| April 17, 2014
Mississippi GOP Shocked--Shocked!--to Find Neo-Confederates in Its Ranks
For pure political theater, it's hard to beat the Republican Senate primary in Mississippi. There, incumbent Senator Thad Cochran is trying to fight off Tea Party favorite and neo-Confederate State Senator Chris McDaniel. In the latest twist in this entertaining saga, Tea Party leaders called for the resignation of state GOP chairman Joe Nosef after the latter's call for McDaniel to cancel an appearance at event featuring a white nationalist leader.
But whatever the outcome of that imbroglio, it's awfully hard to take seriously Nosef's warning to McDaniel that "as a party we need to always be careful and focused and serious about what our views are and what our interests are." After all, Trent Lott and Haley Barbour--the Magnolia State's two most prominent recent Republican officeholders--traveled in the same neo-Confederate circles as Chris McDaniel.
As TPM recently reported:
McDaniel had been slated to be the keynote speaker at a combined Firearm Freedom Day/ Tea Party Music Festival in Guntown, Mississippi. That event featured a vendor who sold Confederate memorabilia and founded the Council of White Patriot Voters and the Confederate Patriot Voters United, which the Southern Poverty Law Center listed as an active white nationalist group. Organizers said McDaniel had been the confirmed speaker since February...
McDaniel's association to neo-Confederates has been called into question before. Last year he attended at least one neo-Confederate event in Mississippi.
That puts McDaniel in good company with Haley Barbour, former Mississippi Governor and RNC chairman. Briefly considered a contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Barbour has been associated with the CCC, the kinder and gentler update to the White Citizens' Councils of Jim Crow days. As the Southern Poverty Law Center documented, "Of the 38 current office-holders who've attended CCC events, 26 are state lawmakers -- most of them, 23, from Lott's home state of Mississippi." And among them, as the ADL noted in 2004, was Haley Barbour:
During the 2003 election, the CCC was at the center of another controversy involving the endorsement of a major politician. In July, Mississippi Republican gubernatorial nominee Haley Barbour, who served as Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997, attended a CCC-sponsored barbecue. Though the attendance of local Republican and Democratic office-seekers at political events partly sponsored by the CCC usually evokes little controversy, this year the group posted on its Web site a photo of Barbour at the barbecue (l. to r.: Mississippi GOP aide Chip Reynolds, State Senator Bucky Huggins, Ray Martin, Barbour, John Thompson, and CCC Field Director Bill Lord.)
Barbour's CSA cheerleading didn't end there. When Mississippi contemplated changing its Confederate state flag, Barbour proudly wore it on his lapel. And when former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell got into trouble over his 2010 Confederate Heritage Month declaration that omitted any mention of slavery, Haley Barbour rushed to his defense. Asked if McConnell's omission was a mistake, Barbour responded:
"Well, I don't think so...I don't know what you would say about slavery, but anyone who thinks that you have to explain to people that slavery is a bad thing -- I think it goes without saying...
To me it's a sort of feeling that it's just a nit. That it is not significant. It's trying to make a big deal out of something that doesn't matter for diddly."
Apparently, it also didn't matter for diddly to Trent Lott, former Senate Minority (you can't make this stuff up). Lott was a speaker in 1992 at an event of the Council of Conservative Citizens, that same successor to the White Citizens' Councils of Jim Crow days. Among its offerings in seething racial hatred is a "Wanted" poster of Abraham Lincoln. Lott's also offered his rebel yell in the CCC's Citizen Informer newsletter and the virulently neo-Confederate Southern Partisan, where in 1984 he called the Civil War "the war of aggression." That was years before he lauded the legendary racist and 1948 Dixiecrat presidential candidate, Strom Thurmond:
"I want to say this about my state: when Strom Thurmond ran for President, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."
But Strom Thurmond wasn't Lott's only choice as an ideal President. As the National Review recalled after the Thurmond incident in 2002, Lott had long made clear that Jefferson Davis would do quite nicely as well:
Mississippians sent Lott to the House in 1972. Six years later, his efforts restored Jefferson Davis's citizenship. Lott repeatedly lauded the former Confederate president, a man who endorsed not just segregation, but slavery. Lott crowed in May 1998: "Sometimes I feel closer to Jefferson Davis than any other man in America."
Lott told Richard T. Hines in the Fall 1984 Southern Partisan magazine, "I think that a lot of the fundamental principles that Jefferson Davis believed in are very important today to people all across the country, and they apply to the Republican Party." He argued that Americans in Biloxi, Mississippi and Los Angeles should be free to live their lives without undue federal pressure.
Given that background, the Mississippi Conservative Daily protested with good reason, Chris McDaniel shouldn't feel any pressure at all from the state GOP. Apparently, there is one thing Republicans in Mississippi can agree on: the old times there are not forgotten.
| April 16, 2014
Americans are Still Not Taxed Enough Already (TEA)
The rise of the Tea Party five years ago may have among the most ironic developments in modern American political history. After all, the astro-turf protesters who chanted "Taxed Enough Already" on Tax Day 2009 had just received the largest two-year tax cut ever, courtesy of the same Obama stimulus package they wrongly maligned. And by the next year, total federal tax revenue as a share of the U.S. economy plummeted to 15 percent, the lowest level since the Korean War.
Five years later, Americans are still not taxed enough already (TEA) by Uncle Sam. Even with the economic recovery, higher rates on income and capital gains for upper-income Americans and the end of the temporary payroll tax holiday bringing in record revenues, federal taxes are still not covering what the Treasury needs for--and what Americans say they want from--the government.
As Jonathan Cohn documented, data from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) show that "relative to other countries, tax rates in the U.S. are relatively low, even when you throw in local and state taxes and add them to federal levies." But even leaving international comparisons aside, effective federal tax rates are lower than they've been historically. In the Washington Post, Christopher Ingraham turned to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to show that "your taxes are really low, in one chart":
But Ingraham's chart actually understates how much lower the tax burden has become. If you go back to 1960, as the New York Times' David Leonhardt did two years ago, it's clear that effective tax rates have spiraled down, especially for the very, very rich:
That result should come as no surprise. The top marginal tax rate topped 90 percent when John F. Kennedy took the oath office. After one year of the Reagan Revolution, it was down to 28 percent. Even more important, capital gains rates remain below historical levels, creating (as the Washington Post reported back in 2011) perhaps the single greatest factor fueling America's record income inequality:
Leaving the income gap aside, Uncle Sam's annual take from all sources isn't big enough. According to the CBO, federal revenue as a percent of GDP will hover just above 18 percent for the next decade. While that is above the historical level of 17.4 percent dating back to 1974, it's well below the 20 percent level reached during the only five times Washington balanced its budget since 1969.
The spending side of the equation is just as important. Historically, Uncle Sam has spent the equivalent of 20.5 percent of GDP each year. Over the next five years, CBO reports, that figure will be 21.0 percent. Over the next decade, outlays will hit 21.5 percent (below Ronald Reagan's 1983 peak of 23 percent), but reflecting additional spending on Medicare, Social Security and interest on the national debt. In contrast, Paul Ryan's House GOP budget would spend only 18.1 percent.
The GOP's slash-and-burn budget isn't just well below the levels of the past four decades. With the federal deficit dropping again this year, it's certainly not necessary now. Oh, and one other thing. Americans don't want to cut government spending. In survey after survey, they identify only foreign aid, less than one percent of Uncle Sam's spending, as the one area they want cut. (Recent polling suggests that people are generally comfortable with the federal government's current tax bite.)
All of which means Americans need to generate more tax revenue, not less. Luckily, Americans are still not taxed enough already.
| April 15, 2014
Nevada's GOP Governor, Senator Back Bundy Ranch over Federal Law
If you refuse to pay $1 million in federal taxes over two decades, you should expect to go to prison. If you announce your intent to resist, you might even get a visit from large numbers of heavily armed U.S. marshals. And if you have any doubt on either score, visit the Justice Department web site or request a jail house interview with Ed and Elaine Brown.
But when it comes to the case of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his 20 year crusade to liberate $1 million from the United States Treasury into his own bank account, the state's top Republican leaders refused to tell their constituent to simply pay up as federal courts have ordered.
Instead, Senator Dean Heller and Governor Brian Sandoval blamed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for seeking to collect on Bundy's long overdue federal grazing fees, the same ones paid by routinely 16,000 other ranchers. As hundreds of supporters and armed militia members gathered to support Bundy, Governor Sandoval protested the same kind of "First Amendment areas" long used at the Republican and Democratic national conventions. Last week, Sandoval complained:
"No cow justifies the atmosphere of intimidation which currently exists nor the limitation of constitutional rights that are sacred to all Nevadans. The BLM needs to reconsider its approach to this matter and act accordingly."
On Wednesday, Senator Heller took a similar line:
"I spoke with BLM Director Kornze this morning to express great disappointment with the way that this situation is being handled. I told him very clearly that law-abiding Nevadans must not be penalized by an over-reaching BLM. After hearing from local officials and residents, and receiving feedback from the Nevada Cattlemen's Association in a meeting this morning, I remain extremely concerned about the size of this closure and disruptions with access to roads, water and electrical infrastructure. I will continue to closely monitor this situation, and urge the BLM to make the necessary changes in order to preserve Nevadans' constitutional rights."
As for the gun-toting throng that converged in support of Bundy, Governor Sandoval asked only for their "restraint" while declaring "the ability to speak out against government actions is one of the freedoms we all cherish as Americans." It was only after the BLM called off its round up of Bundy's cattle that Heller asked anything of the militia mob at all:
"The dispute is over, the BLM is leaving, but emotions and tensions are still near the boiling point, and we desperately need a peaceful conclusion to this conflict," Heller said. "I urge all the people involved to please return to your homes and allow the BLM officers to collect their equipment and depart without interference."
The Republican interference with the ability of federal officials to merely collect the revenue owed to the government may be sad, but it isn't surprising. For over two decades, the GOP has targeted the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), slashing its budget and cutting its staff. Along with fiery rhetoric denouncing the IRS as "the Gestapo" and worse, Republicans have helped create an atmosphere in which Uncle Sam loses roughly $500 billion a year--about the size of the annual federal budget deficit--to tax fraud, evasion and underreporting. And it certainly doesn't help matters when Republicans on the House Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation hold a Congressional hearing on years-old cases titled "Threats, Intimidation and Bullying by Federal Land Managing Agencies."
| April 14, 2014
Makers, Takers and Fakers at Nevada's Bundy Ranch
If nothing else, the tense standoff at the Bundy ranch in Nevada provided a helpful reminder of what it means to be a patriot in America. There are many things one may do and a small handful of things one must do to be considered a true patriot. Real patriots vote. They vaccinate their kids. Real patriots pay their taxes. And genuine patriots don't threaten government officials with violence over laws with which they disagree. Especially when they use lofty rhetoric about "sovereignty" and "liberty" and "tyranny" as a cynical façade for illegally padding one's own bank account.
Which is why Cliven Bundy and his supporters, along with much of the media covering the confrontation northeast of Las Vegas, are misrepresenting what ABC News dubbed "the Range War." The Christian Science Monitor, for example, turned a case of freeloading into a crusade for freedom:
In the sparse Nevada rangeland this weekend, US western history came alive with a fight over cattle that threatened to turn violent.
In the end, federal land managers backed down, giving rancher Cliven Bundy his 400 head of cattle. The cows, which had been rounded up on public land where Mr. Bundy's herd had grazed for years, represented a classic clash of values: Old West traditions and practices versus New West environmental sensibilities.
But the land where Bundy's grazes his cattle, like most of the state of Nevada, doesn't belong to him but to the American people, all 315 million of us. He owes our government $1 million for his decades of unpaid use of those lands. He has repeatedly and rightly lost in court for a long list of reasons, including the inconvenient truth that the federal government owned the territory before Nevada became a state. And along with the abolition of slavery, the illegitimacy of secession myriad other issues decisively settled by the Civil War is this: states only have residents and only the United States of America has citizens. So, Cliven Bundy is utterly and dangerously wrong when he claims "a citizen of Nevada and not a citizen of the territory of the United States," or as he triumphantly did this weekend:
"There is no deal here. The citizens of America and Clark County went and took their cattle. There was no negotiations. They took these cattle."
Imagine for a moment that low income minority residents illegally set up a community vegetable garden on a parcel of land in San Francisco's federally-owned Presidio. Or contemplate Mexican migrant workers running a small farmer's market on land belonging to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The same militia members now armed to the teeth in Nevada and their right-wing fellow travelers would doubtless be denouncing the "takers" and volunteering to eject the scofflaws by force.
Instead, the friends of the freeloaders in Nevada declare the Bundy's scam to shortchange Uncle Sam is "not about cows, it's about freedom."
To put it in words cattleman Cliven Bundy would understand, that's bullshit. And it most certainly is not patriotism.
| April 13, 2014
In Arkansas and Georgia, an Obamacare Tale of Two Clinics
For the two clinics, it was the best of times and the worst times. In Mena, Arkansas, the 9th Street Ministries free clinic is closing its doors after 16 years, its services no longer needed by the poor residents who have now obtained health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act. But in Glenwood, Georgia, the Lower Oconee Community Hospital has closed, largely because the low income denizens of Wheeler County did not. And with 94,000 Arkansans covered by the expansion of Medicaid spearheaded by Democratic Governor Mike Beebe while Republican Governor Nathan Deal left over 600,000 Georgians without, the tale of two clinics is bound to be repeated in the months ahead.
Arkansas is one of the few red states which chose to extend federally-funded Medicaid coverage to its residents earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). Under its unique "private option" agreement with the Obama Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the state is using those federal dollars to enable lower income Arkansas to purchase private insurance coverage. (Polls show that private option approach is very popular among Arkansans, unless they are first informed that it is part of Obamacare.) And as fierce Obamacare foe and Arkansas State Rep. Nate Bell learned, the program is working exactly as planned in his hometown of Mena:
"Because people are qualifying for insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, our free medical clinic will not be needed anymore," Stacey Bowser RN, 9th Street Ministries Clinic Director, stated. "We've gone from seeing around 300 people a month on a regular basis, but as people were enrolling in Obamacare, the numbers we were seeing have dropped. We were down to 80 people that came through the medical clinic in February, all the way down to three people at the medical clinic in March. Our services won't be needed anymore, and this will conclude our mission."
But in Georgia, the situation for the uninsured and the hospitals that care for them is getting worse. As ThinkProgress reported in February, a fourth rural hospital in Georgia is shutting its doors due to a lack of patients who can pay for their medical expenses:
The Lower Oconee Community Hospital, a so-called "critical access" hospital in southeastern Georgia with 25 beds, will close down and possibly re-open as an urgent care center that provides services that aren't quite serious enough to necessitate an emergency room visit. Patients in the Wheeler County region who need more extensive medical care after the hospital closes will need to travel upwards of thirty miles in order to receive it.
"We just did not have sufficient volume to support the expenses," said CEO Karen O'Neal in an interview with local CBS affiliate WMAZ. "It's a terrible situation, and it's tragic, the loss of jobs and the economic impact."
It's tragic all right. And as with many facilities in rejectionist red states, it doesn't have to be this way. Because it's not just millions of their constituents who are falling into the Republican coverage gap. As Bloomberg and CNN recently documented, many of the hospitals, clinics and emergency centers that serve them are at risk, too.
In GOP Governor Nathan Deal's Georgia, it's not just Lower Oconee Community Hospital facing a possible death sentence. As the New York Times reported in November, Memorial Hospital in Savannah, Georgia "is now facing the loss of nearly half of its roughly $100 million in annual subsidies known as disproportionate share hospital payments." The Times explained how the Republican temper tantrum after the Supreme Court made Medicaid expansion optional for the states is putting red state hospitals at risk:
Now, in a perverse twist, many of the poor people who rely on safety-net hospitals like Memorial will be doubly unlucky. A government subsidy, little known outside health policy circles but critical to the hospitals' survival, is being sharply reduced under the new health law.
The subsidy, which for years has helped defray the cost of uncompensated and undercompensated care, was cut substantially on the assumption that the hospitals would replace much of the lost income with payments for patients newly covered by Medicaid or private insurance. But now the hospitals in states like Georgia will get neither the new Medicaid patients nor most of the old subsidies, which many say are crucial to the mission of care for the poor.
Savannah Memorial has plenty of company in Georgia, where Governor Deal said no to $33 billion in new federal Medicaid funding over the next decade. But as the federal government significantly reduces funding on Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments for the care of the uninsured, states like Georgia which turned down Obamacare's Medicaid dollars will be on the hook to make up the difference. For Grady Memorial Hospital, the largest in the metro Atlanta area, what could have been an annual boon of $60 million and coverage for 27,000 uninsured patients instead will be a $45 million loss. Georgia taxpayers will have to pay more even as hospitals likely cut services. Meanwhile, three cash-strapped rural hospitals have already closed their doors. Another 15 may follow suit in 2014. All because a Republican Governor said "no" to free money from Washington, DC.
And the funding is virtually free to the states. The federal government will pay for 100 percent of the cost of the Medicaid expansion until 2017 and 90 percent after that. The loss to rejectionist red state coffers, the Commonwealth Fund found, is staggering. As USA Today summed it up:
By 2022, Texas could lose $9.2 billion by not expanding Medicaid as allowed under the Affordable Care Act, while Florida could lose $5 billion over that period, the study conducted by The Commonwealth Fund shows...Also during that period, the study showed, Georgia could lose $2.9 billion, while Virginia could lose $2.8 billion.
"There are no states where the taxpayers would actually gain by not expanding Medicaid," said Sherry Glied, lead author on the study. "Nobody wins."
But the billions the "opt-out" states will have to come up with in future years will be more than offset by their extra costs to compensate hospitals and other providers for the care of the uninsured. Which is exactly why Arkansas chose to accept Uncle Sam's dollars for Medicaid expansion. As Arkansas Business explained:
Beebe has said rejecting the $915 million in federal funds for the private option would jeopardize other state services. Beebe's proposed $5 billion budget relies on $89 million in savings he says the private option will create by cutting down on hospitals' uncompensated care costs.
Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas summed up an analysis by the RAND Corporation of 14 Medicaid rejecting states last year:
It finds that the result will be they get $8.4 billion less in federal funding, have to spend an extra $1 billion in uncompensated care, and end up with about 3.6 million fewer insured residents.
So then, the math works out like this: States rejecting the expansion will spend much more, get much, much less, and leave millions of their residents uninsured. That's a lot of self-inflicted pain to make a political point.
For Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, make that an awful lot of self-inflicted pain. In response to the prospect of 613,000 needlessly uninsured Georgians--up to 1,175 of whom will needlessly die each year--Deal only doubled down on his Medicaid rejection. As the Atlanta Business Chronicle detailed in March:
Gov. Nathan Deal unveiled a plan Wednesday to help keep rural hospitals in Georgia open by scaling back their operations.
The governor announced changes to state regulations governing hospital licensing that will let rural hospitals offer fewer services if they are in danger of closing.
And if he could, Governor Deal would end the federal requirement that hospitals must provide emergency treatment for the uninsured:
The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act is a 1986 law that requires hospitals to provide emergency health care treatment to anyone who needs it, regardless of citizenship or their ability to pay. And it's provided life-saving care to countless people, but it's also strained hospital resources and turned emergency rooms into the first stop, instead of a last resort, for some.
"If they really want to get serious about lowering the cost of health care in this country, they would revisit another federal statute that has been there for a long time," Deal told a crowd of dozens at a University of Georgia political science alumni gathering. "It came as a result of bad facts, and we have a saying that bad facts make bad law."
In the case of Lower Oconee Community Hospital and other clinic and medical centers in Georgia, Nathan Deal's bad law in rejecting the Medicaid expansion is producing some very bad facts on the ground. Meanwhile in Mena, Arkansas, the soon-to-close 9th Street Ministries clinic is celebrating the best of times.