The Money Primary: Ted Cruz Thins the Republican Herd and Scares Democrats

2016-money-raceNew Orleans      We now have three elections in the United States.  There’s the general election in 2016 of course when we pull the lever for our candidates, sorting out the ballot babies from the two main contenders offered by the Republicans and Democrats.  There’s the primary election where we poll between candidates earlier in the election year to see who might emerge on the final ballot.   For many of us this is a trivial exercise because our scarlet red states have watched earlier bellwethers, super Tuesdays, and significant prizes earlier in the year. This vote is often more of habit than heart.  And, then there’s the third election that happens much, much earlier where dollars, not votes, are counted that has become one of the most important, if not THE most important, primary operating solely for the one-percenters, deep pocketed, and self-interested where we are ordered to simply watch and wait.

Speaking for this vast, “silent majority,” and I can admit to have been already ticked off seeing Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side pile up such a huge league that the nomination is being all but conceded to her without any of the primaries being conducted, and then Jeb Bush streak to the lead in the Money Primary for the Republicans enough to become almost a frontrunner one day after being uncertain to run the next.  Bush being a Bush, and the Republicans being Republicans, they have become surprisingly committed to chaos and discordant voices, so a score of wannabes remained in the field, no matter how hapless and long their shots might be.

Senator Ted Cruz from Texas was an excellent example, so far right that he seemed the most radical of the crew, a captive of the Tea Party and an anarchist at heart.  The New York Times even ran a piece recently, clipping the heels off his boots by stating that he was less than heartily loved “deep in the heart of Texas.”

But, that was then, and this is now, and the Money Primary allows voting twenty four hours a day, seven days a week and follows its own whim, as money is like to do, not some regular schedule that makes it easy for pundits and papers.  In the Money Primary, Senator Cruz just put a huge ante on the table as his people confirmed that, in what seems like a one-week collection blitz, they scored and have almost finished collecting $31 million for four Super PACs that will coordinate expenditures with each other in support of Cruz.  None of this bundling for him, a Long Island private equity, hedge fund guy seems to have fallen head over heels for Ted and led the big bucks parade.  One veteran Republican fundraiser was quoted by the Times to the effect that most of the big boys would have thought they could raise and budget $30 million for the entire primary season.  With Cruz laying down $31 million almost nine months before the first primaries when all of the rest of us get to come out and play, too, I would bet he just forced the calculations to double to $60 million, maybe even triple towards $100 million for the serious candidates.

The Republicans have already seen one candidate, Mitt Romney, their 2012 standard bearer, pushed out in the Money Primary, when his big rollers told him in so many words, that they had “been there and done that.”  Now with this Cruz news a lot of the little Republicans must have spent some time on the phones and in conference with their families, telling them they would hang in for a hot minute, but their race was “one and done.”  Count Louisiana’s governor, Bobbi Jindal as toast, but Rick Perry of Texas, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Senator Lindsay Graham, and a bunch of others are also burned to a crisp.  You might have Senator Marc Rubio as still viable, but I would bet he’s on the bubble, too. Senator Rand Paul just announced, but his race now seems way more quixotic with a Cruz ideology and money sucking up the space.  Governor Chris Christie was already late for the party, and now he’s a goner, whether he admits it or not.  Jeb Bush and his money juggernaut just realized they are in a fight to the death.  There are still a lot of candidates and Cruz is a wild and crazy guy, so some of those that can put together the cash will still be viable, but the dark horses just got pushed off the track.

On the Democratic side they just got the memo that there’s a new game in town, and they better double down if they want to be able to compete in the general election, because whoever emerges on the Republican side is going to have a pile of money and the will and ways to have raised it.   Eventually, the rest of us will get to vote, but once all the money is raised and spent, the only mystery will be if any of our votes and voices matter compared to the big buck boys and their millions calling the shots.

The Fight over Hours is a Surprising Conservative Endorsement of Obamacare

ObamacareEnrollmentCenterNew Orleans            Since the Republicans cannot realistically repeal the Affordable Care Act, one of the long predicted and now emerging fights in the new Republican Congress is over the definition of hours as a way to dilute the employer mandate to provide coverage.  Currently under Obamacare anything over 30 hours per week requires coverage and essentially defines full-time work.  Trial balloons have been floating over the Capitol since the November midterm ass whipping of the Democrats that the first shots would be aimed at pushing the definition of mandatory coverage up to 40 hours.

Now reports from Washington indicate there’s trouble in conservative paradise.  It now seems that some of both the young and old lions of the right writing in their bellwether journal, the National Review, are raising warning flags that moving to 40 hours from 30 could be a disaster.

And, this is where the precious irony arises.  The political and economic disaster predicted by some of the conservatives is that a 40 hour standard would make it too easy for employers to redefine hours at 39 or anything less than 40 and push millions off of employer provided coverage, the vast majority of whom have it now.  And, here’s the pleasure of the paradox, because that would mean these same workers, would find themselves pushed to the Obamacare marketplaces.  The Congressional Budget Office says such a move would add almost $74 billion to the federal deficit.

So, if forced by the Republicans into Obamacare, an indirect and previously unanticipated consequence of this hours fight is that the Republicans themselves would have implicitly just further increased the support for Obamacare, because these workers, having had insurance, would be thankful of having something, and ticked off at the Republicans for having upset their lives and health security.  No, duh!

I’m not saying the mega-domes of the right have conceded that or fully grasped these implications, but the beginning of the rift between the ideologues and the real policy people among the conservative wing, that is slowing down the train before it runs over the Republican future dead ahead on the tracks, means that full recognition of the impact can’t be far away from them now.  Some of them will realize sooner or later that it’s one thing to mess with a bunch of low waged workers trying to make it on less than 30 hours with Obamacare, but it’s a whole different problem at the heart of what’s still out there in the white, working-class conservative base for the Republicans, particularly in the South and Midwest, if the elephant people make millions ride the donkey’s health insurance program, bruised and battered as it already is.

They may be controlling Congress now, but they are about to wake up to the reality of America, and it’s not the spitball fight they have been having for the last six years where the only consequences are a yelling press conference.  They mess this up and they will be detained in study hall for a long time, looking at the White House from the classroom window.

Republicans on ACORN: Haters Gonna Hate!

Critiquesv2.ACORN and the Obama AdministrationMontreal         A Washington Post blog was hard for me to ignore. Philip Bump was amazed to find that when he charted the data on the top dozen Republican attack themes during the Obama Administration that ACORN stood out so loud and proud, practically dominating in 2009 and 2010, but carrying over as a major target after attack into 2012. Of course it is no surprise that the Republicans have been obsessed with ACORN. Perhaps the surprise was how much it seems to have been part of their message, rather than simply a crazed obsession.

In a dramatic graphic, in 2009 and 2010 the number of times that ACORN was spewed from venomous mouths of Republican politicians sometimes reached 80% of the total message and rarely got below 60% of their sound bites. Congressman Steve King, Republican from Iowa, was the leading hatemonger by far. Note to self: send King’s office an ACORN flag to hang in their waiting room in DC.

The statistics indicate that the Republicans enjoyed Benghazi for a moment and the IRS, which in some ways was just the other side of the coin from ACORN, had a heartbeat for a while, but a careful look at the numbers Bump analyzed from the Sunlight Foundation seem to mainly establish that only Obamacare roused more fire from the Republicans that ACORN, and if not for the healthcare plan, alive or dead, the Republicans were ready to throw down at ACORN at a moment’s notice.

Why? Of course this corresponds with the Republican evangelical gospel that ACORN stole the election for Barack Obama in 2008 and was going to continue to steal all kinds of elections in 2012 and state by state, which is why there was a desperate need to restrict voting with voter IDs and justify all sorts of other malarkey.

Not crazy and not an obsession, but a strategy and a message, as it becomes clearer and clearer over time. Eight states passed restrictive voter measures and three of the eight are in the toss-up category now for control of the U.S. Senate by the Republicans including Georgia and North Carolina. A Tulane University professor, Justin Levitt, looked at all cases of people voting in someone else’s name in all elections in the USA since 2000 and out of a billion votes cast found 31 instances where someone with a fake ID voted for someone else, which is the only thing the voter ID bills can establish, other than intimidating and suppressing overall voting itself.

The Republican strategy was crystal clear. Target ACORN. Blame the organization for everything, and no matter how unsubstantiated the claims, keep people looking at the pea under the ACORN shell, while in a devious sleight of hand you change the voting rules to allow a minority party to win a couple of elections by reducing the pool of potential voters. Get enough haters and whacks like King, Darryl Issa, Michelle Bachmann, and Tea people troops to repeat the mantra of the message, and by the time people figure out the truth, if ever, ACORN is crippled, the voters have been snookered, and the Republicans have won a couple of more seats they needed.

Haters are gonna hate, and ACORN lives in peoples’ hearts and actions so will always rise, but between such cynicism on one hand and the effort to buy elections on the other, how does democracy survive?

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Please enjoy Burning Bridges by Lucinda Williams, thanks to Kabf.

Raising Retirement Age is the Poor Subsidizing the Rich!

New Orleans   Before complacency sets in and you pinch yourself and say, “Hey, I’m feeling ok, I can make it some more years, so if they cave in and let the Republicans raise the retirement age, maybe it’s no big deal,” you need to pinch yourself harder where you keep your wallet or pocketbook and remember that those extra years really may be a matter of little more than how much money you have.  A story recently by Michael Fletcher in the Washington Post brought the numbers all back home.

            All of the talk about how we’re living longer so we should shore up Social Security by stretching out the retirement age is based on a myopic view of class status.  Listen to this:

“’People who are shorter-lived tend to make less, which means that if you raise the retirement age, low-income populations would be subsidizing the lives of higher-income people.  Whenever I hear a policymaker say people are living longer as a justification for raising the retirement age, I immediately think they don’t understand the research or, worse, they are willfully ignoring what the data say.’”  Maya Rockeymoore, Global Policy Solutions.

The Social Security Administration in a fairly recent study Fletcher cited found that life expectancy for male workers had gone up 6 years in the top half of the income brackets but only up 1.3 years in the bottom half.   In the last 30 years as income inequity has accelerated the gap in life expectancy based on income, according to the Congressional Budget Office, has risen from 2.8 years to 4.5 years for the rich.

Eric Kingston of Syracuse University and co-chair of Social Security Works, which opposes reducing the old-age benefits, makes the great point that the income gap of life expectancy it “…would mean a benefit cut that falls heavily on people who generally are most reliant on Social Security for their retirement income.”  He added unnecessarily, “It is totally class-based.”  Amen!

In fact according to Health Affairs, Fletcher cites the fact that “in half of the nation’s counties, women younger than 75 are dying at rates higher than before.”  This is true particularly of lower income white women, and women in the rural South and West, where poorer women are getting worked too hard and hung up wet.

When the subject is Social Security, the pencil pushers working for the richer “haves” are literally killing us at the lead point of their budget discussions.  This is neither right, nor fair, to working people in America who should have the right to retire with the same dignity that they tried to live.

Governors United Against Low-and-Moderate Income Families: Sales vs. Income Taxes

New Orleans      This is all getting to be very scary.  At first you think, wow, how can this be happening here, and then you realize that you are not living through some kind of sick social experiment of reverse Robin Hoodism, but instead are just one test tube of a right wing Republican lab experiment going crazy.

Am I ranting?  What am I talking about?

Louisiana’s Governor Jindal over recent weeks dropped a bombshell on our poor, beleaguered state with a proposal to simply eliminate ALL of the state’s fairly modest income tax and substitute that lost revenue by jacking up the state sales tax.  In some communities like New Orleans (remember we are one of the poorest cities when measured by per capita income in the country!) where the sales tax is already at 9%, we could see a jump to 12% or higher, to reach record levels nationally.  Because the Republicans finally control pretty much all of the state apparatus (look at the wreck and ruin of our higher and lower educational systems!), this totally crazy, anti-poor, regressive (meaning that the burden is higher on lower income families than higher income families as a percentage of income) tax measure will not only get a serious and sober hearing, way past what it merits on its face, but actually could become law.

But, while I was scratching my head in disbelief and thinking we should have a pity-party down here along with the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras festivities, I was forgetting about the Koch Brothers and our friends at ALEC, who have brought us the anti-union, anti-immigrant nightmares sweeping many states around the country.  It hits you that, damn, we may not be alone, and the next thing you realize is that Kansas has already jumped ahead of us to move on this crazy sales for income tax plan, and, reportedly, Nebraska and other states are not far behind.

Republicans in fact are so heartened by these rearguard attacks on low-and-moderate income families that they are touting Jindal, Brownback, and others as the shining lights from the states pointing the way to their future.  Jindal while forcing these idiotic programs down our throats in Louisiana, is somehow being quoted favorably for saying that the Republicans can’t “be the stupid party,” even while he enacts these insane measures in Louisiana.  He is somehow getting credit for being a “moderate” voice for the national party, even while pursing aberrant, radical, and reactionary measures.

Living in the “red” states, we have a rough, rough road ahead of us!

GOP Voter Registration Mischief

New Orleans   To no one’s surprise the Republican’s in a full-on partisan voter registration effort run by the notorious Nathan Sproul have  been caught pretty much red-handed changing the party designation on voter registration forms for potential voters in Florida and several other states.  Sproul claims to have “registered 500,000 voters in 40 states” through various election cycles over the last almost 10 years, which, frankly, is really not that many registrations, even though Sproul has reportedly collected more than $8 million on the 2004 cycle and was into the Republican Party for $3 million on the 2012 cycle alone.

Sproul and his operations have been accused of registration problems in almost all of those cycles and in a number of states.  None of this is news.  This time the news was a big bigger, so his direct employer, the Republican Party, dropped him like a hot potato, claiming, according to the Times, that “it has no tolerance for voter registration fraud.”  What they really meant to say is that they had a lot of tolerance for Sproul and his methods as long as no one was looking, but once the light shined on him, they were glad to cut the payroll and throw him under the bus.  Hmmmm….

Sproul’s lawyer said he told the truth though, saying essentially that in a big operation there would always be “a few problems.”  Further, “inevitably, there have been accusations of ‘bad registrations,’ isolated instances that have been thoroughly investigated not only internally but by the appropriate legal authorities.”  The Times notes that Sproul’s operations depend on “low-paid seasonal workers who must be quickly trained in the legalities of voter registration.  In addition to $12 an hour, workers might be eligible for college internship credit….”  His lawyer added that “We have in place a background check system and stringent quality controls meant to prevent individuals from skirting the system.”

Sound familiar?  Of course all of those things were also said by ACORN four years ago when it was under withering, and unwarranted, fire from the Republicans and the rightwing, much of which continues to this day.  I can’t speak for Sproul, but in ACORN’s case I know there was screening.  I know there were “stringent quality controls” which included verification checks on the signatures.  And, of course as has been well documented, in almost all of the cases, ACORN actually alerted authorizes to possible bad registrations, since we, like Sproul, were required to turn in everything submitted, regardless of whether or not it survived the screening.  Possibly, Spoul’s operation was instructing workers to change party registrations, since they were a Republican contractor, rather than a nonpartisan operation, as ACORN was, but it is also possible that Sproul was victimized by some rouge workers as happened to ACORN in several instances.  As Sproul’s lawyers and spokepeople say, with thousands and thousands of workers, it is impossible to assure that there won’t  be some problems in even the best systems.

I’m not necessarily sympathetic to Sproul, but in the immortal works of Chris Rock, “I understand!”  What is really wrong is the whole voter registration system itself as has been constantly documented, most recently by the Pew Trusts, as expensive, dysfunctional, substandard, and either overtly or indirectly, fraught with errors.  We need a better way to register and allow citizens to freely vote if we are to continue to pretend to operate democratically in this country.  The current mess has frightened off too many large scale voter operations among progressive organizations who don’t want to be “ACORNed.”  Now we will see something of the same “throw the rock and hide the hand” from the Republicans.

In a passage of painful irony one complaint from Nevada indicates that a Sproul operative tried to forcibly change a party registration when the worker, “… talked about voter fraud and mentioned ACORN and illegals voting.”    As one voter registration operation to another, Sproul should have known better to have that be part of the rap, unless they were simply sending out invitations to a circular firing squad.

Voter registration is a deliberately imperfect system that embraces problems, because the major political parties both want to suppress the vote and make the act of citizenship harder for Americans.  If they didn’t, then it would have be changed years ago.  Simple as that.