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Big Picture: Fight for $15 with Robert Reich

Right now, there are adult breadwinners who work full-time, or more than full-time, and still live in poverty.

If the minimum wage in 1968 had simply kept up with inflation, it would be more than $10 today.

If it also kept up with the added productivity of American workers since then, it would be more than $21 an hour.

A decent society ensures that all workers get a decent wage.

It’s the least we can do. And a $15 wage is the place to start.

A Raging Hypocrite: Inside The Religious Right’s Incoherent Faux-Morality

The Gilmer Free Press

In recent decades, American politics have been dominated by a series of escalating ideological conflicts that have come to be known as “the culture wars.” And, with Christian moralizers like Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal entering the 2016 fray, this is unlikely to change any time soon. So, as we brace ourselves for another GOP primary defined by “traditional values,” one question it’s worth asking is: Do these conservatives (and their supporters) have any right to claim the high ground?

Republicans such as Huckabee and Jindal love to use their religion as a prop: They judge and preach and condemn under the cover of Christianity. And they assume this grants them a kind of moral superiority. Well, it doesn’t. Huckabee and Jindal are political hucksters. They fancy themselves Christians, but their preachments are foul and their values are un-Christlike. They are exactly what many other current GOP candidates are as well: political entrepreneurs. If they climb atop the Christian cross, it’s because they want to be seen by more people. They’re chasing votes, not salvation.

As the presidential race kicks into gear, Democrats would do well to remember this. For too long the GOP has controlled the moral narrative in this country. Conservatives have wisely appropriated the language of values, but they’re rarely challenged on this front. When Ted Cruz or Ben Carson or Rick Santorum bloviate about family values, someone should ask: What, precisely, are your values? And what are their effects in the real world?

Most conservatives (in today’s GOP, at least) exalt life in the abstract, but they don’t defend it in practice. Whether it’s abortion or capital punishment or contraception or civil rights, they consistently advocate policies that degrade life and run counter to their own values. Despite their avowed humanitarianism, they’ve little regard for human suffering. And that’s because they’re not interested in serving life or other people; they’re dogmatists masquerading as moralizers.

Conservatives, for instance, admonish liberals for not protecting the sanctity of life.

But these same conservatives are often indifferent to the struggles of real people living real lives here and now. They’re not particularly concerned with poverty or inequality or torture or war crimes or a hundred other ethical issues. And they’re never compelled to explain the widening gap between their rhetoric and the political reality they’ve helped create.


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Take the GOP’s position on abortion. We know, for example, that banning abortions doesn’t decrease the number of abortions. Sex education, contraception, and access to proper health care — these are the policies that reduce abortions. And yet pro-life conservatives oppose them at every turn. And they insist on fighting wars they’ve already lost. The Supreme Court, after all, has spoken: abortion is legal in this country. (Although they’re doing everything in their power to turn the clocks back.) But rather than pursue policies that might actually reduce the incidence of unplanned pregnancies, something that virtually everyone could get behind, conservatives instead push for policies that actually lead to more, not fewer, abortions. That’s incoherent, and positively stupid, running counter to the ostensible goals of social conservatives.

The GOP, in its current manifestation, is incapable of dealing with its disjointedness. The religious wing of the party thinks only in terms of doctrine. Whether it’s abortion or climate change or marriage equality, reality always gives way to dogma. Because so much of conservative discourse is tinged with fundamentalist rhetoric, compromise or change is virtually impossible. This is terrible for the Republican Party, and even worse for the country.

The corporate wing of the GOP is partly to blame for this predicament. People like the Koch brothers have artfully hijacked social conservatism in order to peddle a particular brand of libertarianism. As a result, we see Christian politicians (like Paul Ryan) professing their love of Ayn Rand, whose philosophy could not possibly be more antithetical to Christianity. Many of the “value voters” (most of whom are Christian and Republican) similarly conflate economic libertarianism with Christianity, as though one follows from the other. This is an absurd contradiction, and it shouldn’t go unchallenged.

These inconsistencies will be on full view at the upcoming Value Voters Summit, where the religious right gathers each year to promote social conservatism. According to the organizers of this event, the “Values Voter Summit was created in 2006 to provide a forum to help inform and mobilize citizens across America to preserve the bedrock values of traditional marriage, religious liberty, sanctity of life and limited government that make our nation strong.”

This event, which is sponsored by the Family Research Council (a recognized hate group) and funded by various PACs and front organizations, offers a snapshot of contemporary conservatism. And who are the moral luminaries invited to speak at this summit? In addition to all of the Republican presidential candidates, people like Phil Robertson, Tony Perkins, and the thrice-married Rush Limbaugh will all take the podium. These men are hardly paragons of moral wisdom, and while they may be Christian, their values are anything but. Robertson, for instance, has been a fountain of ignorance over the last year or so, spewing hateful bile in several interviews and speeches.

Amazingly, these are the people who speak for “value voters.” These are the representatives of the religious right. Not a single one of them has the right to lecture anyone (especially liberals) about morality or faith. Christians are called to uphold the living love of Christ, not the blind bigotry of people like Perkins and Robertson. Republicans too easily forget that, and liberals ought to say so. Besides, there’s a much better case to be made that alleviating poverty, reducing inequality, and promoting social justice are Christian causes rooted in fundamentally Christian values.

It’s time for liberal Democrats to make that case.

~~  Sean Illing - Teaches political theory at Louisiana State University ~~

Ron Paul: NSA Spying Ruled Illegal, But Will Congress Save the Program Anyway?

The Gilmer Free Press

This week the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NSA’s metadata collection program was not authorized in U.S. law. The PATRIOT Act, under which the program began, was too vague, the court found. But the truth is the Act was intended to be vague so that the government could interpret it in the broadest possible way.

But this is really more of a technicality, because illegality and unconstitutionality are really two very different things. Even if Congress had explicitly authorized the government to collect our phone records, that law would still be unconstitutional because the Constitution does not grant government the power to access our personal information without a valid search warrant.

Even though the court found the NSA program illegal, it did not demand that the government stop collecting our information in this manner. Instead, the court kicked the ball back in Congress’ court, as these provisions of the PATRIOT Act are set to expire at the end of the month and the Appeals Court decided to let Congress decide how to re-authorize this spying program.

Unfortunately, this is where there is not much to cheer. If past practice is any lesson, Congress will wait until the spying program is about to expire and then in a panic try to frighten Americans into accepting more intrusions on their privacy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already put forth a new bill as a stop-gap measure to allow time for a fuller debate on the issue. His stop-gap? A five year re-authorization with no changes to the current program!

The main reform bill being floated, the FREEDOM Act, is little better. Pretending to be a step in the right direction, the FREEDOM Act may actually be worse for our privacy and liberties than the PATRIOT Act!

One silver lining in the court decision is that it should exonerate Ed Snowden, who risked it all to expose what the courts have now found was illegal US government activity. That is the definition of a whistleblower. Shouldn’t he be welcomed back home as a hero instead of being threatened with treason charges? We shouldn’t hold our breath!

This week Snowden addressed a conference in Melbourne, Australia, informing citizens that the Australian government watches all its citizens “all the time.” Australia’s program allows the government to “collect everyone’s communications in advance of criminal suspicion,“ he told the conference. That means the government is no longer in the business of prosecuting crimes, but instead is collecting information in case crimes someday occur.

How is it that the Australian government can collect and track “pre-crime” information on its citizens? Last month Australia passed a law requiring telecommunications companies to retain metadata information on their customers for two years.

Why do Australia’s oppressive laws matter to us? Because the NSA “reform” legislation before Congress, the FREEDOM Act, does exactly what the Australian law does: it mandates that U.S. telecommunications companies retain their customers’ metadata information so that the NSA can access the information as it wishes.

Some argue that this metadata information is harmless and that civil libertarians are over-reacting. But, as Ed Snowden told the Melbourne conference, “under these mandatory metadata laws you can immediately see who journalists are contacting, from which you can derive who their sources are.“

This one example of what happens when the government forces corporations to assist it in spying on the people should be a red flag. How can an independent media exist in the U.S. if the government knows exactly whom journalists contact for information? It would be the end of any future whistleblowers.

The only reform of the PATRIOT Act is a total repeal. Accept nothing less.

WV Legislative Update: Delegate Brent Boggs - Minority House Finance Chairman - 05.11.15

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Jean and I had an enjoyable few days last week as we decided to take a short vacation from the railroad by spending some time at the beach.  The weather was great and it was nice to see some new territory.  However, one thing was very noticeable.  Airport security seems to have increased over the past few months and with the new threats from terrorists, military installations are also taking no chances by turning up security measures.

Glad we made it home to enjoy Mother’s Day with my Mom.  Social media has its positive and negative aspects, but I always enjoy the many tributes posted on Mother’s Day.  The hundreds of posts and pictures are a tribute to their unconditional love, care and devotion.

The sad news reached us last week while we were out of town, informing that Coach Rick Frame passed away after a long and valiant battle with cancer. Rick touched the lives of countless students and athletes over the years.  My dad fondly recalls when he coached one of the little league basketball teams when they were first established around 1970 and Rick, his cousin Greg and Dave Warner were three of his players. They won the championship.  He was a tough competitor, great coach, mentor to students and good friend to the community.  Most of all, he was dedicated to his family.  Our condolences and prayers are with Connie, Hollie, Heather, granddaughter Layleh and the entire family.  Rick left an indelible mark on students and the community throughout the years and his legacy will live on.

Now that the weather has improved substantially in the past few weeks, road repair work is in full swing across West Virginia.  However the magnitude of the needed road repairs is far beyond the available funding stream for non-federal highway maintenance.  Along with that dilemma facing us, the Speaker and Senate President have appointed a select committee to examine the tax structure of our state.  While I do not serve on this committee, it is important to monitor the recommendations that may come out of their deliberations in the interim.  The last thing we need is for more taxes on the middle class and another reduction for businesses.

Likewise, I read an op-ed from an eastern panhandle delegate, making his case for eliminating the state motor fuel tax.  While that may sound like a good thing on the surface, his proposal was to add one or two cents on a general sales tax across the board to make up the difference – and then some.

My point is that everyone wants lower taxes.  But taking away in one area and adding in another is not a tax reduction; it’s only a way to shift the tax burden away from some onto the back of others. As the select committee continues its work, I hope you will share your opinions so I may pass them on to the committee members.

Out of state entities, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, seem to push for tax reductions without concern for how the cuts will affect the citizens.  Look no further than Kansas to see what happens when taxes cuts occur without being well-thought or weighing the needed revenue to provide for roads, pension obligations and other functions of government.

We will all be watching as the Select Committee meets and listen closely to any proposals that come forward and see if a tax cut is really a tax cut.

In the interim, send your inquiries to my home office at:  151 Park Street, Gassaway, WV 26624; call 304.364.8411; or fax 304.364.8711.  If you have an interest in any particular bill or issue, please let me know.  For those with Internet access, my legislative e-mail address is:

You may also obtain additional legislative information, including the copies of bills, conference reports, daily summaries, interim highlights, and leave me a message on the Legislature’s web site at www.legis.state.wv.us/.  When leaving a message, please remember to include your phone number with your inquiry and any details you can provide. Additional information, including agency links and the state government phone directory, may be found at www.wv.gov. Also, you may follow me on Facebook at “Brent Boggs”, Twitter at “@DelBrentBoggs” , as well as the WV Legislature’s Facebook page at “West Virginia Legislature” or on Twitter at twitter.com/wvlegislature.

Continue to remember our troops - at home and abroad - and keep them and their families in your thoughts and prayers.  Until next week – take care.

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