Friday Reads: He Said, She Said, They Said …

Good Morning!

27771942We’re seeing some movement from the Clintons which may signal that Hillary is seriously considering the presidential run.  Hillary went on record supporting the President’s move on immigration last night.

Clinton – the Democratic front-runner for the 2016 presidential race — took to Twitter to thank Obama, moments after his speech from the White House.

“Thanks to POTUS for taking action on immigration in the face of inaction,” she tweeted. “Now let’s turn to permanent bipartisan reform. #ImmigrationAction.”

Bill Clinton spoke to an audience for TNR’s 100th birthday.

And so what I would like to do tonight is to say: We’re all pretty familiar with what’s happened in the last 100 years, but I think it’s important not to airbrush it too much. And by that, I mean that every attempt to make America’s republic new, every attempt to form a more perfect union (inaudible) every attempt to create a world we would like to live in and we would like our children and grandchildren to grow up in and flourish in, all of those were met with obstacles, had periods of great hope, followed by setbacks, followed by small steps, followed by struggles.

History is a messy thing. We like to think, you know, it’s just a rushing river. It may be, but there’s a lot of rocks in the river. And all of this you have chronicled. And people all along the road who have read it have benefited.

Now, you say the theme of this night is a new century of idealism and innovation. Well, the good news is, there’s plenty of innovation. It’s interesting, I pick up the paper in New York and I know I’m an old guy reading about a new world when the big struggle is, should Uber be allowed to drive along with the cabs and should Airbnb be allowed to put people up along with the Regis, St. Regis Hotel? I mean, it’s an interesting time to be alive. There’s lots of innovation. And the social networks are flourishing.

And on a more serious note, we’re getting profound benefits from the sequencing of the human genome. I spent $3 billion of your tax money on that. And it was worth every penny.

It really was. I worry about us underfunding basic research and science and technology, but…

But we announced the first sequencing in 2000, but, boy, it’s exploded since then. And there was a study about a year ago that said already $180 billion worth of economic benefits had flowed just to the United States from this effort, never mind what’s happening around the world.

09140c3ab735311981db293b2ddb1edfSome folks just know how to see the bigger picture.  Then, there are the Republicans.  Here’s a sample of what Republican officials have said in the last few days.   First up, some social commentary from the incoming Speaker of the Nevada house who has an issue with black people and appears to be a Neo-Confederate, misogynist, racist, and homobigot all wrapped up in one great big bald-headed, white, package.

He also referred to public schools as a form of “educational slavery,” writing that “[t]he Democratic coalition would split asunder if the NAACP & co. actually promoted what black Americans truly desire — educational choice. The shrewd and calculating [black] ’leaders’ are willing to sacrifice the children of their own race to gratify their lust for power and position. The relationship of Negroes and Democrats is truly a master-slave relationship, with the benevolent master knowing what’s best for his simple minded darkies.”

Hansen registered further displeasure with the “simple minded darkies” more directly, too, noting that “[t]he lack of gratitude and the deliberate ignoring of white history in relation to eliminating slavery is a disgrace that Negro leaders should own up to.”

His thoughts on homosexuality and feminism are equally regressive. For years, he wrote, he kept a “rough tally on homosexual/heterosexual molesters as reported locally,” and found that “roughly half of all molestations involve homosexual men preying on boys,” citing as further evidence the existence of the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) and the Catholic church molestation scandals as evidence of gay male depravity.

As for women, he wrote that their proclivity for filing sexual harassment suits made them unfit to serve their country, claiming that “[t]oday, when Army men look at women in the ranks with ’longing in their eyes’ it very well may constitute ’sexual harassment.’ The truth is, women do not belong in the Army or Navy or Marine Corps, except in certain limited fields.”

images (1) Another Oil Rig has exploded off the Louisiana Gulf Coast.  It killed one person and injured 3.  The rig was not in production so there appears to be no leaking oil at the moment.

One person is dead and three people are injured after an oil platform explosion 12 miles off the coast of New Orleans, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

The three injured are being treated at an offshore medical facility. One person, who hasn’t been identified, died in the explosion, BSEE officials say. All other employees have been accounted for.

The platform is operated by Houston-based Fieldwood Energy, which reported the explosion of its Echo Platform, West Delta 105, just before 3 p.m., according to the BSEE.

The platform was not in production at the time of the explosion. Officials say no pollution was reported, and no damage to the facility was done.

I’m assuming we’ll find out more today and tomorrow.

The Obama administration appears to be pressuring a Senate Committee that’s been studying US torture and detentions during the Bush years.  Will we ever find out what those criminals did in our name?  Why does the Obama administration want the images (2)report suppressed?

The White House is fiercely resisting the release of an executive summary of a 6,300-page Senate report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, Senate aides tell Foreign Policy, raising fears that the public will never receive a full accounting of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 torture practices.

At issue is the report’s identification of individual CIA officers by pseudonyms. The CIA and the White House want the pseudonyms and references to other agency activities completely stricken to further protect the identities of CIA spies. Senate aides say many of those redactions are unnecessary and render the report unreadable. Now even after Senate Democrats agreed to remove some pseudonyms at the White House’s request, the Oval Office is still haggling for more redactions.

“The White House is continuing to put up fierce resistance to the release of the report,” said one knowledgeable Senate aide. “Ideally, we should be closing ground and finalizing the last stages right now so that we can release the report post-Thanksgiving. But, despite the fact that the committee has drastically reduced the number of pseudonyms in the report, the White House is still resisting and dragging this out.”

A White House official denied the accusation. “The president has been clear that he wants the executive summary of the committee’s report to be declassified as expeditiously as possible,” said the official. “We share the Intelligence Committee’s desire for the declassified report to be released; and all of the administration’s efforts since we received the initial version have been focused on making that happen, while also protecting our national security.”

Up until recently, Barack Obama’s administration had avoided taking sides in the public spat between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee over the report — a $40 million, five-year study that is harshly critical of the agency. However, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough is now personally negotiating with Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California for further redactions, which is rankling some Democrats.

Cary Makes A CallHouse Republicans have passed a bill preventing the EPA from using the science provided by the scientists advising the EPA.  

Congressional climate wars were dominated Tuesday by the U.S. Senate, which spent the day debating, and ultimately  failing to pass, a bill approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. While all that was happening, and largely unnoticed, the House was busy doing what it does best: attacking science.

H.R. 1422, which  passed 229-191, would shake up the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, placing restrictions on those pesky scientists and creating room for experts with overt financial ties to the industries affected by EPA regulations.

The bill is being framed as  a play for transparency: Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas,  argued that the board’s current structure is problematic because it  “excludes industry experts, but not officials for environmental advocacy groups.” The inclusion of industry experts, he said, would right this injustice.

But the White House, which threatened to veto the bill,  said it would “negatively affect the appointment of experts and would weaken the scientific independence and integrity of the SAB.”

Yes, it’s going to be crazy go nuts the next few years.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Monday Reads

bouquet-of-dahlias-and-white-book-1923

Good Morning!

I have to begin this post with some sad breaking news. From NBC News:

Dr. Martin Salia, a surgeon who was diagnosed with Ebola in Sierra Leone and flown to Nebraska over the weekend for treatment, has died, hospital officials said Monday.

Salia, 44, became the second person to die of the disease in the United States. Thomas Eric Duncan, who contracted Ebola in Liberia and traveled to Dallas, died last month.

Salia landed Saturday in Omaha. He was the 10th patient to be treated on American soil and the third at Nebraska Medical Center. Hospital officials had said that he was perhaps sicker than any other patient flown to the United States from West Africa.

“It is with an extremely heavy heart that we share this news,” said Dr. Phil Smith, medical director of the hospital’s biocontainment unit. “Dr. Salia was extremely critical when he arrived here, and unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we weren’t able to save him.”

Salia was born in Sierra Leone, but was a legal resident of the U.S. He had returned to his native country to help people suffering with Ebola. His wife and two children live in Carrollton, Maryland, a suburb of Washington DC.

Dr. Martin Salia

Dr. Martin Salia

A little more from The Boston Globe:

Salia arrived Saturday to be treated at the Omaha hospital, where two other Ebola patients have been successfully treated.

Salia had advanced symptoms when he arrived at the hospital Saturday, which included kidney and respiratory failure, the hospital said. He was placed on dialysis, a ventilator and given several medications to support his organ systems….

Salia’s wife, Isatu Salia, said Monday that she and her family were grateful for the efforts made by her husband’s medical team.

‘‘We are so appreciate of the opportunity for my husband to be treated here and believe he was in the best place possible,’’ Salia said….

Isatu Salia said in a telephone interview over the weekend that when she spoke to her husband early Friday his voice sounded weak and shaky. But he told her ‘‘I love you’’ in a steady voice, she said.

They prayed together, she said, calling her husband ‘‘my everything.’’

Heartbreaking. The health care workers trying to stem the tide of this terrible disease are true heroes.

Nebraska is also in the news because of the sudden Congressional efforts to approve the Keystone pipeline. The bill has already been passed by the House. Dakinikat posted a couple of stories about the pipeline fight in yesterday’s comment thread.

pipeline

From the AP, via Talking Points Memo: Obscure Nebraska Panel May Determine Fate Of Keystone Pipeline.

The commission’s possible role is part of the tangled legal and political history of the pipeline and raises questions about whether it will continue to be snagged even if the Senate votes to approve it next week as expected. The House voted 252-161 Friday to move forward with the project. President Barack Obama, who has delayed a decision pending the resolution of the Nebraska issue, has not said whether he would sign the legislation.

Read more at the link.

We’re talking about the possibility of America’s breadbasket being horribly damaged by a tar sands oil spill. President Obama could still veto the bill if the Senate passes it, but if he doesn’t the government will will still have to deal with Native Americans whose land the pipeline would cross. From the New York Daily News, House approval of Keystone XL pipeline is an ‘act of war’: Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

The GOP-led House voted on Friday to approve the Alberta-to-Nebraska pipeline — but Cyril Scott, president of the Rosebud Sioux tribe in South Dakota vowed to block it.

Scott has threatened to close Rosebud’s borders if any attempt to build the pipeline is made.

“Act of war means that we’re going to have to take legal maneuvers now,” Scott told the Daily News over the phone. “We’re going to protect our land and our way of life.” [....]

The international pipeline would funnel tar sands oil through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska – right through the Rosebud tribal lands.

Scott argued the pipeline violates the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie that gave the land known as the Black Hills to the Sioux Nation.

“When it comes to treaties, they forget about us. … People forget that we’re a sovereign nation,” Scott said. “Everybody else … they’re just guests here.”

The greatest concern is that a leak could affect the Ogallala Aquifer, which is already in jeopardy. From The Washington Post last September:

The sprawling Ogallala Aquifer in the Great Plains provides freshwater for roughly one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cattle and cotton in the United States. But key parts of the underwater aquifer are being depleted faster than they can be recharged by rain (see map)….How long before those areas in decline run out of groundwater for farming?

A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences tried to come up with an answer for the crucial Kansas section of the aquifer. At current rates of use, farming in that area is likely to peak by 2040 or so due to water depletion.

With better conservation techniques, western Kansas could probably stretch things out so that farm production doesn’t peak until the 2070s. But avoiding any sort of peak altogether would require drastic measures — beyond anything contemplated today.

2000px-Ogallala_changes_1980-1995.svg

Do we really want to add more risk by allowing a pipeline carrying the dirtiest kind of oil known the humankind? As Rosebud Sioux president Cyril Scott said in the Daily News story linked above, “It’s not if it breaks, it’s when it breaks.”

Some Republicans claim that Harry Reid is allowing a vote on the pipeline to help Mary Landrieu in her campaign against Crazy-Eyes Cassidy (who sponsored the bill in the House) for the U.S. Senate seat from Louisiana. But if that’s true, then why did the DSCC cut off funds to Landrieu’s campaign? I wish the Democrats would get busy approving President Obama’s outstanding appointees instead of plotting to destroy America’s heartland.

Two more links on the Keystone pipeline story:

Politicus USA, Democratic Senator Completely Annihilates Fox News’ Keystone XL Pipeline Talking Points. Check out the story to read how Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse shut down both South Dakota Sen. John Thune and Fox host Chris Wallace in enemy territory.

The Daily Beast, The Pipeline From Hell: There’s No Good Reason to Build Keystone XL (“No lasting jobs, no cheaper gas, and a chance to kill off one-fourth of U.S. farmland and maybe the planet. Why are both parties going all out to get such a crappy deal?”)

campus rape

The problem of rape on college campuses is also in the news. From The Boston Globe, Harvard’s view on consent at issue in sexual assault policy.

In the fierce debate about campus sexual assault, Harvard University’s policy has come under particular scrutiny, assailed by some professors as a product of political correctness that stacks the deck against the accused. But a range of specialists who help colleges handle misconduct allegations say Harvard’s policy is decidedly mainstream.

Really? Then why is it that colleges and universities rarely punish accused rapists?

In recent years, many colleges have adopted an “affirmative consent” standard, which states that sex is considered consensual only if both partners explicitly communicate their willingness to engage in sexual activity.

Harvard’s policy, meanwhile, simply forbids “unwelcome conduct,” which it defines as “unrequested or uninvited” behavior — but does not require explicit consent.

Harvard says its standard is consistent with federal civil rights law, but critics say the policy does not go far enough and is out of step with other colleges.

“I definitely see Harvard as an outlier,” said Djuna Perkins, a Boston-area lawyer who conducts sexual misconduct investigations and training for colleges. “Most definitions now require affirmative consent.”

The clash about college misconduct policies is the latest flashpoint in a broader debate about how to curb sexual assaults on campus and what standards should be used in determining guilt. The issue is playing out at colleges around the country and comes as 86 schools — including Harvard and nine others in Massachusetts — are facing federal inquiries into their handling of sexual-assault cases.

There is also a long op-ed in The New York Times in which Yale professor of criminal law Jed Rubenfeld discusses both sides of this simmering controversy, Mishandling Rape.

Bill Cosby and Hannibal Buress

Bill Cosby and Hannibal Buress

And speaking of rape accusations, the talk about Bill Cosby’s alleged history of sexual assault has been in the news again, after it died down eight years ago. From The Washington Post, 

Those accusations date to 2006, when Cosby made public denials, settled a civil lawsuit out of court and maintained his stature as a dad-sweatered pop-culture icon.

It seemed the scandal had been put to rest. But as the past few weeks have shown, it’s become more difficult to bury a story for good — especially a story like this one, which has many of the components for going viral: a famous name, a shareable video, lurid personal accounts. The resurgence of interest in this old news story didn’t happen at random. It’s the result of what we, in the age of information overload, are inclined to click on.

This news cycle started with a stand-up routine, in which the allegations were reintroduced by comedian Hannibal Buress, who was performing in Cosby’s home town of Philadelphia. The performance video was first published a month ago on PhillyMag.com….

Buress urged his audience to help the story resurface.

“I’ve done this bit onstage, and people think I’m making it up,” he said in the video. “When you leave here, Google ‘Bill Cosby rape.’ That s— has more results than ‘Hannibal Buress.’ ”

Now another accuser has spoken publicly, according the The Hollywood Reporter.

In an essay on Hollywood Elsewhere, Joan Tarshis wrote that the comedian drugged and raped her on two occasions in the fall of 1969 when she was 19 years old.

Tarshis, a former actress, music industry publicist and journalist, wrote that she met Cosby through mutual friends, and he often invited her to his room on the Universal lot, where he was shootingThe Bill Cosby Show. He would ply her with food and drinks, often pouring beer into her Bloody Mary’s, even though he himself never drank.

One night, Cosby invited her to help him work on material for the show, where he made her one of his Bloody Mary-and-beer concoctions. She claims she was in the middle of discussing a scene with him when she lost consciousness.

“The next thing I remember was coming to on his couch while being undressed,” she wrote. “Through the haze, I thought I was being clever when I told him I had an infection, and he would catch it, and his wife would know he had sex with someone. But he just found another orifice to use. I was sickened by what was happening to me and shocked that this man I had idolized was now raping me.”

Read the rest at the link. Cosby cancelled a scheduled appearance on the Late Show in the wake of the new accusations and public discussion.

republican-debate-on-twitter

Republicans never seem to stop pushing the legal envelope to get their candidates elected. From CNN, How the GOP used Twitter to stretch election laws.

Washington (CNN) — Republicans and outside groups used anonymous Twitter accounts to share internal polling data ahead of the midterm elections, CNN has learned, a practice that raises questions about whether they violated campaign finance laws that prohibit coordination.

The Twitter accounts were hidden in plain sight. The profiles were publicly available but meaningless without knowledge of how to find them and decode the information, according to a source with knowledge of the activities.

The practice is the latest effort in the quest by political operatives to exploit the murky world of campaign finance laws at a time when limits on spending in politics are eroding and regulators are being defanged.

The law says that outside groups, such as super PACs and non-profits, can spend freely on political causes as long as they don’t coordinate their plans with campaigns. Sharing costly internal polls in private, for instance, could signal to the campaign committees where to focus precious time and resources.

Read more at the link.

I’ve run out of space, but I want to include a couple of Ferguson updates:

Christian Science Monitor, Ferguson braces for prospect of no indictment in Michael Brown shooting case.

V[]cative, The Pre-Verdict Chatter Among Ferguson Cops and Their Supporters.

What else is happening? Please share links to stories that interest you in the comment thread. I hope to see you there!


Lazy Saturday Reads: Governor, Police, and Media Stoke Fears of Riots in Ferguson

 King reads2Good Afternoon!

A Grand Jury decision is imminent in the Michael Brown shooting case in Ferguson, Missouri. For the past couple of weeks the media has been full of reports of how police departments in the St. Louis area are preparing for what they predict will be violent protests.

The general assumption is that Ferguson police officer, who killed Brown at about noon on August 9, will not be charged. The simple truth is that white police officer who kill black people are rarely charged and almost never convicted. Furthermore, the LA Times reports that law enforcement officers who kill citizens in Missouri are given “wide latitude.”

Missouri law provides wide latitude for police to use deadly force, particularly if the officer believes it’s necessary to protect his or her safety or the safety of others.

But that law might not shield Wilson. “If Michael Brown was trying to surrender at the time, that makes this defense not applicable,” Washington University law professor Peter Joy said. “So the question is: Was Michael Brown clearly trying to surrender at the time that the fatal gunshots were fired?”

Several witnesses who saw the shooting reported that Brown’s hands were in the air when Darren Wilson shot and killed him, but, as far as I can tell, most media sources recently have changed the narrative to the police version–not based on direct observation–in which Wilson supposedly feared for his life because the unarmed Brown “charged” at him after being hit with at least two bullets.

There is another investigation by the Justice Department into whether Darren Wilson violated Michael Brown’s civil rights, but

Joy said a federal indictment seemed unlikely, at least according to the publicly reported accounts of the shooting thus far.

“That would require that Officer Wilson intentionally planned or intentionally meant to violate the civil rights — that is, take the life of — Michael Brown because of his race,” Joy said.

The media narrative has gradually been revised since August, when we saw what were essentially police riots in which Ferguson and St. Louis police used military surplus equipment to control peaceful protesters and reporters and photographers who were covering events on the ground. Now we’re repeatedly being told that Brown was the aggressor, with the unwritten implication that he deserved to die.  Back in August, some law enforcement officers threatened to kill protesters and even arrested numerous members of the media who were simply doing their jobs.  But that’s all forgotten now. Now the corporate media appears to be fully behind the Ferguson and St. Louis police; and both the police and the media are preparing for what they expect–and apparently hope–will be violent and dangerous riots.

Moneta Sleet Jr./Ebony Collection

Since the Grand Jury decision may come very soon, I thought I’d gather the latest updates on this important story for today’s post. I’ll admit up front that I’m not an nonpartisan observer in this case.

First, the LA Times article I linked to above has a good summary of the two sides to the story of the shooting, Back Story: What happened in Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo.?

Also from the LA Times, a report of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s recent announcement about government preparations for what he apparently assumes will be riots, National Guard on call if Ferguson grand jury decision triggers violence.

The National Guard will be ready to assist law enforcement in Missouri if unrest erupts after a grand jury announces whether to indict a white police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Gov. Jay Nixon announced Tuesday.

“Violence will not be tolerated,” Nixon said at a news conference with officials from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, St. Louis County police and St. Louis Metropolitan police. The governor said the agencies would form a unified command to deal with protests. “Residents and businesses of this region will be protected,” Nixon said….

Nixon said that the rights of peaceful protesters would be respected but that officials would have no tolerance for violent agitation. “Our dual pillars here are safety and speech,” Nixon said in the televised news conference from St. Louis. The National Guard, he said, would be available “when we determine it is necessary to support local law enforcement.”

Nixon added: “The world is watching.”

Photo of Martin Luther King Jr

Nixon did not say whether there have been any efforts to diffuse anger on the part of local police officers or prevent more police overreactions to peaceful protests.

The story also quoted St. Louis police chief Jon Belmar.

“The community is on edge. … There is a large sense of anxiety out there. This is a little unprecedented,” St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told reporters in a televised news conference. Belmar added: “If you talk to chiefs around the country [as I have], they’re concerned and prepared for this to perhaps lap into their communities also.”

Gee, I wonder why? Could it be because police shootings of unarmed black men are so common in this country? Belmar also defended the use of military equipment to control protests.

Belmar defended the agency’s response by saying that such gear was necessary for his officers’ protection and pointed out that no protesters lost their lives during August’s demonstrations, which were occasionally marred by looting and gunshots. “My goodness, could we be that fortunate moving forward?” Belmar said of the absence of fatalities.

The St. Louis County Police Department has spent about $120,000 to replenish equipment such as shields, batons, tear gas and flex handcuffs after weeks of unrest in the aftermath of the shooting depleted supplies and damaged equipment.

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Here are some recent examples of white policemen shooting unarmed black men:

The New Republic, A Dash Cam Didn’t Stop This White Officer From Shooting an Unarmed Black Man (fortunately, this officer was arrested and charged. Whether he’ll be convicted or not, we don’t know yet)

Mother Jones, August 13, 2014, 4 Unarmed Black Men Have Been Killed By Police in the Last Month.

Here’s piece on this subject by Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart, The terrifying police shootings of unarmed black men.

One of the burdens of being a black male is carrying the heavy weight of other people’s suspicions. One minute you’re going about your life, the next you could be pleading for it, if you’re lucky. That’s what happened to Trayvon Martin in February 2012 and Michael Brown last month. And two other recent shootings add further proof that no standard of conduct, it seems, is too good or too mundane to protect a black man’s life particularly from a police officer’s bullet.

John Crawford III was talking on his cell phone in the Beavercreek, Ohio, Wal-Mart and carrying an unloaded BB air rifle he picked up in the superstore on Aug. 5. “There is a gentleman walking around with a gun in the store,” Ronald Ritchie told the 911 operator. “Yeah, he’s, like, pointing at people….He’s looking around, waving it, waving it back and forth….He looked like he was trying to load it. I don’t know.” Fair warning: As the graphic video shows, Crawford was shot and killed by police. Ritchie has since changed his account of what happened.

You can watch the video at the link. Capehart also discusses the Brown case and the case in South Carolina (story linked above).

Levar Jones was pulled over for a seat-belt violation by now-former South Carolina state trooper Sean Groubert on Sept. 4. Thanks to the startling and graphic dashcam video we get to see every African American’s worst nightmare unfold in seconds….

Groubert asks Jones, “Can I see your license, please?” Jones, who was standing outside his car at the gas station convenience store, turned and reached inside to retrieve it. “Get out of the car! Get out of the car!” Groubert shouts before opening fire on Jones at point-blank range. After being hit in the hip, Jones can be seen moving backwards away from his car with his hands in the air as two more shots ring out.

injustice2

Instead of using these recent cases to highlight and deal with the problem of police shootings of unarmed people, it seems that local and state governments like those in Missouri are simply doubling down on the people who protest them. I’m really concerned that all the talk of “riots” being inevitable in Ferguson is going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Caitlin Dickson of The Daily Beast reports that at least one expert agrees with me: Riot Prep Could Fuel Ferguson Violence.

Despite a concerted police effort to quell demonstrations, protesters have carried on consistently and, for the most part, calmly since Brown’s death at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson this past August. But the impending grand jury decision on whether Wilson will be indicted in Brown’s death—and leaks of evidence suggesting he won’t—has law enforcement, residents, and business owners preparing for violence on the streets.

In addition to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s announcement on Tuesday that the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the St. Louis Metropolitan police, and the St. Louis County police will join forces (with the National Guard on standby) in handling demonstrations following the grand jury decision, almost every national news organization—from CNN to The New York Times, the Associated Press and Reuters—has reported that Ferguson residents and business owners have been taking matters into their own hands. Gun sales are up, local gun-shop owners told reporters. People like Dan McMullen, whose insurance agency is located near a spot where the few instances of vandalism and looting took place following Brown’s death, was quoted by both the New York Times and CNN as saying he’s stocking up on guns in case of a riot….

Despite Governor Nixon’s declarations that “violence will not be tolerated” and “residents and businesses of this region will be protected,” some experts wonder whether all the emphasis on preparedness—from the $120,000 spent by the St. Louis County Police on riot gear to the sudden demand for guns—may do more harm than good.

“I don’t think this is the way we should be thinking about what might happen,” American University professor Cathy Schneider told The Daily Beast.  Instead, Schneider, who is an expert on social movements and racial tensions, argues that what we should be thinking about is, ‘how do we convince a community that the police will act to serve them, that the justice system will defend their interests, and that the verdict will be just?” [....]

“If one side is buying guns and preparing, what do you think the other people are doing, who think those guns are going to be used against them?” Schneider asked. Instead of acknowledging that Ferguson’s black community “is in pain and wondering whether justice will be done,” Schneider said, such intense preparation sends the message that “we think your community is dangerous and we’re armed and prepared to kill you.”

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It also doesn’t help that Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson–who should have been fired by now–has announced that Darren Wilson, the man who killed Michael Brown, will be welcomed back to the local force if he isn’t indicted by the Grand Jury.

Here’s an excellent op-ed by Mary Sanchez of the Kansas City Star: The fire next time … may engulf Ferguson, Mo.

By every indication — from both the street and civic offices — Ferguson, Missouri is expected to blow.

The grand jury decision on whether a white police officer will be charged in the shooting death of an unarmed 18-year-old black man could come any day. Many are expecting no indictment of the officer, no criminal charges alleging that he went too far the day Michael Brown died.

If that’s the outcome, God help us all. Keeping the lid on the public reaction will be a gargantuan task.

Of course local leaders fed the outrage from the very beginning by trying to protect Darren Wilson and by leaving Michael Brown’s body lying exposed in the street for four hours.

Sanchez refers back to the riots in Los Angeles in 1965 as well as those in 1992 after the failure to indict police who beat Rodney King within an inch of his life. Why don’t government leaders deal with the root problems at work in these cases?

In Watts nearly 50 years ago the name was Marquette Frye, not Michael Brown. Frye, 21, was pulled over in a traffic stop, suspected of being drunk. When other family members arrived, a fight broke out with police. Word spread, alleging police had over-reacted.

For six days people rioted. There were 34 deaths, more than 1,000 people injured, $40 million in property damage and more than 1,000 buildings were destroyed.

In 1992, the person at the center was Rodney King. He’d led police on a high-speed car chase, fleeing after fearing that his probation would be revoked from a robbery conviction. When he finally was stopped, what happened next shocked the nation. The video of the officers assaulting King without mercy when they could have simply handcuffed him was played over and over on television.

When those officers weren’t indicted, the city erupted again. This time, 53 people died, more than 2,000 were injured, the property damage was pegged at $1 billion and another 1,000 buildings were destroyed.

In both cases, commissions were formed and good people went to work unraveling how one incident could ignite such violence. The underlying causes were found to be similar despite the nearly 30 years that had passed: the burdens of poor education, lack of jobs, poverty, racial tensions, and inferior housing and transportation.

Sanchez goes on to recommend changes that local and state governments will most likely either ignore or respond to with lip service.

Martin Luther King Jr Day Pic

We’ve seen over the past several years that virulent racism is alive and well in this country, and we simply are not dealing with it.

This nation was founded on the enslavement of black people, and despite the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, efforts to desegregate schools, and affirmative action, black people are still treated as second class citizens by many Americans. A number of states have even instituted voter ID laws that essentially act as poll taxes did in the Jim Crow era to keep black people from voting, and the Supreme Court has affirmed the right of states to do this.

We are now on the verge of another flashpoint in the history of race conflicts in our country–the possibility of violence following a failure to punish Darren Wilson for essentially ignoring the humanity of black teenager Michael Brown.

When will it end?

A few more reads to check out if you’re interested:

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Protesters prepare for the worst in Ferguson.

Huffington Post, Beyond the Indictments: Black and Brown Deaths at the Hands of Police Are a Crisis Boiling Over.

Fellowship of Reconciliation, Ferguson Under Indictment.

Juan Williams at Fox News, Are liberal news outlets begging for a race riot in Ferguson?

Ben Swann, Michael Brown’s Parents Testify Before UN Committee Against Torture.

Michael Martinez at CNN, Ferguson case raises question: Where’s the data on officer-involved killings?

Christian Science Monitor, Ferguson verdict: Why St. Louis schools will know first.

AP via Boston Globe, Churches prepare for possible Ferguson unrest

What stories are you following today? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great weekend.


Lazy Saturday Reads: A Little Bit of This and That

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Good Morning!!

I have a mixed bag of reads for you this morning–a little bit of politics, education, historical mystery, and science. The paintings and drawings included in this post are by Vincent van Gogh.

Last night President Obama announced that he’s sending 1,500 more troops into Iraq, supposedly  to serve as “advisers” who will train troops to fight the Islamic State. The Independent reports:

Barack Obama has authorised the US military to send up to 1,500 more troops to Iraq on top of the current total of around 1,400 to bolster efforts to combat Isis.

American soldiers would not take a frontline role, the White House said, but conduct “training missions” with Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers around Baghdad and Erbil.

The move comes less than a fortnight after the last British and American troops left Afghanistan and despite international condemnation of Isis’ atrocities, the public are still wary of another interventionist war.

The announcement had nothing to do with Tuesday’s election, according to “White House officials.” From the New York Daily News:

“It was really not driven at all the political calendar,” a senior White House official told reporters.

The official said that the decision to escalate the U.S. mission followed requests “over the last several weeks” by Pentagon officials, and political developments in Iraq.

Administration officials said the new deployment will expand the U.S. mission by placing American military advisors and trainers in western and northern of Iraq, where Iraqi and Kurdish forces are directly fighting ISIS extremists.

Until now, U.S. troops have been mostly confined to Baghdad and the Kurdish city of Erbil.

The White House emphasized that American soldiers will not directly engage ISIS fighters.

And so, the endless war continues.

Old-Man-Reading

Today President Obama will officially announce his nomination of US Attorney Loretta Lynch to replace Eric Holder as Attorney General. From NPR:

Lynch, whom the White House describes as “a strong, independent prosecutor who has twice led one of the most important U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the country,” will be introduced at the White House Saturday, alongside current Attorney General Eric Holder.

The plan comes after NPR’s Carrie Johnson reported Thursday that Lynch, a lead federal prosecutor in New York City, could be nominated within days.

“Lynch, a graduate of Harvard Law School, worked her way up the ladder in Brooklyn,” Carrie said, “a huge office that handles everything from old-school Mafia busts to new forms of cybercrime.”

And from the LA Times, Attorney general pick Loretta Lynch would be first black woman in post.

President Obama will nominate Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, to replace Eric H. Holder Jr. as attorney general, the White House said Friday, a historic choice that would make her the first black woman to hold the post….

Obama will make the official announcement Saturday with Lynch and Holder at the White House before he leaves Sunday on a weeklong trip to Asia. The White House had originally planned to wait until Obama returned to Washington, but apparently changed its plans after numerous news organizations reported she was the likely pick.

The choice of Lynch reflects a typical middle-of-the-road path for Obama; she is a nominee who might be confirmed without great controversy if no fault is found in her resume. Liberals had pushed for Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, but he is unpopular with Republicans. Many in the legal community had hoped for scholarly Solicitor Gen. Donald Verrilli Jr.

Let’s hope she gets confirmed quickly, while Democrats still hold the majority in the Senate. A little more about her:

Lynch is the rare U.S. attorney who has not sought the limelight in what is normally a high-profile job with political potential. She rarely gives news conferences or interviews and recently ducked a gathering with Justice Department reporters in Washington. Her reputation in liberal legal circles is as someone who is not politically sophisticated.

A relative unknown outside her district, she came to prominence in New York in the late 1990s as the supervisor of the team that successfully prosecuted two police officers for the sexual assault with a broomstick of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima. Three other officers were acquitted.

More recently, she has spent time in Washington as chairwoman of the attorney general’s advisory committee of U.S. attorneys, an The Novel Reader Van Goghinfluential job that brought her in close contact with Holder.

Diane Ravitch has an interesting piece at The New York Review of Books, The Myth of Chinese Super Schools. It’s a review of a new book, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World, by Yong Zhao.

On December 3, 2013, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced yet again that American students were doing terribly when tested, in comparison to students in sixty-one other countries and a few cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong. Duncan presided over the release of the latest international assessment of student performance in reading, science, and mathematics (called the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA), and Shanghai led the nations of the world in all three categories.

Duncan and other policymakers professed shock and anguish at the results, according to which American students were average at best, nowhere near the top. Duncan said that Americans had to face the brutal fact that the performance of our students was “mediocre” and that our schools were trapped in “educational stagnation.”

He had used virtually the same rhetoric in 2010, when the previous PISA results were released. Despite the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which mandated that every child in every school in grades 3–8 would be proficient in math and reading by 2014, and despite the Obama administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, the scores of American fifteen-year-old students on these international tests were nearly unchanged since 2000. Both NCLB and Race to the Top assumed that a steady diet of testing and accountability, of carrots for high scores and sticks for low scores, would provide an incentive for students and teachers to try harder and get higher test scores. But clearly, this strategy was not working. In his public remarks, however, Duncan could not admit that carrots and sticks don’t produce better education or even higher test scores. Instead, he blamed teachers and parents for failing to have high expectations.

Duncan, President Obama, and legislators looked longingly at Shanghai’s stellar results and wondered why American students could not surpass them. Why can’t we be like the Chinese?, they wondered. Why should we be number twenty-nine in the world in mathematics when Shanghai is number one? Why are our scores below those of Estonia, Poland, Ireland, and so many other nations? Duncan was sure that the scores on international tests were proof that we were falling behind the rest of the world and that they predicted economic disaster for the United States. What Duncan could not admit was that, after a dozen years, the Bush–Obama strategy of testing and punishing teachers and schools had failed.

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Like many other failed policies, the obsession with testing began under Ronald Reagan.

P0licymakers and legislators are convinced that the best way to raise test scores is to administer more standardized tests and to make them harder to pass. This love affair with testing had its origins in 1983, when a national commission on education released a report called “A Nation at Risk.”

President Ronald Reagan had hoped his commission would recommend vouchers and school prayers, but that did not happen. Instead, the report recommended a stronger curriculum, higher graduation requirements, more teacher pay, and longer school hours, as well as standards and testing at transitional points, like high school graduation. The main effect of the report was caused by its alarmist rhetoric, which launched a three-decade-plus obsession with the idea that American public schools are failing and that the way to fix them is to raise test scores.

And succeeding presidents have continued the “testing mania.” Ravich writes:

At this juncture comes the book that Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, members of Congress, and the nation’s governors and legislators need to read: Yong Zhao’s Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World. Zhao, born and educated in China, now holds a presidential chair and a professorship at the University of Oregon. He tells us that China has the best education system because it can produce the highest test scores. But, he says, it has the worst education system in the world because those test scores are purchased by sacrificing creativity, divergent thinking, originality, and individualism. The imposition of standardized tests by central authorities, he argues, is a victory for authoritarianism. His book is a timely warning that we should not seek to emulate Shanghai, whose scores reflect a Confucian tradition of rote learning that is thousands of years old. Indeed, the highest-scoring nations on the PISA examinations of fifteen-year-olds are all Asian nations or cities: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Singapore, Korea, Macao (China), and Japan.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Will the book make a difference to U.S. political leaders? Probably not, but Ravich’s long review is well worth reading.

Vanity Fair has a fascinating article by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, authors of a 2011 Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography of Vincent van Gogh. In an appendix to the book, Naifeh and Smith included a summary of their research on the death of the famous painter. After years of study in the van Gogh archives, the authors suspected that the artist did not commit suicide, as is commonly believed, but was very likely killed accidentally by a teenage bully named René Secrétan.

Man reading van gogh

In 1890, René Secrétan was the 16-year-old son of a Paris pharmacist whose family summered in Auvers. In Paris, René’s lycée education admitted him to bourgeois society. In Auvers, it gave him license to bully. He said he modeled his behavior on his hero, Wild Bill Cody, whose Wild West Show René had seen in Paris the year before. He bought a souvenir costume (fringed buckskin, cowboy hat, chaps) and accessorized it with an old, small-caliber pistol that looked menacing but often misfired.

He found an easy target in the strange Dutchman named Vincent. By the time René arrived for the summer, Van Gogh was already the object of rumor and ridicule. He trudged through town with his mangled ear and awkward load, setting himself up to paint anywhere he pleased. He drank. He argued fiercely in an unintelligible tumble of Dutch and French.

Unlike René, whose father was a powerful figure in the summer community, Vincent had no friends. Using his brother Gaston, an aesthete, as his front man, René artfully slipped into the vacuum. He cozied up to the lonely painter at his café conversations with Gaston about art. He paid for another round of drinks. Afterward, René would mock the strange Dutchman to amuse his merry band of mischief-minded summer boys.

René let Vincent eavesdrop on him and his friends when they imported “dancing girls” from Paris. He shared his pornography collection. He even posed for some paintings and a drawing. Meanwhile, he conspired with his followers to play elaborate pranks on the friendless tramp they called Toto. They put hot pepper on his brushes (which he often sucked when deep in thought), salted his tea, and sneaked a snake into his paint box.

There it was, all in the files: the details mostly in a late-life narrative from the cowboy himself, René. But every detail checked out with the other eyewitness accounts from Auvers. And it didn’t say anything new, really. Vincent had faced similar bullying and ridicule in every place he ever painted.

And there was this: a long-neglected account by a woman from a distinguished Auvers family who had broken with the community omertà to say that Van Gogh was far from the wheat field at the time the fatal shot was fired. He was, according to her, on the road that led to the Secrétan family villa.

Of course the “experts” (Naifeh and Smith call them the “Flame Keepers”) came out of the woodwork to denounce the new theory. In response Naifeh and Smith asked a well known forensic expert, Dr. Vincent Di Maio, who testified at the trial of George Zimmerman, to analyze the evidence. Read the article to find out what conclusions he drew.

Finally a couple of science stories:

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From Discovery News, 9,300-Year-Old Bison Mummy Found in Siberia.

The still-furry beast is one of the most complete frozen mummies ever found. It literally freezes in time the appearance and anatomy of a steppe bison (Bison priscus), whose species went extinct shortly after the end of the Ice Age.

It’s been named the “Yukagir bison mummy,” after the region where it was found.

“The exceptionally good preservation of the Yukagir bison mummy allows direct anatomical comparisons with modern species of bison and cattle, as well as with extinct species of bison that were gone at the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary,” co-author Evgeny Maschenko from the Paleontological Institute in Moscow was quoted as saying in a press release.

The remarkable specimen still has its complete brain, heart, blood vessels and digestive system. Some of its organs have significantly shrunk over time, but that’s to be expected given its advanced age.

The researchers, led by Natalia Serduk of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, conducted a necropsy on the remains. The investigation determined that the bison showed a relatively normal anatomy. A clue to its demise, however, is a lack of fat around its abdomen. This suggests that the bison died from starvation, but the scientists aren’t sure of that yet.

Compared to today’s bison in America, the Ice Age bison sported much larger horns and a second back hump. Steppe bison like this now-frozen one were commonly featured in Stone Age cave art, often shown being hunted by humans.

The Daily Mail article has a number of photos of the specimen and the researchers.

And from The Atlantic, a brief article on The Resurrection of the Dodo.

Alas, the poor dodo. All that remains of this extinct flightless bird’s legacy are a single complete skeleton and a synonym for “dimwit.”

But from those bones, researchers may now be able to recreate the 3-feet tall bird. Using a 3-D laser, paleontologists from the College of Holy Cross in Massachusetts made the first ever full 3-D dodo scans. The team presented the scans for the first time Thursday at theSociety for Vertebrate Archaeology’s annual conference in Berlin.

The scans showed that dodos had kneecaps, which were previously unknown structures within the dodo, Live Science reported. Leon Claessens, lead author on the scanning mission, told Live Science that information gleaned from the scans will help provide insight into how the bird moved. The team will also look at the bird’s large jaw in order to better understand how it worked and what type of prey it caught.

So . . . what else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great Veteran’s Day weekend!


Friday Reads

Good Morning!

I thought I’d try to get off the topic of the midterm elections specifically and get on to some general things about why the U.S. Political System seems so completely screwed up right now.  What exactly has led us to the point where the Republicans seem to be a combination of the John Birch banksy-dreams_00349040Society and Theocrats and the Democratic Party sits idly by and twiddles its thumbs hoping the process works like it used to?

William Pfaff has a few things to say about this in an article titled “How Ronald Reagan and the Supreme Court Turned American Politics Into a Cesspool”.   One of the things that does completely amaze me is how the entire Reagan Presidency has turned into a narrative that’s more saga and drama than reality.  There’s some really interesting points here.  How did this election get so removed from reality in that people voted for one set of priorities when it came to issues like marijuana legalization and the minimum wage but then sent people to the District diametrically opposed to these policies?

The second significance of this election has been the debasement of debate to a level of vulgarity, misinformation and ignorance that, while not unprecedented in American political history, certainly attained new depths and extent.

This disastrous state of affairs is the product of two Supreme Court decisions and before that, of the repeal under the Reagan Administration, of the provision in the Federal Communications Act of 1934, stipulating the public service obligations of radio (and subsequently, of television) broadcasters in exchange for the government’s concession to them of free use in their businesses of the public airways.

These rules required broadcasters to provide “public interest” programming, including the coverage of electoral campaigns for public office and the independent examination of public issues. The termination of these requirements made possible the wave of demagogic and partisan right-wing “talk radio” that since has plagued American broadcasting and muddied American electoral politics.

Those readers old enough to remember the radio and early television broadcasting of pre-Reagan America will recall the non-partisan news reports and summaries provided by the national networks and by local stations in the United States. There were, of course, popular news commentators professing strong or idiosyncratic views as well, but the industry assured that a variety of responsible opinions were expressed, and that blatant falsehood was banned or corrected.

The two Supreme Court decisions were “Buckley v. Valeo” in 1976 and “Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission” in 2010. Jointly, they have transformed the nature of the American political campaign, and indeed the nature of American national politics. This resulted from the nature and characteristics of mass communications in the United States and the fact that broadcasting has from the beginning been all but totally a commercial undertaking (unlike the state broadcasters in Canada and Britain, and nearly all of Europe).

The two decisions turned political contests into competitions in campaign advertising expenditure on television and radio. The election just ended caused every American linked to the internet to be bombarded by thousands (or what seemed tens of thousands) of political messages pleading for campaign money and listing the enormous (naturally) sums pouring into the coffers of the enemy.

Previously the American campaign first concerned the candidate and the nature of his or her political platform. Friends and supporters could, of course, contribute to campaign funds and expenditures, but these contributions were limited by law in scale and nature. No overt connection was allowed between businesses or industries and major political candidates, since this would have implied that the candidate represented “special interests” rather than the general interest.

The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission verdict is well known and remains highly controversial since it rendered impossible the imposition of legal limits on political campaign spending, ruling that electoral spending is an exercise in constitutionally-protected free speech. Moreover, it adjudged commercial corporations as legal citizens, in electoral matters the equivalent of persons.

BanksyCleaningUpWhat role has Citizen’s United played in our elections? 

Don’t think Citizens United made a difference for the GOP in Tuesday’s midterms? The plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case thinks so.

Citizens United, our Supreme Court case, leveled the playing field, and we’re very proud of the impact that had in last night’s election,” said David Bossie, chairman of the conservative advocacy organization.

He complained that Democratic lawmakers were trying to “gut the First Amendment” with their proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 ruling, reported Right Wing Watch, which allowed corporations to pour cash into campaigns without disclosing their contributions.

Bossie said this so-called “dark money” was crucial to Republicans gaining control of the U.S. Senate and strengthening their grip on the U.S. House of Representatives.

“A robust conversation, which is what a level playing field allows, really creates an opportunity for the American people to get information and make good decisions,” Bossie said.

Besides the role of dark money, the number of states that will continue to enact voter suppression measures between now and 2016 is expected to increase.

Voters across the country trying to cast votes in Tuesday’s elections ran into hurdles erected by Republican legislatures, governors and secretaries of state. Along with mechanical glitches and human error — which occurred in states with leaders on both sides of the political spectrum — voters faced new laws and policies that made it harder to vote.

In Alabama, a last-minute decision by the attorney general barred people from using public housing IDs to vote. Voter ID laws in North Carolina and Texas sowed confusion. Georgia lost 40,000 voter registrations, mostly from minorities. In all, the group Election Protection reported receiving 18,000 calls on Election Day, many of them having to do with voter ID laws. The group noted that the flurry of calls represented “a nearly 40 percent increase from 13,000 calls received in 2010.”

In the presidential election year of 2016, it looks unlikely that those problems will subside — especially if Congress fails to restore the Voting Rights Act. The two states that had the closest vote tallies in the last presidential election — Florida and Ohio — will go into the presidential election year with Republicans controlling the offices of governor and secretary of state and holding majorities in their state legislatures.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who won reelection yesterday, will be able to appoint a secretary of state and will enjoy the support of a veto-proof Republican majority in the state House.

In Ohio, controversial Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted won reelection on Tuesday, along with Gov. John Kasich. They’ll be able to work with a strengthened GOP majority in the state legislature.

In North Carolina, where a Republican legislature and governor have cracked down on voting rights, the GOP held onto its majority. Republican secretary of state candidates in the swing states of Colorado, Iowa and Nevada also won elections yesterday.

Two influential elections for voting rights also took place in states unlikely to be presidential swing states. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a national ringleader for advocates of restrictive voting laws, won reelection. In Arizona, which has been working with Kansas to defend their states’ respective tough voting requirements, Republican candidate Michele Reagan also won her contest.

Suppression of voting rights and purposeful spread of lies, propaganda, and disinformation are likely to continue as the 2016 Presidential Political season begins.Will the Democratic Party learn anything from the last two disastrous mid term elections? banksy-w1200

This fall, Democrats ran like they were afraid of losing. Consider the issues that most Democrats think really matter: Climate change, which a United Nations report just warned will have “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” across the globe. The expansion of Medicaid, so millions of poor families have health coverage. Our immoral and incoherent immigration system. Our epidemic of gun violence, which produces a mini-Sandy Hook every few weeks. The rigging of America’s political and economic system by the 1 percent.

For the most part, Democratic candidates shied away from these issues because they were too controversial. Instead they stuck to topics that were safe, familiar, and broadly popular: the minimum wage, outsourcing, and the “war on women.” The result, for the most part, was homogenized, inauthentic, forgettable campaigns. Think about the Democrats who ran in contested seats Tuesday night: Grimes, Nunn, Hagan, Pryor, Hagan, Shaheen, Landrieu, Braley, Udall, Begich, Warner. During the entire campaign, did a single one of them have what Joe Klein once called a “Turnip Day moment”—a bold, spontaneous outbreak of genuine conviction? Did a single one unfetter himself or herself from the consultants and take a political risk to support something he or she passionately believed was right?

I’m not claiming that such displays would have changed the outcome. Given President Obama’s unpopularity, Democratic victories, especially in red states, may have been impossible.

But there is a crucial lesson here for 2016. In recent years, some Democrats have convinced themselves they can turn out African Americans, Latinos, single women, the poor, and the young merely by employing fancy computer systems and exploiting Republican extremism. But technologically, Republicans are catching up, and they’re getting shrewder about blunting, or at least masking, the harshness of their views.

We saw the consequences on Tuesday. According to exit polls, voters under 30 constituted only 13 percent of the electorate, down from 19 percent in 2012. In Florida, the Latino share of the electorate dropped from 17 to 13 percent. In North Carolina, the African-American share dropped from 23 to 21 percent.

If Hillary Clinton wants to reverse those numbers, she’s going to have to inspire people—people who, more than their Republican counterparts, are inclined toward disconnection and despair. And her gender alone won’t be enough. She lost to Obama in 2008 in part because she could not overcome her penchant for ultra-cautious, hyper-sanitized, consultant-speak. Yet on the stump this year, she was as deadening as the candidates she campaigned for. As Molly Ball put it in September, “Everywhere Hillary Clinton goes, a thousand cameras follow. Then she opens her mouth, and nothing happens.”

Then, there is this: Former Republican Committeemen Claim Election Judges Coerced Into Voting GOP. banksy-wallpaper-tumblr-12-wide

A day after the election, officials are still counting ballots and the investigation into who made robocalls that allegedly persuaded many judges not to show up Tuesday is heating up.

Two former Republican committeemen are telling 2 Investigator Pam Zekman they were removed because they objected to those tactics.

Judges of election are appointed by their respective parties and they look at a judge’s primary voting records as part of the vetting process. But in these cases the former committeemen we talked to said that vetting crossed a line when judges were told who they had to vote for in the Tuesdays’ election.

One says it happened at a temporary campaign headquarters at 8140 S. Western Ave, which we’ve confirmed it was rented by the Republican Party where election judges reported they were falsely told they had to appear for additional training.

And a former 7th ward committeewoman says she witnessed the same thing at 511. E. 79th Street campaign workers calling judges to come in for additional training. She says there wasn’t any training.

“They were calling election judges, telling them to come in so they could get specific orders to vote for the Republican Party,” said Charon Bryson.

She says she is a Republican but objected to the tactic used on the judges.

“They should not be be pressured or coerced into voting for someone to get a job, or to get an appointment,” said Bryson.

Bryson says she thinks it is like “buying a vote.”

“If you don’t vote Republican you will not be an Republican judge, which pays $170,” she said.

The Board of Elections is now investigating whether calls to judges assigned citywide resulted in a shortage that infuriated the mayor.

“What happened with the robocalls was intentional. As far as we can tell somebody got a list, a list with names and numbers, called them, not to educate, not to promote the democratic process, but to sew confusion,” Emanuel said.

imagesScared by polls that show that people do not want Republican policies and by changes in demographics, Republicans have been pulling out the stops to turn back the tide.  However, none of these fundamentals seem to be driving voting trends or turnout.  WTF is wrong with people?  As a member of the White Women Constituency who seem to be one of the groups that continues to vote against their own interest, I can agree that we should all get our acts together now.  Nowhere was this more evident than in the Wendy Davis campaign.

Once more, with feeling: Greg Abbott and the Republican Party did not win women. They won white women. Time and time again, people of color have stood up for reproductive rights, for affordable health care, for immigrant communities while white folks vote a straight “I got mine” party ticket—even when they haven’t, really, gotten theirs.

The trend is echoed in national politics; we saw it play out across the country last night. To be sure, there are many factors that contributed to America’s rightward dive over the cliff: In a post-Citizens United electoral landscape, racist gerrymandering and voter ID laws appear to have had their intended effects of dividing and disenfranchising already marginalized voters.

But there’s another factor at play that Democrats fail to grapple with, and the Republican Party capitalizes on, time and time again: the historical crisis of empathy in the white community, one much older than gerrymandered congressional districts or poll taxes.

Let’s talk about what a vote for Wendy Davis meant: It meant a vote for strong public school funding, for Texas Medicaid expansion, for affordable family planning care, for environmental reforms, for access to a full spectrum of reproductive health-care options.

On the flip side, a vote for Greg Abbott meant a vote for the status quo, for empowering big industry and big political donors, for cutting public school funds and dismantling the Affordable Care Act, for overturning Roe v. Wade.

White women chose Greg Abbott Tuesday night. We did not choose empathy. Texas has been red for two decades. We do not choose empathy. We choose the fact that our children will always have access to education, that our daughters will always be able to fly to California or New York for abortion care, that our mothers will always be able to get that crucial Pap smear.

We chose a future where maternal mortality—but not our maternal mortality—rates will rise. We chose a future where preventable deaths from cervical cancer—but not our deaths—will rise. We chose a future where deaths from illegal, back-alley abortions—but not our illegal, back-alley abortions—will rise. We chose ourselves, and only ourselves.

Is white privilege such an enticing thing to us that we’ll sell ourselves out just to protect what scraps we’re thrown?

Anyway, between dark money, voter suppression, and the number of voters willing to vote against their policy beliefs and interests, we’re in trouble as a nation.  The Democratic Party just bailed on Mary Landrieu and I’m about to get a Senator that wants to raise Social Security eligibility to age 70, privatize Medicare with vouchers,  and defund student loans.  This doesn’t even count that he voted no to hurricane relief for his own constituents after Hurricane Isaac. At this rate, every white person in the country should get a tube of astrolube with their ballot.  Bend over folks, cause you’ve done it to yourselves!

What’s on your reading and blogging list?


Thursday Reads: How Senate Democrats Blew It and Blamed Obama

NYC-Morning-coffee-shop

Good Morning!!

I’m still feeling incredibly depressed about Tuesday’s elections. It almost feels like I’m grieving over a death. Yesterday I was in shock. Today I’m feeling sadness mixed with some anger. How did this happen? Why did voters do this?

Just two years ago, President Obama was reelected decisively. Now midterm voters have elected Republicans, and not just in Congress. They’ve reelected far right governors in Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin, Ohio, and Maine; and they’ve put Republicans in state houses in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland!

Well there’s certainly no shortage of pundits and journalists willing to explain it all to us. Last night I read quite a few of these postmortem analyses. The main thing I learned was that it’s not just Republicans who hate Obama. Senate Democrats loathe him so intensely that they’ll cut their own throats to get back at him. So much so that Harry Reid sent his right hand man out to leak all the details to The Washington Post the weekend before Tuesday night’s devastating losses.

From Zachary Goldfarb at Wonkblog: Harry Reid’s top man tears apart the White House.

You almost never see this in politics. David Krone, the chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D), launches a major attack on the White House in this blockbuster story by my colleagues Philip Rucker and Robert Costa….[The story] signals that the chilly relationship between President Obama and Senate Democrats is now entering a deep freeze.

Senate Democrats aren’t likely to care at all about Obama’s attempts to burnish his legacy in his final two years. They’re going to be laser-focused on winning the Senate back.

As he looks toward his final two years, Obama is looking toward a Congress with few friends, and many enemies, on both sides of the aisle.

So nice to know that Democratic Senators have our backs. Oh wait. It’s not about people or issues for them, just their own survival. And they’ll backstab the president and the American people in order to protect their precious domain. Why on earth did they fight tooth and nail to crown him as their nominee in 2008? It was most likely about campaign money then too.

Here’s the WaPo story in question, Battle for the Senate: How the GOP did it. The story is all about how Mich McConnell–who’s some kind of political genius according to Rucker and Costa–directed the Republican wipeout. I hope you’ll read the whole thing, but here’s the part about Krone and Senate Democrats:

After years of tension between President Obama and his former Senate colleagues, trust between Democrats at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue had eroded. A fight between the White House and Senate Democrats over a relatively small sum of money had mushroomed into a major confrontation.

At a March 4 Oval Office meeting, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and other Senate leaders pleaded with Obama to transfer millions in party funds and to also help raise money for an outside group. “We were never going to get on the same page,” said David Krone, Reid’s chief of staff. “We were beating our heads against the wall.”

The tension represented something more fundamental than money — it was indicative of a wider resentment among Democrats in the Capitol of how the president was approaching the election and how, they felt, he was dragging them down. All year on the trail, Democratic incumbents would be pounded for administration blunders beyond their control — the disastrous rollout of the health-care law, problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, undocumented children flooding across the border, Islamic State terrorism and fears about Ebola.

“The president’s approval rating is barely 40 percent,” Krone said. “What else more is there to say? . . . He wasn’t going to play well in North Carolina or Iowa or New Hampshire. I’m sorry. It doesn’t mean that the message was bad, but sometimes the messenger isn’t good.”

Harry Reid with top aide David Krone

Harry Reid with top aide David Krone

And so Democratic candidates distanced themselves from Obama. And they lost bigtime. On Sunday Krone gave the Washington Post writers his notes from White House meetings and blabbed all the details, presumably in order to put the blame for losing the Senate on on the president.

With Democrats under assault from Republican super-PAC ads, Reid and his lieutenants, Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), went to the Oval Office on March 4 to ask Obama for help. They wanted him to transfer millions of dollars from the Democratic National Committee to the DSCC, a relatively routine transaction.

Beyond that, they had a more provocative request — they wanted Obama to help raise money for the Senate Majority PAC, an outside group run by former Reid advisers.

Obama and his advisers worried about the legality of his doing this and how it could affect his reputation. Krone thought they were “setting the rules as they saw fit….For some reason, they hid behind a lot of legal issues.”

The disagreements underscored a long-held contention on Capitol Hill that Obama’s political operation functioned purely for the president’s benefit and not for his party’s, although Obama allies note that the president shared with the Senate campaigns his massive lists of volunteer data and supporters’ e-mail addresses, considered by his advisers to be sacred documents.

All year, Obama traveled frequently to raise money for the party. On June 17, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough offered to increase Obama’s appearances at DSCC fundraisers and to give donors access to the president through a “Dinner with Barack” contest and high-dollar roundtable discussions.

But Krone said McDonough told him there would be no cash transfer to the DSCC, because the DNC still had to retire its 2012 debt. On Sept. 9, Reid pressured Obama to take out a loan at the DNC to fund a DSCC transfer, Krone said. The DNC did open a line of credit and sent the DSCC a total of $5 million, beginning with $500,000 on Sept. 15 and following with $1.5 million installments on Sept. 30, Oct. 15 and Oct. 24.

None of that was good enough for Krone. “I don’t think that the political team at the White House truly was up to speed and up to par doing what needed to get done,” Krone said.

Please read the whole article. It describes how the Republicans developed their strategy and carried it out, and how Democrats f**ked up. Basically, Democrats ran away from Obama and tacked to the right, while Republicans tried to hide their real policies and ran to the left. The inside story on how the DSCC handled (or didn’t handle) Alison Grimes is in there too. I’m not going to excerpt from it, but here’s another must read WaPo article about Krone’s backstabbing: Midterm disaster rips apart awkward ties between Obama and Senate Democrats.

McConnell-Laughing

Sally Kohn writes at The Daily Beast, How’d the GOP Win? By Running Left. Kohn notes what we’ve all been talking about here. Voters put Republicans in office everywhere, yet they voted for questions on the minimum wage (Arkansas, South Dakota, Nebraska), required sick leave (Massachusetts); and they also voted down efforts to restrict abortion.

Across the issues, there’s evidence to suggest that Republican candidates won in part by masquerading as moderates, embracing the sorts of Democratic positions—or at least rhetoric—that enjoy wide voter support, even in red states. Republican candidates in states like Georgia and Virginia lamented high poverty rates. Victorious Republican Gov. Nathan Deal boasted of his progress in reducing the number of incarcerated black men in Georgia. Cory Gardner and others hammered on stagnant wages for the middle class. Republican James Lankford, who won the race for the Senate in Oklahoma, began a debate with his opponent by railing against income inequality.

Republican Bill Cassidy, who heads to a run-off for the Senate against Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, also lamented on the campaign trail that “income inequality has increased.” Thom Tillis, the Republican victor in the North Carolina Senate race, hammered Democrat Kay Hagan for supporting a sales tax that “harmed the poor and working families more than anyone else.” The winner in the Illinois governor’s race, Republican Bruce Rauner, suggested that taxes should target businesses instead of “low-income working families.”

“You’d expect to hear that kind of talk from Democrats, or maybe socialists,” wrote Slate’s William Saletan. But no, it was Republicans who managed to pull off this stunning electoral jujitsu in contorting their rhetoric to be entirely unrecognizable from their actual conservative policies and beliefs.

In other words, Republican candidates obscured their real positions (and they were trained to do it–see the WaPo article I wrote about above), while Democrats did everything possible distance themselves from President Obama and refused to defend even his successes. Alison Grimes wouldn’t even say she voted for him in 2012, even though she was an delegate at the Democratic convention!

I love this piece by Tommy Christopher at The Daily Banter, Democrats Ran Away From Obama and It Cost Them Dearly On Election Day.

The 2014 midterm election was never going to be kind to Democrats, with a map that favored Republicans to pick up at least some seats in the Senate, and a 2010 redistricting spree that practically guarantees a GOP majority in the House for, well, ever. But with an avalanche of good news about health care and the economy, and a Death Star-sized advantage on the issue of immigration reform, Democrats rolled up their sleeves and ran as hard away from that as they could. So, how’d that work out for them? [....]

Things really could not possibly have gone worse for the Democrats. When the dust settles, Republicans will probably hold 54 Senate seats, if Democrat Mark Warner (D-Va.) can hold off a surprise challenge by Ed Gillespie, and may also flip Angus King (I-Maine). If Warner falls, then there could be a 56-44 Republican majority. In the House, Republicans look to pick up 25 seats, and in the states, Democrats lost in solidly blue states like Maryland and Illinois.

It doesn’t look like walking around saying “Barack who? and convincing President Obama to break his promise on immigration did Democrats any good at all. But the exit polls from Tuesday’s election strongly suggest that those moves did manage to hurt Democrats in states they desperately needed to carry (well, all of them). While Republicans gained with there bread-and-butter, white voters, Democrats lost support from 2012 among black voters (-4%), Hispanic voters (-7%), unmarried women (-7%), and unmarried men (-6%). As CNN’s last pre-election poll indicted, Obama was not a factor for 45% of voters, while another 19% said their vote was cast in support of the president. Only 33% said they cast their vote in opposition to the president. That number is consistent with every poll ever of Republican opposition to Obama.

Read the rest at the link.

This headline at Politico is a laugh riot: Voters want the GOP to fix the economy. Good luck with that. Follow the link to read Politico’s take on that if you want to.

I do think 2014 voters were frustrated with the economy. Although there have been many improvements, they’ve been slow to develop and have mostly benefited the wealthy. Americans aren’t seeing their wages go up, and most of the news jobs are low-paying and/or part-time.

Obama had a chance at the beginning of his first term to be another FDR. He could have fought for a bigger stimulus and instituted programs New Deal-type programs by executive order, as Roosevelt did during the Great Depression. Instead, Obama chose to invest his mandate in passing a Republican health care bill.

Obama has learned a few things over the past six years, and he has done some good things; but the truth is he was never the liberal his clueless 2008 supporters thought he was. As I said many times back then, Obama has no real ideology that I can discover. He’s a DLC-type technocrat. Remember when he claimed he was never a member, but the DLC had his picture posted prominently on their website? He has always believed in privatizing government programs and he was never truly committed to women’s reproductive rights. Just go back and read his book, The Audacity of Hope. I read it in 2008, and I immediately knew that Obama was not my kind of Democrat. But he was elected by people who bought the book, but apparently never read it.

But that’s all water under the bridge. He’s the President of the U.S. now, and I’ve done my best to support him. He’s done some good things, and I think he’s done a lot more for me than Harry Reid and his pals in the Senate.

That’s it for me this morning. What stories are you following? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and I hope you’ll have a pleasant Thursday.


Live Blog #2: Midterm Election Returns

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Hang in There, Sky Dancers!!

There are lots more races to be decided. Here’s a fresh thread to discuss them. I’m pretty pooped out, but I’m going to stay up as long as I can–at least I want to know who will be the new Governor of Massachusetts before I hit the sack.

I’ve been looking around for articles to post, but I don’t see much that isn’t depressing. I’ll add more in the comments as I find things, and Dakinikat said she would look around too.

Thanks to all of you for participating tonight. I don’t know what I would have done without you guys!!