Sunflower State

An American Lamentation (Two by “Huh?”)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to supporters in Everett, Washington, 30 August 2016. (Detail of frame via YouTube)

Americans often lament the fact of their essentially two-party political league, and the top of the Libertarian ticket, Gary Johnson, is capable of providing spectacular reminders of why we tend toward the binary. The former New Mexico governor and middle-tier celebrity stoner has managed to reduce a human atrocity to yet another icon of American stupidity, which really is no good legacy to build. Yet it is true, in the American discourse, “Aleppo” is … well, Matthew Kitchen tries to explain for NBC News:

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson struggled to name a single foreign leader when asked who his favorite was during an MSNBC town hall Wednesday night.

“Any one of the continents, any country. Name one foreign leader that your respect and look up to. Anybody,” host Chris Matthews pushed during the event, causing Johnson to sigh loudly as his VP pick Bill Weld tried to jump in.

“I guess I’m having an Aleppo moment,” Johnson finally said, referring to his recent gaffe on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” when he asked “What is Aleppo?” after he was questioned about how he would handle the conflict in the Syrian city.

So, yeah. Aleppo is … Gary Johnson being inexcusably stupid. (Look, dude, I mean, you’re, like, running for president, you know, like, aren’t you?)

And then there is Donald Trump.

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The Brownback Effect

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) speaks at CPAC, 28 February 2015.  (Detail of photo by Gage Skidmore)

This is the part where reality comes crashing down:

Lots of numbers in a new statewide survey of Kansas from Fort Hays State University, but here’s the stunner:

Only 18 percent of state residents said they were “very” or “somewhat satisfied” with GOP Gov. Sam Brownback.

Kansas, in case there’s any misunderstanding, is a heavily Republican state.

President Barack Obama, long a punching bag for Republicans, rated higher. Some 28 percent of respondents expressed satisfaction with the Democratic chief executive.

(Krase)

The whole thing with Kansas and Mr. Brownback really is a puzzle; it’s one thing to point out that he is wrecking the state’s finances to the point that schools can’t function, thus observing that there is a reason Kansans are annoyed with their governor. But there is also a twist, that Sunflower State voters already knew most of that when they re-elected Gov. Brownback last year.

Certainly, the numbers are remarkable; Mr. Brownback is so awful, in Kansans’ eyes, that President Obama now suffers less ill will in the Jayhawk Midway Wheat State. To the other, though, the notion of self-inflicted damage asserts itself. Kansans quite literally did this to themselves, and we might make that crass joke, “And we’re all just so proud of them for doing such a super job!” but in truth, no, nobody is proud. Nor is this merely a Kansas thing; the Brownback Way is merely a revival of the supply-side mysticism, the “voodoo” economics, of thirty years ago. And this Republicans would inflict on the nation.

Steve Benen recalls Mitch McConnell, who described the Brownback Way as, “exactly the sort of thing we want to do here, in Washington, but can’t, at least for now”:

“At least for now,” of course, refers to the fact that there’s a Democrat in the White House.

In other words, Kansas’ “experiment” – massive tax breaks, coupled with drastic cuts to public investments – is “exactly” the model Republicans want to impose on the nation. They’re just waiting for a far-right president to work with a far-right Congress, just like Kansas’ far-right governor worked with a far-right legislature.

It really is the strangest thing.

Then again, this is Kansas. They have their priorities.

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Image note: Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) speaks at CPAC, 28 February 2015. (Detail of photo by Gage Skidmore)

Benen, Steve. “Obama tops Brownback in ruby-red Kansas”. msnbc. 26 October 2015.

Krase, Steve. “Gov. Sam Brownback in deep hole with Kansans”. The Kansas City Star. 24 October 2015.

The Shadow over Indiana

22 FEBRUARY 2015: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence appears on 'FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace'.  Guest host John Roberts interviewed Mr. Pence regarding various issues, including his status as a 2016 'dark horse' for the GOP presidential nomination, and the Hoosier State's 'religious freedom' bill empowering discrimination, which Pence signed into law in late March.  (Image credit: FOX News)

“Indiana businesses can now discriminate against gay people because of the ACA’s contraception policy?”

Steve Benen

Perhaps it seems an odd question, but there is a reason, after all:

The Republican governor, and possible presidential candidate, published a Wall Street Journal op-ed overnight in which Pence outlined his plan to address businesses that exploit his new law to discriminate against gay consumers: “If I saw a restaurant owner refuse to serve a gay couple, I wouldn’t eat there anymore.”msnbc

As Rachel joked on the show last night, “So, if you were worried that gay people might be refused service by a business in Indiana now, don’t worry. That could never happen because the state has decided to wield the grave threat of depriving businesses of Mike Pence’s personal patronage.”

In the same piece, the Hoosier State governor suggested this whole mess can be traced back to Obamacare.

Many states have enacted [Religious Freedom Restoration Acts] of their own … but Indiana never passed such a law. Then in 2010 came the Affordable Care Act, which renewed concerns about government infringement on deeply held religious beliefs. Hobby Lobby and the University of Notre Dame both filed lawsuits challenging provisions that required the institutions to offer certain types of insurance coverage in violation of their religious views.

Last year the Supreme Court upheld religious liberty in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, based on the federal RFRA. With the Supreme Court’s ruling, the need for a RFRA at the state level became more important, as the federal law does not apply to states. To ensure that religious liberty is fully protected under Indiana law, this year the General Assembly enshrined these principles in Indiana law. I fully supported that action.

Hmm. Indiana businesses can now discriminate against gay people because of the ACA’s contraception policy?

This apparently wasn’t persuasive, either, leading Pence to announce this morning his support for a legislative “fix.”

The question persists: How did Pence not see this coming?

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A Note on “Family Values” in “Flyover Country”

In this May 3, 2010 photo, attorney Kris Kobach poses for a photo in Kansas City, Mo. When politicians and police across the county want to crack down on illegal immigration, they often reach out to Kobach, a little-known Kansas attorney with an Ivy League education who is the architect behind many of the nation's most controversial immigration laws. Kobach helps draft proposed laws and, after they are adopted, trains officers to enforce them. If the laws are challenged, he goes to court to defend them. His most recent project was advising Arizona officials on a new law that empowers police to question anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Two words: Middle America.

Two more: Flyover country.

Do the phrases ring a bell, maybe hearken back to 2008 when Republicans condemned coastal liberals as treating the interior states like a foreign country?

How about two more words? Sunflower State.

And two more: Kris Kobach.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, one of the chief architects of the anti-immigrant movement’s legal and legislative strategies, told a caller to his weekly radio program last week that while he thought it was “unlikely,” it would not be a “huge jump” to predict that the Obama administration could call an end to the prosecutions of African Americans for any crime. Claiming that “it’s already happened more or less in the case of civil rights laws,” Kobach told listeners that “I’ve learned to say with this president, never say never.”

(Blue)

This is standard fare for Kobach. Remember, people in Kansas elected him, not despite the lying and racist paranoia, but because of it.

The next time you hear a conservative crying about “Middle America” and how the nasty liberals in the Democratic Party―(What? All three of them?)―”hate” the “family values” of “Middle America”, remember that these are the values in question. Mr. Kobach’s tenure in office is its own condemnation of Sunflower State values.

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Blue, Miranda. “Kris Kobach: ‘Not A Huge Jump’ To Think Obama Could Ban Criminal Prosecution Of Black People”. Right Wing Watch. 4 March 2015.

Kansas, Like Only Kansas Can Do

In this May 3, 2010 photo, attorney Kris Kobach poses for a photo in Kansas City, Mo. When politicians and police across the county want to crack down on illegal immigration, they often reach out to Kobach, a little-known Kansas attorney with an Ivy League education who is the architect behind many of the nation's most controversial immigration laws. Kobach helps draft proposed laws and, after they are adopted, trains officers to enforce them. If the laws are challenged, he goes to court to defend them. His most recent project was advising Arizona officials on a new law that empowers police to question anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Do we really have to re-introduce the one and only Kris Kobach? You know, the Kansas Secretary of State who consults around the country on development of anti-immigration and vote-fraud laws? The Birther who threatened to keep President Obama off the 2012 ballot in the Sunflower State?

Right. That one.

During last year’s election, the Kansas Secretary of State chastised U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom, complaining to the media that Kobach’s office had referred examples of voter fraud to the Kansas-based federal prosecutor, but Grissom has refused to prosecute. Worse, Kobach said the U.S. Attorney didn’t “know what he’s talking about” when Grissom said voter fraud doesn’t exist in Kansas.

The AP reports today that when Kobach made these claims, he appears to have been brazenly lying (thanks to my colleague Tricia McKinney for the heads-up).

[I]n a Nov. 6 letter sent from Grissom to Kobach and obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request, the prosecutor responded that his office received no such referrals from Kobach, and chided the secretary of state for his statements.

“Going forward, if your office determines there has been an act of voter fraud please forward the matter to me for investigation and prosecution,” Grissom wrote. “Until then, so we can avoid misstatements of facts for the future, for the record, we have received no voter fraud cases from your office in over four and a half years. And, I can assure you, I do know what I’m talking about.”

Wait, it gets worse.

Kobach now concedes that when he said he’d referred voter-fraud cases to the U.S. Attorney’s office, he had not, in reality, referred voter-fraud cases to the U.S. Attorney’s office. But, the right-wing official told the AP, Kobach’s predecessor had alerted the federal prosecutor to two relevant cases and Grissom ignored those referrals.

It turns out, that’s not true, either: federal investigators looked into those 2011 allegations and, as the AP report noted, they concluded they were not voter fraud.

Or so explains the inimitable Steve Benen, whose narrative is as compelling as always. It is drawn from an Associated Press article, which for its own part explains:

Grissom told the AP last week that Kobach never replied to his letter.

“We want to uphold the integrity of the voting system and people’s ability to exercise their right and have their voice heard as part of the process,” Grissom said. “And we have the ability, we have the resources, to prosecute any case in which someone believes there has been any voter fraud or voter misrepresentation.”

Kobach acknowledged in an email to the AP last week that his office never has sent suspected voter fraud cases to Grissom, citing instead what he said was inaction on cases referred by his predecessor.

Grissom said the FBI determined two cases referred before Kobach took office in January 2011 were not voter fraud.

Kobach said last week that his office “felt it would be more productive to refer cases first to Kansas county attorneys rather than sending them first to Mr. Grissom’s office.”

“That is the approach we have taken for the last few years,” he said.

(more…)

The Shadow Over Kansas

The Capitol of Kansas, in Topeka.

Kansas will face a $279 million budget shortfall by July, far worse than state officials had thought before a new revenue forecast Monday that will force Gov. Sam Brownback and legislators to consider spending cuts.

Associated Press

The news only gets worse from there, you know.

Look, we are an American community.

Quick, someone tell the folks in Kansas. Wait, what’s that? They don’t care?

I realize Brownback has an “R” after his name, but the fact that Kansans actually re-elected this guy, despite the option of a credible and experienced challenger, and despite the disaster of his signature issue, is kind of amazing.

Of course, let’s not forget Art Laffer, the Republican economist who helped shape Brownback’s plan, who’s perhaps best known for his “Laffer Curve” which says tax cuts can pay for themselves. He, of course, feels vindicated, not because the Kansas plan is failing, but because Brownback won re-election regardless of his performance.

(Benen)

In this photo taken Sept. 6, 2014, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback speaks in Hutchinson, Kansas. The writing is on the wall for gay marriage bans in Kansas, Montana and South Carolina after federal appeals courts that oversee those states have made clear that keeping gay and lesbian couples from marrying is unconstitutional. But officials in the three states are refusing to allow same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses without a court order directing them to do so. It could be another month or more before the matter is settled. In a political campaign debate Monday, Brownback vowed to defend his state’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. A federal court hearing is scheduled for Friday.(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)As tempting as it might seem to rub our hands in curious satisfaction and chuckle deep in our throats like supervillains about to watch mindless, ant-like humanity destroy itself, the simple fact is that we’re Americans, not supervillains. And what Kansans are doing to themselves ought to be their own business, except, like masturbation, it becomes a problem when you visit your kinks on other people who don’t want anything to do with the mess you’re making.

And that’s the thing. Not every Kansan stays in Kansas, and the longer this goes on the more and more noticeable it will be when the young generation shows up in other states, with less education, and suffers in the job market. That is to say, even if we find some justification to say we’re just fine with the Sunflower State willfully squandering the futures of its youngest generation, everybody else is going to have to take up the slack.

We can’t just build a border fence and pen them in. That’s just not what Americans do.

But at the same time, these are the United States of America, after all. If general decency is insufficient, then think of the inconvenience this sort of thing might cause you in a future not so distant.

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Associated Press. “Kansas faces $279 million budget shortfall by summer”. KSN. 10 November 2014.

Benen, Steve. “Brownback’s economic failures start to look even worse”. msnbc. 11 November 2014.