Thursday, December 18, 2014

And Cue-ba The GOP Outrage

Republicans (and even a couple of Democrats like NJ Sen. Bob Menendez) are not taking this whole "normalization with Cuba" thing well at all.  Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio spent hours screaming on the cable news shows that Obama had appeased yet another terrorist regime, and Republicans are vowing to permanently block any funding for a new embassy or appointment of an ambassador to Havana.

“It’s part of a long record of coddling dictators and tyrants that this administration has established,” Rubio said on Fox News, one of multiple media appearances he made Wednesday. He insisted that the White House’s plans, which include opening an embassy in Havana, won’t result in more economic freedom or democracy in Cuba, a country that survived decades under a U.S. embargo.

This notion that somehow being able to travel more to Cuba, to sell more consumer products, the idea that’s going to lead to some democratic opening is absurd,” Rubio said. “But it’s par for the course with this administration constantly giving away unilateral concessions … in exchange for nothing.”

Never mind that this is exactly what Reagan's playbook on the Soviet Union was, and our current playbook with China is now.  And Rubio doesn't seem too concerned about either Moscow or Beijing.  But where there's foreign policy histrionics, there's Huckleberry Graham.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is expected to chair a powerful Senate panel next year that oversees funding for the State Department and other foreign operations, tweeted that the development is “an incredibly bad idea.” The Republican added later: “I will do all in my power to block the use of funds to open an embassy in Cuba. Normalizing relations with Cuba is bad idea at a bad time.”

But here's the thing: some Republicans are seeing dollar signs in a new Cuban market and want to make the jump.

But incoming Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, was more measured, saying in a statement that he heard the news Wednesday morning and that “as of now there is no real understanding as to what changes the Cuban government is prepared to make.”

And Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona who flew to Cuba to help bring Gross back, warned against rushing to stop the White House’s moves.

I think that would be really counterproductive to block funding for an embassy,” Flake told reporters at the Capitol, adding: “For those who say this is a concession somehow to the Cuban regime … I think that that is a wrong way to look at it. That is simply wrong. The policy that we’ve had in place for the past 50 years has done more in my view …. to keep the Castro regimes in power than anything we could’ve done.”

The Chamber’s support of the Obama administration’s actions also was evidence of fissures within the GOP over Cuba.

The U.S. business community welcomes today’s announcement, and has long supported many of the economic provisions the president touched on in his remarks,” Chamber President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue said in a statement.

“We deeply believe that an open dialogue and commercial exchange between the U.S. and Cuban private sectors will bring shared benefits, and the steps announced today will go a long way in allowing opportunities for free enterprise to flourish.”

Somehow I'm thinking there are enough votes to lift the embargo on on Cuba for good, and Rubio is still stuck in 1958.  There's also zero doubt in my mind that if any Republican president had done this, Rubio would be on board 100%.

Barack And Michelle Obama In "The Help"

The Obamas talked to People Magazine about their experiences with everyday racism and prejudice in America, and it's some pretty frank and eye-opening stuff.

"I think people forget that we've lived in the White House for six years," the first lady told PEOPLE, laughing wryly, along with her husband, at the assumption that the first family has been largely insulated from coming face-to-face with racism.

"Before that, Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs," Mrs. Obama said in the Dec. 10 interview appearing in the new issue of PEOPLE.

"I tell this story – I mean, even as the first lady – during that wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf. Because she didn't see me as the first lady, she saw me as someone who could help her. Those kinds of things happen in life. So it isn't anything new."

In a 30-minute conversation, the president and Mrs. Obama candidly added their stories to the national discussion of race and racial profiling that was sparked by the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York.

"There's no black male my age, who's a professional, who hasn't come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn't hand them their car keys," said the president, adding that, yes, it had happened to him.

Mrs. Obama recalled another incident: "He was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee."

Things have gotten better, both Obamas agreed, but there's still more progress to be made.

And yes, I've been mistaken as The Help and not an IT professional before on several occasions, once at an office holiday party.  You can be any kind of professional, even the President of the United States of America, apparently, and as a black person there are still people who will assume you're the wait staff.

No amount of professional accomplishment will protect you from that, folks.  No amount.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Last Call For YayTeam Torture!

So, how did America react to the Senate torture report?   Well, I certainly got a chuckle out of Fox News host Andrea Tantaros proclaiming that torture made America "awesome" and all, but the problem is that's exactly what America thinks.

Six in 10 Americans say the CIA’s treatment of suspected terrorists was justified, more than half think it produced important, unique intelligence – and 52 percent say it was wrong for the Senate Intelligence Committee to issue a report suggesting otherwise
Those results in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll underscore the public’s sense of risk from the threat of terrorism, and specifically the extent to which majorities support controversial measures to combat it. Indeed just two in 10 flatly rule out torture in future cases. 
A plurality, 49 percent, believes the CIA did in fact torture suspected terrorists; 38 percent think its actions did not amount to torture, with the rest unsure. Regardless, the public by a broad 59-31 percent also says the agency’s interrogation actions were justified. 
One reason is that 53 percent think these interrogations produced important information that could not have been obtained any other way. Just 31 percent reject this claim, a focus of the recent debate.

So yeah, solid majorities in favor of "enhanced interrogation techniques" because they work, and got us intelligence we could not have otherwise gotten, and that the Senate Democrats should never have released the report at all.

47% found the report unfair to the CIA, and 57% think there should be no charges against those responsible (only 1 in 3 want to see prosecution.)  Hell, even 46% of self-identified liberals and 46% of registered Democrats believe the CIA actions were justified.

The majority of the country is no different from Dick Cheney in this respect.  Some 13 years after 9/11, we're still a nation of bloodthirsty monsters. Politically this issue is a loser for team D and they know it, and you'd better believe we'll hear over the next two years how those weak, Neville Chamberlain liberals should never be allowed to be in charge of foreign policy anymore.

Yay Team Torture!  America is firmly a charter member, and it doesn't look like that's going to change anytime soon.

It Was A Library Berate, The Kind You Find In A Second-Hand State

The Tea Party of Kentucky will not be satisfied until the Bluegrass State is a smoking wreck of stupidity, and their next target is to destroy county library systems across the state with a massive lawsuit that, if successful, would force libraries to refund millions in tax dollars to taxpayers and shut their doors thanks to a 50-year old law.

Most of the state's public library systems could be forced to roll back their tax rates and collectively refund millions of dollars to local taxpayers under a pair of lawsuits heard Monday by the Kentucky Court of Appeals. 
The suits, filed by taxpayers in Kenton and Campbell counties, argue that many library districts have improperly raised taxes for decades without the 51 percent voter approval required by a previously obscure 1964 state law. 
"We the people own the library. Every dollar spent in that library comes from us. So we should have a voice," said Charlie Coleman, a Tea Party activist elected last month as a Campbell County commissioner. 
Circuit judges in Northern Kentucky sided with the plaintiffs in April 2013. The Kenton and Campbell county libraries appealed, warning of calamitous budget cuts if the suits succeeded. 
Making their case Monday, the libraries' attorneys said a separate law, House Bill 44, enacted in 1979, was meant to include most libraries among the special taxing districts that are allowed to raise taxes by an amount that increases revenue up to 4 percent each year without voter approval. Libraries were advised to follow HB 44 by state revenue officials in Frankfort. 
"No one objected to this for 30 years. Not one member of the General Assembly said to a library district, 'Hey, you're doing this the wrong way!'" Jeffrey Mando, attorney for the Campbell County library, told the three-judge appellate panel. 
"To now say to the libraries, 'You've gotta go back ...' That would be devastating," Mando said. "More than a 50 percent funding loss for the Campbell County library system. An equal or greater funding loss for other libraries around the state. And these library districts did nothing but operate in good faith."

It doesn't matter.  Government that works has to be government that is destroyed.  Forget the fact that libraries are links to continuing education and internet access for the poor in the state, that's exactly why they have to be shut down.  And yes, these people are looking to destroy Kentucky's libraries over a technicality, and they'll get the judges to sign off on it.

So when libraries across the state are shut down, it'll be a victory for the people, right?

Stupid poor people, get your own access to information and stop being poor!

Read more here:

It Was My Clever Plan All Along

Tennessee's GOP governor, Bill Haslam, says he will call a special state legislative session in order to come up with a plan to expand Medicaid.

In a major policy move, Gov. Bill Haslam has announced the new Insure Tennessee plan, a two-year pilot program to provide health care coverage to tens of thousands of Tennesseans who currently don't have access to health insurance or have limited options. 
The plan would be leveraged with federal dollars, said Haslam, who has been working on a Medicaid expansion plan that could gain approval from both federal officials and the Republican-dominated General Assembly. 
"We made the decision in Tennessee nearly two years ago not to expand traditional Medicaid," Haslam said. "This is an alternative approach that forges a different path and is a unique Tennessee solution. This plan leverages federal dollars to provide health care coverage to more Tennesseans, to give people a choice in their coverage, and to address the cost of health care, better health outcomes and personal responsibility. 
"Our approach is responsible and reasonable, and I truly believe that it can be a catalyst to fundamentally changing health care in Tennessee," Haslam said.

If this sounds like Haslam's having his "It's better than Obamacare because we fixed it!" cake and eating it too, it's because he is.  But he still has to convince Tennessee's heavily GOP legislature to sign off on the plan.

Many federal Republicans who oppose the Affordable Care Act say expansion is an unfunded mandate from the federal government. For weeks Haslam has said it will be challenging to find a plan that both federal health officials and state lawmakers both support. As recently as Thursday, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said he thinks Haslam could "sell" the General Assembly on expansion, but he doubted whether the "Obama administration" would approve any plan that could make it through the legislature.

So it'll be Obama's fault if the plan doesn't pass muster, and Tennessee can say "Well, we tried to expand Medicaid, but mean ol' Obama wouldn't let us."

Very clever, and it's why I think this plan is going nowhere fast.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Last Call For What Right-Wing Domestic Terrorism Problem?

Hey look, it's yet another right-wing white guy calling for armed revolution and overthrow of the US government, but of course nobody cares.

On Saturday the president of a Texas open-carry group called for like-minded followers to join him in marching on Washington to “arrest the bankers, crooked politicians and restore liberty here in our country” at gunpoint
Saying that voting “is not working,” Kory Watkins, president of the Open Carry Tarrant County, wrote on his Facebook page: “Have you ever thought we might just need to organize a very large group of our own people. Like 200 from each state so we can march armed to DC take over the city, arrest the bankers, crooked politicians and restore liberty here in our country? I’m not scared. I mean really… and waiting is not working!” 
Watkins recently made the news when he posted on Facebook that he was involved in a car crash with a drunk driver as he returned from protesting at a DUI safety checkpoint set up by Arlington police. 
Watkins had reportedly been warning motorists about the checkpoint while shouting “You criminals!” at officers as they stopped drivers.

Would your reaction dismissing this jackass as a harmless crank be the same if he were black, and demanding armed marchers on Washington DC to arrest politicians for failing on police killings of unarmed black men and women because "voting and waiting is not working"?  Somehow I think it would be national news.  Or at least, constantly news on FOX.

The New Conversion Rate

Alternet's Adam Lee has a theory about why Republicans want to destroy the safety net for America's poor and let church charities deal with them instead: putting millions of Americans under a new theocratic state is exactly what they want.

Cutting government charity on the scale that Republican Congresses propose would be Armageddon," according to local charities and food banks. But I think there's an explanation that runs deeper than indifference. I suspect many religious conservatives are well aware that what they propose would mean throwing millions of people into destitution. In fact, they may be counting on it. 
Under the law, churches have wide latitude to discriminate and to put conditions on whom they'll hire and whom they'll serve, far more than any private business. In exchange for ladling out soup, they can make people sit through a sermon; they can impose an ideological loyalty test; they can refuse to serve people they think might be gay; they can discriminate for any reason or for no reason at all. (The one thing that churches can't legally do is tell their members how to vote - at least, they can't do this if they want to retain their tax exemption - but they're fighting hard to repeal even that trivial restriction, with right-wing pastors all around the country repeatedly flouting the law and daring the IRS to punish them.) 
While most evangelical churches proclaim that they want people to convert voluntarily, their actions show otherwise. When given the chance to coerce their audience, they'll do so gleefully, as we've seen in prison ministries all over the country where inmates are given special rewards and privileges in exchange for their cooperation with religious indoctrination. 
What they want, in short, is a captive audience. If government charity were to be cut off, the churches wouldn't be able to come close to supplying the wants of everyone, and so they'd have strong incentive to impose stringent conditions on the people they did help. Only the most faithful, the most compliant, the most submissive would be able to get through the door
And that's precisely the state of affairs that the religious right yearns for. What they want is to build a theocracy from the ground up, where the poor and the needy are abjectly dependent on a church that can yank away the necessities of life if it judges them insufficiently compliant, and so the masses will have no choice but to be corralled and steered. Even today, we can see this conservative vision put into practice, and witness the terrible consequences that result when it blocks the government from helping the needy. Consider Mississippi, which is both the most religious and has the most churches per capita of any U.S. state. If rosy visions like Ernst's were true, Mississippi would be the best place in the country to live. But in reality, it's the poorest and (by life expectancy) sickest state.

If you thought right wing Christians were furious with poor people getting tax money and having to jump through hoops to show they're really needy, wait until they have to go through the church to get basic needs met.  Millions of ready souls to be cared for, and the church can set whatever rules they want in exchange for help, including listening to whom they should vote for.

Which is exactly what the GOP wants.

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

Over at National Journal, Sam Baker and Sophie Novak ask:

If the Supreme Court Breaks Obamacare, Will Republicans Fix It?
Republicans want the Supreme Court to blow a major hole in Obamacare next year, but they are still debating whether they would help repair it—and what they should ask for in return. 
There's a very real chance the high court will invalidate Obamacare's insurance subsidies in most of the country, which would be devastating for the health care law. It would become almost entirely unworkable in most states, and the cost of coverage would skyrocket. 
That loss for the Affordable Care Act might seem like a clear-cut political win for the GOP, but the reality would be far messier. The law would still require people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty, leaving people on the hook for a product that—sans subsidies—they could not afford. And as many of those people live in Republican-run states or 2016 battlegrounds, they'll be asking for a solution. 
That would leave Republicans with a difficult choice: Do they continue to push for an all-out repeal of the law—creating a standoff with Democrats who will dig in in the hopes of legislation undoing the Supreme Court's decision—or do they seek a deal that alleviates the law's burden on those who've lost their subsidies? Such a deal would likely include pullbacks of major parts of the law, but it would also require Republicans to give up on a full "root-and-branch" repeal.

Let's be honest here. A SCOTUS decision that wrecks Obamacare here will absolutely, positively be a 100% clear-cut political win for the GOP.

After SCOTUS destroys federal exchange subsidies, Republicans will then demand Obamacare be fully repealed and doing so will become the major campaign issue of 2016, because Democrats are pathetic, whining losers.

States with federal-run exchanges include Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona, Wisconsin and Michigan, the states that will pretty much decide 2016's White House winner.  And Republicans in those states know damn well they can run ads saying OBAMACARE WILL COST YOU THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS A MONTH NOW and they won't have to lift a finger to fix a damn thing, and most likely they'll win easily.

Since when do voters punish Republicans for wrecking the country when they can blame Obama and win?

What's the downside?


Monday, December 15, 2014

Last Call For Waging A Wage War

NY Times Upshot reporter Neil Irwin crunches the numbers on the labor market and finds a major problem that's going to have to get fixed sooner or later: employment is roaring up, but wages are down.

On the surface, it doesn’t make any sense. The jobless rate doesn’t even count millions of people who have left the labor force entirely in recent years and might be coaxed back in. So any employer with a job opening should have no problem hiring. If anything, the ratio of openings to hiring should be lower than it was in the mid-2000s, not higher. 
Here’s a theory to try to make sense of the disconnect: During the recession, employers got spoiled. When unemployment was near 10 percent, talented workers were lined up outside their door. The workers they did have were terrified of losing their jobs. If you put out word that you had an opening, you could fill the job almost instantly. That’s why the ratio of job openings to hires fell so low in 2009. 
As the economy has gotten better the last five years, employers have had more and more job openings, but have been sorely reluctant to accept that it’s not 2009 anymore in terms of what workers they can hire and at what wage.

This is most evident in the rush to get more H-1B visas for tech workers.  We've been told for a decade now that America isn't producing enough engineers and programmers, and the reality is that employers don't want to pay American ones at a fair market wage,  They want cheaper imported labor.  In effect, this is playing out all over the country.  Employers naturally want to hire as cheaply as possible, but the days of "I'll take that job for nothing just so I'm employed again" are over.

There are some early hints that this day is coming soon. In the National Federation of Independent Business survey of members released Tuesday, 22 percent of small businesses reported increasing compensation versus 2 percent that said they reduced pay. Their outlook for pay increases in the coming months rose. The November jobs numbers released last week showed a 0.4 percent rise in average hourly wages for private sector workers. 
All this is fragmentary evidence, and after years of stagnant wages, we’ll need a lot more solid proof that something has changed before proclaiming a wage boom has arrived. But in this standoff between businesses that want high-skilled workers for minimal pay and workers who want to see raises, one side has to give.

And it's going to be employers.  How much, we'll see, but I wouldn't be surprised to see wage numbers start going up soon.  There are now too many unfilled jobs.

Women Are All Nasty Liars Anyway, Right Guys?

Ol' Instagoober lets us know that ladies, the only problem on college campuses is your constant lying about being raped so you can get attention or something.  And we certainly don't need new laws to stop something that doesn't exist, right?

For months we've been told that there's a burgeoning "epidemic" of rape on college campuses, that the system for dealing with campus rape is "broken" and that we need new federal legislation (of course!) to deal with this disaster. Before the Rolling Stonestory imploded, Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., were citing the Virginia gang rape as evidence of the problem, but now that the story has been exposed as bogus, they're telling us that, regardless of that isolated incident, there's still a huge campus rape problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. 
And that's the real college rape hoax. Because the truth is that there's no epidemic outbreak of college rape. In fact, rape on college campuses is — like rape everywhere else in America — plummeting in frequency. And that 1-in-5 college rape number you keep hearing in the press? It's thoroughly bogus, too. (Even the authors of that studysay that "We don't think one in five is a nationally representative statistic," because it sampled only two schools.) 
Sen, Gillibrand also says that "women are at a greater risk of sexual assault as soon as they step onto a college campus." 
The truth — and, since she's a politician, maybe that shouldn't be such a surprise — is exactly the opposite. According to the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate of rape and sexual assault is lower for college students (at 6.1 per 1,000) than for non-students (7.6 per 1,000). (Note: not 1 in 5). What's more, between 1997 and 2013, rape against women dropped by about 50%, in keeping with a more general drop in violent crime nationally.

So keep in mind reported sexual assaults are down.  The ones that aren't reported, well.  I can't imagine why efforts to drag a woman who tries to report sexual assault through the mud, calling her a liar, and trying to destroy her utterly would lower the rate of reported sexual assaults.  There's no epidemic because it's not being reported, and it's not being reported because those who do are treated worse by America than those who actually assault women on college campuses, ergo, there's no epidemic because the numbers "don't fit the left's narrative".

It's a neat little package of self-loathing we bundle our young women up in, isn't it?  If you report assault, you're worse than the person who assaulted you and you're assumed to be lying because of "the statistics" show assault on college campuses are down.  If you don't report it, well, then the assault statistics are down, so there's no problem.  College campuses are safer than ever!

So of course we don't need to do anything about it, except make those lying women shut up, right boys?  Al we have to do is make sure no woman feels confortable enough to ever report her assault and bammo, instant cure for sexual assault in America.

The statistics say so. Just ask Glenn Reynolds here.

Measuring Up In The Treasure State

If it seems that the new dress code for Montana's state legislature is a throwback to the days of Mad Men, it's because it's a throwback to the days of Mad Men.

Montana has never been known as a black-tie place. Governors wear cowboy boots and bolo ties, and people joke that a tuxedo is a pair of black jeans and a sport coat. But this winter, when lawmakers arrive at the State Capitol, they will have to abide by a new dress code: No more jeans. No casual Fridays. And female lawmakers “should be sensitive to skirt lengths and necklines.”
Republican leaders who approved the guidelines say they are simply trying to bring a businesslike formality to a State Legislature of ranchers, farmers and business owners that meets for only four months every other year. But the dress code has set off a torrent of online mockery, and is being pilloried by Democratic women as a sexist anachronism straight from the days of buggies and spittoons.

“The sergeant-at-arms could be standing there with a ruler, measuring hemlines and cleavage,” said Jenny Eck, a Democratic House member.

Ms. Eck said she was leaving a health care forum in Helena, the capital, on Monday when one of her Republican colleagues peered at her and told her that he was glad to see she was dressed appropriately.

It just creates this ability to scrutinize women,” Ms. Eck said. “It makes it acceptable for someone who’s supposed to be my peer and my equal to look me up and down and comment on what I’m wearing. That doesn’t feel right.”

Yeah, commenting on a female colleague being "dressed appropriately" isn't creepy as hell or anything. Republicans sure like to re-live the "good old days" whenever possible, when women were "dressed appropriately" and stuff. 

 Why don't you find that cute new young page and swat her ass hello while you're at it, guys.



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