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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Return of the Welfare Queen Who Never Was

CNN Politics

Return of the 'Welfare Queen'

By John Blake, CNN
updated 5:32 PM EST, Mon January 23, 2012
President Reagan's

President Reagan's "Welfare Queen" is still shaping U.S. politics, but did she exist and why has her story remained so potent?
(CNN) -- She's out there, lurking in the 2012 presidential race like a horror movie villain who refuses to die.

She has 12 Social Security cards, mooches on benefits from four fake dead husbands, and collects food stamps while driving a Cadillac. She rakes in about $150,000 a year in welfare benefits and, of course, people assume she must be African-American.

President Ronald Reagan gave America a sunny "Morning in America" optimism, but he also gave it the "Welfare Queen," an infamous character who has re-emerged in this year's presidential race.

Critics have accused the three leading Republican presidential candidates of resurrecting Reagan's Welfare Queen by calling President Obama the "food stamp president," implying that blacks live off other people's money, and by declaring that America is moving toward an "entitlement society."

Yet few people have examined the story behind the birth of the Welfare Queen. Did she really exist? Why do people still talk about her when welfare ended 15 years ago? Can her story still swing voters at a time when the great recession has forced more whites to rely on government assistance?

For some, the Welfare Queen is an epic political lie. Reagan invented her, and Americans keep buying the lie.

"It's one of those persistent symbols that come up every election cycle," says Kaaryn Gustafson, author of "Cheating Welfare: Public Assistance and the Criminalization of Poverty."

"This image of the lazy African-American woman who refuses to get a job and keeps having kids is pretty enduring. It's always been a good way to distract the public from any meaningful conversations about poverty and inequality. ''
For others, the Welfare Queen reveals an uncomfortable truth: More Americans have turned the social safety net into a hammock.

"You hear these horror stories going around that people are buying junk food with food stamps and paying cash for vodka and beer and things not covered with food stamps -- that gets people mad," says Steven Hayward, author of "The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order: 1964-1980." 

The Welfare Queen has become such a legendary character in political circles that her existence is treated like Bigfoot. Most scholars say she never existed, while a few insist the truth is out there.

Gustafson went in search of the Welfare Queen and discovered something surprising.

There wasn't one Welfare Queen, she says. There were three.

The birth of the Welfare Queen story 

Here's how Reagan first told the story when he ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1976. At virtually every campaign stop, he attacked welfare chiselers by bringing out the same character, according to press accounts.

"There's a woman in Chicago," Reagan said, according to an article in the now-defunct Washington Star. "She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards. ... She's got Medicaid, getting food stamps and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income alone is over $150,000."

It was a powerful story, but reporters investigating it concluded it wasn't quite true. Some said it may have been based on a then-47-year-old woman in Chicago, but that Reagan wildly exaggerated her abuses.
In time, though, it didn't matter what reporters said. People started repeating the story as true.

"It hangs together as a good story because it's consistent with people's perception of the real world," says Craig R. Smith, who was a speechwriter for former President Gerald Ford and a consulting writer with President George H.W. Bush.

"Like in any good mythology, you need heroes and villains and in the Welfare Queen, you had a villain who was taking advantage of the system."
Was the Welfare Queen a racist story?

Smith doesn't think so. He says Reagan always opposed segregation, and had a "terrific record" combating racism as president of the Screen Actors Guild.
"Reagan was very sensitive about being called a racist," says Smith, author of "Rhetoric and Human Consciousness: A History." "The minute anybody would say something about that, he would get upset. He would say fraud is fraud."
Others say the Welfare Queen story stuck because it exploited white America's racial fears.

Reagan never said the Welfare Queen was black, but he didn't need to. People assumed she was because of rhetorical clues Reagan dropped, says John Hinshaw, a history professor at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania.

"The Welfare Queen driving a pink Cadillac to cash her welfare checks at the liquor store fits a narrative that many white, working-class Americans had about inner-city blacks," Hinshaw says. "It doesn't matter if the story was fabricated, it fit the narrative, and so it felt true, and it didn't need to be verified."

For at least one woman on welfare at the time, the story was brutal.

Madeleine Burbank grew up in the 1950s in a white family in which everybody worked. She says she was forced to go on welfare in the 1970s after her marriage suddenly ended and she had to raise three children alone.

She still remembers the humiliation of going into crowded, dirty waiting rooms to answer embarrassingly personal questions posed by welfare screening officials.

Reagan's story validated some of the worst assumptions some Americans have about poor people, she says. Burbank escaped welfare after enrolling in a government program that retrained her as a counselor. She eventually retired as a psychology teacher at a community college.

Still, she remembers being ashamed to tell people she was on welfare, even those who were close to her.

Once, she was standing in a supermarket checkout line when her sister whispered disparaging comments about a woman in front of them who was using food stamps to buy junk food.

"When I told her I was on food stamps, she told me that I was different. I wasn't somehow like 'those people," ' Burbank says. "She couldn't' stand the reality that I really wasn't that different. It's too painful for people to admit that their life can be like that."

Resurrection of the Welfare Queen?
Are Republican presidential candidates offering voters an updated version of the Welfare Queen?

That's the question ricocheting around political circles today as commentators argue over recent comments made by Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney.

Many have heard snippets of them by now:

While campaigning in Iowa, Santorum said "I don't want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money." He later said he didn't mean to say black people, but meant people.

Romney has repeatedly said that Obama wants to transform America into an "entitlement society."

Gingrich has attracted the most attention for his language. He called Obama a food-stamp president, questioned poor children's work ethic, and said poor people should want paychecks, not handouts.

There was nothing racist about any of that language, or the Welfare Queen story, says Hayward, author of "The Age of Reagan," and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, which includes conservative leaders such as Lynne Cheney, wife of former vice president Dick Cheney.

Gingrich was simply being factual when he said more Americans are on food stamps under Obama than any other president, he says. He was making a point about an unhealthy economy.

"Gingrich would say that if Obama was white," Hayward says.

The candidates are using such language to highlight philosophical differences between liberals and conservatives, Hayward says. Liberals believe that government can offer the best path to advancement. Conservatives believe a growing private economy provides more upward mobility than government.
The "entitlement society" phrase has nothing to do with race, either, Hayward says. It reflects the belief that people should create their own opportunities, not government.

"Somewhere in the entitlement mentality is the idea of redistribution: You transfer resources from the relatively richer to the poorer," Hayward says.
The problem Republicans run into when they talk about race and economics is that most don't know how to talk about race, says Michael Tanner, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank in Washington.
What some people perceive as racism is often just a Republican politician's poor choice of words, he says.

"They trip over themselves and it sounds terribly awkward. By and large, they tend to live in white communities, and they don't know how to talk to blacks because they don't do it. ''

Former Republican presidential candidate Jack Kemp was an exception in Tanner's mind. Kemp sounded comfortable talking to a black audience, Tanner says, noting that he was a former NFL quarterback.

"He shared locker rooms with black players. He knew them on a personal level in a way that Romney or Gingrich don't."

Demise of the Welfare Queen

Candidates will no doubt need to learn how to better communicate with nonwhite voters in the future: They're going to be the majority by 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Demographic changes will do to the Welfare Queen story what fact-checking couldn't do -- discredit it, says Saladin Ambar, a political scientist at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. No candidate in the future will be able to win over a majority of voters by spouting racially loaded messages.

Ambar says Republican presidential nominee John McCain received about 59% of the white vote in the 2008 presidential election, but still lost.

"He got the same percentage of the white vote that Reagan got in 1980, but lost by seven points to Obama," Ambar says.

Welfare Queen-like rhetoric won't work anymore, because the face of poverty is no longer dark, others say.

Recent census data revealed that a record number of Americans, 48.6%, live in a household receiving some form of government benefits, the Wall Street Journal reported.

"The Welfare Queen has lost its potency during this recession because all over this country you see white people lining up to get unemployment, feeding their families at food pantries, sleeping in cars and using food stamps at the local grocery," says Mark Naison, a history professor at Fordham University in New York.

Perhaps the Welfare Queen actually should have died a long time ago. President Clinton and a Republican-controlled congress ended welfare in 1996. Its successor is called TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Gustafson, author of "Cheating Welfare," says TANF is not an unconditional entitlement. It comes with time-limits and work requirements and recipients have to go through a bureaucratic gantlet to verify their eligibility.

"A lot of poor people are working," she says. "They are the people giving you change when you buy coffee in the morning or handing you your dry cleaning. These are the people who rely on public benefits."

Still, an actual Welfare Queen did exist, Gustafson says.

A database search of all major newspapers turned up the first use of the term in 1974, when a woman in Chicago was given the label.

Two additional women were also dubbed welfare queens in subsequent years by local newspapers. Both were based in Los Angeles. One collected $377,458 in welfare benefits in seven years and lived in a house with a swimming pool. She did drive a Cadillac, along with a Rolls Royce and Mercedes Benz, Gustafson discovered.

Reagan merged the identities of all three and exaggerated their abuses, Gustafson says.

"Reagan twisted them around and created one character, and tried to leave everyone with the impression that it was happening all over the place," Gustafson says. "It's totally false that these women typified welfare recipients."
While others believe the Welfare Queen will be dethroned, Gustafson remains unconvinced.

"I would love to think that will happen," she says. "But I'm hearing politicians say poor people need to learn how to work or that we need to drug test welfare recipients -- it makes me think that even if people aren't directly invoking the Welfare Queen stereotype, they are indirectly.

"The ghost of the Welfare Queen is still lurking."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Santorum Defends Penn State, Blasts Freeh Report



Santorum Defends Penn State, Blasts Freeh Report

Former Senator and GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum (PA) has long positioned himself as a champion of family values, so one might think he would be the strongest advocate for children who had been sexually assaulted by trusted adults.

But during an appearance on Dallas-Ft. Worth’s KSKY 660 AM on Friday, Santorum a Penn State alum and football fan denied the overwhelming evidence that former Penn State Football Coach Joe Paterno, President Graham Spanier, and others intentionally covered up evidence that Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky molested and raped at least 10 boys:
SANTORUM: I actually read the Freeh Report. I don’t know if you did or not, but I did. And, my concern with the Freeh report, a lot of the conclusions in the Freeh report aren’t matched by the evidence that they presented and so I’ve been talking to a lot of folks at Penn State and they say, ‘you’re just gonna have to wait for the criminal trial of these two guys at Penn State.’ I think there is going to be a whole new line set on what really went on there. So I’m sort of sitting back and waiting for the facts to come out as opposed to at least I’m being told is a version of the facts. … Let’s get the truth. So I think we’re going to see some things come up a little different in the next six months. I just want to make sure we get it right.

Contra Santorum, the Freeh Report’s central finding — that “nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity” by Penn State’s leaders — has been treated as conclusive by most observers of the scandal. There’s a good reason for that: the report parsed 3.5 million emails and conducted around 430 interviews. A number of emails arrayed in the report’s timeline of events confirm that Paterno, Spanier, and others had been presented with strong evidence of Sandusky’s actions and yet still decided to sweep the events under the rug — enabling multiple instances of abuse to take place. Unless Santorum has reason to believe these were falsified or somehow insufficient, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that he’s in denial about what took place at his alma mater.
Indeed, when the abuse scandal broke, Santorum expressed support for Paterno, saying “I have no idea what his side of the story is” and “of course I’ll be rooting for him and wish him the best.” Eight months later, Santorum is still supporting the former coach.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Right Wingers Are More of a Threat to Gun Owners Than Liberals

Right Wingers Are More of a Threat to Gun Owners Than Liberals

As the shooting massacre in Aurora Colorado roils in the minds of many, lies and half-truths of shooting from conservatives and gun nuts bubble up blaming President Obama, liberals, progressives, gun control advocates and they even try to criticize a corporation, Landmark Theater.

They blame Landmark Theater using the Second Amendment, because the corporation created a rule that prohibits carrying a concealed weapon as a condition to enter into their theater, according to a conservative pro-gun lobby group USA Carry. Yet further research into the ownership of said theater company brings up some interesting facts…it’s owned by some pretty conservative groups like: Bain Capital, J.P. Morgan Partners, the Carlyle Group and Spectrum Equity Investors, to name a few.

Bain Capital? Mitt Romney Bain Capital? Yes. Under these major investors, the guidelines were created regarding the conditions under which people may enter into their theaters. These conservative groups have every right to put on conditions they deem necessary, as the right to bear arms ends when you step into a private corporation, much like banning members of the NRA from entering into their meetings with firearms.

Romney signs off on permanent assault weapons ban

12:00AM / Thursday, July 08, 2004
Now Governor Flip-flopper changed his tune about the ban, but has kept the ban in place for the people of Massachusetts. And yes, people are blaming: President Obama, liberals, progressives, gun control advocates for the ban. So what is the difference between gun control and gun ban?

Gun control means that there are rules and regulations that gun owners must follow in order to own a firearm. The rules require: background checks, training, education, and how to properly maintain your firearm (cleaning and storage). These rules require the shooter to know how and when to shoot a firearm. A gun ban is the total confiscation of any and all firearms regardless of training and knowledge of said firearms by the government.

Currently, there is no Democratic President that has taken away firearms. But during the Katrina disaster in New Orleans, FEMA and Blackwater (AKA XE), under the guidance of the Bush Administration, ordered the State of Louisiana to confiscate all firearms from homes. The confiscation was not just from homes affected by Katrina, but homes who were not affected by the rage of the hurricane.

And now these same right winged anti-Obama groups are saying that SB-2099 will legally confiscate all firearms from people of the United States and their territories…which is patently false according to Snopes. The origins of this accusation is:
The item quoted above about a pending Congressional bill requiring gun owners to list their guns on federal income tax is both outdated and contains a good deal of misinformation. The referenced bill, SB 2099 (the Handgun Safety and Registration Act) is not currently before Congress was introduced to the Senate back in February 2000 (not 2009), and it was referred to the Committee on Finance, where it languished without ever coming to a vote.  It also had no provisions for requiring handgun owners to list their guns on federal income tax returns.
Yet Republicans from past experience seem to be eager to take away your rights to firearms and shift the blame to Democrats. And as I type this story, on the NRA‘s website, there are still no comments about the shooting or the investors. Apparently, when their own kind limits the freedom of gun owners, they are silent. But they are bringing up George W. Bush’s operation “Fast and Furious” and shifting the blame to Obama and Eric Holder.

When Republicans Say Job Creator They Really Mean Poverty Creator

When Republicans Say Job Creator They Really Mean Poverty Creator

Around the globe there is a feeling that America is the land of unlimited opportunity where anyone can prosper in the richest country in the history of the world. There was never unlimited opportunity in America, but ambition, hard work, and perseverance could earn anyone a good life and a semblance of security in their old age. However, since the 1980s, conservatives have chipped away at the so-called American Dream and slowly transformed America into a land where the wealthy absorbed the nation’s riches at the expense of the rest of the population, and after over 30 years are on pace to achieve their goal of universal poverty in the land of opportunity. The increasing poverty numbers in America seem to be a badge of honor for Republicans whose economic agenda is founded on providing the richest Americans with as much wealth as they can drain from the peasants as a sacrificial offering to earn the favor of the wealthy elite.

In the fall, new census figures for 2011 will tell Americans what many already know; poverty is growing at an alarming rate and there is little hope for any improvement in this Republican economy. In fact, looking back over the past couple of years, it is apparent that the increase in poverty is the result of a concerted effort by Republicans to finish the job they started when Reagan was president. That is another article.

As poverty spreads across the country as a result of underemployment, lower wages, cutbacks in assistance, and outsourcing, economic experts cite specific causes that just so happen to be the heart and soul of the Republican economic agenda proposed by Paul Ryan and Willard Romney and supported by every Republican in Congress. What makes matters worse is that for millions of Americans at or near poverty, the prospect of falling through the cracks and ending up destitute are guaranteed if Republicans slash unemployment benefits, Medicaid, wages, public sector jobs, public assistance, and particularly food stamps. However, diminishing public benefits is not the only culprit and as economist Peter Edelman, director of Georgetown Center on Poverty Inequality and Public Policy noted, outsourcing, automation, and less unionization is pushing most median household incomes lower adding to the number of Americans in poverty. Analysts’ estimates are that at least 47 million Americans lived in poverty last year with the old number of 22% of children living in poverty increasing drastically, and they expect the numbers to rise until at least 2014. If Republicans are successful slashing food stamps, housing and heating assistance, Medicaid, and other public assistance programs, there is little hope that millions more Americans will not live in poverty for the foreseeable future.

The Republican economic agenda of cutting food stamps, wages, Medicare and Medicaid, public sector jobs, and breaking unions is not about reducing the deficit or balancing  the budget, it is about funding tax cuts for the wealthy, and if millions more Americans slip into poverty, then as John Boehner says, so be it. It appears Republicans are finally within reach of creating poverty levels reminiscent of the 1960s that prompted then-President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty that created Medicaid, Medicare, and many other social welfare programs.  Those programs are favorite targets of Republicans who are promising to eliminate or drastically reduce if they gain control of Congress and the White House in what they call fiscal responsibility. It’s not news that the Ryan and Romney budgets will blow up the deficit with unrealistic tax cuts for the wealthy, but deficit reduction is an oft-repeated canard for creating more wealth at the top at the expense of 98% of the population.

The American people overwhelmingly oppose cuts to anti-poverty programs, and 79% correctly cite the ever-widening income gap between rich and poor as the cause of growing destitution in the population. In a Public Religion Research Institute survey last November, over 67% oppose cutting federal funding for social programs that help the poor as a means of deficit reduction, and yet the only deficit reduction plans from Republicans are Draconian cuts to food stamps, public assistance programs, Medicare, Social Security, and public sector jobs. For the past three years, Republicans have perpetuated high poverty numbers by refusing to fund infrastructure projects or pass any of the President’s jobs plans because they claim the country is broke, but they have had no problems pushing for more tax cuts for the wealthy or reducing tax rates for corporations that are posting record profits as they outsource jobs, reduce wages, and hide money in offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes.

The GOP caused the economic recession that helped send millions of Americans into poverty, and they are attempting to take the country back to the same situation that nearly crashed the world economy with deregulation, unfunded tax cuts for the rich, and two unfunded wars.  Their austerity program for 98% of the nation will send poverty levels skyrocketing and analysts predict that the numbers coming out in September may indicate that child poverty increased to a point that America will finally achieve Republicans’ coveted number one rating for the highest percentage of children living in poverty in the world. At present, America is number two. Willard Romney’s proposed tax plan will eliminate tax credits and food stamps that keep working-poor families from dire poverty, as well as send many middle class families precariously close to poverty level existence. Romney said he doesn’t worry about the very poor and proves it by promising to eliminate social safety nets to make room for tax cuts for the one percent.

The conservative think tank, Heritage Foundation, believes that America’s social safety nets have outlived their usefulness and that it is time to bring them to an end. Robert Rector, a senior research fellow, says he is worried that news of increased poverty will  cause advocates for the poor to use rising poverty rates to justify additional spending on the poor that he claims live in houses, drive cars, own microwave ovens, and have a television. The Heritage Foundation authored the Ryan Path to Prosperity budget that if enacted, will guarantee that the poor live on the streets, go hungry, and lose those storied symbols of wealth and prosperity; microwave ovens and televisions. It is a sick, twisted mindset that sees poverty rates rivaling third world countries as proof that social safety nets have worked their magic and need to be eliminated to make room for more tax cuts for the wealthy and their corporations. But that is the conservative mindset that every bit of the wealth in America is rightly owed to the richest 1% and if it means rising poverty, homelessness, child hunger, and a population without healthcare, then so be it.

Republicans have abandoned any precept of caring for the American people who are not the wealthy elite. Their economic malfeasance is solely responsible for the economic stagnation the nation is suffering, and their persistent attempts at cutting social safety nets will ensure that whatever the poverty numbers reveal in September, they will not be high enough to stop the slash and burn economic agenda to provide the rich with what little wealth 98% of the population still holds. There was a time when the American Dream was attainable for every American willing to work hard, follow the rules, and persevere, but the dream vanished when Republicans began their march toward plutocracy that culminated in the Great Recession of 2008-2009. It is difficult to comprehend, but Republicans are deliberately sabotaging any chance of any American ever achieving a decent life and as they cut wages, reduce the public workforce, eliminate social safety nets, and hand the wealthy more tax cuts, it is obvious that they revel in the news that America’s poverty rates are extraordinarily high for the richest country in the world, and if they are successful, America will finally be the nation of peasants they have worked tirelessly to create for over thirty years.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The GOP War on Women is Back



The Progress Report Banner

The GOP War on Women is Back

Republicans Just Can’t Help Themselves

While of course the war on women never really went away, Republicans have been slightly quieter in recent weeks about their attacks on women, women’s health care, and equal rights in the workplace. Well, House Republicans just launched another big offensive in their war on women’s health.
Here’s the rundown.

House Republicans are currently working on annual spending bills and the one for the Labor Department, Department of Health and Human Services, and Education Department is a parade of horribles. With regard to the war on women specifically, it:
  • Defunds Planned Parenthood
  • Completely eliminates the Title X family planning program
  • Puts your boss in your bedroom, allowing your employer to deny you insurance coverage for contraception or any other service your boss objects to for any reason at all
  • Slashes funding for evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention
  • Wastes $20 MILLION on abstinence-only education
  • Permanently expands so-called conscience protections that allow health care providers to refuse to perform, participate in, provide coverage of, pay for, refer for, and train in the performance of abortions
  • Prohibits the implementation of Obamacare for one year, which includes numerous benefits for women
  • Blocks a proposed rule limiting the number of home health care workers — 90 percent of whom are women — who can be exempted from the minimum wage
The bill is also chock full of attacks on workers, students, and others.
Republicans have tried almost all of these unpopular attacks on women before — and they failed. But it appears that they just can’t help themselves when it comes to going after women, their health care, and their rights. Remember last year when they almost shut down the entire federal government just to defund Planned Parenthood?

In addition to these latest attacks, Senate Republicans also recently blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act. Meanwhile, House Republicans continue to refuse to take up the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act that passed the Senate on an overwhelming basis. Instead, they are insisting on a watered-down version that would leave immigrants, LGBT people, Native Americans, and others without protection.

IN ONE SENTENCE: If Republicans don’t want to be accused of waging a war on women, then it’s time for them to stop their attacks on women.

Majority of Republicans Doubt Theory of Evolution


Majority of Republicans Doubt Theory of Evolution

More Americans accept theory of creationism than evolution

by Frank Newport
PRINCETON, NJ -- The majority of Republicans in the United States do not believe the theory of evolution is true and do not believe that humans evolved over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. This suggests that when three Republican presidential candidates at a May debate stated they did not believe in evolution, they were generally in sync with the bulk of the rank-and-file Republicans whose nomination they are seeking to obtain.
Independents and Democrats are more likely than Republicans to believe in the theory of evolution. But even among non-Republicans there appears to be a significant minority who doubt that evolution adequately explains where humans came from.

The data from several recent Gallup studies suggest that Americans' religious behavior is highly correlated with beliefs about evolution. Those who attend church frequently are much less likely to believe in evolution than are those who seldom or never attend. That Republicans tend to be frequent churchgoers helps explain their doubts about evolution.

The data indicate some seeming confusion on the part of Americans on this issue. About a quarter of Americans say they believe both in evolution's explanation that humans evolved over millions of years and in the creationist explanation that humans were created as is about 10,000 years ago.

Broad Patterns of Belief in Evolution

The theory of evolution as an explanation for the origin and development of life has been controversial for centuries, and, in particular, since the 1859 publication of Charles Darwin's famous The Origin of Species. Although many scientists accept evolution as the best theoretical explanation for diversity in forms of life on Earth, the issue of its validity has risen again as an important issue in the current 2008 presidential campaign. Two recent Republican debates have included questions to the candidates about evolution. Three candidates -- Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee, and Tom Tancredo -- indicated in response to a question during the May 3 debate that they did not believe in the theory of evolution, although they have attempted to clarify their positions in the weeks since.
Several recent Gallup Polls conducted in May and June indicate that a significant number of Americans have doubts about the theory of evolution.
One such question was included in a May Gallup Panel survey:
Now thinking about how human beings came to exist on Earth, do you, personally, believe in evolution, or not?

Yes, believe
No, do
2007 May 21-24
It is important to note that this question included a specific reference to "thinking about how human beings came to exist on Earth . . ." that oriented the respondents toward an explicit consideration of the implication of evolution for man's origin. Results may have been different without this introductory phrase.
With that said, Americans' responses to this question are essentially split down the middle. About half say they do believe in evolution and about half say they do not.
A second question included in a June 1-3 USA Today/Gallup poll asked about evolution side by side with a similar question about creationism:
Next, we'd like to ask about your views on two different explanations for the origin and development of life on earth. Do you think -- [ITEMS ROTATED] -- is -- [ROTATED: definitely true, probably true, probably false, (or) definitely false]?

A. Evolution, that is, the idea that human beings developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life

ly true
ly false

2007 Jun 1-3

B. Creationism, that is, the idea that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years

ly true
ly false

2007 Jun 1-3
These results are similar to those from the question asked in May. A little more than half of Americans say evolution -- as defined in this question wording -- is definitely or probably true. Forty-four percent say that it is probably or definitely false.

In contrast, even more Americans, two-thirds, say the theory of creationism is definitely or probably true.

A separate Gallup Poll trend question -- also asked in May -- gave Americans three choices about human beings' origins. Responses to this question found that 43% of Americans choose the alternative closest to the creationist perspective, that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so." A substantial 38% say human beings evolved, but with God guiding the process. Another 14% favored an interpretation of evolution arguing that God had no part in the process, leaving a total of 52% who say humans evolved with or without God's direction.

Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings -- [ROTATE 1-3/3-1: 1) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, 2) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process, 3) God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so]?

Man developed,
with God guiding
Man developed,
but God had no part
in process
God created
man in
present form

2007 May 10-13

2006 May 8-11
2004 Nov 7-10
2001 Feb 19-21
1999 Aug 24-26
1997 Nov 6-9
1993 Jun 23-26

1982 Jan

To summarize the results of these three questions about evolution and human origins:
  • Across the three question wordings, the data show consistently that about half of Americans agree with the theory of evolution, believe that the theory of evolution is probably or definitely true, or believe that humans developed over million of years with or without God's guidance.
  • Belief in the idea that humans were created pretty much as is 10,000 years ago is somewhat more dependent on the way in which this concept is measured. A little more than 4 out of 10 Americans -- when presented with three alternatives -- say they believe that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago. At the same time, two-thirds of Americans in a stand-alone question say they believe in the theory of "creationism" -- defined as the idea that humans were created in their present form 10,000 years ago.
It might seem contradictory to believe that humans were created in their present form at one time within the past 10,000 years and at the same time believe that humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. But, based on an analysis of the two side-by-side questions asked this month about evolution and creationism, it appears that a substantial number of Americans hold these conflicting views.

View of Evolution and View of Creationism
Numbers Represent % of Total Sample

View of Creationism


View of Evolution
Definitely true

Probably true

Probably false

Definitely false
* Less than 0.5%
These results show that:
  • 24% of Americans believe that both the theory of evolution and the theory of creationism are probably or definitely true
  • 41% believe that creationism is true, and that evolution is false
  • 28% believe that evolution is true, but that creationism is false
  • 3% either believe that both are false or have no opinion about at least one of the theories
Without further research, it's not possible to determine the exact thinking process of those who agreed that both the theory of evolution and creationism are true. It may be, however, that some respondents were seeking a way to express their views that evolution may have been initiated by or guided by God, and told the interviewer that they agreed with both evolution and creationism in an effort to express this more complex attitude.


Importance of Religion

It is important to remember that all three questions in this analysis included wording that explicitly focused the respondents on the origin of human beings.
This wording may have made Americans think about the implications of the theory of evolution in terms of humans being special creatures as reflected in religious teachings and in particular in the Judeo-Christian story of human origins as related in the book of Genesis. USA Today recently quoted Christian conservative and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer as saying: "Most of us don't think that we're just apes with trousers."
Thus, it is not surprising to find that many of those who do not believe in the theory of evolution justify that belief with explicitly religious explanations:
(Asked of those who do not believe in evolution) What is the most important reason why you would say you do not believe in evolution? [OPEN-ENDED]

2007 May 21-24

I believe in Jesus Christ
I believe in the almighty God, creator of Heaven and Earth
Due to my religion and faith
Not enough scientific evidence to prove otherwise
I believe in what I read in the Bible
I'm a Christian
I don't believe humans come from beasts/monkeys

No reason in particular
No opinion
The majority of these responses are clearly religious in nature. It is fascinating to note that some Americans simply justified their objection to evolution by statements of general faith and belief. Although the New Testament does not include many explicit references to the origin of humans in the words of Jesus, 19% of Americans state that they do not believe in evolution because they believe in Jesus Christ. Other religious justifications focus on statements of belief in God, general faith concerns, references to the Bible, and the statement that "I'm a Christian." A relatively small number of this group justify their disbelief of evolution by saying more specifically that they do not believe that there is enough scientific evidence to prove the theory and/or that they simply do not believe that humans come from beasts or monkeys.
The graph shows the relationship between church attendance and response to the straightforward question of belief in evolution.
The group of Americans who attend church weekly -- about 40% in this sample -- are strongly likely to reject the theory of evolution. The group of Americans who attend church seldom or never -- also about 40% -- have the mirror image opinion and are strongly likely to accept the theory of evolution.

Republicans Most Likely to Reject Evolution

As noted previously, belief in evolution has been injected into the political debate already this year, with much attention given to the fact three Republican presidential candidates answered a debate question by saying that they did not believe in evolution.
It appears that these candidates are, in some ways, "preaching to the choir" in terms of addressing their own party's constituents -- the group that matters when it comes to the GOP primaries. Republicans are much more likely to be religious and attend church than independents or Democrats in general. Therefore, it comes as no great surprise to find that Republicans are also significantly more likely not to believe in evolution than are independents and Democrats.

Bottom Line

The data in this analysis were measured in the context of questions about the origin and development of human beings. It is apparent that many Americans simply do not like the idea that humans evolved from lower forms of life. This appears to be substantially based on a belief in the story of creation as outlined in the Bible -- that God created humans in a process that, taking the Bible literally, occurred about 10,000 years ago.
Americans who say they do not believe in the theory of evolution are highly likely to justify this belief by reference to religion, Jesus Christ, or the Bible. Furthermore, there is a strong correlation between high levels of personal religiosity and doubts about evolution.
Being religious in America today is strongly related to partisanship, with more religious Americans in general much more likely to be Republicans than to be independents or Democrats. This relationship helps explain the finding that Republicans are significantly more likely than independents or Democrats to say they do not believe in evolution. When three Republican presidential candidates said in a May debate that they did not believe in evolution, the current analysis suggests that many Republicans across the country no doubt agreed.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,007 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 1-3, 2007. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points.
For results based on the sample of 203 Catholics, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±8 percentage points.
For results based on the sample of 804 non-Catholics, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Not Again! How Our Voting System Is Ripe For Theft and Meltdown in 2012


The Republican war on voters is only the start of really big problems voters face in the 2012 presidential election.

Voting in America is ripe for a major meltdown in 2012.

The most fundamental of democratic processes has become more barrier-filled and error-prone than at anytime since Florida’s 2000 election, when voter list purges, flawed voting technology and a partisan U.S. Supreme Court majority ended a statewide recount and installed George W. Bush as president.

This fall’s potential problems begin with a new generation of voter suppression laws and aging voting machines in a handful of presidential battleground states. And other important factors are in play, such as election officials curtailing voting options due to fiscal constraints, the increasing age of poll workers—volunteers averaging in their 70s—who must referee an ever more complex process, and the likelihood that close races will end up in post-Election Day legal fights.

Voters tell academics they want consistency in voting. Yet emerging trends are poised to upend that hope in many states. This year’s big questions are: where will the meltdown—or meltdowns—occur, what will go wrong, on what scale, and, when it comes to computer failures or tampering, will we even know about it?

“The arc of American history has always moved toward expanding the electorate,” Attorney General Eric Holder told the NAACP Tuesday, saying the Justice Department was pushing back on new voter suppression laws, calling voter ID rules the modern version of segregationist poll taxes. “We will simply not allow this era to be the beginning of the reversal of that historic progress.”
“We need good technology and we need good laws,” said Barbara Simons. The retired IBM computer scientist and nationally known expert on voting technology is co-author of a new book, Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count? which details America’s history of voting machinery and election administration, and concludes that many states have neither good technology nor good vote count rules.

“We are running elections in this country as if we are still in the 19th century,” she said. “The results are announced and there is no verification. At minimum, we should be doing manual post-election ballot audits for all major elections whether or not the results are close, because there even could be a major problem with an election with a wide margin.”

The More You Look, The More Problems

What’s alarming in 2012 is that different experts are citing a variety of worst-case scenarios, all of which might involve many states and vast numbers of voters. Some scenarios have been well covered in the media, such as the GOP’s war on Democratic voting blocks, which the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson this week called “a crime.” And some have barely been covered, especially as the focus shifts to election administration or vote counting.

“Those of us who specialize in election law engage in a heart-wrenching task: attempting to make an educated guess about the likelihood that one or another election irregularity will lead to a Bush v. Gore-style meltdown,” wrote Nathaniel Persily, a Columbia Law School professor this past Sunday in the New York Daily News. “My candidate for the honor of the next potential chad to dangle: absentee ballots.”

Persily makes a persuasive case in this corner. In 2010, 18 percent of the country voted by mail-in ballots and another 8 percent voted early, in special polling places set up before Election Day. He suggested that potential problems surrounding absentee ballots may be more troubling than the polling place chaos created by harsh voter ID laws, which could create delays that prompt people to leave without voting, and push poll workers to issue many provisional ballots that have to be verified before they are counted.

In the recount that followed Minnesota’s 2008 U.S. Senate race, one in 25 mail-in ballots were disqualified, Persily noted. “This error rate is more than triple the intolerable error rates Florida experienced with its punch card ballots in 2000. Political scientist Charles Stewart of MIT estimates that in the 2008 election 'four-million ballots were requested but not received… and 800,000 ballots were returned for counting but rejected.’”

Persily has an informed viewpoint. However, there are other expert analyses that are equally informed and troubling. What’s striking about 2012 is how many different trends are not boding well—and could be of a magnitude affecting millions of votes.

Most Visible: Partisan Voter Suppression

The most publicized problems have come from the partisan frontlines. Since last year, nearly a dozen GOP-led states have adopted more restrictive voter ID laws, in addition to curbs on registration drives. Some laws have been blocked in court (i.e., Wisconsin’s voter ID, Florida’s voter drives) and others are being challenged by the Justice Department. (The Texas voter ID case is in court this week, which prompted Holder’s comparison of that law to a “poll tax” before the NAACP). But many new laws and related efforts are still in play. In Mississippi, for example, the Justice Department has yet to approve or reject its stricter voter ID law.

In recent weeks, the state-by-state impact has become clearer as the details of how these efforts would work have emerged. In Florida, that state’s Tea Party governor, Rick Scott, is involved in a nasty legal fight with the DOJ over purging what he claims may be 180,000 non-citizens from his state’s voter rolls.
That fight is now in court, although one under-reported fact is that Florida’s county election supervisors, who run Florida’s elections, have not jumped at Scott’s order to purge their lists. They don’t want another debacle on par with 2000 on their watch, which is laudable. But Florida also has some of the worst recount laws in the country—another consequence of not wanting to be the poster child of election failures. In Florida, the county results have to be certified before a recount can occur, and that can only happen after a court order. That upside-down legal backdrop initially concealed a big error by computer scanners counting ballots in Palm Beach County in March, where an audit a week later revealed that in two local contests the wrong winner had been declared.

In Pennsylvania, the situation is potentially more troubling. The GOP-controlled Legislature passed a tough new voter ID law that state officials now say could disenfranchise 750,000 people, more than 9 percent of its registered voters. That state’s Republican House leader was caught on camera bragging that the ID law would “win the state” for Romney. Despite fierce criticism, it appears the state’s Republicans are not retreating, and nearly a quarter of the people lacking a state driver’s license—the most common photo ID—live in Philadelphia, that state’s traditional Democratic stronghold.

The Brennan Center at NYU Law School last year projected that the cumulative national impact of new voter suppression laws could reach 5 million voters. Persily’s absentee ballot projections could also involve large numbers of rejected ballots. And so too could the machine problems highlighted by Simons and Pamela Smith of the Verified Voting Foundation, whose Web site tracks America’s voting systems county by county.

“A number of states are limping along with technology that is a decade old and really showing signs of wear,” Smith said.

Across the country, two families of voting technologies were adopted as a response to Florida’s computer punch card debacle in 2000. About one-quarter of the country uses all-electronic voting systems with no paper record or audit trail—just computer memory. The rest of the country tends to use hybrid systems where people mark a paper ballot with a pen and those ballots are run through high-speed computer scanners to be counted.

In the decade since Congress passed the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which gave election officials $4 billion to spend on new voting systems, a mix of top state election officials in California and Ohio, academics across the country and activists have documented all kinds of software and hardware bugs with the computerized parts of these systems. For example, touch screens and scanners do not read every vote accurately. Central tabulators can lose votes. And hackers can easily breach the security features. 

“The machines are very, very old,” Simons said, speaking of systems that now are older than most computers used in the business world. “There are physical problems with these machines. Sometimes things go wrong. They also have to replace parts. They are obsolete in addition to all the security, accuracy and reliability problems. And we know that when they were new they had reliability problems. I think that one of the things that we can expect to see is voter disenfranchisement because of machine failures.”

Disenfranchisement by Machine

Yet these machines are how many swing states and vast stretches of the country will vote in November, according to Simons and Smith. In fact, the Verified Voting Web site lists more than 1,000 election jurisdictions nationally, with more than 60 million registered voters, which will be using entirely paperless voting systems.

The worst situation affects most voters in the presidential swing states of Pennsylvania and Virginia, Simons said, because they will be using paperless systems that cannot do recounts, and have no way to recover any votes that are lost. In addition, two big suburban counties around Denver, Colorado, also use all-electronic voting systems where there is no audit trail.

Much of Ohio and Nevada are equipped with touchscreen electronic machines that print a cash register-like record of votes, although Ohio does require polls to have backup paper ballots. These machines are seen as slightly better than all-paperless systems, but their printouts may not be the legal equivalent as a paper ballot marked by a voter if a recount is needed.

Other swing states, such as Florida, North Carolina and much of New Hampshire are using paper ballots that are then scanned.

But there are examples from recent local elections where the scanners missed votes. Earlier this year in Palm Beach County, Florida, scanners identified the wrong winner in two local contests, an error that was discovered a week later in a routine audit. In 2010 in Humboldt County, California, a different kind of scanning error occurred. There, local officials eventually figured out that when they re-scanned batches of mail-in ballots, that the previous batch count was erased. The manufacturer knew about that bug, Simon said, but a new local election official had not been told.

And on the botched process side of the ledger, the recent New York City congressional primary involving Rep. Charlie Rangel incited rounds of finger-pointing after local officials apparently did not record all of the results from optical scan tabulators, an omission that initially resulted in some precincts reporting zero votes.

These recent examples are not alone; they just do not make national news.
“I heard an election official—this was an experienced [county] election official who has been around for a long time—say that when she did her pre-election testing for the voting system she was going to be using in a recent election [2012] that she had about 20 percent or more that didn’t work,” Smith said, referring to paperless machines in Missouri. “That’s a pretty big chunk of your inventory. If you have high turnout, and a presidential year often is, you probably need everything you’ve got.”

Election officials, of course, know what is going on with their voting systems. Trade publications, such as the National Conference of State Legislatures’ The Canvass, have reported on the aging voting machine fleet and lack of funds—from Congress or the states—to shore up current stockpiles.

These publications tend to take a dispassionate view and highlight the pioneering work done by a handful of wealthier counties to develop new voting procedures and technologies, such as Los Angeles and Travis County, Texas. But most medium- and small-size jurisdictions are stuck with what they have. They are looking at cost-cutting ideas that might confound voters, such as replacing established polls with vote centers and printing paper ballots on demand.
While nobody is hoping for voting systems to fail—or be tampered with—the frontline in November, as in all elections, are poll workers. These are local people who are paid a pittance and have an increasingly difficult job. They must not only contend with voting technology issues, but they also have to implement the new voting laws—which often come with fine print.

The average age of poll workers is going up. In 2010, more than half nationwide were older then 60. In recent years, it has been increasingly hard to find enough poll workers, election trade publications have reported. Looking to this fall, that could be problematic in Virginia—a state with some of the oldest and least reliable electronic voting systems—because last March the state announced it would stop paying poll workers. 

Insider's Advice To Election Officials

Doug Chapin, a blogger and self-described election geek who founded an election administration training program at the University of Minnesota, dropped his chin-up demeanor recently, comparing the East’s heat wave to 2012’s elections, where he sees “a rising tide of anger and frustration—almost across the board—on just about every detail of the election process.”
“Quite simply, this isn’t good; not for the field and not for democracy overall,” he wrote. “It’s going to get hotter and hotter as November approaches: My plea to you is simple: stay cool.”

That’s the view looking outward from the eye of an emerging hurricane. For those of us looking inward and vesting our hopes in a fair vote, there’s no shortage of fuel for cynicism, as new voter suppression laws, other anti-democratic antics, aging equipment, overwhelmed poll workers, litigation-prone partisans and vote count uncertainties are hovering.
One can always hope that the presidential race will be decisive and not come down to a single problematic state. But there certainly will be close congressional and state contests, where it will be anyone’s guess just what might undermine the democratic processes. And that’s exactly the problem in 2012: the closer you look, the more you find cause for concern.

Steven Rosenfeld covers democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

3 Things Conservatives Hope America Never Learns About Taxes

Intellectual Republicans (oxymoron yet?) are still clinging to the idea that we can’t tax the rich because of job creation, but even they must see that since we haven’t been taxing the rich and they aren’t creating jobs, this talking point is slowly choking on its own failure.

Thus they hop over to the argument that economic growth happens when you stimulate the economy by cutting taxes because then there will be more revenues because companies are more successful.

Obviously, this is not true, at least during a recession, or we wouldn’t be in this mess. And as Chris Hayes pointed out this weekend, where would we end the tax cuts? This is what I call the Republican tax cut cliff. There’s nowhere to go for them but to pull a Thelma and Louise and go all in, and hope that driving off that cliff will result in a miracle of suspension. Those of us who still believe in gravity know better.

The current Republican argument is that the top 2% should be able to get 93% of the income growth while still enjoying a tax sale. They want to continue to shift the burden of revenue to the poor and middle class, if their actual policies tell us anything.

The issue is that, as Republicans kept telling us when they drove our credit rating down, we have a deficit and we need revenue. The deficit is largely their fault, with federal spending under Obama at its lowest pace in 60 years.

Bush’s two unfunded wars were left off of the budget until Obama took office. Combine his wars with the Bush tax cuts and then the Bush economy that we are still staving off, it’s clear that we need to generate revenue. A real fiscal conservative would not balk at paying their bills. It is only this current crop of corporate tools who will say anything to justify not paying their own bills. They demand that the 98% take responsibility for policies they had no part in enacting (for example, war costs a lot more than “entitlement programs” and war enriches certain members of Congress and their federal contractor friends), while the 2% get a forever free ride.

After three years of Republican obstruction, Republicans refusing to pass one jobs bill save at the last moment the Veterans Jobs Bill, holding the country’s credit rating hostage over a deficit that they then refused to participate in addressing by making any cuts on their side and instead spending all of our money passing social legislation aimed at taking resources and rights away from labor, minorities and women (also often known as the middle class), it would be foolish to pretend we don’t know what the current Republican Party stands for. They’ve told us in their actions what they stand for, and it’s not the middle class or jobs or fair tax structures.

Another talking point of outraged Republicans is that all businesses are small businesses. This is supposed to mom and pop those mean corporate entities that get subsidies from all of us while making record profits. The federal government actually has a definition of small business, and no, big oil and big pharma and News Corp don’t fit into it. Not everyone needs a tax break.

Sadly for these conservatives, I am not coming at this from the point of view they assume I am. I have run a million dollar small business, and I have run several businesses that made much less than a million dollars a year.
What I’ve learned is that if you are not rich, you are paying a lot in taxes. If you are rich, you have a lot of ways to move your money around and use legal loopholes and tax shelters to avoid paying your fair share.

This means that the tax rate is almost irrelevant, because the top 2% rarely pay their tax rate, and even when they do, the tax laws are so friendly for the rich that they are getting a break on their house, cars, jets, vacations (used to offset income or profit), and investment income which is taxed at 15% instead of the 30% or so that a line worker at GM pays.

While most workers have taxes deducted from their paycheck, a business owner pays taxes to the government directly, writing a check every quarter. No matter who you are, this is a painful experience one can soon learn to resent, feeling as if you earned it and it should be yours to keep. But in reality, so do the workers with a paycheck earn their money and they are just as entitled to want to keep their money and want a tax cut, if not more since they are often paying more percentage wise in effective tax rates.

I have some friends who run in circles with the very wealthy and I know how they legally stash money away and play duck and dodge with Uncle Sam. These kinds of tricks aren’t available to most Americans, and that isn’t right. I like those folks; I’m friends with some of them, but it still isn’t right. Try as the Right might to paint this as class warfare and hatred of the rich, that’s not reality.
Spin those talking points around, and you have the truth. The current tax laws show a disdain for the working class, a structure created for the privileged — to keep them up and keep the little people down.

How can it be right? It’s not right, and any argument made for it is based on the truth that those in power are the top 2% or they are funded by the top 2%, so they will make policy that benefits those people. It’s a rare leader who makes policy for the people.

The whining you hear about taxing the rich is akin to a two year old who doesn’t want to share his toys. For the rich, it means the difference between feeling free to not think about money at all and having to think about money. Whereas for most Americans, it means the difference between dipping into their savings or going into debt. That’s what the 2% don’t get.

They don’t get it because it is not their reality. Just as Mitt Romney thought that a $19,000 a year job was a good middle class job, the very rich simply don’t understand the math of middle class America. They don’t understand living paycheck to paycheck. Their worries are more like, ‘Gee, in a year that balloon payment of $5 million is due on that land I bought… I hope I don’t get slammed with taxes on the sales.’ Commence bitching about taxes because they took the “risk”.

What about the middle class, who work hard for those rich people? Do they not get a seat at the table? Are they not a part of that creation of wealth? Do they not create demand with their purchases? Is their work worth less than another’s simply because it pays less, and therefore they should be punished through policy for being a worker instead of a risk taker? (I could argue that working for one of the 2% is a risk these days, but that’s another article.)

It’s absurd to think we can have a democratic society based in the notion of liberty for all buttressed by the foundation that only the top 2% count. It is possible, for we saw it recently under Clinton, to have a society where the middle class thrives and the top 2% make good money. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Posted by on July 10th, 2012. Filed under Featured News,Sarah Jones. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry