fresh voices from the front lines of change







I was as the Summit on Jobs & America’s Future yesterday, so I didn’t get to hear Keith Ellison’s testimony at Rep. Peter King’s hearing on "Islamic radicalization." Instead, I heard Ellison speak eloquently at the summit about the the "jobs and economic justice tour" of America, which the congressional Progressive Caucus will launch this summer as an alternative to the "so be it" agenda of the GOP.

In the midst of anemic job creation,  an unemployment crisis that’s deeper than any one in the media wants to admit, and a jobs deficit of 28 million threatening our economic future, Rep. Eillison — along with Rep. George Miller — had to leave capitol hill to find people in Washington who were talking about jobs.

Then Ellison returned to the Hill to give this testimony to King’s committee, honoring the memory of Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old Muslim first responder who died trying to save others on September 11th.

Ellison did not end his testimony by asking, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?", as Joseph Welch asked Sen. Joseph McCarthy during another congressional hearing 57 years ago. But had Ellison done so, it would have been just as appropriate

Monday on Fox News, King said his upcoming hearings would feature an American Muslim who "feels very strongly that the current Muslim leadership is not doing its job." A day later, King told the same network that when Muslims come forward to report suspicions of dangerous extremism, "they do not get the cooperation from the imams and from their leaders." He brushed off the North Carolina study, accusing its authors of "leaving out any number of terrorist financing cases which there was no support from the Muslim community on."

Through this phrase—the "Muslim community"—King has casually substituted unnamed Muslim "leaders" for Muslim citizens as representatives of American Islam. Yesterday on MSNBC, Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post told King, "You have alleged that the Muslim American community has not been forthcoming in helping law enforcement officials deal with radicalization." King replied: "I talk to cops and counterterrorism people on the ground all the time, and they get virtually no cooperation." Robinson accused King of assuming "that the Muslim American community, a religious minority in this country, is somehow abetting and aiding and giving shelter to this process of radicalization, when that is clearly not the truth." King shot back: "It is the truth."

King says Thursday’s hearing will address his "hypotheses" about extremism among American Muslims. That’s a good way to judge the proceedings. Let’s see whether he produces evidence that Muslim leaders in general are abetting radicalism, covering up for terrorists, or refusing to cooperate with law enforcement. If he doesn’t, the hearings may illuminate something else: not "the extent of radicalization in the American Muslim community," but the extent to which the "Muslim community" has become a slur for tarring all Muslims with the sins of a few.

It’s a question — "Have you no decency?" — well suited to both of yesterdays hearings in Washington, as well as events in Wisconsin and other states.

Though Ellison only mentioned Hamdani by name in his testimony to King’s committee, he actually defended Hamdanis’ memory twice yesterday. The Wikipedia entry about Mohammad Salman Hamdani makes it clear that — as a first responder and a New York City Police Department Cadet — Hamdani was one of the public workers Republicans are attacking at the state and local level, even as they ignore the unemployment crisis at the federal level, opting instead to engage in staged political theater, that only serves to give fuel to bigots, and  single Muslim Americans for discrimination and demonization.

Meanwhile, when Republicans do turn from demonizing minority groups, or defending the Defense of Marriage Act, they propose budget cuts that will endanger hundreds of thousands of jobs at the state and local level. When told what their cuts would mean to actual people — the GOP basically responds with "So be it," or "So what?".

To more homeless children and more children living in poverty?

"So be it."

Unemployment improved a bit last month but it is still nearly nine percent and the trouble is job creation is so slow, it will be years before we get back the seven and a half million jobs lost in the Great Recession. American families have been falling out of the middle class in record numbers. The combination of lost jobs and millions of foreclosures means a lot of folks are homeless and hungry for the first time in their lives.

One of the consequences of the recession that you don’t hear a lot about is the record number of children descending into poverty.

The government considers a family of four to be impoverished if they take in less than $22,000 a year. Based on that standard, and government projections of unemployment, it is estimated the poverty rate for kids in this country will soon hit 25 percent. Those children would be the largest American generation to be raised in hard times since the Great Depression.

In Seminole County, near Orlando, Fla., so many kids have lost their homes that school busses now stop at dozens of cheap motels where families crowd into rooms, living week to week.

To children facing hunger and malnourishment?

"So what?"

LIMBAUGH: …You know, one of the benefits of school being out, in addition to your kids losing weight because they’re starving to death out there because there’s no school meal being provided, one of the benefits of school being out, college campi being vacant this time of year, is that our audience levels go up. I think, you know what we’re going to do here, we’re going to start a feature on this program: "Where to find food." For young demographics, where to find food. Now that school is out, where to find food. We can have a daily feature on this. And this will take us all the way through the summer. Where to find food. And, of course, the first will be: "Try your house." It’s a thing called the refrigerator. You probably already know about it. Try looking there. There are also things in what’s called the kitchen of your house called cupboards. And in those cupboards, most likely you’re going to find Ding-Dongs, Twinkies, Lays ridgy potato chips, all kinds of dips and maybe a can of corn that you don’t want, but it will be there. If that doesn’t work, try a Happy Meal at McDonald’s. You know where McDonald’s is. There’s the Dollar Menu at McDonald’s and if they don’t have Chicken McNuggets, dial 911 and ask for Obama.

There’s another place if none of these options work to find food; there’s always the neighborhood dumpster. Now, you might find competition with homeless people there, but there are videos that have been produced to show you how to healthfully dine and how to dumpster dive and survive until school kicks back up in August. Can you imagine the benefit we would provide people?

To transplant patients in Arizona, who are denied state funding for life-saving transpants?

"So be it."

Taking an ax to transplant funding is backed by many Republicans in Arizona, some of who sympathize with Brewer.

"It’s a very difficult unenviable position to be in for her," said Kathy Boatman, a conservative Tea Party activist in the Phoenix valley. "It’s not fun, it’s unpleasant, but when expenses have outpaced income, that’s what you have to do."

…"There are other places to make cuts. We’ve cut taxes on the very rich, we have corporate tax loopholes," said Bruce Madison, a doctor who spoke at a rally to restore transplant funding in Phoenix on Saturday.

Madison received a life-saving heart transplant six years ago.

State Representative Anna Tovar, a Democrat and former kindergarten teacher, received two transplants to combat a rare form of leukemia. She says Arizona stands to lose more than $3 million a year in federal matching funds for Medicaid to save $1.4 million a year by restricting transplants.

"When you look at the big scheme of things, saving $1.4 million for 96 lives is not money well spent," said Tovar, who has introduced four bills seeking to restore Medicaid funding for transplants.

As he grows sicker after being denied a liver transplant last year, Francisco Felix, 32, says any savings from denying him the operation are in some measure a false economy.

"If I got a transplant, I could get back to work … pay my taxes, and help Arizona to get back on its feet," he said at the rally.

To Medicaid recipients in Texas, who risk being thrown out on the street?

So be it.

Some Republicans who talk about Texas potentially opting out of Medicaid are quick to say the changes wouldn’t throw people out on the street – but not House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts.

Pitts didn’t advocate the change in health care for the poor at a meeting of the Ellis County Tea Party, just noted that it will be discussed by lawmakers.

But unlike others who’ve painted a rosy picture of a potential health-care restructuring without filling in the details, Pitts gave a stark answer when an audience member asked about an ill friend who is on Medicaid.

The questioner reacted with concern when Pitts said the state’s looking at getting out of the program. What will my friend do then? Will you throw him out in the street?

"If we did exactly what we’re doing today, we wouldn’t be throwing him out in the street. But if we have any savings in getting out of Medicaid, we will have to throw some people out in the street," said Pitts, R-Waxahachie. He noted, "I’m not telling you that your friend would be."

To veterans coming dealing with unemployment, homelessness, psychological trauma, the need for long term care, and the challenge of inadequate services and benefits?

"So be it."

Tea party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., has unveiled a plan for cutting $400 billion in federal spending that includes freezing Veterans Affairs Department health care spending and cutting veterans’ disability benefits.

Her proposed VA budget cuts would account for $4.5 billion of the savings included in the plan, posted on her official House of Representatives website.

Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, said cutting veterans’ health care spending is an ill-advised move at a time when the number of veterans continues to grow as troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan. Sullivan said he finds it difficult to see how VA could freeze health care costs without hurting veterans.

“It is really astonishing to see this,” he said.

To the growing ranks of homeless Americans, due to foreclosures?

"So what?"

Homelessness has significantly risen in the U.S. as a result of surging foreclosures and joblessness caused by the recession, but a new federal program designed to nudge people back from the brink of life without shelter is on the brink itself.

A new report, released by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty on Jan. 26, found that a homelessness prevention and re-housing program funded by the 2009 stimulus bill needs more money to meet rising need. Instead, the program will likely be left out of the new federal budget.

In response to the 20 percent increase in foreclosures that occurred from 2008 to 2009, the Department of Housing and Urban Development used $1.5 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to create the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), which helps keep people in their apartments by subsidizing their rent.

The program is quickly running out of money, however, and having a number of administrative difficulties trying to keep up with demand. In Detroit, for instance, about 50,000 people filled out applications for only 3,500 grants on the first day the money was available, and a number of major U.S. cities have already used up more than 80 percent of their allotted funds, which were supposed to last until 2012.

…If the program goes by the wayside, it will join the ranks of a number of effective stimulus programs that Congress has deemed unworthy of deficit spending, including a $2.5 billion work subsidy program that one Washington think tank estimated had created nearly 250,000 jobs.

To the millions of Americans who would be impacted by the GOP’s cuts?

Newly elected Republicans in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas are sure to feel major political pressure over big cuts looming for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP, which provides home heating subsidies to the poor. Former Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., who retired last year, orchestrated a doubling of the program’s budget – from $2.5 billion to $5 billion – since 2008.

Obey said it’s going to mean "a lot of people who aren’t able to pay their heating bills are going to have no way to heat their homes – or they’re going to have to decide to eat less or see the doctor less."

Republicans in Texas, Florida and Alabama – where NASA facilities mean thousands of jobs – are sure to fight against cuts to the space agency. NASA could have to abandon the International Space Station because of the cuts, the White House warns.

…As local school districts cope with budget squeezes, they won’t be able to count on the same amount of help from the federal government. Special education grants to states could be cut by $1.4 billion, or 11 percent, forcing hometown school boards to cut services or make up the difference with local funds.

The Women, Infants and Children program, which provides food for low-income pregnant women, mothers and young children, has near-universal support. But without an exemption from the cuts, 1 million of them could lose benefits next year, according to calculations by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal research and advocacy group.

You can guess the answer by now.

In Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states, American are rejecting the GOP agenda that inflicts pain on working- and middle-class Americans to pay for tax cuts to wealthy and tax breaks for the GOP’s corporate cronies. Perhaps among the signs at these protests, one has posed the question brought to mind by Rep. Ellison’s testimony: Have you no decency?

Whether asked directly or not, though, it’s a question the GOP has effectively answered.

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