Sunday, January 31, 2016

Last Call For Going Backwards

Oh, one last thing for the night:  Turns out Trump wants to appoint Supreme Court justices specifically to overturn Obergfell v Hodges and eliminate same-sex marriage.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Sunday that he disagrees with the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage and hopes that it could be changed in the future.

"It has been ruled upon. It has been there. If I’m elected I would be very strong in putting certain judges on the bench that maybe could change thing, but they have a long way to go," he said on "Fox News Sunday." "I disagree with the court in that it should have been a states' rights issue."

The people who wanted to keep slavery said slavery was a "states' rights issue" too.

Republicans are pretty terrible people, you know.  There is a difference between the parties, unlike what a lot of people want you to believe.

The Hawkeye's Revenge

Nate Silver maps out the GOP scenario coming out of tomorrow's Iowa caucuses.

Yes, I know: There’s an incredibly handsome orange-haired man from Queens sitting atop the polls. Donald Trump has a serious chance of winning the Republican nomination — not words I’d have expected myself to be writing six months ago.1 Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, however, still have a shot to knock Trump off his pedestal. Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Chris Christie might have a chance too, although they’ll need a lot of things to break right for them.

The dominoes will begin falling after the Iowa caucuses Monday night. It seems to me there are four basic narratives that could emerge from the state. (By “narratives,” I mean how the media, Republican party elites and the other candidates will interpret the results. Be warned: How the media responds is sometimes way more predictable than how voters do.) They depend, respectively, on whether Trump beats Cruz and on how well Rubio does.

About Rubio: What it means to perform “well” is obviously a little subjective, but how a candidate does relative to his polls is usually a pretty good guide to the spin that eventually emerges. Recent Iowa polls have Rubio in third place, with a vote share in the mid-teens. If Rubio finishes in the low teens or worse, his performance is likely to be regarded as disappointing (he’ll also be at risk of falling behind Ben Carson or another candidate into fourth place). If he’s in the high teens or better, he’ll probably be regarded as having momentum, especially if he slips into second place. Our models also think there’s an outside chance — 7 percent to 10 percent, depending on which version you look at — for Rubio to win Iowa. That’s mostly out of an abundance of caution: Iowa polls aresometimes wildly off the mark.2 The scenarios below contemplate Rubio finishing in second or a strong third place, but not winning. Of course, there could be even crazier outcomes still — our models give Carson around a 1-in-100 chance of winning Iowa, for example — but the four cases we describe below are the ones we take to be most likely.

Nate's scnarios involve whether or not Trump beats Ted Cruz, and whether or not Rubio finishes well enough to remain a contender, which renders four possible outcomes: 1) Trump smashes Cruz and Rubio with a runaway victory and becomes the overwhelming favorite, 2) Trump and Rubio both do well and the establishment rallies behind Rubio to stop Cruz and Trump, 3) Cruz pummels both Trump and Rubio and he becomes the frontrunner, and 4) Cruz and Rubio both beat Trump and The Donald's balloon bursts.

Most people are expecting scenario 2. We'll see what happens tomorrow.

A Bunch Of Upper Class Tweets

Somebody finally got around to asking about Donald Trump's rather lowbrow Twitter feed and whether or not the potential President should be engaging in childish social media fights.

CBS News host John Dickerson asked Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in an interview aired Sunday if he thought his Twitter wars were presidential.

Trump has engaged in multiple Twitter spats throughout the course of his campaign, calling people names and retweeting self-described white supremacists.

"There's a lot of drama around your campaign. Is that presidential?" Dickerson asked Trump, before the candidate cut him off. "Do you think, these Twitter back and forth fights.."

"Well, I'm in Twitter wars before, really, I was a politician. And now I'm carrying it out," Trump said. "But I was being barraged from all different sides. Having Twitter is great. And between Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, I have 12 million people, more than 12 million people. So it is a great way of getting the word out."

Because America needs a leader who can troll people on the internet.  Nothing more American in 2016, right?

Sunday Long Read: Mobile Home, Immobile Racism

Clayton Homes is the largest mobile home manufacturer in America, they absolutely dominate the marketplace. Their mortgage arm is as scummy as it comes, pushing people of color into subprime loans that are meant to bankrupt them and wipe them out.  It's predatory lending at its most awful.

And Clayton Homes is owned by Warren Buffett.

Clayton’s predatory practices have damaged minority communities — from rural black enclaves in the Louisiana Delta, across Spanish-speaking swaths of Texas, to Native American reservations in the Southwest. Many customers end up losing their homes, thousands of dollars in down payments, or even land they’d owned outright. 
Over the 12 years since Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway bought Clayton Homes, the company has grown to dominate virtually every aspect of America’s mobile-home industry. It builds nearly half the new manufactured homes sold in this country every year, making it the most prolific U.S. home builder of any type. It sells them through a network of more than 1,600 dealerships. And it finances more mobile-home loans than any other lender by a factor of more than seven. 
In minority communities, Clayton’s grip on the lending market verges on monopolistic: Last year, according to federal data, Clayton made 72% of the loans to black people who financed mobile homes
The company’s in-house lender, Vanderbilt Mortgage, charges minority borrowers substantially higher rates, on average, than their white counterparts. In fact, federal data shows that Vanderbilt typically charges black people who make over $75,000 a year slightly more than white people who make only $35,000
Through a spokesperson earlier this month, Buffett declined to discuss racial issues at Clayton Homes, and a reporter who attempted to contact him at his home was turned away by security. 
Clayton and Berkshire Hathaway did not respond to numerous requests for interviews with executives, delivered by phone and email, as well as in person at Berkshire Hathaway’s headquarters in Omaha. The companies did not answer any of 34 detailed questions about Clayton and its practices. Nor did they respond to an extensive summary of this article’s findings, provided along with an invitation to comment.

So yeah, Warren Buffett is one of the good guys?  My ass.  He can rot in the same jail cell as the Kochs and Sheldon Adelson and the rest of the 0.0001% that run this country.

At some point, everyone with wealth of that magnitude got it by crushing people.  I'm tired of it.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Last Call For Mosque Of The Red Derp

President Obama will visit Maryland's Islamic Society of Baltimore next week, something guaranteed to make America's less tolerant folks lose their damn minds.

The president is making the visit “to celebrate the contributions Muslim Americans make to our nation and reaffirm the importance of religious freedom to our way of life,” a White House official wrote in an email Saturday. “The President believes that one of our nation’s greatest strengths is our rich diversity and the very idea that Americans of different faiths and backgrounds can thrive together – that we’re all part of the same American family. As the President has said, Muslim Americans are our friends, and neighbors; our co-workers, and sports heroes – and our men and women in uniform defending our country.”

At the Islamic Society, the president will hold a roundtable discussion with community members, the official said.

The visit will be part of the tightrope-walking Obama has done during his presidency around Islam.

For years, Muslim Americans have lobbied him to visit a mosque, citing Islamophobia. At the same time, a segment of Obama’s critics have said since he took office that he is a Muslim pretending to be Christian, and that he plays down the religious aspect of Muslim extremism. Recent polls show that 29 percent of Americans and nearly 45 percent of Republicans think he is a Muslim. The visit comes in the last year of his presidency.

The possibility of a mosque visit came up again a month ago, when several prominent Muslim Americans met with senior White House officials to discuss concerns about rising hostility toward people of their faith. During that session _ which was attended by White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, Domestic Policy Council director Cecilia Muñoz and deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes — the Islamic leaders asked for Obama to visit a mosque, ideally with former president George W. Bush.

Presidents rarely visit houses of worship, aside from when they have attended church for their own religious practices. Obama regularly attends religious services on key holidays. In May, he visited a synagogue for the first time as president.

In 2001, Bush visited the Islamic Cultural Center of Washington, six days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, where he declared, “Islam is peace,” and “the face of terror is not the true faith of Islam.”

I'm very glad to see President Obama do this, and for the right reasons. It's a major contrast to the GOP, which apparently has no problem with tracking, interment, and deportation of Muslims for the crime of being Muslim.

And speaking of that, Dubya was one of the loudest voices in 2001 to tamp down Islamophobia after 9/11.  Where is that voice now?

Guess we'll never know.

Meet The Replacements

Kudos to Iowa resident Mike Valde, who has committed more political journalism with a single question than nearly all of America's political pundits this entire campaign season.

His voice quavering with emotion, Mike Valde told Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) about his brother-in-law: He was a barber who couldn’t afford health care until the Affordable Care Act, and after getting coverage he went to the doctor for the first time in years, and was diagnosed with multiple tumors. He died soon after.

Mark never had health care until Obamacare,” Valde told Cruz in a middle school cafeteria here. “What are you going to replace it with?”


“Sir, I promise you, I will answer your question. I’m laying out first of all the problems,” Cruz said. He went on to say that the “most pragmatic, the most prudent” thing to do is repeal the law and start over. When that is done, he said that competition in the marketplace should be expanded, people should be able to buy health insurance across state lines and that everyone wants people to have insurance coverage.

“Your father in law, he couldn’t afford it,” Cruz said.

“Brother-in-law,” Valde responded.

“Your brother-in-law couldn’t afford it,” Cruz said.

“Right. But he could afford it, he finally got it under Obama,” Valde told Cruz.

Cruz repeated Valde’s story, that by the time Valde’s brother-in-law went to a doctor, he was already dying.

He would have gotten it earlier, if he could have afforded it earlier, but because of government regulations, he couldn’t,” Cruz said.

That's Ted Cruz's answer: if we repeal Obamacare, insurance magically becomes affordable.  We're not even bothering with replacing it anymore. No problems with health insurance existed before 2011, you know.  Everyone had health insurance and it was great, and it's all Obama's fault now.

And that's fine with Republicans.

More GOP Small Government Solutions

From the same folks that brought you "Obama is a fascist!" comes this bill in South Carolina that slaps a big ol' scarlet T on all them scary ferners.

A South Carolina Senate committee on Wednesday passed a bill that would set up a registry of every refugee in the state and allow police to track them, as well as ban the state from spending money to resettle refugees unless the legislature approves the funding.

The legislation would also hold any group that aids refugees liable if one of the refugees then commits an act of terrorism, according to the Associated Press.

Two Republicans members of Congress representing South Carolina, Reps. Mick Mulvaney (pictured above) and Jeff Duncan, were present in the statehouse to promote the bill on Wednesday.

"Radical Islamic terrorists have said they will try to exploit both the migrant crisis into Europe and the refugee situation to enter into this country," Duncan told state senators, according to Georgia television station WAGT.

Though the bill does not single out refugees from Syria, Mulvaney did when speaking to state senators.

"If you let in the wrong Irishman–I’m fourth generation– if you let in the wrong Irishman the downside is really not that serious, okay," he said, according the AP. "You let in the wrong Syrian refugee, one, then people can die as a result."

So let's see, complete abrogation of civil liberties, check, creating second-class citizens as automatic criminals, check, but hey, Republicans are worried about how these folks will be treated, you guys.

Though the bill passed in committee with broad Republican support, one Republican state senator who voted for the bill expressed concern that the registry would be available on the Internet. State Sen. Katrina Shealy said the public should not be able to access the information, "especially people that would be out looking for refugees to even harm them or something," according to the Huffington Post.

Oh, well that's a relief.  Democrats of course know exactly what this bill is, the new Jim Crow.

Two Democrats voted against the bill. Democratic state Sen. Kevin Johnson, who is black, said that his parents and grandparents faced similar discrimination, according to the AP.

"They were told the same thing," Johnson said. "We don't want you in our state. We don't want you in our neighborhood. We don't want you in our schools. All you want to do is kill, rape, steal, whatever."

 You think?

Meet The Trumpies

CNN dives into the Trump voter psychology and finds exactly what you'd expect: pissed off white people who want the rest of us back in our respective places and lanes on the outside, outside the economic benefits of society that were not meant for "those people", outside the halls of political power that we have "unfairly taken" from them, and in many cases, outside the country altogether where we "don't belong."

They are showing up in droves to see Donald Trump: Men and women, overwhelmingly white, frustrated with the country's first black president, fearful that they are being displaced by minorities and immigrants, and nostalgic for the way America used to be.

And Trump is thriving, tapping into the fears and anxieties that have erupted into the open in an extraordinary presidential campaign.

The voters pledging their allegiance to the Republican front-runner hail from all corners of the country. They work on farms, in nursing homes and run small businesses; they've voted for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama and participated in the tea party movement; they are high school students who will vote for the first time this November and retirees and veterans who came of age during World War II.

In Trump, these people see the next president of the United States.

His attitude, one voter said, is that he "seems to just not give a f---." Trump's nativist rhetoric and hardline immigration stance is a relief for those who see a segment of the population "getting away" with breaking the law. Post-San Bernardino, the candidate's promise to "bomb the sh-- out of ISIS" exudes an uncomplicated confidence rare in other politicians. His accomplishments in the business world offer reassurance that he'll "put the economy back where it belongs."

Perhaps most important is Trump's imperviousness to the typical boundaries around race. He has made provocative remarks on the subject since the earliest days of his campaign -- and his supporters are listening. They are rowdy, and at times, even violent. On more than one occasion, they've accosted protesters, lobbing racial slurs and physical abuse.

The following story attempts to capture the remarkable Trump phenomenon -- and the anti-establishment anger, and the racial and economic fears beneath it -- through the people who have flocked to Trump rallies since last summer. The voices were chosen from more than 150 people -- including supporters and opponents of Trump -- that CNN reporters interviewed in 31 cities across the country over the past few months and asked about some of the candidate's more controversial statements.

These interviews provide a snapshot of a political movement unprecedented in modern politics. They reflect some of the loudest and most passionate defenders of Trump, a candidate who has said he has such deep loyalty among his supporters that he could "stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters." Many people CNN interviewed were not turned off by Trump's provocative remarks — but inclined to agree with his statements and his unvarnished approach to self-expression. There is no getting around the impression that for some, racial attitudes are fueling their support.

But there are also other factors feeding the enthusiasm: the belief that Americans are unsafe, and he will protect them; an appreciation for the simple good vs. evil worldview he presents; an admiration of his celebrity status and business background. And, above all, a faith that he will restore an America they feel has been lost to them, and dream of experiencing again.

It's refreshing to see CNN actually, finally admit that race is a factor in supporting Trump and his ultra-nationalist ultra-white worldview. The profiles that follow in the article are outright depressing, people who have decided that the most important thing that needs to happen in 2016 is to start denying America to as many people unlike them as possible, a twisted payback for the civil rights era, and the payback business is booming. They don't want us beaten, they want us destroyed, decimated, and deported.

But make no mistake, these folks despise President Obama primed by years of racial animus fed to them by FOX and Limbaugh and Drudge, and the plan is to punish anyone who supported the President and make them pay. The white victim card is their weapon, and the rest of us are their enemy.

And these assholes are going to vote.  Feel damn confident of that, friends.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Last Call For Minding That Gap

President Obama wants businesses to collect information on what they pay workers by race, ethnicity, and gender.  You know, so we can prove the pay gap that "doesn't exist" doesn't exist, because of course the free market takes care of that, right?

President Obama on Friday moved to require companies to report to the federal government what they pay employees by race, gender and ethnicity, part of his push to crack down on firms that pay women less for doing the same work as men. 
“Women are not getting the fair shot that we believe every single American deserves,” Mr. Obama said in announcing the proposal, timed to coincide with the seventh anniversary of his signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which makes it easier for people to challenge discriminatory pay. “What kind of example does paying women less set for our sons and daughters?” 
The new rules, Mr. Obama’s latest bid to use his executive power to address a priority of his that Congress has resisted acting on, would mandate that companies with 100 employees or more include salary information on a form they already submit annually that reports employees’ sex, age and job groups. 
Too often, pay discrimination goes undetected because of a lack of accurate information about what people are paid,” said Jenny Yang, the chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which will publish the proposed regulation jointly with the Department of Labor. “We will be using the information that we’re collecting as one piece of information that can inform our investigations.” 
The requirement would expand on an executive order Mr. Obama issued nearly two years ago that called for federal contractors to submit salary information for women and men. Ms. Yang said the rules would be completed in September, with the first reports due a year later. 
“Bridging the stubborn pay gap between men and women in the work force has proven to be very challenging,” said Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, noting that the median wage for women amounts to 79 percent of that for men. “We have seen progress, but it isn’t enough.” 
White House officials said that the requirement was intended to bolster the government’s ability to penalize companies that engage in discriminatory pay practices and to encourage businesses to police themselves better and correct such disparities.

I heartily approve of such efforts. American corporations cheat workers on everything unless you bash them in the head until they relent. The pay gap doesn't exist?  Time to prove it.

And yes, I know that excluding employers under 100 employees exempts about half of Americans, but it's a start.

An Offer You Can't Refuse

To recap, law enforcement is not your friend if you are a person of color.  This goes doubly so if you are in immigrant, exponentially more so if you are a Muslim, and infinitely more so if you are an immigrant Muslim.

Pressuring people to become informants by dangling the promise of citizenship — or, if they do not comply, deportation — is expressly against the rules that govern FBI agents’ activities.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales forbade the practice nine years ago: “No promises or commitments can be made, except by the United States Department of Homeland Security, regarding the alien status of any person or the right of any person to enter or remain in the United States,” according to the Attorney General’s Guidelines Regarding the Use of FBI Confidential Human Sources.

In fact, Gonzales’s guidelines, which are still in force today, require agents to go further: They must explicitly warn potential informants that the FBI cannot help with their immigration status in any way.

But a BuzzFeed News investigation — based on government and court documents, official complaints, and interviews with immigrants, immigration and civil rights lawyers, and former special agents — shows that the FBI violates these rules. Mandated to enforce the law, the bureau has assumed a powerful but unacknowledged role in a very different realm: decisions about the legal status of immigrants — in particular, Muslim immigrants. First the immigration agency ties up their green card applications for years, even a decade, without explanation, then FBI agents approach the applicants with a loaded offer: Want to get your papers? Start reporting to us about people you know.

Alexandra Natapoff, an associate dean at Loyola Law School who studies the use of informants, said people who are pressured into informing for the government face considerable danger, from ostracism or retribution within their own community to betrayal from law enforcement officers, whose promises the informants are powerless to enforce. BuzzFeed News spoke with six people who had been approached by the FBI, as well as immigration attorneys who said they had represented far more. Some allowed their stories to be published, even with details that could make them identifiable to federal authorities. But they all drew the line at publishing their names, lest they or their families suffer repercussions from their communities.

Beyond the danger that coercive recruitment poses for its targets, it may also mean danger on a broad scale, by hampering America’s ability to detect, derail, and prosecute real threats to national security.

Like 9/11 before it, the mass shooting in San Bernardino cast into stark relief the urgency of guarding against terrorism at home. Over the years, law enforcement authorities have used informants’ tips to foil numerous plots on American soil and to help other countries foil plots of their own. But many critics of America’s counterterrorism operations say the FBI’s heavy-handed recruitment methods actually make it harder to thwart dangerous attacks, by alienating the very communities on whom the government is most reliant for information.

Michael German, a former FBI agent who is now a national security expert at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, says wide-scale coercive recruitment produces a surfeit of false leads. “All of this investigative effort is against people who are not suspected,” he said, of “terrorism or any other criminal activity.” The result is so much useless information that agents cannot focus on the most important leads. “This becomes an obstacle to real security.”

It's like the worst seasons of Homeland come to life, and yeah, if Eric Holder looked the other way on this (and Loretta Lynch and President Obama are still looking the other way on this) then it needs to be stopped.

I think it's much more likely that FBI Director James Comey has some very ugly questions to answer, however.

Dispatches From Bevinstan, Con't

Gov. Matt Bevin introduced his 2016-2017 budget plan this week in his first major speech since inauguration, and the word to describe it best is "carnage". He envisions nearly ten percent across-the-board cuts in Kentucky's government agencies, universities, services, and state employment. But it's what he didn't say that's getting attention.

Bevin outlined his proposed 2016-18 budget in an hourlong address to the General Assembly Tuesday night. The budget would add more than $1 billion to the pension programs, but it would come up with most of that money by cutting state funding to most agencies by 9 percent. 
The governor's actual budget bill - House Bill 303 - was not filed until late Wednesday. And it contains some things that Bevin did not mention in his speech, including the prevailing wage repeal and ban on abortion services funding
"Obviously, those are things that the governor has made very clear he would like to do. So they shouldn't surprise anyone." Jessica Ditto, communications director in the Governor's Office, said Thursday morning. 
A provision within the budget bill says in part, "no public authority shall make the prevailing wage...a part of the bidding specifications for any public works or a part of any contract for the construction of public works..." 
Another provision of the budget mandates that public funds, including moneys received from the federal government, shall not directly or indirectly be paid to any entity "that provides abortions or abortion services, or that is any affiliate of an entity that provides abortion services." 
Different Senate bills moving through the legislative process also would repeal prevailing wage and ban funding for abortions or abortion services. If those bills pass they would become permanent law. 
If those bills are blocked, and Bevin's budget bill passes, it would accomplish the same thing - but only for two years. Any provision in a budget bill expires at the end of the budget period, which in this case would be June 30, 2018. 
Rep. Rick Rand, the Bedford Democrat who chairs the House budget committee, said Thursday morning, "I like to reserve comment on a new budget until I've had time to go all the way through it with my staff. There are always some surprises in a budget bill, and we will certainly be taking a very close look at those provisions."

It should surprise no one that Bevin wants to defund Planned Parenthood state and federal money, but as Joe Sonka reminds us, PP's Louisville clinic that has recently started abortion services doesn't accept family planning funds anyway, and operates without it. But that means both Bevin and Kentucky lawmakers are trying to cut off funding for the clinics that don't perform those services in order to try to bully the organization.

Witness Bevin's reaction to the story:

Gov. Matt Bevin submitted a statement to IL claiming that this Planned Parenthood clinic is violating the law and pledging to use force to shut it down.

“They are openly and knowingly operating an unlicensed abortion facility in clear violation of the law,” said Bevin. “We will use the full force of the Commonwealth to put a stop to this. There is no room in Kentucky for this kind of blatant disregard for proper legal procedure.”

Open threats?  Matt, please.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Last Call For The Breakfast Club

After a bumpy start, McDonald's all-day breakfast menu is paying off big for the company as sales were up across the board.

McDonald's reported fourth-quarter revenues and earnings that easily topped analysts' forecasts, led by a 5.7% jump in same-store sales in the United States.
CEO Steve Easterbrook, who took over at McDonald's nearly a year ago, said the company's introduction of its all day breakfast menu in October was the main reason that U.S. sales did so well. 
Many McDonald's fans had been calling on the company for years to make Egg McMuffins, hash browns and other early morning treats available at lunch or dinner time. The menu change clearly has paid off for Mickey D's. 
Easterbrook also said that mild weather in the quarter helped. 
This was the second consecutive quarter of domestic same-store sales growth for the fast food giant. But McDonald's isn't just staging an impressive comeback in its home market. Same-store sales rose 5% worldwide. 
The company said there was broad strength across Asia and Europe -- and solid sales gains in emerging markets like Russia and China. 
Shares of McDonald's (MCD) were up more than 2% in early trading Monday to a new all-time high. McDonald's was one of the top stocks in the Dow last year and has held up well so far in what's been a volatile 2016.

After years of getting pounded by breakfast offerings from competitors like Taco Bell and Burger King buying out Canadian breakfast staple Tim Horton's, it looks like McDonalds finally figured out that people like Egg McMuffins after 10:30.  Go figure.

Of course seeing a stock like McD's hitting an all-time high in 2016 makes me think that the market for upscale fast food joints like Chipotle are starting to hit a wall.

We'll see.

The Challenger Of The Stars

It's interesting that Americans often define themselves in part by what disasters they were witness to, anyone in their twenties remembers where they were when 9/11 happened (and I do as well) but being older, my seminal disaster memory happened thirty years ago today, as CNET's Eric Mack accounts.

Thirty years ago Thursday, I watched in real time, along with millions of other schoolchildren, as my first real heroes died in an awful explosion over the Florida coastline. The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster took the lives of seven astronauts on January 28, 1986, including a schoolteacher named Christa McAuliffe, who was meant to be the first civilian astronaut sent to space.

While I was in first grade thousands of miles away at the time, Challenger is the first news event I can actually recall experiencing on the day it unfolded. A few years ago, a survey found the Challenger disaster is the fourth most memorable moment in the history of television.

Even three decades later, it represents some sort of a beginning in my memory, a premature loss of a certain kind of innocence.

Two concepts are often introduced in the early school grades with the potential to exponentially expand young minds: space and dinosaurs. I'm now a father of an 8-year-old, so I can confirm this is still the case. Space and dinosaurs are literally otherworldly ideas that hint at the full span of time and the universe. They're the first indications that there's much more to life than cartoons and backyards and school and shopping with Mom.

Dinosaurs are long gone, of course, except for the bones and fuel. But space...that's something that can send a mind into orbit. In a thoroughly explored world, astronauts are like the modern equivalent of 15-century explorers, only possibly cooler. Part of that inherent coolness is that they're just like the adults from daily life, like a mom or a teacher. McAuliffe only served to drive that impression home.

Before Challenger, life was literally all just child's play for me. After Challenger, I was not only aware of the unthinkable breadth of the world and the universe, but also of how brutal and cruel it all can be. I still remember some of the hideous jokes kids and even some remarkably crass adults told in the wake of the tragedy. They're not worth repeating here, but they still make my stomach hurt.

I was among those grade-school kids watching the event on TV, as teachers across America tuned in to watch Christa McAuliffe go into space.  We knew that she was going to be teaching us lessons in science from space, for crying out loud, and that was the coolest thing possible that could happen at school for a young science nerd like myself.

And then it all went horrifically wrong as we watched.

I remember talking with ZandarDad about the incident.  He told me about the Apollo 1 fire that happened back in 1967 when he was a teenager, when Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chafee all died in a horrible fire that happened during the craft's launch test. When you jump, how high to you go, he asked me. A couple of feet into the air even with all your strength? Now remember that anything powerful enough to launch people into space can be lethal if something goes wrong, he told me.

I learned that day that science can be dangerous, and that the forces humanity are trying to master can be disastrous if uncontrolled.

Oh, yeah, and the jokes the kids told.  Ugh.  Let's just say they involved a particular brand of soda and the number of shuttle astronauts lost that day.

The Yabba Dabba D'ough

Looks like the Commonwealth lost its lawsuit to the Ark Park, and we Kentuckians get to fork over millions to a place where man rides dinosaurs and the earth is 6,000 years old.

The state of Kentucky must give millions of dollars in tax subsidies to a Noah’s Ark theme park owned by a creationist ministry, even though that ministry refuses to comply with the state’s request not to engage in hiring discrimination, according to an opinion by a George W. Bush appointee to the federal bench. Under Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove’s opinion, the creationist group Answers in Genesis (AiG) stands to gain up to $18 million.

That's roughly $4 a person, so even if you refuse to visit, hey, you bought a ticket. But on appeal this may not hold.

Judge Van Tatenhove’s decision in favor of AiG is on much shakier ground, however, when he claims that AiG is entitled to the subsidy even if it wants to engage in employment discrimination. He roots this decision largely in a non-sequitur about what AiG’s obligations would be if they were sued by an employee alleging discrimination. As the judge notes, federal law exempts “a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society” from the federal ban on employment discrimination “with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities.” Thus, a religious group like AiG typically has the right to hire only members of a particular faith without having to face a federal lawsuit. 
But the fact that federal law provides a particular exemption does not necessarily mean that Kentucky must also offer the same exemption. And it certainly does not mean that Kentucky must also provide tax subsidies to groups that engage in discrimination. In Bob Jones University v. United States, the Supreme Court rejected a school’s claim that it was entitled to federal tax subsidies, despite the fact that the government had denied such subsidies because the school prohibited interracial dating. More recently, in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Court held that a student group that banned “unrepentant homosexual conduct” could be denied valuable benefits under a public law school’s anti-discrimination policies. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg explained in her majority opinion, “our decisions have distinguished between policies that require action and those that withhold benefits.”
Judge Van Tatenhove’s opinion, in other words, rests on the extraordinary proposition that the state of Kentucky is required to subsidize discrimination. That is not what the Constitution provides.

Question is will Matt Bevin and AG Andy Beshear appeal the ruling?  I can certainly see Beshear doing it, as his father is the one who challenged Answers in Genesis in the first place.  But Bevin can order him not to, and then things get tricky.

We'll see.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Last Call For Vote For Bon

If you're wondering what Bon The Geek has been up to lately, she's been butting heads with the obnoxious Springfield, MO City Council on a variety of issues.  And it's finally gotten to the point where instead of just airing her grievances, she's doing something about it.

Bon Tindle's experience with Springfield City Council has, thus far, often been in the form of jabs thrown on social media.

That could change in 2017, as Tindle announced Wednesday an intention to run for a seat at the next election.

"I'm going to run a good race, on my own terms, and I'm going to put up a fight like you've never, ever seen before," she wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday morning. "I'm going to do it the way I did it all along, out in the open, listening to people and using my research abilities to find the answers I need to make solid choices."

Tindle, who was especially outspoken during the indecent exposure ordinance debate, said months ago that she didn't plan to run for council. However, she said she received a lot of support to run.

She said Councilman Justin Burnett's resignation and quick reversal earlier this month is what ultimately changed her mind.

Burnett and Councilwoman Kristi Fulnecky have often been at the end of Tindle's barbs. Fulnecky announced last week that she intends to run for mayor in 2017.

While Tindle is not running for mayor, she sees herself as an opponent of Fulnecky.

"I'm ashamed of the spectacle that Burnett and Fulnecky have made of our city," Tindle said in her announcement. "Springfield is a great place to live, but it has its shortcomings. These two, in my mind, represent everything that is wrong with local government. They don't care about the people, they care about doing what they want for their buddies. For themselves, at our expense. Enough."

Tindle lives in Zone 2, but she said she doesn't want to wait until Burnett's seat opens in 2019. In the next election, 2017, Jan Fisk's General Seat A and Craig Hosmer's General Seat B are both up for election. Neither has stated whether they intend to run for re-election.

Tindle said she hasn't decided which seat she'll file for.

I of course will keep you updated, and hopefully Bon will too.  Gotta start fixing things somewhere, and your own local government is a great place to start.

Well Actually, Tennessee Style

A Christian fundamentalist group in Tennessee is trying to sue the state arguing that it has to nullify all marriages since last June in order to stop same-sex marriage.

Just one day after a Tennessee House committee rejected a bill to nullify the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, the head of the state’s top conservative organization filed a lawsuithoping to, at the very least, stall same-sex marriage. And he has the support of several state lawmakers. 
David Fowler, head of the Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT), filed the state suit in Williamson County, asking County Clerk Elaine Anderson to cease issuing marriage licenses until the suit is resolved. His contention relies on a mix of odd technicalities relating to the impact of the Obergefell decision on Tennessee law, particularly the idea that the state’s entire marriage statute was invalidated. He argues that because lawmakers would never have passed a marriage law inclusive of same-sex couples, there is no longer any law stipulating marriage for any couple, and thus all marriage licenses issued in the state since last June are void. This, he fears, exposes the pastors who join him as plaintiffs to liability, because a separate Tennessee statute dictates that it is a Class C misdemeanor to solemnize a wedding between two people not legally eligible to marry, punishable by a $500 fine. 
But Fowler doesn’t hide the fact that his clear intent is to create legal pathways to discriminate against same-sex couples, and perhaps even overturn Obergefell. He lays out his master plan on the FACT website, complete with a flowchart of the way he hopes to manipulate the case to undo marriage equality.

It's the a variation of the same argument Alabama has been using: state lawmakers haven't passed a law that has met with the Supreme Court's ruling, therefore same-sex marriages aren't legal until the law is passed.

The difference is that Fowler's group is arguing that all marriages performed since the Obergfell ruling are null and void because Tennessee's current marriage law, which banned same-sex marriage, would have been thrown out by the ruling, leaving no law governing marriage in the state.

So at this point, the question is "will a judge buy this argument" and will said judge vacate thousands of marriages in the state, including all the same-sex marriages, just to be assholes?

We'll find out.

Just Number One With Racists, Con't

Donald Trump is winning because he represents the Republican Party, and the Republican Party is filled with bigots.  Really is that simple, as Greg Sargent points out.

With less than a week to go before the first voting, the new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that Donald Trump continues to grow stronger. He sits high above his GOP rivals, with the support of 37 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents nationally. A majority of Trump supporters say they’ll definitely vote for him. Three out of four Republicans think Trump has the best chance of defeating Hillary Clinton, suggesting many GOP voters are coming to see him as a very plausible standard bearer. 
But this one finding from the poll is worth some attention: Trump is absolutely dominating among GOP voters who think immigration weakens American society.

Republicans who think immigration is bad for America overwhelmingly favor Donald Trump (and to a lesser extent, Ted Cruz.)  That's the long and the short of it.  Other candidates are in single digits when it comes to this issue.

"Deport them all" is what Republicans want.  They want Donald Trump.  No need to overthink this, guys.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Last Call For Florida Man Strikes Again

I'm pretty sure at this point that red states are just going to try to ban abortions until they can force a Supreme Court ruling that bans abortions. At least, that seems to be the plan in Florida.

Florida lawmakers are moving forward with a near-total ban on abortions in the state plus a second bill placing new requirements on doctors who perform abortions. 
By an 8-3 vote Monday afternoon, a House criminal justice panel voted to advance the more sweeping piece of legislation (HB 865), which would make performing an abortion or operating an abortion clinic a first-degree felony in Florida, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Just hours earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court reiterated its long-standing ruling affirming women's right to the procedure.

“The bill recognizes that both the mother and the baby are citizens of the state of Florida... and we are therefore compelled to protect their lives,” said Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, the bill's sponsor. 
He has put forward similar legislation for seven years, but it had never before been considered by a committee, the first step required to pass a bill into law, until Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, agreed to consider it Monday. Trujillo, the chairman of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, did not discuss the bill during debate and left the committee room without commenting. 
“The Legislature finds that all human life comes from the Creator, has an inherent value that cannot be quantified by man, and begins at the earliest biological development of a fertilized human egg,” the bill says. 
It goes on to say that “personal liberty is not a license to kill or otherwise destroy any form of human life,” and that the state has an interest in stopping abortions, unless the safety of the mother is in question. 
It’s likely that Van Zant’s proposal, if passed by the Legislature, would lead to lawsuits citing the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling inRoe vs. Wade. That became even more likely Monday morning after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned an abortion ban in North Dakota.

Florida Republicans have a veto-proof supermajority in the House and nearly one in the Senate, so they could pass the House bill and the Senate would take it up.  One possibility is that it could die there, the argument being that the state would lose millions in taxpayer funds defending a bill that will be overturned by the Supreme Court, but there's no reason to let this out of committee unless the plan is to try to pass it (hence the seven years of not getting out of committee.)

However the other and much more likely possibility is that this bill is meant to sell Ohio-style TRAP laws in the state as a "compromise" bait-and-switch tactic.

Last week, a House panel gave the first nod of approval to tougher licensing requirements (HB 233) for abortion clinics that would hold them to the same or higher standards as surgical centers. 
The third proposal (HB 1411) also passed its first House committee Monday afternoon, by a 7-6 vote. The wide-ranging bill blocks state funding for facilities that perform elective abortions, sets new requirements for inspections by the Agency for Health Care Administration, and requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges and agreements to transfer patients to a hospital located within 30 minutes of the facility where an abortion is performed. 
“I believe that the bill protects the health and wellbeing of mothers in Florida, those who make the choice to have an abortion,” said bill sponsor Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland.

Read more here:

In other words, things just got very real in the Sunshine State, and abortion just became a major issue in the largest 2016 swing state.  This nasty little trick will almost certainly close several Florida clinics if it gets through, while all the outrage and coverage is on the unconstitutional ban bill.

Neat trick, huh?

Read more here:

Here We Go Again, Day 24

Time to check in with the Bundy seditionists in Oregon and their armed little insurrection, and Think Progress reporter Casey Quinlan has a good rundown of what's been going on at the wildlife refuge as we enter our fourth week with these bozos still not magically being arrested.

An armed group that has taken over a national wildlife refuge to protest federal land use policies continues to escalate the situation by introducing a common law grand jury, which has no actual legal standing. They have chosen Joaquin Mariano DeMoreta-Folch, St. Augustine Tea Party government accountability chairman and a longtime proponent of convening secret citizens’ panels to indict government officials to be their common law judge and at a recent event held at the refuge a New Mexico rancher, Adrian Sewell of Grant County, New Mexico, renounced his federal grazing contract from the U.S. Forest Service. 
Oregon officials want the militia to leave, saying it’s been far past time for the occupation to end. But it doesn’t look like the leader of the militia, Ammon Bundy, is ready to end the stand-off. 
Bundy walked out of a private meeting with a federal agent on Friday after the agent refused to speak in the presence of media, according to the Associated Press. Bundy also questioned the FBI authority, telling an agent, “If you haven’t got sanction from the sheriff, there’s no reason to be talking to you.” 
On Wednesday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said the occupation was costly to taxpayers and sent a letter to FBI Director James Comey and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch telling them to end the occupation of federal land “as safely and as quickly as possible.”
Earlier this month, Oregon Sheriff Dave Ward met Ammon Bundy in a near the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Ward encouraged Bundy to leave town and told Bundy he would offer “safe escort out.” Bundy and the group of armed men he leads have threatened to kill law enforcement if they try to intervene, so this offer, while intended to spare human lives, is fairly extraordinary when compared to other protests. 
Yet, Bundy lectured the sheriff on the constitution and said the armed men would stay there indefinitely. According to OregonLive, Bundy told the sheriff, “Until we can see that there is a great momentum and the people can get doing that themselves, then we will remain … That could be a week, that could be a year.” After their discussion, the group bulldozed a fence that divided private ranchlands from public land and damaged Native American archeological sites. Last week, two members of the militia were arrested after driving two federal vehicles to a local Safeway.

So a couple dozen armed yahoos have decided that the Federal government has no jurisdiction and are going to stick around against the wishes of pretty much everyone involved.  I understand that these clowns very much want to martyr themselves, commit suicide by federal cop, and be the "heroes" that spark some sort of national Second American Revolution or something stupid like that, but eventually these guys have to go to Federal prison for this.

At some point, law enforcement has to, you know, enforce laws.  It's not "non-violent protest" when you're armed and calling for the overthrow of government.  It's sedition.

Not A Single Solitary Reason

President Obama took to the Washington Post this week to write an op-ed explaining his executive order Monday ending the practice of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal correctional facilities.

The United States is a nation of second chances, but the experience of solitary confinement too often undercuts that second chance. Those who do make it out often have trouble holding down jobs, reuniting with family and becoming productive members of society. Imagine having served your time and then being unable to hand change over to a customer or look your wife in the eye or hug your children. 
As president, my most important job is to keep the American people safe. And since I took office, overall crime rates have decreased by more than 15 percent. In our criminal justice system, the punishment should fit the crime — and those who have served their time should leave prison ready to become productive members of society. How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people? It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity. 
That’s why last summer, I directed Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and the Justice Department to review the overuse of solitary confinement across U.S. prisons. They found that there are circumstances when solitary is a necessary tool, such as when certain prisoners must be isolated for their own protection or in order to protect staff and other inmates. In those cases, the practice should be limited, applied with constraints and used only as a measure of last resort. They have identified common-sense principles that should guide the use of solitary confinement in our criminal justice system. 
The Justice Department has completed its review, and I am adopting its recommendations to reform the federal prison system. These include banning solitary confinement for juveniles and as a response to low-level infractions, expanding treatment for the mentally ill and increasing the amount of time inmates in solitary can spend outside of their cells. These steps will affect some 10,000 federal prisoners held in solitary confinement — and hopefully serve as a model for state and local corrections systems. And I will direct all relevant federal agencies to review these principles and report back to me with a plan to address their use of solitary confinement. 

It's a good start, and countless issues with our broken mass incarceration system and mental health treatment system remain and will remain until we demand something is done.

But it's a start.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Last Call For Dark Money

This month being the anniversary of the odious Citizens United Supreme Court decision that unleashed unlimited money into our political system, it's worth going over author Jane Meyer's book Dark Money as a hard look at the billionaire right that has all but purchased our political system. The Koch Brothers did everything they could to stop the book coming out, and that included going after Meyer herself.

In the summer of 2010, she published a pathbreaking, in-depth piece, headlined "Covert Operations," which chronicled the rise of the Kochs' ideological network—dubbed the "Kochtopus"—and the efforts of the publicity-shy libertarian brothers to guide the burgeoning tea party toward policies that favor Koch Industries. The article depicted the Kochs as secretive bankrollers waging a war against President Barack Obama and opposing environmental safety measures. The Kochs were enraged by the story. A lawyer for their company complained; David Koch called the story "ludicrous." But the New Yorker saw no reason to correct anything. And the kerfuffle seemed to die down. Or so Mayer thought. 
While reporting for her book, Mayer discovered that after her story was published, the Koch political machine assigned six or so operatives, who were working in borrowed space in the lobbying firm operated by J.C. Watts, a former Republican congressman, to dig up dirt on her. She notes that a source told her, "If they couldn't find it, they'd create it." And Mayer maintains that a private investigative firm, Vigilant Resources International, was hired for this job as well. (This company was founded by Howard Safir, who had been a New York City police commissioner when Rudy Giuliani was mayor.) 
Mayer writes that she was at the time unaware of this effort, but she began to spot clues. A blogger asked if she had heard the rumor that a private detective firm was on her trail. At a Christmas party, a former reporter told her that a private investigator had mentioned that some conservative billionaires were looking for dirt on a reporter who had written a story they disliked. Then, in January 2011, a New York Post reporter, Keith Kelly, contacted David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, to get a comment on "allegations" that would soon be published claiming that Mayer had borrowed heavily from other reporters. Shortly after that, as Mayer puts it in her book, Jonathan Strong, then a reporter at the conservative Daily Caller, emailed Mayer and Remnick and asked whether her work fell "within the realm of plagiarism." He sent several examples of her purported theft. 
Mayer mobilized quickly. She contacted the writers whose works she had supposedly swiped—in some cases she had given credit to these writers—and they told her they did not consider these instances of plagiarism. Mayer says she sent these facts to the Daily Caller, and the story disappeared. Subsequently, in the New York Post, Kelly wondered, "Who is behind the apparently concerted campaign to smear The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer?" Kelly asked Tucker Carlson, the editor of the Daily Caller, about the origins of these allegations against Mayer, and Carlson replied, "I have no clue where we got it. I never ask the reporters where they get stuff, only whether it's true. In this case, we didn't have enough." Strong declined to talk to Kelly about the story. 
The Koch operatives, Mayer was later told by a source she doesn't name in her book, "thought they had you. They thought they were going to be knighted by the Kochs." And Mayer observes, "Their search for dirt had started with my personal life, I was told, but when that turned up nothing truly incriminating, they moved on to plagiarism." Later on, the general counsel of Koch Industries sent a letter to the American Society of Magazine Editors decrying the article in an attempt to prevent the New Yorker from winning a National Magazine Award for the piece
When Mayer asked Safir if his firm had investigated her, he said, "I don't comment. I don't confirm or deny it." And a spokesman for the Koch brothers would not talk to Mayer about this. Indeed, another Koch brothers spokesman did not respond this week when Mother Jones asked if the Kochs had mounted a secret operation against Mayer.

The effort failed and Meyer's book came out this month, it's on my reading list.  But it should serve as a major alarm to our sleeping media, because the only reason they are allowed to exist is that the corporate giants who own them see benefit in keeping them around.

When that changes, when a journalist goes after the Kochs, for instance, all bets are off.

DIspatches From Bevinstan, Con't

Here in Kentucky GOP Gov. Matt Bevin is raising a lot of eyebrows today after declaring a state of emergency for this weekend's major winter storm...and then jetting off for New Hampshire to give a speech in front of Republicans.

Bevin was guest speaker at a Saturday luncheon during the New Hampshire GOP's "First in the Nation Presidential Town Hall," according to media reports. Bevin, who took office as governor last month, grew up in the Granite State.

His administration defended his decision to leave Kentucky while it was under a state of emergency.

"Gov. Bevin has been directly involved in the management of this snow storm," said Jessica Ditto, Bevin's spokeswoman, in a text message.

Bevin decided Saturday morning that the weather situation was well-in-hand and that he would honor his commitment to speak in New Hampshire. She said the governor also was meeting with companies interested in moving jobs to Kentucky.

Earlier Saturday, Bevin posted pictures of himself on Twitter in front of a salt truck and alongside state highway workers.

Many parts of Kentucky got more than a foot of snow, stranding thousands of motorists overnight on Interstate 75 and leaving thousands without power.

So Bevin's answer to his first real test as Governor under a weather emergency was "Let me go give a speech in New Hampshire, you guys will be fine."

Yeah, that seems about par for the course for the guy personality-wise.  Not too particularly worried about thousands without power, but he's got to go take a trip to give a speech bragging about he's the future of the GOP heading into 2020.

He'll reimburse the state later for the trip.  Good job if you can get it.

Jeb Bush, Professional Loser Magnet

Jeb Bush is a horrible candidate, and I'm not sure how the reputation as "the smart Bush" got hung around his neck, but if there's one thing Jeb! is actually good at, it's siding with the losers well after the game is over.

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Sunday applauded Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's response to the water contamination crisis in Flint -- even though the situation was caused by Snyder's own administration.

"I admire Rick Snyder for stepping up right now," Bush said on CNN's "State of the Union." "He's going to the challenge. He's fired people and accepted responsibility to fix this."

Bush's praise comes as some are demanding Snyder's resignation over the preventable disaster in Flint, where as many as 100,000 people have been drinking and bathing in brown, lead-contaminated water that the government previously told them was safe. As The Huffington Post's Arthur Delaney reports, this happened because Snyder's government gave Flint bad water treatment advice.

When host Jake Tapper said he was surprised to hear positive words for Snyder given his role in the catastrophe, Bush held firm and said he's impressed with the way the Republican governor is owning the issue.

"Instead of saying, 'The dog ate my homework, it's someone else's fault,' once it became clear, he's taking the lead now," Bush said. "That's exactly what I think leaders have to do."

The guy has all the political instincts of a particularly runny cow pie, I swear.  He's abysmal at this. Rick Snyder is as politically toxic as the sludge water he's still forcing Flint residents to drink, and we're supposed to think that praising the guy is going to help Jeb Bush's case as "a guy who makes good decisions"?

Oy.  Can somebody just shut the guy up already?


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Last Call For The Moose And The Money Man

Welp, you knew this was coming.

"I hope nobody's allergic to nuts, because we've got a big one here."

Indeed, we do.

Innovative Technology Solutions From The GOP

Broadband internet still not available to 10% of America?  That's a problem in 2016.  The Republican fix to the problem is very simple: redefine "broadband internet speeds" downward until everyone qualifies.

A year after the Federal Communications Commission changed the definition of broadband Internet to include only faster speeds, Republicans in Congress are still mad about the decision.

Using the new broadband minimum speed of 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload, the FCC'sannual review of deployment this month said that broadband isn't being offered to about 34 million Americans. ISPs immediately criticized that assessment; yesterday their friends in Congress piled on.

Six Republican Senators—Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.)—outlined their concerns in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler yesterday. (The Hill reported on the letter andposted a copy.) "We are concerned that this arbitrary 25/3 Mbps benchmark fails to accurately capture what most Americans consider broadband... Looking at the market for broadband applications, we are aware of few applications that require download speeds of 25Mbps," the senators wrote. "Netflix, for example, recommends a download speed of 5Mbps to receive high-definition streaming video, and Amazon recommends a speed of 3.5Mbps. In addition, according to the FCC's own data, the majority of Americans who can purchase 25Mbps service choose not to."

The Republicans' argument seems to assume a household with just one Internet-connected device running a single application. When the FCC increased the definition of broadband from 4Mbps/1Mbps to 25Mbps/3Mbps, it said that families are using multiple devices simultaneously and that the older broadband standard was "inadequate for evaluating whether broadband capable of supporting today’s high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video is being deployed to all Americans in a timely way.”

ISPs themselves admit as much in their marketing, Wheeler argued a year ago, pointing out that Verizon says 25Mbps speeds are "best for one to three devices at the same time, great for surfing, e-mail, online shopping and social networking, [and] streaming two HD videos simultaneously." Verizon's marketing pushed 50Mbps as the speeds families should get if they use three to five devices at the same time.

So why is this such a big deal to Republicans and the ISP who they own?  Because net neutrality rules work off of the availability of broadband.  Republicans want to define the category of broadband downward so that ISPs can meet net neutrality competition standards more easily.

Nice of them, huh.

Sunday Long Read: The Case Against Bernie

Jon Chait makes the same arguments that myself and many of my readers have made against a Bernie Sanders presidency: that while what Sanders want to accomplish is laudable, eventually his methods to accomplish them include "and then the country rallies around me and we win."

The Sanders campaign represents a revolution of rising expectations. In 2008, the last time Democrats held a contested primary, the prospect of simply taking back the presidency from Republican control was nearly enough to motivate the party’s vote. The potential to enact dramatic change was merely a bonus. After nearly two terms of power, with the prospect of Republican rule now merely hypothetical, Democrats want more.

The paradox is that the president’s ability to deliver more change is far more limited. The current occupant of the Oval Office and his successor will have a House of Representatives firmly under right-wing rule, making the prospects of important progressive legislation impossible. This hardly renders the presidency impotent, obviously. The end of Obama’s term has shown that a creative president can still drive some change.

But here is a second irony: Those areas in which a Democratic Executive branch has no power are those in which Sanders demands aggressive action, and the areas in which the Executive branch still has power now are precisely those in which Sanders has the least to say. The president retains full command of foreign affairs; can use executive authority to drive social policy change in areas like criminal justice and gender; and can, at least in theory, staff the judiciary. What the next president won’t accomplish is to increase taxes, expand social programs, or do anything to reduce inequality, given the House Republicans’ fanatically pro-inequality positions across the board. The next Democratic presidential term will be mostly defensive, a bulwark against the enactment of the radical Ryan plan. What little progress liberals can expect will be concentrated in the non-Sanders realm.

So even if you fervently endorse Sanders's policy vision (which, again for the sake of full candor, I do not), he has chosen an unusually poor time to make it the centerpiece of a presidential campaign. It can be rational for a party to move away from the center in order to set itself up for dramatic new policy changes; the risk the Republican Party accepted in 1980 when Ronald Reagan endorsed the radical new doctrine of supply-side economics allowed it to reshape the face of government. But it seems bizarre for Democrats to risk losing the presidency by embracing a politically radical doctrine that stands zero chance of enactment even if they win.

The political reality is that the House, the Senate, and 24 states are under total GOP control, along with 70 of 99 state legislatures and 31 governor's mansions.  Until that is fixed, even the most left-friendly president won't be able to get things done.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Ross's Revenge: The Bloombergining

So question for the assembled: who would be hurt more by a Michael Bloomberg third party Perot run, the GOP or the Dems?

Michael R. Bloomberg has instructed advisers to draw up plans for an independent campaign in this year’s presidential race. His advisers said he is galled by Donald J. Trump’s dominance of the Republican field, and troubled by Hillary Clinton’s stumbles and the rise of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on the Democratic side.

Mr. Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City, has in the past contemplated running for the White House on a third-party ticket, but always concluded he could not win. A confluence of unlikely events in the 2016 election, however, has given new impetus to his presidential aspirations.

Mr. Bloomberg, 73, has already taken concrete steps toward a possible campaign, and has indicated to friends and allies that he would be willing to spend at least $1 billion of his fortune on it, according to people briefed on his deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss his plans. He has set a deadline for making a final decision in early March, the latest point at which advisers believe Mr. Bloomberg could enter the race and still qualify to appear as an independent candidate on the ballot in all 50 states.

He has retained a consultant to help him explore getting his name on those ballots, and his aides have done a detailed study of past third-party bids. Mr. Bloomberg commissioned a poll in December to see how he might fare against Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton, and he intends to conduct another round of polling after the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9 to gauge whether there is indeed an opening for him, according to two people familiar with his intentions.

Mr. Bloomberg’s aides have sketched out one version of a campaign plan that would have the former mayor, a low-key and cerebral personality, deliver a series of detailed policy speeches, backed by an intense television advertising campaign that would introduce him to voters around the country as a technocratic problem-solver and self-made businessman who understands the economy and who built a bipartisan administration in New York.

On the surface, I would think that Bloomberg would run as a gun-control, abortion-friendly moderate Republican, but I really can't decide if that would draw off more Stepford Wives Republicans sick of Trump/Cruz, or Lefty Dudebro Dems who hate Hillary and are eyeing Trump because of his billionaire status.

The Bloomberg numbers could change wildly if Cruz or Sanders are candidates rather than Clinton or Trump, too.  I dunno.

I know the last time this happened back in '92, Democrats won pretty handily, but that was against incumbent Poppy Bush, and both parties lost millions of votes to Ross Perot, Clinton just lost fewer.

Poppy's numbers were about where Obama's are now, upper 40's/low 50's too.  I don't know, I'd need more data.  My gut tells me Bloomberg would split the "time for a change from the Democrats" vote and Hillary would win, but I dunno if that would happen.

What say you guys?

The Academy Learns A Lesson

With the massive #OscarsSoWhite backlash against the Academy Awards for a second straight year without a single person of color nominated for a major acting or directing category, and high-profile actors like Jada Pinkett Smith, her husband Will Smith, and Mark Ruffalo calling the Academy out, the organization is moving quickly to repair its less than golden image.

The organization that hands out Hollywood’s highest honors, reacting to criticism of its all-white slate of Oscar acting nominees this year, is taking steps to improve the diversity of its membership, including curtailing the voting rights of inactive participants.

The goal is to double the number of women and minorities who are members by 2020, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences said Friday in an e-mailed statement. The organization plans to add three new governors to its board immediately.

The absence of a minority nominee for a second-straight year, especially after critically acclaimed performances by Will Smith in “Concussion” and Idris Elba in “Beasts of No Nation,” has sparked renewed calls for change and revived the Twitter hashtag #Oscarssowhite. Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who is black, promised there would be changes after the nominations were announced on Jan. 14.

“One good step in a long, complicated journey for people of color + women artists,” Ava DuVernay, who directed “Selma,” said on Twitter after the announcement. “Shame is a helluva motivator.”

Starting this year, each new member’s voting status will last 10 years, and will be renewed if that new member has been active in motion pictures during that decade, the academy said. Lifetime voting rights will be bestowed on individuals after three 10-year terms, or if they have won or been nominated for an Academy Award. 

April Reign, who has done an amazing job for a second year with #OscarsSoWhite, has gotten a lot of press over this and has really been an excellent voice for people of color concerning the movement.  She's pretty pleased with the results:

I’m very encouraged. I think that the changes that will be made will make a significant difference. I appreciate the fact that the vote was unanimous, which indicates to me that the academy is serious about making the organization more inclusive and more diverse. I’ve spoken about my concern that some of the older academy members still have a vote even though they aren’t active in the film industry and that appears to be addressed.

The fact that they will be proactively looking for more diverse members is [also] exciting.

And the lesson:

Never say it’s just Twitter or that social media can’t change things, because I think we’re seeing it. My words and the words of so many seem to have resonated with the academy. There were thousands of people using the hashtag. I think this is a really good start toward systemic change with respect to the academy.

It's one the Academy is learning the hard way this weekend.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Last Call For The American Disease Spreads North

Sometimes being neighbor to a bunch of, well, Americans, isn't so much fun.

Five people were killed and two critically injured in a school shooting in a remote part of Saskatchewan on Friday and a male suspect was in custody, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and police said.

Trudeau did not give a motivation for the shooting in La Loche, about 600 km (375 miles) north of the city of Saskatoon.

"Obviously this is every parent's worst nightmare," said Trudeau, who was in Davos, Switzerland, for the annual World Economic Forum.

Mass shootings are relatively rare in Canada, which has stricter gun laws than the United States. With five dead, La Loche would be the country's worst school shooting since 14 college students were killed at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique in 1989.

The shooting occurred in the high school, called the Dene Building, and another location in Saskatchewan, Trudeau and Canadian police said. The school remained on lockdown and the total number injured is not yet known, police said.

Police took the suspect into custody outside the school and seized a gun.

La Loche acting Mayor Kevin Janvier told the Canadian Press the incident may have started at the suspect's home.

“I’m not 100 percent sure what’s actually happened but it started at home and ended at the school," Janvier said.

Among Canada’s provinces, Saskatchewan had the highest rate of police-reported family violence in 2014, double the national rate of 243 incidents per 100,000 people, according to a Statistics Canada report on Thursday.

We have what seems like weekly school shootings here in Gunmerica.  In a country like Canada, opening fire on students is still considered a horrible, shocking act, where one political party isn't spouting inane nonsense like "if only school personnel and students had guns to defend themselves!"

Here's hoping PM Trudeau can help keep Canada sane.
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