STOP SOPA: An Open Letter to Senator Al Franken

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This is a letter I sent to Senator Al Franken on 12 January 2012. I live in Minnesota, the state for which Franken is a senator. In 2008, I was a campaign activist for Al Franken’s senate campaign, operating volunteer call operations on behalf of his campaign and canvassing door-to-door to solicit votes on his behalf.

In this letter, I am asking Senator Franken to withdraw his support for the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). 

Senator Franken,

My name is Jonathan Bates. In 2008 I was precinct captain at the DFL caucus in Upper Lowry Hill in Minneapolis, and from the day following our success in securing your nomination as Minnesota’s DFL candidate for Senate, my fiance and I were tireless in working to ensure that you would become our senator.

Why did we sacrifice all of those hours hosting ‘cell phone parties’ to shore up support for your campaign during the general election? What led us to participate in your campaign at a level far more passionately than we had previously?

Because the constant that came through in all your books, in your Air America radio show, and during your campaign, was integrity and a disdain for those who parsed or finessed the facts. You told us that you would go to Washington not only with your moral compass intact, but with the intent of continuing the mission of Paul Wellstone.

Senator Franken, with all due respect: in light of your recent support for SOPA, PIPA and your bizarre willingness to allow pizza to be substituted for vegetables in our public school lunchrooms, I’m seeing less of Paul Wellstone’s vision and integrity and more of Norm Coleman’s politics-as-usual being channeled through your actions as our senator.

Even from a thousand-plus miles away, I cannot imagine the toxic and difficult environment you must work in every day; I realize the GOP has made it their stated mission to prevent Democrats from achieving anything in Washington, and being at the center of the ‘Storm of No’ must be disheartening at best.

Nonetheless, you are a leader and you are our senator. Your election was a mutual contract based on a promise you made to stand up for what was right, do what best served all Minnesotans, and demonstrate that decent and good people *can* go to Washington without falling prey to corruption, cynicism, apathy or greed.

Remember Paul Wellstone, Senator Franken. Think what he would do, then go to the Senate floor and withdraw your support for SOPA and PIPA.

If your conscience tells you Paul would have differed on other policy matters as well, know that there are thousands of Minnesotans who will support you for doing what you know to be the morally and just thing to do.

Your constituent, respectfully,

Jonathan Bates

 

Poor People Not Paying Enough Taxes: A GOP Obsession

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“Republicans complaining about the households not paying enough who also want to cut taxes overall are asking the poor to subsidize a tax cut for the rich…”


Here’s a fresh quote from the latest non-Romney front-runner in the GOP presidential race: “This dividing of America [between] 99-1,” Rick Santorum said this morning in New Hampshire, “It’s anybody that makes money and pays taxes and everybody who doesn’t. That’s the 99-1.”

Santorum (like Michele Bachmann before him) is picking a fight with the millions of Americans who make money and don’t pay federal income taxes. For the last few years, this group represents about half of the country.

Indeed the statistic inspired a website,  “We Are the 53 Percent,” which called out the 47% (or more) of households who owed no federal income tax in 2010 and again in 2011, because their credits and deductions wiped out their liability.

Since 2000, the poorest 40% of households have averaged a federal income tax rate below zero. The graph below shows federal income taxes since 1979, from the lowest quintile (on the bottom) to the top 1% (at the top). The big picture is that we have a progressive tax system where federal income tax rates have fallen slightly for every class of taxpayers:

FEDERAL INCOME TAX RATES

Federal Individual Income Tax Rates (United States, 2010)

But federal income tax isn’t the only tax out there. In fact, FIT accounts for only 40 percent of total government revenue. Another 40ish percent comes from payroll taxes, which all working families pay up to about $107,000. The rest comes from corporate income taxes and excise taxes on things like gas.

When you add all of those taxes together, you get the overall tax burden that economists call the “effective tax rate.” Here is the graph of effective federal taxes for the same groups as above (it’s a similar story of gradually falling rates for every group, with some jumpiness at the top):

TOTAL EFFECTIVE TAX RATES

Total Effective Individual Income Tax Rates (United States, 2010)

Three big points, here. First, the fact that all the lines in the second graph are above zero suggest that the vast majority of households that don’t pay federal income taxes do pay federal taxes. (The few that don’t might still owe local and state taxes.)

Second, the reason most poor families don’t pay federal income taxes is that Republicans and Democrats keep cutting their taxes.

Third, just about everybody has shared in the tax cut parade of the last 30 years. We haven’t shared equally, but we’ve all gotten a break.

According to Santorum’s quote, the most important class division in America is between income tax payers and non-income tax payers. This is a weird fight to pick for the Republican party, and particularly for Santorum, whose tax scheme would probably increase the number of households who owe no federal income tax.

Read the rest of this article at The Atlantic Online…


Ten Conservatives Vs. Newt: With Friends Like These…

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Conservative opinion writers are competing in something of an arms race to see who can describe Newt Gingrich, whom most of them despise, in the most apocalyptic terms. Here’s a list, from The New Yorker, of ten of the most over-the-top takedowns from the right of the former Speaker of the House and current Republican Presidential frontrunner:

  1. George Will: “Gingrich … embodies the vanity and rapacity that make modern Washington repulsive…. There is almost artistic vulgarity in Gingrich’s unrepented role as a hired larynx for interests profiting from such government follies as ethanol and cheap mortgages. His Olympian sense of exemption from standards and logic allowed him, fresh from pocketing $1.6 million from Freddie Mac (for services as a “historian”), to say, ‘If you want to put people in jail,’ look at ‘the politicians who profited from’ Washington’s environment.”
  2. Michael Gershon: “As president, Gingrich would be forced to repudiate his previous views out of strategic necessity. But those views demonstrate a disturbing tendency: the passionate embrace of shallow ideas.”
  3. Kathleen Parker: “[N]o one other than Callista Gingrich thinks her husband can prevail in a general election. No. One…. Instead of rallying to support him, former colleagues are going out of their way to politely say, ‘He can’t lead.’…. Another insider speaking to me privately was blunter: ‘He’s unstable, and everybody knows it, but no one wants to say it.’”
  4. Quin Hillyer: “[T]he power of the Gingrich surge does show, again, a lesson taught well by neo-Nazi David Duke when Duke was ascendant in Louisiana politics two decades ago. When considering a candidate for office, almost right up until they enter the polling booth and sometimes even in the booth itself, most voters rely more on what they see and hear themselves in real time than on facts, history, logic, or learned experience.”
  5. Jonah Goldberg: “The other night while having drinks with some prominent conservatives, I said I thought there was a significant chance that Gingrich will not only win the nomination but that he might be the next president. Going by their expressions, I might as well have said I put a slow-acting poison in their cocktails.”
  6. David Brooks: “[Gingrich] has every negative character trait that conservatives associate with ’60s excess: narcissism, self-righteousness, self-indulgence and intemperance. He just has those traits in Republican form.
    “As nearly everyone who has ever worked with him knows, he would severely damage conservatism and the Republican Party if nominated. He would severely damage the Hamilton-Theodore Roosevelt strain in American life.”
  7. Ramesh Ponnuru: “[Gingrich] is still erratic…. He still has the same old grandiosity…. He still has the same need to justify his every petty move by reference to some grand theory…. He still has a casual relationship with the truth…. He still has the same penchant for sharing whatever revelation has just struck him….”
  8. Jennifer Rubin: “The warnings and criticisms [from conservatives] fell into four distinct categories. The first is that Gingrich isn’t a staunch conservative but an opportunist who will gladly stab the right in the back for personal gain. The second is that his character is so flawed that he’s not fit to hold the presidency. (Only one issue concerns his serial infidelity….) The third is that he’s not the new Newt at all and continues to dissemble on everything from his lobbying work to his undermining of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The fourth is that he made millions lobbying (yes, lobbying) for big government on behalf of clients opposed to conservative principles.”
  9. Mona Charen: “Newt Gingrich is a bad bet because he will embarrass the Republican party. He will do so through things he has already said and done, and in ways we cannot predict except to be sure—because character will out—that they will happen.”
  10. Joe Scarborough: “He is not a nice human being. He is a bad person when it comes to demonizing opponents. When he puts on his political helmet he is a terrible person…. Let me tell you something: the Republican establishment will never make peace with Newt Gingrich. They just won’t. They won’t. This is an important point. Because the Republicans I talk to say he cannot win the nomination at any cost. He will destroy our party. He will re-elect Barack Obama, and we’ll be ruined.”

Read the full article at The New Yorker Online…


Michele Bachmann’s Politics Conflict With Basic Christian Values She Claims To Embrace

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From Michael Gershon’s blog at The Washington Post online

 

Michele Bachmann screamingMichele Bachmann is a candidate of whopping internal contradictions.

Earlier this month, I heard the Minnesota congresswoman give her Christian testimony at a church service in Osceola, Iowa. She told the story of her father leaving her mother, of the economic struggles her family faced, and of the encounter with God she experienced as a teenager. Her tone was direct, non-political and obviously sincere.

A few days later, at a campaign stop in Iowa, Bachmann was asked by a Latino college student what she would do to help the children of undocumented immigrants.

The presidential candidate responded: “Their parents are the ones who brought them here… They did not have the legal right to come to the United States. We do not owe people who broke our laws to come into the country. We don’t owe them anything.”

Bachmann is not just making a political point but a moral argument. She asserts that children — who have committed no crime themselves — should be denied assistance because of the legal status of their parents. Her point is made without qualification. It doesn’t matter whether the children of illegal immigrants are hungry or sick. This standard rules out everything from emergency room treatment to elementary school education to prenatal care for the unborn. Bachmann’s pro-life convictions, evidently, only apply to children covered by a green card.

It is difficult to determine what tradition of moral reasoning Bachmann is drawing upon. Her argument seems to involve a mix of extreme nationalism and utilitarian lifeboat ethics. Christian morality, in contrast, affirms that human worth is intrinsic and universal. Men and women are created in God’s image, which is equally present in every tribe, race and nationality. Governments have a responsibility to honor human dignity in the application of law, even when it comes to noncitizens. Children, along with others who are particularly vulnerable, have a particularly urgent claim to care and protection.

These beliefs do not translate easily or directly into specific immigration policies. Nations have the right to control their borders and enforce their laws. But when it comes to human beings — and especially when it comes to children — it is never permissible to say, “We don’t owe them anything.”

Bachmann’s candidacy represents a digression in the quality and seriousness of evangelical political engagement. It is difficult to imagine Mike Huckabee boasting of his indifference to the health and welfare of children, whatever their background. Even Pat Robertson, running for president in 1988, would have balked at such callousness.

Holy BibleBoth men would have been too conscious of the warnings found in Matthew 25, where Christianity’s founder defines the proper Christian attitude toward the hungry, the sick, the prisoner and the stranger. “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these,” he said, “you did not do for me.”

Bachmann holds her faith deeply and understands its political implications poorly. Her campaign is increasingly discrediting to causes — including the pro-life cause — she seeks to serve.


Read more from Michael Gershon at The Washington Post Online…


Bachmann campaign didn’t know of staff departures

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MSNBC.com reports:

The five New Hampshire staffers, who quit Friday had not — as of Saturday morning — been in touch with the campaign to resign in a formal fashion,the Bachmann campaign tells NBC News.

Of the campaign’s former New Hampshire Director Jeff Chidester, campaign spokewoman Alice Stewart told NBC, “He talked to the media — just not us.”

The Bachmann campaign learned of the departures Friday through media reports. This explains why Bachmann herself questioned the reports during a phone interview with Radio Iowa Friday afternoon — and why the campaign said, in a statement issued after 5:00 pm ET Friday: “We have a great team in New Hampshire, and we have not been notified that anyone is leaving the campaign.”

Chidester confirmed his own departure, and that of four others, via text to NBC last night. All five paid New Hampshire staffers to the campaign left — Jeff Chidester, Nicole Yurek, Matt LeDuc, Caroline Gigler, and Tom Lukacz.

Michele Bachmann: Obama spent ‘$200 million/day’ during visit to India

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Really? $200 million per day for President Obama to make a short diplomatic trip overseas to India?

Assuming that the White House staff hasn’t increased by 50,000 or so employees recently (or that the 12 to 45 members of the White House advance team now each receive a per diem of $65,000 while on the road), one could reasonably surmise that Mrs. Bachmann’s calculations leading to her alleged $200 million daily expense were…

  1. Disingenuous?
  2. Patently untrue?
  3. Ill-informed?
  4. Indicative of severe deficiencies in reasoning ability, stunted emotional maturity and high-probability of adult-onset chronic bed-wetting?

Did she know that $200 million is more than the United States spends each day to conduct the entire war operation in Afghanistan? Does Bachmann understand anything outside of
the goofy false retail encampments of Woodbury, MN?

Now let’s watch Michele Bachmann make a complete fool out of herself in front of various cameras before national audiences:


[youtube http://youtu.be/OATKPpEOMxo]
[youtube http://youtu.be/mlPSRFyhzec]

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