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That Sound You Hear is Me Gnashing My Teeth…

And Thomas Paine thought that his were the times that tried men’s souls….

Recently, the Oklahoma House has approved legislation purporting to protect ministers who refuse to conduct same-sex weddings from civil liability.  

Evidently, they don’t teach basic civics in Oklahoma. (As I have previously noted, they aren’t too keen on American history, either.) News flash, Oklahoma legislature! The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment got there first! It already provides the religious liberty you want to “restore.” For the zillionth time: churches and their clergy are exempt from civil rights laws that conflict with their theology. They’re protected from the nefarious “gay agenda” by that Constitution you all pretend you’ve read.

It’s maddening enough that state legislators–including a not-insignificant number from Indiana–are clueless about the actual application of the religion clauses, but it is mind-boggling when a (presumably plausible) candidate for President of the United States exhibits abject ignorance of the most basic Constitutional principles.

Recently, Mike Huckabee spoke to a group of rightwing pastors about the pending Supreme Court case on same-sex marriage, and he began by repeating the same tired lie: if the Court rules for marriage equality, pastors will be sued or jailed for refusing to preside over same-sex nuptials. It’s hard to know whether Huckabee is really that uninformed, or whether his statement was just reflexive demagoguery of the sort he regularly delivered during his stint at Fox News.

What really set me off, however, was his follow-up to that bit of dishonest rabble-rousing:

Getting a decision from the court, it’s not tantamount to saying ‘well that settles it. It’s the law of the land.’ And when I hear people say that I just cringe and I’m thinking ‘How many people pass 9th grade civics?’ This is not that complicated. There are three branches of government, not one. We don’t like it if the executive branch overreaches and pretends that it can act in difference to the other two. And neither can we sit back and allow the court, one branch of government to overrule the other two. And so when a court rules that same sex marriage is okay, it doesn’t mean that the next day, marriage licenses should be issued for same sex couples. It simply means that if the legislature agrees with that court decision and the representatives of the people—the elected officials—if they then put that into legislation and it is signed and enforced by the executive branch, then you have same sex marriage. But until those other two branches act, what you have is a court opinion and nothing else.

I hate to tell you, Mike, but when the Supreme Court issues a decision, that does settle it. Short of a constitutional amendment, it’s over.

How can a man who was a Governor of a state, a man who has run for President of this country, who has debated legal and policy issues with knowledgable people, have so little grasp of the most basic operation and structure of the American legal system?

If Huckabee really does know better– if he is just counting on the ignorance of his audience–the fact that he can make such statements secure in the knowledge that no one listening will know enough to challenge him is even more depressing.

Evidently, no one ever took 9th grade civics.

Subsidizing the Rich

Lawmakers and pundits continue to beat up on poor folks. The latest effort in Indiana is Democrat Terry Goodin’s proposal to drug test welfare recipients–never mind that such efforts elsewhere have been a colossal waste of money, since savings from the minuscule number of abusers haven’t begun to offset the costs of testing everyone getting benefits.

As I noted in an earlier post, it’s all about shaming and humiliating the “takers.”

But here’s what drives me up the wall: we not only don’t shame those who are ripping us off for more money than welfare recipients could ever dream of, we admire them. We accord them (undeserved) respect, because we think they’re smart businesspeople!

Once again, an academic study has documented what we all know: low-wage business enterprises depend upon taxpayers to support their workers and give them an unearned competitive advantage.

U.S. taxpayers pay roughly $153 billion each year to supplement employers who refuse to pay a livable wage, according to report published Monday by the University of California, Berkeley, Center for Labor.

As the Minnesota Post has noted,

The study most likely understates the degree to which taxpayers subsidize low-wage workers. It was limited to the cost of four major public-assistance programs:  medical assistance, food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and the Earned Income Tax Credit, a refundable credit to working people with low and moderate incomes.

It did not include the cost of housing assistance, child-care assistance, free school lunches and other programs also available to low income families.

Let’s be clear: there are entrepreneurs and businesspeople who make a lot of money “fair and square.” They don’t offload costs onto taxpayers, either through externalities (dumping pollutants that we must pay to clean up), or paying wages that we must supplement. Those are the good guys, and they’re entitled to enjoy all the benefits their hard work and creativity have generated.

But the so-called “Captains of Industry” who profit at the expense of the public–those whose fat bottom lines depend upon the generosity of taxpayers–are the ones who deserve the scorn that instead gets directed at the single mom who has fallen on hard times, or the factory worker whose job vanished during the last recession.

The real “addicts” are the companies like Walmart and McDonalds whose business models  are dependent upon the drug called other people’s tax dollars.

A lot of us could be successful businesspeople if someone else was paying our employees.



The Bum’s Rush (or the Bum that is Rush…)

When WIBC dumps Limbaugh, can the Rapture be far behind?

Okay, enough snark. But think about it: over the past 2-3 years, Limbaugh has steadily hemorrhaged sponsors and audience. Is it possible that sanity is reasserting itself in America?

For years, the Limbaugh product–what has been called “hate radio”–has coarsened American political discourse, mainstreamed racism, sexism and homophobia, elevated labeling and name-calling, and generally made incivility acceptable. After Rush attacked Sandra Fluke, however, calling her a slut for testifying to Congress about the importance of birth control coverage, a widespread public revulsion generated a coordinated response aimed at getting him off the air.

Nice people had had enough, and the “Flush Rush” movement began; it has steadily gained momentum.

Flush Rush has been so successful, in fact, that business publications have been running articles like “What Brands Can Learn from the Flush Rush Movement.” Time Magazine writer Brian Rosenwald (who is doing his PhD dissertation on talk radio) explains that the end came when it was no longer possible to keep hateful rhetoric “in the family,” that is, to limit its range to the “ditto heads” and faithful listeners.

[Radio] Hosts’ words far more easily reach non-listeners than they did 25 years ago. Indeed, a show’s actual audience need not be bothered for comments to cause trouble. Campaigns against a host can build over time, and social media makes it easy to pressure station management and advertisers. In fact, the provocative, unpredictable content that produces the best talk radio fits poorly with an advertiser-based business model in the Internet and social media era. This problem may eventually drive the content provided by Limbaugh and his peers to an internet-based subscription platform, where hosts do not have to worry about losing advertisers when they generate controversy.

I wouldn’t worry too much about Internet subscriptions providing him with a lucrative “out”–most of Rushbo’s listeners are well over 65 years of age, and my guess is, most of them are still trying to figure out how to use email. When the angry old white guys die off, that will be the end of Rush, hate radio, and Faux News.

Evidently, when people–be they celebrities or elected officials–who have occupied an echo chamber of True Believers suddenly have their message broadcast beyond the confines of that insular and diminishing community, they lose altitude rather quickly.

If you don’t believe me, ask Governor Pence.



Roots and Branches

One of the most difficult lessons for those of us raised in individualistic cultures is recognizing the difficulty of solving problems that are symptoms of broken systems.

A recent report from NPR offered a great illustration.

Research shows that kids who have tough childhoods — because of poverty, abuse, neglect or witnessing domestic violence, for instance — are actually more likely to be sick when they grow up. They’re more likely to get diseases like asthma, diabetes and heart disease. And they tend to have shorter lives than people who haven’t experienced those difficult events as kids.

When University of Florida Dr. Nancy Hardt consulted Medicaid records, she made a map that showed exactly where Gainesville children were born into poverty. Eventually, she showed the map to show it to Alachua County’s sheriff, Sadie Darnell, who—it turned out—also had a map. Hers was a thermal map of high crime incidence, and it showed that “the highest concentration of crime in Gainesville was in a square-mile area that exactly overlaid Hardt’s poverty map.”

Those crimes included significant levels of domestic violence, child abuse and neglect.

A visit to the area turned up numerous health-related issues: poorly maintained subsidized housing, with tarps covering leaky roofs. Mold and mildew spreading across stucco walls. Poor families that often had trouble getting enough to eat.

There was also an almost total lack of services, including medical care. (The closest place to get routine medical care for the uninsured–and most people in the area were—was the county health department, a two-hour bus trip away.)

The doctor and sheriff also teamed with civic groups to open a family resource center in 2012. Its play area is open to children all day, and there’s a food pantry, free meals, a computer room, AA meetings, and a permanent health clinic.

Initial reports suggest that these measures are improving health and reducing the incidence of crime in the area. But as heartwarming as this story is, it also offers a stinging rebuke to policymakers who refuse to invest public dollars in systemic efforts–who seem unable to grasp the human and fiscal costs of persistent social neglect.

We have copious research confirming that the dollars spent on systems that help children—abating environmental hazards like lead contamination, combatting urban asthma, addressing food deserts, providing safe and enriching early childhood care—ultimately save many more dollars that we don’t have to spend later on medical care, remedial programs, welfare payments and prisons.

We also have depressing research confirming how difficult it is for those born into poverty to escape it; despite those Horatio Alger stories, admonitions about “pulling oneself up by ones bootstraps” and belief in the “American dream,” social mobility in the U.S. is far below that of industrialized countries that do provide these social supports.

Farmers understand that the crop you get depends not just on the seeds you plant, but also how well you fertilize and water them. It isn’t so different with children.