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Wingnut logic

The Philadelphia City Paper’s Daniel Denvir does a great job debunking an absurd op-ed from a wingnut think tank (Crazy Pat Toomey is one of their “directors emeritas”) that ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday, justifying Gov. Corbett’s hard-hearted application of a means test for Pennsylvania food stamp recipients:

“Asset test for food stamps a sound idea for Pennsylvania,” proclaimed a column in yesterday’s Sunday Inquirer from the conservative Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives. The position it takes ― that Gov. Tom Corbett‘s move to exclude people with more than $2,000 in assets (largely excluding homes and cars, but largely including savings) is a good thing ― is not surprising. But the arguments it makes in Corbett’s favor are, at least if you take truthfulness (perhaps naïvely) as a standard for political discourse, astounding:

Right-wing claim: “The measure is necessary because welfare eligibility and spending — including for food stamps — have exploded, threatening to crowd out everything else in the state budget.”

Fact: Actually, the federal government picks up most of the tab. According to the Inquirer , “Pennsylvania receives about $2.5 billion in federal SNAP [that’s food stamps: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] funds annually and pays about $160 million annually in state money to maintain the program.” That’s just over one half of 1 percent of Pennsylvania’s state budget. And as I reported last week, the state of Pennsylvania taxpayers spends nearly $2 billion on prisons ―$463.8 million more than generally reported.

Right-wing claim: “Despite indisputable evidence that welfare fraud and waste are alive and well, many politicians in Harrisburg and Washington have downplayed it, while actually expanding welfare benefits to the detriment of the truly poor.”

Fact: Pennsylvania has been recognized for having an extraordinarily low rate of food stamp fraud: one-tenth of 1 percent.

Right-wing claim: “It’s impossible to determine the full extent of errors because the state doesn’t actively search for mistakes.”

Fact: This assertion is incomprehensible. The state of Pennsylvania Inspector General has a welfare fraud division with a $705,000 budget. And yes, it includes a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Trafficking Unit.

Right-wing claim: “Without any such protection, billionaires such as Bill Gates could actually be eligible for food stamps if their income was low enough for a year. Sound far-fetched? Consider the case of Leroy Fick, who won a $2 million lottery jackpot but still legally collected food stamps. This fall, Michigan enacted a $5,000 asset test to keeping exploiters such as Fick from taking advantage of the system.”

Fact: It sounds far-fetched because it’s incredibly misleading. The US Department of Agriculture toldPolitifact that they are aware of “only one case and one alleged case involving individuals with assets over $1 million”― one of those two cases being Leroy Fick. In Washington, congressional Republicans have claimed that barring millionaires from receiving food stamps or unemployment insurance would save big-time taxpayer dollars. It’s a ruse.

Kudos to the local alternative paper for doing the analytical heavy lifting we’d like to see from our local dailies.

Religious liberty

I hope the Obama administration stands firm on this one. It was only a matter of time until the church upped the political ante, and of course a low-life like Newt Gingrich is only too happy to jump on the bandwagon. The American church’s hierarchy climbed under the covers with the right wing decades ago, and they’re all too happy to tear down the Democratic candidates on command:

During church services on Sunday, Catholics around the country were read a blistering letter assailing the Obama administration for an “assault on religious liberty” in the form of a coming requirement that most church-linked organizations – among them hospitals, schools and universities – offer birth control coverage as part of their health care plans.

Despite strong lobbying from religious groups, the Health and Human Services Department announced earlier this month that most church-linked groups will not be exempt from the requirements – which also mandate that no co-pay be charged for contraceptive services – though they will have an extra year to comply beyond the August 1 deadline.

Churches themselves (along with any other employer that is explicitly focused on offering a religious message, and which primarily employs those who believe in that message) are exempt from the requirement.

Religious groups were outraged by the decision – saying it forced employers at church-linked organizations to violate their conscience – and on Sunday Catholic leaders took their complaints directly to parishioners. As Business Insider reported, similar letters were read in churches around the country complaining that “the Obama Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty.”

In an appearance on “CBS This Morning” Monday, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich brought up the letters, using them as an opportunity to attack both the Obama administration and Republican rival Mitt Romney.

“The Obama administration has just launched an attack on Christianity so severe that every single church in Florida had a letter read from the bishops yesterday all across the country – Cardinal [Timothy] Dolan was leading an effort to explain that, literally, freedom of religion in America is now being attacked by Obama,” he said. “The Romneycare does the same thing. Romneycare has tax-paid abortions. Romneycare put Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in America, in the bill. No right to life group’s in the bill. Planned Parenthood is. Romney himself approved taking away a conscience clause from Catholic hospitals.”

(As Hotsheet pointed out earlier this month, Gingrich’s comment that Planned Parenthood is part of the health care law Romney signed as Massachusetts governor is misleading, and Massachusetts law mandated that the health care law cover abortion.)

In explaining the decision to require birth control coverage for chuch-linked groups, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that “Scientists have abundant evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women and their families, it is documented to significantly reduce health costs, and is the most commonly taken drug in America by young and middle-aged women. This rule will provide women with greater access to contraception by requiring coverage and by prohibiting cost sharing.

Ohio statehouse fracking protest

Jan. 10th:

There she goes

Marshall Crenshaw:

Gender bias

Very interesting. A substantial increase in the hiring of female symphony musicians since blind auditions became popular.

Oh come on

Who listens to chicks, anyway?

Dirtballs face off in Florida

Newt accused Mitt of having mutual funds invested in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, mortgage lenders backed by (gasp!) big government. Mitt counterattacked with the same charge when he learned Newt also had invested in Freddie and Fannie. In debating circles, this is known as the “you’re as big a dirtball as I am” argument. More here.

Priorities

Disheartening, the amount of energy this administration puts into going after legitimate whistle blowers — while allowing the corporate bad guys to walk:

The Food and Drug Administration secretly monitored the personal e-mail of a group of its own scientists and doctors after they warned Congress that the agency was approving medical devices that they believed posed unacceptable risks to patients, government documents show.

The surveillance — detailed in e-mails and memos unearthed by six of the scientists and doctors, who filed a lawsuit against the FDA in U.S. District Court in Washington last week — took place over two years as the plaintiffs accessed their personal Gmail accounts from government computers.

Information garnered this way eventually contributed to the harassment or dismissal of all six of the FDA employees, the suit alleges. All had worked in an office responsible for reviewing devices for cancer screening and other purposes.

Copies of the e-mails show that, starting in January 2009, the FDA intercepted communications with congressional staffers and draft versions of whistleblower complaints complete with editing notes in the margins. The agency also took electronic snapshots of the computer desktops of the FDA employees and reviewed documents they saved on the hard drives of their government computers.

Libra this week

Michael Lutin, Jungian astrologer:

Saturn’s slowdown can be a stinky little moment for anybody. Once the retrograde actually kicks in you will adjust to the fact that healing takes time. OK so you don’t feel sparkling bright. The body doesn’t always cooperate as quickly as we wish. Be patient with yourself, for God’s sake, and get off your case. Remember that although we are all mortal, fragile beings, there’s something brilliant within that never fades or tarnishes. Bet you don’t feel that way right now, though.

Austerity debacle

The Times has Krugman on the disaster that is economic policy:

Last week the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, a British think tank, released a startling chart comparing the current slump with past recessions and recoveries. It turns out that by one important measure — changes in real G.D.P. since the recession began — Britain is doing worse this time than it did during the Great Depression. Four years into the Depression, British G.D.P. had regained its previous peak; four years after the Great Recession began, Britain is nowhere close to regaining its lost ground.

Nor is Britain unique. Italy is also doing worse than it did in the 1930s — and with Spain clearly headed for a double-dip recession, that makes three of Europe’s big five economies members of the worse-than club. Yes, there are some caveats and complications. But this nonetheless represents a stunning failure of policy.

And it’s a failure, in particular, of the austerity doctrine that has dominated elite policy discussion both in Europe and, to a large extent, in the United States for the past two years.

O.K., about those caveats: On one side, British unemployment was much higher in the 1930s than it is now, because the British economy was depressed — mainly thanks to an ill-advised return to the gold standard — even before the Depression struck. On the other side, Britain had a notably mild Depression compared with the United States.

Even so, surpassing the track record of the 1930s shouldn’t be a tough challenge. Haven’t we learned a lot about economic management over the last 80 years? Yes, we have — but in Britain and elsewhere, the policy elite decided to throw that hard-won knowledge out the window, and rely on ideologically convenient wishful thinking instead.

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