Getting What We Pay For: On Wednesday, April 15, conservative organizations casted “tea party” gatherings as “anti-tax rallies” that were “part of a larger grassroots movement against government spending.” Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and Fox Business Network prodigiously promoted the gatherings, as essentially every right-wing organization — Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks, Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions for Winning the Future, Koch Industries’ Americans for Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation, American Spectator, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Republican National Committee, and dozens of others — spent heavily to organize and mobilize the protests. In the end, thousands of Americans did turn out for the protests and for the live shows with popular Fox News celebrities and dozens of Republican politicians. The “tea party” campaign successfully drove mainstream media coverage in print and on television, providing the illusion of widespread opposition to the federal government and President Obama’s fiscal agenda. In reality, Americans are increasingly optimistic about the direction the nation is heading. As Obama’s economic recovery and budget plans have begun to go into effect — including the Making Work Pay tax cut for low- to middle-income working families — Americans’ views of income taxes are among the most positive in fifty years. “There’s obviously nothing wrong with the right attempting to engage in protest politics,” liberal blogger Duncan Black opines. “The problem is that it was never clear what they were protesting. So far, Obama has cut taxes for most of the population and…well, that’s it.”
CONSERVATIVE RAGE: Even as “the recession and the election of the nation’s first African-American president” fuel a resurgence in “right-wing extremism,” according to a new Department of Homeland Security report, conservative media used the Tea Party events to fan the flames of anger against government and Obama. ”They want failure!” Rush Limbaugh said of tea party participants. “Of course they want him to fail!” he said. Tea party protesters carried signs with racist and violent messages and accused the federal government of heading “toward fascism” and “toward socialism” — anti-government rhetoric promoted by Fox News’ Glenn Beck. CNBC’s Rick Santelli, whose on-air meltdown against poor homeowners in February helped spur the tea party campaign, argued that “this tea party phenomenon is steeped in American culture.” The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart put this minority rage into context, telling conservatives, “I think you might be confusing tyranny with losing.”
CONSERVATIVE TAX CUTS FOR THE WEALTHY: “It’s astroturf by some of the wealthiest people in America to keep the focus on tax cuts for the rich instead of for the great middle class,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said recently when explaining the tea party campaign. As the Congressional Budget Office found in 2007, families “earning more than $1 million a year saw their federal tax rates drop more sharply than any group in the country as a result of President Bush’s tax cuts.” The Bush tax cuts for the wealthy are greater than the entire salary of most Americans. “When the tax cuts of recent years are fully in effect next year,” an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) found, “households with annual incomes of more than $1 million a year will receive tax cuts averaging $168,000, boosting their after-tax incomes by an average of 7.7 percent.” A new Gallup poll has found that “just 23 percent” of Americans believe that upper-income taxpayers pay their “fair share,” while 60 percent say they pay too little. Nevertheless, Republican leaders continue to push a fiscal agenda that includes revoking the stimulus and cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans even more. They propose lowering the 35 percent, 33 percent, and 28 percent income tax brackets to 25 percent, which the Progress Report’s Pat Garofalo notes “are hugely regressive cuts that would gut government revenue.”
WHAT TAXES PAY FOR: An honest discussion of fiscal policy begins with an understanding of not only who is paying the taxes, but also where the revenues go. As the CBPP explains, military spending, Social Security, and federal health insurance programs (Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program), each comprise about 20 percent of the federal budget: $625 billion for defense and international security, including the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, $617 billion for Social Security for 35 million retirees, and $599 billion to the health insurance programs. Medicare alone “provides health coverage to around 45 million people who are over the age of 65 or have disabilities.” At 11 percent of the 2008 budget, the next largest component are safety net programs “that provide aid (other than health insurance or Social Security benefits) to individuals and families facing hardship,” such as unemployment benefits and food assistance. All other government programs — including veterans benefits, medical research, infrastructure, education, agriculture, and thousands of other efforts — fall in the remaining fifth of the budget. This is why responsible fiscal reform tackles big-ticket items: ending the war in Iraq, ending Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, reforming health care, and “closing the carbon loophole” in our energy policy. Ending the status quo of increased dependence on the military-industrial complex, the inefficient health care industry, and a dangerously polluting fossil-fuel energy system will not only restore balance to the federal budget but rebuild the American economy.
RADICAL RIGHT — BACHMANN CLAIMS THAT THE SIX MUSLIM LEADERS DETAINED IN MN IN 2006 WERE ATTENDING ELLISON’S VICTORY PARTY: Last week KSGO 560 AM San Francisco conducted a little noticed radio interview with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) in which the host, Lee Rogers, took issue with the fact that the voters of Minnesota were the first to elect “an openly, avowed Muslim to Congress,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN). Rogers asked for Bachmann’s reaction to the fact that Ellison helped President Obama find qualified American Muslims to serve in his administration. Bachmann blamed the “very liberal new media” in Minnesota for suppressing news of Ellison’s efforts. Later, Rogers asked Bachmann about a 2006 incident in which “[s]ix Muslim religious leaders were taken off a US Airways flight in Minneapolis…and detained for several hours after some passengers and crew members complained of behavior they deemed suspicious.” As the blog DumpBachmann first noted, Bachmann falsely replied that the religious leaders were in Minneapolis to attend “Congressman Keith Ellison’s victory celebration, when he won as a member of Congress.” In fact, the six were not attending Ellison’s victory celebration. As the New York Times reported after the incident, they were on their way back from a “Minneapolis conference of the North American Imams Federation.” Further, there is no evidence in any news reports that the six religious leaders fit the “pattern” of the 9/11 hijackers or that they were “shouting” anti-Bush or anti-American phrases, as Bachmann also claimed in the interview. The group was detained because other passengers on their flight were suspicious because the group was speaking in Arabic to one another and had prayed in the terminal prior to boarding. After five hours of detention and interviews, federal agents released the group finding them not to be a threat.
HUMAN RIGHTS — AFGHAN WOMEN PROTEST MARITAL RAPE LAW: Yesterday, 300 Afghan women marched two miles through Kabul to deliver a petition to Parliament calling for the repeal of a law that effectively legalizes marital rape. As,they shouted for “equal rights and human rights,” they were swarmed by 1000 counter-protesters. The counter-protesters, both male and female, shouted slurs, calling the women “dogs,” “whores,” and “slaves to the Christians.” The law was signed on March 31 by President Karzai as an attempt to mollify Islamic fundamentalists in advance of Afghanistan’s August elections. The law, which only applies to the Shia minority in Afghanistan, “negates the need for sexual consent between married couples, tacitly approves child marriage and restricts a woman’s right to leave the home.” President Obama called this law “abhorrent” and Secretary of State Clinton declared that women’s rights in Afghanistan are “not marginal.” After international outrage — including a suggestion from British Prime Minster Gordon Brown that the UK could withdraw its troops over the issue — Karzai began to back down. Earlier this month, he ordered a review of the law and yesterday a government spokesperson emphasized the the proposal was not yet law.
MILITARY — DEFENSE AND VETERANS DEPARTMENTS UNDER-DIAGNOSE TROOPS’ MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS: In an article published today in The New England Journal of Medicine, two Army mental health researchers — Cols. Charles Hoge and Carl Castro — say the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs “are overemphasizing mild traumatic brain injury among combat troops at the expense of other medical problems that are going untreated.” Castro and Hoge say “the military should scrap screening questions meant to uncover cases of mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) among troops returning from combat,” as “most troops who suffered a concussion in battle recovered within days of the injury.” Their article adds that symptoms blamed on TBI are more likely due to depression, PTSD, or substance abuse. Their article is the latest in a string of recent stories indicating that cases of PTSD are going largely unnoticed by the Pentagon. Last month, the Air Force Times reported that as many as 300,000 troops had PTSD but received inadequate care with only about half of all claims for the condition being approved. Just last week, Salon reported that, according to a secretly recorded audio tape, a psychologist told his soldier patient that many doctors are being pressured to not diagnose PTSD and diagnose anxiety disorders instead. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the Army’s surgeon general, has been convinced by Casto’s and Hoge’s report and has said that the screening process should be changed.