Saturday, October 31, 2015

Last Call For Putting The Smack Down

A funny thing happens when a drug epidemic affects suburban America: suddenly the war on drugs "lock all those people up" voters become "hey these laws are too draconian" and people start asking questions about how white kids from gated subdivisions end up in jail on heroin possession charges.

When the nation’s long-running war against drugs was defined by the crack epidemic and based in poor, predominantly black urban areas, the public response was defined by zero tolerance and stiff prison sentences. But today’s heroin crisis is different. While heroin use has climbed among all demographic groups, it has skyrocketed among whites; nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white
And the growing army of families of those lost to heroin — many of them in the suburbs and small towns — are now using their influence, anger and grief to cushion the country’s approach to drugs, from altering the language around addiction to prodding government to treat it not as a crime, but as a disease. 
Because the demographic of people affected are more white, more middle class, these are parents who are empowered,” said Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, better known as the nation’s drug czar. “They know how to call a legislator, they know how to get angry with their insurance company, they know how to advocate. They have been so instrumental in changing the conversation.” 
Mr. Botticelli, a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 26 years, speaks to some of these parents regularly. 
Their efforts also include lobbying statehouses, holding rallies in Washington and starting nonprofit organizations, making these mothers and fathers part of a growing backlash against the harsh tactics of traditional drug enforcement. These days, in rare bipartisan or even nonpartisan agreement, punishment is out and compassion is in.

And if you're wondering why all of a sudden criminal justice reform, mandatory sentencing revisions, marijuana legalization, treatment programs and the war on drugs all are major campaign issues in an election year when for 30 years it was "lock them up and throw away the key", then you now know just how bad the nation's heroin epidemic has gotten in white America.

The presidential candidates of both parties are now talking about the drug epidemic, with Hillary Rodham Clinton hosting forums on the issue as Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina tell their own stories of loss while calling for more care and empathy. 
Last week, President Obama traveled to West Virginia, a mostly white state with high levels of overdoses, to discuss his $133 million proposal to expand access for drug treatment and prevention programs. The Justice Department is also preparing to release roughly 6,000 inmates from federal prisons as part of an effort to roll back the severe penalties issued to nonviolent drug dealers in decades past. 
And in one of the most striking shifts in this new era, some local police departments have stopped punishing many heroin users. In Gloucester, Mass., those who walk into the police station and ask for help, even if they are carrying drugs or needles, are no longer arrested. Instead, they are diverted to treatment, despite questions about the police departments’ unilateral authority to do so. It is an approach being replicated by three dozen other police departments around the country.

Suddenly, the war on drugs is ruining the lives of Tyler, Madison and Hunter and not just Tyrone, Marisha and Hector.  Suddenly, zero tolerance for those people has turned into "Well, we have to have compassion for these sick souls that need help."

Suddenly, lawmakers and cops give a damn about serious criminal justice reform.  It took until the war on drugs finally escaped the battlefields of the inner cities they tried to contain it in and burned out the exurbs and the private schools and the galleria malls.

It took until the lives of the victims actually mattered, you see.  Black lives, well.  Not so much.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that there's finally real steps being taken on the criminal justice reform front and not just empty talk.  I'm glad users are getting real help, and real dollars are being spent to treat the core of addiction and not just the symptoms.  I'm glad we're doing something about non-violent drug offenders and legalization.

But this should have happened 20 years ago.  And one of the major reasons it didn't happen 20 years ago is a guy by the name of Bill Clinton.

And his wife.

Let's not forget that.

Taking The New York Red Line

Anytime I hear claims that institutional, systemic, and economic racism is long gone from blue states and is "only in the South" I have a good long laugh because I know that's absolutely untrue.

The green welcome sign hangs in the front door of the downtown branch of Hudson City Savings Bank, New Jersey’s largest savings bank. But for years, federal regulators said, its executives did what they could to keep certain customers out. 
They steered clear of black and Hispanic neighborhoods as they opened branches across New York and Connecticut, federal officials said. They focused on marketing mortgages in predominantly white sections of suburban New Jersey and Long Island, not here or in Bridgeport, Conn. 
The results were stark. In 2014, Hudson approved 1,886 mortgages in the market that includes New Jersey and sections of New York and Connecticut, federal mortgage data show. Only 25 of those loans went to black borrowers
Hudson, while denying wrongdoing, agreed last month to pay nearly $33 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Justice Department. Federal officials said it was the largest settlement in the history of both departments for redlining, the practice in which banks choke off lending to minority communities.

Those of you keeping score at home, 25 out of 1,886 is 1,3%.

Folks, post-Great Recession redlining is rampant all across the country, and one of the main issues I have with the awful lie that anti-redlining measures like the Community Reinvestment Act signed by Clinton into law forced banks to give mortgages to "broke minorities" and caused the housing collapse.  That particular lie I've documented for seven years on this blog as false.

And redlining is exactly why the CRA lie cannot possibly be true: if banks weren't lending to minorities, then how did minorities cause the Great Recession Housing Crash?

Ahh, but that brings us back to redlining going on still today.  And if you want to know why the GOP is so eager to get rid of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, this is one major reason why.

The Unbearable Whiteness Of Jonah

After seven years of the Obamas being too ghetto for conservatives to handle, the new charge from professionally compensated idiot Jonah Goldberg is that Ben Carson is what real blackness is, and Obama is not black enough.

But what’s remarkable is that at no point in this conversation did anyone call attention to the fact that Carson is an African-American. Indeed, most analysis of Carson’s popularity from pundits focuses on his likable personality and his sincere Christian faith. But it’s intriguingly rare to hear people talk about the fact that he’s black.

One could argue that he’s even more authentically African-American than Barack Obama, given that Obama’s mother was white and he was raised in part by his white grandparents. In his autobiography, Obama writes at length about how he grew up outside the traditional African-American experience — in Hawaii and Indonesia — and how he consciously chose to adopt a black identity when he was in college.

Meanwhile, Carson grew up in Detroit, the son of a very poor, very hard-working single mother. His tale of rising from poverty to become the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital is one of the most inspiring rags-to-riches stories of the last half-century. (Cuba Gooding Jr. played Carson in the movie about his life.) He was a towering figure in the black community in Baltimore and nationally — at least, until he became a Republican politician.

And that probably explains why his race seems to be such a non-issue for the media. The New York Times is even reluctant to refer to him as a doctor. The Federalist reports that Jill Biden, who has a doctorate in education, is three times more likely to be referred to as “Dr.” in the Times as brain surgeon Carson. If the Times did that to a black Democrat, charges of racism would be thick in the air.

Goldberg manages to get all his racist hangups in one article here: Carson is One Of The Good Ones(tm), Liberals Are The Real Racists(tm), and Only In My Infinite White Wisdom Can You Judge Blackness(tm).

Expect a lot more of "Hey black voters, since you only voted for Obama because he's black, you'll vote for Ben Carson now, right?" in the future.

Making The Kynect-tion On Tuesday

Heading into the final weekend before Tuesday's gubernatorial election here in Kentucky, just a gentle reminder of what's at stake here should Republican Matt Bevin win and Kynect and Medicaid expansion goes away for 450,000 Kentuckians.

Two years into Obamacare, clear regional patterns are emerging about who has health insurance in America and who still doesn’t. 
The remaining uninsured are primarily in the South and the Southwest. They tend to be poor. They tend to live in Republican-leaning states. The rates of people without insurance in the Northeast and the upper Midwest have fallen into the single digits since the Affordable Care Act’s main provisions kicked in. But in many parts of the country, obtaining health insurance is still a problem for many Americans. 
These trends emerged in an analysis we undertook with the help of two organizations that are closely monitoring the progress of the health law. Last year, we used similar data to show the the substantial effects Obamacare had on reducing the number of Americans without health insurance. This year, the same groups updated their estimates of where America’s uninsured live, and the change is a lot less drastic. States that were late to expand Medicaid, including Pennsylvania and Indiana, showed substantial reductions in their uninsured residents compared with last year. In other places, the changes have been more modest. In a few — like Mississippi — things appear to have gotten worse, with fewer people having health insurance this year than last.

A county-by-county map makes this even more clear:

Now that Indiana and Pennsylvania are on board with Medicaid expansion, it's very clear that the red states in the South  (and Missouri) that are under GOP rule are in real trouble. Arkansas is the lone holdout as GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson hasn't been able to kill it yet after inheriting it from his Democratic predecessor.

But you'd better believe that Matt Bevin will put Kentucky back into the nearly solid purple of the South if he wins in a few days.  He's gone from wanting to scrap it totally to considering Indiana's block grant expansion/private insurance hybrid mess, but that would still kick hundreds of thousands of people off Medicaid, and he still wants to scrap Kynect completely and force Kentucky to go to a federal exchange (again wasting millions of taxpayer dollars in the process).

It's a pretty clear choice on Tuesday, folks.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Last Call For A Capital Mistake

Hillary Clinton is in a rather lonely position on the death penalty among Democrats right now, and it's not a good place for her to be.

Hillary Rodham Clinton had planned to focus her remarks Wednesday at a Politics and Eggs breakfast in Manchester, N.H., in support of the politically fraught, if somewhat arcane, issue of the Export-Import Bank and how it helps small businesses in the United States. 
But a voter’s question about the death penalty pushed Mrs. Clinton to confront the heated issue for the first time in the Democratic nominating contest. 
Asked her position on capital punishment, Mrs. Clinton said she did not support abolishing the death penalty, but she did encourage the federal government to rethink it. 
“We have a lot of evidence now that the death penalty has been too frequently applied, and too often in a discriminatory way,” she said. “So I think we have to take a hard look at it.” 
Mrs. Clinton added, “I do not favor abolishing it, however, because I do think there are certain egregious cases that still deserve the consideration of the death penalty, but I’d like to see those be very limited and rare, as opposed to what we’ve seen in most states.”

O'Malley and Sanders wanting to correctly abolish capital punishment aside, someone really, really needs to tell Hillary's folks the ship on this has already sailed, thanks to President Obama last week.

Amid new scrutiny of American capital punishment practices, President Barack Obama said in an interview released Friday he was disturbed by the practical effects of the death penalty. 
While Obama said he wasn't opposed "in theory" to killing criminals convicted of heinous crimes, he said that data showing racial biases and wrongful convictions have prompted him to wonder whether the death penalty remains a legitimate tool. 
Obama was speaking to former New York Times editor Bill Keller, who now runs The Marshall Project, a news organization focused on criminal justice issues. 
"There are certain crimes that are so beyond the pale that I understand society's need to express its outrage," he said. "So I have not traditionally been opposed to the death penalty in theory. But in practice it's deeply troubling." 
Saying he's "struggled for quite some time" over the death penalty, Obama also said recent botched executions have led him to wonder whether the application of capital punishment is still legal.

"We know that in the application of the death penalty we've had recent cases, by any standard, it has not been swift and painless but rather gruesome and clumsy," he said. 
In the aftermath of one of those executions gone wrong -- an Oklahoma incident that left an accused murderer writhing and convulsing for several minutes -- Obama asked the Justice Department to conduct a review of death penalty practices.

The death penalty is barbaric and we need to abolish it.  President Obama publicly questioning the legality of it is a big, big move.  For Hillary to come along a week later and say that the death penalty is both legal and justified is a bad, bad look for her.  The Democrats have officially moved away from that, and "safe, legal and rare" isn't going to work here.  Right now it's none of those three.

I'm hoping that she'll change her mind on this going forward.

Meanwhile, In Arkham Asylum...

The train wreck that is the Republican presidential primary campaign has now gone from "the inmates running the asylum" to "the inmates forming their own even crazier asylum, now with Taco Tuesday."

Republican presidential campaigns are planning to gather in Washington, D.C., on Sunday evening to plot how to alter their party’s messy debate process — and how to remove power from the hands of the Republican National Committee.

Not invited to the meeting: Anyone from the RNC, which many candidates have openly criticized in the hours since Wednesday’s CNBC debate in Boulder, Colorado — a chaotic, disorganized affair that was widely panned by political observers.

On Thursday, many of the campaigns told POLITICO that the RNC, which has taken a greater role in the 2016 debate process than in previous election cycles, had failed to take their concerns into account. It was time, top aides to at least half a dozen of the candidates agreed, to begin discussing among themselves how the next debates should be structured and not leave it up to the RNC and television networks.

The gathering is being organized by advisers to the campaigns of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal and Lindsey Graham, according to multiple sources involved in the planning. Others who are expected to attend, organizers say, are representatives for Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Rick Santorum. The planners are also reaching out to other Republican candidates.

Spokespersons for the RNC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I think the campaigns have a number of concerns and they have a right to talk about that amongst themselves,” said Christian Ferry, Graham’s campaign manager. The objective, Ferry said, was to “find out what works best for us as a group.”

Figuring that out could be contentious as each campaign has a number of different complaints about the process. Some — such as Bush and Paul — have griped about unequal speaking time. Others have complained bitterly about how polling is used to determine who qualifies for the prime-time and undercard debates. Some have insisted on giving opening and closing statements, despite the networks' desire to have the candidates spend as much time as possible clashing with each other on stage.

I imagine the meeting will go something like this.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see what these jokers come up with, as the next debate is less than two weeks away on CNBC's rival channel FOX Business.

And the best part?  It just simply hasn't occurred to any of the Dunning-Kruger Clown Posse that the fact that this debate was a screaming disaster was that the CNBC hosts were asking the candidates real questions about economics, and none of them have an economic plan that isn't entirely based in Laffer Curve tax cut fantasy and the ugly reality of trying to sell massive austerity for 90% of America in order to loot the country for the top 1%.

That next debate is also supposed to be about economics, so don't be surprised if it devolves into a mess too.

Pissed Christie's Last Ride

The NY Times has had enough of New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie and is demanding that the Republican drop out of his "vanity" run for President and get back to dealing with all the problems awaiting him in Trenton.

Mr. Christie has been called a lot of things, but until Wednesday’s debate performance, “barely there” was not among them. In eight minutes of speaking time, Mr. Christie said little of substance. As for his parting pitch that he’s “deadly serious about changing this culture” of government, well, his constituents in New Jersey know better. 
This isn’t strictly about Mr. Christie’s fitness for the presidency. His role in New Jersey’s budget crisis, betrayal on affordable housingand the interlocking scandals on his watch, from Bridgegate to “the chairman’s flight,” say a great deal about that. 
The point is that New Jersey is in trouble, and the governor is off pursuing a presidential run that’s turned out to be nothing more than a vanity project. Mr. Christie’s numbers are in the basement, and he’s nearly out of campaign cash. This is his moment, all right: to go home and use the rest of his term to clean out the barn, as Speaker John Boehner would say
Mr. Christie emerged as a national politician because his constituents saw him as a leader who put New Jersey first. His state battered by Hurricane Sandy and his party riven by the Tea Party, he sought needed federal assistance, and if that meant embracing a Democratic president, so what. “So what?” was a positive Christie characteristic back then. One could disagree with his methods, but he managed to make his efforts on behalf of his state seem sincere. 
It must have been rough for those who re-elected him to see him hold forth Wednesday in a debate that centered on the national economy, when he’s been a net failure on the New Jersey economy. On his watch, one of the per-capita richest states in the nation has become one its biggest laggards in economic growth, its budget woes prompting an appalling series of credit downgrades. Mr. Christie’s promises, from fixing the state’s pensions shortfall to its infrastructure, have come to less than nothing. More galling still is that he was not the only such politician on the dais. Since when does shortchanging your home state — looking at you, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal — qualify a public servant to be president?

Two observations:  One, as I said years ago, Chris Christie would have to tilt too far to the right to be able to sell his record as a blue state Republican to 2016 GOP primary voters who hate him.  And two, given the record of the the Republican politicans who have wrecked their states: Perry, Walker, Christie, Jindal, Bush and Rubio, no wonder they are turning to Trump, Carson and Fiorina.  They haven't failed them yet.

Christie has run New Jersey into the ground and continues to face serious questions about using his office to damage his political opponents.  Of course he was never going to win, and he never had a chance.

Not that New Jersey is going to be glad to see him, but he owes the state his best effort to fix the problems he left behind when he ran for the White House.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Last Call For Ay, Carly! Con't.

Carly Fiorina spoke the most in last night's GOP debate trainwreck into the sun on CNBC, but while much as been made on her misleading attacks on Hillary Clinton, very few people noticed what Ian Millhiser picked up last night: Fiorina is an even better example than Trump of the dire consequences of the false "government must be run like a business" mentality that Republican corporatists espouse.

The minimum wage and Social Security are both unconstitutional, according to Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina — a view that puts her at odds with both longstanding precedents and the text of the Constitution. 
Fiorina revealed her unusual understanding of the nation’s founding text during Wednesday night’s Republican presidential candidates’ debate. In response to a question on whether the federal government should help workers set up retirement plans, Fiorina offered two sweeping declarations about what the nation’s leaders can and cannot do. “There is no Constitutional role for the federal government in setting up retirement plans. There is no Constitutional role for the federal government to be setting minimum wages,” according to the former corporate CEO.

Now Fiorina is held up as some sort of great moderate hope for the GOP that will atract women back to the GOP, but the reality is she admits that she thinks both the minimum wage and Social Security are unconstitutional, and nobody bothered to call her on this.  It's even more depressing when you take a look at her entire response in context to CNBC's Sharon Epperson.

EPPERSON: So you wouldn't agree -- you wouldn't agree with a start for 401(k) for businesses or anything like that? 
FIORINA: I think it's a wonderful that that businesses start a 401(k). The point I'm making is this, the Federal Government should not be in a lot of things. 
There is no Constitutional role for the Federal Government in setting up -- retirement plans. There is no Constitutional role for the Federal Government to be setting minimum wages... 
EPPERSON: Thank you very much. 
FIORINA: ... The more the Government gets engaged in the economy, the slower the economy becomes. The more the Government gets engaged in the economy, it is demonstrably true... 
EPPERSON: Thank you, the rules say one minute. 
FIORINA: ... The more the big, the powerful, the wealthy and the well-connected are advantaged. 
EPPERSON: Thank you, Ms. Fiorina. We appreciate it. Thank you, thank you.

Understand that the Fiorina perspective is that it's government regulation that is causing income inequality in America and not corporate greed, which is a bit like saying firefighters (those dastardly government employees that they are and all) are responsible for arsonists.  In fact, the whole "Democrats are socialists" thing gets advanced here to the rampant corruption of Soviet era government officials who exist only to empower oligarchs.

This would be funny if it wasn't primarily Republican lawmakers actually doing this, but Fiorina is arguing that government itself only exists to make the rich richer, and that efforts to stop that only make it worse.

It's arguably the nastiest arrow in the "GOP making sure government oversight can never work" quiver and it's the heart of her campaign.  But understand what Fiorina wants is a world where corporations rule the planet with her at the helm.

Dirty Deeds Done Relatively Expensively

In 2014, Republican Thom Tillis beat Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in North Carolina, helped in no small part by a flood of super-PAC commercials championing Tillis's leadership in the NC state Senate.  Now we find out that one single super-PAC donor gave $4.7 million dollars to help buy Tillis his seat, and we'll never know who that wealthy donor is who used that PAC to get around campaign finance limits.

A recent tax filing by Carolina Rising, a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, shows that in 2014 the group spent $4.7 million on ads that had one thing in common: touting the legislative accomplishments of Thom Tillis, who was then North Carolina’s speaker of the House. That year, Mr. Tillis also happened to be trying to unseat Kay Hagan, the incumbent Democratic senator. 
Carolina Rising spent the money in a three-month blitz leading up to Election Day, but we may never learn where these millions came from. The partial disclosure required of 501(c)(4) outfits means that while we do know that 98.7 percent of the group’s revenue came from a single donor and that virtually every penny of it was used to further the cause of Mr. Tillis’s campaign, we don’t know who Carolina Rising’s secret benefactor was
John Koskinen, the I.R.S. commissioner, is scheduled to testify today before the Senate Finance Committee at yet another hearing on the agency’s heightened scrutiny of certain politically active 501(c)(4) groups in 2010-12. But what we should really be paying attention to is the increasing use of dark money to influence our elections, and the rising number of groups that devote themselves to a single candidate (including several, already, in this cycle’s presidential campaign). Before the 2014 campaign, nonprofits like that didn’t exist.

This is what a post-Citizens United America means: a single donor can give unlimited money anonymously in order to influence elections, and we have to call it Constitutionally-protected free speech.

Still, groups like these are obliged to follow some basic rules: 501(c)(4) organizations are not supposed to spend a majority of their resources on political activity, a requirement that leads to impressive accounting and definitional acrobatics. More important, these groups are not supposed to function for the private benefit of an individual or a select group. 
Carolina Rising appears to have broken both rules. Within five months of being formed, and just three months before the general election, Carolina Rising kicked off an onslaught of television ads applauding Mr. Tillis for his work on education and health care in North Carolina. The ads never asked viewers to vote for Mr. Tillis. 
Perhaps this framing was meant to allow the group to claim that it was talking about issues, rather than supporting the candidate outright. But the firm buying the ads on behalf of Carolina Rising, Crossroads Media, repeatedly described the “issue” in its ads as some variation of being pro-Thom Tillis. In at least one contract, the stated issue was “supporting Thom Tillis, senatorial candidate for N.C. (R) - election on 11/4/14.” 
Dallas Woodhouse, the Republican consultant who ran Carolina Rising, did away with any further pretense when he was interviewed live by a local news channel at the Tillis campaign’s election-night victory celebration. Sporting a Thom Tillis hat, Mr. Woodhouse, who was named executive director of the state’s Republican Party last month, was asked about his group’s spending “a whole lot of money to get this man elected.” 
Mr. Woodhouse responded, “$4.7 million. We did it.” 
Yet less than a year later, when it came time for Carolina Rising to report its activities to the I.R.S., it said it had not engaged in “direct or indirect political campaign activities on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office.”

And this is why I have little hope about winning the House back anytime soon, and I'm very worried about retaking the Senate.  Republicans have billions to spend on congressional and state elections next year through these dark money groups that Democrats simply can't compete with, and the GOP will certainly continue to attack the IRS for doing its job to try to prevent these abuses.

Once the primaries for the states are settled, you can bet we'll see the full onslaught of the billions in dark money on the airwaves heading for November 2016, and I'm not at all sure if the Dems can weather the tide, or if we'll be drowned by it.

Should the GOP get full control of our government, it's over.

Stopped Clock Is Right Alert

Hey look, even Chuckles Krauthammer can be correct once in a century or so.

Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer on Tuesday dismissed House Republicans resolution to begin impeachment proceedings for IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, noting that none of the Republican investigations into the Obama administration have been successful. 
"This is not going to end well," he said on Fox's "Special Report." "Republicans in the Congress have shown that they have no ability to conduct successful investigations of this administration. Everything they have touched has failed or backfired, even Benghazi."

Krauthammer said that even though he thinks that House Republicans found "prima facie evidence" showing that Hillary Clinton made misleading statements about what sparked the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, the latest House hearing with Clinton was unsuccessful. 
"If you can't score on that, you're not going to score on this," he said. "This is a waste of energy."

I have to agree with Chuck on both points:  House Republicans have failed time and time again to score any real damage on the Democrats since 2010, because they're a bunch of morons. (We keep electing them though, so what does that say about us?)

Still, unless Koskinen is even more incompetent than the House GOP, he'll be fine, and after Benghazi, and with Planned Parenthood hearings coming next year, it's impossible for the House GOP to shake charges of political witch hunts heading into the 2016 elections.

Hell's bells, they actually might make a hero out of the damned IRS chief.  Imagine that.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Last Call For The First Meets The Second Meets The Tenth

Religious freedom meets the right to bear arms in a Pennsylvania case that could have big unintended consequences for states with religious freedom laws and states with background checks for firearms.

Lately, Americans have argued both about their right to bear arms and whether the free exercise of religion allows businesses and state officials to claim exemptions from requirements that conflict with their religious beliefs. It’s not everyday, however, that the two issues, guns and religion, wind up together in a single case.

In a suit that brings together the Second Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), an Amish man filed a federal lawsuit in Pennsylvania last week because he wants to buy a gun without the required photo ID — and because getting that photo ID would violate his religious beliefs.

Andrew Hertzler, according to the suit, is from Lancaster County, Pa., and is an “active and practicing” member of the community; his “parents, grandparents, and siblings are all active and practicing Amish”; and he “has a sincerely held religious belief that prevents him from knowingly and willingly having his photograph taken and stored.”

“The Amish faith prohibits an individual from having his/her photograph taken,” the suit read. “This belief stems from the Biblical passage Exodus 20:4, which mandates that ‘You shall not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth,’ as well as the Christian belief in humility.”

But Hertzler’s humility caused a problem when, in June, he tried to buy a gun from a Pennsylvania dealer “using a non-photo, state-issued identification.” This wasn’t enough, according to the dealer — Hertzler was told he needed a picture ID.

This case would almost have to go to the Supreme Court, and what the Roberts Court could decide may have very big consequences for states that require photo IDs for firearms background checks (and voting), the limits of religious freedoms, and states being able to set their own laws and which one takes precedence.

The First vs the Second vs the Tenth?  Yeah, this one's heading for SCOTUS for sure over the next several years.

Worst Kasich Scenario, Con't

John Kasich's clock is almost up on his presidential aspirations, so he's trying to break through ahead of tonight's debate by playing the angry dad in the room full of children.

"Do you know how crazy this election is?" he shouted during a pre-debate rally in Ohio on Tuesday. "Let me tell you something. I've about had it with these people. Let me tell you why. We got one candidate that says we ought to abolish Medicaid and Medicare. You ever heard anything so crazy as that, telling our people in this country who are seniors or about to be seniors that we're going to abolish Medicaid or Medicare," Kasich continued, referencing Ben Carson who has changed his opinion on the matter seemingly overnight.

"We got one guy that says we ought to take 10 or 11 million people and pick them up, where the—I don't know where, we're going to go in their homes, their apartments. We're going to pick them up and we're going to take them to the border and scream at them to get out of our country," Kasich said in an obvious dig at frontrunner Donald Trump. "Well that's just crazy. That is just crazy." 
"We got one candidate that claimed, one candidate that actually said that the reason why we signed an agreement with Ford to bring jobs back from Mexico is because he's been yelling for the last week ok," Kasich said again referencing Trump to uproarious laughter. "That was like something out of a Back to the Future movie."

Kasich's communications director Chris Schrimpf told The Daily Beast "Part of being President is speaking the truth to the American people. That's what Governor Kasich did today."

Kasich is trying to play to the sane Republicans, and while there are sane voters left in the GOP ranks, let's not be fooled for a second by Kasich pretending to be a nice guy here.  Maybe he doesn't want to get rid of Medicare or Medicaid like Carson, and he doesn't want to forcibly deport 11 million like Trump, but he does want to end abortion (and has already closed two-thirds of Ohio abortion clinics with TRAP laws) and is still gunning for a federal balanced budget amendment, which would require massive austerity cuts across the board.

Let's not forget either that Kasich was the guy behind the Contract With America budget, as Digby points out.

In April 1995, Budget Committee chairman John Kasich (R-Ohio) muscled through the House of Representatives the Contract with America budget plan. It was a towering achievement by Washington standards. Three cabinet departments--Commerce, Education, and Energy--were to be eliminated. Hundreds of small government programs and several large ones--from the National Endowment for the Arts, to mass transit grants, to the federal helium reserve, to the peanut subsidy program--were to be canceled. In short, it would have dramatically halted the government's fiscal expansion of the past 40 years.

The only difference between Kasich and the Trump/Carson wing of the GOP is that Kasich has the benefit of experience and is hiding his massive austerity cuts under the "balanced budget amendment" farce.

In a lot of way, he'd be worse than Carson or Trump ever would be as President, because unlike those two, Kasich knows how the game is played.

Marco Thinks You're A Rube-io, Con't

The Orlando Sun-Sentinel editorial board did not take kindly to this week's story on GOP Sen. Marco Rubio hating his job and is now openly calling for Rubio's resignation from the Senate.

Rubio has missed more votes than any other senator this year. His seat is regularly empty for floor votes, committee meetings and intelligence briefings. He says he's MIA from his J-O-B because he finds it frustrating and wants to be president, instead. 
"I'm not missing votes because I'm on vacation," he told CNN on Sunday. "I'm running for president so that the votes they take in the Senate are actually meaningful again." 
Sorry, senator, but Floridians sent you to Washington to do a job. We've got serious problems with clogged highways, eroding beaches, flat Social Security checks and people who want to shut down the government.

If you hate your job, senator, follow the honorable lead of House Speaker John Boehner and resign it
Let us elect someone who wants to be there and earn an honest dollar for an honest day's work. Don't leave us without one of our two representatives in the Senate for the next 15 months or so. 
You are paid $174,000 per year to represent us, to fight for us, to solve our problems. Plus you take a $10,000 federal subsidy — declined by some in the Senate — to participate in one of the Obamacare health plans, though you are a big critic of Obamacare. 
You are ripping us off, senator.


Doesn't get much worse for Rubio at this point, does it?

Well, except when he drops out of the race and fades into obscurity.  I'm sure he'll be back at some point to plague the state again as Governor or something, but man, his 2016 presidential aspirations are kinda done.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Last Call For It's About Game Journalism

Reminder: you are not allowed to publicly discuss harassment culture in the gaming community.  At all.  Ever. The consequences are brutal.

SXSW Interactive, the annual technology event in Austin, Tex., decided on Monday to cancel two panel discussions on game culture that prompted threats of violence against the conference. 
In a blog post, Hugh Forrest, director of SXSW Interactive, said that the event organizers made the decision to cancel the two sessions after receiving “numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming” in the week since the panels were announced. 
The panels that were scheduled for the conference, which is being held next March, were titled “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games.” Both appear to have been dedicated to exploring different sides of an issue that has polarized the gaming community since last year, when an online movement known by the Twitter hashtag #GamerGate first formed. 
GamerGate supporters have railed against what they view as politically correct critics of games and their allies in the press. Some people who have attacked games for sexism, including Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist culture critic, have been the targets of online harassment and have had to cancel speaking engagements because of threats at the events. 
Neither of the listings for the panels at SXSW explicitly mention GamerGate. The description for the “Level Up” panel said that it would include “experts on online harassment in gaming and geek culture, how to combat it, how to design against it, and how to create online communities that are moving away from harassment.” 
The “SavePoint” panel, meanwhile, was to “focus heavily on discussions regarding the current social/political landscape in the gaming community, the journalistic integrity of gaming’s journalists, and the ever-changing gaming community, video game development, and their future.”

Seems like a great time to mention that BuzzFeed has pulled out of SXSW in response to the event giving in to GamerGate.  But that's the point, of course, to make ever questioning the supremacy of male gamers on the internet so unendingly toxic that anyone who deviates from the "hot games, hot guns and hot girls" script gets crushed.

Close Your Eyes, Marion!

Well, as if I needed yet another reason never to set foot in a Hobby Lobby store, there's this story from the Daily Beast.

In 2011, a shipment of somewhere between 200 to 300 small clay tablets on their way to Oklahoma City from Israel was seized by U.S. Customs agents in Memphis. The tablets were inscribed in cuneiform—the script of ancient Assyria and Babylonia, present-day Iraq—and were thousands of years old. Their destination was the compound of the Hobby Lobby corporation, which became famous last year for winning a landmark Supreme Court case on religious freedom and government mandates. A senior law enforcement source with extensive knowledge of antiquities smuggling confirmed that these ancient artifacts had been purchased and were being imported by the deeply-religious owners of the crafting giant, the Green family of Oklahoma City. For the last four years, law enforcement sources tell The Daily Beast, the Greens have been under federal investigation for the illicit importation of cultural heritage from Iraq
These tablets, like the other 40,000 or so ancient artifacts owned by the Green family, were destined for the Museum of the Bible, the giant new museum funded by the Greens, slated to open in Washington, D.C., in 2017. Both the seizure of the cuneiform tablets and the subsequent federal investigation were confirmed to us by Cary Summers, the president of the Museum of the Bible. 
From its founding in 1970, the Greens’ Hobby Lobby chain has been more than simply a suite of craft stores. The Greens have used it as a model of a business run on Christian values. Stores are closed on Sundays in order to give employees time to attend church. The company employs four chaplains, and offered a free health clinic to staff at its headquarters long before free health care came into political vogue. The Greens have also used the Hobby Lobby platform to spread their Christian message far and wide: The company annually places full-page ads celebrating—in their words— “the real meaning of Christmas, Easter, and Independence Day” in newspapers across the country. 
But the Greens went from evangelical players to bona fide Christian celebrities in June of 2014 when they won a Supreme Court case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. It granted them exemption from the Obamacare mandate to provide certain forms of contraception to their employees; forcing the company to do so, the Supreme Court ruled, would have violated the Greens’ deeply-held Christian beliefs. 
If the investigation ends with a decision to prosecute, on either criminal or civil charges, the Greens may be forced to forfeit the tablets to the government. There may also be a fine involved. The Green family, who successfully forced the federal government to legally recognize their personal moral standards, now find themselves on the other side of the docket, under suspicion of having attempted to contravene U.S. laws.

The abhorrent practice of looting antiquities aside (and all the Raiders of the Lost Ark jokes too) should the FBI actually go after the Green family, the Republican party will go absolutely bonkers over this.  The outrage may in fact melt through the floor and destroy the inner core of the Earth. Drudge will have "Obama's jackbooted thugs persecute Christians over Obamacare" headlines daily through the November 2016 election.  I actually expect the GOP Congress to convene hearings in order to interfere with an ongoing FBI case.

So yeah, close your eyes on this one, or you might end up like the bad guys in Raiders.

Orange Julius Plays Let's Make A Deal

The Tea Party loses again when it comes to the tentative budget deal worked out over the weekend, and it looks like Orange Julius is giving President Obama everything he wanted as he exists, stage left.

GOP leaders from both ends of the Capitol met privately with their rank-and-file Monday evening to outline the general contours of the emerging agreement between Congress and the White House. It would boost defense and domestic spending over the next two years, and lift the nation’s debt limit through March 2017 — thereby eliminating the twin threats of a government shutdown and a debt default until after the November 2016 elections.

But conservative lawmakers, eager to keep the strict spending caps from a 2011 budget agreement intact, were very skeptical of the deal after they emerged from close-door briefings with their leaders on Monday night.

Asked about the tentative agreement after the briefing, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions replied: “My knees quiver at the sound.”

In an interview, Sessions expressed frustration that outgoing Speaker John Boehner was hammering out the deal just days before he plans to give up the gavel for good. “What does Boehner got to do with it?” said an exasperated Sessions, the former top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. “I’m worried about how fast it’s moving. I see no reason for that. Based on what I know now, it appears the president got whatever he wanted.”

Suckers.  You lose again.  And you always will...and it prevents major cuts to Social Security in the future.

Not only will the increased spending levels make for heartburn with conservatives, but many of the offsets touch on political hot buttons.

Those pay-fors include a repeal of a piece of Obamacare, according to congressional sources. It would repeal Obamacare’s requirement that large employers automatically enroll employees in their health plans. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that a different bill to repeal that provision would save the federal government $7.9 billion over a decade.

The plan would also prevent a 20 percent across-the-board benefit cut to the Social Security Disability Insurance program, resulting in $168 billion in long-term savings. The tentative deal would also be paid for by extending the Medicare sequester that was approved in the Budget Control Act for another year and setting up additional cuts to hospitals.

The tentative agreement would also impose policy changes to disability insurance, tax compliance, crop insurance, spectrum and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Lawmakers and aides cautioned that the negotiations were not completed, and some details could change before details are made public — likely by later Monday night.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas dryly acknowledged: “I don’t think you’ll hear anybody popping any champagne corks.”

Indeed, conservatives across the country have been watching for months to see how GOP leaders handle the spending caps that many on the right view as a major victory. Many conservatives are likely to interpret the budget deal, even with some new spending paid for with cuts and new revenues, as a retreat from the blunt spending restrictions of the Budget Control Act that was enacted into law in 2011.

So yes, a big reversal of sequestration cuts that have been hurting the economy for years now.  No wonder the Republicans are furious.

Will the deal pass?  We'll find out.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Last Call For Marco Thinks You're A Rube-io

You guys, GOP Sen. Marco Rubio is in fact really, really tired of being a Senator and wants America to hurry up and make him President already.

Marco Rubio is a U.S. senator. And he just can’t stand it anymore. 
“I don’t know that ‘hate’ is the right word,” Rubio said in an interview. “I’m frustrated.” 
This year, as Rubio runs for president, he has cast the Senate — the very place that cemented him as a national politician — as a place he’s given up on, after less than one term. It’s too slow. Too rule-bound. So Rubio, 44, has decided not to run for his seat again. It’s the White House or bust. 
“That’s why I’m missing votes. Because I am leaving the Senate. I am not running for reelection,” Rubio said in the last Republican debate, after Donald Trump had mocked him for his unusual number of absences during Senate votes.

They keep telling me the smart money is on the Republican Savior(tm).

Five years ago, Rubio arrived with a potential that thrilled Republicans. He was young, ambitious, charismatic, fluent in English and Spanish, and beloved by the establishment and the tea party.
But Rubio had arrived at one of the least ambitious moments in Senate history and saw many of his ideas fizzle. Democrats killed his debt-cutting plans. Republicans killed his immigration reform. The two parties actually came together to kill his AGREE Act, a small-bore, hands-across-the-aisle bill that Rubio had designed just to get a win on something. 
Now, he’s done. “He hates it,” a longtime friend from Florida said, speaking anonymously to say what Rubio would not. 
Which makes for an odd campaign message.

Nothing odd about it.  Given the number of times Republicans have described Obama as "petulant" and/or "arrogant" you would think it was a required presidential trait.  Rubio's just getting there early. See, presidential material!

Besides, since when do Florida Tea Party types actually want Rubio to be doing anything in Senate? I thought the whole deal was to make sure nothing got done. He's done a super job of that.

Don't worry, Rubio will just spin his missing huge numbers of votes as  "I gave up on Washington!" and run as an outsider.  It'll fool some of the GOP, too.

The Carson Show, Con't

Of course Ben Carson wants to eliminate abortion nationwide.  What kind of candidate did you think he was going to be?

Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson said he would "love" to see Roe vs. Wade overturned, making abortion illegal nationwide, with almost no exemptions.

"I'm a reasonable person and if people can come up with a reasonable explanation of why they would like to kill a baby, I'll listen," Carson said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

While the Republican candidate said he opposes abortions for unwanted pregnancies and in cases of rape and incest, the retired neurosurgeon told moderator Chuck Todd he might be open to allowing abortions to preserve the life and health of the mother.

"That's an extraordinarily rare situation," Carson said. "But if in that very rare situation it occurred, I believe there's room to discuss that."

On "Meet the Press," the soft-spoken candidate said his past controversial comments have become flash points because they resonate with "people who aren't really thinking deeply."

Carson was asked how he would respond if he became the GOP nominee and those contentions remarks are used to attack him. His response: "As people get to know me, they know that I'm not a hateful, pathological person like some people try to make me out to be. And that will be self-evident. So I don't really worry about that."

So, we know Carson is anti-gay, anti-Muslim, and his "reasonable" stance on abortion is maybe, maybe allowing discussion of having the procedure if and only if the health of the mother is at risk.  Oh, and if you think that's controversial, it's because you're not a "very deep" thinker.  That's "self-evident".  But at least he "probably" would raise the debt ceiling rather than default!

Of course, there's no difference between him and Clinton/Sanders, say the people who convinced you not to vote in 2014, leaving a ready GOP Congress to eliminate the filibuster and pass laws like this.

And should he end up the candidate, well, he'll get 60 million votes in the general, easily.  Even Romney got that, and the Republicans hated him.  They hated Obama more though, and they will be out to vote.

If we don't, like Tom Hilton said, All dark. Forever.

The Master Debaters, Kentucky Edition

The second-to-last debate before next week's Kentucky gubernatorial election took place Sunday night, and it's very clear that Democratic AG Jack Conway and Republican Matt Bevin really, really hate each other.

The first question the candidates tackled was what to do with the expansion of Medicaid. The candidates were asked what adjustments they would make, and asked specifically how many people would be enrolled next year when they take office. 
Conway said he would continue Kentucky's expanded Medicaid program. He said the more than 400,000 people who "are enrolled now, will be enrolled in the future." 
He said we can actually make it work, adding that Kynect, which has received praise on the national level, is a "a shinning example" for others. Conway also said that people will get off medicaid when they have better jobs and he won’t "kick people off" like Bevin.
“To kick them off now would be callus,” Conway said. 
Bevin immediately defended his campaign's position and said "these things are lies."
"I’ve never said I’d kick people off," he said. 
Bevin said there is a need for healthcare, but it was "faulty" to make a promise to somebody when "we we don’t have the ability to pay for it." 
Bevin said he would scale back the expansion of the state's Medicaid program because the state cannot afford to continue paying for the health insurance of a quarter of the state's population. 
Conway said Bevin was caught on camera saying he would reverse Governor Steve Beshear's actions to expand Medicaid. 
"That videocamera caught you at the start of your campaign," he said. "When asked about Steve Beshear's executive order to expand Medicaid. You said 'absolutely, no question about it, I would reverse that immediately.' Now you owe the people an explanation how's that not going to kick nearly half a million people off their healthcare?"

Bevin of course didn't have an answer, which is why he's losing.  Kentucky is one of the few states where, with a 92% white population and Bevin complaining about "a quarter" of the state on Medicaid, blaming those people doesn't exactly work very well.  Bevin really did say he wanted to reverse the Medicaid expansion flat-out, and just about everyone here in Kentucky knows somebody who has been helped by Kynect.

If he had began his argument with the usual "well, some people who are on Medicaid don't deserve it" fraud/drug testing dog whistle he would have been in much better shape, frankly.  But speaking of drugs, Bevin turned around and said he'd leagalize medical marijuana, where Jack Conway said he wouldn't because gateway drug (sigh, 1984's DARE program called Jack, they want their jargon back.)

But where both candidates had little difference?  King Coal.

Bevin said he would fight for coal. He said Kentucky needs to be more involved in efforts everywhere to mine coal. As governor, he said, that he would be a champion for coal. 
Conway noted that he worked under Kentucky Governor Paul E. Patton, who operated coal mines for decades, and also noted that he was among those who sued the EPA, vowing to "continue fighting against EPA rulemaking that harms Kentucky coal production and electricity rates." 
"Of the two candidates standing on stage tonight, I am the only one who has ever done anything for coal," Conway said.

Indeed, as Attorney General, Jack Conway is helping Mitch the Turtle by suing the EPA along with 23 other states to stop the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan.  He's real proud of that, and you'd better believe neither candidate will cooperate with the EPA directives on coal for any reason: it's immediate political suicide here.

Still voting for Conway, however.  Either way it's going to be a close race, and a lot of it depends on who independent candidate and Fark creator Drew Curtis can hurt more.  Curtis is hovering around 6-8% in the polls and his support seems to be coming from Bevin.  If that holds true next week, Conway can pull out a narrow victory.

Somebody's going to win 48-44% with Curtis getting 7% or so, I just couldn't tell you if it's going to be Conway or Bevin on top.

The final debate is on KET's Kentucky Tonight program at 8, so if you get a chance, watch it.  I'll be live-tweeting it tonight and I'll have a wrap-up tomorrow.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Just Do What The Officer Says

The NY Times takes a look at traffic stops in North Carolina and finds -- surprise! -- police pull over black drivers far more often even when the rates of finding something illegal are higher with white drivers.

Documenting racial profiling in police work is devilishly difficult, because a multitude of factors — including elevated violent crime rates in many black neighborhoods — makes it hard to tease out evidence of bias from other influences. But an analysis by The New York Times of tens of thousands of traffic stops and years of arrest data in this racially mixed city of 280,000 uncovered wide racial differences in measure after measure of police conduct.

Those same disparities were found across North Carolina, the state that collects the most detailed data on traffic stops. And at least some of them showed up in the six other states that collect comprehensive traffic-stop statistics.

Here in North Carolina’s third-largest city, officers pulled over African-American drivers for traffic violations at a rate far out of proportion with their share of the local driving population. They used their discretion to search black drivers or their cars more than twice as often as white motorists — even though they found drugs and weapons significantly more often when the driver was white.

Officers were more likely to stop black drivers for no discernible reason. And they were more likely to use force if the driver was black, even when they did not encounter physical resistance.
We know this happens, but finding evidence of this time and time again, in city after city, county after county, state after state, just makes it clear that this is systemic, national racism that will require a national fix to resolve.

In Greensboro, which is 41 percent black, traffic stops help feed the stream of minor charges that draw a mostly African-American crowd of defendants to the county courthouse on weekday mornings. National surveys show that blacks and whites use marijuana at virtually the same rate, but black residents here are charged with the sole offense of possession of minor amounts of marijuana five times as often as white residents are.

And more than four times as many blacks as whites are arrested on the sole charge of resisting, obstructing or delaying an officer, an offense so borderline that some North Carolina police chiefs discourage its use unless more serious crimes are also involved.

This has been a problem for years now, but now that it has national attention, it's starting to get noticed.  That's a start, and some cities and states are making changes, but again this is nationwide, any real solutions must also be national.

Failing The Test

In what has to be considered a staggering about-face, the Obama administration now admits the testing uber alles regime of Common Core has gone too far, and that schools need to take a step back and start to limit tests.

Faced with mounting and bipartisan opposition to increased and often high-stakes testing in the nation’s public schools, the Obama administration declared Saturday that the push had gone too far, acknowledged its own role in the proliferation of tests, and urged schools to step back and make exams less onerous and more purposeful.

Specifically, the administration called for a cap on assessment so that no child would spend more than 2 percent of classroom instruction time taking tests. It called on Congress to “reduce over-testing” as it reauthorizes the federal legislation governing the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools.

“I still have no question that we need to check at least once a year to make sure our kids are on track or identify areas where they need support,” said Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, who has announced that he will leave office in December. “But I can’t tell you how many conversations I’m in with educators who are understandably stressed and concerned about an overemphasis on testing in some places and how much time testing and test prep are taking from instruction.”

“It’s important that we’re all honest with ourselves,” he continued. “At the federal, state and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation. We can and will work with states, districts and educators to help solve it.”

Teachers’ unions, which had led the opposition on the left to the amount of testing, declared the reversal of sorts a victory. “Parents, students, educators, your voice matters and was heard,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

And even some proponents of newer, tougher tests said they appreciated the administration’s acknowledgment that it had helped create the problem, saying it did particular damage by encouraging states to evaluate teachers in part on test scores.

But the administration’s so-called “testing action plan” — which guides school districts but does not have the force of law — also risks creating new uncertainty on the role of tests in America’s schools. Many teachers have felt whiplash as they rushed to rewrite curriculum based on new standards and new assessments, only to have politicians in many states pull back because of political pressure.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has for years promised that Common Core standards and rigorous testing were the keys to making American public schools more accountable and students more prepared to face the 21st century, and more importantly close the gap between successful exurban white schools and crumbling inner city black and Hispanic schools.

The admission that testing needs to be dialed back is all but indicating that the 20-year effort to fix our schools has all but failed completely.  Common Core has been the worst of both worlds: declaring that teachers and schools should be commercialized and profitized, and then purposefully abandoning the students who needed the most help in the poorest schools in the country.

We've decided over the last two decades that an education only goes to those who deserve it by dint of class, to lavishly fund those schools for the rich and leave the rest to fight over the scraps, to create winners and losers in school almost from birth.

Only now have we realized that we created a monster instead.

Sunday Long Read: Bad Romance

Very little good ever comes from a doctor-patient relationship that turns into something far more unethical.  But when the doctor is a renowned ethics professor at Rutgers and the patient is severely mentally disabled, the fallout can be catastrophic. The line between being the guiding light to help a man trapped by cerebral palsy and taking advantage to the point of sexual assault didn't just get crossed here, but shattered.

Anna didn’t want to keep her feelings secret. As far as she knew, neither did D.J. In recent weeks, their relationship had changed, and it wasn’t clear when or how to share the news. ‘‘It’s your call,’’ she said to him in the lead-up to a meeting with his mother and older brother. ‘‘It’s your family. It’s up to you.’’

When she arrived at the house on Memorial Day in 2011, Anna didn’t know what D.J. planned to do. His brother, Wesley, was working in the garden, so she went straight inside to speak with D.J. and his mother, P. They chatted for a while at the dining table about D.J.’s plans for school and for getting his own apartment. Then there was a lull in the conversation after Wesley came back in, and Anna took hold of D.J.’s hand. ‘‘We have something to tell you,’’ they announced at last. ‘‘We’re in love.’’

‘‘What do you mean, in love?’’ P. asked, the color draining from her face.

To Wesley, she looked pale and weak, like ‘‘Caesar when he found out that Brutus betrayed him.’’ He felt sick to his stomach. What made them so uncomfortable was not that Anna was 41 and D.J. was 30, or that Anna is white and D.J. is black, or even that Anna was married with two children while D.J. had never dated anyone. What made them so upset — what led to all the arguing that followed, and the criminal trial and million-­dollar civil suit — was the fact that Anna can speak and D.J. can’t; that she was a tenured professor of ethics at Rutgers University in Newark and D.J. has been declared by the state to have the mental capacity of a toddler.

Anna does not agree with this assessment. She does not deny (as no one could) that D.J. is impaired: His cerebral palsy leaves him prone to muscle spasms in his face, his neck, his torso and his arms and hands. She acknowledges that it’s hard for him to stay in one position, that muscle contractions sometimes twist his spine and clench his fingers in a useless ball. It’s clear to her, as it is to everyone, that he has trouble making eye contact and keeping objects fixed in view. She knows that he wears diapers and cannot dress himself; that he can walk only if someone steadies him; and that otherwise he gets around by scooting on the floor. She knows that D.J. screams when he’s unhappy and chirps when he’s excited, but that he can’t control his vocal cords. Anna understands that even now, at 35, D.J. has never said a word.

But she takes issue with the other half of D.J.’s diagnosis: that he’s not just spastic but has a very low I.Q. In 2004, five years before Anna met him, a clinical psychologist named Wayne Tillman, who consults for New Jersey’s Bureau of Guardianship Services, assessed D.J. and found that his impairments precluded any formal testing of intelligence, but that certain facts could be inferred: ‘‘His comprehension seemed to be quite limited,’’ ‘‘his attention span was very short’’ and he ‘‘lacks the cognitive capacity to understand and participate in decisions.’’ D.J. could not even carry out basic, preschool-­level tasks. A few months later, a court made P. and Wesley his legal guardians.

From the time she met D.J., Anna thought Tillman had it wrong. D.J. might be unable to speak or hold a pencil, but those are motor skills, not mental ones, and their absence didn’t mean his mind was blank. What if D.J. had a private chamber in his head, a place where grown-up thoughts were trapped behind his palsy? Then, of course, he would fail the standard tests of his I.Q. — tests made for people who can answer questions verbally or read and write. What D.J. needed was another way to share his deep intelligence.

At the request of D.J.’s family, Anna began to work with him, using a controversial method known as ‘‘facilitated communication.’’ Starting with her hand beneath his elbow, she helped him point at pictures, and then at letters, and eventually at the buttons of a Neo, a hand-held keyboard with a built-in screen. With his hand in hers, she helped him type out words after 30 years of silence.

Wesley and his mother had been thrilled with D.J.’s progress, but now, suddenly, they recoiled. (Neither D.J.’s family nor Anna agreed to be interviewed for this article; all their quotes and recollections are drawn from court records and testimony. P. and Wesley are referred to by a middle initial and a middle name to shield D.J.’s identity, which has not been publicly revealed.) When Wesley told Anna he thought she had taken advantage of his brother, she could not muster a response. At last, with her help, D.J. began typing: ‘‘No one’s been taken advantage of. I’ve been trying to seduce Anna for years, and she resisted valiantly.’’ Then he typed another message, meant for Anna: ‘‘Kiss me.’’ Wesley walked out.

Later, after he told Anna that she wasn’t to see his brother anymore, she tried to plead her case by phone: ‘‘I will put in writing, prick my finger and sign with blood — whatever makes you reassured that this is for real,’’ she promised in a voice mail message. ‘‘I will leave my husband, and I will make a permanent life and home with [D.J.].’’

This one is pretty long, and worth the read.  It's the most human of dramas to boot.  How far does someone go in order to try to heal someone that society has given up on, and when does that turn into shocking levels of abuse and manipulation?

When does love cause farm more harm than good?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Last Call For The Nothing

Over at Steve's place, Tom Hilton wonder aloud if the breakdown in GOP "governance" was the plan all along.

Less than two weeks before we hit the debt ceiling, there's no clear pathto raising it. And as hilarious as Paul Ryan's fail may be, it just makes things that much more difficult, since he'll be as much a hostage to the Freedom Caucus as Boehner was. Maybe someone can see how this plays out without a default, but I can't.

And if there is a default, it won't be the Republicans who get punished. Sure, they'll get some bad press for a while. There'll be scolding editorials, maybe even calls from constituents. And...not much more.

But the longer-term economic consequences--we know who'll pay for that. If default throws us into a recession, if we're in a recession a year from now, the weakest Republican will beat the strongest Democrat. The GOP will strengthen their hold on Congress, and finally take the White House. At which point it's game over. All Dark. Forever.

And the Republicans incompetence or deliberate sabotage (likely both) will end up achieving what a billion dollars of Koch money couldn't.

That's my recurring nightmare. Someone, anyone, tell me I'm wrong about this. Please.

I wish I could Tom, but right now the health of our economy is 100% dependent on Paul Ryan and the notion that not even the Republicans are willing to destroy the economy to win in 2016. And Tom's right: Obama is president, and the Democrats will be blamed for an economic meltdown next year brought on by a debt default the way Bush was in 2008.  I'm still convinced that Obama would have lost handily in 2008 if the economy had held on for McCain for just two more months rather than coming unraveled in September, six weeks before the election.  In 48 hours, McCain had lost the election he should have easily won.

So no Tom, I can't talk you down. I'd ask "Are you willing to be America on that?"  But that's a pointless question.

We already have.  Better hope Paul Ryan can control the lunatics, or America is done.

Jeb Comes To Jesus

It looks like Bush, Inc. is making some frank decisions about the candidacy of Jeb, and the big guns are coming out to try to save him.

Jeb Bush will attend a finance meeting this weekend in Houston convened by former President George H. W. Bush and attended by Bush's brother, former President George W. Bush, CBS News has learned.

The session, designed to assess where Bush's candidacy stands in the face of large-scale staff cutbacks and underwhelming poll numbers, will also be attended by Bush's mother, Barbara Bush. The governor's campaign confirmed the meeting will be held Sunday and Monday.

CBS News has also learned George W. Bush will headline a fundraiser for Jeb Bush in Georgetown (Washington, DC) on Oct. 29. The fundraising email, which went out earlier this week, was sent by George W. Bush's two former chiefs of staff, Andy Card and Josh Bolten. Jeb Bush will not attend the fund-raiser.

The email, sent to Bush-Cheney alumni, praised Bush's "extraordinary record of accomplishment and conservative innovation" and said that George W. Bush "looks forward to seeing his old friends at this event and to sharing his enthusiasm for Jeb's candidacy." Bolten and Card suggested that for those who can't make the event, there would be "other opportunities around the country," and the email closed, "Your help today will help position Jeb for a successful outcome."

The event underscores the need for the former Florida governor to lean on his brother's fund-raising prowess to aid his struggling campaign.

Don Poppy, Barbara and Dubya are making it clear that playtime is over and the "real adults" are in charge of Jeb's campaign now.  He's blowing it, and the operatives are now taking over the reins. Their first act is getting the rabble back in line and that line is "Jeb will be the nominee and next President" and all the weight of the Bush network is being brought to bear.

We'll see just how much power the Bush crime family has left these days.  It's still considerable, but enough to counter the rage of the Tea Party and the rise of Trump/Carson as clear front-runners?

I don't know about that one.  But I'm still not convinced Jeb's done.  There's still tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, and that will keep him in the race through at least the early primary states.

After that though, who knows.

Like A Kansas Tornado, Con't

The Great Brownback Austerity Regime rolls on in Kansas, crushing everyone in its path, and state Republicans are starting to get nervous about all the cuts.  After all, they'll still have to face voters in 2016, unlike Brownback.

A Republican state senator in Kansas has blasted a memo from a spokeswoman for Gov. Sam Brownback that claimed expanding Medicaid in the state would be “morally reprehensible.” 
The newsletter, from GOP state Sen. Jeff King, provides further evidence that at least some Kansas Republicans are stepping away from the governor’s office, on issues from tax reform to Medicaid expansion. 
King — the vice president of the state Senate — represents the district that includes the now-closed hospital in Independence, Kan. His release takes aim at a memo from Melika Willoughby, the governor’s deputy communications director, that sharply criticized the idea of expanding Medicaid in the state. 
Willoughby called that expansion “morally reprehensible.” 
King denounced her claim. “I refuse to make moral judgments based on a person’s view of Medicaid expansion,” he writes in the newsletter. “I wish Ms. Willoughby would have done the same. 
“Maybe if her hospital were closing. Maybe if her parents were wondering where to go for emergency care. Maybe if she faced uncertainty in her health care future, she would view those looking for health care answers in a little less judgmental light. I leave that for her to sleep on at night,” he added.

Don't feel too bad for state Sen. King here, because he doesn't actually want Medicaid expansion either. Rather, his solution of course is to replace Medicaid with a "private insurance" program, where Kansas takes the Feds' money and then does everything but provide health insurance with it.

King says he supports expanding Medicaid, but through a private insurer.

“Our health care system failed Independence and it is failing tens of thousands of hardworking Kansans,” the letter says. “I don’t have all of the answers, but saying no to everything isn’t an option. I look forward to exploring the benefits of a conservative, Kansas-focused Medicaid expansion based on private insurance.

“Maybe, after we weigh our options and the costs of doing nothing, Ms. Willoughby will be less hasty to morally condemn those trying to solve our state’s toughest problems.”

But then again, Brownback is so hated that this fake Medicaid expansion looks great in comparison. That's how the game works, kids.

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The Great Texas Uterus Roundup Of '15

Meanwhile, in "Republicans champion smaller, unobtrusive government that respects privacy rights" news, Texas Republicans are actually happy to use political power to target and destroy people who don't agree with them as the GOP War on Women becomes literal.

Texas sent agents to Planned Parenthood facilities on Thursday seeking documents, the group said, calling it a "politically motivated" move that comes on the heels of the state's Republican leaders barring it from receiving Medicaid money. 
Members of the Texas Office of the Inspector General made unannounced visits at Planned Parenthood health centers in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, staying in some cases for several hours and giving Planned Parenthood 24 hours to deliver thousands of pages of documents stored at its facilities across the state, the organization said. 
The Inspector General Office declined to comment, as did health officials. Inspector General agents were seen on local news reports entering a Planned Parenthood facility in San Antonio.
Texas, the most populous Republican-controlled U.S. state, said it would launch a probe of Planned Parenthood after the release of videos in July by anti-abortion activist group Center for Medical Progress in which a Planned Parenthood official is seen talking about transactions involving fetal tissue. 
“We believe this is a fishing expedition," Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region Chief Executive Officer Ken Lambrecht told a news conference in Austin, calling the request "politically motivated." 
Lambrecht said Texas had requested what Planned Parenthood sees as unnecessary information such as the home addresses of all its employees as well as their salaries and bonuses.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said this week: "The gruesome harvesting of baby body parts by Planned Parenthood will not be allowed." But the state has so far released no evidence of illegal activity by the group.

If this had been a raid by California or New York state agencies on an NRA office, Republicans would be announcing congressional hearings and subpoenas before the end of the month.  But Texas going after Planned Parenthood and raiding their offices, taking personal information of employees to use against them later, to scare them out of business?  Those abuses of power are exactly why Republicans want to be in office.

They are exactly who we know they are to be.
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