The powerful grassroots backlash against Indiana’s anti-gay “religious freedom” law is yielding results and inspiring hope. Right-wing supporters of the law were seemingly caught unawares by a grassroots response that’s put them on the defensive.

On Monday, the Georgia House Judiciary Committee canceled a meeting to discuss a “religious freedom” bill similar to Indiana’s. The “Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act” passed the state’s Senate earlier this month. Like Indiana’s law, Georgia’s bill would give businesses and private individuals a legal defense for denying services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The bill would undoubtedly pass in Georgia’s state House, where Republicans hold a near 2-to–1 majority, if it ever comes up for a vote.

Perhaps the backlash against Indiana’s law gave Georgia Republicans second thoughts.

A social media campaign against the state launched under the hashtag #boycottindiana.
At the urging of the grassroots organization Freedom Indiana, the National College Athletics Association (NCAA) condemned the so-called “religious freedom” law, in a statement saying the law creates “concern” for future events in Indiana.
The Republican CEO of Angie’s List canceled plans to build the company’s headquarters in Indiana — plans that would have generated about $40 million in economic activity.
In a letter to Indiana’s Republican governor Mike Pence, the CEOs of nine different companies headquartered in Indiana expressed concern that the law would lead to discrimination against their employees.
Other major companies have condemned Indiana’s law, and similar laws in other states, including Walmart, Yelp, Salesforce, Eli Lily, The Gap, Levi Strauss, Twitter, and Anthem.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Apple CEO Tim Cook opposed the legislation on behalf of Apple.
● The Democratic governors of Connecticut and Washington state announced bans on state-funded travel to Indiana. The mayors of Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. announced similar bans.

The Indianapolis Star, Indiana's biggest newspaper, sends a message to Gov. Mike Pence.

Georgia is not alone. While Arkansas lawmakers moved forward with their own bill, North Carolina’s Republican governor Pat McCrory said he would not sign a “religious freedom” bill passed in his state. Montana’s “religious freedom” bill was narrowly defeated in the state House after Gov. Steve Bullock (D) noted the backlash against Indiana’s law, and said Montana didn’t need a similar measure.

(Update: Arkansas governor Asa Hutchison has refused to sign the bill that sits on his desk. He has called on the legislature to make changes before sending it back to him. Hutchison's decision marks a serious shift, as he had previously pledged to sign the bill.)

Finally, unable to ignore a grassroots backlash that’s quickly grown large enough to threaten his state’s economic future, Indiana governor Mike Pence held a press conference to call for a legislative “fix” for a law he spent the last week saying wasn’t broken.

The GOP’s “Indiana Problem”

This week Mike Pence came to embody what might henceforth be known as the GOP’s “Indiana problem.” Once a symbol of the GOP’s “deep bench” and one of its top presidential contenders for 2016, Pence’s conservative credentials — and the religious right’s continued influence over the GOP — demanded that he defend Indiana’s anti-gay “religious freedom” law. Likewise, GOP presidential hopefuls rushed to defend Indiana’s law, seeking to motivate Christian conservatives to back them in the primaries.

The problem is that Republicans have to be either dishonest or deluded to back “religious freedom” laws, only to end up tripping over the truth or running headlong into reality. Pence signed the “religious freedom” bill into law in a ceremony that was closed to the press and the public. Pence later tweeted a photograph from the signing, but refused to name the lobbyists who attended.

That’s probably because, though he claimed the law was not about anti-LGBT discrimination, Pence was flanked by some of Indiana’s most prominent anti-gay activists when he signed it.

Those same anti-gay activists oppose any attempt to “clarify” that Indiana’s law does not legalize discrimination. Conservatives are already blasting Pence for “caving” by calling for such clarifications, because they know that it could potentially destroy the bill by exposing one dishonest defense of it. Pence and other supporters falsely claim that the law simply mirrors the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and those in other states, while ignoring some important differences that are so obvious even a Fox News anchor can spot them.

Meanwhile, spending so much time and energy passing and defending such laws creates problems for Republicans, now and in the future. Indianapolis’ Republican mayor Greg Ballard just signed an executive order reaffirming that groups doing business with the city must abide by its human rights ordinance, which prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination. Backers of the religious freedom law are “missing the bigger trend,” Ballard says.

Ballard has a point. A 2014 Pew Research survey shows that Americans are almost evenly split on whether businesses should be able to deny service to LGBT people on the basis of “religious freedom”; with 47 percent saying businesses should be allowed to refuse services, and 49 percent saying businesses should be required to provide services.

However, a closer look reveals the “bigger trend.” Among Americans ages 30 to 49, 50 percent believe that “religious freedom” shouldn’t be a license to discriminate, compared to 46 percent who believe otherwise. Among Americans ages 13 to 29, 62 percent oppose such discrimination. A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that 80 percent of millennials believe that LGBT Americans deserve to have laws protecting them against discrimination.

It wasn't always like this. Of all the old "culture war" battles, LGBT equality is the one where progressive activists have "flipped the script." Opposition to equality is the new "third rail," and politicians who touch it are in for a shock. That happened, in large part, because LGBT activists and allies organized against such laws, and humanized the issue so that people increasingly see these laws as a direct attack on their family, friends, neighbors and co-workers.

It happened relatively fast, too. As recently as 2008, then congressman Mike Pence pointed to the success of anti-marriage equality ballot initiatives as a sign of the strength of American conservatism. Just four years later, marriage equality won and anti-gay conservatives lost in every state where marriage equality was on the ballot.

There are other issues — among them immigration, Social Security, unemployment, workers' rights — on which politicians feel they can act against human decency and fairness without consequence, and conservatives work hard to dehumanize the poor and vulnerable. The lesson here for Democrats is to humanize these issues, and wear down conservative efforts to turn such people as low-income Americans, public workers and undocumented residents into "those people," until a majority of Americans see "those people" as their family, friends and neighbors — and reject conservative policies that harm them.

In 2016 and beyond, Republicans will find it hard to strike a balance between “religious freedom” and discrimination. They will find it even harder to choose between either “caving” and alienating their base, or alienating the growing majority of voters and facing a grassroots onslaught.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R, Alabama) recently accused Democrats of waging a “war on whites.” In Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown — an unarmed, 18-year-old, young black man —  was shot and killed by a police officer, there is no question against whom war is being waged.

If there is a “war” on, whites are winning.

  • Whites earn more. In 2012, the median income for white households was $67,000, compared to about $40,000 for blacks and Latinos.
  • Whites have more wealth. Median net worth for white households is more than $90,000 — ten times that of black and Latino households. The racial wealth gap has grown steadily, nearly tripling between 1984 and 2009. By 2010, whites held about 88 percent of the nation’s wealth. Blacks held just 2.7 percent.
  • Whites fared better in the recession. White household wealth fell 11 percent, between 2007 and 2009, compared to a 31 percent drop for blacks, and a 44 percent drop for Latinos. White household wealth dropped 16 percent in 2011, compared to a 53 percent drop for blacks.
  • More whites are homeowners. Whites are more likely to own homes and live in better neighborhoods. A Brown University study found that affluent blacks and Latinos live in poorer neighborhoods than working-class whites.
  • Whites are less poor.  According to census data, the white poverty rate is 11.6 percent, compared to 26 percent for blacks, and 23 percent for Latinos.
  • Whites have lower unemployment. Whites are about half as likely to be unemployed as blacks, while blacks are “first fired” when business or the economy is weak.
  • Whites are more likely to go to college. Whites are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college than blacks or Latinos. Meanwhile, 74 percent of blacks, and 80 percent of Latinos attend segregated schools; 38 percent of blacks and 43 percent of Latinos attend “intensely segregated” schools — with just up to 10 percent white students. A 10 percent increase of non-white students in any school is associated with a $75 decrease in per student spending.
  • Whites are less likely to go to jail. Black men are seven times more likely to go to jail than white men. Whites use drugs more, but blacks are arrested for drug possession three times more often than whites. Black men also receive prison sentences 19.5 percent longer than white men, for similar crimes.
  • Whites experience less discrimination. Only about 10 percent of whites surveyed said they’d faced racial discrimination. Young white men with criminal records are more likely to be hired than young black men with similar qualifications and clean records. Black job applicants are often turned away by companies for having a “black- sounding name,” or on the assumption that they use drugs.

What white Americans have lost is primacy — a sense of being primary, preeminent, or more important than any other group. In a 2011 interview, anti-racist author Tim Wise said that white Americans are reeling from cultural and economic changes. Taught that they would be rewarded if they worked hard, many are now working harder for less, or finding themselves in the unemployment line with blacks and Latinos.

Economic insecurity is compounded by demographic trends. As the country becomes more diverse, more of its icons — political leaders, celebrities, and sports heroes — are people of color. For whites, America’s face is no longer a reflection of theirs. They no longer define the American identity.

Republicans have appealed to the economic and racial anxieties of their predominately white base to win elections. The recession made that even easier. A recent New York University study shows that economic disparity “enhances discrimination and contributes to racial disparities,” as  it makes people more racially biased.

Ferguson’s 94 percent white police department resembled an occupying force, as it confronted a 67 percent black community with weapons of war. The paramilitary gear came from the Department of Defense’s excess property program, which provides surplus military equipment to law enforcement agencies. Since 1992, the program has given $4.3 billion in military equipment — $450 million in 2013 alone — “free of charge,” to law enforcement agencies that say they’re part of a “High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area,” on a one-age form. The “free” surplus gear is paid for out of a bloated defense budget, funded by taxpayers.

Angela Blackwell Glover has suggested that the businesses partnering with President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, should open their workforces to young black men, with internship and fellowship opportunities that open up career paths, and lead to jog opportunities. Unemployment among black men ages 16 to 19 is over 33 percent, compared to 18.9 percent among white youth.

Glover’s point underscores that our government has neglected to invest in jobs and education in communities of color. Young blacks and Latinos will play an important role in our economic future. Yet most contend with segregated, poorly funded schools, while America spends $4.3 billion on “surplus” paramilitary gear, and then gives it away. If we had invested even a fraction of that $4.3 billion in education, job training, etc., how great a difference might it have made by now?

Instead, police officers suit up for war, disproportionately treat black citizens as the enemy. Last year in Ferguson, 92 percent of searches, 80 percent of car stops, and 94 percent of arrests following car stops were of blacks; even though police only found contraband on 22 percent of blacks they stopped, compared to 34 percent of whites. Confronted with the same police force in riot gear, black protestors erupted in anger, and Ferguson’s police put their share of $4.3 billion in paramilitary gear to use.

No wonder Rep. John Lewis (D, Georgia), who has seen racist police violence up close, compared the violence in Ferguson to the violence he and others faced during the Civil Rights era. The same fears, anxieties, and resentments that drove violence generations ago are still with us today. The evidence is in our streets.

On Saturday morning, 500,000 Toledo, Ohio, residents woke to an urgent warning that their tap water could make them very, very sick. Toledo’s water crisis is over, for now, but the “perfect storm” that created it rages on.

Mayor D. Michael Collins lifted the tap water ban on Monday, but that doesn’t mean Toledo residents — or the other 11 million Americans who get their drinking water from Lake Erie, or the 25 million who live near the Great Lakes — can rest easy. The factors that caused the crisis remain unaddressed.

Why couldn’t Toledo residents trust their tap water? The culprit is a toxin called microcystin, released by cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae.

Microcystin is pretty nasty stuff.

  • It causes stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, severe headaches, and fever if ingested.
  • It can cause severe liver damage.
  • It causes rashes, hives, and blisters on the skin.
  • It’s been known to kill dogs and other animals.

Boiling water doesn’t kill microcystin. It just concentrates the toxin.

Blue-green algae has been around for 3.5 billion years. Why is it suddenly a problem? Actually, there’s nothing sudden about it. Toxic blue-green algae has been a growing problem for 10 years. The algal bloom troubling Toledo isn’t even very big. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released satellite images of algae blooms on Lake Erie that have stretched all the way from Toledo to Cleveland, and beyond.

Pollution, conservatism, corporate lobbying and climate change created a “perfect storm” for the algae that poisoned Toledo’s water.

Pollution: Like the classic horror movie mutants of the 1970s, the big green monster that poisoned Toledo’s water is a product of pollution. Scientists blame an overload of phosphorus, caused by runoff from agricultural pollution.

Farming operations have grown, along with the use of manure and new chemical fertilizers containing water-soluble phosphorus. A rise in no-till farming leaves more fertilizer on top of untilled soil, where it can easily run off into Lake Erie and other Great Lakes.

About 63 percent of Erie’s watershed is used for agriculture. An Ohio state government task force found that Erie received more phosphorus than any of the Great Lakes — 44 percent of the total for all the Great Lakes. Two-thirds of that phosphorus came from farmland.

Conservatism: In the 1960s, Lake Erie was so polluted with industrial waste and sewage runoff that it was considered “dead.” Local officials were embarrassed into cleaning up their act, Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, and by the late 1990s Lake Erie showed signs of returning to health.

Current problems underscore the Clean Water Act’s limitations. The Act was designed to regulate pollution from fixed points, like industrial outflows and sewer pipes. Today’s agricultural pollution is spread out over thousands of miles. Addressing the agricultural pollution the Clean Water Act doesn’t cover has fallen to the states.

On the federal level, conservatives have limited the government’s ability to regulate agricultural pollution. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 conservative-liberal split with Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the conservative bloc, questioned the scope of the Clean Water Act. In a 2006 ruling, the Court limited regulators’ ability to protect wetlands — which filter out phosphorus before it reaches lakes — and other waterways not directly connected to streams covered by the Act. Since then, Republicans in Congress have blocked an effort to expand the Clean Water Act’s authority, claiming it infringes on private property rights and threatens farmers.

Republican-led state and local governments have done little or nothing to regulate agricultural pollution. Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed legislation to certify farmers who use phosphorus fertilizers. The voluntary program doesn’t start until 2017, and stops far short of mandating restrictions on phosphorus fertilizers.

Corporate Lobbying: Corporate money is now an invasive species in our politics. Agriculture and fertilizer are big businesses, involving big profits. Some those profits are spent on lobbying against federal legislation and on campaign contributions to lawmakers who can be counted on to oppose federal regulate of the industry. Monsanto, one of the largest fertilizer manufacturers, has spent $6,940,000 in this election cycle on lobbying, and $542,218 on contributions. Koch Industries, which includes Koch Fertilizer, has spent $10,430,000 on lobbying, and $2,217,643 in campaign contributions.

Monsanto is a major client of the Fertilizer Institute, the lobbying arm of the fertilizer industry and agricultural interests that oppose efforts to restore some of the Clean Water Act’s authority. The industry has also fought against limits on fertilizers on the state level, including lawn fertilizers in Florida and overall pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. In Missouri, the agriculture and fertilizer lobby is advocating a “right to farm” initiative that serve as a legal tool for states to block new regulations.

Climate Change: Conservatives often say it doesn’t exist, but climate change is an important factor. Longer, hotter summers combine with phosphorus levels to create ideal conditions for algae growth. Increased water temperatures cause more blooms to grow and help them last longer.

Climate change is predicted to increase rainfall. The Midwest has seen a 37 percent increase in rainfall since the 1950s. Heavy rainfall is expected to increase along Lake Erie’s shores in the next century, becoming four to five times more common by 2100. That means more phosphorus pouring into the lake.

The storms stir up the water, bringing more algae to the surface, and moving it around. The bloom that troubled Toledo wasn’t one of the biggest, but winds and waves pushed it closer to shore and right into water system intakes, instead of pushing it to the middle of the lake.

Invasive Species: This is good news for zebra and quagga mussels, two invasive species that were introduced into North America in the late 1980s, when they were picked up in the ballast water of ocean-going ships and introduced into the Great Lakes. They’ve spread to 29 states by hitching rides on riverboats moving between the Great Lakes.

Both zebra and quagga mussels dine on algae, but neither can digest microcystin. So they expel the toxin, thus increasing its concentration.

Toxic tap water will continue to plague Toledo and other cities until we revive the kind of clean water rules that brought Lake Erie back from the brink before. In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency joined state water authorities in issuing “An Urgent Call To Action,” to reduce phosphorus levels in Lake Erie. So far little action has been taken.

At the Monday press conference announcing the end of Toledo’s tap water ban, Mayor Collins drank a glass of tap water to emphasize its safety. It made for nice optics, but until our elected official place a higher priority on public health and safety than satisfying corporate donors, we Americans can’t even trust the tap water in our own homes.

Sixty bodies lie in a heap on the floor of a morgue that receives the corpses of children under 10 and as young as 2. It's the body count for just one day, in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. How can we in good conscience send children back there?

We just did. The first planeload of mothers and children has returned to San Pedro Sula — the most violent city in the world, in the most violent country in the world. The murder rate in Honduras is the highest of any country in the world, at 90.4 per 100,000 people. In San Pedro Sula, the murder rate is 169 per 100,000 people – nine times the murder rate of Chicago. Every day, more children are among the dead.

Gangs now rule 40 percent of Honduras. Where they are in control, gangs extort "war taxes" from families and businesses. Residents must either pay, get out, or be killed. In many neighborhoods, businesses close and whole blocks stand deserted.

No one calls the police or government officials for help. The corrupt police force is itself accused of conducting death squads and carrying out political kidnappings. Honduran gangs buy off police, bribe public officials, and rule with impunity. The gangs are the law.

Children are extremely vulnerable. Gangs pressure them into service as drug mules or even assassins. Sexual violence is common. Gangs have kidnapped and raped both boys and girls.

The gangs give boys an ultimatum: Join or die. When 13-year-old Anthony O. Castellanos disappeared from his neighborhood on the eastern edge of San Pedro Sula, his 7-year-old brother Kenneth jumped on his bike to search for him. Kenneth's first stop was a gang hangout called the "crazy house."

Their bodies were found within days of each other. Kenneth was tortured and beaten with sticks and rocks. Anthony and a friend were shot in the head. They were among seven children murdered in the neighborhood, in just one month. The family told police that Anthony was a lookout for the local gang, but had decided to quit. The order to kill him came from a Honduran prison.

Honduras, home to 28 percent of unaccompanied minors, is an example of how U.S. policy in Central America created the humanitarian crisis on our doorstep. The story is much the same in Guatemala (home to 24 percent) and El Salvador (home to 21 percent).

Intervention. American intervention in Honduras goes back to the beginning of the 20th century, when U.S.-owned fruit companies received substantial land and exemptions to develop parts of the country. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration used Honduras as the base for U.S. operations to undermine the democratically elected, leftist governments in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

In 2009, the U.S. government supported a coup that ousted left-leaning Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. Zelaya's government increased the minimum wage by 80 percent, reduced poverty by 10 percent through direct government assistance, and provided free electricity to the poorest Hondurans.

In the ensuing constitutional crisis, a repressive regime was installed. Honduras became another "shock doctrine" test case. Given free rein, Honduran elites privatized electrical and water systems, privatized schools, and proposed establishing privately owned "model cities" governed by separate laws designed to "encourage investment."

Trade Deals. What the North American Free Trade Agreement did to Mexico, the Central American Free Trade Act (CAFTA) did to Central America — reduced trade barriers, forced small- and medium-sized farmers to compete with heavily subsidized U.S. agribusiness, and enabled corporations to drive down wages and environmental standards.

Today, 64 percent of Hondurans live below the poverty line; 30 percent live on less than $2 per day, and 54 percent on less than $1.25 per day. Children bear the brunt of extreme poverty. A 2012 U.S. Department of Labor report found that children in Honduras "are engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including in hazardous activities in agriculture and commercial sexual exploitation."

War on Drugs. Twenty years of America's "war on drug" drove cartels out of the Caribbean and Mexico and into Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. That completed a "perfect storm" in countries where U.S. government policies had destabilized governments and disrupted economies.

The drug trade finances the gangs and fuels most of the violence that causes families to send their children away, and some children to even leave on their own, for the sake of their own survival.

What would you do if a child from your neighborhood, fleeing from a home where they are regularly abused and unlikely to survive if they return, knocked on your door right now? What if you bore some responsibility for the conditions that drove them from home and to your door? Would you send them back?

This is not an immigration crisis. It is a refugee crisis – and a crisis of conscience. It is not "humanitarian" to send children back to horrific conditions our own government had a hand in creating. It is not compassionate or moral to send children back to unremitting suffering — many to certain death. America cannot simply send these children back and leave them to their fates, and still be the country we so loudly and proudly claim to be.

 

Obamacare didn’t come with ”death panels," like conservatives claimed it would. So, Republican governors and state legislatures formed their own. Until the death of Charlene Dill, the victims of those death panels were invisible.

Conservatives constantly say that poor people are lazy. That hardly applied to Charlene Dill, a 32-year-old mother of three in Orlando, Florida. Dill worked at three different jobs  to support herself and her children, and pay for a divorce from her estranged husband.

The working poor are a lot like Charlene Dill. They work in low-wage jobs that don’t pay livable wages. Worse, they’re punished for working, because they become ineligible for state assistance programs. Charlene Dill earned about $11,000 a year from her three jobs. It doesn't sound like much, but it was actually too much.

Dill's earnings were well below the federal poverty rate — $23,850 per year for a family of four. But state governments administer Medicaid and set their own eligibility requirements. Dill earned too much to qualify for Florida's Medicaid program, which puts an income cap on eligibility. Dill needed to earn less than $4,535 per year to qualify.

Like millions of Americans before health care reform, Charlene Dill was trapped in the “Red State Donut Hole.”  She earned too much to qualify for Medicaid, and to little afford private insurance.  So, she lived and worked every day with untreated pulmonary stenosis, because she didn't have health insurance.

The Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, but opened the door for states to reject the law’s expansion of Medicaid. In a show of political opportunism and depraved indifference towards the poor, Republican governors and legislatures in 19 states opted out of the Medicaid expansion.

The majority of Floridians want the Medicaid expansion. But Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida legislature rejected $51 billion from the federal government to give health insurance to 750,000 low-income Floridians, including Charlene Dill. Republicans claim the federal government won't come through with the money, and Florida can't afford the expansion on its own. But the federal government would pay all the costs of Florida's expansion until 2020 and 90 percent afterwards.

The states that rejected the Medicaid expansion have the most to gain from it. Some 8.5 million Americans in these states would be eligible for coverage under the expansion. For these Americans, it could be a matter of life and death. A recent study published n the Journal of American Medicine, showed that adults in these states have more health problems. Some — like high blood pressure, heart problems, cancer, stroke and emphysema — can be fatal if untreated.

Are Republicans literally killing their constituents by refusing to expand Medicaid? No, but they’re letting them die.  It’s a stretch to say that Charlene Dill died because Florida Republicans rejected the Medicaid expansion. Dill died because of an untreated heart condition. Even if Florida had expanded its Medicaid program, she might still have died. But access to health care, treatment, and medications would have given her a fighting chance.

Expanding Medicaid saves lives. A 2012 Harvard University study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that when states expanded their Medicaid programs, giving more poor people health insurance, fewer people died. Now, a new study from Harvard researchers, published in Health Affairs estimates that 7,115 to 17,104 people will die needlessly in states where conservatives lawmakers have rejected the Medicaid expansion.

So why are conservatives so willing to just let people like Charlene Dill die?

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) said, “One rationale is sadism. Some people actually enjoy the fact that people are denied the care they need to stay healthy and alive.” Grayson’s next statement sounds closer to the truth. “I suppose,” Grayson added, “their ideology instructs them that if you can’t afford health insurance you should’t get it.”

Ever since the “Let Him Die” moment at the 2011 Republican presidential debate in Florida, it’s been clear that element of the right does fit Grayson’s description. But what I’ve read from conservatives addressing Dill’s death, the tone isn’t so much sadistic glee as moral concern. Their questions either suggest that “she would have died anyway” or frame it as her own fault.

Perhaps it’s not quite sadism. Frances Ryan, writing in The Guardian about attitudes towards the disabled in Britain, describes “a culture of suspicion and cruelty” that “doesn’t see health problems or people but an underclass, feral and lazy.”

“Poverty is different now,” Ryan writes. “It's been rebranded as personal failure.”

In the conservative worldview defined by George Lakoff in Moral Politics, material wealth indicates moral strength, and lack thereof indicates moral weakness. Poverty equals poor character. That worldview puts Charlene Dill’s death in the context of her poverty, and expands upon Ryan’s and Grayson’s statements.

Tyler Cohen spelled out one of the principles of conservative health care reform when he wrote: “We need to accept the principle that sometimes poor people will die just because they are poor.”

Republican policy reflects a belief that wealth indicates moral virtue while poverty indicates moral weakness. The former must be rewarded while the latter must be punished — or at least not encouraged with government programs to alleviate poverty and its effects.

Conservatives are willing to let poor and struggling people like Charlene Dill die because they believe poverty itself is a moral failure. Thus saving the Charlene Dills of the world is immoral.

The Republican 2016 presidential primary season opened with the “Sheldon Adelson Primary.” The eight wealthiest person in the country, worth an estimated $40 billion, doesn't have to wait for the official GOP primary season to start. He holds his own primary.

Republicans even called it "the Sheldon Primary." Adelson granted audience to GOP presidential hopefuls at the spring meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, in Las Vegas. Over the course of four days of Scotch tastings, golf, poker tournaments, and private meetings, the 80-year-old casino mogul examined the GOP's most likely 2016 presidential candidates.


  by  DonkeyHotey 

Adelson single-handedly kept Newt Gingrich in the 2012 presidential race, with nearly $16 million in campaign contributions, some of which financed Gingrich's infamous documentary, "When Mitt Romney Came To Town." When Gingrich ran out of hot air, Adelson poured more than $30 million into Romney's campaign. Whoever wins Adelson's support will have his billions behind them in 2016.

Spending $93 million on losing candidates in 2012 hasn't made Adelson gun-shy about 2016. Adelson is placing his bets more carefully. "He doesn't want some crazy extremist to be the nominee," Adelson friend and GOP donor Victor Chaltiel says. "He wants someone who has the chance to win the election, who is reasonable in his positions, but not totally crazy." (Adelson has advocated using nuclear weapons against Iran. So, "crazy" is relative.)

The "Billionaire's Primary" is a return to what Paul Krugman calls "patrimonial capitalism," where a wealthy few control the "commanding heights of the economy, and use their wealth to influence politics. Thanks to the biggest wealth transfer in U.S. history, the rich are richer than ever. And, thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision, there's no limit on what they can spend.

The new billionaire political bosses aren't limiting themselves to national politics. Charles and David Koch made the top 10 in Forbes magazine's list of the wealthiest people on the planet. According to a George Washington University Battleground poll, most Americans have never heard of the Koch brothers, but the Koch's wealth is "trickling down" into local politics.


  by  DonkeyHotey 

Along with spending tens of millions of dollars on 2014 Senate races, the Washington Post reports that the Kochs are funneling money into "hyperlocal" races, through their Americans For Prosperity organization. The Wisconsin chapter is engaged in an Iron County board election, challenging incumbents as "anti-mining" radicals, and distributing 1,000 flyers in a county with just 5,000 voting age residents. AFP is also involved in a local race in Iowa, and property tax fights in Kansas, Ohio, and Texas.

What are the Kochs up to? David Koch says, "Somebody has got to work to save the country and preserve a system of opportunity." But the New York Times is more specific: "The idea is to embed staff members in a community, giving conservative advocacy a permanent local voice through field workers who live in the neighborhood year-round and appreciate the nuances of local issues."

This is nothing new. It's a time-honored strategy, rooted in the notion that, "all politics is local." It worked well for Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition in the 80s and 90s. Now billionaires are using this strategy, but to what ends, and what are the implications for American politics?

Right-wing billionaires are building their own political machines, to promote their personal interests and preserve their profits. The Koch brothers have poured millions in to campaigns against Obamacare and climate science, as part of a broader campaign against government regulation — which they perceive as a threat to their fossil fuel investments and personal fortunes.

Adelson will do "whatever it takes" to stop internet gambling, to protect the profit margins of his casinos. He's hired former Democratic senator Blanche Lincoln's government consulting firm to lobby for his Vegas corporation. Though not a long-time supporter, Adelson has given Sen. Lindsey Graham (R, SC) $15,600 in campaign contributions. Graham reportedly preparing a bill to ban internet gambling.

Adelson and the Kochs show how the wealthy can use their wealth — in a post-Citizens United political landscape — to impact races and shape policy. Their fire-hoses of money can easily drown out other messages, and narrow the field of candidates for office. The cost of running for office increasingly requires candidates have personal wealth, or wealthy patrons. Those who have neither almost need not apply, even at the state and local level.

Wealthy patrons like Adelson and the Kochs don't invest without expecting an eventual return. They're likely to get what they pay for. A joint Yale and U.C. Berkeley study is evidence that money  does buy access. The study showed that campaign donors are more likely than constituents to get meetings with lawmakers — as a result of, or in hopes of getting campaign contributions. Meeting with constituents may secure votes, but meeting with donors or potential donors can secure enough money for re-election campaigns. (So much for Justice Anthony Kennedy's argument that huge campaign contributions "do not lead to, or create the appearance of, quid pro quo corruption.")

Billionaire political bosses like Adelson and the Kochs are America's new oligarchs. Political parties may at least be influenced by public opinion, but American oligarchs act in their self-interest without concern for public sentiment. They are accountable to no one, and the lawmakers on their payrolls are more accountable to their billionaire political bosses than to the rest of the American electorate.

Wendell Potter writes, in a series of posts about the poor state of dental coverage, that millions of Americans — 36 percent, according to a 2013 survey —put off visiting the dentist because of the cost of dental care. Last year, I became one of them. In pain, and in need of emergency dental care, I was shocked to find out how little my dental insurance covered.

At the age of six, I was physically assaulted by my dentist. The experience left me with dental PTSD that made my childhood dental visits terrifying. As an adult, my dental visits became rare, were usually emergencies, and required Valium.

Last fall, a toothache drove me back  to the dentist’s office. I was able to get the care I needed, but my fear of being in the dentist’s chair again was nearly matched by anxiety over at how much it would cost, and anxiety over how I would pay for it.

I was fortunate.

I wasn’t one of many Americans who end up seeking dental care in the emergency room — at 10 times the cost of preventive care. The ADA Health Policy Resources Center puts the number of dental-related ER visits in 2010 at 2.1 million, and the cost to the health system between $867 million and $2.1 billion.

I wasn’t one of nearly 50 million Americans who live in areas with too few dentists or none at all. Potter describeswitnessing thousands of people waiting in the rain for hours to get medical care in barns and animal stalls on a Virginia fairground, during a three-day Remote Area Medical health care expedition. Most were there to see a dentist, not a doctor. Some drove from as far away as Florida and Wisconsin for dental care they couldn’t find or afford back home.

I found a dentist near my office in downtown Washington, who could see me right away. She took an x-ray, and told me that I needed an emergency root canal, set up an appointment with an endodontist, and gave me a referral. I would also need to return for tooth restoration and a dental crown.

I wasn’t one of the estimated 130 million Americans without dental insurance. I had dental coverage — albeit rarely used — through my employer. Otherwise, I might have ended up in an emergency room, in far worse pain, with my health in even greater danger.

I was, however, one of many Americans who didn’t know how much some dental procedures cost. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, the cost of dental care has risen faster than the cost of medical care overall. Between 2008 and 2012, only hospital and adult day care costs rose faster, but annual spending caps on dental coverage remain stuck at their original Watergate-era levels, between  $1,000 and $2,000.

I was also one of many Americans who didn’t know how little dental insurance covered. The dentist’s office staff assured me I had “very good” dental insurance. Yet, the cost of a root canal, restoration, and dental crown was close to the $1,500 annual spending cap on my coverage.

I got more bad news when I returned to the dentist for restoration and a temporary crown. She did a thorough set of x-rays, and said that I needed another root canal. Unbeknownst to me, a tooth had cracked as a result of bruxism, and decay had set in.

My dental insurance covered two root canals per year, but the cost of just one — and the necessary reconstruction and crown — was within a few hundred dollars of the annual cap on my dental insurance. It would not cover the second root canal, restoration, and crown.

There is really no such thing as true dental insurance. With traditional health insurance, you actually get more back than you paid in premiums, when you have serious medical problems. It’s not so with dental insurance.

You’ve probably paid more in dental insurance premiums than you’ll get back if you ever need serious dental work. Your annual coverage will run out long before your need for dental care. You’ll have to make up the difference out of your own pocket. If you don’t have, and can’t borrow the money — or find a better price — you go without dental care or put it off for as long as you can.

That’s what I did. After my second root canal, I didn’t make another appointment. I knew I’d have better dental coverage starting in January, when I would finally be covered by my husband’s insurance. Before the Court struck down DOMA, I’d have incurred thousands of dollars in taxes if I’d used the family plan that covered my husband and our kids, because it would’ve been considered a “gift.”

I have a new dentist now. He knows all about my childhood experience, and works to make sure my visits are as free of pain and anxiety as possible. The two permanent crowns are done. I’m due back this week for a cleaning and checkup, and plan to do so every six months from now on. I hope the regular visits, and my own dental  hygiene regimen, will reduce my chances of having another dental crisis.

Like I said, I’m fortunate. Childhood trauma caused me to neglect my dental care, but I was able to get the care I needed — eventually. There are millions of Americans who can’t, through no fault of their own.

This week marks the four-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, which only mandates dental coverage for nearly 5.3 children eligible for other federal programs, but not adults. Perhaps, as a commenter on the first post in Potter’s series suggests, it’s time for an “Affordable Dental Care Act.”

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has become the latest right-winger to blame black poverty on “culture” and character. Just as he got it backwards on families and poverty, Paul Ryan gets it twisted on poverty and black men. Ryan went on William Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio show to promote his recent “survey” of anti-poverty programs, and to preview his legislative agenda to cutting funding and case loads for anti-poverty programs. Ryan cited the work of Charles Murray, a conservative social scientist and co-author of The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, who believes genetic differences make African-Americans less intelligent than whites and that, “a lot of poor people are born lazy.” Ryan then launched into a dog-whistle politics take on poverty, using coded language about “inner-city culture” to blame poverty on lazy, immoral black people, without coming right out and saying so.

“We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working, just generations of men not even thinking of working, or learning the value and the culture of work,” said Ryan. “So there’s a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”

Ryan later backpedaled on his remarks, telling Crew of 42’s Lauren Victoria Burke, “This has nothing to do whatsoever with race,” and that his words were “taken out of context.” But Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) called Ryan out. “Let’s be clear,” Lee said in when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’” Ryan has reached for his dog whistle before; once when he told a reporter that the solution to America’s “crime problem” was to go into inner cities and “teach people good discipline, good character,” and again when he complained that “urban voters” gave Obama the 2012 election. Rep. Lee hit the nail on the head. Paul Ryan’s attempt to wriggle off the hook drives it home. Ryan’s remarks on “inner-city” men has a ring of the other shoe dropping. The first dropped when Ryan released his survey of the war on poverty. In the introduction, Ryan writes that, “the single most important determinant of poverty is family structure,” and cites Daniel Moynihan’s 1965 report identifying “the breakdown of the family” as the primary cause of poverty in the black community. So it’s no surprise that Ryan has returned to the subject of black poverty. Paul Ryan is indeed talking about blacks. In his remarks to Burke, Ryan went on to say:

“This isn’t a race based comment it’s a breakdown of families, it’s rural poverty in rural areas, and talking about where poverty exists — there are no jobs and we have a breakdown of the family. This has nothing to do with race.”

When Ryan addresses poverty in rural areas, where the faces of poverty are mostly white, the problem is not that people won’t work, but that “there are no jobs.” When it comes to the “inner city” poor, it’s a different story. Recent statistics pull Ryan up short. A 2006 poll by the Washington Post, the Kaiser Foundation, and Harvard University showed that “Black men report the same ambitions as most Americans — for career success, a loving marriage, children, respect."

  • Black men want to work. Three in four men in the Washington Post/Kaiser/Harvard survey said they value being successful in a career. More than white men or black women.
  • Black men value marriage and family. More than half in the Washington Post/Kaiser/Harvard poll said they placed a high value on marriage.
  • Black men believe in the American Dream. Nine in ten in the Washington Post/Kaiser/Harvard study would tell their sons they can become anything they want to in life.

Contrary to what Ryan and a host of other right-wing pundits believe, black “inner city” men want to work. But the reality is that there are no jobs. The 30-year slow bleed of manufacturing jobs out of American cities and out of the country hit black men the hardest, because black men were over-represented in those jobs. In many cases, those were the best jobs — and the only good jobs — black men could get. Good wages and benefits, fought for and won by labor unions, meant that men without a college education — men like my father — could lift their families from sharecropping to middle-class status in one generation, and give their children opportunities they only dreamed of. Now, good jobs with livable wages have been replaced by low-wage jobs with no “dignity of work,” and no hope of affording even basic necessities, let alone a chance at a better life. As I wrote last week, the “breakdown”of the family is not the cause of poverty. It’s a symptom. Paul Ryan can spare black men his lectures on character and the “dignity of work.” Bring good jobs, with food benefits and liable wages back home, and we’ll take care of the rest.

Paul Ryan says that "the left" is offering Americans "a full stomach and an empty soul." The truth is that conservatives like Paul Ryan are offering Americans empty stomachs and empty rhetoric . The American people want more than that. Near the end of his Thursday morning speech at CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference), Paul Ryan told a story about a boy who didn’t want his free school lunch.

The story wasn’t true. Eloise Anderson, an aide to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, did tell Ryan the story at a congressional hearing last summer, but she never met or spoke to any little boy who told her he didn't want his free school lunch.

The story was purloined from a book titled “An Invisible Thread.” The book is about a friendship between Laura Schroff and Maurice Mazyck. They met in New York in 1986, when she was an ad executive and he was an 11-year-old panhandler.

The "brown bag" conversation did happen, but had nothing to do with school lunch programs. Ironically, Schroff and Mazyck are now partnering with No Kid Hungry, an organization dedicated to ending child hunger in the U.S., in part by connecting low-income students with federal programs like school lunches.

It’s never a good idea to take anything that an aide to Scott Walker says as gospel. But Paul Ryan can’t even manage a decent copy-and-paste job on the economic data that he misused and misrepresented to support his screed against anti-poverty programs. He can hardly be expected to fact-check such a good-sounding story.

Ryan’s story isn’t real, but the stigma attached to subsidized school lunches is. Lunchtime can be the most socially stressful part of the school day, for any student. Invisible, ever-shifting social boundaries crisscross school cafeterias. So much is riding on where students sit, or even whether they have friends to sit with.

Students who get subsidized lunches have much more to deal with. Lunchroom practices sometimes reveal students low-income status to their peers. Some schools have separate lines for students receiving subsidized lunches, and students who buy theirs. Others have an “a la carte” line, where students with cash can buy items not available in the subsidized lunch line.

It gets worse.

No wonder some students choose to go without lunch, and not face the stigma.

School districts are finding ways to relieve that stigma.

  • New York schools have held regular promotions, inviting professional athletes to eat subsidized lunches in their jerseys.
  • Other schools have integrated lunch lines, and implemented cashless systems, so that all students go through the same line, and those receiving free lunches are less easily identified.
  • Boston public schools serve free school lunches to all students, even if their families are able to pay, as part of an experimental federal initiative, designed to make it easier for students from low-income families to get free meals, by eliminating the need to fill out forms.

Low income students would face even more stigma if the GOP had its way. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) doesn’t mind billing taxpayers for his lunches, but Kingston suggested that schools should have low-income students do janitorial work, like “sweep the floor of the cafeteria,” to “instill in them that there is no such thing as a free lunch.”

Kingston said his remarks were not targeted at a particular income group, but it’s a safe bet that students who can will buy or bring their lunches, and not have to clean up after their classmates. Kingston’s scenario would require “the children from poor families to stick around the cafeteria to sweep up while their better-off friends hitch off to recess.” Students who already skip eating lunch to avoid stigma might just skip school altogether.

Kingston’s views echo those of other conservatives. They reflect a conservative agenda that blames the poor, stigmatizes those who need help, and shames those who receive help.

Republicans are willing to walk their talk.

Paul Ryan need only go to Wall Street – or, for that matter, through the walkways of National Harbor, the shiny new suburban Washington enclave where the CPAC conference was being held – to find “full stomachs and empty souls,” where Americans pick up the lunch tab for some of the very banksters who drove the country into financial disaster and recession. If conservatives prefer full stomachs in corporate boardrooms to full stomachs in America’s classrooms, they are the one’s with “empty souls.”

Originally posted at OurFuture.Org.

The GOP's shenanigans surpass even the worst childish behavior, and are far more damaging. The Republican-engineered government shutdown is doing real harm to real people, and endangering an already fragile economy.

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