Sunday, May 31, 2015

Last Call For The Last Word

Slippery Rick Santorum is convinced that any Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage will not be the end of the fight.  If anything, Roe v Wade and Brown v Topeka Board of Education have proven that theory true, and like many bigots, he's laying the groundwork for open "civil disobedience" that he believes will materialize against it.

After the supreme court struck down the controversial Defense of Marriage Act (Doma) in June 2013, same-sex marriage has become legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia. The country’s highest court is due to decide the issue for good in a judgment expected to come down in June.

Nonetheless Santorum, a self-proclaimed “blue collar conservative” who polled strongly with evangelical voters in the 2012 primaries and was appearing on NBC, said: “I think it’s important to understand that the supreme court doesn’t have the final word. It has its word. Its word has validity. But it’s important for Congress and the president, frankly, to push back when the supreme court gets it wrong.”

Santorum was asked if he agreed with the former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, another Christian conservative and declared candidate for the 2016 GOP nomination, that on this issue the supreme court could be overruled by the states.

“I don’t advocate civil disobedience,” he said. “I do advocate the role of an informed citizen to try to overturn when a court makes a mistake and gets an issue wrong.

“I think the supreme court has as an equal branch of government the ability to overrule Congress and the president; they do it all the time,” the former US senator from Pennsylvania added. “But I also feel it’s the role of the Congress and the president to push back. It’s important that they be understood to be equal branches of government.”

And again, while Loving v Virginia shows that miscegenation laws can be overcome, same-sex marriage is likely to be a long, ugly fight over the years.  We're already seeing red states attempt to pass laws to stop same-sex marriage being performed or recognized and the goal is to tie up same-sex marriages in the courts for as long as possible.  Despite any sort of SCOTUS ruling, it could take decades for all 50 states to allow them.

And Roe v Wade again shows that rulings can be chipped away at the state level until they are de facto overturned, as abortions are all but impossible to get in dozens of states in 2015. There's no downside for the GOP to keep fighting on this as their new "culture war" front for as long as it takes.

Sunday Long Read: The Productivity Myth

This week's long read is from the Virginia Quarterly Review on the real effects of the relentless push for more and more productivity in the corporate world.  The city of Sparta, Tennessee played by all the rules and workers turned a struggling factory into one of the most productive manufacturing plants in North America. Lisa Norris and Dave Uhrik were on the management team that put Sparta on the map and the plant was held up as a model of American "reshoring" of jobs.

And then they watched as all the jobs were shipped to Mexico anyway.

The humming Sparta plant had it all. For one thing, the town is within a day’s haul of most US markets—​from New York and Chicago to Atlanta, St. Louis, and Dallas. Tennessee has decent, well-​maintained highways. The plant was union—​a new experience for Norris—​but this IBEW local was steely-​eyed about keeping and creating jobs; it had, for example, accepted a two-​tier pay scale and surrendered contract protections in order to attract a highly automated production line from New Jersey. The press for that new line, known as a Bliss, was nearly three stories high (so big it had to be anchored twenty feet underground) and could stamp out eight or ten massive commercial fluorescent fixtures every minute. It attracted lucrative contracts from hospitals, prisons, grocery-​store chains, and Walmart super​centers. Norris called it “a monument.” Brent Hall, the union rep, described it as a beating heart. “Every time that press rolled over,” he said, “the whole building would shake.”

Other production lines at the plant could push out smaller, custom products tailored to the needs of a specific buyer. A whole swath of the maintenance crew had been sent, on the plant’s dime, to get certified as industrial electricians and welders and millwrights so that they could retool machines on the fly, switching production from one job to the next in a matter of minutes. “Anything they wanted, we’d build it for them,” Scott Vincent, one veteran electrician told me. With Uhrik and Norris at the helm, the plant started buying steel and other inventory on consignment, and trimmed turnaround times to the point that its invoices would be getting paid before the bills on raw materials were even due. Tasked with cutting costs by $4 million, the management team tapped employees to identify inefficiencies in the assembly process, worked with suppliers to reduce components costs, and drastically reduced the number of products with defects. The plant boosted productivity by 7 percent and kept labor costs low, at around 4 percent. Still, thanks to the union, most workers were earning $13 to $15 an hour—​“real decent money around here,” as one maintenance worker told me, especially for a workforce where many had never graduated high school—​with two to three weeks of vacation and a blue-​chip health plan. Employees stuck around for years, knew their jobs inside and out, and had a rare esprit de corps. When they faced tight deadlines, fabricators would volunteer to come in as early as 4 or 5 a.m. so they could get a head start before the paint crew arrived at six. In December 2009 the Sparta facility was named by Industry​Week as a Best Plant of the year, one of the top ten in North America. In the months that followed, it won Best Plant within Philips’s global lighting division as well as the firm’s global “Lean Challenge.” That summer, plant managers invited state officials and legislators to Sparta to celebrate.

Then, one morning in November 2010, a Philips executive no one recognized drove up and walked into the plant, accompanied by a security guard wearing sunglasses and a sidearm. He summoned all the employees back to the shipping department and abruptly announced that the plant would be shut down. Though the workers didn’t know it at the time, most of their jobs would be offshored to Monterrey, Mexico. The two of them then walked out the door and drove off. “It was a shock, I’ll tell you,” Ricky Lack said more than two years later. Still brawny in his late fifties, he’d hired on at the plant in 1977, when he was nineteen years old. “My dad worked there,” he said. “Half the plant’s mom or dad or brother worked there. We still don’t know why they left.”

They left because they thought they would make moeny making light fixtures in Mexico and selling them to Americans.  Then a funny thing happened: we stopped having good jobs where Americans could afford to buy things.

Do read the whole thing.

A Father's Greatest Nightmare

Vice President Joe Biden (and I would dare say the nation) is today mourning the death of his son, former Delaware Attorney General  Beau Biden, who passed away from brain cancer last night.

In a statement Saturday night, the vice president said: “It is with broken hearts that Hallie, Hunter, Ashley, Jill and I announce the passing of our husband, brother and son, Beau, after he battled brain cancer with the same integrity, courage and strength he demonstrated every day of his life.”

“In the words of the Biden family: Beau Biden was, quite simply, the finest man any of us have ever known.”

In 2010, the younger Mr. Biden, known as Beau, had suffered what officials described as a mild stroke. Three years later, he was admitted to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston after what White House officials described at the time as “an episode of disorientation and weakness.”

Officials said in 2013 that the doctors in Texas had removed a small lesion from his brain.

Mr. Biden’s death marks a second tragic loss for the vice president, whose first wife, Neilia, and 13-month-old daughter, Naomi, were killed in a car accident in 1972 when the station wagon they were driving in to go Christmas shopping was hit by a tractor-trailer. Beau Biden and his brother, Hunter, were also injured in the crash, but both survived.

A popular Democratic politician in his home state who was known to be very close to his father, Mr. Biden served two terms as Delaware’s top law enforcement official before announcing last year that he would not run for a third term so he could make a bid for governor in 2016.

“What started as a thought — a very persistent thought — has now become a course of action that I wish to pursue,” Mr. Biden wrote in an open letter to his constituents in April 2014.

As recently as late February, some Delaware politicians close to Mr. Biden told news organizations that they still believed Mr. Biden planned to run for governor in 2016.

But Mr. Biden’s health had apparently declined in recent weeks, and he was taken to Walter Reed on May 20.

I can only imagine the heartbreak Joe Biden must be going through, having lost a daughter and his first wife to tragedy more than 40 years ago.  For a father to outlive his child again must be truly miserable.

Prayers for Vice President Biden and his family today.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Last Call For One Last Shot

President Obama and AG Loretta Lynch are preparing one last round of executive actions on gun control, knowing that with the 2016 campaign already underway, the window for congressional action is closed.

The Justice Department plans to move forward this year with more than a dozen new gun-related regulations, according to list of rules the agency has proposed to enact before the end of the Obama administration.

The regulations range from new restrictions on high-powered pistols to gun storage requirements. Chief among them is a renewed effort to keep guns out of the hands of people who are mentally unstable or have been convicted of domestic abuse.

Gun safety advocates have been calling for such reforms since the Sandy Hook school shooting nearly three years ago in Newtown, Conn. They say keeping guns away from dangerous people is of primary importance.

I don't have high hopes for this.  The NRA has already forced President Obama to back down on ammo rules and other measures.  There's no real reason to think any of these new rules will survive at this point, even if there was a chance this wouldn't be tied up in the courts for years.

The Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is looking to revive a rule proposed way back in 1998 that would block domestic abusers from owning guns.

As proposed, the regulation makes it illegal for some who has been convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense to own a gun.

The ATF plans to finalize the rule by November, according to the Unified Agenda. 
But gun rights advocates are concerned the Obama administration will use this rule to unfairly target certain gun owners.

“That could be a person who spanked his kid, or yelled at his wife, or slapped her husband,” warned Michael Hammond, legislative counsel for the Gun Owners of America.

We'll see what happens, but again, the Obama administration has been squishy as hell on gun control, along with congressional Dems.

Like A Kansas Tornado, Con't

The reckoning in Kansas continues as the state's massive budget hole is swallowing up everything it can find, including it seems the options of Kansas Republicans in the state legislature.  GOP Gov. Sam Brownback may have survived his re-election battle last year, but it doesn't mean the state's other Republicans are going to sacrifice their careers for his supply-side tax-cutting lunacy. Now the reckoning is coming, and the GOP has to decide if they want to call out Brownback and his tax cuts, or dump the tax burden on middle-class voters.

Just three years ago, many of these lawmakers passed the largest tax cuts in state history, saying they would lead to economic growth. But that growth did not appear, and after repeatedly trimming spending to close shortfalls, legislators again find themselves in a prolonged budget battle with no easy answers, where both houses of the Republican-controlled Legislature are proposing tax increases.

The reason: even anti-tax Republicans are acknowledging that there is not much more to cut without significantly hurting popular programs, including education.

The fault lines now seem to run along the question of which taxes to raise. Some believe that income taxes are off limits and that they should raise sales taxes to shoulder the entire burden. Others advocate a mixed approach and said income taxes should be on the table. Democrats argue that increasing sales taxes would be another blow to low-income Kansans to the benefit of the business class.

And many worry that the only solution will be to repeal the signature piece of the law they passed in 2012: the elimination of taxes on certain types of small businesses.

You reap what you sow, Kansas.  Of all the agriculture states in the Midwest, you should know this.

Since those changes, Gov. Sam Brownback and lawmakers have found themselves repeatedly tinkering with the budget to fill hundreds of millions of dollars in shortfalls. The governor has cut some state agency budgets by 4 percent, reduced contributions to the state pension system and shifted money between state accounts. Lawmakers have rolled back funding for poorer school districts and changed the way they allocate money to schools. They have slowed funding increases for entitlement programs.

Mr. Donovan said the results of the tax law were “never as good as we hoped.”

“We hoped they would just be a magic lantern and everybody would react to it,” he said. “But, eh, it’s hard to get a company to uproot their business when they’re established and move to another place just because of this difference in tax policy.”

Still, supporters of the tax bills are not necessarily willing to concede that the cuts were the reason for the state’s fiscal problems.

Trickle-down voodoo economics can never fail, they can only be failed.  And now it's the poorest Kansans who will pay the price.

The House plan would tax the nonwage income on small businesses at 2.7 percent and increase the sales tax to 6.45 percent, but reduce it to 5.9 percent for food.

Some Republicans are holding the conservative line, saying cuts to bureaucracy could close most, if not all, of the gap.

“There’s definitely waste in the budget,” Senator Dennis Pyle, a Republican, said in an interview. “It’s my goal to not raise taxes. We have to let the private sector breathe and operate as freely as possible because that is the revenue driver.”

But Democrats called the Republican proposals inadequate for fixing the budget woes. “There’s a lot of things you could do to show that you are concerned about all Kansans,” said Valdenia Winn, a Democratic representative. “But are they doing it? Nope. So your little piecemeal baby steps don’t impress me one bit. They’re desperate because you still have those Tea Party people who cannot go home and say, ‘I had to vote for tax increases.’ ”

And so it goes.  The only question is how much of the state's tax burden will be transferred from businesses and the rich to the poorest people in the state, which was always what the plan was from the beginning.

Carrying All Kinds Of Trouble

The Lone Star State will be packing heat starting in 2016 as open carry legislation passed easily in the state legislature and GOP Gov. Greg Abbott is itching to sign the bill into law.

In a tweet immediately after the bill's passage, Gov. Greg Abbott promised to sign it into law as soon as possible: "Next destination. My pen."

The House gave final approval to the bill by a vote of 102-43; in the Senate it passed 20-11 along party lines.

The law will not include a provision barring police from stopping or detaining someone solely for openly carrying a handgun. That amendment was adopted in both the House and the Senate, but lawmakers agreed to strip it after opposition from law enforcement groups. 
Bill sponsor Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, said he was happy with the overall outcome and lauded Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for pushing a vote on the issue before the last weekend of the session, which ends June 1.

"I don't think that we could have accomplished this without the wisdom and guidance of the lieutenant governor," Estes said ater the bill's passage. He said Patrick made sure the measure got a vote Friday instead of Saturday, when Estes was afraid opponents might be able to kill the bill through a days-long filibuster.

"We think Texas as being a gun happy state," said House sponsor Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, "but we denied citizens the right that most other states afforded them. And so this was the time to do it."

Why, I'm sure open carry will fix a lot of problems in the state.  Also was nice of them to actually allow cops to maybe ask questions about the heavily armed folks running around next year, and how they might be a public safety issue.  Here's the best part:

Under the new law, those with non-Texas concealed handgun licenses recognized by the state will also be allowed to open carry. Texas recognizes the licenses and permits from 41 other states. In Texas, licensees must be at least 21 and must pass a background check and written and range test.

Have a handgun license in another state that doesn't have open carry?  C'mon down to Texas and strap it on. Re-live the glory days of the Wild West, Sam Houston and the Alamo.


Friday, May 29, 2015

Last Call For Ol' Dirty Hastert

And this afternoon the alternate pedal limb cover has impacted the linoleum at terminal velocity on the Denny Hastert story.

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert paid a man to conceal a sexual relationship they had while the man was a student at the high school where Hastert taught, a federal law enforcement official told NBC News on Friday. 
The official spoke on condition of anonymity. Tribune reported earlier in the day that two unnamed federal officials said that Hastert paid a man from his past to conceal sexual misconduct. 
Hastert was indicted Thursday on charges that he structured bank withdrawals to avoid federal reporting requirements and later lied about it to the FBI. 
The indictment said that Hastert was paying an unidentified person from his past to conceal Hastert's "prior misconduct." The indictment did not specify the alleged misconduct or name the person. 
The Yorkville, Illinois, school district where Hastert taught and coached wrestling from 1965 to 1981 said that it had "no knowledge of Mr. Hastert's alleged misconduct, nor has any individual contacted the District to report any such misconduct."

Needless to say, this is an ugly, hideous mess, and there's going to be a lot more.  It's notable that the only reason Hastert became Speaker of the House in the first place was that after Newt Gingrich, the GOP rank and file went out of their way to find someone who wasn't mired in scandal.

Many questions remain, of course.  The answer to those questions will raise more questions, I would think.

The Kentucky Horse Race Is Set

The GOP gubernatorial primary here in Kentucky got pretty wild earlier this month, in one of the ugliest campaigns I can remember. When the smoke cleared, Glibertarian punching bag Matt Bevin led state Ag Commissioner James Comer by a mere 83 votes. The re-canvass of the state’s voting machines didn’t change that lead in the least, and today was Comer’s last chance to file for a full recount, on his own dime.

Comer instead threw in the towel this morning, and it’ll be Matt Bevin versus current Democratic state Attorney General Jack Conway for the big house in Frankfort.

Comer released a statement emphasizing his support for Bevin, “Within minutes of receiving the results of the recanvass, I called Matt Bevin to concede and congratulate him on a hard fought victory. I asked Matt to afford me the opportunity to personally contact a few of my strongest supporters across the state to again thank them for their support and tell them about my concession. I promised Matt that I would release my statement prior to his Friday morning press conference with the Republican down ballot candidates.” 
Comer had until Friday afternoon to request a recount. Bevin will face Democratic candidate Jack Conway in the 2016 race for Kentucky governor.

And as I’ve said before, Bevin is the guy that lost to Mitch the Turtle in last year’s Senate primaries because even Republicans here thought he was bonkers, because he couldn’t bring his glibertarian self to condemn illegal cockfighting in the state when a reporter caught him on tape at a cockfighting rally. McConnell smoked him like a turkey. And now he’s the candidate because about four percent (one-third of the 12% total primary turnout) of the state’s registered Republicans voted for him a few weeks back.

Conway better not screw this up, because if this asshole Bevin ends up Governor, believe me when I say he’s going to make Greg Abbott of Texas and Rick Scott of Florida look sane by comparison…

Net Gains For The Needy

If you want to know what the big deal over regulating broadband internet access as a public utility is and what it actually means for Americans, well we can start with this.

The Federal Communications Commission is proposing to expand its Lifeline program to help subsidize Internet service for low-income Americans.

The plan floated Thursday by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler could face resistance from some Republicans who point to lingering waste and inefficiencies in the $1.7 billion program, which helps low-income individuals pay for phone service.

Wheeler and the two other Democrats on the commission have made the update a priority, saying the program, first started in the 1980s, needs to adapt to current technology. While nearly all high-income individuals have access to broadband, studies have shown less than half of households making $25,000 or less have access.

The commission is set to vote on the proposal next month. A final order would have to be crafted and approved before any changes take hold.

The plan seeks to establish minimum service requirements on companies to make sure speeds and Internet data keep up with modern demand. The commission did not outline those baselines and will instead seek comment on them. 
The Lifeline program was created in the 1980s to help low-income households receive landline telephone service. It was later updated to help foot the bill for mobile service as well. The program currently offers a $9.25 reimbursement for those services, paid for by fees on carriers that are usually later tacked on to customers’ phone bills.

The proposal Thursday does not seek to increase that $9.25 reimbursement and would keep in place the limit of one subsidy per household, meaning eligible customers could either spend it on broadband or phone service.

FCC officials could not say how many of the 12 million current participants would choose to use their subsidy differently. They also said it is too early to predict how many new participants the inclusion of broadband would attract.

So updating a Reagan-era phone subsidy to instead allow people to use the same program (and the same money) to instead get broadband internet access will end up being "Obama's buying votes with free internet".

Just watch.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Last Call For Border In Order

The myth of the porous US-Mexico border is finally being put to rest, and it's a Democratic president that actually did something to "secure the border".

As the Department of Homeland Security continues to pour money into border security, evidence is emerging that illegal immigration flows have fallen to their lowest level in at least two decades. The nation’s population of illegal immigrants, which more than tripled, to 12.2 million, between 1990 and 2007, has dropped by about 1 million, according to demographers at the Pew Research Center. 
A key — but largely overlooked — sign of these ebbing flows is the changing makeup of the undocumented population. Until recent years, illegal immigrants tended to be young men streaming across the Southern border in pursuit of work. But demographic data show that the typical illegal immigrant now is much more likely someone who is 35 or older and has lived in the United States for a decade or more.
Homeland security officials in the Obama and George W. Bush administrations — who have more than doubled the Border Patrol’s size and spent billions on drones, sensors and other technology at the border — say enhanced security is driving the new trends. 
“We have seen tremendous progress,” said R. Gil Kerlikowske, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. “The border is much more secure than in times past.” 
The issue of border security is central to the broader debate over immigration reform that has roiled Washington in recent years and is emerging as a flash point in the 2016 presidential campaign. Congressional Republicans have insisted on greater border security before they consider legalizing any immigrants who came to this country without proper documents.

For those of you playing at home, the number of undocumented immigrants has gone down over the last several years.  They have left America, either under their own power, or under deportation.  The Obama administration has been so successful in deportation that frankly, it's done too good of a job of deporting undocumented immigrants and want to fix the root cause of the problem.

But Republicans refuse to allow immigration to be fixed.  Their number one excuse is that Obama has done nothing to "secure the border".  That's a massive, complete, and total lie.  If anything, brutal economics is driving the undocumented out of the US.

That still leaves the issue about what to do with the undocumented that are already here, but Republicans refuse to do anything about it...or they want to round up 12 million people into camps and deport them.

So no, the problem with immigration is not a border security issue, but a political one.

Good Old Fashioned Ukranian Shoe Leather

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, the Russian military is still happily consolidating territory gains and nobody seems too interested in kicking Moscow out of the place, but in the age of social media, showing the world what Vlad Putin is up to isn't so difficult.

“Independent researchers, using open sources and rigorous methodology, have demonstrated that Russian troops and Russian weapons have been an important part of the fight in Ukraine’s east,” said John E. Herbst, a former American ambassador to Ukraine and one of the authors of the report,Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin’s War in Ukraine, which is to be released Thursday by the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based research center.

While the most recent photograph analyzed in the Atlantic Council report was taken in February, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, said in an interview in Washington on Wednesday that there was ample evidence that Russia still had forces in Ukraine and was sending arms to separatists there. 
“Russia is present in eastern Ukraine,” Mr. Stoltenberg said. “This is something we have from our own intelligence. But in addition to our own intelligence, it is based on open sources.” 
The report comes as European nations are preparing to vote next month on whether to ease or maintain economic sanctions on Russia because of its role in Ukraine. 
“The way Russian propaganda works, it makes it seem you can’t possibly know the truth,” said Eliot Higgins, a British-based researcher who founded the investigative website and led the effort to analyze the imagery for the Atlantic Council report. “If you try to counter it by doing the same thing, you are just adding to the noise. But you can get to the truth by pointing to the open source data and what’s publicly available.”

The question is, will the EU, NATO, or US do a damned thing about it?

Mr. Stoltenberg declined to say how many Russian troops were in Ukraine or positioned near its border. But one Western official, who asked not to be identified because he was discussing intelligence reports, said Russia had moved about nine battalion tactical groups close to its border with Ukraine, and that as many as five additional battalions could be sent there in coming weeks. The number of troops in such units can vary, but a battalion could have about 1,000 troops, creating a potential force of well over 10,000 Russian troops in Ukraine by this summer. 
It is unclear if Russia is preparing for a major offensive to help Ukrainian separatists seize more territory or if it is trying to put pressure on the Ukrainian government to make more constitutional concessions. Either way, the moves by Russia’s military are a violation of the peace agreement that was negotiated in Minsk, Belarus, in February, which called for the removal of foreign troops, the pulling back of heavy weapons and the disbanding of “illegal groups.” 
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said in a speech on Wednesday that the conflict over Ukraine is “a test for the West,” and that “President Putin is wagering that he has greater staying power.”

He does.  There's simply no appetite right now for anyone to intervene as long as there's not daily footage of carnage, and even then nobody's going to do much (ask the Palestinians how that works out.)

Left Out In The Cold

What a shock to see a Republican operative like Peter Wehner (who served in the Reagan, Poppy Bush, and Dubya administrations) think that the Democrats are liberal extremists.  What a greater shock to see Wehner writing an op-ed in the NY Times saying as much.

AMONG liberals, it’s almost universally assumed that of the two major parties, it’s the Republicans who have become more extreme over the years. That’s a self-flattering but false narrative. 
This is not to say the Republican Party hasn’t become a more conservative party. It has. But in the last two decades the Democratic Party has moved substantially further to the left than the Republican Party has shifted to the right. On most major issues the Republican Party hasn’t moved very much from where it was during the Gingrich era in the mid-1990s. 
To see just how far the Democratic Party has moved to the left, compare Barack Obama with Bill Clinton. In 1992, Mr. Clinton ran as a centrist New Democrat. In several respects he governed as one as well. He endorsed a sentencing policy of “three strikes and you’re out,” and he proposed adding 100,000 police officers to the streets. 
In contrast, President Obama’s former attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., criticized what he called “widespread incarceration” and championed the first decrease in the federal prison population in more than three decades. Mr. Obama, meanwhile, has chosen to focus on police abuses.

That's his evidence.   Clinton was a centrist, Obama is a Seekrit Mooslem Marxist Kenyan anti-colonialist Socialist.  (Ironically, he end up making a really good case for electing Hillary out of it too, then paints her of course as an extremist.)

In some respects, like gay rights, the nation is more liberal than it was two decades ago. On the other hand, it is more conservative today than it was in the mid-1990s. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that Republicans have opened substantial leads over Democrats on dealing with terrorism, foreign policy and taxes. They’re competitive on the economy, and a good deal more competitive than in the past on traditional liberal issues like immigration and health care. Self-identified conservatives significantly outnumber self-identified liberals.

Um, no.  They don't, Pete.

But thanks for playing.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Last Call For Juggling Fire

Human cautionary tale Pam Geller wants to free speechify the Evul Mooslems to death by having her little advocacy group for Islamophobia run her winning contest cartoon of Mohammad on DC Metro buses.

Pamela Geller's anti-Muslim group, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, will attempt to launch a new ad campaign in Washington, D.C., using the winning image from the group's controversial Muhammad cartoon contest held in Garland, Texas. 
Geller, who has pushed for controversial anti-Islam ads in big city transit systems before, said she submitted the ads to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) in the hopes that the cartoon will run on city buses and in Metro train stations.

"Because the media and the cultural and political elites continue to self-enforce the Sharia without the consent of the American people by refusing to show any depictions of Muhammad or showing what it was in Texas that had jihadists opening fire, we are running an ad featuring the winning cartoon by former Muslim Bosch Fawstin from our Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest in Garland, Texas," Geller wrote in a statement on Breitbart
WMATA confirmed to TPM that the transit authority received the American Freedom Defense Initiative's ad request on Friday and that the ads are under review.

On one hand, free speech.  On the other hand, I'd love to see CAIR run ads depicting a cartoon of Jesus or Moses in an unflattering light and see how people suddenly have a problem with free speech.

And if Geller believes in free speech so much, let's have her post the cartoon on her front door, as one TPM commenter suggested.

The Martyr Mentality

When I say that the modern conservative moment is at heart a victim complex, this is what I mean. Sen. Marco Rubio's insipid insistence that Christianity, the dominant religious group in this country, is somehow on the verge of being outlawed because of same-sex marriage is patently ridiculous, and yet you will see conservatives argue that the Obama administration is targeting Christians and is just hours away from rounding them up.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) warned in a newly published interview that condemnation of those who oppose gay marriage on religious grounds poses a "real and present danger" to Christianity.

The interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network marked the latest input from a Republican presidential hopeful on an issue that has received widespread attention in the nascent campaign.

"We are at the water's edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech," Rubio told CBN in the interview published online Tuesday. "Because today we've reached the point in our society where if you do not support same-sex marriage you are labeled a homophobe and a hater."

Rubio went on to talk about what the next step will be.

"After they are done going after individuals, the next step is to argue that the teachings of mainstream Christianity, the catechism of the Catholic Church, is hate speech," he said. "That's a real and present danger."

Mind you, this is not a fringe lunatic saying this.  This is a sitting United States Senator running for the White House on a major party ticket. It's embarrassing and deeply ignorant...and yet if Marco Rubio really was being persecuted for his speech, he's still able to give a national interview, picked up by national media outlets, to make his free speech heard.  And as Tim Teeman of the Daily Beast reminds us, the LGBTQ community really has been the victim of persecution and hate speech for decades in America.

Does Marco Rubio have any idea of the toxicity of the phrase he is flinging around to score some cheap political capital?

Does he have any idea of the true ‘hate speech’ LGBTs have suffered, not just on political platforms at the hands of people like Marco Rubio in their stoking of their Christian voting base—words like ‘unnatural,’ ‘pretend families,’ words of exclusion that seek to put us outside the boundaries of family, home, and love?

Because ‘hate speech’ doesn’t end on political platforms. They’re the words that LGBTs hear before they are beaten by homophobes on street corners and in schoolyards. Beaten, sometimes fatally. How dare Marco Rubio seek to invoke a phrase like ‘hate speech’ to feed his own pathetic persecution complex? Has he any idea of the true cost of ‘hate speech’ as it has been used against LGBT people?

Because now that there's a movement towards equality in this country, suddenly Christianity is the target.  If your view of Christianity includes, say, stoning and beating gay people to death, maybe that's not compatible with America's laws.

And yet, you're allowed to hold that opinion without people bursting into your house to drag you out into the street to murder you, unlike people who are gay in America.

Rubio is playing victim to people who want to hear how they are victims when those people finally fight back. Fifty years ago, Rubio would have been fighting for segregation and telling us the KKK was on the verge of being classified as a hate group.

Which, by the way, it is today.

One Vote Makes All The Difference

Today the Supreme Court agreed to hear a Texas case later this year that could rewrite the political map for Latinos in states with a large number of undocumented residents.

Since the 1960s, the high court has enforced the "one person, one vote" rule to require that election districts be roughly equal in population. This rule is based on the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. and it is applied to all election districts, whether for members of Congress, state legislators, county supervisors or local school boards.
At least once a decade, these districts may be redrawn based on new census data. The U.S. Census Bureau seeks to count the total population, including noncitizens and immigrants in the country illegally. 
In its appeal, the Project on Fair Representation based in Austin, Texas, says the districts should be balanced based on the number of eligible voters. The group sued on behalf of Sue Evenwel, a leader of the Texas Republican Party. She lives in Titus County in east Texas, where her state Senate district had 533,010 citizens of voting age in 2011. However, another Senate district had 372,00 citizens of voting age. 
The appeal in Evenwel vs. Abbott argues that her right to an equal vote is being denied because Texas officials relied on the census data to balance the districts. Requiring states to switch to counting only citizens will "ensure that voters are afforded the basic right to an equal vote," her lawyers said.

Forcing states like California and Texas to rewrite districts based on citizens versus residents brings up all sorts of second-order shenanigans, the one off the top of my head is again, forcing these states to identify the undocumented rather than relying on estimates and then deporting them en masse. There's a lot of messy things that could result from a SCOTUS order along those lines.

We'll see where this goes, but this seems on first pass like yet another GOP attempt to harm minority voters through the Well Actually process.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Last Call For Hoocoodanode, Louisiana Edition

Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu may have lost her bid for Senate in November, but don't feel bad for her.  She's back on her feet with a new job.

Former Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., is joining the Washington lobbying firm Van Ness Feldman, the firm will announce later Tuesday (May 26). 
Landrieu said she will join Van Ness Feldman as a senior policy advisor, working closely with another recent hire, former Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., the former top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. 
Former senators are barred from lobbying their former colleagues for two years after the end of their congressional careers. For Landrieu, that means she can't lobby colleagues until January, 2017. But she can lobby members of the executive branch, and is free to provide Van Ness Feldman clients with strategic advice
Landrieu said the job will provide her with the "flexibility" to continue her work for the Walton Family Foundation, advocating on education issues, such as support for charter schools in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and nationally.
Landrieu lost her bid for a 4th Senate term to then Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, in a Senate runoff election. 
In taking the job at Van Ness Feldman, Landrieu, who ended her 18-year Senate career as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is joining a long list of former lawmakers in the lobbying business. Among former Louisiana members now lobbying are former Rep. Bob Livingston, R-Metairie; former Sens. J. Bennett Johnston, D-La., and John Breaux, D-La., and former Reps. Billy Tauzin, R-Chackbay, Jimmy Hayes, R-Lafayette, Chris John D-Lafayette, and Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman.

Nobody would have guessed that a Blue Dog senator from Louisiana refinery country would end up working for Big Oil and charter schools, right?

It's good work if you can get it, and who wouldn't want the former Senate Energy Committee chair working for them?

And so it goes.

Insurance Companies Are Still Jackasses

As Kevin Drum reminds us, there's a lot of screaming, crying, and clickbait in FOXtown about health insurance companies saying they need 2016 premium rate increases due to Obamacare regulations of 50% or more.  What insurance companies want and what state insurance regulators will approve, well, those are two drastically different things.

In any case, we've all seen this movie before. Republicans will latch onto it as evidence of how Obamacare is destroying American health care and it will enjoy a nice little run for them. Then, a few months from now, the real rate increases—the ones approved by state and federal authorities—will begin to trickle out. They'll mostly be in single digits, with a few in the low teens. The average for the entire country will end up being something like 4-8 percent. 
So don't panic. Sure, it's possible that the Obamacare shit has finally hit the fan, but probably not. Check back in October before you worry too much about stories like this.

McMegan gets out her calculator (seemingly unencumbered by gastritis this week) and McDisagrees.

Eyeing the Journal's list, the most obvious pattern is that states are converging on a price somewhere well north of $300 a month for a 40-year-old nonsmoker seeking a Silver plan; the states with the biggest rate hikes all had premiums under $250, and are asking to be allowed to go near or over $300, while the states that asked for low increases were already over $300, and in some cases well over. (Vermont is at $430 -- and asking to go to $476! "Only" an 8.4 percent increase, but wow.) It seems as if states where insurers initially underpriced are now trying to move toward a natural price somewhere between $3,600 and $5,000 a year for a single nonsmoker. If that's the price of providing basic benefits, regulators cannot command it away by fiat; the best they can do is to force insurers out of the market
I assume that these large insurers are willing to incur some losses in the market for exchange policies in order to stay on the good side of their state regulators and HHS, because overall, those policies are not a large part of their business. But getting those rates down to something more on the order of 10 percent would require some pretty big losses. How long, exactly, will they be willing to carry a product that loses that kind of money?

Here's a concept.  If they can't provide health insurance plans that meet Obamacare requirements, and there are plenty of insurers who can, then maybe they need to be forced out of the market.

Remember, health insurance companies make big bucks on A) providing services that aren't used and the premiums that go with them, and B) denying claims.  I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for health insurance companies to begin with.  Part of the purpose of Obamacare was to do exactly that: force the bad players out of the market by limiting overhead costs.

We're seeing cost-cutting in health care across the board now.  The major, major problem is that we have the most expansive health care in the world, and finally we're starting to see some progress on the cost front, thanks to Obamacare.

So ideally, it'll cost the insurance companies less to provide coverage for care, so maybe they won't all go out of business.

Weird how that works.

The Truth About Thad

So if you remember the ugly campaign for the re-election of Mississippi GOP Sen. Thad Cochran last year, you're not alone.  The Tea Party resorted to all kinds of horrible tricks to go after Cochran, including going after his bed-ridden wife suffering from Alzheimer's dementia, which resulted in his primary opponent, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, refusing to concede last year's primary for months before forced to by the courts and accusing everyone he could find (Republicans, Democrats, and especially Mississippi's black voters) of a massive conspiracy to make him lose.

The whole thing, you may recall, started over rumors that Cochran was pulling a Newt Gingrich and cheating on his sick wife.  Rose Cochran died six months ago, and now it appears that there may have been truth to those rumors as Cochran has married the long-time aide he was allegedly cheating with.

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran married his longtime aide Kay Webber in a private family ceremony in Gulfport on Saturday, according to a one-sentence statement released by his office Monday.

Cochran's relationship with Webber became the topic of much speculation and intrigue during last year's Republican U.S. Senate primary. Supporters of challenger Chris McDaniel accused Cochran of carrying on an affair with Webber. Cochran's office denied any kind of affair.

Rumors of a possible marriage between Cochran and Webber surfaced earlier in May; however, multiple Cochran staffers denied any knowledge of a possible wedding as recently as last week.

Senate and campaign staff defended the relationship between Cochran and Webber during last year's campaign in light of news detailing travel overseas and back to the district that included Cochran and Webber. A campaign spokesperson at the time said Webber "is a member of the staff and a trusted aide, and any other suggestion is silly gossip."

Cochran spokesman Chris Gallegos said Monday that Webber would remain on the senator's staff.

So in the end, the Tea Party bloggers going after Cochran were probably right, and he was cheating on his wife. The Washington Post is more than a little unhappy.

Over the past 12 years, records showed that Webber had joined Cochran on more than 30 publicly funded international trips costing more than $150,000, the Clarion-Ledger reported in 2014.

Critics also pointed to records that showed the six-term senator rented the basement apartment of Webber’s $1.6 million Washington rowhouse as proof of an untoward relationship.

Cochran’s Senate and campaign staff defended Webber’s involvement in the travel and apartment as “strictly professional” and “perfectly appropriate” for a senior staff member.

Webber, who makes about $140,000 a year, was said to attend official meetings and social functions, help the senator maintain his travel schedule and organize constituent events, his office said.

Cochran spokesman Jordan Russell told the Clarion-Ledger a year ago that Webber “is a member of the staff and a trusted aide, and any other suggestion is silly gossip.”

Rumors of the couple’s marriage had begun to swirl earlier this month, the Mississippi newspaper reported Monday, though Cochran staffers denied knowing of any wedding as recently as last week.

And so it goes, Republican values voters.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Last Call For Ugly Duggars

The Duggar family, stars of "19 Kids And Counting", recently taken off the air by TLC after admitted sexual abuse of some of his own sisters by oldest son Josh Duggar, have a lot of allies in their home state of Arkansas. Former GOP governor and 2016 candidate Mike Huckabee defended Josh's sexual abuse last week, calling it "inexcusable but not unforgivable".

Since the GOP's large pro-child molester base wants somebody to pay who's not Josh Duggar, that somebody looks like it will be the police chief who complied with the Freedom of Information request for Josh's record.

A state senator from Northwest Arkansas is calling for the Springdale police chief to be fired over the recent release of a 2006 police report detailing accusations that Josh Duggar as a teenager molested five underage girls.

Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, said the girls have been re-victimized now that the report is public. He said Police Chief Kathy O’Kelley acted recklessly in releasing the report and should be held accountable.

“The law to protect minors’ identities is not a suggestion,” Hester, pictured, said Saturday (May 23). “So sad to see the person charged with protecting the community being so reckless and irresponsible. I believe it is unavoidable that the Springdale police chief should be terminated. She has re-victimized these young ladies.”

Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse said O’Kelley and Springdale City Attorney Ernest Cate determined after researching the matter that the report had to be released under law.

“From every indication I have the chief and city attorney reluctantly did what they had to do to comply with the state FOI (freedom of information) law,” Sprouse said Saturday (May 23).

The Springdale police report was obtained by In Touch Weekly magazine and posted on the magazine’s website this week. The names are redacted in the report. On May 21, Washington County Juvenile Judge Stacey Zimmerman issued a court order that the police report be destroyed and expunged from the public record.

So, to recap, following the law should cost Chief O'Kelley her job, but not following the law should not cost Judge Zimmerman her job.

Oh, but Chief O'Kelley was going to retire at the end of the month anyway.  If she's fired however, she gets no pension.  That's the real issue: punishing her, but not Josh child rapist Dugger.

That's how Republicans roll.

Capitalism Cuts Colleges In Carolina

Last month I mentioned that North Carolina Republicans were trying to eliminate medical programs at the UNC system involving abortion procedures as part of a major new anti-abortion bill.  That bill, HB 465, is currently tied up in the state Senate.  But it looks like the anti-science, anti-choicers have won anyway: massive cuts at the UNC system have prompted the wholesale elimination of dozens of degree programs.

Thursday morning, the Board of Governors educational planning committee voted to discontinue 46 degree programs across the UNC-System, including one at UNC-Chapel Hill: human biology. The entire Board voted Friday to adopt the recommendations voted on by the committee Thursday.

Other schools lost more programs than UNC-CH. East Carolina University and UNC-Greensboro saw eight programs eliminated each.

Junius Gonzales, senior vice president for academic affairs for the UNC-System, led the review of program productivity, which refers to the number of degrees granted in programs annually.

Gonzales said the process was inexact and that it was essential to listen to the thoughts of campus-level officials. He said the frequency of education programs being classified as low productivity due to few majors was an example of a situation where the processes of the UNC system and the interests of the state did not always align.

"This is an art, not a science," he said.

Now, with UNC-Chapel Hill home to the one of the state's best medical schools would the college eliminate the human biology program as a degree?

The Human Biology, Ecology and Evolution Program is interested in the relationships between culture, behavior, and environment and their impacts on health and well-being. This focus is crucial in light of accelerating ecological, economic and socio-political changes such as globalization, market integration and climate change. We ask, for instance, what are the impacts of changing environments on human health, biology and behavior across the lifespan? What factors can foster or undermine ecological and cultural resilience? How do evolutionary and ecological processes shape human variation in the past and present?
Well then.  No wonder it had to go.  Can't teach abortion, can't teach climate change.  Not when the Know Nothings are in charge of my home state. Also getting the axe: several gender studies and African studies programs, because of course:

Board member Steven Long, who is the vice chairman of the academic planning committee, expressed concern about the labels applied to the actions, saying that words like "discontinuation" could confuse the public.

“They think you’re eliminating a lot of the cost, but we’re really only eliminating a little bit of the cost,” Long said. “We’re really not discontinuing the whole program; we’re just scaling it back.”

Long said he didn't think the programs addressed by the report necessarily needed more scrutiny.

We’re capitalists, and we have to look at what the demand is, and we have to respond to the demand.”

We're capitalists, not educators, dammit.

Chest-Beating For Dummies

All the Republican White House hopefuls in 2016 are attacking President Obama's "failed" strategy for dealing with ISIS, but few candidates are offering details about what they would do differently, and the ones that are want to put thousands of US troops back in Iraq.  And none of them can even begin to be taken seriously.

Lindsey Graham and Rick Santorum want to deploy 10,000 American troops in Iraq as part of a coalition with Arab nations against Islamic State militants, and will settle for nothing less than “destroying the caliphate,” in Mr. Graham’s words.

Jeb Bush believes those additional American soldiers would have prevented the Islamic State from gathering strength in recent years. But an American-led force now? “I don’t think that will work,” he said in an interview Friday, his latest sign of wariness at the prospect of becoming the third President Bush to dispatch ground troops to the Middle East.

Marco Rubio describes his strategy against the Islamic State with a line from the action movie “Taken” — “we will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you” — yet he is more inclined to provide “the most devastating air support possible” rather than send in American troops.Scott Walker and Rick Perry are more open to a combat mission, while Rand Paul wants boots on the ground — as long as they are “Arab boots on the ground.”

Naturally, this is the biggest problem for Jeb Bush.

Mr. Bush is among the most elusive. At times he sounds bellicose: “Restrain them, tighten the noose, and then taking them out is the strategy” against the Islamic State, he said in February. The next monthhe endorsed creating “a protected zone in northeast Syria where you could allow for an army to be built, both a Syrian free army and international soldiers with air power from the United States.” Yet Mr. Bush has not laid out substantive details for such aggressive actions.

At other times, he sounds uncertain: He recently floundered for days about whether he would have invaded Iraq in 2003 — and then found himself defending President George W. Bush, his brother, from a college student’s charge that he “created” the Islamic State by disbanding Saddam Hussein’s powerful army.

As for the role of American ground troops in the Middle East, Mr. Bush was more ambiguous than adamant last week.
“Whether we need more than 3,000, which is what we have now, I would base that on what the military advisers say,” Mr. Bush said Wednesday in New Hampshire. On Friday, after a speech in Oklahoma City, he said former military officials had told him that American forces “should embed in the Iraqi military.”

“The Canadians and French do,” he continued, “but we’re prohibited. That’s just remarkable.”

So no, Jeb doesn't have any clue what we should be doing in Iraq right now.  And he'll just change his mind and flip-flop another 50 times between now and November 2016.

None of the Republicans have anything more than movie quotes and scary rhetoric.

StupidiNews, Memorial Day Edition!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Last Call For One Hell Of A Blowback Story

It's Judicial Watch, so take it with an entire salt mine's worth of salt, but the gist is that the Pentagon worked with Al-Qaeda remnants in Syria in order to topple Bashar al-Assad and when that went tits up, the result was those groups became ISIS, a Pentagon report predicted the whole mess, and Obama did it anyway.

The newly declassified DIA document from 2012 confirms that the main component of the anti-Assad rebel forces by this time comprised Islamist insurgents affiliated to groups that would lead to the emergence of ISIS. Despite this, these groups were to continue receiving support from Western militaries and their regional allies.

Noting that “the Salafist [sic], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” the document states that “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the opposition,” while Russia, China and Iran “support the [Assad] regime.”

The 7-page DIA document states that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the precursor to the ‘Islamic State in Iraq,’ (ISI) which became the ‘Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,’ “supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning, both ideologically and through the media.”

The formerly secret Pentagon report notes that the “rise of the insurgency in Syria” has increasingly taken a “sectarian direction,” attracting diverse support from Sunni “religious and tribal powers” across the region.

In a section titled ‘The Future Assumptions of the Crisis,’ the DIA report predicts that while Assad’s regime will survive, retaining control over Syrian territory, the crisis will continue to escalate “into proxy war.”

Well, at least one DIA analyst knew what they were talking about.

In a strikingly prescient prediction, the Pentagon document explicitly forecasts the probable declaration of “an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.”

Nevertheless, “Western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey are supporting these efforts” by Syrian “opposition forces” fighting to “control the eastern areas (Hasaka and Der Zor), adjacent to Western Iraqi provinces (Mosul and Anbar)”: 
“… there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”

The secret Pentagon document thus provides extraordinary confirmation that the US-led coalition currently fighting ISIS, had three years ago welcomed the emergence of an extremist “Salafist Principality” in the region as a way to undermine Assad, and block off the strategic expansion of Iran. Crucially, Iraq is labeled as an integral part of this “Shia expansion.”

The establishment of such a “Salafist Principality” in eastern Syria, the DIA document asserts, is “exactly” what the “supporting powers to the [Syrian] opposition want.” Earlier on, the document repeatedly describes those “supporting powers” as “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey.”

This is all pretty depressing if true. This is a hell of a news dump for Memorial Day weekend, but it's still worth analyzing. The notion that we worked for regime change -- again -- and it failed disastrously is definitely going to be the next president's major problem in the Middle East.

I'm going to need more evidence on this before I start assigning blame, but I don't have a good feeling about it.

Driving Miss Crazy

MoDo The Red is horrified that her Uber passenger score is not 5 stars, and she's upset, you guys.

Even in the land of movie stars, you could feel like a movie star when your Uber chauffeur rolled up. Standing in front of the Sunset Tower Hotel, I tapped my Uber app and saw five little cars swarming around my location. But, suddenly, they scattered in the opposite direction. I stood in the driveway, perplexed. Finally, a car pulled up, and the driver waved me in.

“Do you know why no one wanted to pick you up?” he asked. “Because you have a low rating.”

(Uber drivers see your rating once they accept the request and then can cancel.)

I was shocked. Blinded by the wondrous handiness of Uber, I had missed the fact that while I got to rate them, they got to rate me back.

Revealing that I had only 4.2 stars, my driver continued to school me. “You don’t always come out right away,” he said, sternly, adding that I would have to work hard to be more appealing if I wanted to get drivers to pick me up.

Uber began to feel less like a dependable employee and more like an irritated boyfriend.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that constantly treating her Uber driver like The Help and often making the driver wait for her is the reason why MoDo has a less than stellar rating, but don't tell her that.  These Uber drivers are working here, and they get paid by the fare.  Making them wait means they can take fewer fares in the same time period.  It's wasting their time and their money, and she had no idea.

Also, is there anyone that Maureen Dowd doesn't treat like an irritated boyfriend?  Uber drivers, other reporters, President Obama, etc.?

The woman has issues.  Big ones.

Sunday Long Read: The Race To Stop Racism

This week's Sunday Long Read is from NY Magazine's Lisa Miller, reporting on Fieldston Lower School, a Bronx private school that began an experiment to deal with race and racism in America head on, starting in the third grade.

In recent years, under the direction of its principal, George Burns, Lower has come to look a lot less like the white, mostly Jewish Riverdale neighborhood that encircles the school and more like the Bronx in general. Just fewer than half the kids at Lower are white. Twenty percent are black or Latino, and another 20 percent multi­racial. The remainder are Asian or won’t say, making Lower one of the most racially diverse private elementary schools in New York. This has been a big change (when Burns took the job 16 years ago, about 20 percent of the students were kids of color), but as this parent body sees it, it’s all to the good. Lower has always been a progressive place, and in 2015, many are happy to see it as a kind of racial utopia, too.

Now the school was promising to do even more in the name of racial equity, offering a pioneering new curriculum designed to give its youngest students the tools they’d need to navigate their own futures — and to bolster Fieldston’s sense of itself as a standard-bearer in progressive education. The program, which was also put in place this school year at Ethical Culture, Fieldston’s other elementary school, would boost self-esteem and a sense of belonging among minority kids while combating the racism, subtle or otherwise, that can permeate historically white environments. It would foster interracial empathy by encouraging children to recognize differences without disrespect while teaching kids strategies, and the language, for navigating racial conflict. Efforts like this had been popping up around the country over the past decade in progressive private schools and public schools wrestling in more direct ways with the tangle of race and achievement. Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, has developed an anti-bias curriculum that 16,000 teachers have downloaded since it became available in September. The Anti-Defamation League does training for kids and teachers in schools — 200 a year in Connecticut alone. And Welcoming Schools, connected with the Human Rights Campaign, helps train the staffs of elementary schools for this kind of learning, traveling last year to Boulder, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and Arkansas. In Gallup, New Mexico, a fifth-grade class planned and staged a community arts crawl showcasing the theme “Identity, Diversity, Justice, and Action.” In Greenville, Alabama, fourth-graders made picture books answering the question “How have people fought for what is right at different times in history?” and then read them aloud to the school’s second-graders.

But Fieldston’s program would be bolder, more radical: It would be mandatory rather than voluntary, and built into the school day itself; it would compel participation from children of all races who would at first be separated into racial “affinity groups”; and it would start in the third grade, with 8-year-olds, an age when many of the kids have only an inchoate sense of what “racial identity” means. It would be a boundary-pushing experiment, in other words, in a place that seemed exceptionally hospitable to progressive experimentation — but also, undeniably, a privileged and racially anomalous bubble. Fieldston’s unusual identity gave it a better shot than most schools, perhaps, at making this work; and if it did work, its administrators thought, the impact might reach far beyond its cloister.

To all these ends, the third- , fourth- , and fifth-graders at Lower were to be divided once a week for five weeks into small groups according to their race. In 45-minute sessions, children would talk about what it was like to be a member of that race; they would discuss what they had in common with each other and how they were different, how other people perceived them, rightly or wrongly, based on appearance. Disinhibited by the company of racially different peers, the children would, the school hoped, feel free to raise questions and make observations that in mixed company might be considered impolite. The bigger goal was to initiate a cultural upheaval, one that would finally give students of color a sense of equal owner­ship in the community. Once the smaller race groups had broken up, the children would gather in a mixed-race setting to share, and discuss, the insights they had gained. Then — after all this — their regularly scheduled school day would continue: math, English, social studies, science, gym.

The kids seem to respond pretty well to the program.  The parents...well...they're the ones that were taught the most valuable lessons. It's a good read.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Last Call For Sons Of The South

It’s the heartland of the modern Republican Party, the most reliably red region in presidential elections. But as the 2016 GOP campaign for the White House gets underway, the South finds itself yet again without a native son in a leading role.

As party leaders gathered here for the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, a traditional candidate cattle call that draws many of the party’s presidential hopefuls and attracted around 2,000 activists this year, there was no shortage of reminders about the South’s importance, both financially and electorally, to the party’s political fortunes.

Yet the three Republicans who lead the field are a governor from Wisconsin, Scott Walker, and Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush, two candidates rooted in the part of Florida that is most culturally distinct from the South — Miami.

The GOP primary is not without authentic sons of the South — South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, both born in small towns at the dawn of the civil rights era, proudly identify as such. There is also Bobby Jindal, the Baton Rouge-born Louisiana governor.

But all of them — including former Gov. Rick Perry, as a Texan not quite a Southerner but stylistically close enough to pass for one — find themselves trailing far behind in the polls, struggling to demonstrate their viability as 2016 prospects. Two other candidates with tenuous claims to the Southern candidate mantle — Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Canada-born Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — are faring better but still have a ways to go in expanding their voter bases. Should they all fall short, it would mark the third consecutive presidential election that the Republican Party has picked a nominee who doesn’t hail from the South, even in its most expansive definition.

Few here at the SRLC said that it matters, as long as the candidate who captures the GOP nomination shares the same conservative values.

“I just think our people don’t care where they’re from as much as what they believe and how they lead,” said Chad Connelly, a former South Carolina Republican Party chairman.

If that's not a good old-fashioned "Bless his heart" being directed at Jeb Bush, specifically, I dunno what is.

Pretending that it doesn't matter if they can't get a Good Ol Boy into the White House again? That's funny.  But let's face it, the party is bought and paid for by the Romney/McCain Country Club wing, and the Bubbas from the South are just there to be cannon fodder for the GOP and alway will be in the back of the bus.

I'm sure this will come up again in 2020, after they lose again.

StupidiNews Weekend Update

Couple of big stories developing this weekend:

Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo was acquitted of charges by a judge in the involuntary manslaughter charges against a black couple when officers fired 138 bullets into the car that killed Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.

A white Cleveland police officer who stood on a car and shot the vehicle's two unarmed black occupants after colleagues already riddled the car with bullets in 2012 was found not guilty Saturday in their deaths -- with a judge ruling his actions were constitutionally justified.

Cuyahoga County Judge John P. O'Donnell, who reached the verdicts after a several-week trial, declared Officer Michael Brelo not guilty of voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault in the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams following a 20-minute car chase.

Brelo's actions -- jumping onto the stopped car and firing 15 shots into the vehicle after he and his colleagues fired more than 100 times -- were constitutionally justifiable because it wasn't yet clear that any perceived threat to the officers was over, O'Donnell ruled.

It looks like same-sex marriage will win and win big in Ireland as exit polls for Friday's referendum indicate the Yes vote leading.

Early results suggest the Republic of Ireland has voted to legalise same-sex marriage in a historic referendum.

More than 3.2m people were asked whether they wanted to amend the country's constitution to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

Government ministers have said they believe it will pass, while prominent "no" campaigners have conceded defeat.

Counting started at 09:00 BST on Saturday morning. An "unusually high" turnout has been reported.

A final result is expected late afternoon on Saturday.

The Senate has blocked reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act, and rejected a bill that would continue the bulk collection of metadata on US citizens.

Unable to end a struggle over how to deal with government surveillance programs, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled a last-minute session to consider retaining the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of domestic phone records.

McConnell, R-Ky., warned against allowing the controversial NSA program and other key surveillance activities under the USA Patriot Act to expire at midnight May 31. He said he would call the Senate into session that day, a Sunday, and seek action before the deadline.

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky’s other senator and a Republican presidential candidate, called the Senate’s failure to allow an extension of the surveillance programs during a late-night session Friday into Saturday a victory for privacy rights.

“We should never give up our rights for a false sense of security,” Paul said in a statement. “This is only the beginning — the first step of many. I will continue to do all I can until this illegal government spying program is put to an end, once and for all.”

By the time senators broke for the holiday, they had blocked a House-passed bill and several short-term extensions of the key provisions in the Patriot Act.

More on this as it develops.

The Kroog Versus The TPP

When you've lost Paul Krugman on an Obama administration policy as important as the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, there's usually something wrong to the point of me reevaluating the policy. I'm at that point now.

I don’t know why the president has chosen to make the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership such a policy priority. Still, there is an argument to be made for such a deal, and some reasonable, well-intentioned people are supporting the initiative.

But other reasonable, well-intentioned people have serious questions about what’s going on. And I would have expected a good-faith effort to answer those questions. Unfortunately, that’s not at all what has been happening. Instead, the selling of the 12-nation Pacific Rim pact has the feel of a snow job. Officials have evaded the main concerns about the content of a potential deal; they’ve belittled and dismissed the critics; and they’ve made blithe assurances that turn out not to be true. 
The administration’s main analytical defense of the trade deal came earlier this month, in a report from the Council of Economic Advisers. Strangely, however, the report didn’t actually analyze the Pacific trade pact. Instead, it was a paean to the virtues of free trade, which was irrelevant to the question at hand. 
First of all, whatever you may say about the benefits of free trade, most of those benefits have already been realized. A series of past trade agreements, going back almost 70 years, has brought tariffs and other barriers to trade very low to the point where any effect they may have on U.S. trade is swamped by other factors, like changes in currency values
In any case, the Pacific trade deal isn’t really about trade. Some already low tariffs would come down, but the main thrust of the proposed deal involves strengthening intellectual property rights — things like drug patents and movie copyrights — and changing the way companies and countries settle disputes. And it’s by no means clear that either of those changes is good for America.

I have to admit, a month ago I would have said "I trust the President to get a good enough deal on this."  But a lot of people are now flat out saying that there's no good deal to be had here, unlike Iran or Cuba or Obamacare or a host of other real accomplishments President Obama has made.

If this is the least awful option, then that's what we need to hear, not that this is going to be a great thing.

I'm going to try to find more information on the TPP this weekend.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Last Call For The End Of The Center Right Country Myth

Gallup's latest poll of where Americans stand on the liberal/conservative question finds that for the first time in 16 years of the poll, the percentage of Americans calling themselves liberal now equals the percentage of Americans calling themselves conservative.

Thirty-one percent of Americans describe their views on social issues as generally liberal, matching the percentage who identify as social conservatives for the first time in Gallup records dating back to 1999. 
Gallup first asked Americans to describe their views on social issues in 1999, and has repeated the question at least annually since 2001. The broad trend has been toward a shrinking conservative advantage, although that was temporarily interrupted during the first two years of Barack Obama's presidency. Since then, the conservative advantage continued to diminish until it was wiped out this year.

Can we finally put to bed the idiotic "America is a center-right country" myth?  Because America has grown increasingly more liberal over the last 16 years, and we're seeing that today with the question of same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court, a black president now, and a woman the top candidate for the Dems in 2016.

Hopefully we can get things done more in the future.

The Kentucky Job Miracle(!)

Joe Sonka reminds us that in addition to bringing health insurance to 450,000 through the creation of Kynect here in Kentucky, Gov. Steve Beshear has presided over impressive job creation numbers to boot.

The Beshear administration announced this morning that Kentucky’s seasonally adjusted preliminary unemployment rate fell to 5.1 percent in March — a drop of over 2 percent in the past year and the lowest rate since the summer of 2001. 
The federal survey of 60,000 households shows that employment increased by 7,353 in March, while the number of unemployed decreased by 2,310. This marks the 23rd straight month in which the ranks of the unemployed has decreased in Kentucky, and the seventh consecutive month where employment has increased. 
The number of unemployed has fallen by more than 120,000 in Kentucky since the height of the Great Recession in 2009. While employment fell steadily in 2014, that number has jolted upward by over 35,000 in the last three months alone.

Kentucky's unemployed has fallen from 225,000 to 100,000, and while the labor force fell by 75,000, it has rebounded in 2015 and has clawed back nearly a third of that number.  All of this is a big deal as the campaign to succeed Beshear gets underway.

The question of whether Kentucky is facing dramatic job growth or job loss has been a major topic of discussion in this year’s gubernatorial campaign. Republican Hal Heiner began running a TV ad last month claiming Kentucky had lost 20,000 jobs over the last two years. His primary opponent James Comer went a step further, claiming Kentucky lost “nearly 50,000 jobs” over that same time period, though his campaign subsequently stopped stating that figure.

As Insider Louisville noted last month, while Heiner’s ad was correct if you only count the number of employed, it neglected to mention the full context of the falling number of unemployed and total labor force. Additionally — using Heiner’s preferred statistics for the “20,000 lost jobs” figure — if you update those figures for the last two years from this March, Kentucky has actually gained 7,671 jobs.

So Kentucky has a lower unemployment rate now than when Beshear took office, and there are fewer unemployed Kentuckians now too. The recovery is real in the Bluegrass State.  Both Matt Bevin and Jim Comer will destroy that recovery if elected, guaranteed.

Jack Conway needs to win in November, period.

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