Americans like Obamacare. They just don’t know it.

A recent Kaiser Health Tracking Poll shows that more than half of the public — 53 percent — has a negative view of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. That’s up eight percentage points since the same poll in June. Yet in just about every poll, just about every answer about the individual aspects of the ACA puts those aspects in positive territory.

So what gives? Why such a disconnect? There are many reasons, but much of it boils down to a poor job of coverage by the media.

To be sure, the Obama administration and Democrats did not do a good job of selling the ACA when it finally passed in 2010. Timing was everything, and they missed the timing. Democrats scared of the 2010 mid-term elections were unsure of how to sell it, so they didn’t try. (Note to Dems: You’ll do a lot better if you don’t run away from your accomplishments). So people who didn’t know much about the new law instead heard the falsehoods being spread by the other party, which were covered ad infinitum. DEATH PANELS! No, not even close. GOVERNMENT-RUN HEALTH CARE! Actually, these are plans offered by insurance companies.

From the new Kaiser poll: “The poll finds misperceptions about the ACA persist: fewer than four in ten are aware that enrollees in new insurance under the ACA had a choice between private health plans, while a quarter incorrectly believe they were enrolled in a single government plan and another four in ten are unsure.”

By all accounts, people who received coverage under the ACA are doing better by leaps and bounds. After the truly disastrous rollout in October, the website got fixed, people were finally able to connect online, and “navigators” helped people find coverage. According to one Kaiser survey, 10.6 million Americans received help with ACA covereage. And those people sought help because they didn’t understand the ACA — 87 percent in this survey said they had limited understanding of the law.

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, really the gold standard when it comes to polling and information about health care coverage and especially about the uninsured, systematically reports how health insurance coverage has changed since the implementation of the ACA. Six in 10 people who now have coverage through the ACA previously were uninsured, according to another Kaiser survey. The number of Americans without insurance is dropping. In states that expanded Medicaid, even more people have coverage. The people who are left the worst off are poor people living in states without Medicaid expansion.

And what about health care costs? Again, the news from the implementation of the ACA is positive. There are many factors that affect health care costs, but growth in Medicare and Medicaid costs has slowed. The projections from a report by Social Security and Medicare trustees about the future of Medicare have improved —  the fund is expected to be solvent until 2030. The ACA is projected to cut $716 billion in expected increases to providers and insurers between 2013 and 2022.

Of course, back in 2010, the overwhelming forces against the ACA took up all of the air time. There were busloads of Tea Partiers — with buses paid for by organizations backed by monied special interests — attending town hall meetings. Those same Tea Partiers were screaming falsehoods about the new law. “Take your hands off my Medicare!” was a famous sign. As if the most successful government-run health program in history is not run by the government.

What’s a lazy reporter to do? Actually explain what’s in the new law? Of course, that would require actual work in reading it. Instead, it’s easier just to turn the cameras to the latest guy in a colonial tri-corner hat and to quote the latest soundbite from a Republican member of Congress, even when that soundbite has no basis in reality. “It’s not my job to explain the law,” was a famous quote by Chuck Todd, chief White House correspondent for NBC News. Really, Chuck? Since when isn’t the media’s job to report on laws that Congress passes? That’s what journalists always have done.

There have been some notable, positive exceptions. The always-excellent Julie Rovner, health correspondent for National Public Radio, did a superb job of explaining the law in weekly reports. She had regular reports in which she answered listeners’ questions. She understood the law so well, as a matter of fact, that she left NPR to work for Kaiser Health News as the Robin Toner Distinguished Fellow. She’s still doing excellent work there, but it’s the listeners’ loss that she’s not around to explain parts of the law anymore.

The partisan drumbeat is still strong. In the Kaiser poll, among the 53 percent who say they saw any political ads about the law in the past month, more than twice as many say the ads they saw were mostly in opposition to the law rather than mostly in support of it.

Remember that in 2006, when the law establishing Medicare Part D — that’s the part of Medicare that helps cover seniors’ drug costs — went into effect, the partisan bickering was over, even though passage of the bill was as sleazy as it got. The GOP-led House suspended its rules to let the vote to pass it continue for two hours instead of 15 minutes while John Boehner (R, Sun Lamp), then the GOP majority leader, reportedly ran around the House floor literally passing out campaign donations from tobacco companies. Thomas Scully, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, threatened to fire Medicare Chief Actuary Richard Foster if he reported how much the bill would actually cost. At the same time, he was negotiating for a new job as a pharmaceutical lobbyist. Former Rep Billy Tauzin (R, Drug Money), who steered the bill through Congress, left soon afterward to take a $2-million-a-year job with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufactures of America.

But the bill passed. Sen. Hillary Clinton was quoted as saying that although she didn’t like the way the law was passed, it was law, and she would help her constituents understand the workings of the law so seniors could sign up for drug coverage. Other Democrats did the same. Contrast that with many GOP members of Congress, who refused to give constituents any information when they called asking for information about the ACA.

And what was the media coverage of Medicare Part D? Think back. I remember many stories about confused seniors being confronted with too many coverage choices. But I also remember lots of stories about what the different choices were, and how seniors could get help from drug companies and pharmacies — indeed, insurance representatives often were in local Walgreen’s to explain coverage to older folks.

Possibly the most important takeaway from the new Kaiser poll is that a majority of Americans want Congress to improve — not repeal and replace — the law. It’s been four years, and the Republicans still have not offered a replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act (they say they’re “working on it.”) And no wonder — whenever they offer anything specific, people hate their ideas.

So please, Congress — this law isn’t going anywhere. Let’s all work on improving it, removing the objectionable parts and fixing the unworkable aspects. In other words, let’s do what Congress has always done in the past.

What do you think the chances are of that?

Tea Party really should read the Constitution

People in the Tea Party community constantly claim how they “love” the U.S. Constitution more than anyone else. Too bad so few of them seem to know what’s really in it.

The latest display of ignorance comes from the Republican nominee for Senate from Iowa, first-term state Sen. Joni Ernst. At a forum at the 2013 Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, she made the following statement:

“You know, we have talked about this at the state Legislature before, nullification. But, bottom line is, as U.S. senator, why should we pass laws that the states are considering nullifying? Bottom line: Our legislators at the federal level should not be passing those laws. We’re right — we’ve gone 200-plus years of federal legislators going against the Tenth Amendment’s states’ rights. We are way overstepping bounds as federal legislators. So, bottom line, no, we should not be passing laws as federal legislators — as senators or congressmen — that the states would even consider nullifying. Bottom line.”

(Personally, I don’t think anyone who is so linguistically challenged as to use the phrase “bottom line” four times in one paragraph deserves anyone’s vote. But I digress.)

Actually, states can’t nullify federal law. It’s in — you guessed it — the U.S. Constitution. Article VI of the Constitution says: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof … shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” What part of “supreme Law of the Land” don’t they understand?

As reported in The Daily Beast, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine, Law School and a constitutional law scholar, noted that the Supreme Court had dealt with this issue in 1958, when, in Cooper v. Aaron, a unanimous decision signed by every justice on the court, it was made clear that states could not nullify federal laws or Supreme Court decisions. This concept is also known as the doctrine of pre-emption.

Of course, that doesn’t stop Teabaggers from claiming that the Tenth Amendment trumps all. If you recall, the Tenth Amendment states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Somehow, those words have been twisted into meaning that states don’t have to follow federal laws if they don’t feel like it.

States have passed laws that — supposedly — exempt them from federal laws. Arizona passed a strict immigration law, and the federal government sued successfully under the supremacy clause (the U.S. Supreme Court decision was mixed, but upheld the supremacy clause in overturning parts of the law). The Missouri Legislature passed legislation nullifying federal gun laws; luckily, the Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed it, and the Legislature failed to override his veto.

There are some gray areas. An article on the website How Stuff Works discusses the idea of federal law vs. state law when it comes to marijuana laws. Marijuana is still considered a controlled substance from a federal legal standpoint, but both Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational marijuana use. The District of Columbia and 23 states allow the use of medical marijuana. In this case, it boils down to enforcement. In other words, you can do something in a state where lawmakers have made something legal, but those laws don’t apply elsewhere. Prostitution is illegal under federal law, but is legal in parts of Nevada.

And what about impeachment? A majority of GOP voters seem to think that President Obama deserves to be impeached. Again, READ THE CONSTITUTION (you can USE THE GOOGLE if you don’t have a copy handy).

Article II, Section 4, Disqualification: “The President, Vice President, and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Maybe this happened when I was on vacation, but I missed the news stories where Obama was convicted of treason. Or bribery, or any other felony or misdemeanor. Just because you disagree with a president’s policies doesn’t mean he warrants impeachment. The lawsuit that House GOP members are supporting is ridiculous enough. The basis of the suit is Obama’s one-year delay of the employer insurance mandate in the Affordable Care Act — the exact same thing House Republicans voted for in at least one of their 50-plus votes to repeal Obamacare. Funny, they never sued President George W. Bush when he did the same thing in delaying parts of Medicare Part D, which gives seniors drug coverage.

Of course, there are also those who push impeachment with the “logic” that if the GOP holds the House in the 2014 mid-terms — a likely scenario — and takes the Senate — probably 50-50 at this point — the House can impeach Obama and the Senate will remove him from office. Note to Teabaggers: Again, READ THE DAMN DOCUMENT.

Article I, Section 3, The Senate: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all impeachments. … And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.” “Two thirds” means 67 senators. Even if the GOP gets a majority of 51 seats, you really think 16 Democratic senators will vote to remove President Obama from office?

In 2010, three-term incumbent Utah Sen. Bob Bennett — as conservative as they come — was defeated in the nominating process at that state’s Republican convention, which the party uses instead of a primary. The winner instead was now-Sen. Mike Lee, a Tea Party hero. Except for Salt Lake City, Utah is solid red; Lee won with 61% of the vote.

I remember listening to a radio report of delegates to that Utah Republican Party convention. Tea folk backing Lee claimed that they were voting for him “because he loves the Constitution.” When asked by a reporter if Bennett, too, didn’t love the Constitution, the answer was, “Lee loves it more.” So now we have a Constitution-love litmus test? Seriously?

You know, I passed the Constitution test in the eighth grade, as did everyone else who grew up in Illinois. I still carry a small copy of the document in my purse, supplied by the ACLU. I have tutored inner-city kids, off and on, since the 1980s, and have taught and quizzed multiple students as well as my own daughters on the Constitution so that they, too, would pass their tests before entering high school. I have referred to my well-worn pocket copy on numerous occasions. I’m neither an expert nor a lawyer, but I feel confident that I know the U.S. Constitution as well as most lay people.

So my advice to Teabaggers: Read the Constitution, learn what it says, and quit listening to idiots on right-wing radio and TV who claim they “know” what’s in the Constitution. Stop reading conspiracy theory e-mails from people who wear tin-foil hats. Quit making statements that display your ignorance. In other words, stop pulling quotes out of your collective asses.

Boehner’s suit against Obama tries to rekindle Obamacare fight

Let’s have a show of hands. Who else is confused about the proposed GOP lawsuit against President Obama?

House Speaker John Boehner (R, Sun Lamp) likes to push his way onto your TV screens with more talk about why he wants to sue the president. First it was that Obama was “failing to fulfill his constitutional duties.” Another day Boehner claimed that Obama was abusing executive power and circumventing Congress by issuing so many executive orders. (Note: Obama has actually issued FEWER executive orders than other modern presidents, as shown in this chart from the American Presidency Project.) Yet another day the Orangman said, “This is about the legislative branch … and it’s not about executive actions.” Well, sure. Why not waste millions of dollars in taxpayer money for a lawsuit that likely will get tossed quickly unless it’s to focus attention on Congress?

When Boehner finally announced the point of the lawsuit, it seemed to be (because it’s early in this process — they could dream up something else screwy) that Obama had delayed implementation of one part of the Affordable Care Act, the requirement that large employers must offer health insurance to employees, until 2015.

OK, let’s back up. In the 50 or so votes (because there are obviously no other problems facing the country) the U.S. House of Representatives has taken to repeal the ACA, some have sought the repeal of the employer insurance mandate. Indeed, those same lawmakers voted to do the exact same thing at virtually the exact same time — defer the employer mandate until 2015.

So … Boehner says he’s suing the president because the president took an action Republican members of the House wanted in the first place.

Huh? Nothing personal here, Mr. Speaker, but do you even listen to yourself? And why are you wasting so much money and time on this?

The GOP has to know this is a losing proposition. Recent reports about the success of the ACA show that the number of uninsured people in the U.S. has dropped from 18 percent to 13.4 percent, according to a recent Gallup Poll. There are 9.5 million fewer uninsured people now, according to a Commonwealth Fund study.

Even worse for the Republicans is the fact that most people seem to really like their new health care coverage. According to Margot Sanger-Katz in The New York Times: “Overall, 73 percent of people who bought health plans and 87 percent of those who signed up for Medicaid said they were somewhat or very satisfied with their new health insurance. Seventy-four percent of newly insured Republicans liked their plans.”

Seventy-four percent of newly insured Republicans. Wow.

Don’t forget the words of the GOP nominee in 2012, Mitt Romney: “If I were president, on Day One I would issue an executive order paving the way for Obamacare waivers to all 50 states.” Because “an outright repeal would take time,” he reminded GOP voters, “an executive order is the first step in returning power to the states.”

So I guess it would have been OK if a Republican president had done it.

You have to love the official reaction from the White House press secretary: “It is disappointing that Speaker Boehner and Congressional Republicans have decided to waste time and taxpayer dollars on a political stunt. At a time when Washington should be working to expand economic opportunities for the middle class, Republican leaders in Congress are playing Washington politics rather than working with the President on behalf of hardworking Americans. As the President said today, he is doing his job — lawsuit or not — and it’s time Republicans in Congress did theirs.”

No argument here.



You want less gun violence in Chicago? Hire somebody

Chicago’s Fourth of July weekend toll of shooting violence was horrific even by city standards. There were 82 gun-related incidents, with now 14 people dead, two of them 14- and 16-year-old boys shot by police when they refused to drop their weapons. In any other city, that would cause an uproar. Here in Chicago, it causes an uproar, but by now, it’s only in the neighborhoods affected and on the evening news, which overcovers the “if it bleeds, it leads” stories.

Local activists like the Rev. Michael Pfleger, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel all reacted. They talked about stiffer penalties for gun crimes. They have beefed up security, increasing overtime for police and are now talking about adding more officers, although that will be hard to do in a tight budget crunch.

Father Pfleger, who has led St. Sabina’s church on the South Side for many years and has been a leading voice against gun violence, sends out regular tweets with the gun violence toll. On his Facebook page, he wrote: “We send Billions of Dollars across the World in the Name of KEEPING AMERICA SAFE…..MESSAGE TO THE CONGRESS AND ADMINISTRATION, WITH 82 SHOT IN CHICAGO THIS WEEKEND OF WHICH 14 WERE FATAL ” AMERICA IS NOT SAFE.”

So — why? Why is there so much gun violence? A more important question is — what can anyone do about it?

I live in a mostly white but definitely mixed suburb of Chicago, mixed both racially and socioeconomically. We’re very near to Chicago’s West Side, which has lots of gun violence and a high crime rate — almost as high as certain neighborhoods on the South Side. Yet we have very little violence here. So what’s different?


Over the past few decades, businesses have fled the city and moved to far-out suburbs or even out of state by the promises of lower corporate taxes. Taxes might be lower, but what do they get for it, and what did they leave behind? They left behind a decimated work force with few jobs left and fewer opportunities to find one.

The overall unemployment rate in Chicago actually dropped last year. But it’s still very high on the South and West Sides. This map by the Workforce Information and Resource Exchange, an initiative of the Chicago Jobs Council, gives a breakdown of socioeconomic statistics in various Chicago neighborhoods. In Father Pfleger’s neighborhood near St. Sabina, unemployment is nearly 25 percent. In the violence-ridden Back of the Yards neighborhood, an area described as a “no man’s land” by The Chicago Tribune, it’s nearly 35 percent. Most unemployment numbers on the South and West Sides hover close to 20 percent.

Contrast that to the whiter, more popular places to live in Chicago like Lincoln Park or Lakeview. Unemployment is less than five percent in each neighborhood.

So people need jobs. No surprise there — we’re just now digging out of the worst recession since the Great Depression. The problem for many in those high unemployment neighborhoods is that there are no jobs to be had anywhere close by.

During my commuting days, I always rode the CTA Green Line along the West Side. The worst sight was the old Brach’s candy factory, which closed its doors in 2001 after 76 years of making StarBrite Mints and Milk Maid Caramels, leaving 1,100 people out of work. The company moved most of its candy manufacturing to Europe.

Now, the old factory sits empty, a broken shell of a once-thriving company. Worse, the 12-story building is awash with gang signs and symbols. Who was there to stop any street gangs from tagging the building? No one.

I have a fantasy that someday I’ll win the Powerball lottery and buy the old factory, turning it into a green energy plant that will give training and work to people on the West and South Sides, since it’s right by an El stop. Of course, I’ll get hit by lightening first.

We have a friend on the South Side named Shawn, a 40-year-old black man who has always struggled to find work. He’s a hard worker who has worked a series of jobs in various places around the city — when he can find them. More recently, though, the only places he sees hiring are out in the far west or northwest suburbs. How is someone who lives on 95th Street on the South Side who doesn’t have continued access to a car supposed to get to Elgin? Or Oak Brook? Or Schaumburg? The unemployment rate in his neighborhood, by the way, is nearly 20 percent.

At least he has access to a car. What is someone who doesn’t supposed to do when the only job available is 25 miles away, and the only way to get there is a 2 1/2-hour commute — or more — by a series of trains and buses? Whatever anyone says about the CTA, Metra, and Pace, the local public transportation train and bus services, they do have ways of getting from Point A to Point B. But it can take a long time.

No, there need to be more jobs available in the city itself. When people talk about investing in infrastructure, they should talk about starting businesses on the South and West Sides. People would line up at the door to apply.

I know about problems with the Chicago Public School system, and how many who do graduate aren’t always qualified for the jobs that are available. I know why companies that fled the city are happier in the far suburbs, where the owners live anyway.

But if you want to do something about gun violence, give those young men something to do besides join a gang. Shawn always tells us that the only two businesses in his neighborhood that do well are liquor stores — and funeral parlors. After a weekend like this, I’m not surprised.

What are unintended effects of SCOTUS Hobby Lobby decision?

Throwing all judicial precedent out the window, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that for-profit corporations can have religious beliefs. In a 5-4 decision by five Roman Catholic males (and don’t tell me those two factors don’t count), the court ruled that a for-profit company that is “closely held” has the right to decide on and limit contraceptive coverage for its female employees, who otherwise would receive free prescription contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The decision was expected for two reasons. One, the questioning by the court’s five conservative justices when it heard the case suggested the outcome. Two, when the right wing went apoplectic in 2012 over the court’s upholding of the ACA, you figured it was just a matter of time before the five conservatives found a way to beat it down again. And as for being “closely held”: Koch Industries is closely held, and it employs 100,000 workers in 60 countries. What will the Koch brothers decide to do? No, this decision could affect quite a few women.

Medical groups were outraged by the decision. The American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Physicians, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, just to name a few, saw the decision — correctly — as hurting women’s health care. All of these groups (and many more) had argued the government’s side during oral arguments in friend-of-the-court briefs. “Contraceptives that prevent fertilization from occurring, or even prevent implantation, are simply not abortifacients regardless of an individual’s personal or religious beliefs or mores,” said the amicus briefs, according to Medscape Medical News.

The ruling “intrudes on the patient-physician relationship,” said AMA President Robert Wah, MD. It “inappropriately allows employers to interfere in women’s health care decisions,” said ACOG President John Jennings, MD. According to AAFP President Reid Blackwelder, MD, the court may have set the stage for employers to deny coverage for a variety of services that conflict with religious teachings, never mind the scientific evidence supporting their need. “We have a precedent where someone can come forward and say vaccines are against their belief system.” he said.

ANA President Pamela Cipriano, PhD, also saw the socioeconomic effect. “This ruling places an unfair burden on some women, particularly those with lower incomes, who may not be able to access medically appropriate contraceptive care due to the additional expense.” she said.

The wording of the decision suggested that it was limited in scope. HA! The dissent by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg correctly predicted that the decision opens the door to other objections to other laws on religious grounds. Already, according to an online story in The Atlantic, a group of religious leaders sent a letter to the White House, asking for more “deference” to the prerogatives of religion. “We are asking that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need,” the letter states.

This reference isn’t talking about contraception. It’s talking about an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. So — if it’s OK for Hobby Lobby to tell female workers it won’t pay for birth control pills (even though it still covers Viagra), it must be OK for other groups to say their religious beliefs allow them to discriminate against gays and lesbians in the workplace. That’s essentially what the letter is saying, without spelling it out bluntly.

Ginsburg presciently saw this coming. Noting that a restaurant owner in a 1966 high-court case cited religious beliefs for not serving African Americans, Ginsburg said the majority ruling would not help lower courts field possible objections to vaccinations, antidepressants, and anesthesia, all of which are proscribed in one faith or another.

And what of the political fallout? Right-wing groups, Republicans, and Fox News were gleeful about the decision, mostly because it went against something that President Obama had done. But that ecstatic reaction may come back to bite them — big time.

“It’s all about the women, both in substance and politics,” argued Jill Lawrence in an online piece for Al Jazeera America. Nearly 60 percent of the public favors the contraception coverage mandate, according to a May 2014 tracking poll by the Kaiser Health Family Foundation. “More than 99 percent of sexually active women in their childbearing years have used contraception. You don’t want to pick a fight on this turf.”

Despite the possibility that insurance companies or the government could pay for the coverage instead, as has been suggested, Lawrence said it was a matter of principle. “Why should taxpayers foot the bill for this and future instances of corporations getting themselves exempted from following federal law? Why should women have to jump through hoops to get standard birth control? Why should a for-profit company with a diverse workforce have the right to pick and choose what parts of a federal law to observe? And can a corporate entity really hold religious beliefs, just like a person?”

“The court,” Ginsburg wrote in her dissent, “has ventured into a minefield.” Oh, it’s just the beginning. And instead of a minefield, it may turn into a full-fledged land war.

Why Boehner’s lawsuit against Obama won’t lead to impeachment

Some are speculating that the plans of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R, Sun Lamp) are merely the first step to what the real right-wing crazies have wanted from the beginning — the impeachment of President Barack Obama. But they’re wrong, and here’s why.

Tea Party types, Rush Limbaugh’s dittoheads, overpaid right-wing pundits, the crazy uncles who lose brain cells every time they tune in to the Fake News Channel — they’ve all been clamoring to get rid of Obama since before he was even elected. He was a socialist Muslim Kenyan, after all, without a legitimate birth certificate who was intent on destroying the American way of life. Palled around with terrorists. Wanted to redistribute wealth. The list goes on and on. And don’t forget #BENGHAZI.

But the loss by Mississippi State Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Tea Party darling if there ever was one, to incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran in the Republican runoff primary election really pissed them off big time. And Cochran courted black voters, too! There were threats of forming a third party, voting for Democrats “just to show them,” refusing to donate any more money, etc.

When The Orange One announced the lawsuit in a press conference, he couldn’t come up with any specifics as to exactly what Obama had done wrong. When questioned by a reporter as to what specific executive actions he plans to challenge in court, Boehner replied, “When I make that decision, I’ll let you know.”

Of course, Obama has taken fewer executive actions than other modern presidents. But why let facts muddle a good narrative? As Democratic House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi put it: “He hasn’t come anywhere near what Republican presidents have done on executive orders. I make of it as subterfuge — as I’ve said, [Republicans in Congress] are doing nothing here and so they have to give some aura of activity.”

But Boehner has to do something to appease the Tea Party, so he announced the lawsuit idea. But he will never take it as far as impeachment. There have been suggestions that the lawsuit is the first bone thrown to the Tea Party dogs, and one that will motivate them to vote in (and — let’s be honest — give money to candidates for) the midterm elections this fall. And Boehner knows he has to keep the base motivated.

Here’s the problem, though — nothing, and I mean NOTHING — would motivate the base of liberals, African-Americans, Hispanics, young voters, women, and everyone else who elected Obama to come out to vote in droves this November like the impeachment of Barack Obama.

Do you remember Bill Clinton’s impeachment? Whether you liked him or not, whether you thought the case against him had any merit or not, Democratic voters were angry. Very angry. Everyone knew there was no way the Senate would convict Clinton. And even if the GOP captures the Senate this fall, don’t forget that the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority of senators to convict on any matter of impeachment. So Obama’s not going anywhere.

Republicans took quite a hit in the 1998 mid-term elections. They didn’t lose the House, but they lost seats — enough so that House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R, Biggest hypocrite you ever saw), who had bragged that the GOP would pick up 30 seats, had to resign from Congress. The actual impeachment didn’t occur until after the election, but the clown show that was Independent Counsel Ken Starr’s investigation and the surrounding impeachment talk and speculation was enough to motivate Democratic voters.

No. Boehner may not be a very good lawmaker or a very effective speaker, but he wants to keep his job. They can whine all they want about a lawsuit, but don’t expect to see impeachment on the table anytime soon.

He may not even have justification for a lawsuit. According to the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University, Boehner and other GOP House members need to show that they’ve been injured:

“The lower federal courts have of late developed a body of law with respect to the standing of Members of Congress, as Members, to bring court actions, usually to challenge actions of the executive branch. Most of the law has developed in the District of Columbia Circuit, and the Supreme Court has yet to consider the issue on the merits. It seems clear that a legislator ‘receives no special consideration in the standing inquiry,’ and that he, along with every other person attempting to invoke the aid of a federal court, must show ‘injury in fact’ as a predicate to standing.”

I may be wrong — I sincerely hope that I’m not. And I wouldn’t put anything past the Roberts Supreme Court as to what they would do in this case. I just think Boener is politically astute enough to know that impeachment is a crazy idea. Yet the GOP has become the party of crazies, so who knows?

Which classic villain is most like Dick Cheney? (poll)

The beady eyes, the snarl, the growl in the voice, the perpetual frown — all of those characteristics make up the man we know as former Vice President Dick Cheney. But something about him seems familiar…

We’re forced to listen to Dick Cheney recently because some misguided news stations seem to think he has something to add to the conversation about what’s happening in Iraq. Of course, his bad ideas were what got us stuck there for a decade, even though he promised the war would last “months, if not weeks,” and that members of  U.S. military would be “greeted as liberators.” Oh, and the war would “pay for itself.” How did all of that work out?

So instead of listening to him pontificate about everything the current administration is doing wrong, choose which villain is most like Mr. Unlikeable. Too bad — you can only vote for one.

Why is real voter fraud always on the GOP side?

In the June 24 runoff for the Mississippi Republican nominee for Senate, pitting incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran against Tea Party favorite Chris McDaniel, there was lots of hot air about avoiding “voter fraud.”

Neither candidate reached the 50% plateau in the June 3 primary — there was a third candidate who received a tiny slice of the vote — so the two main contenders faced each other in a runoff election. Tea Party folks from out of state were vowing to be “election observers” to make sure no one voted who wasn’t supposed to. Cochran, in the political fight of his life, was openly courting black Democratic voters to cross over and vote for him, reminding them of all of the federal goodies he had procured for the state during his six terms in office. These Tea Party “observers” with the not-at-all ironic name of “True the Vote” promised to police polls to make sure Democratic voters weren’t voting where they weren’t supposed to or voting twice if they had cast a vote in the Democratic primary on June 3. The “observers” were planning to invoke an obscure and never-enforced Mississippi law stating that primaries are limited to people who “intend” to support the party in question in the general election.

Nothing intimidating about stopping people from voting, is there? In Mississippi? Where 50 years ago, three civil rights volunteers were shot and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan for having the audacity to register African Americans to vote? In a state with a history of Jim Crow laws and poll taxes? Luckily, the state’s attorney general and secretary of state stepped in to make clear that Tea Party groups have no right under state law to send “election observers” to state polling places. UPDATE: Thad Cochran won in a close contest, 51 percent to 49 percent. Some of the margin of victory is reportedly due to black Democratic crossover votes.

No doubt you’ve heard the term “voter fraud” before. Republicans claim it’s rampant and that it has helped in electing Democrats. GOP state legislatures have used the excuse to pass voter suppression laws in several states, including passing voter ID laws, cutting the days of early voting, trimming registration times — in general, doing just about anything to make it harder for people to vote. People, that is, who tend to vote Democratic.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court basically gutted the Voting Rights Act, new voting restrictions passed in several states, mostly in the South, which would still have been under the Voting Rights Act if its enforcement mechanisms had been upheld. Twenty-four voting restrictions have passed in 17 states since 2011.

Now out of Wisconsin, we have a new real voter fraud case. According to the online version of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Robert D. Monroe, described as a supporter of Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Republican state Sen. Alberta Darling, was charged with more than a dozen counts of illegal voting, casting multiple ballots in four elections in 2011 and 2012, including five in the 2012 gubernatorial recall. He used addresses in Milwaukee, Shorewood (a Milwaukee suburb), and Indiana, and cast some votes in the names of his son and his girlfriend’s son. According to the complaint, Monroe cast two ballots in the April 11 Supreme Court election, two in the August 2011 recall election for state Sen. Darling, five in the Scott Walker-Tom Barrett recall, one illegal ballot in an August 2012 primary, and two ballots in the November 2012 presidential election. According to a John Doe voting records investigation, “Monroe was considered by investigators to be the most prolific multiple voter in memory.” Also, according to the John Doe records, Monroe claimed to have a form of temporary amnesia and did not recall the election day events when confronted by investigators.

So that’s the way to do it! Claim amnesia! That’s one enthusiastic voter you’ve got there.

In an investigation of potential voter fraud, students who were part of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education called News21 reviewed thousands of public records, court documents, and media reports to uncover voter fraud. An analysis of 2,068 alleged election-fraud cases since 2000 shows that while fraud has occurred, “the rate is infinitesimal.” Out of hundreds of millions of ballots cast, they found 633 actual incidents.

In North Carolina, right-wing media outlets charged that there were 36,000 cases of voter fraud in the 2012 presidential election, of people voting in more than one state. An actual investigation has whittled that number to 765, and many of those are now said to be the result of clerical errors.

Let’s look at some other, real cases of voter fraud, outlined on the MaddowBlog for MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show:

“Remember the Nevada voter who cast multiple ballots in the same election because she wanted to test the integrity of the elections system? She was a Republican voter. Remember the Texas voter who cast absentee ballots on behalf of his girlfriend for the five years after she died? He was a Republican voter, too. Remember the Indiana secretary of state convicted of voter fraud? Yep, a Republican.”

Look, voting shenanigans can occur — on either side of the aisle — but such instances are rare. Elected officials need to establish honest systems to encourage more people to vote, not fewer. Congress needs to do its job and pass new extensions of the Voting Rights Act.



Lies and intelligence failures should disqualify GOP Iraq comments

Imagine how heads would be exploding on Fox News and imagine the faux outrage from GOP lawmakers in front of TV cameras if the Obama administration had ignored intelligence that an outside terrorist group was going to attack Americans.

No, I’m not talking about the Bush administration’s failure to read the intelligence briefing titled “Bin Laden determined to strike In U.S.” before the Sept. 11 attacks. We all know how that fiasco and lack of action turned out.

No, I’m talking about how those inside the Reagan administration in 1983 ignored the intelligence from the National Security Administration about an upcoming attack on U.S. Marines on Oct. 23, 1983. Two suicide bombers drove trucks into two buildings housing U.S. and French troops in Beirut, Lebanon, where U.S. forces were part of a multinational group of peacekeepers in Lebanon. In all, 241 U.S. servicemen were killed, as well as 58 French servicemen, six U.S. civilians, and more than 20 Lebanese civilians. It was the biggest single-day death toll for the Marines since World War II in the Battle of Iwo Jima. Another 128 Americans were injured, and 12 later died.

Less than one month earlier, the NSA had intercepted a message from Iranian intelligence directing the Iranian ambassador in Lebanon to “take spectacular action against U.S. Marines.” This comes from a book called Peacekeepers at War: Beirut 1983 — The Marine Commander Tells His Story, by Marine Col. Timothy J. Geraghty, who commanded U.S. forces in Lebanon at the time.

In June 1982, Israel had invaded Lebanon, which was in the midst of a civil war. Israel wanted to create a buffer zone between Israel on one hand and the PLO and Syrian forces in Lebanon. The presence of U.S. forces — even in a multinational peacekeeping role — created ill will among Lebanese Muslims, who assumed the Americans were on the side of the Israelis and the Christian-led forces of the Lebanese government.

On Sept. 19, 1983, the U.S. launched a missile strike against the Syrian-supported Druze PSP, radical Pal­estinians, and assorted Muslim militias who were fighting the Lebanese Armed Forces. Some of the U.S. missiles hit innocent bystanders. Said Geraghty in his book, retelling the event: “My gut instinct tells me the Corps is going to pay in blood for this decision.”

The Marines did pay — in blood. By the next March, President Reagan had pulled all U.S. forces out of Lebanon. Despite heated rhetoric and talk of retaliation from U.S. officials, no counter strike was ever launched. A little-known group called Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the October attack, a group with ties to Iran and Syria that ultimately turned into Hezbollah, although Hezbollah and both countries deny any involvement to this day.

And that NSA interception of intelligence asking for payback against U.S. Marines? It wasn’t delivered to the Marine unit until Oct. 26, 1983, three days after the attack.

So let’s recap: 241 U.S. servicemen killed. No retaliation. A complete U.S. troop pullout, and continued violence in the region. Yes, there was a fact-finding commission, but ultimately, no one paid a political price, and certainly not anyone in the Reagan administration. Instead, the nation’s hearts went out to the families of those 241 servicemen.

(The Reagan administration, of course, had moved on to bargaining with Iranian terrorists holding Americans hostage in Lebanon, selling arms to Iran in exchange for the release of the seven hostages and later illegally using the proceeds to fund the contras against the democratically elected government in Nicaragua. But we digress.)

What’s different today? Today, there’s a Democrat in the White House. Despite the fact that it was the Bush administration who arranged the pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq, the growing sectarian violence in Iraq is obviously President Obama’s fault. Despite the fact that the Bush administration abandoned the search for Osama bin Laden and left it up to the Obama administration to find and kill him (without the help of the false “intelligence” gleaned under torture), that strike doesn’t count.

Despite the capture of the alleged mastermind of the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, that killed four Americans, that capture is nothing but a “distraction,” in the words of talking heads on the Fake News Channel. And Ahmed Abu Khattala has been quoted saying the attack was in response to the inflammatory video, The Innocence of Muslims, an online preview of which was seen all over the Muslim world in the fall of 2012 and caused demonstrations worldwide. Which is exactly what the Obama administration has been saying all along. But I guess the lure of more meaningless hearings is too great to resist for the GOP-led House.

So tell me, media: Why do you keep inviting these liars and architects of failed policy to give their opinions on what is happening in Iraq today?

What’s the point of the U.S. going back to Iraq?

Nearly 12 years ago, the United States government lied to its citizens and other countries around the world to start a war in Iraq, a country under the thumb of a regional strongman but that never had anything to do with the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S. We invaded, destabilized the region, and disbanded the Army. We spent trillions of U.S. dollars, tanked our own economy, caused nearly 4,500 American troops to lose their lives, and left tens of thousands of members of the U.S. military wounded, maimed, and worse.

Where Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims used to live in relative peace, they are now segregated and at each other’s throats. Where once al Qaeda was successfully kept out of the country, it is now being overrun by a group so bad that al Qaeda doesn’t even want anything to do with it. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Most of the weapons Saddam Hussein had were the ones sold to him during the 1980s through Donald Rumsfeld when he was President Reagan’s special envoy to the Middle East. And yet some members of the GOP can’t wait to send in troops again.

Sen. John McCain (R, I never met a war I didn’t like) thinks he’s playing a successful game of gotcha with the media and the Obama administration. “The fact is, we had the conflict won,” McCain said on MSNBC the morning of June 13. Funny way to define victory — wreck a country, claim success, then go on TV and hope the American people won’t remember how wrong you’ve been all along.

We were never greeted as “liberators,” as Vice President Dick Cheney so often claimed at the beginning of the conflict. It was only supposed to take months, if not weeks — remember those promises by so many in the Bush administration? The Iraq war would pay for itself because of all the oil revenue. Yet the U.S .spent more than $1 billion a week for a decade on the war.

McCain, who has been wrong so often that you would think he might show an ounce of humility, left a classified briefing on Iraq early to rush in front of the cameras to denounce the Obama administration’s foreign policy. According to a piece in Politico with the headline, “GOP on Iraq: We told you so,” McCain demanded that the entire Obama foreign policy team resign. Funny, he never asked the entire Bush administration to resign after they lied about WMDs, yellow cake, mushroom clouds, and the like. And don’t forget that McCain is such a shrewd judge of character that he chose $arah Palin to be his running mate.

House Speaker John Boehner (R, Sun lamp) accused the president of taking a nap. This from a guy whose House of Representatives has been the least productive in modern history, has wasted nearly 50 votes on repealing the Affordable Care Act, and meets only one out of every three weeks. Hey, Boehner, head back to the tanning booth. I think you need a nap yourself.

How wrong was John McCain on Iraq? He claimed that Saddam was tied to the 9/11 attacks, telling ABC in 2001 that Iraq was part of a “network” of terrorists. (It wasn’t.) McCain knew — he just knew! — there were WMDs there. (There weren’t.) In 2001, he even blamed Iraq for the anthrax attacks in Washington. (Attacks were finally linked to an American.) He told CNN in 2002 that success in Iraq would be “fairly easy.” We all know how that turned out.

Why should we listen to someone who has been so spectacularly wrong? Why should the media give him such a large spotlight? Hint to news networks: Just because John McCain opens his mouth doesn’t mean you have to stick a microphone in front of it.

On June 13, President Obama clearly said no — no U.S. troops will head back to Iraq. The United States has a history of backing corrupt leaders in unstable countries, and the American people are rightly saying, “No more.” Air strikes and limited military aid are a possibility, Obama said, but there’s not much point unless Iraqi leaders act to be more inclusive of the Iraqi population as a whole in all government levels. And where would these air strikes be, and against whom? Who would get the military aid?

No good answers, no good options. Remember, we elected this president — twice — because he said, “I am not opposed to all wars. I am opposed to dumb wars.” And the Iraq War was a dumb war.

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