White House, and the courageous Democrats in Congress who voted for the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the most ambitious expansion of health care for Americans since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.

After the March 31 deadline for enrollments, President Obama announced that the goal of 7 million by April 1 has been met—and more: some 7.1 million previously uninsured Americans have signed up for coverage. And the numbers will rise because those who were not able to finish signing up by midnight Monday will have another two weeks to complete their registration. (Go to Healthcare.gov to learn more.)

So, congratulations to the elected officials and policy makers, and “best of health” to the American people—those who are now covered, and especially to those who do not yet have health insurance.

Let’s look briefly at some numbers. According to The New Yorker:

Three million young people remain on their parents’ health-care plans; more than eight million uninsured people are eligible for Medicaid; and, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than a hundred million people have received preventive-care services, like mammograms and flu shots, at no cost.

ObamacareWhat Does Obamacare Do for You?

Per “The Affordable Care Act by the Numbers” at WhiteHouse.gov (2012):

Click here for more benefits.

The present system of Medicare and Medicaid was signed into law in 1965 by Democratic president Lyndon B. Johnson. As Jeffrey Toobin explains in The New Yorker:

Medicare, providing health insurance for all Americans over the age of sixty-five, proved popular almost immediately: after the rollout, about nineteen million people signed up, more than ninety per cent of those eligible. Medicaid, covering the poor of all ages, is financed jointly by the federal government and the states. The first year, only twenty-six states agreed to participate, and the program didn’t include all fifty until 1982, when Arizona, the final holdout, joined.

Conservative opposition to the Affordable Care Act has been principally directed at the Medicaid aspects that are mainly tailored to the very poor: “Ideas such as the requirement that everyone obtain insurance, with subsidies for people who can’t afford it; the mandate that insurance companies offer coverage to all comers; and the incentives for states to expand the number of people covered by Medicaid have meant political war,” as Toobin explains.

Steven Benen at The Maddow Blog points out that “the single biggest hindrance to expanding coverage to the uninsured is Republican governors in red states blocking Medicaid expansion. That’s not conjecture; it’s what the CBO has already documented.” Benen wrote last August:

The Affordable Care Act originally made Medicaid expansion mandatory for states, guaranteeing coverage for millions, but a narrow Supreme Court majority ruled that it must be optional – if states want to take advantage of an amazing deal they could, but if they choose to turn down the federal money, Washington can’t force them to accept it. 

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Affordable Care Act Uninsured

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Dianne Feinstein Calls Out CIA for Spying on Congress

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

DF.Photo.by Tom Williams-CQ Roll Call-Getty.

California Senator, Long a CIA Defender, Charges Obstruction of Congressional Oversight

Please join us in calling Senator Dianne Feinstein (202-224-3841 or 415-393-0707) to say thanks and, as we said to her staffer, “keep up the courage” for having spoken out yesterday on the floor of the Senate against the CIA’s spying on Congress and trying to sabotage the oversight efforts of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The particular investigation at issue concerns a report on the “enhanced interrogations” conducted by the CIA in secret prisons from shortly after September 11, 2001, until January 2009.

Here we’ll hand it over to The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson, who posted “Diane Feinstein Calls Out the CIA” online March 11:

This all goes back to the first years after September 11th. The C.I.A. tortured detainees in secret prisons. It also videotaped many of those sessions. Those records should have been handed over, or at least preserved, under the terms of certain court orders. Instead, in November, 2005, a C.I.A. official named Jose Rodriguez had ninety-two videotapes physically destroyed. “Nobody wanted to make a decision that needed to be made,” he told me when I interviewed him in 2012. (He also said, “I really resent you using the word ‘torture’ time and time again.”)

Feinstein, in her speech, said that the C.I.A.’s “troubling” destruction of the tapes put the current story in motion. Michael Hayden, then director of the C.I.A., had offered the committee cables that he said were just as descriptive as the tapes. “The resulting staff report was chilling,” Feinstein said. The committee voted to begin a broader review. The terms were worked out in 2009, and staff members were given an off-site facility with electronic files, on computers supposedly segregated from the C.I.A.’s network, that added up to 6.2 million pages—“without any index, without any organizational structure. It was a true document dump,” Feinstein said. In the years that followed, staff members turned that jumble into a six-thousand-page report, still classified, on the C.I.A.’s detention practices. By all accounts, it is damning.

But, Feinstein said, odd things happened during the course of the committee members’ work. Documents that had been released to them would suddenly disappear from the main electronic database, as though someone had had second thoughts—and they knew they weren’t imagining it, “Gaslight”-style, because, in some cases, they’d printed out hard copies or saved the digital version locally. When they first noticed this, in 2010, Feinstein objected and was apologized to, “and that, as far as I was concerned, put the incidents aside.” Then, after the report was completed, the staff members noticed that at some point hundreds of pages of documents known as the “Panetta review” had also, Feinstein said, been “removed by the C.I.A.”

The Panetta review was the C.I.A’s note to itself on what might be found in all those millions of documents. Apparently, it is damning, too. The six-thousand-page report didn’t rely on it; the report didn’t have to, because it had the documents themselves. The Panetta review became important only after the C.I.A. saw the draft of the committee’s report and fought back. The agency offered a classified rebuttal (again, the report is still classified); publicly, without being specific, it said that the Senate had gotten a lot wrong, that its facts were off, its judgments mistaken. Then, in December, Senator Mark Udall, in an open hearing, said that this was a funny thing for the C.I.A. to say, given that its internal review (the Panetta review) sounded a whole lot like the Senate report. Or, as Feinstein put it this morning,

To say the least, this is puzzling. How can the C.I.A.’s official response to our study stand factually in conflict with its own internal review?

This is where the C.I.A. seems to have lost its bearings and its prudence. As Feinstein noted, there have been comments to the press suggesting that the only way the committee staff members could have had the Panetta review is if they’d stolen it. The pretense for the search of the committee’s computers—where the staff kept its own work, too—was that there had been some kind of security breach. Feinstein says that this is simply false: maybe the C.I.A. hadn’t meant for the Panetta review to be among the six million pieces of paper they’d swamped the Senate with, but it was there. (Maybe a leaker had even tucked it in.) And she made a crucial, larger point about classification:

The Panetta-review documents were no more highly classified than other information we had received for our investigation. In fact, the documents appeared based on the same information already provided to the committee. What was unique and interesting about the internal documents was not their classification level but rather their analysis and acknowledgement of significant C.I.A. wrongdoing.

In other words, there were no particular secrets, in the sense of sources and methods and things that keep us safe. Instead, there was the eternal category confusion of the classifier: that avoiding political embarrassment, and basic accountability, is the same thing as safeguarding national security.

Whose embarrassment? John Brennan was at the C.I.A. when it used torture. During President Obama’s first term, he was in the White House, and got the President’s trust. In his confirmation hearings, he suggested that he had learned something from the Senate report; as director, he has tried to discredit it. Obama had made a decision early on not to pursue prosecutions of C.I.A. officials for torture and other crimes. He gave them a bye. Feinstein herself has been a prominent defender of the intelligence community, notably with regard to the N.S.A.’s domestic surveillance and collection of telephone records. It is bafflingly clumsy of the Agency to have so alienated her.

Feinstein suggested that this was why it particularly enraged her that the acting general counsel of the C.I.A., who had been, she noted, the lawyer for “the unit within which the C.I.A. managed and carried out this program,” had referred her committee’s possession of the Panetta review to the Department of Justice as a possible criminal act. (There is also an investigation of the C.I.A.’s own role.) “He is mentioned by name more than sixteen hundred times in our study,” Feinstein said. (That name is Robert Eatinger.) “And now this individual is sending a crimes report to the Department of Justice on the actions of congressional staff”; the people working for her were “now being threatened with legal jeopardy just as final revisions to the report are being made.”

There were crimes, after September 11th, that took place in hidden rooms with video cameras running. And then there were coverups, a whole series of them, escalating from the destruction of the videotapes to the deleting of documents to what Feinstein now calls “a defining moment” in the constitutional balance between the legislature and the executive branch, and between privacy and surveillance. Senator Patrick Leahy said afterward that he could not remember a speech he considered so important. Congress hasn’t minded quite enough that the rest of us have been spied on. Now Feinstein and her colleagues have their moment; what are they going to make of it?

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See also:

•  The New York Times, “Conflict Erupts in Public Rebuke on C.I.A. Inquiry” by Mark Mazzetti and Jonathan Weisman (3/12/14): “A festering conflict between the Central Intelligence Agency and its congressional overseers broke into the open Tuesday when Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee and one of the C.I.A.’s staunchest defenders, delivered an extraordinary denunciation of the agency, accusing it of withholding information about its treatment of prisoners and trying to intimidate committee staff members investigating the detention program.”

•  The New York Times, “C.I.A. Employees Face New Inquiry Amid Clashes on Detention Program” by Mark Mazzetti (3/4/14): “The Central Intelligence Agency’s attempt to keep secret the details of a defunct detention and interrogation program has escalated a battle between the agency and members of Congress and led to an investigation by the C.I.A.’s internal watchdog into the conduct of agency employees.”

•  And see Rachel Maddow’s March 11 coverage here.

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Photo credit: Detail of photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty in The New Yorker online.

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An ‘Obamacare’ Success Story

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

AFAInsurers, Too, Must Be Held Accountable

Our friend Stephen in NYC, who has contributed good ideas to this blog before, shares his experience in enrolling with an insurer. Stephen makes the very important point that the news media (including us bloggers) would serve the public interest if we would “start reporting on the incompetence of the health insurance companies and their technologically defective systems for enrollment, rather than putting all the blame for the recent mishaps of health insurance enrollment on the ACA rollout. My own experience is a case in point.”

One week after his old health-insurance policy lapsed, and three weeks after he mailed his application (with payment) to a New York health insurance company—and after speaking to eight customer service representatives and supervisors at the new insurance company over the past week—he was finally enrolled in the policy he had applied for (retroactive to Jan. 1), perhaps moved along by the threats he made earlier that day to alert the New York State attorney general, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and WOR-TV’s “Help Me, Howard” if his policy was not in effect within 24 hours—in addition to the letter that he had sent to The New York Times the day before, which is copied below.

To the Editors:

The NY Times and most other (all other?) news organizations have been covering the mishaps of the ACA rollout and ascribing them entirely to the incompetent programming of the new fed health-exchange website and some state health-exchange websites. I’d like to suggest, from my recent experience trying to get a 2014 health-insurance plan by enrolling directly with a NY health-insurance company (i.e., NOT through an exchange), that much of the incompetence is with the health-insurance companies themselves and has nothing to do with ACA. I’m still trying to get my new health-insurance company, Emblem Health, to actually enroll me in their 2104 health-insurance plan (as opposed to theoretically enrolling me)—and I applied directly through their own system, not through the fed or state health exchange.

As of today, Jan. 7, I still don’t have health insurance (my 2013 plan lapsed on Dec. 31), even though I sent my application for enrollment, along with a check for payment, by mail on Dec. 16—and it was received there on Dec. 19. Since then, I have called Emblem Health numerous times and have spoken to seven customer representatives and two supervisors, and was assured on Dec. 31 that my enrollment was in fact being processed, and that I would receive an e-mail affirming that I would be enrolled shortly and that my coverage would be retroactive to January 1. I have received nothing. I called Emblem Health again today and spoke to another customer representative, who searched on the Emblem Health system and found that my name was not on it yet. Tomorrow, I will be calling the supervisor to whom I spoke on Dec. 30 AND ON Dec. 31 (when I stayed on the phone continuously for 3 hours), to ask her why I have not heard from her about my enrollment nor received the e-mail confirming my imminent enrollment and retroactive coverage. (It’s a good thing I’ve had no health emergencies during this past week.)

So when I read or hear news reports of how bad ACA is, I’ve decided to be skeptical, and I’d like the NY Times to demonstrate some of that same skepticism, and to report on the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the insurance companies and what appears to be their technologically defective systems for enrollment. I would be happy to share with a NY Times reporter more details of my frustrating experience trying to enroll for a health-insurance plan outside the exchange.

Well done, Stephen. Congratulations. But note how much time and effort he had to expend—time he had to take from his freelance work, which means a loss of some potential income. It should not have to be so difficult.

Dear readers, we encourage you to share your experiences in enrolling with health care providers under the Affordable Care Act. You can also share your stories—success stories, we hope—on Facebook at ACA Success Stories (facebook.com/acasuccessstories). Bloggers, reporters, hold the companies accountable, too, as well as the elected officials and pundits who are obstructing progress and exaggerating glitches and malfunctions for political gain.

We would also recommend that readers take a look at Rachel Maddow’s emphasis on the slow start of ‘Romneycare’ in Massachusetts (TRMS 1/2/14). This healthcare coverage expansion program, now regarded as a success for the people of Massachusetts, is roughly the template on which the Affordable Care Act was designed.

Despite Successes, 47 Million Americans Lack Health Coverage

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo finds that some 9 to 10 million people have gained health care coverage because of the Affordable Care Act, and that about 5 million “currently do not have coverage because individual states decided not to opt into Medicaid expansion.” By the end of 2013, more than 1.1. million Americans had signed up for healthcare coverage through Healthcare.gov. (One Charles Gaba has been compiling data on the number of people who have enrolled for healthcare coverage through the 14 states that have exchange sites.) Still, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports, some 47 million Americans are without healthcare coverage.

For political reasons, of course, Republicans want the president’s healthcare expansion initiative to fail.

While we’re “redistributing blame” for the ACA’s rocky start, let’s look also at what Steve Benen calls “the scourge of the wingnut hole” (the term “wingnut hole” was coined by Ed Kilgore). Whenever the totals of people enrolled in healthcare insurance programs under the Affordable Care Act are given, Benen says, “it’s worth remembering that the coverage totals would be far greater were it not for “red” states refusing to accept Medicaid expansion”—5 million greater, as Josh Marshall reports above.

In a related article, Ryan Cooper at the Washington Post’s Plum Line points out: 

About 5 million people will be without health care next year that they would have gotten simply if they lived somewhere else in America. . . . The court effectively left it up to states to decide whether to open Medicaid, the federal-state program for the poor and disabled, to more people, primarily poor working adults without children. . . .

Twenty-five states declined. That leaves 4.8 million people in those states without the health care coverage that their peers elsewhere are getting through the expansion of Medicaid, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation estimate. More than one-fifth of them live in Texas alone, Kaiser’s analysis found.

Expanding healthcare coverage has been, and will continue to be, a struggle. But it is the good fight. It’s our hope that the circle of coverage will expand steadily, eventually to include all Americans, and that the insured will be able to have their policies in good health (that is, not to need them for anything too serious).

Further Reading

Healthcare.gov

Kaiser Family Foundation

Healthcare coverage at Think Progress

Healthcare at Mother Jones

Healthcare at The Nation

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Honoring Mandela

Friday, December 6th, 2013

Greg Bartley:Camera Press:Redux*

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Nelson Mandela, statement from the dock at opening of his trial [aka the Rivonia trial] on charges of sabotage, Supreme Court of South Africa, Pretoria, April 20, 1964

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We wish to join with the thousands, indeed millions of admirers around the world who are paying tribute to the wise and dignified world leader who died yesterday in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the age of 95. When one considers that Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years by the apartheid government of South Africa, subjected to a life sentence of hard labor and often solitary confinement, it is a wonder he even survived to be released in 1990, much less that he lived another 23 years.

We admire Mandela not only for his courage to risk his life in opposing a cruel, oppressive regime, not only for his will to survive through a potentially never-ending imprisonment, but also for his insistence on making peace and building a “rainbow” country where many ethnicities coexist. One of Mandela’s greatest achievements, besides being the first black president of South Africa (1994–99), was his establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation commission to investigate human rights abuses carried out by the apartheid regime of the Afrikaner National Party that ruled South Africa from 1948 to 1994. (The white Afrikaners, mostly descendants of Dutch colonialists, comprised only about 20 percent of the population.)

Wikipedia summarizes his early life:

A Xhosa born to the Thembu royal family, Mandela attended the Fort Hare University and the University of Witwatersrand, where he studied law. Living in Johannesburg, he became involved in anti-colonial politics, joining the [African National Congress] and becoming a founding member of its Youth League. After the South African National Party came to power in 1948, he rose to prominence in the ANC’s 1952 Defiance Campaign, was appointed superintendent of the organization’s Transvaal chapter and presided over the 1955 Congress of the People. Working as a lawyer, he was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities and, with the ANC leadership, was unsuccessfully prosecuted in the Treason Trial from 1956 to 1961. Although initially committed to non-violent protest, he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961 in association with the South African Communist Party, leading a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government. In 1962 he was arrested, convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the government, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial.

Rachel Maddow opened her show last night with a concise but comprehensive overview of the apartheid (Afrikaans = “apartness”) system that Mandela and other South African activists risked their lives to oppose, including a brief account of the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 in which the South African police opened fire on a crowd of protesters, killing 69. Rachel spoke with Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, who described how inspiring the South African struggle was to young American civil rights activists were inspired by the courage of the South African resistance movement, and later spoke with former congressman and Oakland mayor Ron Dellums about the push for divestment from South African corporations that finally cracked the De Klerk regime.

FreeMandelaIn “Six Things Nelson Mandela Believed That Most People Won’t Talk About,” Think Progress reminds us:

1. Mandela blasted the Iraq War and American imperialism.

2. Mandela called freedom from poverty a “fundamental human right.”

3. Mandela criticized the “War on Terror” and the labeling of individuals as terrorists, even Osama Bin Laden, without due process.

4. Mandela called out racism in America.

5. Mandela embraced some of America’s biggest political enemies [he is shown embracing Fidel Castro].

6. Mandela was a die-hard supporter of labor unions.

All of these stands make us admire him even more. Read the whole piece for important details.

And, demonstrating how this principled activist was an annoyance and a threat to the views of the right in the U.S. as well as in Johannesburg and London, Think Progress also details “The Right Wing’s Campaign to Discredit and Undermine Mandela, in One Timeline.”

Anti-Apartheid Activism at LSU and South Africa House in London

On a personal note, we recall attending a lecture at LSU in the mid 1980s by South African journalist Donald Woods, a close friend of Steve Biko, leader of the anti-apartheid Black Consciousness Movement who had died from beatings while in police custody. Woods was banned from editorship of his newspaper and harassed by the South African government; he fled South Africa and became a traveling spokesman against apartheid. (Peter Gabriel recorded the popular song “Biko” [1980], and director Richard Attenborough made a popular film of the story of Woods and Biko’s friendship, starring Kevin Kline and Denzel Washington, titled Cry Freedom [1987].)

We were in London in the summer of 1986 and witnessed the large anti-apartheid protests outside South Africa House, the embassy, in Trafalgar Square, where demonstrators were holding up Divest Now posters and chanting against the whites-only regime in that former British colony. Some years later, the anti-apartheid protests were going strong in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well—and that is one reason why, when Mandela toured the United States a half year after his release from prison, he came to Oakland to thank the citizens of the Bay Area for their strong push for institutions there, including the University of California, to divest from South African companies. The financial pressure took a toll, and at length the regime buckled and released Mandela and took steps to dismantle the apartheid system.

2013: Passing of African Lions

We note with sadness but enduring respect that this year has seen the death of two great men of Africa who are admired around the world. In March the renowned Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe (b. 1930), author of Things Fall Apart, died at the age of 82. Things Fall Apart (1958) has been translated into about 50 languages and has sold some 8 to 10 million copies. Guardian (U.K.) obituary of Achebe here.

VirGebruikDeurBlankesMandela Obituaries, etc.

The Guardian (U.K.)

The New York Times

BBC

The Times (Johannesburg)

Statement by President Barack Obama on the Death of Nelson Mandela

Audio recording of Mandela’s statement at the Rivonia trial, April 20, 1964 (from National Archives of South Africa)

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Photo credit: Greg Bartley / Camera Press / Redux. Free Mandela poster found at The Man in the Green Shirt (Tumblr blog).

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“And Death Shall Have No Dominion”:
A Tribute to President John F. Kennedy

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

“So Let Us Persevere . . .”

JFK 1952 by Philippe Halsman

“If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” commencement address at American University, Washington, June 10, 1963

“And death shall have no dominion” —Dylan Thomas

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Rarely has a November passed by that this blog has not paused to pay respects to the memory of President John F. Kennedy. We keep an “eternal flame” of our own lighted not only because of a feeling of personal connection to him—from an Irish Catholic family kinship, and having been taken as a toddler to a 1960 campaign stop at an airport in the South, and being just old enough to watch the post-assassination and funeral coverage on a black-and-white TV—though these would be reasons enough. We repeatedly bring President Kennedy to our readers, or vice versa, because of what he stood for, what he accomplished, and what he symbolizes.

What Does ‘John F. Kennedy’ Mean?

It may be that, despite the limitations of what he was able to accomplish during his too-brief presidency, because of the ideals he represents, because of the hope and activism he still inspires, President Kennedy is more influential postmortem than during his lifetime. And it’s possible that the murky, still nebulous circumstances of his death (by whom, really, and why?) add to the mystique of the Dead King, the Slain Prince, and all that might have been possible, and might still be possible, if we summon his spirit. He dwells now on the mythological level, in the realm of ideas and legend. (This may explain the success of Jacqueline Kennedy’s posthumous establishing of a “Camelot” myth. At least in the public mind, there was no Camelot connection with the Kennedy White House before Nov. 22, 1963: Mrs. Kennedy’s myth-making began with an interview with Theodore H. White, author of The Making of the President 1960, a week after the assassination.)

kennedy-for-president-buttonjpgNow, on the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination in Dallas (November 22, 1963, was also a Friday), many other, more learned voices are commenting on the accomplishments and significance of President Kennedy’s “Thousand Days” in office—what he did and what he failed to do. We only wish to honor his long-standing commitment to peace; his refusal to be cowed or bullied by the military chiefs or the CIA during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 (especially after he was burned by the CIA’s brilliant idea for an invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961); his reluctance to escalate U.S. involvement in Vietnam and his intention to withdraw troops; his establishment of the Peace Corps, etc.

He supported, though cautiously at first, civil rights and desegregation of public facilities, especially in the South. He had a plan for expansion of medical coverage for the poor and elderly that became what we know as Medicaid and Medicare, and he supported strengthening voting rights. Much of his desired or proposed legislation was left to his able successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, to push through Congress—thus the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965 through expansion of Social Security.

Because of the historical circumstances of his time, the national priorities, and his own proclivities, Kennedy was more focused on foreign affairs than on domestic policy (the Soviet Union’s building of a wall through Berlin, supporting Fidel Castro in Cuba, and beginning to build ballistic missile silos in Cuba, etc.). But he also called the nation to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade (this too had national security components), and his vision was realized by the successful mission of Apollo 11 in 1969.

About the Assassination, and the “Conspiracy” Controversy

And, of course, on this fiftieth anniversary, many media pundits and  establishment historians are busy pouring concrete over the hardened conventional wisdom about the lone gunman, the “case closed,” the truths proved by the Warren Commission Report, etc. This is not the occasion—and perhaps not the place—to expound our views on the assassination, but we have read enough books and articles, seen enough documentaries, and attended enough panel discussions to be thoroughly convinced that the president was shot at by multiple shooters, and we doubt that Lee Harvey Oswald was one of them. (As for the plausibility of a “conspiracy theory,” remember that the attacks of 9/11, too, resulted from a conspiracy.) The most convincing explanation we have found of why Kennedy was killed is in the sober and methodical JFK and the Unspeakable by James W. Douglass, excerpted below.

405px-John_F_Kennedy_Official_Portrait

About the presidency of John F. Kennedy, among many other excellent sources, we recommend:

Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (1965), by the former special assistant to the president

Theodore C. Sorenson, Kennedy (1965), by the former special counsel to the president

Robert Dallek, An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963

Robert Dallek and Terry Golway, Let Every Nation Know: John F. Kennedy in His Own Words (2006), book and CD. “Perhaps the best of all the books on JFK.” —Senator Edward M. Kennedy

For more about the assassination:

James W. Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (2008)

Jim Garrison, On the Trail of the Assassins: My Investigation and Prosecution of the Murder of President Kennedy (1988), by the former district attorney of New Orleans who brought the only case relating to the assassination to trial (1967)

Robert J. Groden, The Killing of a President: The Complete Photographic Record of the JFK Assassination, the Conspiracy, and the Cover-Up (1993). Groden served as a photographic consultant for the House Select Committee on Assassinations.

Mark Lane, Rush to Judgment (1966, 1992)

Films:

Thirteen Days (2000, on the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962), directed by Roger Donaldson

JFK, directed by Oliver Stone (1991)

The Men Who Killed Kennedy (1988), a comprehensive, multi-part British production, refreshingly independent of biases of mainstream U.S. media

Other sources about John F. Kennedy:

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Warren Commission Report (digitized)

And more here . . .

Unspeakable1-199x3001JFK and the Unspeakable

“John Kennedy’s story is our story, although a titanic effort has been made to keep it from us. That story, like the struggle it embodies, is as current today as it was in 1963. The theology of redemptive violence still reigns. The Cold War has been followed by its twin, the War on Terror. We are engaged in another apocalyptic struggle against an enemy seen as absolute evil. Terrorism has replaced Communism as the enemy. We are told we can be safe only through the threat of escalating violence. Once again, anything goes in a fight against evil: preemptive attacks, torture, undermining governments, assassinations, whatever it takes to gain the end of victory over an enemy portrayed as irredeemably evil. Yet the redemptive means John Kennedy turned to, in a similar struggle, was dialogue with the enemy. When the enemy is seen as human, everything changes.”

—James W. Douglass, from the Preface to JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters

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For a generous sampling of President Kennedy’s speeches, we recommend the book + CD Let Every Nation Know: John F. Kennedy in His Own Words by Robert Dallek and Terry Golway (2006). Each of 34 speeches is introduced, but transcripts are not provided. For transcripts, see the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, under the tab “JFK.”

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Related Topics at Levees Not War:

We Cannot Fail to Try

So Let Us Persevere . . .

Marching on Washington for Economic and Social Justice

In Honor of Medgar Evers and Res Publica

Tom Hayden, SDS and SNCC Alums: Happy 50th, Port Huron Statement!

How the World Has—and Has Not—Changed in 50 Years

Nagasaki, Not Forgotten

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[ This post also appears at DailyKos ]

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Photograph of John F. Kennedy, 1952, by Philippe Halsman; official White House portrait of John F. Kennedy by Aaron Shikler (1970). Photograph on book cover by Jacques Lowe, Coos Bay, Oregon, 1959.

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GOP Is Not to Be Trusted with Adult Responsibilities

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

5938796728_63d4816b74Two-Week Tantrum Epitomizes GOP’s Recovery-Strangling Refusal to Share in Work of Governing

And so, after 16 days, after a $24 billion loss to the economy, and just hours before the United States was about to pass through its federal debt limit, with potentially catastrophic global consequences, the Senate (81–18) and House (285–144) have approved a budget deal that could have been voted on weeks ago—months ago, really. The bill will keep the federal government operating through Jan. 15, 2014, and extends the debt ceiling only until Feb. 7. None of the GOP’s demands were met.

In effect, 162 of 278 Republican members of Congress—that’s 58 percent—voted for the United States to default on its debt for the first time in the nation’s history.

If You Vote Republican, Don’t Expect Functional Government

GOP representatives did, however, sing all three verses of “Amazing Grace” in a caucus meeting on Tuesday before voting, again, not to reopen the government.

We have observed often before that Republicans nowadays do not seek office in order to govern, as Democrats and independents understand the term, but rather to hold power—power to dismantle government. Republicans in the generations of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon had different governing philosophies from their Democratic brethren, but at least they all agreed that the point of holding public office was to serve what they regarded as the public good (which, for both parties, usually included portions of private and corporate good, too). President Eisenhower, for example, pushed Congress relentlessly to pass the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 that authorized what is today a 47,000-mile system of interstate highways throughout the United States, widely regarded as the single greatest public works project in the nation’s history. President Nixon, though he is remembered for darker accomplishments, oversaw the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupation Safety and Health Administration, and his progressive legislation included the earned income tax credit, Equal Employment Opportunity Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Today’s Republican party, such as it is, is motivated by no such constructive purpose. Having purged moderates and what the true believers call RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) from their ranks, and now living in fear of primary challenges from fervent, purer-than-thou Tea Party radicals, surviving GOP officeholders seem able only to obstruct and stall the normal operations of government on the federal level—while being paid $177,000 per year. At the state level, however, the GOP has shown great energy and ingenuity in rolling back hard-won voting rights, women’s access to reproductive choice and birth control, cutting further the taxes of the rich and striking down taxation and regulation of industry, and helping the spread of guns in bars, restaurants, schools, playgrounds, churches, etc.

9880045165_92902a4cd9Senate Republicans have used the filibuster against President Obama’s proposed legislation and nominees with a frequency never seen before in American history. Robert Draper, author of Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives (2012), has written about a once-secret meeting the night of Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 in which Republican leaders gathered to plot an all-out obstruction of all of the new president’s initiatives. This while the nation and the world were plunging down an economic abyss brought on largely by Republican laissez-faire economic policies and “fiscal stewardship” of tax-cutting and massive privatization. (If the GOP had had its way, the Social Security system would have been privatized . . . before the 2008 financial meltdown.)

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Shutdown, with No Exit Strategy, Shows GOP’s Governing Style

And so, just as the Republicans were helping drown the U.S. economic recovery in every way imaginable, giving not a single vote to the new president’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus) of 2009, and blocking from even coming to the floor for a vote the American Jobs Act that Obama first proposed in a speech to a joint session of Congress two years ago, so their most recent, 16-day, shutdown of the federal government contained in concentrated form all the destructiveness of their regressive, anti-democratic, and truly job-killing (in)activity of the past several years.

We have also written at times about Democrats’ weaknesses (there are many), but if Americans want functional government—from passage of legislation that benefits the public, and roads and bridges and levees in good repair, to food and drug inspections and air traffic safety, not to mention the social safety nets of Social Security and Medicare and unemployment insurance—then remember that voting for one party results in a fairly functional government, imperfect, but moving toward broader coverage of people’s rights and benefits. The other party—well, the past two weeks have shown that even when they manage to hijack a plane, they really do not know how to fly or bring it in for a landing, and, in any case, they would have already cut funding for paying the flight training school instructors, air traffic controllers, and turned out the lights on the pot-holed runway.

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What Are the Democrats Saying?

President Obama after the Shutdown’s End:

The key now is a budget that cuts out the things that we don’t need, closes corporate tax loopholes that don’t help create jobs, and frees up resources for the things that do help us grow—like education and infrastructure and research. . . . 

Let’s work together to make government work better, instead of treating it like an enemy or purposely making it work worse. That’s not what the founders of this nation envisioned when they gave us the gift of self-government. You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president, then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don’t break it. Don’t break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That’s not being faithful to what this country is about.

Remarks by the President on the Reopening of the Government, Oct. 17, 2013

Senator Elizabeth Warren:

I am NOT celebrating tonight. . . . the reason we were in this mess in the first place is that a reckless faction in Congress took the government and the economy hostage for no good purpose and to no productive end. According to the S&P index . . . $24 billion has been flushed down the drain for a completely unnecessary political stunt.

$24 billion dollars. How many children could have been back in Head Start classes? How many seniors could have had a hot lunch through Meals on Wheels? How many scientists could have gotten their research funded? How many bridges could have been repaired and trains upgraded?

The Republicans keep saying, “Leave the sequester in place and cut all those budgets.” They keep trying to cut funding for the things that would help us build a future. But they are ready to flush away $24 billion on a political stunt.  

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), e-mail to supporters, Oct. 16, 2013

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gop_demands1

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Top two illustrations by Chamomile Tea Party. ‘Republican Demands’ chart by The Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

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