Monday Reads: Years of Living Dangerously

Good Morning!homeless-old-woman

Recently, I’ve been cooking a lot of my Nana’s depression years recipes and thinking of ways to tighten my belt.  I’ve been watching the stock market go crazy and corporate profits improve in the macroeconomy.  It’s beginning to translate into the labor markets but it really varies state to state.  As you know, my right wing Republican Governor Bobby Jindal has been running away from his responsibilities and record here in Louisiana and spending time on the road.  He’s made visits to CPAC and FOX and even the lawn of the White House trying unsuccessfully to draw attention to his “possible” presidential bid.  He’s going nowhere but down in Republican Straw polls which is karma as far as I’m concerned.

What has been getting attention is his record of failure here.  It’s a doozy. It doesn’t get much worse than having MSN’s Wall Street 24/7 call your state the worst place to do business and then list the reasons that your state resembles Somalia more than a developed nation.

> Real GDP growth, 2012-2013: 1.3% (17th lowest)

> Average wages and salaries, 2013: $44,828 (23rd lowest)

> Pct. of adults with bachelor’s degree, 2013: 22.5% (5th lowest)

> Patents issued to residents, 2013: 395 (13th lowest)

> Projected working-age population growth, 2010-2020: -3.2% (13th lowest)

No state fared worse on 24/7 Wall St.’s business climate index than Louisiana. The state is not the worst place to run all businesses, however. The manufacturing sector accounted for more than 20% of Louisiana’s economic output in 2013, the fourth highest such contribution in the country. Despite the strong sector, Louisiana generally provides poor conditions for business.

Nearly one in five residents lived in poverty in 2013 — nearly the worst rate in the nation — contributing to both the low quality of the labor force as well as a low quality of life in the state. The working-age population was projected to decline by 3.2% from 2010 through 2020, one of the worst declines in the nation. While nearly 30% of Americans had at least a bachelor’s degree as of 2013, only 22.5% of Louisiana adults had at least such a degree, also nearly the lowest rate. Poor education contributed to poor scores in innovation. The state was one of only a handful of states where the average venture capital investment was less than $1 million.

Soup_Kitchens_2Jindal’s  been slavishly following Grover Norquist’s prescriptions for drowning the state government in his bathtub.  He’s also part and parcel passed legislation straight from ALEC and the Koch Brothers.  As a result, we have a $1.6 million dollar deficit that’s going to be challenging to eliminate. This is especially true since he’s spent the last 6 years pulling every slight of hand accounting trick in the book, sold off all possible state assets, and siphoned most all reserve funds.  His first draft basically put all the state’s public universities in financial exigency which is a public entity’s version of bankruptcy reorganization. It also looks like the public health system is on the verge of collapse.

So, this is now the “new” idea being floated by some..   There’s discussion going on to basically tell a lot of the universities to go privatize themselves.

Years of deep cuts to state funding for Louisiana’s colleges and universities — and the threat of even further reductions in the near future — have some leaders looking at drastic measures that could change the face of Louisiana higher education.

One idea that has recently been floated: Why not encourage some of the state’s public schools to go private?

The idea, which experts agree is radical and may not ever be feasible, came up during a recent meeting of the state Board of Regents, a group appointed by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose administration has led the charge for recent state budgets that have left Louisiana with some of the nation’s most severe cuts to higher education funding. Regents board members have instructed state higher education staff members to examine the concept and report back on whether the plan would work and what it would take.

“You look at some areas of the state, there may be a university or a college inside of a university that could do better as a private entity,” Board of Regents Chairman Roy Martin said in a follow-up interview with The Advocate.

Martin stressed that he was speaking as an individual, not for the board.

It’s hard to describe how the years of defunding basic education, roads, and public health and safety service has impacted everyone’s life around here. I see homeless people on every major street corner.  I have friends looking for second jobs or first jobs. Many people I know have either left town or moved out of the historical districts.  This is not the post Katrina revival that we were promised.  However, it’s not that way for some folks.

One of the strangest things that’s going on here is the boom121113-poverty-children-lg in real estate which is being driven by the purchase of huge, million dollar homes.  A group of us have been trying to figure out where the jobs are to support these kinds of purchases.  Essentially, we found out that most of these sales are going to people who are looking for second homes and they’re coming from out of state.  So, the feel of a banana republic tropical island is getting a complete workout here.

The top-of-the-market houses are “rising in price at least as fast as the market as a whole,” Ragas said, based on conversations with Realtors.

“In the higher market, it is a much brisker market now,” said Rick Haase, president of Latter & Blum Inc., which sold nearly one-third of the 158 homes priced at $1 million or more that were sold during the 12-month period ending Jan. 31.

The highest-priced home to sell in the New Orleans area last year was advertised as a “stately Queen Anne home” featuring seven bedrooms, 5 ½ bathrooms, “lush gardens with organically grown citrus trees and grapes,” and a heated pool. The property at 3 Audubon Place was listed for sale at $5.25 million and sold 86 days later for $5 million, or $583.57 per square foot.

Haase said the average number of days that properties selling at more than $1 million stay on the market has dropped from more than 150 to 90.

It took just one day for the sixth most-expensive New Orleans-area property to sell last year. The three-bedroom, three-bathroom single-family home at 828 Chartres St. in the French Quarter sold for its full asking price of $2.3 million, or $575 a square foot.

“It’s not like every house flies off the market. But if it’s priced appropriately, in the right location, has the right pedigree, then, yeah, the numbers are going up and up,” said Keller Williams Realtor Ricky Lemann, who was the listing agent on a $2.25 million property on First Street that sold last year. “There will be no adjustment in that luxury market until the (interest) rates go up.”

I’ve really noticed that the kinds of people moving into my part of town are not the same kinds of people that are selling and leaving. The house next door went from rental property to a starter home using the Obama Tax incentives to a home away from home for two Northeasterners within a period of about 5 years.  It now spends most of its time as an unlicensed short term rental which is basically illegal.  But, one owner is in NJ and the other came from Philadelphia so they don’t seem to care much about that.

The split between rich and poor is becoming more accentuated and its address is changing as the downtowns of large cities have become gentrified and homes priced out of the reach of middle and working class families. 73b94127d7f84777a04ab56c35df0c23 This is having some appalling impacts on children as the majority of U.S. public schools now have children that are classified as living in poverty.  It’s now first tier suburbs where poverty issues are playing out.

For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation.

The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches. The lunch program is a rough proxy for poverty, but the explosion in the number of needy children in the nation’s public classrooms is a recent phenomenon that has been gaining attention among educators, public officials and researchers.

“We’ve all known this was the trend, that we would get to a majority, but it’s here sooner rather than later,” said Michael A. Rebell of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College at Columbia University, noting that the poverty rate has been increasing even as the economy has improved. “A lot of people at the top are doing much better, but the people at the bottom are not doing better at all. Those are the people who have the most children and send their children to public school.”

More Americans are now living in poverty in suburbs than in urban areas.  This is pushing problems into areas ill-equipped and financed to handle them.

City centers around the country are becoming younger, more affluent and more educated, while inner suburbs are seeing poverty rates rise, according to a new study from the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

The new study is based on an analysis of demographic changes in 66 cities between 1990 and 2012. It comes just months after a surge of headlines about suburban poverty following a Brookings Institution study that found that more Americans are now living in poverty in the suburbs than in rural or urban areas.

News of this demographic shift comes as no surprise to suburban school superintendents and school boards. They know their student populations are shifting, and they are wrestling with how to adequately serve the rising number of poor children who come to class with far more needs than their more affluent peers.

71221-004-07A51C33Children and Seniors are being particularly hard hit by the defunding of services on both the state and federal level but zealous Republicans look to score points by poor shaming. They make scapegoats of the nation’s most vulnerable people. While Social Security has been indexed to increase with price increases, Seniors are not exempt from income inequality. Part of the issue with Social Security funding is the cap on income subject to FICA taxes.  The cap has created a funding gap.

As America recovers from the recession, wealthy households are recovering faster than low-income ones, whose incomes have stagnated or declined since the crash. A new report says that this widening gap is sapping Social Security.

Currently, two-thirds of seniors rely on the program for their retirement income. The wage gap may have cost Social Security$1 trillion over the last 30 years, according to a report last week from the Center for American Progress.

And as more Americans reach retirement age, Social Security is set to eat through its funding by 2033, assuming that Congress takes no action to bolster it. After that it would only be able to cover 77 percent of its claims.

“For low-income seniors, Social Security represents nearly 85 percent of income. Even for seniors right in the middle, Social Security represents nearly two-thirds of their retirement income,” said Rebecca Vallas, director of CAP’s poverty program.

Small wages, big shortfalls

The pension and disability insurance program is funded by a payroll tax that applies to wages of $118,500 and below. But the money flowing into the program is not as large as it could be, according to the report, now that an increasing share of wage growth is going to people who make more than that, and low-wage workers make less.

Why does that matter for Social Security? Because highest earners reach the$118,500 “cap” quickly and stop paying into the fund for the rest of the year. “Social Security funding is directly tied to the full wages of low and middle income workers,” Vallas says. “It’s their wages that matter.”

The payroll tax cap was set in 1983 by President Reagan, which at the time captured 90 percent of wages. “Reagan essentially said, let’s go for 90 percent, and we will let 10 percent go,” says Vallas.

But since 1983, that cap hasn’t been adjusted for wage growth to keep up with the 90 percent goal. “What they didn’t anticipate is income inequality,” says Vallas. “The highest earners have seen growth much faster than the average worker.”

Now the tax cap only captures 83 percent of wages,  instead of 90. The missing 7 percent is part of the Social Security shortfall.

Of course, all of these issues have come because we’ve shifted the burden of paying for things from businesses and the wealthiest.  We’ve also shifted the subsidizes to businesses and the wealthiest.  As a result, fewer and fewer services are being offered, few people are covered, and fewer jobs are available.

Hand-in-hand with reducing taxes and reducing government services has been the demonization of public servants. Scott Walker–one of the front runners for the Republican presidential nomination–likened fire slide_352875_3828872_freefighter and teacher unions to ISIS while talking to CPAC over the weekend. 

At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) just outside Washington, DC, Wisconsin Governor and likely presidential candidate Scott Walker was asked what his plan would be, were he in the White House, to combat the terrorism perpetuated by the Islamic State In Syria (ISIS).

As an enthusiastic crowd cheered, he responded not with a plan but with an argument for why his battles against organized labor in his state makes him the most qualified for the job.

“We need have someone who leads and ultimately will send a message that not only will we protect American soil, but…freedom-loving people anywhere else in the world. We need that confidence,” he said. “If I can take on a hundred thousand protesters, I can do the same across the world.”

These kinds of jobs have been central to working and middle class upward mobility in the past.  They’ve also been jobs that have traditionally been much more integrated and diverse.  Scott Walker linked public servants to terrorists.  Think about that. 

In 2011, Walker pushed through a law, Act 10, that slashed the power of public employee unions to bargain, and cut pay for most public sector workers.  As a special slap to teachers, Walker exempted the unions of police, firefighters and state troopers from the changes in collective bargaining rights but not educators.  Teachers protested for a long time, closing schools for days, but the law passed, and the impact on teachers unions in Wisconsin has been dramatic: according to this piece by my Post colleague Robert Samuels. The state branch of the National Education Association, once 100,000 strong, has seen its membership drop by a third, and the American Federation of Teachers, which organized in the college system, has seen a 50 percent decline.

This week may bring down a central tenet of the ACA which has brought private health insurance to millions of people.  It has been one policy that has successfully increased the day to day life of ordinary people. Will the Supremes bring it down?  Will it be drowned in Scalia’s bathtub?  I am one of the 7 1/2 million people who were forced onto the federal exchange because my Republican governor is an asshole.  Will I join the ranks of uninsured this week?  Me with a chronic condition and a cancer history?

Shortly after the A.C.A. passed, in 2010, a group of conservative lawyers met at a conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, and scoured the nine-hundred-page text of the law, looking for grist for possible lawsuits. Michael Greve, a board member of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian outfit funded by, among others, the Koch brothers, said, of the law, “This bastard has to be killed as a matter of political hygiene. I do not care how this is done, whether it’s dismembered, whether we drive a stake through its heart, whether we tar and feather it and drive it out of town, whether we strangle it.” In time, lawyers hired by the C.E.I. discovered four words buried in Section 36B, which refers to the exchanges—now known as marketplaces—where people can buy health-insurance policies. The A.C.A. created federal tax subsidies for those earning less than a certain income to help pay for their premiums and other expenses, and, in describing who is eligible, Section 36B refers to exchanges “established by the State.” However, thirty-four states, most of them under Republican control, refused to create exchanges; for residents of such states, the law had established a federal exchange. But, according to the conjurings of the C.E.I. attorneys, the subsidies should be granted only to people who bought policies on the state exchanges, because of those four words in Section 36B. The lawyers recruited plaintiffs and filed a lawsuit; their goal is to revoke the subsidies provided to the roughly seven and a half million people who were left no choice by the states where they live but to buy on the federal exchange.

The claim borders on the frivolous. The plaintiffs can’t assert that the A.C.A. violates the Constitution, because the Justices narrowly upheld the validity of the law in 2012. Rather, the suit claims that the Obama Administration is violating the terms of its own law. But the A.C.A. never even suggests that customers on the federal exchange are ineligible for subsidies. In fact, there’s a provision that says that, if a state refuses to open an exchange, the federal government will “establish and operate such Exchange within the State.” The congressional debate over the A.C.A. included fifty-three meetings of the Senate Finance Committee and seven days of committee debates on amendments. The full Senate spent twenty-five consecutive days on it, the second-longest session ever on a single piece of legislation. There were similar marathons in the House. Yet no member of Congress ever suggested that the subsidies were available only on the state exchanges. This lawsuit is not an attempt to enforce the terms of the law; it’s an attempt to use what is at most a semantic infelicity to kill the law altogether.

I spent the weekend and a few days before that watching people I went to high school with that mostly didn’t attend college squawk about people on disability, unemployment, and government waste and give away.  They say all Obama supporters are the ones that want images (1)benefits but no jobs. It’s just all kinds of drivel that Fox spews that’s easy to debunk with facts but impossible to debunk to hard core idiots who aren’t interested in facts, truth, or reality.  What has happened to the country that I grew up in and even to the state that I moved to 20 years ago?  I turn 60 this year.  I’ve never seen so much vitriol aimed at the wrong people in my life and for what?

I want to point you back to the kind of crap spewed by Republicans recently with a quote from an Indiana office seeker from the last election.  This guy basically said let the poor “wither and die”.  It’s basically what they all think but don’t say.

“For almost three generations people, in some cases, have been given handouts.  They have been ‘enabled’ so much that their paradigm in life is simply being given the stuff of life, however meager.

What you see is a setting for a life of misery is life to them never-the-less.  No one has the guts to just let them wither and die. No one who wants votes is willing to call a spade a spade. As long as the Dems can get their votes the enabling will continue. The Republicans need their votes and dare not cut the fiscal tether. It is really a political Catch-22.”

I’m sitting here wondering what you’re supposed to do to get a job any more in a state like mine.  I’m even wondering what you’ve got to do to get a decent education. I’m so glad my kids have gotten out of LSU so that they’re missing the impact of Jindal’s scourge.

 So here’s a good lesson in karma if you want one.  A gun loving Obama and Obamacare hating Sheriff who is now trying to recover medical costs by using Go Fund me.  Evidently, Obamacare was too bad for him but begging at this point isn’t.  Also, guess who is funding him the most?  Liberals.  Lessons are really hard to learn, aren’t they?

Sheriff Richard Mack is the right wing former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona. He is the head of an organization called “Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association,” a member of the NRA’s Hall Of Fame, and a staunch opponent of the policies of President Obama, including Obamacare.

Richard Mack has run into some medical problems and since he is uninsured, he’s asking for help. Mack suffered a heart attack on January 12. This apparently came right on the heels of some serious medical issues that were suffered by his wife. His son, Jimmy Mack, has set up a GoFundMe campaign, asking for donations to help offset the cost of medical treatment. Apparently the Macks were expecting right wing supporters to step up to the plate and help out but, judging by the comments that accompany many of the donations, Mack is getting the bulk of his support from liberals.

As of this writing, Mack has received close to $20,000 in donations from 439 people. The commenters are sympathetic to Mack’s situation — far more sympathetic than Mack and his supporters have been to the plight of those without health insurance. Many hope that he will use it as a learning experience, to change his views about the Affordable Care Act.

Some times I just want to cook my Nana’s hamhocks and beans and read Grapes of Wrath while never turning on the TV or computer again.  However, that never happens either.  I rant, therefore I blog. I blog, therefore I wonder why so few people really get it?

What’s on your reading and blogging list today? 


Friday Reads: The Medium isn’t the Message

martha-gellhornGood Morning!

I’ve been looking at media stories this week.  That includes both traditional and nontraditional forms.  The internet continues to influence the release of news and how news is made and reported. Several topics really caught my eye.  The first is the ease with which we’re seeing documentation of Bill O’Reilly’s exaggerations on places he’s been and news stories he covered.  It seems like one exaggeration/lie after another is popping up from all kinds of places since David Corn of Mother Jones found out that O’Reilly was never near a battlefield during the Falklands War despite the stories O’Reilly tells.  Here’s some of the latest on the life and times of the blustery, on line person who really is a serial liar.

Former colleagues of Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News host whose tales of past reporting exploits are facing renewed scrutiny, have disputed his account of surviving a bombardment of bricks and rocks while covering the 1992 riots in Los Angeles.

Six people who covered the riots with O’Reilly in California for Inside Edition told the Guardian they did not recall an incident in which, as O’Reilly has claimed, “concrete was raining down on us” and “we were attacked by protesters”.

Several members of the team suggested that O’Reilly may instead be overstating a fracas involving one disgruntled Los Angeles resident, who smashed one of their cameras with a piece of rubble.

Two of the team said the man was angered specifically by O’Reilly behaving disrespectfully after arriving at the smoking remains of his neighbourhood in a limousine, whose driver at one point began polishing the vehicle. O’Reilly is said to have shouted at the man and asked him: “Don’t you know who I am?”

O’Reilly, 65, is one of the most influential figures in American broadcasting and publishing. He is paid a reported $20m a year to host his show, the O’Reilly Factor, which consistently ranks among the most-watched current affairs programs in US cable TV. He has also authored several bestselling books and memoirs.

He has for several days been defending himself against accusations that he inflated his recollections of reporting from Argentina at the end of the Falklands war as a young correspondent for CBS News. The Guardian found he had told differing versions of an apparent encounter at gunpoint with Argentinian forces.

He has also been accused of lying in one of his books about being present at the scene when a CIA source, who had allegedly been linked to the assassination of President John F Kennedy, killed himself in 1977.

imagesXS1GNOQHFox News and Holt–publisher of O’Reilly’s book on Kennedy–have stood firmly by their man. O’Reilly’s show has never much been about facts any way as delivering anger to a key republican base.  This would seem hard to ignore.  Additionally, O’Reilly has actually threatened reporters.  Every one expected the name calling but it’s gone way beyond that now. How can Fox stand behind an on air personality that lies and threatens journalists?

As the controversy surrounding Bill O’Reilly and his war reporting experiences continues to heat up, with more allegations coming out each day, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow wonders how much longer Fox News can stand by the host.

On Wednesday evening, Maddow spoke with Mother Jones author David Corn, one of the journalists who wrote the original report revealing the inaccuracies in O’Reilly’s story. O’Reilly subsequently called Corn “a liar” and said that he deserves to be put in “the kill zone.” On Tuesday, the Fox News host threatened a New York Times reporter covering the scandal: “I am coming after you with everything I have,” O’Reilly said.

“Apparently, they [Fox News] think it’s proper for one journalist to call another one names,” Corn told Maddow. “Not that it scares me off the story, but I have family and I have friends who are concerned about me now.”

Corn called the threats “highly inappropriate” and noted that O’Reilly still has not disproven “a single fact” from his piece.

Maddow said that after his threats to Corn and the Times’ reporter, it is “untenable” for Fox News to stand by him.

“They employ a lot of journalists, including those who work in risky situations,” she said. “Fox is a good place to work for journalists.”

Maddow made a similar point on her show one night earlier, questioning what O’Reilly’s behavior will do to Fox News’ “work environment” and to the “real reporters” that work there

Why on earth do news personalities like O’Reilly and Brian Williams lie when their jobs should be all about integrity? photogsDo they all yearn to be seen as Walter Cronkite?  Do their memories and egos just run amok?

News in America has increasingly become infotainmenthalf factual information about the world’s events, half dazzling production and splashy narratives. Simultaneously, fewer and fewer Americans have ever seen battle; most of us only know war from what we see in film and television. So war itself becomes difficult to distinguish from entertainment. American Sniper, with its ambiguous moral commitments, is now the highest grossing American war film of all time, adjusted for inflation. Unlike popular war films about battles long past, American Sniper is set during the Iraq war, the effects of which are only beginning to ripple across our culture. Moreover, its story allegedly reflects the true-life story of its central character, sniper Chris Kyle. It’s somewhat true, like the news, but with a better script and pretty actors.

Which makes it hard for the news to keep up, even when you’re as handsome as Brian Williams. Unlike most cinematic retellings of wars, actual wars are multifaceted, complicated, anti-climactic, and grim. When war is already a successful subject in mainstream cinema, news purveyors whose professions have become increasingly akin to entertainment are shrewd to play up war stories in relaying the narrative of the day. The trouble is that shrewdness, for some news professionals, has morphed into a calculated consideration of the entertainment value of war stories, regardless of their factuality.

Maybe Williams and O’Reilly are merely victims of the fallible human brain. Or maybe that hunger to entertainand, perhaps, for a touch of gloryoverwhelmed their professional duty to the facts. What, after all, is more exciting than a war story in which you’re the star.

imagesH6SL6G62The other story I’ve followed has been yet another installment of “Is blogging dead?”  These are articles that I’ve seen a lot of since around three years ago. I guess the collapse of the Andrew Sullivan experiment has brought on another deluge.  The link explores the musings of bloggers from “The Golden Age” which seems an odd way to describe a period of maybe 5 years.  Any way, there are a few bloggers with opinions both ways.  I’ve followed a few of the links including this one from fellow economist/blogger Noah Smith.

In a nutshell, what is dying is the idea of the blog as a news source. In the old days, as a reader, you would have a favorite blogger, who would write many frequent posts throughout the day. That would be your main news source, your portal to current events. Often the post would have a slight bit of commentary or reaction. Basically, you got to hear the world narrated through the voice of someone you liked. For me, those narrators were University of California, Berkeley, economist Brad DeLong and Matt Yglesias, now at Vox. For many, it was Sullivan.

Twitter has basically killed that. With a Twitter feed you can integrate a bunch of different narrators into a single, flowing newsreel. It turns out that most of the micro-commentary that used to accompany a blog post can be squeezed into one or two tweets.

But the thing about micro-blogging is that, well, it’s micro. If you look at the blogs that Klein lists as the future (and there are many, many more), you will see that they all do posts that are about the length of a news article. That’s something Twitter complements, but can’t replicate.

However, that doesn’t mean that blog posts are now just news articles freed from the tyranny of professional editors. With blogs, you can do something that news can’t easily do — you can carry on a conversation.

imagesN5QQ6TZYI have to admit that I have mixed feelings about those declaring blogging to be the refuge of 40 year olds with kids or that nothing relevant happens on blogs these days. Maybe it’s because many of my friends are bloggers. But, I would like to point out that Lamar White–a blogging law student–broke two huge stories in the last year. The first was the shoddy situation with moonlight Congressman–now Senator–Double Bill Cassiday. The LSU med center just audited  whitewashed its findings and Lamar is still on top of it.  His second piece connecting Congressman Steve Scalise to the local white supremacists and David Duke nearly cost Scalise a leadership position.  Indeed, bloggers can frequently do good local investigations which is something local and national media rarely fund any more.

I would agree that blogging is changing but then so are all forms of written communication as well as broadcast media. Chris Cilliza has another notion.

The idea inherent in all of the death knells for blogging is that blogging is any one thing. It’s not. As I explain to anyone who will listen to me  an ever-shrinking populace  a “blog” is simply a publishing medium. It’s a way to put content on the Internet  usually a fast and, relatively, user-friendly way. But, the conflating a publishing medium with a sort of online writing  opinionated, snarky  that tends to be the preferred approach of many of its users is a mistake.

Well, we’re still standing–or sitting as the case may be–while sharing information with each other. We’ve all come a long way since we were booted from various communities for being loyal to Hillary back in 2008. I think there will always be a place for alternative voices. I say this as a former writer of an underground “newspaper”–The Aardvark–from way back in the day.  The medium evolves. The writer’s voice and need to write carries on.

So, what’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Monday Reads: Tar Sands Inferno

Canada-Oil Train DerailmentGood Morning!

I’ve been reading a lot about the incredible number of fiery explosions of oil cars carrying tar sands oil.  Rachel Maddow covered the recent explosions in West Virginia last week which got me started on a series of articles leaving me highly concerned.  You see, I live within less than a block of freight trains that carry the stuff.  Why are these things blowing up like huge bombs?  The answer will both concern you and make you very mad.  Here’s the background of the North American “bomb trains”.

So, let me start with the Maddow show investigations and move on until we get to the movement of these tank cars on my street.  The latest explosion happened in Mount Carbon, West Virginia one week ago today. The explosion sent tankers filled with Bakken Tar Sands Oil into a nearby river.  The link above will show the report on that derailment and the horrifying images of the inferno that followed.

This links to the report that grabbed my attention last Tuesday.  It is 20 minutes long and explains why these derailments and explosions are occurring frequently and with such horrifying results.   I learned about conditioning of crude oil from this broadcast.

Transporting oil involves more than just safe train cars or even pipelines. The Bakken Tar Sands Oil is not being conditioned which is leaving extremely volatile and flammable components. These components create the mixture causing the bomb trains that transport right through towns, cities,  and neighborhoods like mine.  Texas law forces Texas oil to be fully conditioned prior to transportation.  North Dakota law does not and the Tar Sands Oil is particularly nasty stuff.  North Dakota has now initiated a cleansing process which is a weaker version of conditioning.  Imagine my surprise when I found out that Texas actually has tough regulations on this.  That says something to me.  North Dakota has some ‘splaining to do.

While the investigation continues into Monday’s massive explosion of Bakken crude oil tankers after a train derailment in West Virginia, a spokesperson for the Department of Mineral Resources says proper conditioning of the oil is just one of four pieces needed to ensure transport safety.

Alison Ritter said the State Industrial Commission’s oil conditioning order, effective April 1, sets a standard of certainty for the design of safe railcars.

“This is where we believe North Dakota fits into the solution of making oil as safe as possible for transport,” Ritter said.

However, she said the Federal Railroad Administration is responsible for unit train routing, speed limits, brakes and track maintenance, as well as notification of state emergency responders. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is responsible for overseeing how crude is labeled and tanker car design, and it and states are responsible for funding and training emergency responders, she said.

CSX Transport says the Bakken oil tankers that exploded this week were built to the higher safety standards.

The Dakota Resource Council continued its attack on state officials Wednesday, saying the new oil conditioning order for Bakken oil falls far short of what’s needed.

The order requires oil producers to reduce volatile gases in the oil to reach a maximum pressure of 13.7 pounds per square inch.

The DRC and others point out that the Bakken oil involved in a derailment explosion that killed 52 people in Quebec in 2013 was even lower, at 9.3 psi.

“We can and should do better,” the organization said in a statement Wednesday. The organization had pressed the Industrial Commission to require that the oil be stabilized to remove more of the gases.

Bakken crude has been involved in six train explosions since 2008, including one outside Casselton 14 months ago.

Again that latest explosion in West Virginia was a week ago today.  Just imagine massive fireballs, explosions, and evacuations in your town anywhere near a cross country railroad line.  There are some ongoing efforts to redesign old tankers in Canada.  It hasn’t gained a lot of traction here.6a00e5500ce6be883401127966322a28a4

Bakken crude is regarded as potentially more flammable than traditional crude, thus posing an increased hazard. And since the derailment of a train hauling Bakken crude killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July 2013, the type of tankers involved in these accidents has become the subject of intense scrutiny. Both Canada and the United States have called for tougher safety standards, including upgrading the tankers. In mid-January, Canada announced it would take older tankers, known as the “DOT-111″, off the network years sooner than the United States will, putting the two countries at odds over increased safety measures on the deeply integrated system

The Mother Jones article cited above also links to an in-depth study about both the controversy and the problems with relying on making changes to the cars alone.  The problem, it seems, is more with the Bakken crude and nothing much is being done about that.  Well, it’s going to be “cleansed” starting in April.  However, that’s not the same as the conditioning process as mentioned in the link above.   Oil extractors are not happy with this at all and it’s not even the full out recommended conditioning.  (This link studies the impact from the Oil extractor viewpoint.)

The “commission order was written as a matter of safety,” the NDIC said in an executive summary of the regulation. “Rail accidents across the country have drawn attention for the need to better understand how Bakken oil is produced and processed at the well site.”

The regulation requires all crude produced in North Dakota to have a vapor pressure of no more than 13.7 pounds per square inch. “National standards recognize oil with a vapor pressure of 14.7 psi or less to be stable,” according to the summary, which said that winter blend gasoline has a vapor pressure of 13.5 psi. “Under the order, all Bakken crude oil produced in North Dakota will be conditioned with no exceptions,” the NDIC said in a statement.

The regulation will make waves from the wellhead to the rail terminal to the refinery, and possibly down the train tracks. It’s unknown how the conditioning of Bakken crude could affect the terms of forthcoming new tank-car safety standards, meant to protect against volatile crude shipments. But certainly, many industry participants will take on the daunting task of first conditioning the North Dakota crude and then moving out the associated NGLs into a market already flush with ethane, butane, and propane, sources said.

"Some Like It Hot"North Dakota is not making many friends with its neighboring states as witnessed in this NPR program quoting the Governor of Minnesota who worries about the impact of explosions in the much more populated state.

In neighboring Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton “is concerned primarily about the safety of people along oil train routes, and in particular about the fact that this is a very volatile oil,” says Dave Christianson, an official with the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Dayton has joined activists in asking North Dakota to force oil companies to “stabilize” the oil — to make it less explosive by separating out the flammable liquids.

Last month, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple convened a public hearing on the idea. Keith Lilie, an operations and maintenance manager for Statoil, which has a big presence in the Bakken, testified in front of a room full of oilmen in suits and cowboy boots who came to the hearing from places like Oklahoma City and Houston.

Lilie said he opposes having to build expensive tanks to heat the oil and separate out flammable liquids, like butane.

“Statoil believes the current conditioning of crude oil is sufficient for safely transporting Bakken crude oil by truck, rail and pipeline,” he said.

Eric Bayes, general manager of Oasis Petroleum’s operations in the Bakken, also testified. He asked what companies are supposed to do with those explosive liquids once they’re separated from the oil.

The stabilization process, he says, would “create another product stream you have no infrastructure in place for.”

But energy economist Philip Verleger, says the resistance is about money. “The industry never wants to take steps which increase the cost of production, even if it’s in the best interests of everybody,” he says.

Verleger says the opposition to proposed safety rules is short-sighted, and that the industry could actually hurt itself if there’s another serious incident. “I think the movement of crude oil by rail is one accident away from being terminated,” Verleger says.

Activist Lynn Wolff supports new rules that would make the oil less explosive, and says such regulation would protect people beyond North Dakota. “These bomb trains have been in Virginia and Alabama and blown up there as well,” he says.

So, while reading about these “bomb trains” –which certainly sound to me like a huge disaster in the making–I stumbled into an article that shows the little darlings cross my street just 5 buildings down from my house.  Imagine the look of horror on my face.  Also, let me tell you, those trains actually derail quite a bit since the infrastructure here really really really sucks.  Officials are actually thinking about what would happen if the things derail in the French Quarter which is just one mile up the street from me.53daa8056dec627b149f9777_vintage-train-travel-8

City of New Orleans and state emergency officials said Friday (Feb. 20) they are prepared to implement an emergency evacuation of the French Quarter or other parts of the city in the event of a catastrophic crude oil derailment accident, such as the event that engulfed parts of Adena Village, W. Va., in pillars of flame on Monday.

But city officials said Friday those evacuation plans are not releasable under federal law, and declined to explain any details of how city, state and federal agencies would work together to respond to a catastrophic accident.

“The city’s evacuation plan is considered security sensitive as it lists critical routes, critical infrastructure and key resources,” said Bradley Howard, press secretary to Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

So, great they have a plan but they refuse to tell us about it. My plan is to suggest the girls take out life insurance on me and the pets.

The West Virginia accident involved a 109-tank car shipment of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota that was on its way to a shipping facility in Jamestown, Va. It was one of three such derailments within the past week, and involved new, supposedly safer tank cars that were supposed to have withstood the rupture and fire incident that occurred, said Fred Millar, an independent transportation safety expert based in Washington, D.C.

Millar called the older rail cars, many of which are used to ship oil through Louisiana, as “Pepsi cans on wheels” that should be expected to lose their contents whenever they derail.

Millar pointed to an accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, on July 6, 2013, as an example of a worst-case incident that New Orleans should be prepared for. In that accident, poor maintenance, driver error, flawed operating procedures, and lack of safety redundancy resulted in a fiery derailment in the middle of the town that killed 47 and destroyed more than 30 buildings.

He said a key concern is that when tank cars are punctured, the released oil pours downhill through streets and into sewers and storm drains, creating a river of fire, if a spark sets the fuel alight.

The Gulf Gateway Terminal, located off Almonaster Boulevard on the northern side of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and about a half-mile north of the Lower 9th Ward, can load 100,000 barrels of crude oil a day from tank cars onto barges and ships. The oil is delivered from a variety of northwestern locations to New Orleans, including the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and oil tar sands fields in Canada, and the tank cars are moved into New Orleans through Uptown and the French Quarter by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad and the Public Belt Rail Road.

In New Orleans, dozens of tank cars are being moved by rail by the New Orleans Public Belt railroad and by BNSF Railway to the Gulf Gateway Terminal on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, where more than 100,000 barrels of crude can be transferred from the cars to barges and ships each day.

The tank cars take a circuitous route through the New Orleans area to get there, often traveling by Public Belt tracks along the river through Old Jefferson to Uptown and then through the French Quarter.

Along the way, the rail cars pass within a block or two of  New Orleans Children’s Hospital, and between the Riverwalk shopping mall and the Ernest Morial Convention Center.

A recent photo of the Gulf Gateway Terminal on the company’s web site shows more than 500 oil rail cars adjacent to a transport dock, which is on the north side of the waterway off Almonaster Boulevard, and about a half-mile north of the Lower 9thWard.

Each tank car averages 30,000 gallons of crude oil, and if all the cars were full, that would mean 15 million gallons of oil were stored at the terminal after having been moved through the French Quarter.

0924411fbb2a4090594e5e28c0d164d9Just to give you a great little visual, the train and the cars go within blocks of the Children’s Hospital.  Doesn’t that make you feel just wonderful?  And these oil and gas guys are worried about their profit margins and saturating the already saturated damn NGL markets?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m not sleeping very well these days.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?  You can post anything even though I basically covered one topic.  I just had to get the information out.  I hope you find it useful and horrifying.


Friday Reads: A Sign of the Overlord Apocalypse

Good Morning!old store

It’s been since at least November since I’ve had some time to myself when I wasn’t completely in need of tons of sleep so I’m enjoying spending some time in bed with my feet up getting my reads on.  There’s not been a lot that’s intrigued me but it beats designing and updating an on line International Finance Class, believe me.  So, imagine my sheer joy when I found out that Walmart broke down and upped its wages.

There are several reasons the America’s #1 corporation and chain store made the leap.  It was probably a combination of fear of unionization and the incredible employee turnover rate.  It really costs to hire and train new workers so upping the salary is really the required move for that one.  There’s a lot of analysis on the deed so I’d thought I’d take a look at it.  First up, Joe Pinsker at The Atlantic discusses the move.

The CEO of Walmart announced earlier today that all of the company’s employees will, starting in April, be paid at least $9 an hour, nearly $2 more than the federal minimum wage. That’s still far short of the $15 per hour pushed for by OUR Walmart, a union-like group of Walmart workers. Still, it’s a change for a company that has stubbornly opposed such a raise for years.

Walmart’s CEO framed the raise as an act of corporate benevolence, but the reason his company will inch closer to paying all its employees fair wages has little to do with goodwill (few business decisions do). If Walmart has determined that it’ll need to start paying higher wages to stay competitive, then other retailers might arrive at the same conclusion. This isn’t an isolated act of corporate social responsibility—it’s a response to the current realities of labor economics that will likely inform the behavior of other American employers.

1922_Detroit_storeThis is a pretty good sign that the economy is doing well enough that workers are beginning to be able to trade up to better jobs.  It’s the best sign that I’ve seen yet that the economy has really started to recover from the financial crisis. 

Some companies have set even higher wage floors more in line with living wage expectations. Most recently, for example, Aetna set its floor for US workers at $16 an hour, twice the current federal minimum wage.

Higher wages are exactly what the financial doctors have ordered to cure America’s ailing economy. According to the Economic Policy Institute, it would take a wage growth of at least 3.5% to 4% for workers to feel the impact of the recovery. In 2014, the average hourly pay went up by just 1.7%.

“Raising wages among low-wage workers shifts income into the pockets of workers and families that are highly likely to quickly spend every additional dollar they earn,” says David Cooper, economic analyst at the Economic Policy Institute.

“So even though some businesses have to pay their workers more, they see more customers coming through the door because now there’s additional dollars rippling out through local economies in a way that doesn’t really happen if those dollars just go back into the bank accounts of corporate shareholders.”

It’s taken awhile for the plight of low income workers to attract any kind of attention from decision makers despite the huge amount of media attention focused on income inequality and the general lack of demand at stores that cater to the majority of Americans.  Sooner or later, something had to give.  It certainly wasn’t going to be any Republican-led legislature.

So what has changed? The simple answer is that the world for employers is very different with a 5.7 percent unemployment rate (the January level) than it was five years ago, at 9.8 percent. Finding qualified workers is harder for employers now than it was then, and their workers are at risk of jumping ship if they don’t receive pay increases or other improvements. Apart from pay, Walmart executives said in their conference call with reporters that they were revising their employee scheduling policies so that workers could have more predictability in their work schedules and more easily get time off when they needed it, such as for a doctor’s appointment.

The giant question now is not whether there will be some meaningful wage gains in 2015; beyond the anecdotal evidence from Walmart and Aetna, the collapse in oil prices means even modest pay increases will translate into quite large inflation-adjusted raises. The question is whether wage gains will be strong enough to create a virtuous cycle in which rising pay for the workers at the bottom three-quarters of the income scale, who are most likely to spend the money and get it circulating through the economy, will spur more investment and hiring.

To the degree their logic was, “We think we’re going to need to raise wages this much in the next couple of years anyway to retain good workers and maximize profitability, so we may as well get ahead of the curve and get a public relations bump out of it and announce the plans in a big splashy way,” that would be the best news for American workers. Because that would imply that it won’t just be Walmart workers getting a raise in 2015.

Other news this week is not as good.  We continue to see people justify their bigotry through religious beliefs. Judges around the country aren’t buying it but the justification is popping up in some really odd places including a pediatrician who wouldn’t accept a 6 day old as a patient because her parents are lesbians. 160376_large

Sitting in the pediatrician’s office with their 6-day-old daughter, the two moms couldn’t wait to meet the doctor they had picked out months before.

The Roseville pediatrician — one of many they had interviewed — seemed the perfect fit: She took a holistic approach to treating children. She used natural oils and probiotics. And she knew they were lesbians.

But as Jami and Krista Contreras sat in the exam room, waiting to be seen for their newborn’s first checkup, another pediatrician entered the room and delivered a major blow: The doctor they were hoping for had a change of heart. After “much prayer,” she decided that she couldn’t treat their baby because they are lesbians.

Doctor’s letter: Why she wouldn’t care for baby with 2 moms

“I was completely dumbfounded,” recalled Krista Contreras, the baby’s biological mother. “We just looked at each other and said, ‘Did we hear that correctly?’ …. When we tell people about it, they don’t believe us. They say, ‘(Doctors) can’t do that. That’s not legal.’ And we say, ‘Yes it is.'”

The Contrerases of Oak Park are going public with their story to raise awareness about the discrimination that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community continues to face. There is no federal or Michigan law that explicitly prohibits discrimination against LGBT individuals.

For months, the couple kept quiet about what happened to them and their baby — Bay Windsor Contreras — at Eastlake Pediatrics last October.

But the pain and frustration wouldn’t go away. So they broke their silence.

“We want people to know that this is happening to families. This is really happening,” said Jami Contreras, 30, who was blindsided that fall day in the doctor’s office. “It was embarrassing. It was humiliating … It’s just wrong.”

Old shops and stores in N.J (10)A judge in Washington state has made a meaningful decision on a Florist that refused service to a gay couple seeking flowers for their wedding.  The bottom line is that religion is not an excuse to refuse public accommodation under the law.

Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom rejected arguments from the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland that her actions were protected by her freedoms of speech and religion. While religious beliefs are protected by the First Amendment, actions based on those beliefs aren’t necessarily protected, he said.

“For over 135 years, the Supreme Court has held that laws may prohibit religiously motivated action, as opposed to belief,” Ekstrom wrote. “The Courts have confirmed the power of the Legislative Branch to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory, even where the motivation for that conduct is grounded in religious belief.”

Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, sold flowers for years to customer Robert Ingersoll. She knew he was gay and that the flowers were for his partner, Curt Freed.

After Washington state legalized same-sex marriage in 2012, Ingersoll went to the shop the following spring to ask Stutzman to do the flowers for his wedding. At the time, floral arrangements for weddings made up about 3 percent of her business.

She placed her hands on his and told him she couldn’t, “because of my relationship with Jesus Christ,” she said in a deposition. As a Southern Baptist, she believed only in opposite-sex marriages.

046618-unley-supermarket-grocery-storePeople use just about anything to justify bigotry but religion seems to be a source of refuge for a huge part of the hate-based discrimination.  You may want to take a look at a new documentary called “Hate in America” if you’d like to hear more about all the issues every one has with bigots.

For more than 30 years, Emmy-winning journalist, documentary filmmaker, and Al Jazeera America anchor Tony Harris has reported on senseless and vicious acts of violence, many fueled by intolerance, fear and hate. In the new Investigation Discovery one-hour special HATE IN AMERICA, Harris partners with The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a non-profit that has been tracking hate groups across the country since 1971, and NBC News’ award-winning production arm Peacock Productions, to examine the current realities of intolerance in America.

According to the SPLC, more than 900 active hate groups currently exist across the United States, from neo-Nazis to anti-government militias, targeting entire classes of people for their race, religion, and sexuality, among other immutable characteristics. Largely propagated by anger and fear over the nation’s ailing economy and the diminishing white majority, that number has been on the rise for over a decade.

Traveling to communities torn apart by violence, Harris pulls back the curtain on what drives modern-day hate, and comes face to face with its victims to examine HATE IN AMERICA.

HATE IN AMERICA premieres on Investigation Discovery on Monday, February 23, at 8/7c.

I’ve often wondered why my attitude towards shopping has changed over time.  I used to love going to the big stores downtown and the clerks all seemed so cheery and glamorous.  The buildings were vast and had huge tall ceilings supported by ornate columns.  The window decorations were incredible during the holidays and they were up such a short period that you had to rush down there just to catch them. It was fun to walk from store to store and each store had its on personality and personalities.  This is so different from today’s megastore where every one is rude and seems to only care about low priced junk. The aisles are tight and packed with crap and the crap is hard to find.  There is very little help and only cashiers in far off places.

I used to think I started disliking stores and shopping just because I’d worked so much retail in high school and college. But, I still love to hit little antique stores in quaint places and will take hours staring down some bargain. I figured I’d just burned out on the entire store experience from those years. But, I still love hopping around the big stores in NYC and I used to love hitting the Maison Blanche in downtown New Orleans when I first moved here.  So much of the things I enjoyed about shopping as a customer are gone.  Also, when I was small, even retail store owners and employees had civilized work hours.  Now, all I can think about it how grumpy every one looks and how junky the merchandise has become since they work night and day on every day imaginable. I’ve taken to ordering a lot of stuff on line just to avoid the overall experience of the ugly buildings, merchandise and people.  The thought of going to a Walmart stresses me out. It’s something I avoid if I can.  So, I don’t know.  What happened?

Whatever happened to a fun day at a store?  Oh, well.  Everything changes and now it’s just all about returning profits to a few at the inconvenience and dismay of the many.

So, those are the two interrelated topics that I’ve been investigating this week.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 


Lundi Gras Lazy Reads

balcony decorationsBonjour!  C’est Lundi Gras ici!

Today is the day all good locals in New Orleans rest up for the big Mardi Gras Festivities tomorrow!  I’ve been laying low and have to work tomorrow afternoon so I’m just enjoying watching every one else have fun. There was a spontaneous parade in front of my house about an hour ago.  It was some nice people from Austin dressed like Bees with the bat symbol on their capes.  Austin folks are generally the only Texans that behave around here so I’m always glad to see them.  Oh, If you can explain the costumes, you’re doing better than me.

My sister and brother-in-law came for their first Mardi Gras and went back to Seattle today.  He rode on a Bacchus float which is a first class and very expensive way to do your first Mardi Gras! His picture is down towards the middle of the post.  My sister took it yesterday.   I’ve picked up these pictures from my local friends.  The first ones here on top come from Muriel’s NOLA’s instagram.  The food at this French Quarter restaurant is wonderful and the family business is run by the nicest people.  Thanks for the great photos Denise Bellknap Gratia! The last few pictures are from my friend Farrar Doc Hudkins who is a UNO student and one of my favorite WWNO radio station announcers. That’s the UNO NPR station here.   I can’t claim ownership over any of the pictures!  Only complete awe of some talented fingers and eyes!!!

I’ve actually been reading a lot about my friends uptown and all the grief they’ve been getting this year.  There was a double shooting/murder one night.  One of my friends got punched in the eye over a t-shirt.  Another has had random people just walk into her house to use her bathroom and take food and beer.  Where on earth did all this rudeness and such come from ? I tend to stay in my own little freaky corner of New Orleans where it used to be mostly working class locals but not much any more.  Still, who can imagine being so drunk and obnoxious that you’ve got to punch a 47 year old woman in the eye over a t shirt?  And this was a drunken local Garden District Lady!  It’s not like it was some out of town drunk frat kid!

I think we are beginning to see the frustration play out of living in modern America where it’s difficult to get ahead, worse to try to get any kind of satisfaction from a job or even an experience as a customer, and the realization that we’re not as entitled and special as we’ve been told we are.  I don’t remember have to struggle so much for so little prior to the the Dubya Bush years’ fruition in a full blown series of endless wars and financial crises where huge corporations got bailed out but so many people were and still are left to suffer. Then there’s the Grover Norquist and Koch Brother’s agenda played out in every state with a Republican Governor.  The shameless raping of public assets for the rich is just over the top. Then, there’s a lot of sadness in the news recently showing how intolerant of others people are becoming. Here are two such examples.

French Quarter House

First, up is a rather local and sad example of the way we treat religious minorities here in this country.  This is from Houston where some one deliberately set fire to a mosque and a fire fighter tried to block the hydrant and shouted “let it burn to the ground”.   There are so many hate crimes these days that it’s hard to see much else.

Arson police at the scene now say an accelerant was used in a fire that broke out at an Islamic community and education center in southeast Houston early Friday morning, and now a group is calling for an investigation into whether the fire was the result of a possible hate crime.

Houston fire officials say the fire at the Quba Islamic Institute started around 5am. The cause of the fire is under investigation, but we’ve learned HFD says the accelerant was used, which usually points to a purposeful act. Those same investigators met with leaders at another Islamic center just miles away, letting them know that this was an act of arson and to be on alert.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations is calling on state and federal authorities to investigate the fire as a possible hate crime.

That call comes as Ahsan Zahid, assistant Imam at the institute, says he spoke with the Houston arson investigator about their preliminary results.

Zahid said, “They said their dog went through and he hit on some substances inside the place, and he said, ‘From what I see right now at this point, I have to say it was an incendiary fire which means that it was started on purpose.’ That’s all we can go on at this point. I don’t want to speculate.”

Though we don’t know officially if the cause was accidental or deliberate, the FBI is now monitoring the situation.

You can see the hateful tweet from a then–but no longer–volunteer firefighter here at the orange place.

There are signs that anti-antisemitism is making a horrible come back in Europe.  This is a story from France where a French Jewish cemetary was desecrated with swastikas. Grady Ace of Spades for Bacchus 2015

France’s interior minister said Sunday several hundred tombs had been defaced at a Jewish cemetery in the east of the country, in what he called “a despicable act.”

“The country will not tolerate this new injury which goes against the values that all French people share,” said Bernard Cazeneuve without giving further details of the incident in the town of Sarre-Union.

“Every effort will be made to identify, question and bring to justice the person or persons responsible for this ignominious act,” he added.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, writing on Twitter, also condemned the desecration, calling it “an anti-Semitic and ignoble act.”

It is not the first time that a Jewish cemetery in Sarre-Union has been targeted.

In 1988, around 60 Jewish steles, stone or wooden slabs often used for commemorative purposes, were knocked over while in 2001, 54 tombs were wrecked.

News of the latest incident comes just over a month after an Islamist gunman shot dead four Jews in a supermarket siege in Paris.

A lot of people have been enjoying the 40th anniversary special of SNL.  I especially liked the part where Jane Curtain did the news with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey.  Her funny line was how that she used to be thekrewe de vieux float 21015 only blonde reading fake news on TV at that time and now there’s an entire News channel dedicated to it.  No kidding!  I still maintain that that Fox News and the rise of Rush have a lot to do with the rise of the Asshole class.  It’s like they give permission for people to hate on other people and take revenge for perceived damages to their exceptionalism.   Here’s a link to a thought provoking essay on why most political satire comes from the left and never the right.  Is it the differences in personalities that let one side laugh at irregularities in thinking while the other side takes offense?  The Atlantic‘s article is titled “Why There’s No Conservative Jon Stewart”  and it’s worth the read.

One explanation is simply that proportionately fewer people with broadly conservative sensibilities choose to become comedians. Just as liberals dominate academia, journalism, and other writing professions, there are nearly three times as many liberal- as conservative-minded people in the creative arts according to a recent study. Alison Dagnes, a professor of political science at Shippensburg University, argues that the same personality traits that shape political preferences also guide the choice of professions. These tendencies just get more pronounced in the case of comedy, which usually requires years of irregular income, late hours, and travel, as well as a certain tolerance for crudeness and heckling.

There are, of course, high-profile conservative comedians in America, such as the members of the Blue  Collar Comedy Tour. But these performers, who include Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy, tend carefully to avoid politicized topics, mocking so-called “rednecks” in the same spirit as Borscht Belt acts mocked Jewish culture.

When it comes to actual political satire, one of the most well-known figures nationally is Dennis Miller, a former Saturday Night Live cast member who now has a weekly segment on Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor. On a recent show, O’Reilly brought up the Democrats’ election losses, and Miller took the bait. “I think liberalism is like a nude beach,” Miller said. “It’s better off in your mind than actually going there.” His jokes are sometimes amusing, but they tend to be grounded in vague ideologies, not the attentive criticism to the news of the day that has given liberal satires plenty of fodder five days a week. The real problem, Frank Rich wrote about Miller, “is that his tone has become preachy. He too often seems a pundit first and a comic second.”

king cake babyIt’s weird to me that conservative entertainers like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly take to the air in preachy, mean, screaming tones while The Daley Show folks tend to be poke holes in things with humor based in facts and logic and pointing out inconsistencies in thinking.

So, here’s another one of those hate things where the hater says “Huhn? I’m a nice guy”.  This guy is an elected official too and of course, a Republican saying racist things isn’t uncommon at all these days.  Why do people feel the need to express such hateful feelings and then act surprised when some one calls them out on it?

State Rep. Gene Alday, R-Walls, who came under fire after his racist comments appeared in a Clarion-Ledger article Sunday about public education, said today his remarks were out of context and that he’s a nice guy.

“I’m not a bad person, and that makes me look like an evil person,” Alday said Monday. “I didn’t do anything wrong. The guy made me look like a fool.”

The comments in question refer to African-Americans in his hometown of Walls, a small community in Desoto County. Alday, 57, said that he comes “from a town where all the blacks are getting food stamps and what I call ‘welfare crazy checks.’ They don’t work.”

He also said that when he went to the emergency room one time, “I liked to died. I laid in there for hours because they (blacks) were in there being treated for gunshots.”

Since then, people around the state have condemned the remarks with some calling for his resignation.

“Rep. Alday is solely responsible for his remarks,” said Gov. Phil Bryant. “I strongly reject his comments condemning any Mississippian because of their race. Those day are long past.”

But the former mayor, former police chief and current first-term legislator said he had no idea his remarks would appear in a story and, if he had, he wouldn’t have made them.

“It was late at night and he called me,” Alday said of his earlier interview with Clarion-Ledger investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell. “He asked me a question back to when I was in law enforcement … I have a way of talking and saying, ‘take this off the record.'”

Instead, Alday said, Mitchell used his casual, off-the-cuff comments as an official statement without providing the full context of his feelings on the matter.

Mitchell said he contacted Alday about education funding last week and that the legislator steered the discussion toward race. The comments appeared as they were given and within the context of the discussion, Mitchell said.

But Alday said the reporter failed to write about the numerous times Alday has helped people of all races in his community, whether that meant giving them rides to the doctor or providing credit on merchandise at the store run by his family.

“Yes, it’s true that most of the blacks in my hometown are on welfare,” Alday said. “But they’re good people. I don’t have anything against anybody. I’m a straight-up guy. In my little town they had little civil rights walks and I was with them. I’m with everybody.”

paradeThe weird thing about these comments is that the data shows that the it’s WHITE people that consistently use the most food stamps.

In spite of the prevailing stereotypes and assumptions about who uses SNAP Food Stamp benefits the most in the United States, the highest usage is not in Compton, Queens, nor the South Side of Chicago. Instead, a city that is 99.22% white and 95% Republican comes in the lead. Owsley County, Kentucky is a community of about 5,000, residents earning the lowest median household income in the country outside of Puerto Rico, according to the U.S. Census.

The decline in the profits from coal, tobacco and lumber industries led to a harsh toll being taken on the community.

Cale Turner, county executive of Owsley County told ABC back in 2010 that economic hardships have led to a high incidence of drug addiction.

“Those with drug addictions end up in prison without effective treatment. And it happens over and over in this community. The drug problem continues to get worse every year.”

Strangely enough, the residents of Owsley County are almost entirely Republican, in spite of the traditional opposition to the Food Stamp program by the GOP. In fact, just last November, residents of Owsley saw their SNAP benefits reduced drastically as a result of Republican opposition to funding the program.

This might rank among the greatest of ironies in history: the Food Stamp Capital of the U.S. is almost entirely white and Republican.

Look at this story and this guy was a judge!!10924139_10101620505296648_675699655439751768_o

Nine months after a Madison County Justice Court judge was accused of striking and yelling a racial slur at a mentally challenged young man, a grand jury served an indictment for simple assault on a vulnerable adult.

Justice Court Judge Bill Weisenberger turned himself in to the Madison County sheriff Thursday, according to a spokeswoman with the Attorney General’s office. He was released on $10,000 bond.

According to witnesses, Weisenberger struck 20-year-old Eric Rivers, an African American, and yelled “Run, n—–, run” at the Canton Flea Market on May 8 of last year.

If convicted, the charge of simple assault against a vulnerable adult carries a fine of up to $1,000 or up to 5 years imprisonment, or both. The charge against him is a felony.

“From the beginning of this matter, Judge Weisenberger, has cooperated with each law enforcement and investigatory agency that wanted to know what actually occurred at the Canton Flea Market last spring,” an emailed statement from Weisenberger’s lawyer, Bill Kirksey, said. “Judge Weisenberger has denied and continues to deny any wrong doing or the commission of any crime against any person.”

Kirksey, along with Madison County officials, has taken issue with the slowness of the process. The incident in Canton occurred on May 8 of last year.

Kirksey said the AG’s office allowed four grand juries to come and go before presenting the case.

Madison County Supervisor Karl Banks said last month the slowness was costing taxpayers as Weisenberger is still being paid his annual salary of $45,700, though he voluntarily stepped down from the bench.

A judge may only be forced to step down if he or she has been convicted of a felony or if the Supreme Court removes the judge.

Those last two stories were from Mississippi where things still appear to be burning despite modernity and civil rights laws.  It’s scary to think that we’re talking elected officials acting like it’s still Jim Crow days and they don’t appear to have a thought about how absolutely hateful their words and actions truly are.

So, how have so many people lost their “polite” and “nice” filter? Is it because we can troll people on the internet and hide behind monikers allowing us to be anonymous then forget we’re not in real life?  Is it because work and life is beating us down so much we’re all angry?  Is it because anger is the new right wing entertainment mode and it allows a lot of them to think they’re entitled to shit on any one that gets in their way?  What do you think?

I’d just like to add a thanks to BB for what she did for me on Saturday and for my friends who helped.  I was doing my taxes and year end look see on Friday and was completely shocked by what I found.  I’ve just had so many expenses recently that my meager salary isn’t covering them all at all.    I guess I’m really not alone in that any more.  I’ve just got to try to figure out what I can do about it.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 

 


Friday Reads: He said WHAT? Tales of the GOP Cavemen

190cromagGood Morning!

Every day I wake up to another horrifying thing said about women, minorities, GLBT, nonchristian religions, and well, just about any one that doesn’t full under the asshattery the Republican Party fronts for these days.  It seems none of them have any shame or brains for that matter.  So, be sure to watch what you’re drinking and eating before reading these things.  Many of them are doozies!

The League of the South is celebrating the assassination of Abraham Lincoln who they believe was a “tyrant” for being against “state’s rights”.  There are so many code words and dog whistles here that I’m surprised Temple isn’t barking as I enter this.  This is from Right Wing Watch.

As we reported earlier today, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has close personal and financial ties with Michael Peroutka, the neo-Confederate activist and theocrat who has helped develop the view, espoused by Moore in recent interviews and statements, that states must defy federal court rulings in favor of marriage equality since they are in violation of divine law.

Peroutka is a “true Confederate” activist and a former leader of the League of the South , although he quit the neo-Confederate group last year during his successful campaign to win a seat as a Republican on Anne Arundel County, Maryland, county council.

Warren Throckmorton notes, just today announced that on April 14 it will host a celebration of the anniversary of the “execution of the tyrant Abraham Lincoln.”

League of the South President Michael Hill writes in a blog post titled “Honoring John Wilkes Booth” that the organization “thanks Mr. Booth for his service to the South and to humanity”:

The League of the South looks to the present and future. However, from time to time we do look back at our past.

This 14th of April will mark the 150th anniversary of John Wilkes Booth’s execution of the tyrant Abraham Lincoln. The League will, in some form or fashion, celebrate this event. We remember Booth’s diary entry: “Our country owed all her troubles to him, and God simply made me the instrument of his punishment.” A century and a half after the fact, The League of the South thanks Mr. Booth for his service to the South and to humanity.

Stay tuned . . .
Michael Hill

It might be a good time to harken back to the League of the South’s 2012 convention, when Peroutka asked participants to stand for the “national anthem”… and then started singing “Dixie”:

Yes, he’s not just whistling Dixie folks!

Neither is Rush Limbaugh who stepped right back into the Rape Culture shit today with this one.  Both Rush and Scott Walker basically flunked out of university.  Here’s how Rush tells Walker to defend his the-gop-cavemenfailure.

“Just ram it right down their throats,” Limbaugh said. “They’re trying to create this rape culture on the campus – well, (he should say,) ‘I quit because I don’t want to be accused of rape down the road.’”

Walker has claimed for years that he left just short of graduation, after losing a bid for student body president, to pursue a job opportunity.

Limbaugh, who claims he dropped out of second year at the University of Southeast Missouri to avoid taking a ballroom dancing class taught by a “lesbian drill sergeant,” said Walker should try to make a sarcastic point about feminism and rape.

“It seems like any man that goes to college could randomly be accused of committing rape,” Limbaugh said.

He suggested reporters don’t care whether rape claims are true or not before publishing articles.

“’Well, we may not have gotten it right, but we know it happens,’” Limbaugh imagined reporters saying. “So (Walker should say,) ‘I wanted to remove myself from this culture that might have turned me into this very mean guy,’ and just see what they say. Cram what they believe right down their throats.”

gop-caveman-sensitiveNo. No. This isn’t it. It get’s worse. There’s more.  The sole woman Senator in the South Carolina Senate evidently is the target of perpetual harassment by an asshole that thinks women belong barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen and isn’t afraid to say it over and over and over.

A discussion over a pending criminal domestic violence (CDV) bill took a bizarre turn this week when S.C. Senator Thomas Corbin – a “Republican” from Travelers Rest, S.C. – offered some bizarrely sexist commentary on the role of women in the political process.

Corbin’s comments – made at a legislative dinner held in downtown Columbia, S.C. – were reportedly directed at S.C. Senator Katrina Shealy, the only female member of the 46-person State Senate.

According to multiple witnesses who attended the dinner – held at Cowboy Brazilian Steakhouse on Main Street (a few blocks from the S.C. State House)  -Senate judiciary committee members were discussing the CDV issue, which has been a source of several previous headaches for the GOP.

That’s when Corbin – no stranger to making bizarre statements –  is said to have begun needling his lone female colleague regarding her gender.

“I see it only took me two years to get you wearing shoes,” Corbin told Shealy, who was elected in 2012 as a petition candidate.

Wait … what?

By way of explanation, lawmakers and legislative staffers have previously told FITS about statements made by Corbin – statements reflecting his belief that women do not belong in the S.C. General Assembly and should instead be “at home baking cookies” or “barefoot and pregnant.”

“He makes comments like that all the time to everybody – including Senator Shealy,” one Senate staffer told FITS.

Corbin’s latest comments took his sexism to a whole new level, though.

At one point in the conversation – which quickly escalated into a confrontation – Shealy is said to have angrily asked Corbin where he “got off” attacking women.

His response – overheard by numerous lobbyists and fellow lawmakers – was one for the ages.

“Well, you know God created man first,” Corbin said, reportedly smirking at Shealy.  “Then he took the rib out of man to make woman.  And you know, a rib is a lesser cut of meat.”

2245362817_60824c9d3d_o_wideThen, there’s “Redneck News” that’s out there searching for evidence that Gay Marriage is ruining Alabama.  Wait, didn’t that just happen last week?

Jeremy Todd Addaway, a self-styled reporter for “Redneck News,” tried and failed to find evidence that the legalization of same-sex marriage in Alabama had caused any damage to the state, Talking Points Memo reports.

“I read on the news today some information, that homosexuals will be getting married in Alabama today, so I wanted to give you a live report from Blount County,” he began.

Addaway then scoured his backyard for evidence of “homosexuals doin’ homosexual things” in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to allow state employees to officiate same-sex unions.

“This pile of brush is still here, and there are no homosexuals layin’ on top of it, doin’ homosexual things,” Addaway said.

“None in the shed either, but we need to check into this further,” he continued, delving ever deeper into his backyard.

“We’re back here by a pile of junk — and it’s still here — and there’s no homosexuals doin’ homosexual things here either, so it looks like we’re pretty safe here in Blount County, don’t think we’re gonna be subject to plagues of homosexuals fallin’ from the sky.”

“That’s the report here from Blount County,” he concluded. “Everything is pretty much still the same.”

Actually, just head to Right Wing Watch for a plethora of unbelievable right wing thoughts of the day.  Headlines include Beck saying that anti-vaxxers are being prosecuted like Galileo.   Then there’s John Haggeegop-caveman who argues that God’s going to destroy American because of the way the President is treating Netanyahu with an emphasis on yahoo!  But, the prize for embarrasing the country abroad this week was taken from Bobby Jindal and given to Scott Walker.  Two Koch Sucking Republican Governors who are afraid to say anything to piss over their whacky christianist base.  He dodged a question on evolution which really really confused the Brits.

The latest to emerge scathed from a trip across the Atlantic Ocean is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who capped an appearance at the prestigious Chatham House think tank on Wednesday by avoiding a question about whether he believes in the theory of evolution.

“I’m going to punt on that one, as well,” Walker said at the end of a Q&A during which he also declined to answer questions about foreign policy. “That’s a question a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or the other. So I’m going to leave that up to you.”

Huhn?  Why is a perfectly accepted and acceptable Scientific theory so controversial that it’s off limits to questions.  I’m sure he’d gladly discuss how he wants to limit anything having to do with women’s private parts.

Supporters and other conservatives rallied to Walker’s defense, suggesting that the question itself was out of bounds — or at least another example of the mainstream media ganging up on Republican candidates.

But there’s a reason reporters are curious to learn what Walker thinks about evolution. Some 90 years after the Scopes Trial, the theory of evolution and its place in the schools remain matters of public debate. Two states, Louisiana and Tennessee, now allow public schools to teach “alternatives” to evolution. Several others allow public funding to support such teaching through charter schools or vouchers. At least for the sake of politics, the issue isn’t really whether “faith & science are compatible,” as Scott put it; Pope Francishas said he believes in evolution, for example. Rather, the issue is whether discussions of divine intervention belong in the classroom. That raises fundamental questions about the boundaries between religion and science that Walker, as a president appointing federal judges, would have to consider.

Basic respect for, and appreciation of, science is another issue. Put a bunch of evolutionary biologists in a room and you’ll get a lively debate over the precise origins of some species, such as the bat, and the extent to which “random processes,” rather than the familiar power of natural selection, shaped populations over time. What you won’t get is denial or skepticism of the insights we now associate with Darwin — the idea that the species on Earth emerged over a very long time, through a process of hereditary, generation-to-generation change. The science on this is just not up for reasonable debate. “You have to be blinkered or ignorant not to know that,” says Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago and author of the bookWhy Evolution Is True.

Interrogating Democrats about whether they accept the expert consensus on evolution, or any other scientific issue, is absolutely fair game. But Republicans have given the press, and the public, more reason to ask questions. Walker’s silence turns out to be typical of the GOP presidential field, as Salon’s Luke Brinker noted this week. And Republicans have shown similar disregard for science on other issues — most critically, climate change. As with evolution, you can get a spirited, meaningful debate among the experts over precisely how quickly global warming will take place or exactly what consequences it will have. What you won’t find is a significant number of scientists questioning that the planet is warming because of human activity. And yetRepublicans routinely deny this, citing supposed uncertainty over the details as reason not to take action on reducing emissions or pursuing alternative energy more aggressively.

Republicans say the darndest things!

So, before I leave you with the impression that I can only find extremely stupid things from Republican men, let me reintroduce you to their latest Sarah Palin/Michelle Bachmann clone.  Joni Ernst has all kinds of whack things to say.  How about vaccines manipulate people’s brains to make them more liberal?  Huhn?

Freshman United States Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) came to the defense of Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) on Tuesday, saying vaccines should be investigated and possibly prohibited by law, because she believes they adversely affect the human brain and cause a person to lean toward progressivism and liberalism.

Ernst, who became the first woman to represent Iowa on the Federal level after narrowly winning in the 2014 midterms, gave an interview Tuesday morning to Mike Shell, a conservative radio pundit in Des Moines, in which she defended Senator Rand Paul, who recently made headlines after saying he believes vaccinations can cause mental disorders.

Shell, citing Ernst’s bachelor’s degree in psychology, asked his guest if she believed Rand Paul’s assessment of vaccinations were accurate. “I’m not a scientist. I’m not a practicing doctor. But I haven’t seen any evidence that shows vaccines make us healthier, and I haven’t seen proof that they don’t make us less healthier, less healthy, either,” Ernst replied. “All I can base my opinion on is my own observations, and in my view, Senator Paul is correct. Vaccines are dangerous. They manipulate brains. And I think Congress should investigate vaccines and outlaw them, because they definitely, you know, they make people vote a certain way, and that’s voter intimidation.”

Shell asked Ernst to clarify her statement, to which the Senator offered a lengthy reply. “When I was a kid, I didn’t have vaccinations. My parents couldn’t afford them. But one of my neighbors, his parents got him vaccinated. Now, we grew up in the same town, went to the same schools, attended the same church, we even served in the military together. We’re practically the same, right? But he’s a liberal democrat. He voted for Obama both times and he has a Hillary Clinton sticker on his pickup truck. He supports welfare and the gays. I’m not saying the vaccinations made him more liberal, but the vaccinations made him more liberal, do you get what I’m saying?”

Okay, so that last story and the Red Neck News were satire, but who can tell them from the real thing these days because the rest are REAL. The only thing that’s more whacked than that is there are obviously people that vote for them.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 

 


Monday Reads: We Do Not Welcome our Corporate Overlords

Beetlegeuse Chewbacchus 2015Good Morning!

The Krewe of Chewbacchus rolled through my neighborhood Saturday night.  I decided to post some of the photos I took of the participants to liven up the thread today.  The parade is a celebration of Fantasy and SF books, movies, games, and TV series.  More professional pictures can be found here. See if you can recognize them!  I only wish the celebration of fantasy was limited to movies and books.  Unfortunately, it isn’t and the Koch Brothers fantasy economics plans are ruining states around the country.

I keep having conversations with people who are either politically active or politically knowledgeable about finding a way out of our current mess.   There are several key problems that seem out of the hands of voters to solve. At least, those voters that actually vote.

Things have been on the down slope since the Reagan administration but have really picked up steam with the final fifth vote locked into the Supreme Court. The Citizen’s United Decision is throttling American Democracy which is why we really need to bring back the Fairness Doctrine among other things.  It seems odd that Brian Williams can be hounded out of journalism for one mistaken memory when at least 60%–if not more–of what Fox broadcasts daily is an out and out lie.  Is Facism on the rise in America and what can we do to stop it?

As the American Heritage Dictionary noted, fascism is: “A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.”

Well, it it may well on our doorstep.  And the oligarchs are plotting their final takeover by using their economic dominance to capture governmental power – specifically, the governmental power which sets the rules for the very marketplace that provides the oligarchs with such massive wealth.

Once the American corporate barons own the institutions that are meant to regulate them, it’s game-over for both rational capitalism (including competition) and for democracy.

Last week, at David and Charles Koch’s annual winter meeting near Palm Springs, California, it was announced that the Koch Brothers’ political organization would spend close to $900 million on the 2016 election.  If this goal is met, the group of corporate leaders will spend far more than the Republican Party and its congressional campaign committees spent, combined, in the 2012 campaign.

Once upon a time, it would have been illegal for the Koch Brothers and their fellow oligarchs to buy an election.  Of course, that time was before the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

In 2010, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, presented the best opportunity for the Roberts Court to use its five vote majority to totally re-write the face of politics in America, rolling us back to the pre-1907 era of the Robber Barons.

As Jeffrey Toobin wrote in The New Yorker (“No More Mr. Nice Guy”): “In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff.

You can see the influence of the Koch Brothers money in the states that have Republican Governors.  It is pimp darth chewbacchus 2015especially true of those Republican Governors with presidential aspirations who want the promised $1 billion the Kochs have pledged for the next campaign cycle.  I want to cover Bobby Jindal, Louisiana, and the horrible budget problems that we have from Jindal’s campaign to please the Kochs.  But first, I’d like to tell you what Scott Walker is doing to one of the nation’s premier public universities.

One of the major things the Kochs hate is people that aren’t miseducated or trained to be working zombies.  This fits right in with their agenda.This is similar to what’s going on with the destruction of public education and universities in Louisiana and similar issues in Kansas, both of which have Koch sucking Governors.

More than 35,000 public employees would be removed from state government rolls if Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal stays intact through the legislative process.

Walker’s 2015-17 budget proposal, which was introduced Tuesday, makes major changes to the operation of the state’s University of Wisconsin System. The second-term governor’s plan would split off the system into its own public entity.

By creating a separate authority for the University of Wisconsin System, it would no longer be under the direct management of the state.

According to Walker, University of Wisconsin System supporters have been asking for more autonomy for years, claiming it would help cut costs and better serve students. The Republican governor’s plan also includes a $150 million funding cut in each year of his biennial budget in exchange for the greater autonomy.

The annual reduction is equivalent to a 2.5 percent cut in total public funding. Opponents of Walker’s reform have claimed aid is being cut by 13 percent. That, however, only takes into consideration general fund spending from the state.

He also tried to actually change the mission of the University.

You might think that changing the mission of a flagship public university would be an issue put up for public discussion. Not in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker submitted a budget proposal that included language that would have changed the century-old mission of the University of Wisconsin system — known as the Wisconsin Idea and embedded in the state code  — by removing words that commanded the university to “search for truth” and “improve the human condition” and replacing them with “meet the state’s workforce needs.”

Walker, in a budget speech given earlier this week, didn’t bother to mention the change, which is more than a simple issue of semantics. There is a national debate about what the role of colleges and universities should be. One group, including Walker, see higher education in big part as a training ground for workers in the American workplace; another sees college education as a way to broaden the minds of young people and teach them how to be active, productive citizens of the country.

brainsHe earlier tried to tell University faculty and staff that they needed to work harder and not include “service” in their list of duties.   This is all part of the privatization craze that attempts to put union workers and public servants into the parasite category.  However, when privatized, the same workers suddenly are doing something valuable with lower compensation so that management and stockholders can skim profits from the actual work being done.

Governor Scott Walker–whom Charlie Pierce refers to as “the goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to run their Midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin”–plans to unveil a budget on Tuesday evening that will reportedly “slash hundreds of millions of dollars from the state’s public universities over the next two years.” Alice Ollstein of ThinkProgress said that students, professors and state lawmakers “are already blasting the plan — the deepest cut in state history…” They told ThinkProgress that they are “organizing to block its passage.”

Even a Gannet owned newspaper complained about the cuts and the entire attitude towards faculty and higher education in general.  Oh, and he’s calling for nearly $500 million tax dollars for a new stadium for the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Gannett Central Wisconsin Media Editorial Board thinks that Walker’s proposed cuts to the university go too deep. With regard to economics, the board wrote “the more educated our workforce, the higher our state’s overall standard of living will be. And in all sorts of intangible ways the university system improves our quality of life — injecting culture into communities, offering broad-based liberal education, helping define our sense of Badger identity.” The board added that “Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed Draconian cuts to the system will undermine those values and hobble future economic growth.”

Gannett Central Wisconsin Media Editorial Board:

Walker compounded the sense that cuts are driven by political animus when, on Wednesday, he told a conservative radio host that faculty and staff should simply increase their workload to make up the difference. It was a condescending, somewhat nasty thing to say, and it was not based in fact. UW-Madison professors, a February study showed, work on average 63 hours a week; we see no reason to assume profs on stretched-thin regional campuses work less… 

Taking a chainsaw to the UW budget now is no way to make smart, lasting reforms. Insulting UW faculty is no way to demonstrate an interest in positive reform.

And $300 million in new cuts is too much to swallow.

In a commentary published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Friday, members of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Faculty Senate Executive Committee said that news reports had confirmed  that the “UW System campuses are slated to take a combined $150 million base budget cut (over two years, so $300 million total) in his upcoming 2015-’17 biennial budget proposal.” The Journal Sentinel claimed that the numbers were “staggering.” This will reportedly be “the largest cut in the 45-year history of the system.

Well, Wisconson, welcome to the world of Governors owned by the Koch Brothers.  Here’s our reality down here in Lousyana. We’re on our 8th of year the same kind of BS.  We’re sending tax dollars to Chinese falcor the luck dragon chewbacchus 2015corporations, Arkansas Corporations, and Hollywood, but taking money away from every school but the religious madrassas and for-profits preferred by Jindal and the Kochs.

Widespread layoffs, hundreds of classes eliminated, academic programs jettisoned and a flagship university that can’t compete with its peers around the nation — those are among the grim scenarios LSU leaders outlined in internal documents as the threat of budget cuts loom.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is considering deep budget slashing to higher education for the fiscal year that begins July 1 to help close a $1.6 billion shortfall.

LSU campuses from Shreveport to New Orleans were asked to explain how a reduction between 35 percent and 40 percent in state financing — about $141.5 million to the university system — would affect their operations. The documents, compiled for LSU System President F. King Alexander, were obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.

The potential implications of such hefty cuts were summed up in stark terms: 1,433 faculty and staff jobs eliminated; 1,572 courses cut; 28 academic programs shut down across campuses; and 6 institutions declaring some form of financial emergency.

At the system’s flagship university in Baton Rouge, the documents say 27 percent of faculty positions would have to be cut, along with 1,400 classes, jeopardizing the accreditation of the engineering and business colleges. Some campus buildings would be closed.

“These severe cuts would change LSU’s mission as a public research and land-grant university. It will no longer be capable of competing with America’s significant public universities and will find itself dramatically behind the rest of the nation,” the documents say.

Leias chewbacchus 2015One of the first things these folks want to do is to dumb up the population and get rid of faculty and schools that won’t teach the crap they want to continue to force their economic fairy tale.  No amount of peer review is ever going to make the trickle down economics crap do anything but float in septic tanks.  But, they’re sure doing a great job of forcing it into things by owning politicians.  Both Kansas and Louisiana are in freaking budget nightmares.

The country is full of examples illustrating the failure of Republican economic policies. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin and Sam Brownback’s Kansas have become poster children for the job killing, budget busting, folly of pursuing supply side economics. Were it not for the damage that right-wing policies inflict upon working families, the Laffer curve would be simply laughable.

Yet, Grover Norquist’s army of tax-hating Governors continues to run roughshod over red state budgets promising a fiscal utopia. The fact that the utopia never materializes apparently doesn’t matter. Red state voters re-elect them anyway. The words “tax cut”, like an elixir, cures their fears, even if the people whose taxes are being cut are not the ordinary voters, but rather the ultra wealthy.

Joining Brownback and Walker on the list of Governor’s facing serious budget problems, is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. On Friday, The New York Times reported that Louisiana is anticipating a 1.6 billion dollar budget shortfall for next year, and that the deficit will remain in that range for years to come. When Jindal took office in 2008, the state had a 900 million dollar surplus, and the unemployment rate was just 3.8 percent. Now, in addition to having a gaping budget shortfall, Louisiana’s unemployment rate is at 6.7 percent, above the national average.Despite the state’s budget woes, Jindal has continued to resist any tax increases. He has depleted the state’s reserve funds to fill budget holes and is still coming up short on the needed revenue. Louisiana has one of the lowest tax burdens in the nation, and as a consequence, the state ranks near dead last in quality of education and health care. Nevertheless, the supply side dogmatism of Governor Jindal virtually guarantees that the state will continue on its current path to economic perdition.

Jindal is often mentioned as a possible Republican candidate for President. However, Jindal’s fiscal mismanagement has made him deeply unpopular even in his own state. A November 2014 Public Policy Polling survey found that only a third of Louisiana voters approved of the Governor’s job performance while 56 percent disapproved. Supply side economics has been a nightmare to the residents of Louisiana.

Notice the similar policies?  Kill the Universities or warp them into places to train the zombie drone workers of the future?    Anyway, I really hope that the 2016 voters change some of this.  I can’t wait for Hillary to tackle the Republican that tries to mainstream this crap.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?