Benefits for SNAP (the federal food stamps program) went down Friday, and will decrease again drastically if Congressional Republicans have their way. So far, budget negotiations have not been about whether to increase or decrease food stamp benefits, they have only been about how many billions to cut. And the GOP is defining the debate by telling the timeworn fairy-tale of the Government-Spending Money-Trap Moral-Decay Monster.
If you are hearing it said that SNAP benefits must be cut; to address rampant waste, fraud and abuse - a classic chapter in this tale - be aware that in fact, the federal food stamp program, maintained in the US since the Depression, proves decade after decade to be a model of integrity and efficiency, operating with about a 3% level of waste and fraud, almost unheard of for a program this size. While it's a cinch to sound credible accusing a government program of being rife with abuse and fraud, if they were asked (come on, Democrats!), Republicans would be unable to prove anything of the kind about SNAP.
"We want to work with our Democratic colleagues in Congress to implememnt reforms in the SNAP program to cut back on waste, fraud, and abuse."
- Rep. Steve King, (R), Iowa
"We want to ensure that truly vulnerable families receive the support they need in a more efficient and effective manner."
- Rep. Steve Southerland, (R) FL
If you’re hearing it said that SNAP has become bloated, serving people who fall far outside the realm of "the truly needy", be aware that in fact, eligibility criteria are based on income and federal poverty guidelines using the same formulas as always. We aren't spending more because people who make more are now getting benefits. There are simply many more people who don’t make enough to get by.
This Republican tale-telling does a disservice to the general public, but also to hard right conservatives with real philosophical objections to an economic model that uses tax revenue for social spending. Why aren't they asking to be heard right now, too? Where are the voices of those who want a safety net, but want it realized by components of the free market that include charity and philanthropy; those who believe that hunger, even on the scale it exists in this country today, could be addressed effectively with for-profit ventures that don't involve government contracts? Ideas driven by authentic concerns, with solutions more creative than “just cut it so bad people can’t use it,” would at least encourage a more substantive dialogue.
"Why does the safety net need reform? Because people are getting tangled up and stuck in it. The House addresses this by ending benefits for individuals that, quite honestly, don't qualify for them."
- Rep. Randy Neugebauer, (R) TX
"Asking people to work in return for food stamps is not any kind of cruel and unusual punishment. The dignity of work has been a pretty common theme throughout all the ages."
- Rep. Mike Conaway, (R) TX
My own feelings about the latter economic philosophy are obvious, but I’d sure rather have an argument in those honest terms than one relying on specious claims of fraud, cheap phraseology about who is or isn’t deserving; or, worst of all, more muck from the Myth of the Moocher Class. Republican House members are espousing and exploiting a fear of the moocher that is only barely still acceptable among their constituency, and not at all among its representatives. It’s based on lingering stereotypes that sprang from gut provincialism, festering in a time before comprehensive information about class norms was widely accessible. When leaders with the resources of the modern day member of Congress internalize and articulate those fears, at televised hearings, in tones utterly dripping with frankness and reason, as though they have no way of knowing otherwise, it is hard to forgive.
Democrats in Congress must keep telling the real story. It is simply not true that people receiving food stamps sit around idle, gorging on luxury foods billed to taxpayers, growing ever more fond of being poor, losing their incentive to work, purposely making less than their earning potential so they will qualify for benefits. Ever since social safety-net programs were introduced, such a picture has been painted. It has developed for some into preoccupation with a fear that millions of Americans will find living at this level, with means and status so low that they qualify for food stamps, is tempting enough to vanquish any motivation to succeed.
Even before we had a chance to study and answer such questions, some could see it was an unrealistic concern. Nutrition assistance in the US is a bare-bones benefit. There are purchasing restrictions, and the allowances are modest. There is social stigma associated with using food stamps. These benefits don't provide people with anything they want out of life, except survival. There's nothing enjoyable about making so little money you qualify for food stamps.
But because this question has been a fundamental concern for some, and does have huge policy implications, it has been rigorously studied and explored. These questions have always been asked, and there are now decades of research to answer them. There is no evidence that negative societal outcomes, or the degradation of character, can be associated with food assistance. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to show otherwise. Such information is easy enough for the layperson to find. Members of the US Congress cannot be excused for ignoring the literature - wide-ranging and multi-disciplinary – addressing these fears. Let them at least put up applicable research and shoot it down. Let them explain why their fears are unabated. But they can’t pretend it is legitimate to wonder - in the face of more than half a century of accumulated knowledge in behavioral and social psychology – if maaaybe receiving free supplemental nutrition coupons is so intrinsically rewarding that eventually, long-suffering productive citizens will be unable to lure legions of their fellow Americans away from the seductions of poverty.
Finally, if you hear it said that a 5% reduction in benefits isn’t all that painful, truly consider the source. A favorite chapter in the fairy-tale is about how easy it is to live on so little. If we want to know about the impact of cuts, there are plenty of reliable sources. Perhaps we should be hearing testimony from program administrators trained to do needs-assessments and impact studies. Or from case managers who work directly with needy families. But sure, sometimes anecdotal evidence can help us understand how policy decisions may be felt by those affected. Just make sure you are hearing less from those who want to experiment and speculate on the impact of a 5% funding adjustment, and more from those who will open their own cabinets to see 5% less food.
"Food stamps have played and will continue to play an important role in taking care of out most needy Americans. But the program exists to help lift up those who have hit bottom, not keep them there."
- Rep. Martha Roby, (R) AL
I was reflecting on that impact as I did my own shopping yesterday. I have more grocery money to work with than I used to. I still have to mentally add up the price of each item I put in my cart to make sure I have enough to cover my total, and it gets tight. But it’s nothing like the distress I used to feel grocery shopping when our family was young. I can still get a knot in my stomach remembering it. Slogging through the aisles with hungry kids in tow, trying to solve the problem of how to get enough food with not enough money. I remember the frustrated, primal longing to nourish my family. I remember trying to appear cheerfully reassuring while churning with feelings of dread, anxiety and inadequacy that were almost unbearable. I remember all of this going on in the aisle of a grocery store while reaching for a jar of peanut butter.
It came back in waves yesterday, thinking about the food stamp cuts as I shopped. When I went to check out, I saw that there were small signs posted at each register informing or reminding shoppers with SNAP cards that their benefit reductions were effective immediately. The sign explained that cashiers would be glad to check the balance on their cards. My heart sank realizing there were lots of moms and dads and others who would arrive at the register to see this just after completing the exhausting experience I described. Because I wasn’t unique - when every item you pull off the shelf or pass up has repercussions for your own hunger or that of your dependents, whether young, elderly or disabled; groceries become more than boxes and cans of food. There really is both a physical and emotional impact.
So they will get to the front of the store after the selecting, subtracting, second-guessing, and strategizing, to realize that regardless of how well they'd done, they went over by 5%. To use the figure the Associated Press is reporting as an example, that’s a reduction of about $36 dollars for a family of four. That means taking back out of the cart $36 worth of fruit, beans, cereal, meat, and juice. Kids, perhaps, in tow. This is not a fairy-tale.
As the nation debates food stamp funding, let's keep it honest. The program works. It does what it sets out to do. It helps poor people get basic food they can't otherwise afford. The program has low overhead, and measurable positive outcomes. If you think there is a better way to get food into empty tummies, lay out your plan. If you think doing so is not an appropriate function of government, make your case. But don't just sit and spin a scary yarn, or sit silent while others in your party do so. We don’t need the fairy-tale; the true story is harrowing enough.
Shhh! Voter Impersonator working.
Whew - that was close!
An insidious loophole in Texas election law, potentially allowing fraudulent voters to impersonate real, innocent voters, has been slammed shut. At last no more is the Reign of the Voter Impersonator Wives of Texas, characterized by their slithering into polling places using all manner of middle names to cheat the citizens of Texas out of a fair vote! Neutralizing this glaring threat to election integrity, a married woman using her maiden name as a middle name on her driver's license, and her given middle name on her voter registration card, will no longer be allowed to cast a ballot.
When I first heard that the new Texas voter ID requirements presented a snag to married women whose voter registration records did not reflect their married names, I thought it was an unfortunate and unnecessary but minor hurdle for women who had married recently, but had not yet changed the last name on their voter registration card to reflect their new last name. I figured that it would require the completion of a task by election day that was going to be attended to anyway.
Using my name as an example, I'll explain what I first understood to be the requirement of the new law. Before I was married, the name on my voter registration card, and on my driver's license and other documents, was Julie Ann Hammerstein. After I got married, I updated the name on my driver's license to reflect my new last name, Boler. In Texas, the proper form to use on the driver's license would then be be Julie Hammerstein Boler. If I had completed this change on my driver's license, but had neglected to update the last name on my voter registration records, my driver's license last name would not match my voter records last name, and I would be refused a ballot.
So I thought. Knowing that a few recently married women would probably arrive at the polls on election day not knowing about the new requirement, and not be allowed to vote; and knowing that refusing these women a ballot was a pointless exercise in the solving-a-nonexistent-problem phenomenon that is the trendy new strict voter ID requirement, I was a little chagrined. I hoped that word would get out in time for most newly-wedded women to complete their name change "to-do's" before election day. And I hoped that Texas precinct officials would have leave to verify new last names with a glance at other paperwork for those who hadn't been informed in time. After all, there isn't really a Voter Impersonator Wives threat.
I had the details of the requirement wrong, though. Using my name again, let's look at how it actually works. When I was married 28 years ago, I duly updated my voter registration information from Julie Ann Hammerstein, to Julie Ann Boler. I also updated my driver's licence to reflect my new last name, this time choosing to use a format required by law in some states - Julie Hammerstein Boler. (Married women who change their last names find that some legal documents require one version, some another, and some leave it up to the woman.) Under the new voter ID law in Texas, if I have complied with DMV law and used "Hammerstein" as my middle name on my driver's license, but on my voter registration card have used "Ann" because it was left up to me, I would be turned away from the polls. Same last name, different middle names, both legally correct. Same address of course; your address dictates your polling place. Disqualified from voting in this election.
And what does this rule protect against? Voter Impersonator Wives! Just think, people. Without this rule, this could happen in America, right under our noses: a woman who looks exactly like me, has the same address as me, and has the name Julie Ann Boler on her driver's license, could waltz into my polling place and vote fraudulently in my place.
I have to say, if there is a woman out there who could pull that off, she has earned my ballot. I would hand it over to her myself.
- Julie Boler
I had desperately hoped to see a sign from this President, as he weighed the question of whether or not to initiate strikes against Syria, that he is the exceptional leader I have consistently felt him to be. As he spoke in the Rose Garden today, explaining the two elements of the way he feels we should move forward, I was amazed to observe that he has the ability to surpass even my very high expectations.
His two-pronged approach to the issue, as described in his remarks today, are one, to communicate his resolve to apply harsh consequences to the Assad regime for the murder of over a thousand of its citizens with poison gas, consequences in the form of missile strikes; and two, to acquiesce to demands that he bring the US Congress into the decision-making process.
You may not agree with the first part. Obama's position is that actions taken by Assad in Damascus, using chemical weapons against Syria's own civilian population, including hundreds of children, constitute crimes against humanity so horrific and unique from other types or levels of warfare, that they cannot be ignored. The President was clear he believes we have an imperative to respond to these actions, separate altogether from any consideration of intervention in Syria's civil war, and separate from the question of regime change.
You may feel otherwise. But his decision to withhold an executive order to strike unless and until he has the full support of Congress is beyond reproach. For those of us who feel on the one hand both skeptical and disempowered by the prospect of another American president making a case for military action, but on the other hand cognizant that what happened in Damascus cannot be ignored, Obama has presented what is perhaps the only acceptable proposition: if we're going to respond to this somehow, let's decide how to do it together.
How else would you want a president to resolve a question like this, other than each of us meeting personally with him at the White House to explain exactly what we want to have done?
Reports from behind the scenes at the White House tell us that over the last 24-48 hours the debate between the President's Cabinet members, national security team and other staff and advisers has been robust, and there was significant sentiment against seeking the support of Congress before taking action. I've read about similar processes occurring in this administration's Oval Office and Situation Room deliberations during the couple of days leading up to the decision to start air strikes over Libya, and before giving the "go" to authorize the operation to get bin Laden. This President apparently demands a frank diversity of opinion, and afterwards may make a decision flouting the advice of even his closest advisers. In this case it appears there was much agreement about the need to go forward with strikes against Syria, but a variety of points of view about how far to bring Congress into the process. Obama went with the approach that relinquishes ultimate control of the final decision. It should be noted that since Congress does not reconvene until September 9, and he is not asking them to return early to address this, he has chosen not to cheapen his argument for consequences for Assad by implying there is a crucial need to act immediately. He has also clearly not agreed to seek the approval of Congress as a way to shrink from stating his OWN opinion - his point of view could not be clearer: we should launch missiles at military targets in Syria in order to enforce international norms against the use of chemical weapons.
Whatever you think of that, now your argument must go to Congress. And make no mistake, members of Congress do read your letters and emails, and do track your phone calls. Whether the legwork is done by staff, and commentary is sorted into piles of rough agreement, or your communication is discovered to be so compelling, articulate or pertinent that it lands on the Congressperson's desk, none of them are ignored (see my post
"Yes, They Do Read Your Letters!" 11/19/11.) Cynicism about whether they do that to inform campaign messaging or whether they actually care is understandable. But the argument "they don't care what I have to say" is drastically undermined if you don't say anything
. Over the next ten days, you can spend many hours debating this on Facebook, at the dinner table, or in your own head, but remember that the "representative" part of representative democracy doesn't work without your direct participation. So take ten minutes out of your facebook time between now and the 9th to contact your Senators, www.senate.gov
, and another ten to weigh in with your Representative at www.house.gov
MSNBC correspondent Chuck Todd, coming on camera to comment after the President's statement, pointed out how extraordinary it is for Obama to make a decision to seek the approval of Congress before taking action. Todd noted that for roughly 40 years, since Dick Cheney was pulling strings in the Ford administration, Presidents have continuously sought to concentrate ever more power in the Executive Branch. The fact that Barack Obama just took a stand in another direction reminds me once again that we are watching a presidency with deep historical significance.
From today's remarks, "...but, having made my decision as Commander in Chief...I am also mindful that I am the President of the world's oldest constitutional democracy. I've long believed that our power is rooted, not just in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people." - Julie Boler
Moral Monday protest, Raleigh, NC
Before leaving my house today to join in the North Carolina “Moral Monday” demonstration in downtown Raleigh, I saw MSNBC correspondent Craig Melvin do a story on the protests. He interviewed Jotaka Eaddy, NAACP Senior Director for Voting Rights, asking her opinion about the interesting demographics of the arrestees.
The crowds at these rallies have been overall fairly diverse, and people of a variety of races and cultures have joined the smaller group of hearty souls volunteering to be arrested. But by the numbers, the latter group – the arrestees – has been a remarkably white, older, middle- or upper-middle class set. During the news segment, video footage of Moral Monday arrests ran on a split screen opposite the interview. Melvin observed that while the protests have been led by the NAACP, an organization created to support people of color, a lot of white folks have joined in. Viewers were shown arrests of a few of them; a 60-ish, carefully-coiffed lady in a tailored silk blouse; a woman in her early 30’s in business attire; an older, bearded professorial-looking gentleman, who, incidentally, was wearing a grey hoodie to signify his allegiance to Trayvon Martin’s cause.
Eaddy’s answer to the question about this profile of demonstrators was perfectly fine. She explained how the new voting restrictions will affect voters across demographic lines; not just minority and poor voters, but young voters, seniors, and the disabled as well. College students will have a harder time voting under the law, and elderly and disabled people of any race or economic status are statistically less likely to possess one of the strictly defined, government-issued photo ID’s required under the bill. Indeed, injustice aside, the law is poorly conceived logistically, and may impact all voters. Early voting days are well-used in North Carolina. If we eliminate them, we will see longer lines on election days.
But truth be told, many of the people volunteering to be arrested at the General Assembly building during these demonstrations are among those least likely to be affected by the pending bill. They are professional, educated, employed or retired. They likely already possess a valid North Carolina driver’s license. If not, they are likely able to obtain the official documents they need to apply for a state ID. In fact, it’s their ordinary access to resources and services that allows them to choose to go to jail for political reasons. They are likely to have some professional, civic, or academic familiarity with the workings of the justice system, as well as access to money for bail and legal fees, free time or flex-time, and support networks.
That doesn't mean it isn't hard to do this; it takes guts for anyone. Some arrestees risk professional or familial censure. Some of them are facing down fears of panic that can arise from sitting in a jail cell. All of them are agreeing to an utter loss of freedom. And nobody is making them do it.
So why are
they there? Why do they put their bodies on the line; offering their wrists up to be cuffed, climbing on a prisoner transport bus, staring into the glare of the mugshot light; fingertips inked for prints, and file into a jail cell to await release on to a downtown street in the wee hours of the next morning?
They go to show allegiance to fellow citizens who will be affected by this bill. They go in solidarity with those who will soon learn that although they are eligible, registered voters, state lawmakers have chosen to proactively and tangibly discourage them from voting.
These arrestees exemplify an impressive combination of compassion, insight, and rage. Realize, the oldest of them have witnessed a better way than this. They have been here during a time - over the last half-century - during which their country learned in fits and starts how to improve
access to the polls. They have seen, over these decades, legions of leaders from both parties strive to make it more
possible for everyone to participate in the democratic process. They have seen both conservative and liberal politicians say, this is critical. Everyone must have a part in selecting their representatives. It is essential to the integrity of our system.
Now our arrestees see something very different - something sinister – taking hold in powerful places. They see conscious efforts to dismantle those decades of good work. They watch public servants making cynical, short-sighted, and destructive policy decisions. And they are wise enough to know the damage will be real, and it will hit hardest those who are least able to stand up to power.
Understand what our arrestees understand: that strict voter ID requirements and reduced voting hours serve no legitimate purpose, and could potentially affect over 300,000 NC voters. Understand that there will be folks who have counted on expanded voting hours in past elections, who will struggle to make it to the polls, or will be unable to wait hours on Election Day for their turn to vote. Understand that there will be registered voters who will arrive at the polls on Election Day without possession of an accepted form of ID, who will be turned away.
Understand that there is simply no justification for strict ID requirements. We have years of evidence showing that protecting the ballot from fraud is simply and effectively done without such requirements. The threat of voter fraud has proven to be insignificant. Of course, to the legislators currently in office in North Carolina, "insignificant" is too high a risk. They have made it clear that they would rather see a number of eligible voters turned away from the polls than a single fraudulent vote cast. Even still, a higher level of ballot security can be achieved without disenfranchising anyone. The threat of fraud is so low that high-enough security standards are easily met by requiring voters to provide more readily obtainable forms of ID, such as voter registration cards, medical cards, work ID’s, bank cards, student ID’s, nursing home residence papers, even utility bills or other official mail. It would be hard to even quantify how low a risk there is that someone would determine to impersonate another voter, arrive at the right polling place at an opportune time, present any
card or document in their victim’s name, be handed a ballot, and cast a fraudulent vote.
It is an understanding of this undemocratic solution to a non-existent problem that has infuriated and mobilized our arrestees. They see that despite having been presented with copious research and personal testimony on such hazards to be faced by legitimate voters, our state legislators are stubbornly voting this bill into law.
Our arrestees are standing up in the name of those who can’t. They are saying with their actions that if these lawmakers want to marginalize some of the very people they represent; people who can’t afford to go to jail to prove a point, then they themselves will go. Enthusiastically, they will go.
Think about that. How does it make you feel, knowing there are those whose own right to vote is not threatened by this bill, who are carving out space in their lives to be arrested protesting it? I’ll tell you how it makes me feel. It makes me feel teary. It makes me feel awe, and gratitude. It gives me a lump in my throat, and hope. Today it made me think about a piece of music I cherish; the plaintive and stirring U2 song, “One”
Some of the lyrics of the song could be said to reflect on how things go wrong between people. Listening to it today, the first few verses made me think about the mentality leading to the creation of the malevolent legislation we're seeing. I hear the way these guys talk about the constituents they don’t care for. I see how they choose to govern those who have so little - by starving them of support, tampering with their rights - while expecting them to participate as fully and effectively as anybody else in American society. From the song: “Will it make it easier on you now, you got someone to blame… You act like you never had love, and you want me to go without…you ask me to enter, then you make me crawl… Did I ask too much? more than a lot? You gave me nothing and that's all I've got.”
Of course, most of the song is explicitly about who we as a people should
be. It’s about how we are different from each other, but we share "one love, one blood, one life."
And that "we get to carry each other." We get to. We get to carry each other.
We get to carry each other, people.
Is it getting better?
Or do you feel the same?
Will it make it easier on you now?
You got someone to blame
When it's one need
In the night
We get to share it
Leaves you baby if you
Don't care for it
Did I disappoint you?
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth?
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without
To drag the past out into the light
We're one, but we're not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other
Have you come here for forgiveness?
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus?
To the lepers in your head
Did I ask too much?
More than a lot.
You gave me nothing,
Now it's all I got
But we're not the same
Well we hurt each other
Then we do it again
Love is a temple
Love a higher law
Love is a temple
Love the higher law
You ask me to enter
But then you make me crawl
And I can't be holding on
To what you got
When all you got is hurt
You got to do what you should
With each other
But we're not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other
post by Julie Boler
Voters at the Voting Booth, 1945, NAACP Collection, LOC
Very bad news today from the Supreme Court of the United States. The court struck down the requirement placed on certain states that they clear with the federal government any changes they want to make to state election law. The states in question have carried that burden due to a history of voting rights violations. This requirement slowed down Florida, for example, in at least one instance - if you can believe Florida was slowed down at all - in its efforts to change election law. The practice for which they were denied clearance in August of 2012 had to do with private groups holding voter registration drives. The GOP-led State of Florida wanted to prevent groups such as the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote from sponsoring registration drives. The state’s request to do so was denied by the Justice Department. (Of course, Florida Republicans still got away with a plentiful array of other voter disenfranchisement tactics.)
With the preclearance requirement struck down, Florida Republicans would now be able to block such voter registration drives, and opponents of the move would just have to fight it out in court. Without any requirement for preclearance, states that have formerly been hampered in making drastic changes to ID requirements, early voting hours, etc., will now have an easier time.
The only ray of hope here is that the court actually left a little room open to bring back preclearance requirements for states that currently show a propensity towards voter disenfranchisement. The Court’s justification for striking down the law did not reject the idea of preclearance outright. Rather, the Justices decided that the current list of states burdened with the requirement was developed utilizing a now-outdated formula, reportedly based on information gathered in the Sixties and Seventies. The Justices claim that such information simply can’t tell us enough about which states are acting in bad faith now.
Well guess what; they have a point.
In the last few election cycles, we have seen bad behavior from a number of states that have never been required to get federal preclearance in order to change election law. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio have outdone themselves in recent years in developing creative ways to keep voters they don't like from voting. As my own North Carolina legislature enthusiastically pushes to slash early voting hours and institute strict new voter ID requirements, only certain counties here have had – until today - a preclearance requirement. If a new formula was developed that truly gauges which statewide efforts across the country actually make it harder for eligible citizens to register and vote, and a whole new list of states requiring preclearance was created, there is no doubt the North Carolina General Assembly would be looking at a new barrier to breach before rushing this type of legislation through. Similarly, states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, which have brashly lead the way in making voting harder, would most certainly fall under any realistic new formula.
So if Congress were to respond to this Supreme Court decision with quickly written and passed new legislation, using an updated formula that places preclearance requirements on any law that attempts to make it harder for legitimate, registered voters to cast a ballot, then wow, it would transform this interesting, but currently devastating, opinion into a godsend. Maybe that will happen someday, after a lot of damage has been done. After a lot of marginalized citizens are kept from the polls, and they grow angry enough to start making noise. After more eyebrows are raised by news footage of increasingly frequent long lines at the polls, wrapped around city blocks, old folks waiting hours in bad weather to vote. When the average citizen better understands why it is so hard for some people - voters with low access to everyday resources - to obtain copies of new, strictly-defined, government-issued photo ID cards. When the general public eventually absorbs the fact that because of this plethora of unnecessary and politically-driven changes to election law, American citizens who have a right to vote are being kept from the ballot box. Maybe then, someday, the tide of public opinion will turn against these laws. Congress will get the message, and there will be new laws written and passed that show zero tolerance for state election practices that infringe on voting rights.
But we know that won't happen now. It won't happen before 2014, it's unlikely to happen before 2016, and after that, well - it’s hard to say. The average citizen, a moderate voter, understandably doesn’t spend hours a day analyzing court decisions or election law. The average TV viewer will only stay tuned to shrill advocacy and partisan bickering for so much of their time. How long will it take the average American voter to grasp the level of extremism driving today's Republican Party? How long to become alarmed by its regressive policies? How long for dismay to translate into strong opinions, and then into pointed votes? And as more voters become disturbed enough to vote against bad election law, how many of them will have access to the ballot to cast those votes?
Let's get this straight:
Benghazi talking points?
Not a scandal.
IRS practicing politics?
A scandal for the president?
Important questions about the 2012 attack on the American mission compound in Benghazi, Libya, include who the perpetrators were, how the attack was allowed to happen, and what we can learn from it that will help us improve security there and elsewhere in the future. Also legitimate are questions about chain of command at the State Department, and whether Congress is adequately funding security for foreign posts.
The rest of the current inquiry is nonsense. Within days after the attack, UN Ambassador Susan Rice was sent on a round of interviews about what was known so far about the attack. I personally viewed her accounting of the tragedy on one Sunday morning news show after another. She qualified everything she shared by emphasizing we weren't sure about all the details yet. I watched as she listened in on one program while Libyan President Mohammed el-Magariaf stated emphatically that this was a terrorist attack. Rice didn't object to this statement; she simply reiterated that there was still a lot to be learned.
In short order, as more information emerged, the White House was completely, proactively forthcoming. It was directly from the Oval Office that we learned this was a planned attacked, carried out by organized and well-armed extremists. That angle was pursued at the direction of the White House, and turned out to be supported by evidence. This evidence wasn't dragged out of the Administration by the press, or discovered through exhaustive Congressional hearings. It was only later, when it became clear that there was nothing about this tragedy that could be pinned on the Obama administration that Republicans began clutching at the straw of the tenor of statements immediately communicated after the event. Unfortunately for them, no wrong-doing occurred there either.
Routing a memo to a dozen people to hammer out wording before going forward is a scintillating and suspect process to exactly no one who has worked in any office, ever. The changes supplied by the White House itself could be characterized as minimal, and as more cautious than advantageous for their image; caution well-warranted considering the fact that attacks on the embassy in Cairo occurred simultaneously and were NOT connected to terrorists.
If you'll remember, standing in stark contrast to that caution was the tone of the statements made on this issue by then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who was perfectly comfortable tossing out sweeping, irresponsible, anti-Administration accusations, before all of the parts of this tragedy had even stopped moving. If nothing else struck fear in the hearts of voters imagining such a man sitting in the Oval Office, that kind of impulsive, short-sighted, and self-serving behavior should have.
As for officials in the Internal Revenue Service targeting Tea Party-associated groups for special scrutiny, well, that news is chilling. Any hint of such activity on the part of low-level agents would be inexcusable. In this case it sounds like there were IRS employees with significant authority directing activity against these groups – activity that amounts to harassment. Any American who cares about free speech should be concerned about this. A full inspector general's report due out later this week will provide more detail. We need to know how far-up knowledge of this activity went, and whether Congress was purposely misled. As high as accountability lies, heads should roll. But hopes that anyone close to president will bear responsibility are sure to be dashed.
Those opportunistic members of the GOP who are thinking that either of these issues could provide a way out of their real task - redeveloping a political party that represents honest conservative principles - will have to go, once again, back to the drawing board.
- Julie Boler
I've been sitting here staring at a horrifying picture. Not this one to the left. It's horrifying too. It makes me sick. But I wanted my readers to get a glimpse of it, so I cut out a little corner of it to post. Amazing how much just that little corner conveys, isn't it?
The one I've been staring at is bigger and clearer. It's a bright, color photograph of a half-naked, half-sexily-clad brunette, bullet-ridden and bleeding profusely from the mouth. It's actually just a dummy - a product sold by a company called Zombie Industries. They sell it for target practice - a high-end item for the avid sport-shooter. Zombie Industries offers a variety of human-looking targets, all of which have the special feature of actually bleeding when they are hit.The photo I was staring at is a mannequin-like shooting target called "The Ex." The picture was published at Talking Points Memo on Monday. I want to state that it's a graphic picture first, then tell you it can be found here. I want people to see it, and I want people to share it. The only thing I can even think of to do right now is shine some light on it. The website for Zombie Industries, a whole world of horror for sale in the name of shooting enjoyment, can be found here.
When this company set up shop recently in the vendor hall at the NRA National Convention in Texas, they had a target dummy on display that looked like President Obama. You can see a picture of it on their website; TPM also produced a clear and up-close photo
One presumes that because the target is named "Rocky", is called a zombie, (the website has a zombie motif) and is colored green, the company enjoys plausible deniability against accusations that they are selling shooting targets with features that make it look like the President. Or, maybe they don't need deniability. Maybe there isn't anything illegal about it, or of interest to the Secret Service. Maybe my readers can tell me.
The company sells another target called the "terrorist." Interestingly, the "terrorist" target dummy is simply a man with a long black beard, dressed in traditional Muslim clothing. His arms are down, and he has no weapon. For $89.95, you can purchase this guy and shoot him up until he is soaked in blood, riddled with bullet holes, and unrecognizable. You can do the same thing to not-Obama-"Rocky," also for $89.95. To mimic murdering your ex-girlfriend, though, you have to shell out $99.95. The copy reads, "$99.95 – Bleeding Alexa Zombie Life-Sized Tactical Mannequin Target - “Bleeds” When Shot!!!" The ad also points out that the "Ex" is a good buy at that price, because it "can be shot more than 1000+ rounds of assorted calibers" and "reused to finish off another day." The
company provides a paragraph-long back story for Alexa, sure to get you primed for target practice: "She had a wicked mean streak in her and was known for her nasty disposition, especially if she had been drinking."Wayne LaPierre is on record criticizing the film and gaming industries for their life-like depictions of shooting violence. He has questioned whether shooting and killing while playing video games with realistic targets could make it more likely for someone to commit murder. He has not been clear about what type of intervention he is looking for - it's hard to imagine he wants more government regulation imposed on industries that allow one to pretend to murder, given his opposition to government regulation on the industry selling the equipment one needs to actually do it.But aside from having Zombie Industries remove the Obama look-alike target two days into the conference, (which was surely just a delayed impulse to avoid liability, attention from authorities, or bad press), the NRA kept the welcome mat out for the rest of the company's shooting targets, like the terrorist, and the ex-girlfriend.I see sickness when I look at the picture of the "The Ex". I see
depravity in the Zombie
Industries website. How do we address it? I have no idea. I don't want them shut down - there is no justification for that. I would love your opinions. And if you have the stomach for it, look at the website, examine their products, and read some of the ad copy. And if you're ready to really go into the heart of darkness, watch the video on "Alexa's" page. Watch the group of sportsmen standing in a row in the woods, all together peppering the mannequin's breasts and stomach, catching her back and shoulders when she twists and falls from the impact. Watch one of the men walk up to her, lying
face down in the leaves, and empty his gun into the back of her head.
- Julie Boler
This post is a response to a recent editorial in the Washington Post by Charles Krauthammer, a conservative political writer and commentator. His column is brief, and this post will make more sense if you read it. I'll wait.Okay. So, if you don't know this guy, I can tell you, he is an unpleasant man. FOX News loves him as a guest; he contributes a unique blend of erudite and yet intensely sophomoric and hostile commentary on governmental atrocities committed by our President. Attacking Barack Obama is his fetish. The first thing I thought when I read this column is that I would rather think the best of others and be a million times disappointed in life, than go through it with as morose and contemptuous an attitude as Krauthammer’s. His column reveals much more about himself than it does about Mr. Obama.
With an air of triumph and pride, he delineates the Republican Party’s successes in their ongoing mission to obstruct at every turn the sitting President of the United States. Their explicitly stated goal has always been to stand against anything the president supports, because he supports it. One assumes the objective is for Obama to be seen, currently, and by history, as a failed president. With this column, (rather prematurely, as we are currently in year 4.4 of the Obama era), based on a couple of GOP victories on high-profile votes, Krauthammer has decided to break out the champagne. Never mind that the country is hurting because of these victories. Never mind that its citizens appear to be gradually catching on to the fact that they were won at great expense to all. Writing with the same tone as would someone expressing an admirable and legitimate position, Krauthammer crows about recent punches Republicans have landed on the president’s jaw. Not punches thrown in the name of principle or policy, mind you, but thrown because, well, they just hate that guy.
Let's look at some of what Mr. Krauthammer has to say: "...the victor (a reelected Obama) is hailed as the new Caesar, facing an open road to domination..." Mr. Krauthammer, you realize that you folks are the only ones who see it that way, right? No Democrat I know has any desire for a Caesar in the White House. On the domestic front, far from wanting to dominate others, we want to empower fellow citizens to each reach a place where they can grow, succeed, and be happy. We want everyone to have doctors and medicine. We want to learn to walk ever more lightly on the earth. We don’t want domination internationally, either; you’re projecting. We want to support fledgling democracies across the world in their efforts toward self-determination. We want to find peaceful agreement with opposing countries, not destroy them. I wish you could know what it feels like to be in a party that is for something, rather than against everything. It can be exhilarating. It might even wipe that perpetual scowl off your face. Let’s go on. What else, Mr. K.? "...Barack Obama, already naturally inclined to believe his own loftiness, graciously accepted the kingly crown..."
(Eye roll.) Again... "Thus emboldened, Obama turned his inaugural and State of the Union addresses into a left-wing dream factory, (including) his declaration of war on global warming (on a planet where temperatures are the same as 16 years ago and in a country whose CO2 emissions are at a 20-year low)…” Er… You frighten me, Mr. Krauthammer.
"Obama sought to fracture and neutralize the congressional GOP..."
Wait, Obama did what? I think Republicans sought to... oh, never mind.
"Obama cried wolf, predicting the end of everything we hold dear if the sequester was not stopped. It wasn't. Nothing happened."
Yeah? Tell that to the people who... oh, never mind.
"...Obama’s spectacular defeat on gun control..."
So, "spectacular" is the word that springs to mind for you there, Mr. K.? I would have gone with "insanely immoral." Because Republicans didn't oppose this bill in favor of another bill, one with a different approach to protecting the American people from random violence. There was no pretense of a greater motivation for voting down this bill than a political strike against President Obama. Mr. K., even if this bill had passed, it would be a time for sober optimism that it might stem the flow of blood. To call its defeat “spectacular” is obscene. And do understand, sir: it was a defeat for Obama only in the cheapest political sense. The real defeat was for the gun-violence victims' families, traveling home from Washington after the vote, to Newtown and Chicago and Tucson and Aurora. The real defeat will be felt, (terrifyingly enough) by people who don't even know it yet. Maybe me. Maybe someone I know. It’s a defeat for the next victims of mass or otherwise indiscriminate shootings that could have been prevented by this bill. "For Obama, gun control was a political disaster. He invested capital. He went on a multi-city tour. He paraded grieving relatives. And got nothing... Obama failed even to get mere background checks."
You usually hear the somewhat unsophisticated label "pervert" applied to someone with socially frowned-upon sexual proclivities. I don't normally use the word myself. But what can one say reading this stuff? "He paraded grieving relatives. And got nothing." Charles Krauthammer is a pervert. Finally, Krauthammer wraps up his column with a sarcastic, school-boy taunt; his take on the Obama Presidency to date: "From king of the world to dead in the water in six months. Quite a ride." Republicans are a tribe. They have retreated into a national yet somehow provincial horde. They defend their holdings with all their might. They see the rest of us as constant threats to their sovereignty and survival. Democrats are a party of many tribes. In the current iteration of the two parties, we are simply the one more comfortable with a broad mix of folks, a wide diversity of opinion within the party, and the ability to think of unlike groups as potential members of coalitions, coming together around overlapping concerns. Republicans are starting to understand that such a conglomeration, with varying backgrounds, needs and priorities but with a firm set of shared ideals, is likely to keep growing; in size and therefore power. Their response is to reluctantly edge open the gate to their compound, remain inside, and beg others to come in and join the tribe. Their strategy is to tell these others that they would benefit from coming inside the compound and hating everyone outside it. They’ll even accept those who look like outsiders, as long as they agree to mimic and obey tribal customs and dictates.
Welllll, GOP, good luck with that. You have quite a cheery spokesperson in Charles Krauthammer. Most of us are honestly hoping you will ditch him and his ilk, pass through the gate, leave the tribe behind, and join the rest of us. Not to be Democrats, necessarily. Just come out here away from that tribe. With us, you can believe anything you want, live the way you prefer, and promote anything you believe in. That's how we roll out here. We just ask that you don't sacrifice the good of the people for the will of that angry little tribe. Then maybe you can get back to making real contributions on important matters. From a sane conservative perspective, if you like. On important matters like the economy, defense policy, governmental effectiveness and transparency, tax policy, and so on. You're needed.In the meantime, I just hope the rest of us can survive the tribe.Julie Boler
The Republican Party released a sweeping report today on the status of the Party and what it needs to do to gain more public support and win elections on the national level. They did extensive polling, looked at how campaigns have been conducted, and called on many experts and consultants.
One of the major conclusions reached was that they need to attract more minority voters, female voters, and young voters. This issue has been widely discussed of course, especially since the 2012 election. But this report really put the problem front and center.
The second major conclusion reached was that Republicans need to get better at messaging, need to get with the times on digital communication, and just overall improve their campaign tactics.
The reason they will continue to fail is that when they hear the two problems outlined, for some reason they think that fixing the second one; communication, will fix the first one; their lack of appeal to a diverse electorate. In fact they sound deeply relieved to hear about the second one; it's so doable. And hey, there's no reason why upgrading their political infrastructure won't also fix their unpopularity with... almost everyone. Even though the one has nothing to do with the other.
In response to the report, prominent members of the Party spoke out today, saying they sure do understand what the report tells them, and yup, they've just got to get better at reaching out to those women, and those communities of color. But as soon as they say the words "reach out" they accidentally flip to the "messaging" piece, and conflate them completely. Outreach is apparently about saying the same off-putting things, but saying them better.
The theory seems to be that their platform is actually very welcoming to minorities and youth, but it just didn't get out during the last campaign season. They believe they just didn't use the right methods to communicate that the GOP "embraces civil rights" for poor people, black people, Latinos, women and younger voters.
But, no. Their message got out there all right. It got out too well.
Women heard loud and clear that the uterus should fall under the control of the "small government party."
Young people, the least homophobic demographic in the country, heard loud and clear that the civil procedure used by local government entities to certify marriage should fall under the control of "the party of liberty and the constitution," and should be defined by religious principles.
Latinos heard loud and clear, from the Republican that the Party had nominated for President, that the Party considered "self-deportation" a legitimate approach to immigration reform.
And black voters? If black voters had any doubts about their status in the eyes of Republicans, they didn't need to look any further than the massive, hostile, naked efforts to disenchfranchise them by use of regressive voting policies. It is a matter of record, of hard numbers, that black Americans are vastly, disproportionately affected by restrictive voter registration drives, cutting early voting hours, and requiring voters to obtain a strictly-defined, government-issued photo ID, in order to cast a ballot.
Coming out of their reading of this report, Republican Party officials have pledged to spend $10 million on an effort to to reach out to minority communities and portray "a more welcoming message." They plan to update their digital capacities, and use social media more. Said the Republican Party head, Reince Priebus, “The way we communicate our principles isn't resonating widely enough."
Reince, Reince. It's not the WAY you are communicating the principles, it's the principles!
The report itself states that Republicans “must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.” But within hours of its release, Sally Bradshaw, one of the report's authors, clarified that “we don’t say what immigration reform is...we don’t say it must be a path to citizenship.”
The report itself puts strong emphasis on gay rights as a factor for young voters. Said Glenn McCall, another of the report's authors, “for many younger voters, this issue is a gateway into whether or not the party is a place they want to be.” But within hours, he clarified that this doesn't mean Republicans have to change their views. He reaffirmed, “We support traditional marriage, the way our creator defines it.”
Perhaps the ten million dollars they have put aside for outreach should not go to young, female, and minority voters. Perhaps it would be better spent educating their own party.
They could teach Republican citizens about the difference between their personal views and public policy.
They could remind Republicans in Congress about constitutional rights to privacy and equal protection.
They could spell out more clearly to Party leaders that marriage is actually a civil certification, done under government auspices. It can then be celebrated with a wedding (or not) in whatever way the couple chooses.
They could inform Republicans across the land that voter impersonation is not a viable threat to democracy, but voter repression is. That even the bipartisan Help America Vote Act, proudly signed into law by George W. Bush, recommends that states allow voters to ID themselves at polling places with a wide variety of more readily available forms of ID, including work badges, medical cards, and current utility bills.
And they could ask their Republican state officials to knock it off with the forced ultrasounds.
Then that 10 mil might start getting them somewhere.
In discussions about atheism with friends, relatives, and folks in online discussion groups, I've noticed that the separation of church and state issue gets lots of attention. I think it is the central issue. It's one thing I always mention. But I've noticed it doesn't seem to function for some of my associates in these dialogues the same way it does for me. I think of it as a bottom-line shared value on the left, and I sense in these groups that we all place great importance on it. But I ultimately hear it employed to say, "The problem with religion is that people want to base laws on it." But isn't that in fact a problem with people that want to base laws on it?
As long as we keep our dukes up and make sure that piece is protected, isn't whatever someone else believes sort of none of our business? As long as they are not setting policy or writing curriculum, why is there such intense resolve on the part of some atheists to keep pressing and pressing the point that everyone else has stupid beliefs? That seems like the height of bigotry, and I haven't heard anyone yet say convincingly why it isn't.
On a personal level, I am getting so sick of people I respect and feel great affection for, whom I assume have similar feelings for me, stating over and over that my belief system - which they know nothing about except that it isn't atheism - is wrong. That it's valid to use their
metrics to evaluate my private intellectual system for organizing ideas about the mysteries of life. I can't believe it sometimes. I don't get why that isn't an egregiously prejudiced, snobbish response.
I personally have no interest in searching historical records for signs of miracles or accounts of the lives of prophets. My eyes glaze over hearing about such things. In terms of my own beliefs, there is no "proof," for or against them. They are just how I picture what we don't yet know about life. You can't really hold them up to a logical analysis any more than you could use a mathematical equation to measure exactly how much I love my husband. Any more than you can study pride or envy or awe in a laboratory. But to say "it's not supposed
to be logical" to the evangelical atheist is like throwing yourself to the wolves. "There you go! If it's 'not logical," then it's faulty thinking by definition!"
Meanwhile, it's my mind, it's my belief system, and it's a big part of who I am. I don't follow dogma, or worship a god, but I think about intangible things in the universe in a way that is open, curious, optimistic and...throwing myself to the wolves again...spiritual. I love the word spiritual. It signals ignorance to my friends. But there is nothing ignorant about wondering why the sight of geese passing over autumn trees makes me feel melancholy in a good way. And why thunderstorms both scare us and attract us. Yes, dears, they scare us to trigger the adaptive response of taking shelter. But why do they captivate us too? It's a rhetorical question; please don't send me the evolutionary reason. I don't picture thunder as God bowling, but I think it is magical and mystical and it would bore me to hear why it also promotes the survival of the species. So does minding your own business about what's in someone else's head. Dears.
And as far as people who do
believe in things like Jesus or Allah or rain dances or holy books - I can't believe the way they are condemned wholesale by some atheists. It is so surprising to me sometimes. There is a terribly culturally-insensitive aspect to this, so shocking to see played out in liberal discussions. Some seem to feel comfortable mocking whole cultures; whole groups of people who have for generations woven ritual and talismans and rosaries and prayers and holy water and clergy into their lives and communities. And the lip-service paid to the idea that religion "can play an important role in society" or "sometimes helps people feeeeel better" is so dismissive and superior it makes me a little ill.
If the spiritual beliefs of others aren't being forced on you, why does it destroy your day to be aware of them in public? I get that it is ubiquitous, but so is body odor, if you live in the city. I get that it is symbolic to some people of their own traumatic childhood upbringings. To some victims of sexual violence or child abuse, every male with a certain hair color and height does that too. I am not a Christian, but I have the social skills to get through a Christian funeral or wedding. I may roll my eyes when people think there's praying in football, but I don't spend any time on it. I'm more turned off by brightly-painted belly flab than by the sign of the cross from the kicker.
Now, I did have a she-Hulk fit, and lodge an official complaint, when I heard a Christian invocation used to open a county-wide meeting when I worked in the public school system. Although surprised, I stood and bowed my head because I prefered that to noticeably sitting it out. But I'd have completely respected anyone else doing the latter, especially in that setting. I made a mental note to email someone to say that even this ecumenical prayer I was hearing should not have been included at a school system meeting. But when they closed it with "in Jesus' name we pray," I almost flipped the table over. Even in rural NC you'd think they should know about Jews from TV. I didn't break anything, but they heard from me later, formally and emphatically.
But I didn't get bogged down picking apart the contents of the prayer. The prayer shouldn't have been there at all. It is beside the point whether I
believe Jesus is magic. I had no interest in pronouncing everyone at that meeting who had crossed themselves to be intellectually bankrupt, superstitious or wrong. If you try to worm it into public policy or curriculum, you're all mine. Otherwise, go for it.
It is not true that you have to choose between believing in evolution and science, and having abstract philosophical ideas that are inconsistent with what science knows now. If you think it is, you aren't thinking deeply. I have been told that believing anything could exist outside what can be proven is by definition superstitious - an ignorant tolerance for the concept of the supernatural. But doesn't my thinking reflect my love for science when I ponder to myself, "I wonder if there could be a force of love in the same way there is a force of gravity?" Saying that certain of your ideas exist outside of science and aren't subject to proofs, is not saying you don't believe the proofs we have. That just sounds obtuse to me!
I will put out a challenge to my readers: please
, be the first person who can convincingly explain to me why the following words sound better coming out of one mouth than another:
- "Your beliefs aren't just different from mine; they're wrong."
- "Instead of believing what you believe, you should believe what I believe."
- "You teach your kids that???"
- "I must go out and convince others that this is the only right thing to believe."
Personally, I don't want to hear that mess from anyone.
I think the atheist movement has been brilliant, incredibly important, and exciting. In an amazingly short time the very idea of vocal, activist atheists has gone from 0 to 60. Just a few years ago, people thought an atheist was some crank father who didn't want his child saying the pledge. Well that turned out to be a worthy and seminal cause, and now it's a whole movement led and followed by countless intelligent, witty, creative and accomplished people. This is the perfect time for people in the movement to figure out how to define themselves in a way that doesn't reflect everything they hate about organized religion.