Participation in subsidized child care drops in Missouri

In the span of a year, Missouri lost more children than any other state from a federal program that helps working parents pay for child care.
The figures, from an October survey by the Center for Law and Social Policy, or CLASP, show enrollment has dropped by 12,300 children statewide — more than a quarter of the net loss of enrollment nationwide.

The report notes that in 2013 participation in the child care subsidy program hit a 15-year low despite a rise in child poverty and stagnant wages in service jobs typically filled by the poor. Last year about 1.5 million children used the subsidy per month versus a program high of 1.8 million per month in 2006.

According to the report, the Missouri enrollment drop of 12,300 children was the largest in the country, far surpassing the 30 states that also saw net losses of subsidy use. Only New York and Texas — states with far more children than Missouri — came close to those declines last year, each reporting a net monthly average decline of 9,500 children. Twenty-three states had declines of 5,000 or fewer, with most of them reporting monthly average declines of fewer than 1,000 children.

The federal program is expected to release upwards of $2.3 billion annually starting in 2015. In Missouri, the Department of Social Services administers the program, handling sign-up and subsidy payments to providers.

But Missouri’s Legislature has set one of the most stringent income qualifiers for the federal subsidy in the country.

Parents enrolling in the program this year cannot earn more than 123 percent of the poverty level, or an income more than $24,342 for a family of three. The average yearly cost of full-time child care for a child in a St. Louis County child care center hovers around $11,000 for a toddler, according to Child Care Aware of Missouri.

A new report by the National Women’s Law Center indicates Missouri’s child care subsidy rate is one of the worst in the nation — about 43 percent less than the average market rate for child care in the St. Louis area.

These qualifiers have always made it difficult for needy Missourians to get the subsidy and keep it, said Glen Koenen, an advocate for the hungry who has seen similar enrollment drops in Missouri’s administration of the federal food stamp program.

(Excerpted from St. Louis Post Dispatch 11/17/14)

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Pluses of the Affordable Care Act mount, but so do attacks

The Affordable Care Act has enabled about 20 million Americans to gain health insurance. It established incentives that have improved patient outcomes and helped slow inflation in health-care costs. Analysts say it is expected to cost the federal government less than expected and reduce budget deficits.

But as enrollment in the health care marketplaces gets started for the second year, President Barack Obama’s signature health-care act remains under attack on multiple fronts from people who have yet to present a realistic plan for making America’s health-care system fair and efficient.

The good news is that the rate of uninsured adults, 13.4 percent, is the lowest it has been since Gallup began tracking the numbers in 2008. Newly insured Americans are gaining access to checkups, procedures and medications. People no longer have to worry about being rejected for health insurance because they are sick.

Up until now, the biggest challenge to the goal of near-universal health care coverage has been the failure of 23 states, including Missouri and Kansas, to expand Medicaid eligibility to the limits called for in the health-care law. A U.S. Supreme Court challenge made compliance optional.

That barrier has left millions of low-income, working Americans in a coverage gap, unable to qualify for Medicaid or affordable policies in the marketplaces. That includes 300,000 persons in Missouri and 150,000 in Kansas. Besides being mean-spirited, the refusal to accept federal money to expand Medicaid limits is harming hospitals and depriving states of economic benefits.

This is a good opportunity to reflect on the financial and emotional security that comes from being able to access affordable health care.

Opponents want to take that right away from millions of Americans. Now is the time not only to enroll in the Affordable Care Act marketplaces but to speak up for the law.

(Excerpted from Kansas City Star 11/16/14)

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Dark Money Helped Win the Senate

The next Senate was just elected on the greatest wave of secret, special-interest money ever raised in a congressional election. What are the chances that it will take action to reduce the influence of money in politics?

Nil, of course. The next Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has long been the most prominent advocate for unlimited secret campaign spending in Washington, under the phony banner of free speech. His own campaign benefited from $23 million in unlimited spending from independent groups like the National Rifle Association, the National Association of Realtors and the National Federation of Independent Business.

The single biggest outside spender on his behalf was a so-called social welfare group calling itself the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, which spent $7.6 million on attack ads against his opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes. It ran more ads in Kentucky than any other group, aside from the two campaigns.

What is its social welfare purpose, besides re-electing Mr. McConnell? It has none. Who gave that money? It could have been anyone who wants to be a political player but lacks the courage to do so openly — possibly coal interests, retailers opposed to the minimum wage, defense contractors, but there’s no way for the public to know. You can bet, however, that the senator knows exactly to whom he owes an enormous favor. The only name associated with the group is Scott Jennings, a deputy political director in the George W. Bush White House, who also worked for two of Mr. McConnell’s previous campaigns.

The $11.4 million spent anonymously for Mr. McConnell, though, didn’t even make him the biggest beneficiary of secret donations, a phenomenon that grew substantially in this election cycle. In the 2010 midterms, when this practice was just getting started, $161 million was spent by groups that did not disclose donations. In this cycle it was up to at least $216 million, and 69 percent of it was spent on behalf of Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In Colorado, at least $18 million in dark money was spent on behalf of Cory Gardner, the Republican newly elected to the Senate; $4 million was spent on behalf of Senator Mark Udall, the Democratic incumbent. In North Carolina, $13.7 million in secret donations was spent for Thom Tillis, the new Republican senator; $2.6 million went to Senator Kay Hagan, who was ousted.

Dark money wasn’t the only type of spending that polluted the cycle; this year there were 94 “super PACs” set up for individual candidates, all of which are attempts to bypass federal limits and allow big givers to support the candidates of their choice. (These donations have to be disclosed.) Of the $51.4 million these groups spent, 57 percent were on behalf of Democrats. Overall, of the $525.6 million in independent expenditures this cycle (excluding party committees), about 57 percent was for Republicans.

That money wasn’t just spent on attack ads. As Nicholas Confessore of The Times reported, it was used for tracking opponents and digging up damaging information, and expanding the ground game to turn out voters. Republicans used the money to set up a “research” group called America Rising, which existed only to sell embarrassing information and footage about Democratic candidates to Republican campaigns and super PACs.

Political operatives say this year was just a dress rehearsal for 2016, when there will be even more money, much of it secret, all benefiting the interests of the richest and best connected Americans. Given big money’s influence on Tuesday, the chances for limiting it are more distant than ever.

(Excerpted from New York Times 11/08/14)

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Triumph of the Wrong

…it’s not often that a party that is so wrong about so much does as well as Republicans did on Tuesday.

I’ll talk in a bit about some of the reasons that may have happened. But it’s important, first, to point out that the midterm results are no reason to think better of the Republican position on major issues. I suspect that some pundits will shade their analysis to reflect the new balance of power — for example, by once again pretending that Representative Paul Ryan’s budget proposals are good-faith attempts to put America’s fiscal house in order, rather than exercises in deception and double-talk. But Republican policy proposals deserve more critical scrutiny, not less, now that the party has more ability to impose its agenda.

So now is a good time to remember just how wrong the new rulers of Congress have been about, well, everything.

First, there’s economic policy. According to conservative dogma, which denounces any regulation of the sacred pursuit of profit, the financial crisis of 2008 — brought on by runaway financial institutions — shouldn’t have been possible. But Republicans chose not to rethink their views even slightly. They invented an imaginary history in which the government was somehow responsible for the irresponsibility of private lenders, while fighting any and all policies that might limit the damage. In 2009, when an ailing economy desperately needed aid, John Boehner, soon to become the speaker of the House, declared: “It’s time for government to tighten their belts.”

So here we are, with years of experience to examine, and the lessons of that experience couldn’t be clearer. Predictions that deficit spending would lead to soaring interest rates, that easy money would lead to runaway inflation and debase the dollar, have been wrong again and again. Governments that did what Mr. Boehner urged, slashing spending in the face of depressed economies, have presided over Depression-level economic slumps. And the attempts of Republican governors to prove that cutting taxes on the wealthy is a magic growth elixir have failed with flying colors.

In short, the story of conservative economics these past six years and more has been one of intellectual debacle — made worse by the striking inability of many on the right to admit error under any circumstances.

Then there’s health reform, where Republicans were very clear about what was supposed to happen: minimal enrollments, more people losing insurance than gaining it, soaring costs. Reality, so far, has begged to differ, delivering above-predicted sign-ups, a sharp drop in the number of Americans without health insurance, premiums well below expectations, and a sharp slowdown in overall health spending.

And we shouldn’t forget the most important wrongness of all, on climate change. As late as 2008, some Republicans were willing to admit that the problem is real, and even advocate serious policies to limit emissions — Senator John McCain proposed a cap-and-trade system similar to Democratic proposals. But these days the party is dominated by climate denialists, and to some extent by conspiracy theorists who insist that the whole issue is a hoax concocted by a cabal of left-wing scientists. Now these people will be in a position to block action for years to come, quite possibly pushing us past the point of no return.

But if Republicans have been so completely wrong about everything, why did voters give them such a big victory?

Part of the answer is that leading Republicans managed to mask their true positions. Perhaps most notably, Senator Mitch McConnell, the incoming majority leader, managed to convey the completely false impression that Kentucky could retain its impressive gains in health coverage even if Obamacare were repealed.

But the biggest secret of the Republican triumph surely lies in the discovery that obstructionism bordering on sabotage is a winning political strategy. From Day 1 of the Obama administration, Mr. McConnell and his colleagues have done everything they could to undermine effective policy, in particular blocking every effort to do the obvious thing — boost infrastructure spending — in a time of low interest rates and high unemployment.

This was, it turned out, bad for America but good for Republicans. Most voters don’t know much about policy details, nor do they understand the legislative process. So all they saw was that the man in the White House wasn’t delivering prosperity — and they punished his party.

Will things change now that the G.O.P. can’t so easily evade responsibility? I guess we’ll find out.

(Excerpted from New York Times 11/06/14)

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Leading Recipient of Lobbyist Gifts Decides Two Weeks Before Election Day That He Wants to Ban Lobbyist Gifts

Rep Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia), who “personally has accepted more lobbyist gifts in his first term than any other member of the Boone County delegation,” announced Tuesday that he now supports a total ban on lobbyist gifts.

We’re thrilled to see Rowden profess to come around on reforming the disgusting culture of Jefferson City, where freebies flow to politicians by the bellyfull. But his record of broken promises and sham ‘reform’ proposals leave us skeptical.

Rowden is the #1 Recipient of Lobbyist Gifts in Boone County

Rowden is thetop local recipient of lobbyist gifts. He got off to fast start with the gift grabbing too, coming in at #2 for Boone County in his very first session in Jefferson City, lapping established incumbents.

Rowden had multiple dinners with the lobbyist for the RAI tobacco as he was supporting tobacco-industry supported language on his e-cigarette legislation.(The same company sent Rowden a $1,000 check the day his bill to exempt electronic cigarettes from tobacco regulations passed the Missouri House.)

In January, he dismissed SOS Jason Kander’s proposal for a full gift ban — the policy he now supports — as “a bill to gain some hoopla.”

See a full list of Rowden’s accepted gifts here.

Rowden promised in January to stop taking free sports tickets from lobbyists, but quickly broke that promise.

In January 2014, Rowden told the Tribune “he has stopped accepting tickets and has instead purchased season tickets for the sports he enjoys.”

Not quite.

Just hours before he said he’d sworn off free tickets, he and his wife had accepted free Mizzou basketball tickets from a lobbyist for Rex Sinquefield. In July, a Comcast lobbyist paid for Rowden’s ticket to a Springfield Cardinals game. And in May, sitting in $250 seats at Busch Stadium with his wife, fellow Rep. Caleb Jones, and Jones’ wife, Rowden audaciously tweeted out pictures of himself at the game enjoying the largesse of his lobbyist benefactor.
The total disclosed cost for the two tickets Rowden accepted with his wife?
A cool $586. Not a bad evening, especially when someone else who wants your help passing (or not passing) legislation is footing the bill.

Rowden’s previous ‘reform’ proposal would allow each and every Jefferson City lobbyist to spend $3,000 per year on gifts and entertainment for every legislator.

No, really: The bill would limit lobbyists to spending no more than $50 per gift and $750 per quarter on each legislator. In other words, each legislator still could receive up to $3,000 a year in gifts from each registered lobbyist.

So you see why we’re a little skeptical of Rowden’s recent conversion on lobbyist gifts.

(Excerpted fromProgress Missouri 10/22/14 )

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Out-of-state money flowing to campaign against Cole County judge

Pat Joyce has been grinding out decisions on the Cole County Circuit Court for 20 years. A Democrat, she is 59, married with five children and a member of the Roman Catholic church.

But that’s not the image you get from television ads that began airing this week on a Jefferson City television station, courtesy of the Washington-based Republican State Leadership Committee.

In the ad, entitled “Groovy,” Joyce’s picture is surrounded by brightly colored tie-dyed walls, next to a couple with wild hair and sunglasses. A voice says: “Meet liberal judge Pat Joyce. Radical environmentalists think Joyce is so groovy. And the lawyers funding her campaign do, too.”

A footnote refers to a single decision six years ago, when Joyce barred a large hog farm from operating near the Arrow Rock, Mo., historic site.

The GOP leadership committee is spending $100,000 on the attack ads and sent another $100,000 directly to her Republican opponent, Jefferson City Prosecutor Brian Stumpe. Before the check arrived, his campaign was $12,976 in debt and had $58.47 in the bank. Now, he is blanketing the airwaves with ads touting himself as the county’s next judge.

The blitz has cast a spotlight on the little court with the outsized influence in Missouri, as well as the state’s campaign finance law, which allows unlimited contributions with murky disclosure.

“I pretty clearly think it’s an attempt to intimidate the judges in the county courthouse,” said Chuck Hatfield, an area lawyer and a Democrat. “The message that’s coming through is, if you’ve ruled the way you think you ought to rule and it is contrary to some interest groups, they’re going to take you out.”

Cole County judges don’t just handle run-of-the-mill civil and criminal cases. Because Jefferson City is the seat of state government, they rule on the constitutionality of state laws and regulations, political corruption cases involving high-ranking officials and fights over initiative petition ballot wording, for example.

And Joyce has issued some high-profile rulings over the years, such as one in 2012 rewriting the ballot description for St. Louis mega-donor Rex Sinquefield’s plan to overhaul Missouri’s taxes, in effect killing his effort to put it on the ballot that year.

(Excerpted from St. Louis Post Dispatch 10/15/14 )

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JeffCo Recorder Asks Why Military Hasn’t Ousted Obama Yet

Jefferson County Recorder of Deeds Debbie Dunnegan took to her Facebook page this week to ask her military friends why no one has taken action against “our domestic enemy… supposedly the commander in chief.” That’s right, she asked why President Obama hasn’t been taken care of (or something) by the military yet. Apparently, in Dunnegan’s Constitution the military has “the authority” to oust the President for unspecified misdeeds.

(Excerpted from Progress Missouri 10/10/14 )

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The Big Lie Behind Voter ID Laws

Election Day is three weeks off, and Republican officials and legislators around the country are battling down to the wire to preserve strict and discriminatory new voting laws that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court — no friend to expansive voting rights — stepped in and blocked one of the worst laws, a Wisconsin statute requiring voters to show a photo ID to cast a ballot. A federal judge had struck it down in April, saying it would disproportionately prevent voting by poorer and minority citizens. Last month, however, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit allowed it to go into effect, even though thousands of absentee ballots had been sent out under the old rules.

There was sure to be chaos if the justices had not stayed that appeals court ruling, and their decision appears to be based on the risk of changing voting rules so close to an election. But they could still vote to uphold the law should they decide to review its constitutionality.

Similar laws have been aggressively pushed in many states by Republican lawmakers who say they are preventing voter fraud, promoting electoral “integrity” and increasing voter turnout. None of that is true. There is virtually no in-person voter fraud; the purpose of these laws is to suppress voting.

In Texas, where last week a federal judge struck down what she called the most restrictive voter ID law in the country, there were two convictions for in-person voter impersonation in one 10-year period. During that time, 20 million votes were cast. Nor is there any evidence that these laws encourage more voters to come to the polls. Instead, in at least two states — Kansas and Tennessee — they appear to have reduced turnout by 2 percent to 3 percent, according to a report released last week by the Government Accountability Office.

Voter ID laws, as their supporters know, do only one thing very well: They keep otherwise eligible voters away from the polls. In most cases, this means voters who are poor, often minorities, and who don’t have the necessary documents or the money or time to get photo IDs.

n her remarkable 143-page opinion in the Texas case, Federal District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos found that the law violated both the Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act, and that by forcing registered voters to track down and pay for qualifying documents, it functioned as an “unconstitutional poll tax.”

Most striking of all, Judge Ramos found that the rapid growth of Texas’s Latino and black population, and the state’s “uncontroverted and shameful history” of discriminatory voting practices — including whites-only primaries, literacy restrictions and actual poll taxes — led to a clear conclusion: Republican lawmakers knew the law would drive down turnout among minority voters, who lean Democratic, and they passed it at least in part for that reason. Judge Ramos’s finding of intentional discrimination is important because it could force Texas back under federal voting supervision, meaning changes to state voting practices would have to be preapproved by the federal government. (Texas appealed the ruling; a federal appeals court is now considering whether to put it on hold until after the election.)

Eventually the issue will be back before the Supreme Court, which last reviewed a voter ID law in 2008, when it upheld an Indiana law because there was no clear evidence showing how it would harm voters. Thanks to the work of voting-rights advocates and the extraordinarily thorough rulings of Judge Ramos and Judge Lynn Adelman, who struck down Wisconsin’s law, the evidence is in.

The next time voter ID laws reach the justices, they should see them for the antidemocratic sham they are.

(Excerpted from New York Times 10/12/14)

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Pentagon Signals Security Risks of Climate Change

The Pentagon on Monday released a report asserting decisively that climate change poses an immediate threat to national security, with increased risks from terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty and food shortages. It also predicted rising demand for military disaster responses as extreme weather creates more global humanitarian crises.

“The loss of glaciers will strain water supplies in several areas of our hemisphere,” Mr. Hagel said. “Destruction and devastation from hurricanes can sow the seeds for instability. Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline, and trigger waves of mass migration.”

The report is the latest in a series of studies highlighting the national security risks of climate change. But the Pentagon’s characterization of it as a present-day threat demanding immediate action represents a significant shift for the military, which has in the past focused on climate change as a future risk.

The new report does not make any specific budget recommendations for how the military will pay for its climate change agenda, but if the Pentagon does request funding from Congress for its initiatives, it will clash with congressional Republicans, many of whom question the established scientific evidence that human activities are causing climate change.

(Excerpted from New York Times 10/13/14)

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GAO Study Finds Voter ID Laws Reduced Turnout in Tennessee, Kansas

Turnout among African-American and younger voters suffers when states require photo identification at the polls, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office said Wednesday, publishing a study of voting in two states as the Supreme Court weighs whether Wisconsin can implement new ID requirements in next month’s elections.

The issue has broken along sharply partisan lines. Republicans have pushed for voter ID rules, saying they can prevent impostors from casting fraudulent ballots. Democrats contend such restrictions suppress elements of their base: poor, minority and young voters who are less likely to carry acceptable IDs.

The GAO report, requested by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) and other Senate Democrats, found voter ID rules reduced turnout by 1.9% to 3.2% over several elections in the two states selected for study, Kansas and Tennessee. Participation fell disproportionately further among voters age 23 and younger, voters who had been registered for less than one year, and African-American voters, the study found.

“A 2% effect from voter ID is pretty significant,” said Stanford law professor Nate Persily, former research director for the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration. “The magnitude is much larger than I would have thought.”

The 206-page report examined 10 prior studies on the effects of voter ID laws. But the GAO’s statisticians and social scientists also conducted original research, focusing on Kansas and Tennessee, they said, because those states adopted voter ID without making other major voting changes, increasing the likelihood changes in turnout didn’t spring from other factors.

After comparing Kansas and Tennessee results with those in other states, the GAO found turnout fell by statistically significant percentages that “were attributable to changes in those two states’ voter ID requirements.”

The GAO study also found little evidence of in-person voter fraud, but said the lack of comprehensive data made it difficult to assess how often such impersonation occurs.

(Excerpted from Wall Street Journal 10/08/14)

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National Republicans spend big in race for circuit court that has jurisdiction over major constitutional questions involving state leaders and, more importantly to voters statewide, questions regarding ballot initiatives

For a judge, being elected to the Cole County 19th Judicial Circuit Court is a big deal.

While its jurisdiction is only over a county of 75,000 people, it includes one important thing that no other county has: The seat of Missouri government. That gives the court jurisdiction over major constitutional questions involving state leaders and, more importantly to voters statewide, questions regarding ballot initiatives.

Over the past few election cycles, Republican candidates have slowly beat many of the Democrat incumbents on the 19th Circuit. This year, Presiding Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce is the last Democrat standing.

Over the weekend, the Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee gave $100,000 to Joyce’s Republican opponent in an effort to get her off the court.

The money made its way into Republican Bryan Stumpe’s campaign coffers after taking three steps. First, it was contributed by someone to the RSLC’s national non-profit organization. Then, it was contributed to the RSLC’s Missouri political action committee on Oct. 3. Finally, it made it into Stumpe’s campaign account on Oct. 4.

Because of federal disclosure rules regarding non-profit organizations like the RSLC, it likely will not be clear until after the November election who it was that contributed the money that made its way to Stumpe’s campaign.

“I am pleased they see the importance of this race and have chosen to support my campaign,” Stumpe said told the Jefferson City-News Tribune when asked about the contribution.

When asked by the paper if he knew where the money came from, he told the paper he did not know.

“The RSLC has thousands of donors and spends millions every election helping to elect conservative Republican candidates,” he said.

Prior to receiving the contribution, Stumpe – whose campaign had just $287 in the bank – had already begun filming a television commercial in downtown Jefferson City, according to one source.

The RSLC has a handful of Missouri-based donors, including St. Louis billionaire Rex Sinquefield, whose lawyers often argue before the 19th Circuit on cases regarding ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments. Quietly near the end of October 2012, Sinquefield contributed $475,000 to the RSLC, which wasn’t made public until well after voters went to the polls in November.

Jill Bader, a spokeswoman for the RSLC, said the organization has not received any money from Sinquefield this election cycle and that donors are not given the option to earmark their contributions.

“The RSLC has over 100,000 donors in all 50 states. Our donors are publically disclosed on our 8872 (form) we file monthly with the IRS,” she said.

The RSLC was formed in 2002 to help Republican candidates seeking down-ballot seats like state legislator or lieutenant governor. This year, it launched the “Judicial Fairness Initiative,” its effort to expand that help to Republicans seeking hoping to jump on the bench.

Prior to the big contribution over the weekend, the race had been fought in the way many of these offices that have jurisdiction over small geographic territories are typically fought: Candidates battling for the hearts and minds of voters by knocking on doors, passing out literature and marching in parades.

Compared to large statewide campaigns, judicial elections are often times cheap. Before last weekend, Stumpe had raised a total of $900. This cycle, Joyce – a third term incumbent – raised a total of $30,000 and currently has over $18,700 in the bank.

Following criticism of Stumpe by the Jefferson City News Tribune’s editorial board, Better Courts for Missouri – a conservative-aligned group active in judicial politics – took a shot at Joyce for accepting more than $14,000 in contributions from lawyers, some of whom practice before the Cole County circuit.

James Harris, executive director of the group, said Joyce should “either refund these contributions or agree to recuse herself any time her donors come before her court.”

(Excerpted from PoliticoMO 10/08/14)

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Why Do We Re-elect Them?

When you buy a new car, you dodge the sketchy salesman, read up on consumer ratings, get a feel for the ride. When you get married, you think about growing old with a person, love beyond lust, do a life gut check. And when you elect a federal lawmaker next month, you go against everything you believe in to reward the worst Congress ever.

How else to explain the confit of conventional wisdom showing that voters are poised to give Republicans control of the Senate, and increase their hold on the House, even though a majority of Americans oppose nearly everything the G.O.P. stands for?

The message is: We hate you for your inaction, your partisanship, your nut-job conspiracy theories; now do more of the same. Democracy — nobody ever said it made sense. Of course, November’s election will be a protest vote against the man who isn’t on the ballot, a way to make a lame duck president even lamer in his final two years.

But before buyer’s remorse sets in, voters should consider exactly what Republicans believe, and what they’ve promised to do. It ranges from howl-at-the-moon crazy talk and half-truths to policies that will keep wages down and kill job growth.

Let’s start with the Republican Ryan Zinke, a square-jawed former member of the Navy SEALs who is likely to be the next congressman from Montana. Earlier this year, he said, “We need to focus on the real enemy” — that is, the anti-Christ. And who should that be? Why, Hillary Clinton. O.K., he’s just one talk-radio spawn from the Big Sky state. Lock the man up in a room with Ayn Rand novels and the tomes of the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises and he’ll be right in the head.

But Mr. Zinke is not a lone loon. More than one in five Republicans last year told a pollster they believed that President Obama was the anti-Christ.

It’s harmless hyperbole, you say. The 114th Congress will not take up the matter of what to do with the Beast at the end times. But they will hold crucial votes on whether one of the world’s largest users of energy — us — can curb carbon emissions enough to mitigate climate change. Here Mr. Zinke is practically a lefty in his party. He says climate change is not a hoax, which puts him at odds with 58 percent of Republicans who believe that it is.

But then, he says that the matter is not “settled science.” Oy vey. One more time: 97 percent of climate scientists agree that warming over the last century is very likely because of human activity. It is settled, except in the science-denial party. Only 3 percent of Republicans in Congress have been willing to go on record to accept that consensus. Good thing gravity is not under discussion.

You say you favor raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10, as did 73 percent of those polled by Pew. Yay, let’s do something about income inequality! But the Republican leadership will not let this come up for a vote. Nope. Never. It’s locked in the closet, with compromise. And in Iowa, just to pick one race that could make a huge difference in the lives of millions, the Republican who is close to taking the Senate seat of the retiring Tom Harkin is against raising the federal minimum wage. That would be Joni Ernst, a Koch brothers tool, who has also pledged fealty to the anti-tax absolutism of Grover Norquist.

Americans want their politicians to meet in the middle. Well, most. If you wonder why Republicans will not budge on common-sense issues supported by a majority, it’s because the other party supports those ideas. This year, another Pew survey found that 36 percent of Republicans believe the Democratic Party is a threat to the nation’s well-being. You don’t compromise with a threat.

The biggest issue is the economy. But here, it seems many voters don’t know what to believe, and what they do believe is wrong. What’s the unemployment rate? A poll this month found that 27 percent of people pegged the jobless rate at 9 percent, and nearly one in five said it was closer to 12 percent. The rate is 5.9 percent.

On Obama’s watch, the stock market went on a record run and 10 million new jobs have been created — more new jobs than in Europe and Japan combined. The president gets no credit for this, because people don’t feel it. Wages are flat. Economic anxiety rides the October air.

The Republicans have no jobs plan, as Speaker John Boehner indirectly acknowledged this week with a five-point tweet that listed … nothing. But they talk about austerity and cutting spending, exactly what Europe did to catastrophic effect.

There is one more deep-held red state belief that could explain our national cognitive dissonance. Two-thirds of Republicans think people can be possessed by demons. We don’t need a new Congress. We need an exorcist.

(Excerpted from Egan New York Times 10/08/14)

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Voodoo Economics, the Next Generation

Even if Republicans take the Senate this year, gaining control of both houses of Congress, they won’t gain much in conventional terms: They’re already able to block legislation, and they still won’t be able to pass anything over the president’s veto. One thing they will be able to do, however, is impose their will on the Congressional Budget Office, heretofore a nonpartisan referee on policy proposals.

As a result, we may soon find ourselves in deep voodoo.

During his failed bid for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination George H. W. Bush famously described Ronald Reagan’s “supply side” doctrine — the claim that cutting taxes on high incomes would lead to spectacular economic growth, so that tax cuts would pay for themselves — as “voodoo economic policy.” Bush was right. Even the rapid recovery from the 1981-82 recession was driven by interest-rate cuts, not tax cuts. Still, for a time the voodoo faithful claimed vindication.

The 1990s, however, were bad news for voodoo. Conservatives confidently predicted economic disaster after Bill Clinton’s 1993 tax hike. What happened instead was a boom that surpassed the Reagan expansion in every dimension: G.D.P., jobs, wages and family incomes.

And while there was never any admission by the usual suspects that their god had failed, it’s noteworthy that the Bush II administration — never shy about selling its policies on false pretenses — didn’t try to justify its tax cuts with extravagant claims about their economic payoff. George W. Bush’s economists didn’t believe in supply-side hype, and more important, his political handlers believed that such hype would play badly with the public. And we should also note that the Bush-era Congressional Budget Office behaved well, sticking to its nonpartisan mandate.

But now it looks as if voodoo is making a comeback. At the state level, Republican governors — and Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, in particular — have been going all in on tax cuts despite troubled budgets, with confident assertions that growth will solve all problems. It’s not happening, and in Kansas a rebellion by moderates may deliver the state to Democrats. But the true believers show no sign of wavering.

Meanwhile, in Congress Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, is dropping broad hints that after the election he and his colleagues will do what the Bushies never did, try to push the budget office into adopting “dynamic scoring,” that is, assuming a big economic payoff from tax cuts.

So why is this happening now? It’s not because voodoo economics has become any more credible. True, recovery from the 2007-9 recession has been sluggish, but it has actually been a bit faster than the typical recovery from financial crisis, despite unprecedented cuts in government spending and employment. In fact, the recovery in private-sector employment has been faster than it was during the “Bush boom” last decade. At the same time, researchers at the International Monetary Fund, surveying cross-country evidence, have found that redistribution of income from the affluent to the poor, which conservatives insist kills growth, actually seems to boost economies.

But facts won’t stop the voodoo comeback, for two main reasons.

First, voodoo economics has dominated the conservative movement for so long that it has become an inward-looking cult, whose members know what they know and are impervious to contrary evidence. Fifteen years ago leading Republicans may have been aware that the Clinton boom posed a problem for their ideology. Today someone like Senator Rand Paul can say: “When is the last time in our country we created millions of jobs? It was under Ronald Reagan.” Clinton who?

Second, the nature of the budget debate means that Republican leaders need to believe in the ways of magic. For years people like Mr. Ryan have posed as champions of fiscal discipline even while advocating huge tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations. They have also called for savage cuts in aid to the poor, but these have never been big enough to offset the revenue loss. So how can they make things add up?

Well, for years they have relied on magic asterisks — claims that they will make up for lost revenue by closing loopholes and slashing spending, details to follow. But this dodge has been losing effectiveness as the years go by and the specifics keep not coming. Inevitably, then, they’re feeling the pull of that old black magic — and if they take the Senate, they’ll be able to infuse voodoo into supposedly neutral analysis.

Would they actually do it? It would destroy the credibility of a very important institution, one that has served the country well. But have you seen any evidence that the modern conservative movement cares about such things?

(Excerpted from Krugman New York Times 10/5/14 )

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Missouri Republican legislators eat like kings on lobbyists’ dime while people they represent suffer

It is unconscionable that five Missouri lawmakers would enjoy a night at an expensive Dallas restaurant and let lobbyists pay the bill of more than $3,000 while more than 1 million Missourians struggle to get enough food just to eat.

A study released in August by Feeding America and the Missouri Food Bank Association shows that 1 in 5 people, or 1,190,600 Missourians, every year rely on food pantries and meal service programs to feed themselves and their families. Yet House Speaker Tim Jones, a Eureka Republican; Majority Leader John Diehl, a Republican from the St. Louis suburbs; Rep. Sue Allen, a St. Louis County Republican; Sen. Ed Emery, a Lamar Republican; and Sen. Wayne Wallingford, a Cape Girardeau Republican, went out on lobbyists’ dime for a steakhouse dinner, The Kansas City Star reports. It was part of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s annual convention in August.

Compare that to Missourians struggling to get enough to eat. The Feeding America study shows that of the people the food pantries and meal programs serve, 70 percent are white, 20 percent are black and 3 percent are Latino. About 46 percent of the households affected have at least one employed person, which means a lot of Missourians are working in jobs that don’t pay enough for them to afford food.

Food pantries and meal programs also report an increase in the last year in the number of people they are serving. The Missouri Food Bank Association is a coalition of the six food banks providing hunger relief in every county in the state as well as the city of St. Louis. Together they distribute more than 115 million pounds of food annually through a network of more than 1,500 community feeding programs.

What’s also distressing compared to the extravagance lavished on elected officials is 69 percent of the people receiving assistance have had to choose between paying for food versus utilities. And even worse, 65 percent of the clients must pick between paying for food versus paying for medicine/medical care.

That’s despite the Republican-dominated Missouri legislature deciding not to expand Medicaid so that more low-income Missourians would have the health care they and their families need.

Keep in mind that Missouri is the only state in the Union without limits on campaign donations or on how much an elected official can take in gifts from lobbyists. So the lobbyists can lard even more stuff for lawmakers like feeding them at the Dallas Chop House while the people, whom elected officials are supposed to serve, suffer. Rattlesnakes have more of a conscience.

(Excerpted from Kansas City Star 10/8/14)

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Who are “We the People”

WHO is a person? How do you qualify for basic human rights? What is required for you to be able to speak or worship freely or to be free from torture?

Throughout American history, the Supreme Court has considered and reconsidered the criteria for membership in the club of rights, oscillating between a vision limiting rights to preferred groups and another granting rights to all who require protection. These competing visions have led to some strange results.

Corporations (as well as unions) can spend on political speech to further their group interests as though they were individual political actors. Corporations can assert religious rights to gain legal exemptions from laws that would otherwise apply to them. Muslim detainees at Guantánamo Bay, however, have none of these rights

The Roberts court [Supreme Court] has already charted a course in which rights are extended to those who have real clout in American society and denied to those who are more marginal. In two critical cases, Citizens United and Hobby Lobby, the court decided by a 5-to-4 vote that corporations had broad rights of speech and of religion, which left corporate owners in a position to trumpet their political and religious views while diminishing or even silencing other voices.

As the Roberts court begins its 10th term, there is a clear shift away from decades of jurisprudence in which the court envisioned its role as protector of the essential human dignity of those who lacked the political power to protect themselves. Justice William J. Brennan Jr. called the Constitution “a sublime oration on the dignity of man.” But historically the Supreme Court had ignored the dignity of a broad section of humanity: Native Americans, slaves, women, racial minorities, aliens, Japanese internees, gays and lesbians, and now Muslims at Guantánamo.

The current court is solicitous of those who pool their capital and obtain the protection of the corporate form. It is sympathetic toward the interests of mainstream elites, expanding religion, protecting commercial wealth and even protecting gay rights, an issue that crosses class lines. The dignity of prisoners, employees, or ethnic and racial minorities is far less likely to engage the moral imagination of this court.

It takes courage for the Supreme Court to stand up for the powerless and the despised. Sometimes it has risen to the challenge and sometimes it has not. With the Roberts court, what we see is a self-referential worldview, which leads the court to enhance the rights of insiders and deny protection to outsiders. On Monday, the justices will begin another term with the question of whether their commitment to the protection of human dignity will be universal or limited to “persons” just like them.

(Excerpted from Eric Lewis New York Times 10/5/14 )

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Republican voter suppression efforts

For every unit of energy and resources Democrats devote to reduce the difference between their midterm and general electorates, Republicans are responding—not with turnout-boosting strategies of their own, but by making it harder for the pool of voters who make up that difference to vote, even if they want to. In a way, the story of the 2014 elections can be boiled down to two counterposed strategies, with Democrats on one side trying to mitigate their midterm drop off and Republicans on the other trying to exacerbate it. In 2012, Republican efforts to suppress Democratic turnout may have backfired. The Republican response was not to scale back those efforts but to make them more impervious to blowback.

No two stories heighten the contrast between strategies than this Washington Post article about Senator Mark Begich’s unrivaled ground game in Alaska—the most difficult state in the country to canvas—and this News & Observer article about the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which ran afoul of the North Carolina election board by sending hundreds of thousands of erroneous voter registration forms to residents (and at least one cat) around the state.

It’s unclear whether AFP or other conservative groups are sending misleading application forms to voters in states other than North Carolina (though AFP has a storied history of intimidating and caging voters with shady mailers in recent years). But in North Carolina, and maybe elsewhere, these efforts work in tandem with new, highly restrictive laws, which are nominally intended to reduce non-existent problems like voter fraud and election spending, but are in fact designed to make it harder for young people and minorities to vote, even if they intend to.

After the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act last year, North Carolina passed the most restrictive voting law in the country. It included a much-discussed voter ID requirement, but, perhaps more importantly, it canceled a week of early voting, did away with a pre-registration program for high school students, nixed same-day registration, and eliminated provisional ballots for voters who show up at the wrong precinct.

Voting rights advocates are also asking courts to weigh in against suppressive voter ID laws in other battlegrounds—including Wisconsin, where Democrats are hoping to unseat Governor Scott Walker; and Arkansas, which may determine whether Democrats maintain control of the U.S. Senate. Tens of thousands of registered voters in these states don’t have, and will be unable to secure, proper identification in time for the election. Since Democrats respond to voter suppression efforts with more sophisticated organizing and GOTV, the idea this year is to make those suppression tactics less vulnerable to those efforts.

So the question isn’t just whether Democrats can find their drop-off supporters and turn them out to the polls, but, assuming that plan is successful, whether Republicans will let them vote when they get there.

(Excerpted from The New Republic 10/5/14)

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Missouri Lawmakers Receive A Lot Of Cardinals Tickets, Snacks From Lobbyists

Lobbyists have paid for more than $130,000 worth of Cardinals tickets and baseball snacks for Missouri lawmakers since 2007, according to our analysis of the data.

10 lawmakers took free tickets to Game 3 of the 2013 World Series. The average price of the tickets was $250 apiece, and they were paid for by AT&T, Pelopidas LLC (a Rex Sinquefield-backed lobbyist), and John Bardgett & Associates, a lobbying firm. The game ended in the bottom of the 9th with an obstruction call.

Three lawmakers went to (game 7 of the 2013 World Series), mostly paid for by Ameren. The other companies were AT&T and Pelopidas LLC.

Ameren ($1,000), AT&T ($750) and Pelopidas LLC ($400) paid for five lawmakers (and one staffer) to go to one of the best playoff games in recent history [Texas Rangers vs Cardinals].

The top five groups who spent the most money on taking legislators out to ‘the old ball-game’ since 2007.
1. Ameren: $24,610.26 – An energy provider based in St. Louis. It also happens to be the company that spends the most on lobbyist gifts in Missouri.
2. AT&T: $16,107.00 – The telecommunications giant.
3. John Bardgett & Associates: $13,568.15 – A lobbying firm based in Chesterfield, Missouri. Consistently in the top five organizations that buy gifts for lawmakers.
4. Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield: $7,315.00 – A wealthy retired financier and his wife, both with an interest in Missouri politics.
5. Pelopidas, LLC: $5,993.80 – A lobbying firm backed by multi-millionaire Rex Sinquefield.
6. St. Louis Cardinals: $5,121.00 – The MLB team itself.
7. U. S. Cellular: $4,971.65 – A regional telecommunications company.
8. Laclede Gas Company: $4,312.89 – A natural gas utility.
9. Missouri Fire Service Alliance: $3,433.93 – Organization made up of fire and emergency service organizations in Missouri.
10. Missouri Cable Telecommunications Association: $2,569.00 – Statewide organization representing cable telocommunications companies.

(Excerpted from St. Louis Public Radio 10/3/14 )

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Ad blitz that will be paid for by a not-for profit entity with close ties to PAC heavily funded by Sinquefield

An ad blitz begins Monday on two area television stations that will be paid for by a not-for-profit entity with close ties to a political action committee funded heavily by conservative activist Rex Sinquefield.

The Missouri Club for Growth purchased $68,970 worth of commercial time on KOMU-TV and KMIZ-TV, making an initial purchase on Sept. 15. The not-for-profit increased both orders after incumbent state Rep. John Wright, D-Rocheport, purchased $41,700 worth of commercial time on KOMU on Sept. 25.

The Missouri Club for Growth is a not-for-profit entity created under Missouri laws to engage in political activity and does not disclose its donors. The Missouri Club for Growth PAC, registered with the Missouri Ethics Commission, does disclose its donors and records show it received $3.6 million since May 2012, 99.9 percent of its funding over the past three years, from Sinquefield. The Tribune initially credited the ad buys to the Club for Growth PAC instead of the not-for-profit entity.

Wright, a freshman lawmaker targeted for defeat by Republicans, is opposed by retired air traffic controller Chuck Basye in the 47th House District.

Sinquefield is a donor to many organizations and in 2013 created a committee called Grow Missouri. That organization, which receives 100 percent of its funding from Sinquefield, suffered a blow to its public image last week when a public relations firm under contract with Grow Missouri attempted to hire five political reporters to write anonymously for its blog. Grow Missouri issued apologies and fired the Boston firm that solicited the reporters.

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Grow Missouri also became embroiled in a new controversy today after a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter revealed she had been approached by the public relations firm Skyword and offered money to write content for Grow Missouri’s blog.

“Grow Missouri if offering to pay contributors $250 for bylined, or no byline if preferred, articles ranging from 500 to 700 words in length with the opportunity to earn more for special on-site projects,” the email to the reporter said.

Other reporters later said they or their organizations had been approached by Skyword.

“You’ll be happy to know this reporter cannot be bought,” Alex Stuckey, the Post-Dispatch reporter, tweeted.

(Excerpted from New-Leader 9/26/14 and Progress Missouri 9/26/14 )

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Missouri’s hunger problem gets worse and worse

If you are poor, hungry live in Missouri, you don’t need a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to tell you how bad things are. Those Missourians who are more fortunate need to know. Every year, the USDA issues its “food security” report, which analyzes hunger problems across the country. In Missouri, the news is very, very bad.

In a state that is getting used to ranking poorly in things that count — like education funding, poverty and health-care outcomes — Missouri is No. 1 in a dubious category for the second year in a row.

Over the past decade, as a percentage of population, more Missourians have fallen into hunger, defined in the report as “very low food security,” than in any state in the nation.

All of Missouri’s rankings in the hunger report got worse in 2013 compared to 2012.

Nearly 17 percent of Missourians reported being food insecure, meaning at least once last year, in most cases several times, they skipped meals for lack of money. That’s the fifth-highest percentage in the nation, up two spots from 7th the year before.

Worse, more than 8 percent of Missourians reported more severe hunger, defined as “very low food security,” second only to Arkansas in terms of the dubious ranking. Here’s where the numbers get really bad, and they don’t show up in the USDA report: Over the past year, as Missouri’s hunger problems got worse, fewer Missourians had access to food stamps to help feed their families.

St. Louis activist Glenn Koenen has been collecting food stamp numbers from the Department of Social Services for the past year. Mr. Koenen is the chairman of the hunger task force for the Missouri Association of Social Welfare, and the former executive director of the Circle of Concern food pantry in Valley Park. His research indicates that nearly 90,000 fewer Missourians have access to food stamps than they did a year ago. These aren’t people who have magically found jobs and improved their economic status, but people who have been frustrated by the system.

Over the past few years, the administration of Gov. Jay Nixon has reorganized the Family Support Division, which administers important health-care and food programs to the poor, in an effort to save money. The same problems that have caused a backlog in Missourians trying to get access to the Medicaid insurance they qualify for has affected the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Progam (food stamps).

“I have talked to pantry folk who routinely hear from families who have waited two and three months for a routine re-authorization of the food stamp account,” Koenen wrote in an email. “Many pantry customers talk of lost documents, the inability to talk to a person who knows their case when they call, and, general confusion in the system.”

This is a tragedy and an embarrassment. It should shame every politician and bureaucrat in Jefferson City. Missourians are better than this. Statistically, the hunger problem in Missouri is getting worse, caused by ongoing and rampant poverty, and yet the government’s ability to provide aid to those who qualify under even weak guidelines is hampered by poor funding and mismanagement.

Simply put, there aren’t enough social workers to get the job done in a state that has public policies which are making the economy worse, not better.

In January 2013, current and former GOP speakers of the Missouri House gathered in the Capitol to celebrate a decade of Republican control in the Legislature. Among the honorees was former Speaker of the House Rod Jetton, who used to brag about being on food stamps in his college days, before he and the speakers who followed him committed to making Missouri tougher on people who are hungry.

In cutting taxes in a low-tax state, Missouri Republicans have made it harder to take care of the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

In fact, hundreds of thousands of Missourians, in big cities and rural counties alike, still live in poverty. For them, the recession never ended. For them, record profits on Wall Street are a vicious joke.

The numbers don’t lie. In the past decade, hunger has gotten worse in the Show-Me State. Ever more Missourians are going hungry. Food stamps only provide $1.46 per meal in Missouri, but state government’s response has been to make it harder for them to get help. And then government brags about it.

This is a tragic legacy. It should not be celebrated, but fixed.

(Excerpted from St. Louis Post Dispatch 9/22/14)

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