Friday, April 17, 2015

Inside Professor Brownback's Laboratory & The Vilification of the Working Poor In America

Ready? Cut! Kansas Governor Sam Brownback
There are arguably some pretty crazy Republican governors in these United States, but you really have to admire Governor Sam Brownback's stubborn determination to turn the state of Kansas into an idealistic conservative Utopia; at any cost.

Earlier today he signed into law some of the most restrictive laws in the nation that severely limit how Kansas welfare recipients can spend their money.

That's right, the same governor who's ranted about "big government" and the intrusion of government authority has used the legislative power of the state government to mandate draconian restrictions on how Kansas families on welfare can spend their money.

According to an article on, the list of no-no's includes things like concerts, tattoo artists, psychics (yes psychics), cruise ships or movies.
But interestingly, as NPR reported today, the new Republican restrictions do NOT apply to firearms.

So Kansas welfare recipients can't use their money to take their kid to see a movie, but they can buy ammo; how Republican is THAT?

But wait, there's more. Remarkably, the restrictions also limit each ATM transaction of the debit card Kansas welfare recipients are issued to a mere $25. As the article notes, that essentially imposes a tax on welfare recipients given that most ATM's charge withdrawal fees, don't issue bills in $5 denominations and the majority of poor or lower middle-class Kansas welfare recipients often don't have access to normal banking services.

As an article posted on reported, "Meanwhile, during debate over the bill state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau (D) pointed out that many recipients need to withdraw hundreds of dollars some days in order to be able to pay rent." 

No one is going to argue that transitioning Americans off welfare in ways that will allow them to be self-sufficient is a bad thing, but the extreme nature of the Kansas welfare restrictions come off as  vindictive, petty and chiefly motivated by a desire to appease the fringe element that now holds the strings of the Republican party; thanks to ALEC, similar restrictions have been passed in 20 other states.

Kansas Action for Children CEO Shannon Cotsoradis
The Associated Press quoted Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of the advocacy group Kansas Action for Children as saying of the new Kansas laws severely restricting how welfare recipients spend their money: "

It really seems to make a statement about how we feel about the poor."

These kinds of restrictions on how welfare recipients spend their money are disturbing on multiple levels.

They reinforce distorted perceptions of the working poor (most American adults on welfare work) as 2nd class citizens who need to be told how to spend their money.

But perhaps more disturbing is that these restrictions are essentially a retreaded version of the vilification of the poor used by the Reagan administration when he and his economic advisers ranted against "Welfare Queens" back in the 1980's, regurgitating simplistic stereotypes of poor African-American, Hispanic and whites and mocking populations of poorly-educated urban and rural residents geographically locked into impoverished neighborhoods through economic and racial discrimination and stuck in cycles of poverty.

When it comes down to it, is there a difference between an impoverished family that lives in North Philadelphia, rural Kentucky or on a reservation? These restrictions are economically discriminatory as much as they are racial or political; or based on other ethnic attributes.

Brownback has never hidden how he feels about the wealthiest and the poorest in the state of Kansas.

He made national headlines over the past couple years after his bold initiative to take advantage of his gubernatorial powers and an eager GOP-majority state legislature to use the state of Kansas as a working "laboratory" for executing fringe conservative ideas.

Aided by a former key Reagan administration economic adviser and representatives from groups including Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and yes, the Koch brothers, Brownback enacted a series of sweeping tax cuts affecting top earners and businesses.

How sweeping? Like a mad swordsman he slashed regulations and all but eliminated taxes on businesses in the state of Kansas while gifting wealthy Kansas citizens with unprecedented cuts in income taxes.

Conservatives drooled and fawned.

Here at last was a chance to validate the long-disproved "Trickle Down" economic theory long espoused by wishful Republicans as if it were some kind of magical elixir that could jump start the American economy and set the nation on a path to prosperity instead of the discredited political-economic philosophy credible economists have shown it to be. 

We've all heard the party line: slash taxes for the wealthy and business and they will pump that money back into the economy creating jobs and prosperity for all. But Brownback's "experiment" was a colossal failure that drained state revenue, stalled economic growth in Kansas to anemic levels, killed job growth and sent the state economy straight into the red.

Read op-ed writer Yael Abouhalkah's piece published in The Kansas City Star back on February 2nd of this year if you want to get a true picture of how Brownback's tax cuts have destroyed the Kansas economy.

Abouhalkkah quotes figures right from the Kansas Department of Revenue showing that in the first two years of Brownback's tax cuts starting in 2013, revenues from state income tax dropped by a staggering $713 million.

The remarkable thing is even after the state began slashing spending on essentials like public education, roads and public pensions in order to try and make up the difference - the people of Kansas re-elected Brownback to another term during the fall 2014 elections. 

If I were a political cartoonist, I'd sketch Brownback as a modern day Don Quixote sitting astride an elephant.

His checklist of destructive conservative policy initiatives is so bizarre and brazen, I'd bet a five-spot that he's eager to jump into that growing pool of "potential GOP presidential candidates" which seems to get stranger by the minute.

Take for example, the Republican party's "answer" to Hillary Clinton, "potential" presidential candidate Carly Fiorina - who's been dipping her toes into the presidential pool as well.

GOP presidential hopeful (?) Carly Fiorina
And yes, that's the same Carly Fiorina (pictured left) who spent over $22 million in a failed bid to unseat Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer back in 2010.

Earlier this evening Sarah Farris posted an interesting piece on

According to the article, Fiorina, the former Hewlett Packard CEO, was quoted as saying that "Conservatives are 'winning' on abortion" at an event hosted by the conservative pro-life group known as the Susan B. Anthony List.

By any measure, that's a pretty astounding statement.

If stripping access to healthcare and cutting off access to breast cancer and other types of screening for millions of low-income women and making it harder for abortion clinics to operate through arcane laws enacted by Republican state legislators is what Fiorina meant by Republicans "winning" on abortion, then yeah, I guess she's "right."

But it's says a lot about today's GOP that Fiorina, who once led an enormous high tech company with thousands of employees, is now proudly trumpeting the trampling of women's rights as a credential for being president of a nation of over 300 million - more than half of whom are women.  

Maybe it's not surprising though. Fiorina earned a reputation at HP for being a "big picture" ideas-oriented executive who was adverse to compromise and reluctant to delegate authority; the latter two arguably being fairly important qualities of anyone who expects to be the chief executive in Washington, DC.   

For a couple of Republicans with little mainstream appeal who have their respective eyes on the GOP presidential nomination, Fiorina and Brownback are making an awful lot of conservative noise.

But to quote Shakespeare, "Sound and fury, signifying nothing."

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