Tuesday Reads

kids_newsstand_today

Good Morning!!

Tonight President Obama will give his sixth State of the Union Address. Yesterday, Dakinikat wrote about Obama’s proposal to increase taxes on the wealthy to benefit the middle class. Obviously that isn’t going to pass muster with our Republican Congress, but maybe it will at least embarrass some members just a little bit. We’ll have a live blog tonight during the speech, and I hope you’ll join us.

Here are a few stories to check out before tonight.

From The Washington Post: Obama will give State of Union address against backdrop of deep partisan divide. Author David Nakamura seems concerned that the president isn’t interested in being “conciliatory” toward Republicans.

The president will enter the House chamber Tuesday night for his sixth State of the Union address riding a wave of confidence driven by an improving economy and brightening public approval ratings. And he seems as defiant as ever.

Although Obama has vetoed just two bills in his six years, the White House has threatened to veto five measures from Congress this month alone — including legislation that would authorize the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, tie funding of the Department of Homeland Security to a rollback of Obama’s executive actions on immigration, and impose new economic sanctions on Iran.

Obama vowed in a private meeting with Democrats last week that he will play “offense” during the final two years of his presidency, building on the aggressive executive actions he laid out over the past two months. The legislative proposals he has previewed — including a plan for free community college and a revamping of the tax code — have been based firmly on his terms, drawing objections from Republicans.

The nerve of this guy! He tried to reach across the aisle for years, and now he’s given up the ghost. Shocking.

Joni Ernst is not the next Sarah Palin.

And Tuesday night, she’ll get the chance to prove it.

The SOTU will be followed by a Republican response by newly elected Iowa Senator Joni Ernst. Will she castrate a hog during her presentation? Ben Jacobs at The Daily Beast writes:

Ernst, the gun totin’, hog castrating freshman Republican senator from Iowa will give her party’s response to the State of the Union—a tricky, high-profile task that have landed many before her at the bad end of a punchline.

But the prime time address not only gives Ernst a chance to show off her Iowa charm, it gives her the opportunity to shed the comparison to Sarah Palin that she attracted as she campaigned through the Hawkeye State’s 99 counties last year as a populist conservative.

Once called an “onion of crazy” by Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schutz (D-Fla.), the Iowa senator first gained national attention in a crowded, if undistinguished, primary field with an television ad about castrating hogs. She followed that up with another advertisement that featured her in safety glasses firing away at a target while the voiceover boasted that she kept “more than lipstick in her purse.”

subway001-683

CNN notes that recent responses to the SOTU have not gone well and asks “Is the State of the Union response cursed?”

“It’s almost like the kiss of death to get picked to do the Republican response,” said Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “It represents an amazing opportunity to catapult yourself into the national conversation, but the risk is huge and the success rate has been minimal at best in recent years.”

 Republicans couldn’t have been more excited to spotlight their Indian-American wunderkind Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s governor, in response to the first black President’s address to a joint session of Congress. But all party bigwigs and critics alike were talking about the next day was Jindal’s awkward delivery, not his prospects for higher office — and certainly not GOP diversity.

It was a moment reminiscent of then-Gov. Tim Kaine’s (D-Virginia) 2006 response, when he was outdone by his own eyebrows.

And then a parched Marco Rubio took a not-so-subtle sip of water, eyes still piercing into the camera. Forget that he had delivered the first-ever bilingual rebuttal, drowned out by Rubio and his infamous water bottle.

Rubio quickly bounced back from that moment, raising more than $100,000 through his PAC by selling “RUBIO” branded water bottles. And his political fortunes are still fairly intact.

And superstitious politicos beware.

Virigina Gov. Bob McDonnell gave a rousing response straight from the Virginia state legislature in 2010. Five years later, and he’s about to start a two-year stint in federal prison over corruption charges.

Even last year’s speaker, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers was accused by a former staffer of ethics violations, though that investigation died out pretty quickly.

Maybe it’s just that today’s Republicans are a sorry bunch of losers channeling the Koch brothers?

2010_newsstand_Seattle_USA_5086852888

Speaking of losers, Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise had the nerve to discuss Martin Luther King’s legacy yesterday. From The Hill: Scalise praises MLK amid controversies.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) on Monday praised the legacy of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. amid controversy over his speech to a white supremacist group while he served as a Louisiana state legislator…

“As we reflect upon the life of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., today, we also recognize how our nation has been strengthened by his legacy,” Scalise said in a statement.

“Dr. King challenged our country to fulfill the promises of liberty, equality, and justice prescribed in the founding of our great nation. Leading by example, he stressed the teachings of tolerance, service, and love, regardless of race, color, or creed. Today, his writings and speeches continue to empower and inspire those who seek liberty, equality, and justice,” Scalise continued.

Scalise made no mention of any events he planned to attend to commemorate the holiday.

Scalise’s comments stood out, however, given that the holiday coincides with multiple race-related controversies over his career prior to entering Congress.

For one, Scalise opposed making King’s birthday a state holiday in 2004 while he served in the Louisiana Legislature, as well as making it a school holiday in 1999.

The Hill also reported last week that Scalise voted against a resolution in the Louisiana Legislature apologizing for slavery. He later supported a version that only expressed “regret” for slavery.

“Why are you asking me to apologize for something I didn’t do and had no part of?” Scalise said, according to minutes of a 1996 Louisiana House committee meeting obtained by The Hill. “I am not going to apologize for what somebody else did.”

And, as reported in late December, Scalise in 2002 spoke before the European-American Unity and Rights Organization founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

Why is this man still serving as House Majority Whip?

Manhattan newsstand

Yesterday Think Progress noted that Scalise isn’t the only opponent the Martin Luther King holiday who still remains in power.

The Ferocious Fight Against The MLK National Holiday​

After King’s assassination in 1968, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) introduced the first Congressional legislation to create a federal Martin Luther King Day holiday. In the years that followed, Congress held congressional hearings during which hostile witnesses said “violence was exactly what [King] wanted,” and that King formed a “common front” with the “virulently racist Nation of Islam.”

More than 15 years later, Congress finally enacted such a law. The bill, signed by President Ronald Reagan, passed in the Senate on a 78-22 vote and in the House of Representatives by a 338 to 90 margin. The most vocal opponents included the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), who mounted a 16-day filibuster of the proposal and smeared King as a Communist.

Voting with Helms against the King holiday were four men who remain in the Senate today: Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Banking Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-AZ). Shelby and McCain were in the House at the time. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) and House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) also voted against the proposal. McCain apologized in 2008 for being too slow “to give greatness its due,” and Hatch wrote in 2007 that the vote was “one of the worst decisions” he has made as a senator.

Read more of the sorry history of the MLK holiday at the link.

Newsstand

Jezebel had a fascinating, though heartbreaking, story by Anna Merlen about the archaeological excavation of the graves of young boys at the Dozier School in Florida. We’ve written about this story here in the past. Merlen interviewed Dr. Erin Kimmerle, an associate professor at the University of South Florida, one of the leaders of the project.

‘They Were Truly Gone': Solving the Mysteries of the Dozier School

The Dozier School was located in the tiny town of Marianna, West of Tallahassee and thirty minutes or so from the Georgia line. It opened in 1900 as the Florida State Reform School, and despite years of reports of serious abuse and mistreatment, it remained open for over 100 years.At least 98 people died there over the years, two staff members and 96 boys aged six to 18. Men who were once Dozier residents recounted brutal beatings they received in the White House, a small outbuilding on the school grounds whose walls remain spattered with what looks like blood. More than one survivor has called the building “a torture chamber.”

A group of men who were sent to the school in the 1950s and ’60s have banded together to tell their stories: they call themselves the White House Boys. The Tampa Bay Times has done the best coverage of the Dozier School, including an investigation in 2009 that uncovered squalid conditions, staff neglect and mistreatment from 1900 to the present day, depicting the school, as they put it, as “a place of abuse and neglect, of falsified records, bloody noses and broken bones.” [….]

Dr. Erin Kimmerle is a forensic anthropologist, an associate professor at the University of South Florida and a leader of the team excavating Dozier. (Before coming to USF, she worked as the Chief Anthropologist at the Hague, analyzing mass graves in Bosnia and Croatia.) Along with two colleagues (Antoinette Jackson and Christian Wells) and a crew of graduate students, Kimmerle has been excavating Boot Hill, the burial ground at Dozier, as well as the surrounding area and trying, through DNA testing, to return the boys’ remains to their families for a proper burial.

In January of 2014, the team exhumed 55 bodies—five more than they expected to find, 24 more than official records said were buried there. There are still many questions: how many boys lie buried under the Dozier grounds, their bodies slowly entwining with the roots of the mulberry trees around them? How did they die? And who do we hold accountable for the 100 years of suffering the Dozier school inflicted?

The interview is extremely interesting and informative. I highly recommend it.

Old_neighbourhood_newsstandsPNG

Here’s another sad Florida story that I’ve been following. Two young sisters were arrested and charged with murder after the older girl shot and killed her 16-year-old brother on January 5.

According to the initial incident report, the girls’ father is a truck driver and their parents left them alone with their brother and a 3-year-old sister while the mother accompanied the father on a trip. The 15-year-old told police that on the day of the shooting, her brother locked her in a room with just a blanket and a bucket to use as a toilet.

According to police, she said that while her brother slept, her younger sister helped her escape the room and the 15-year-old went outside and used a knife to cut the foam around the window air conditioning unit in the window of her parents’ locked bedroom. In the bedroom, she told police, she found a handgun, loaded it, and then went into the living room where her brother was sleeping and shot him.

The arrest report says the girls then packed some things, put their 3-year-old sister in a bedroom, and walked to a nearby Dollar Store, where they called a friend, who later called police. The girls told them that the 15-year-old was routinely locked in the room her brother had kept her in.

The sisters’ parents were arrested and charged with child neglect and according to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office are still behind bars. According to their arrest report, the mother told police the 15-year-old was locked in the room about four times a week, and the father said the longest she was locked up was 20 days. In a search of the house, police found notes written by the parents asking the girl to explain why she should be let out of the room.

It turned out that there was a long history of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse in this family. The older girl had reported that her uncle was abusing her, and he is now serving a life sentence for the crimes. In addition, the mother had caught the brother raping the 1-year old, and had told authorities, but nothing was done about it.

Police say the girls will be tried as juveniles for second degree murder. Shouldn’t this killing be viewed as self-defense though? This case has also exposed a problem with laws about incest. Acccording to CBS News, Experts: Fla. sibling shooting exposes “incest loophole.”

In 2010, the children’s aunt went to police when she found a memory stick belonging to her husband with video of him sexually molesting the oldest sister. The uncle was eventually convicted and is serving life in prison.

And the abuse did not stop there. The family began locking the girl in a room – once for 20 days – and reportedly pulled her from school due to “behavioral issues.” And among the reports released by the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office is a heavily redacted document that suggests that in 2011, when the older sister would have been 11 or 12, her mother found the girl and her brother having sex in the house. But, according to the incident report, “the case was closed as unfounded and no criminal acts were disclosed.”

“We treat sexual abuse of children in the family as a social and psychological problem and not as a crime – and it is a crime,” says Grier Weeks, the executive director of the National Association to Protect Children.

Incest is still treated more lightly by law enforcement in most states in the U.S.

According to Daphne Young of Child Help, a non-profit organization devoted to the prevention and treatment of child abuse, 68 percent of child sex abuse victims are abused by a family member. Jennifer Marsh of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) says that 40 percent of the people who call the National Sex Abuse hotline say incest is their primary or secondary reason for seeking help.

And yet, perpetrators who sexually abuse family members can be subject to lower penalties than they would be had they assaulted a neighbor or stranger. In Washington State, for example, the Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative Law allows an offender to receive a lighter sentence if he or she had “an established relationship with, or connection to, the victim.”

Weeks calls this “the incest loophole,” and finds it mind-boggling: “The toll on a child [abused by a family member] is devastating. She was not protected by the very people who should have loved and protected her.”

Read more at the link.

This post has gotten way too long, so I’ll just leave you with a recommendation to read a long piece at The NY Review of Books on the Citizens United decision: The Supreme Court’s Billion-Dollar Mistake, by David Cole.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a terrific Tuesday! 


Friday Reads: An Immodest Proposal

$_35 Good Morning!

One of the many things that continues to fascinate me these days is that the number of people voting for Democrats and indicating more faith in that party than the Republican one begins to grow.  Yet, the results of the recent election show that it hardly matters.  States with more cows than people get an equal say in the U.S. Senate and that is a problem.  In fact, “Senate Democrats got 20 million more votes than Senate Republicans. Which means basically nothing.”

Here’s another: Democratic candidates in all of the races won by Republicans or Democrats got about 98.7 million votes. Republican candidates in those same races got 94.1 million.

The 20 million figure, in other words, is cherry-picked to accentuate the gap. Vox’s analysis comes from a researcher at FairVote, which advocates for reforms to how members of Congress are elected.

Interestingly, Republicans got as many votes when losing to Democrats (about 47 million) as they did when beating Democrats. Democratic losers, though, got only about 31.3 million votes in losing. In other words: Democrats won their races by 20.3 million votes combined — Republicans won theirs by 15.7 million.

Trende points out a key reason for this: Most of the Republicans won in lower-turnout elections. It’s true that there were smaller states up for grabs this year: If you total the population from every state with an election this year — including Oklahoma and South Carolina twice — and divide by the number of races, you get about 48.7 million, compared to 72.7 million on average in 2012. But Republicans won 46 of their 54 seats in 2010 and 2014, compared to the Democrats, who won 23 of their 44 in 2012. In 2010, total turnout was about 90 million. Two years later, thanks to the presidential election, it was 40 million votes higher.

Another interesting tidbit is that these states cost the country a lot more than they are literally worth.  They are a huge drain on the country’s finances and require a vast number of subsidies while decrying the use of subsidies by people.Landscape

Many “red states” beat their chest as being fiscally conservative. Proud of their low income tax, business friendly environment, and self-reliance rhetoric.

But is it fair?

California, a “blue state,” gets just $.80 back for every $1 they put in. New York, even worse. They get less than $.75 on their dollar.

Whose going to start calling out the hypocrisy of some of the red states who point fingers at states like California and New York as the problem? These states want self-reliance? On what? California and New York’s goodwill?

This isn’t something Democrats should be proud of. They’re leaders are the one’s sitting there while their citizens get the short end of the stick.

Not something Republicans should be proud of either. Kinda hard to be the fiscal conservative when you ask Uncle Sam to pay your bills.

imagesA lot of these states were brought in as territories via the Louisiana Purchase or at the close of the Mexican American War.  Most of these states have a vast amount of land–a lot of it actually owned and managed by the Federal Government–and they were probably brought in at a time when a lot of folks thought the middle of the country would eventually fill up with people or at least become a place with a viable economy.  Many Native American nations were literally rolled over to create vast wastelands of ranches and natural resource extraction outposts.  Does it really makes sense to continue to support the way these outback states were carved out and is there any legal way to consolidate them now?

Yes, this would decrease the number of Senators in the Senate.  But, it would mean each Senator would be slightly more powerful. It actually might improve the odds of an outback state’s House delegation having more power. I mean, really, Nebraska has 3 Congressmen.  Who ever listens to even one of them?  They’re a basic flyover state in terms of the presidential election too.  They usually get a hit and run by a vice president or vice presidential candidate.  If they were part of a larger state with similar topography and concerns, they’d be part of state with a larger congressional block even though they’d fold into one or more states and thereby share a Senator with more people and antelope.

So, why can’t we look at Outback States like Idaho, the Dakotas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, etc.  and just consolidate them?  Why shouldn’t Nebraska and the Dakotas become one state?  Or say, why not fold Idaho, Montana and Wyoming into Washington?  Why should every one in the country suffer from the leadership these outback states send to the Senate while having to pay so much for them even to exist?  Is there some way to redo these old territories into larger, consolidated states with a more economically viable level of population to support the vast areas of nothing but nature that basically define their states?  Could we do it?

A long time ago, I remember a proposal called The Buffalo Commons made by Frank and Deborah Popper.  It was a suggestion to turn a large part of the middle of the country into a huge National Park that would be left to the wild.  I bet it would still be controversial today and more impossible given that setting up more National Parks is likely to be more unpopular today than it was 40 years ago.  But, many of the same problems the concept worked to solve still exist, and now we have even bigger issues since our outback states are high maintenance and tend to send representatives with a coup mentality to Congress. Why can’t we just consolidate a few of them and try to at least make them less costly to the rest of us?   It’s even more important from a resource protection standpoint as indicated by the stupidity surrounding the Keystone Pipeline. This is a boondoggle which benefits the special interests of a few politicians and is likely to create risk to the many including the folks living in these states.  Wouldn’t it be nice for them to have a lot more say in the future of how federal lands and federal co-option of private land operates?

In 1987, Drs. Frank and Deborah Popper developed their bold new idea for a Buffalo Commons, (Popper and Popper, “The Great Plains: From Dust to Dust, PLANNING, 1987). Their continuing research showed that hundreds of counties in the American West still have less than a sparse 6 persons per square mile — the density standard Frederick Jackson Turner used to declare the American Frontier closed in 1893. Many have less than 2 persons per square mile.

The frontier never came close to disappearing, and in fact has expanded in the Plains in recent years. The 1980 Census showed 388 frontier counties west of the Mississippi. The 1990 Census shows 397 counties in frontier status, and the 2000 Census showed 402. Most of this frontier expansion is in the Great Plains. Kansas actually has more land in frontier status than it did in 1890.

Great Plains Restoration Council mounted a Plains-wide mapping project at the county level, using a series of economic and social indicators, to show exactly where the frontier is and how much further it has expanded. GPRC than did more sophisticated mapping that scrutinized these and other factors down to the Census Block level, allowing for a much more rigorous and exact understanding of ecological, biological, geographical, topographical, demographic and political conditions. Since then, we have specifically honed our focus onto a few, key target ecological areas while developing a new model of youth education.

There once were over 400 million acres of wild prairie grasslands in the central part of North America. The backbone of the Buffalo Commons movement is the work — over a period of decades — to re-establish and re-connect prairie wildland reserves and ecological corridors large enough for bison and all other native prairie wildlife to survive and roam freely, over great, connected distances, while simultaneously restoring the health and sustainability of our communities wherever possible so that both land and people may prosper for a very long time. Future generations may choose to expand these reserves and corridors, as the new culture of caring and belonging we have started today becomes an integral, ingrained part of life in the world of tomorrow, especially as extensive grasslands become needed to help absorb carbon from the atmosphere. (Highly biodiverse native prairies are excellent carbon sequesters.)

vintage-photos-of-wild-west.-part-2-23-pics_19So, I’m not a legal expert, but it seems if a state can be made out of a territory then several states can be merged into something more viable for the modern country.  I’d love to hear if anyone thinks this is way to bring more democratic representation to the country.   Frankly, I think this could be a win win situation if some of these people would give up their provincial loyalties.

Again, the consolidation would bring a larger delegation to the House for a combined state, and it might make them feel more relevant to the Presidential election process.  Right now, everyone ignores nearly every state but Colorado on the way across the Mississippi to hear about California. I’ve actually lived in states that I think would make good candidates to consolidate with other states so I do have some knowledge of what it’s like to live in the Great American Outback.  I certainly believe it makes a lot of sense to look to see if those territories would’ve been dealt a better situation had they be carved out into different looking states.  This is especially true since so many of them really don’t have all that many people in them and most of them are have been losing population for some time.  What exactly constitutes a ghost state?

Here’s a few other things you can think on today.

Here are two studies on the Affordable Healthcare Act. One is by the Rand Corporation and the other by the Brookings Institute.  It’s especially relevant to look at the link between the law and the tax credits since this is the next challenge to the law to come before SCOTUS.  The last was the idea that states could opt out of the Medicaid Expansion which created a horrible situation for those of us in states ruled by Red State Crazies. First some points from the Brookings Institute.

In “The Early Impact of the Affordable Care Act State-by-State,” Brookings nonresident fellow in Economic Studies and Yale University Economics Department faculty member Amanda Kowalski finds that national enrollment trends obscure significant variation across states, as a result of the types of people who opted in and how insurers set premiums. Across all states, from before the fourth quarter of 2013 to the first half of 2014, enrollment-weighted average per-person premiums in the individual health insurance market rose by 24.4% beyond what they would have had they simply followed state-level seasonally-adjusted trends. This large increase stands in contrast to the experience in Massachusetts, which saw premium decreases after its 2006 reform, as documented by Kowalski in previous joint research. Massachusetts also saw decreases in markups (premiums minus costs), which have been rare in other states in 2014.

Kowalski focuses on the individual insurance market using data through the second quarter of 2014 after the open enrollment period ended. She characterizes states into five groups, based on their involvement in the implementation of the ACA. On one extreme were the 5 “direct enforcement” states that ceded all enforcement of the ACA to the federal government (Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming). On the other extreme were 8 states (Colorado, Connecticut, DC, Kentucky, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) that took the implementation of the ACA into their own hands by implementing the Medicaid expansion and setting up their own exchanges. Another group of 5 of these states also set up their own exchanges and expanded Medicaid, but experienced severe technology glitches (Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, and Oregon), so she examines them as a distinct group. The two groups in the middle of the implementation spectrum include a set of 11 states that adopted the Medicaid expansion but did not set up their own exchanges (Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, North Dakota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, and West Virginia) and a set of 19 “passive” states that did not fit into any of the other four groups (Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin) – they took some role in implementing the ACA, but did not implement the Medicaid expansion, and they used the federal exchange. All comparisons exclude California and New Jersey because their data are not complete, and they also exclude Massachusetts, because Massachusetts implemented its own reform in 2006.

She finds that individuals in “direct enforcement” states – those states that that ceded all enforcement of the ACA to the federal government (Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming) – are worse off by approximately $245 per participant on an annualized basis, relative to participants in states that were passive implementers of the ACA.

Kowalski also finds, not surprisingly, that the 5 states that had severe glitches with their exchanges (Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, and Oregon) are worse off than other states with well-functioning state exchanges (Colorado, Connecticut, DC, Kentucky, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington), by a large magnitude – approximately $750 per participant on an annualized basis. On the other hand, participants in states that set up well-functioning exchanges were better off than they would have been had their states been passive by approximately $420 per enrollee.

Reviewing data on the 27 states that adopted the Medicaid expansion, she finds that those that expanded were better off than all other states, although the amount is not statistically significant.

Kowalski also divides states based on whether they allowed renewal of non-grandfathered plans in response to the backlash that if people “liked their plan they could keep it” (27 did, but DC and the remaining 23 did not). She finds that participants in states that allowed renewal of non-grandfathered plans are worse off by around $220 annually than participants in other states who did not allow grandfathered non-compliant plans – likely because the people who remained in non-grandfathered plans were healthier than other people in the individual health insurance market.

Using the most recent data collected by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and compiled by SNL Financial, which includes individual health insurance enrollment outside of the exchanges, Kowalski takes a broader view than the widely-cited report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), which reported 8 million exchange enrollees in May. By taking a broader view, Kowalski is able to observe trends in the individual health insurance market from before the exchanges opened for business. Taking these trends into account, at least 4.2 million enrollees are newly-covered in this market (many were likely previously uninsured, but some may have switched from other types of coverage).

Looking at the states individually, she finds that the law benefitted enrollees in at least 13 states (Alaska, Connecticut, DC, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Maine, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont), with Maine enrollees gaining the most at around $1500 per market participant annually, whereas Oregon (a state with severe glitches on its website and roll-out) experienced the greatest loss – around $850 annually per participant.

The Rand Study has these findings.0b1699a08592d678a7df2a680ad3da5e

In this research report, RAND Corporation researchers assess the expected change in enrollment and premiums in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA)–compliant individual market in federally facilitated marketplace (FFM) states if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to eliminate subsidies in FFM states. The analysis used the Comprehensive Assessment of Reform Efforts (COMPARE) microsimulation model, an economic model developed by RAND researchers, to assess the impact of proposed health reforms. The authors found that enrollment in the ACA–compliant individual market, including plans sold in the marketplaces and those sold outside of the marketplaces that comply with ACA regulations, would decline by 9.6 million, or 70 percent, in FFM states if subsidies were eliminated. They also found that unsubsidized premiums in the ACA–compliant individual market would increase 47 percent in FFM states. This corresponds to a $1,610 annual increase for a 40-year-old nonsmoker purchasing a silver plan.

Key Findings

Enrollment in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA)–Compliant Individual Market Would Decline Significantly in Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM) States

  • Individual-market enrollment would decline by an estimated 70 percent, or 9.6 million people.
  • This decline includes plans sold in the marketplaces and those sold outside of the marketplaces that comply with ACA regulations.

Unsubsidized Premiums in the ACA-Compliant Individual Market Would Increase 47 Percent in FFM States

  • This corresponds to a $1,610 annual increase for a 40-year-old nonsmoker purchasing a silver plan.

As you can see, eliminating Federal Subsidies would basically make health insurance unaffordable for many many people again.

So, I’ve been a little radical today. What’s on you reading and blogging list today?


Tuesday Reads: Epiphany Edition

Ethiopian Magi, by Patrick Comerford

Ethiopian Magi, by Patrick Comerford

Good Morning!!

Looking at the news that’s breaking this morning, I’m finally getting the feeling that “the holiday season” is coming to an end. After all, today is the Epiphany–also known as Twelfth Night–the day the three Maji supposedly arrived at the stable in Bethlehem to pay tribute to the baby Jesus with gifts gold, frankincense and myrrh. From The Guardian:

It’s a significant day in many countries, particularly Catholic ones, where Twelfth Night parties and celebrations are commonplace and usually involve the selection of a king, and sometimes a queen and other characters. In France, for example, the galette des rois (“cake of kings”) has a token baked into it; patisseries sell it along with a gold paper crown for the recipient of the token, who becomes the party’s ruler.

Some Epiphany celebrations from British literature:

Samuel Pepys celebrated the feast – always on 6 January, which he says marks the end of Christmas – and in 1663 goes to see Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The drama is “acted well, though it be but a silly play, and not related at all to the name or day” – which it isn’t, apart from a general air of misrule. Pepys usually has or attends a party, with dancing and merriment, and always a “brave” or “excellent” cake. There are other tokens baked into it: one year he gets the clove, which indicates he is a knave, but he smuggles it into someone else’s slice. In 1669 he mentions a new fashion, which is to draw paper lots for king and queen of the party, rather than finding a bean, so as not to spoil the cake (and perhaps to avoid the cheating just mentioned).

In Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol, there is a reference to “immense Twelfth-cakes”, and Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present visit a “children’s Twelfth Night party”. Dickens’s letters show that in his household there was a party every year: the date is his son Charley’s birthday, but it’s clear he thinks a Twelfth Night party is quite normal.

In James Joyce’s short story The Dead, from his collection Dubliners (1914), Gabriel Conroy and his wife Gretta go every year to an important party held by the Misses Morkan. There is dinner, dancing and singing, but alongside the festivities we see darkness and contemplation: snow falls over Ireland, and Gabriel looks through it as he thinks about his own shortcomings and about the wife whom he thought he knew. The idea of a character having a metaphorical epiphany, a moment of revelation or realisation, comes directly from Joyce, and each story in Dubliners features one.

More examples at the link.

This is a tar sands plant Alberta, Canada. Republicans can't wait to bring this to the US.

This is a tar sands plant Alberta, Canada. Republicans can’t wait to bring this to the US.

The new Republican-controlled Congress begins “work” today. The AP reports, via Huffington Post: New Congress Getting Sworn In With GOP In Charge.

Republicans are assuming full control of Congress for the first time in eight years in a day of pomp, circumstance and raw politics beneath the Capitol Dome.

They planned to move swiftly Tuesday toward a veto showdown with President Barack Obama over the Keystone XL pipeline, summoning unity despite a tea party-backed effort to unseat House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.

As mandated by the Constitution, Congress was to convene at noon.

In the Senate, with Vice President Joe Biden presiding, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was to automatically ascend to majority leader following his approval by rank-and-file Republicans last year.

McConnell and Boehner both were to deliver remarks on their chamber’s floors as they positioned themselves for two years of clashes with Obama.

First, Boehner had to survive his election as speaker — the main event on any opening day’s agenda. Tea party-backed Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas and Ted Yoho of Florida put themselves forward as challengers to Boehner, and at least 10 Republicans announced they would oppose Boehner.

The challenges to Boehner won’t go anywhere, but they could provide some brief entertainment. From Politico: Boehner likely to survive another squeaker for speaker.

John Boehner could lose the support of as many as 20 Republicans on his way to a near-certain reelection as House speaker, his allies concede — a political embarrassment for a GOP leader who narrowly survived a conservative rebellion two years ago.

The Ohio Republican needs votes from 217 lawmakers Tuesday to win a third term as speaker, meaning that opposition from 29 House Republicans could cost him the gavel. Boehner retained the speakership by a surprisingly narrow margin in January 2013, losing the support of 11 Republicans at a time when the GOP had a smaller majority.

This time, Boehner’s supporters say, he could lose anywhere from 12 to 20 GOP votes under a backlash from conservative members angry about their leaders’ reluctance to wage a frontal attack on President Barack Obama’s immigration policies. Losing that many votes won’t prove fatal for Boehner or even have a long-term impact on his speakership, but it could still prove embarrassing for a GOP leadership that faces a spate of difficult legislative deadlines and is under pressure to prove it can govern during the Republican-controlled 114th Congress.

The speaker’s allies believe they have the opposition under control, and as of Monday, the anti-Boehner crowd was far from having the numbers to force a second-ballot vote, let alone deny him a new term. But the dissenters and their allies in conservative media are fanning the flames.

Boehner_Crying2

Politico says that Boehner is looking forward to a “new reality” in which he triumphs over the wingnuts who have made his life miserable since he became Speaker in 2010.

For years, Boehner has had to stroke the egos of his House Republican Conference’s far-right fringe, the hardline conservatives who had an outsized voice in every legislative debate and often dragged the entire party with them, even when he implored them to ease up.

Sure, Boehner’s “brand” will be tarnished by the right wing challenges to his leadership, but

the GOP leadership thinks that Boehner’s almost-certain victory, plus the biggest House Republican majority in decades, gives him the legislative latitude he’s desperately sought since 2010.

No more shutdowns, no more mindless face-offs with President Barack Obama and the Democrats, they hope. Boehner and House Republicans will be able to push a conservative agenda, but they will pick their fights more carefully, choosing battles they can win on issues where they have the upper hand over the White House.

Top Republicans blare that they’re plainly sick of the chaos of the last few years, when Boehner was under pressure to deliver to hardliners in order to keep his job.

“I think a lot of members just want to get through this and get onto the business they got elected to do,” said a GOP lawmaker loyal to Boehner.

Good luck with that.

Gohmert

It won’t happen, but just for a moment, imagine Louie Gohmert as Speaker of the House (and third in line to assume the presidency if Obama and Biden were unable to continue for some reason!). Bob Cesca thought about the possibilities yesterday: Louie Gohmert for House Speaker Because Comedy.

I’m deadly serious about this. Contrary to popular opinion dictating that fringe political weirdos and radicals should be ignored until they somehow magically vanish (they don’t), I’ve always believed that the more they’re exposed as the weirdos and radicals they are, the faster they’ll be ejector-seated off the national bus. So, along those lines, the best thing to ever happen to the universe would be if Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) were to succeed in his mission to be elected Speaker of the House.

If you’re a Democrat and you want there to be more Democrats in Congress, you too should endorse the idea of this talking honeydew melon — this marble-mouthed gomer to ascend to the highest congressional post in the land where the entire nation will get a close-up view of his lobotomized gibberish. Of course he’ll never get there but, you know, dare to dream. While it’s fun to have a speaker who’s a weepy drunk, what we need is Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel. We need a Republican who’s been repeatedly kicked in the skull by a mule. On purpose.

Why Gohmert? For the comedy, obviously. The nation deserves to laugh at crap like this:

“We need to start eliminating money for any agency, including the White House, that is not following the law. And then you get their attention. That’s what the Founders anticipated.”

Yes, a sitting member of Congress clearly doesn’t realize that any spending bill passed by Congress, including the de-funding of the White House, would have to be signed by the president before actually becoming a law. And no, the Founders didn’t anticipate the House passing legislation that automatically becomes law.

Read several more examples of Gohmert’s wit and wisdom at The Daily Banter link.

And check this out at Raw Story, Gohmert warns America: ‘It’s going to devastate this country’ if I’m not elected Speaker of the House.

In an interview with Fox News host Martha MacCallum, Gohmert explained that he had announced over the weekend that he was running for the job of House Speaker because Boehner had not fought “tooth and nail” to stop a recent budget bill.

“What we do in the next two years, it’s likely going to determine whether we get a Republican or not in 2016,” the Texas congressman insisted. “For the Speaker to run in and pass the [budget bill] that totally funds Obamacare for all next year — we took the hostage of the Homeland Security — that was a huge mistake.”

“For Boehner to rush in when we had the control of the Senate coming into our hands this month, this week, and to make a deal with [Obama] that funds everything that Obama wanted for the year except Homeland Security is like [General] Custer saying, ‘Come on boys, let’s attack now before help gets here.’”

Read more and watch the video at the link.

obama-pointing-at-you

According to The Hill, President Obama isn’t going to lie down and let crazy Republicans walk all over him: Bolder Obama ready to take on GOP.

White House officials feel emboldened headed into what Obama has described as the “fourth quarter” of his presidency.

Promising economic news, declining gas prices, and a flurry of executive actions that energized his liberal base have provided him with his best poll numbers in more than a year.

Aides and strategists believe this provides opportunity for him, even with Republicans taking control of both the House and Senate on Tuesday for the first time since 2006.

“Really for the first time in his time in office, the president has the economic winds at his back — and not in his face,” Democratic strategist Chris Lehane said.

If the winds continue to blow in Obama’s direction — no sure thing, as evidenced by the 300-point drop Monday in the Dow Jones industrial average — Obama’s White House will be able to stay on offense, Lehane said.

The administration is planning new executive actions and legislative proposals in the buildup to his State of the Union address at the end of the month. It is also staking out areas where the president will aggressively use his veto authority. 

Finally, in the spirit of the holiday, did you know there’s a TV show called Black Jesus?

You can watch the first season at Adult Swim.

In other news . . .

Christian Science Monitor: Boston Marathon bombing trial begins with high-stakes jury selection.

New York Magazine: Bess Meyerson Dead at 90 — Remembering her three lives.

Time Magazine: White House Turns the Screw on Steve Scalise.

Olivia Nuzzi at The Daily Beast: Rand Paul’s Passive-Aggressive Trolling Campaign.

Seattle PI: Another police shooting in San Francisco. Man shot by San Francisco officers left suicide notes

Christian Science Monitor: After police turn back on mayor again, where does New York go from here?

Yahoo News: Police union pushes for cop killings to be included in federal hate crimes law.

Fox News: 2 dead, 12 injured in North Dakota school bus-train collision.

The Daily Beast: Pediatrician: Vaccinate Your Kids—Or Get Out of My Office.

ABC News: Son of Slain Hedge Fund Founder Thomas Gilbert Sr. Charged With Homicide. His dad was going to stop paying his rent and reduce his allowance.

SF Gate: Mark Zuckerberg starts Facebook book club. Some of the books Zuckerberg has read are “Andre Agassi’s memoir “Open,” Walter Isaacson’s biography “Einstein” and Shel Silverstein’s children’s picture book “The Giving Tree.”” He also likes Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. I think I’ll pass on having this guy tell me what books I should read.

The Telegraph: Prince Andrew’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein in 60 seconds.

The Telegraph: What are the challenges facing Prince Andrew and the Queen over sex abuse claims?

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

 


Monday Reads: Democracy Vanquished

Good Morning!

1f4eac68289b0a3409fa3306c470147aWell, Republicans feel empowered to up the crazy so they are certainly doing it.  Boehner will be challenged by two of the more insane teabillies.  Insane teabilly number one challenging Boehner for speaker is Texas Republican Louis Gohmert.  Florida nutter Ted Yoho has also said he can’t support Boehner.

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) on Saturday announced that he would not support Boehner for Speaker.

“This is not a personal attack against Mr. Boehner, however, the people desire and deserve a choice,” Yoho said in a Facebook post. “In November, they resoundingly rejected the status quo.”

“Eventually, the goal is second, third, fourth round, we have enough people that say ‘you know what, it really is time for a change,’ ” Gohmert said Sunday. “’You deceived us when you went to Obama and Pelosi to get your votes for the cromnibus. You said you’d fight amnesty tooth an nail. You didn’t, you funded it.’ ”

Gohmert said, if elected, he would ”fight amnesty tooth and nail. We’ll use the powers of the purse. We’ll have better oversight. We’ll fight to defund ObamaCare.”

“In 2010, Boehner and other leaders said if you put us in the majority, we will have time to read the bills,” Gohmert said. “That hasn’t happened. We saw that with the cromnibus, again.”

“We’ll get back to appropriating and we will go through regular committee process, so every representative from both parties will have a chance to participate in the process and not have a dictator running things,” he added.

“With a growing Republican majority in the House and a historically high number of liberty-voting fiscal conservatives within it, there is an urgent need replace Speaker Boehner with fresh, bold leadership that better represents the views of the whole caucus,” FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said in a statement on Sunday.

“Speaker Boehner has kicked fiscal conservatives off committee positions for voting against his wishes, caved on numerous massive spending bills at the eleventh hour, and abused the legislative process to stomp out opposition by holding surprise votes and giving members little time to actually read the bills before they vote,” Kibbe added.

These are just two of the states that send representative after representative that really wants to destroy the country’s economy, not being satisfied with having their own crazy ass issues in their own crazy ass states.  Every time I think Louisiana hitsea808108a85f54e3d7cd2a136d3a7630 the low in politics, Texas and Florida always step up to take the title of bottom feeders away.

Utah seems out to prove a point these days as a black Republican woman seems to think that everything is just hunky-dory with Steve Scalise chatting up virulently anti-Semitic white supremacists.  It is going to be an awful few years.

Incoming Rep. Mia Love (R-UT) on Sunday said that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) should remain in Republican leadership despite recent reports that he spoke at an event for a white nationalist group in 2002.

“These groups are awful. And the last thing I want to do is give them any sort of publicity or credibility, and I can say, as far as I’m concerned, with Representative Scalise, he has been absolutely wonderful to work with,” Love said on ABC’s “This Week.”

When asked if Scalise should remain as GOP whip, Love indicated that his apology was enough.

“There’s one quality that he has that I think is very important in leadership and that’s humility. And he’s actually shown that in this case. And he’s apologized, and I think that we need to move on and get the work of the American people done,” she said.

As you can see, Love didn’t specify what “people” she and others were going to work for but then we know it’s pretty obviously going to be a few rich white christians who can’t seem to get past the Civil War and modern science and economics.

1aee802fea74274d99f1422520e26f7fHowever, it seems even some folks at Fox News find Scalise’s story and apology to be outrageous. Greta Van Susteran joins Hannity in calling for Scalise’s resignation.

It’s rare for a Fox News employee to openly call out a Republican, but when it happens, it’s epic. And that’s exactly what Greta Van Susteran did on Sunday when she slammed GOP Rep. Steve Scalise.

During an appearance on ABC’s This Week, Van Susteran called out Scalise for not having the “moral courage” to resign after it was revealed that the Louisiana congressman had been the keynote speaker at a white supremacist convention in 2002. Scalise agreed to be the guest of honor after KKK Grand Wizard David Duke reached out to him through aides.

In response, Scalise feigned ignorance, claiming that he had no idea to whom he was speaking to at the event even though the convention was widely covered by local media because it was so controversial. Many Republicans, including Steve King and John Boehner, stood by Scalise. So far, he has refused to resign his post as House Majority Whip, and will be the third most powerful Republican in the House when the new Congress convenes this month. And this might make the KKK very happy.

But Van Susteran completely disagreed with the way Scalise and the Republican Party handled the damning revelations and not only skewered Scalise for being a coward, she also blasted the GOP for dropping the ball in their effort to appeal to minority voters ahead of 2016.

What’s amazing to me is that Democrats captured 20 million more votes in the 2014 election and still lost. What kind of democracy causes that?  Why are Republican votes more valuable?9a519249ef3848d9bcd6f9fe0e7f6542

This one was shocking. It does not matter how one cuts it. The United States constitution is severely flawed when more often than not in the last few elections the majority of people voting  for a particular party did not receive their relative representation. Democrats received 20 million more votes in the Senate than Republicans in 2014, yet Republicans won big.

The same occurred in the House of Representatives in 2012.

House Democrats out-earned their Republican counterparts by 1.17 million votes. Read another way, Democrats won 50.59 percent of the two-party vote. Still, they won just 46.21 percent of seats, leaving the Republicans with 234 seats and Democrats with 201.

There is nothing illegal here. There is simply a very designed undemocratic flaw in the US Constitution that must be fixed lest the legislative branch of the American government will continue to be disassociated from the real wants of society.

Fairvote.org reported the following relative to the 2014 Senate race.

As a body designed to represent states rather than citizens, the Senate’s partisan makeup tends to bear a fairly loose relationship to the raw numbers of votes that were cast to elect its members. With the final election results in hand, let’s take a look at how votes cast for Senate candidates translate to seats in the world’s greatest deliberative body.

In all, Americans cast 202.5 million votes to elect the current Senate, spread across three election cycles in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Of these, 49% were cast for Democratic candidates and 46.6% for Republicans. …

In the aggregate, Democratic voters are underrepresented in the Senate and Republican voters are overrepresented compared to their respective strengths in the electorate, although Democrats outperformed their raw vote totals in two of the past four individual elections.

As for the 46 Democratic caucus members in the 114th Congress received a total of 67.8 million votes in winning their seats, while the 54 Republican caucus members received 47.1 million votes.

It’s going to be hard for Democrats to regain the Senate even though far more people vote for Democratic Senators than Republicans.  That’s because Republicans still get two senators from states that have less people than any of the country’sc6babad8a711245aac68f701ef29e705largest cities.

On Tuesday, 33 US senators elected in November will be sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden — including 12 who are new to the chamber. The class includes 22 Republicans and 11 Democrats, a big reason why the GOP has a 54-46 majority in the Senate overall.

But here’s a crazy fact: those 46 Democrats got more votes than the 54 Republicans across the 2010, 2012, and 2014 elections. According to Nathan Nicholson, a researcher at the voting reform advocacy group FairVote, “the 46 Democratic caucus members in the 114th Congress received a total of 67.8 million votes in winning their seats, while the 54 Republican caucus members received 47.1 million votes.”

There is something definitely wrong with the outcomes in governance, given that our ruling class appears to be severely crazy and greedy. For one, they make everyone believe that our money is spent on public welfare when it’s definitely corporate welfare that steals tax dollars. Robert Reich explains their priorities very well.

Some believe the central political issue of our era is the size of the government. They’re wrong. The central issue is whom the government is for.

 Consider the new spending bill Congress and the President agreed to a few weeks ago.

It’s not especially large by historic standards. Under the $1.1 trillion measure, government spending doesn’t rise as a percent of the total economy. In fact, if the economy grows as expected, government spending will actually shrink over the next year.

The problem with the legislation is who gets the goodies and who’s stuck with the tab.

For example, it repeals part of the Dodd-Frank Act designed to stop Wall Street from using other peoples’ money to support its gambling addiction, as the Street did before the near-meltdown of 2008.

Dodd-Frank had barred banks from using commercial deposits that belong to you and me and other people, and which are insured by the government, to make the kind of risky bets that got the Street into trouble and forced taxpayers to bail it out.

But Dodd-Frank put a crimp on Wall Street’s profits. So the Street’s lobbyists have been pushing to roll it back.

The new legislation, incorporating language drafted by lobbyists for Wall Street’s biggest bank, Citigroup, does just this.

It reopens the casino. This increases the likelihood you and I and other taxpayers will once again be left holding the bag.

Wall Street isn’t the only big winner from the new legislation. Health insurance companies get to keep their special tax breaks. Tourist destinations like Las Vegas get their travel promotion subsidies.

In a victory for food companies, the legislation even makes federally subsidized school lunches less healthy by allowing companies that provide them to include fewer whole grains. This boosts their profits because junkier food is less expensive to make.

Major defense contractors also win big. They get tens of billions of dollars for the new warplanes, missiles, and submarines they’ve been lobbying for.

Conservatives like to portray government as a welfare machine doling out benefits to the poor, some of whom are too lazy to work.

In reality, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, only about 12 percent of federal spending goes to individuals and families, most of whom are in dire need.

6af01fad000784c83d09f84034c40072 In a critique of Piketty’s book “Capital in the Twenty First Century” at Project Syndicate, Joseph Stiglitz explains how are productive capital gets sucked into speculative, financial capital and asset bubbles.  This is something I’ve been writing about for years here.  This section of his critique is particularly compelling.

Piketty also sheds new light on the “reforms” sold by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s as growth enhancers from which all would benefit. Their reforms were followed by slower growth and heightened global instability, and what growth did occur benefited mostly those at the top.

But Piketty’s work raises fundamental issues concerning both economic theory and the future of capitalism. He documents large increases in the wealth/output ratio. In standard theory, such increases would be associated with a fall in the return to capital and an increase in wages. But today the return to capital does not seem to have diminished, though wages have. (In the US, for example, average wages have stagnated over the past four decades.)

The most obvious explanation is that the increase in measured wealth does not correspond to an increase in productive capital – and the data seem consistent with this interpretation. Much of the increase in wealth stemmed from an increase in the value of real estate. Before the 2008 financial crisis, a real-estate bubble was evident in many countries; even now, there may not have been a full “correction.” The rise in value also can represent competition among the rich for “positional” goods – a house on the beach or an apartment on New York City’s Fifth Avenue.

Sometimes an increase in measured financial wealth corresponds to little more than a shift from “unmeasured” wealth to measured wealth – shifts that can actually reflect deterioration in overall economic performance. If monopoly power increases, or firms (like banks) develop better methods of exploiting ordinary consumers, it will show up as higher profits and, when capitalized, as an increase in financial wealth.

But when this happens, of course, societal wellbeing and economic efficiency fall, even as officially measured wealth rises. We simply do not take into account the corresponding diminution of the value of human capital – the wealth of workers.

Moreover, if banks succeed in using their political influence to socialize losses and retain more and more of their ill-gotten gains, the measured wealth in the financial sector increases. We do not measure the corresponding diminution of taxpayers’ wealth. Likewise, if corporations convince the government to overpay for their products (as the major drug companies have succeeded in doing), or are given access to public resources at below-market prices (as mining companies have succeeded in doing), reported financial wealth increases, though the wealth of ordinary citizens does not.

What we have been observing – wage stagnation and rising inequality, even as wealth increases – does not reflect the workings of a normal market economy, but of what I call “ersatz capitalism.” The problem may not be with how markets should or do work, but with our political system, which has failed to ensure that markets are competitive, and has designed rules that sustain distorted markets in which corporations and the rich can (and unfortunately do) exploit everyone else.

Markets, of course, do not exist in a vacuum. There have to be rules of the game, and these are established through political processes. High levels of economic inequality in countries like the US and, increasingly, those that have followed its economic model, lead to political inequality. In such a system, opportunities for economic advancement become unequal as well, reinforcing low levels of social mobility.

There are more warnings each year that we’ve traded our democracy for a plutocracy and that many of the folks that fall for these mistaken memes are the worst hurt by the changes.  I’m never sure what we should do about it, but at least on social media there are many of us who can realize what’s going on and share our observations and discontent.

So this is the situation, we’re being ruled by a minority, extremist party that has managed to gerrymander its way into to controlling Congress and can have over-representation in the Senate by its very design.  Since the Reagan years, they have managed to coalesce into a party of business interests, neoconfederates, and religious extremists. As a result, we have laws and programs that enrich the wealthiest at the cost of the rest of us.  We have institutions where racism and sexism have been allowed to fester and where Supreme Court justices have allowed their ideology to trump the constitution and previous law to further the oppression of minorities–with the exception of the LGBT community, where some strides have been made. Undoubtedly, this has happened because some of the biggest business interests want it, not from any desire to do the right thing by the people.  We’ve used a fake war to extend a police state where we’re all subjected to law enforcement officers that are out of control and institutionally encouraged to be so.

I have to say the challenges are huge.  I’m just hoping that the dog and pony show that will start with this new Congress will scare the shit out of people.  Given, some of this background information however, I doubt there’s much we can do about it short of a major increase in voter participation or a revolution.  The fact that so many really poorly governed states have re-elected their Republicans and continue to suffer shows me that it’s not going to be over anytime soon.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Tuesday Reads: Utter Exhaustion Edition

exhaustion2

Good Morning!!

I finally arrived in Boston yesterday after driving for three days. With the days so short, and the nights so dark, I ended up having to stop for the night earlier than I would have in the summer. I was tired last night, but I’m even more exhausted this morning. Everything hurts, and my brain isn’t working properly. I’m supposed to drive up to New Hampshire for Christmas, and I have no idea how I can do that.

I’d like to write a beautifully organized post, but I don’t think I’m capable of it. So here are some news stories that caught my flawed attention this morning.

Another police officer gets away with murder, this time in Milwaukee. From the Journal-Sentinel:

In one of the most highly anticipated legal decisions in recent memory, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm announced Monday that former Milwaukee police officer Christopher Manney will not be charged in the fatal shooting of Dontre Hamilton at Red Arrow Park.

Chisholm determined that Manney’s use of force was justified self-defense.

Hamilton’s family has repeatedly called for Manney, who has since been fired, to face criminal charges.

Speaking to supporters outside the federal courthouse in Milwaukee, Hamilton’s brother Nathaniel said he and the other family members would not waver in their determination.

“We deserve justice,” he said. “Justice is our right.”

As you’ve probably already guessed, Dontre Hamilton was a black man, and Christopher Manney is white. This is getting to be a regular thing, and it’s really getting old. The police unions can complain all they want. The simple truth is that police officers are killing a hell of a lot of black men.

dog-tired

The NY Daily News reports that the Department of Justice will review the shooting to determine whether Hamilton’s civil rights were violated.

There’s been some pushback on the claims by police unions that protesters of police-involved deaths like those of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and government officials who sympathized with their families are responsible for the recent murders of two NYPD police officers in Brooklyn. Here’s an essay by Kareem Abdul Jabbar in Time Magazine: The Police Aren’t Under Attack. Institutionalized Racism Is.

According to Ecclesiastes, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose.” For me, today, that means a time to seek justice and a time to mourn the dead.

And a time to shut the hell up.

The recent brutal murder of two Brooklyn police officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, is a national tragedy that should inspire nationwide mourning. Both my grandfather and father were police officers, so I appreciate what a difficult and dangerous profession law enforcement is. We need to value and celebrate the many officers dedicated to protecting the public and nourishing our justice system. It’s a job most of us don’t have the courage to do.

At the same time, however, we need to understand that their deaths are in no way related to the massive protests against systemic abuses of the justice system as symbolized by the recent deaths—also national tragedies—of Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, and Michael Brown. Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the suicidal killer, wasn’t an impassioned activist expressing political frustration, he was a troubled man who had shot his girlfriend earlier that same day. He even Instagrammed warnings of his violent intentions. None of this is the behavior of a sane man or rational activist. The protests are no more to blame for his actions than The Catcher in the Rye was for the murder of John Lennon or the movie Taxi Driver for the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. Crazy has its own twisted logic and it is in no way related to the rational cause-and-effect world the rest of us attempt to create.

Those who are trying to connect the murders of the officers with the thousands of articulate and peaceful protestors across America are being deliberately misleading in a cynical and selfish effort to turn public sentiment against the protestors. This is the same strategy used when trying to lump in the violence and looting with the legitimate protestors, who have disavowed that behavior. They hope to misdirect public attention and emotion in order to stop the protests and the progressive changes that have already resulted. Shaming and blaming is a lot easier than addressing legitimate claims.

More at the link.

sleepy kitty

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times have each editorialized on the issue.

WaPo: The blame game over police deaths in New York goes too far.

LA Times: Protesters didn’t cause slayings of New York police officers.

The Daily Beast: The NY Police Union’s Vile War with Mayor De Blasio.

And from HuffPo: Police Unions ‘Standing Down’ After Controversial Comments In Wake Of NYPD Shooting.

Despite all the complaints about Obama’s leadership from Republicans, the economy is growing; and wealthy Americans sure seem to be doing okay.

The Hill, GDP grows by 5 percent as US economy picks up strong pace.

The economy grew at a 5 percent rate from July to September, the fastest pace in 11 years.

The strong growth recorded by the Commerce Department adds to the sense that the economy is approaching full speed for the first time since the recession of 2008 — and since President Obama was first elected….

The government found consumer spending grew by 3.2 percent from July to September, compared to 2.5 percent in the previous quarter.

The Commerce Department also shifted its estimate for the second quarter, finding strong growth of 4.6 percent between April and June. That’s up from its previous estimate of 3.9 percent.

Reuters, Dow Tops 18,000 for First Time on Upbeat GDP Report.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average broke through 18,000 for the first time Tuesday, propelled higher by a better-than-expected report on the economy in the third quarter. If the Dow closes above 18,000, it will have taken the index only six months to climb there from 17,000.

It took only seven months to get from 16,000 to 17,000.

The market’s rise has been good news for Americans who own shares, including the wealthy, corporations, financial firms and workers with retirement funds and pensions invested in stocks. For those who don’t own shares, it could mean a widening wealth gap, however.

How much wider can it get?

exhausted puppy

But there’s also good news for us ordinary folks. From CNN, 89 straight days of lower gas prices.

The streak, the longest on record according to AAA, has shaved nearly $1 off the national average price of regular gas, taking it to $2.38 a gallon for the first time in five years. September 25 was the last day prices were higher for drivers. That day they increased by only a tenth of a cent. Prices have tumbled 36% since the high of the year, which was back in late April.

Not only have they been falling, but the plunge in gas prices has been picking up speed, tumbling nearly 2 cents between Monday and Tuesday.

Prices were 15 cents higher only a week ago and 44 cents higher a month ago. In numerous cities — including Dallas-Fort Worth, Kansas City, Missouri, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Topeka, Kansas — the average price now stands less than $2 a gallon, according to AAA. Springfield, Missouri became the first state to break the $2 average price last week. Missouri drivers are enjoying the lowest statewide average price at $2.05 a gallon.

The plunging price of oil — a 50% drop off the cost of barrel of crude since April, is the main driver in the gas price slide. But there are many other factors also affecting prices. Weakening economies in Europe and Asia, as well as more fuel efficient vehicles worldwide, have all cut demand for gasoline.

Unfortunately, I can testify that gas prices on the New York Thruway are still very high, with regular priced at close to $3.00 a gallon.

exhausted-cat_244724-422x_large

North Korea suffered a major internet breakdown yesterday. Was the NSA responsible? The CIA. If so, good work! From Reuters, North Korea’s Internet links restored amid U.S. hacking dispute.

North Korea, at the center of a confrontation with the United States over the hacking of Sony Pictures, experienced a complete Internet outage for hours before links were restored on Tuesday, but U.S. officials said Washington was not involved.

U.S.-based Dyn, a company that monitors Internet infrastructure, said the reason for the outage was not known but could range from technological glitches to a hacking attack. Several U.S. officials close to the investigations of the attack on Sony Pictures said the U.S. government had not taken any cyber action against Pyongyang.

U.S. President Barack Obama had vowed on Friday to respond to the major cyberattack, which he blamed on North Korea, “in a place and time and manner that we choose.”

Dyn said North Korea’s Internet links were unstable on Monday and the country later went completely offline. Links were restored at 0146 GMT on Tuesday, and the possibilities for the outage could be attacks by individuals, a hardware failure, or even that it was done by North Koreaitself, experts said.

Matthew Prince, CEO of U.S.-based CloudFlare which protects websites from web-based attacks, said the fact that North Korea’s Internet was back up “is pretty good evidence that the outage wasn’t caused by a state-sponsored attack, otherwise it’d likely still be down for the count”.

Almost all of North Korea’s Internet links and traffic pass through China and it dismissed any suggestion that it was involved as “irresponsible”.

So what happened then, I wonder . . . . ?

4995519-306596-exhausted-man-sleeping-on-bench

Here’s a story that should please JJ: Dish Network dumps Fox News, setting off social media war on Facebook.

Satellite-TV provider Dish Network dropped the Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network on Saturday night after the companies couldn’t come to terms on a new distribution contract, reports TVNewser.

According to Fox Executive Vice President of Distribution Tim Carry, contract talks have broken off and nothing is happening, depriving Dish’s 14 million subscribers of Fox News’ “fair and balanced” approach to current event coverage.

“Our phone line is open, we’re willing to talk,” Carry said. “Am I negotiating right now? I’m not.”

Executives at Dish say Fox is playing hardball with them by attempting to use the news channel as  leverage to increase fees for their sports and entertainment channels normally covered by separate contracts.

“It’s like we’re about to close on a house and the realtor is trying to make us buy a new car as well,” said Warren Schlichting, Dish Network’s Senior Vice President of programming. “Fox blacked out two of its news channels, using them as leverage to triple rates on sports and entertainment channels that are not in this contract.”

Hahahahaha! The Fox fans in Banjoville must being going nuts. But at least they can watch Turner Classic Movies.

exhausted-woman1

And here’s some even more scary news for racist Southerners. From Raw Story: Southern whites have more black DNA than whites in the rest of US: study.

Some of the states with the most racially charged attitudes towards African-Americans are also the states where the most whites have black ancestors, according to a recently released study.

Researchers examined 145,000 DNA samples provided to genetic testing company 23andme for ancestry analysis to determine that at least six million Americans who called themselves white had 1 percent or more African ancestry.

The study published this month in the American Journal of Human Genetics found that whites in the South were far more likely to have at least 1 percent black ancestry than any other part of the country.

“European Americans with African ancestry comprise as much as 12% of European Americans from Louisiana and South Carolina and about 1 in 10 individuals in other parts of the South,” the authors wrote….

And black Americans living in the South also had more African ancestry than any other region of the country. African-Americans in West Virginia and Oregon had the lowest percentage of African ancestry.

So . . . . what stories are you following today? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a terrific Tuesday!


Tuesday Reads: So Many Racists, A**holes, Morons, and Lunatics; So Little Patience

Obama and daughters books

Good Morning!!

Just look at those awful teenage girls wearing coats in a bookstore! How shocking! And the President in jeans and casual jacket! Impeach him immediately!

As everyone knows by now, GOP aide to Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) Elizabeth Lauten learned the hard way that when you attack the President’s family on Facebook, lots of people see it; and then your ugly words go viral on Twitter and other social media sites.

Addressing her comments directly to the Obama girls, Lauten wrote that they should ‘‘respect the part you play,’’ and added: ‘‘Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department.’’

Lauten also urged the Obama girls to ‘‘dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar.’’

Lauten later apologized for the comments and deleted the original post, which drew harsh criticism across social media.

In her pathetic “apology,” as Eugene Robinson noted on Rachel Maddow’s show last night, Lauten failed to say she was sorry for insulting any of the  members of the Obama family.

‘‘When I first posted on Facebook I reacted to an article and I quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager,’’ Lauten told The Commercial Appeal of Memphis in an email. ‘‘Please know, those judgmental feelings truly have no place in my heart. Furthermore, I’d like to apologize to all of those who I have hurt and offended with my words.’’

Whatever, lady. I’m glad you’re out of a job. Instant Karma is so satisfying.

Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson

Speaking of f**king a**holes, I’ve managed for a long time now to avoid seeing or hearing anything about MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” or its moronic hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. Unfortunately, this morning I accidentally clicked on a link to Mediaite and read something about their asinine TV show.

This morning the above-mentioned Eugene Robinson was on the program and dared to say that Michael Brown might have had his hands up when he was shot and killed by Darren Wilson. Robinson’s reasoning? A number of eyewitnesses said so and there’s nothing in the evidence that proves Brown wasn’t surrendering.

According to Mediaite’s Evan McMurry, things “got awkward.”

“I don’t believe there’s anything in the record, certainly not in the forensic evidence, that precludes the possibility that he had his hands up at some point when he was approaching the officer,” Robinson said.

“That’s an awfully low standard,” cohost Joe Scarborough replied. “There’s also no evidence that doesn’t suggest a flying saucer from Venus swooped over all of them. There’s no evidence that it’s precluded, Gene. I’m not being difficult. I’m just saying the truth actually does matter.”

“I think it’s a very uncomfortable question for you, Gene,” Brzezinski said. “Because if you say no, there’s no evidence his hands up, you’re probably insulting a lot of people. Do you feel uncomfortable with the question?”

Now what do you suppose Brzezinski meant by that? Oh yeah, Robinson is black and so Mika thinks he must have to lie in order to pacify other black people. Are you lying to please your puppet master Joe Scarborough and the racist audience to your show, Mika?

You can watch the video at the Mediaite link above.

nfl

The racists are also up in arms about the five St. Louis Rams players (all black) who had the nerve to express solidarity with Ferguson protesters by standing with their hands up before their football game on Sunday. St. Louis police officers were enraged by this mild display of support, and complained loudly in the media.

St. Louis police chief Jon Belmar then publicly claimed that the Rams organization had apologized for the players actions. A battle of words followed, in which the Rams denied apologizing and Belmar kept insisting they had. From the NY Daily News:

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the St. Louis Rams apologized to local law enforcement officials Monday after five players walked onto the field Sunday with their arms raised high in solidarity with the Ferguson protesters, a claim the team denied in a bizarre war of words that erupted overnight between the team and cops.

Police immediately cried foul at the act during the Rams’ Week 13 home blowout of the Oakland Raiders, but the NFL sacked the cops’ request and chose not to discipline the players.

There was still fallout to manage and Rams COO Kevin Demoff tried to satisfy the outcry by local cops when he called Belmar on Monday and apologized for the players’ unsanctioned actions, according to the chief.

“Mr. Demoff clearly regretted that any members of the Ram’s (sic) organization would act in a way that minimized the outstanding work that police officers and departments carry out each and every day,” Belmar said in an email to the department, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. “My impression of the call was that it was heartfelt and I assured him that I would share it with my staff.” ….

But CNN’s Rachel Nichols said Rams spokesman Artis Twyman told CNN the team “did not apologize” to St. Louis police.

And Demoff backed up that claim when reached by the Post-Dispatch late Monday. “In none of these conversations did I apologize for our players’ actions,” Demoff told the Post-Dispatch. “I did say in each conversation that I regretted any offense their officers may have taken. We do believe it is possible to both support our players’ First Amendment rights and support the efforts of local law enforcement as our community begins the process of healing.”

My advice to Belmar and police departments all over the country: Get over it and stop killing innocent citizens.

John Boehner swears in Florida's Ted Yoho.

John Boehner swears in Florida’s Ted Yoho.

And speaking of moronic a**holes, John Boehner is set to do battle with the crazy caucus today. Reuters: Boehner to seek support for plan to avoid government shutdown.

House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner will try to sell fellow Republicans this week on a government spending bill that avoids a shutdown fight but allows the party to strike back at President Barack Obama’s immigration order.

Republicans have a lot riding on their handling of must-pass government funding. Having scored huge wins in Nov. 4 voting that handed them a majority in the Senate and gave them a bigger majority in the House, Republican leaders want to demonstrate that they can govern responsibly next year.

But many are still outraged that Obama bypassed Congress and is moving ahead unilaterally on immigration, granting what they claim is “amnesty” to people who came to the United States illegally.

House Republicans will meet on Tuesday after a 10-day Thanksgiving break to discuss their response, including a leading option for Boehner that would fund most government agencies through September 2015, with only a short-term extension for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

House Republican lawmakers and aides say this would give them a chance to use their stronger House and Senate majorities next year to pass explicit spending restrictions on some DHS agencies, to try to stop Obama’s immigration overhaul.

More details from Bloomberg Politics:

House Speaker John Boehner and his fellow Republican leaders are turning to large-animal veterinarian and Tea Party darling Ted Yoho to help avoid a second government shutdown in as many years.

The freshman Florida Republican has proposed a bill that aims to remove the president’s executive power when it comes to deportations. It’s a symbolic measure that would have essentially zero chance of passing in the last days of a Democratic-controlled Senate. But Boehner and his crew hope it’s enough to pacify a Republican caucus seething over President Barack Obama’s immigration actions last month.

Boehner and other Republican leaders have vowed to avoid a repeat of the 16-day shutdown last year. Their best shot may be coupling Yoho’s bill with a measure that would temporarily fund immigration agencies and provide longer-term financing for the rest of the federal government. The deadline is Dec. 11, when current funding ends.

Yoho, whose opposition to Obamacare contributed to the last shutdown, was an unlikely star of the 2012 election cycle, knocking off 12-term incumbent Cliff Stearns in a Republican primary for a North Florida district after selling his veterinary practice to run. Since being sworn in, the 59-year-old Republican has voted against Boehner for speaker, said an Obamacare tax on indoor tanning was “racist,” and suggested that a government shutdown could stabilize markets.

Yoho sounds like a lunatic. How on earth do people like this get elected?

Bill Cassidy tries to smile and fails miserably.

Bill Cassidy tries to smile and fails miserably.

Speaking of lunatics, last night I watched the final debate between Louisiana Senate candidates Bill Cassidy and Mary Landrieu. If the result of the runoff election on Saturday weren’t so important, the “debate” would have been a laugh riot. The main topics were abortion, guns, Obamacare, Cassidy’s double dipping at the expense of taxpayers and Landrieu’s weak support of the hated black President.

It was difficult to listen to what Cassidy was saying, because he is so strange-looking, and when he forces a smile, he looks like something out of a vampire movie. Even though Mary Landrieu is a pretty conservative Democrat, I couldn’t help liking her when I noticed she had a hard time not laughing out loud when Cassidy was talking.

From NOLA.com:

The gloves came off during the testy final U.S. Senate debate Monday night between Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu and Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy. Controversies dominated the discussion, including assertions that  Cassidyfalsified time sheets and Landrieu used taxpayer money to take charter airplane flights to campaign events.

Landrieu worked her main allegation, that Cassidy billed Louisiana State University for work he didn’t perform, into answers throughout the debate. She said it’s an issue that should follow him beyond Saturday’s election.

“If he wins, he will be fighting more than President Obama. He will be fighting subpoenas because he padded his time sheet,” Landrieu said. “He’ll talk about everyone else’s record but his own.”

Cassidy denied the allegations and defended his record. “These charges are absolutely false. The Landrieu campaign takes these charges, and they twist them anyway they can. I’m proud of the work I’ve done at LSU,” Cassidy said.

A physician, Cassidy said his work at LSU hospitals helped people, while Landrieu’s charter flights helped only her. Landrieu countered that she had taken responsibility for the flights, which she attributed to a bookkeeping error, and paid back the Treasury.

Read more at the link.

During their extended argument over abortion, I was surprised to hear Cassidy state as fact that a 20-month fetus is viable and capable of feeling pain. I was also shocked when Landrieu said she is against all abortions and thinks they are immoral, but that the government shouldn’t be making those decisions. At least she’s “pro-choice.”

After watching that debate, I thanked my lucky stars that my Senators are Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.

That’s about all the news I could dredge up this morning. I’ll be so glad when the holidays come to an end. What stories are you following today?


Friday Reads

morning-coffee

Good Morning!!

 

I’m going to begin with some good news today.

It looks like the coming winter will be on the mild side. From Discovery News: Winter Forecast for US Nothing to Shiver About.

Don’t expect the polar vortex to pummel the eastern United States this winter, government scientists said today (Oct. 16).

Overall, forecasters expect mild winter conditions across much of the United States, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said as they issued their annual winter weather outlook.

While there’s always a chance that the polar jet stream will again funnel frigid Arctic air south toward the United States, nothing in the new forecast indicates a rerun of the persistent patterns responsible for the “polar vortex.” “We do not expect to see a repeat of last winter,” said Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

Developing El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean will influence this year’s winter weather, with wet conditions forecast from Southern California to South Carolina, and dry conditions expected across the North. Temperatures will be warmer than average in the West and in New England, but colder in the South from Texas east to Florida, according to the forecast.

I hope they’re right!

Now for the latest Ebola news . . .

AP_EBOLA_HOSPITAL_141015_DG_4x3_992

Why can’t Dallas hospital workers just stay home until they’re cleared? From The Washington Post: Texas hospital worker quarantined on cruise ship in Caribbean.

A Texas health-care worker who “may have” handled lab specimens from Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan has been isolated on board a Carnival cruise ship in the Caribbean. The worker has shown no symptoms of the disease, according to Carnival, which said it is in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control. A Carnival spokeswoman said the guest, who was not named, will remain on board in voluntary isolation until the ship returns to its home port of Galveston on Sunday.

The Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital employee and a partner boarded the ship Oct. 12 in Galveston, Tex., before the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated the requirement for active monitoring, the State Department said in a statement. Although the worker is healthy, the U.S. government is working with the cruise line to get the ship back to America “out of an abundance of caution.”

The employee, who has not been named, did not come into direct contact with Duncan, the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. However, he or she may have been exposed to his clinical specimens, the State Department said.

“It has been 19 days since the passenger may have processed” Duncan’s fluid samples, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement early Friday morning. “The cruise line has actively supported CDC’s efforts to speak with the individual, whom the cruise ship’s medical doctor has monitored and confirmed was in good health. Following this examination, the hospital employee and traveling partner have voluntarily remained isolated in a cabin.”

Belize refused to allow the woman (gender identified by news release) to be leave the ship so she could be evacuated by the U.S.

In its own statement Thursday, the the Belize government said it “was contacted today by officers of the U.S. Government and made aware of a cruise ship passenger considered of very low risk for Ebola….Nonetheless, out of an abundance of caution, the Government of Belize decided not to facilitate a U.S. request for assistance in evacuating the passenger through the Phillip Goldson International Airport.”

Now that the horses are out of the barn, so to speak, officials in Texas have decided to close the barn doors. From USA Today: Travel Ban for Texas health care workers in Ebola case.

Texas health officials have ordered any person who entered the room of the first Ebola patient at a Dallas hospital not to travel by public transport, including planes ship, buses or trains, or visit groceries, restaurants or theaters for 21 days, until the danger of developing Ebola has passed.

The instructions, issued by the Texas Department of State Health Service late Thursday, cover more than 70 health workers involved in providing care for Thomas Duncan, the Liberian national who became the first patient to test positive for Ebola in the United States.

Duncan died Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

The hospital workers were ordered to undergo monitoring twice a day, including one face-to-face encounter.

The health department said anyone failing to adhere to the rules “may be subject to a communicable disease control order.” The health workers were asked to sign a written acknowledgement of the directions when they appear for monitoring.

Amber Vinson

Amber Vinson

According to The Hill, the CDC has now decided it needs to talk to passengers who were on Amber Vinson’s flight from Dallas to Cleveland. Vinson is the second nurse to come down with Ebola after caring for Thomas Duncan, who died of the disease last week.

After reports that she may have shown symptoms on her flight back to Dallas, the CDC asked those passengers to contact the agency. But in a release Thursday night, the CDC expanded that notification to include passengers on Vinson’s flight to Cleveland. The agency said that it wants to interview passengers and that “individuals who are determined to be at any potential risk will be actively monitored.”

Ebola is contagious once an infected person starts exhibiting symptoms, so the CDC wants to keep tabs on anyone that could have come into contact with Vinson when those symptoms began. She traveled to Cleveland on Oct. 10 and returned on Oct. 13, the day before she reported her symptoms to the CDC.

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives decided to get involved in the Ebola crisis, and it wasn’t pretty. BloombergPolitics compiled The Five Worst Questions from the House Ebola Hearing. According to the article, Democrats are wrong to claim that lack of funding made the situation worse. Republicans obsessed over banning travel into the U.S. and “securing the borders.” But the most ludicrous question came from Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA).

Representative Morgan Griffith wanted to know if humans can catch Ebola from dogs, and Frieden said there were no known incidents. But still, the Virginia Republican wanted to know if we could stem the flow of West African dogs traveling into America.

“Don’t you think we ought to at least restrict travel of dogs?” he asked.

“Um,” Frieden replied. “We’ll follow up in terms of what’s possible.”

In addition, President Obama held an “emergency meeting” at the White House yesterday.

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama said he was considering appointing an Ebola “czar” to coordinate the fight against the virus in the United States, but he remained opposed to a ban on travel from West Africa.

Obama’s administration is facing sharp criticism from lawmakers over its efforts to contain the disease at home. Obama authorized calling up military reservists for the U.S. fight against Ebola in West Africa on Thursday….

“It may be appropriate for me to appoint an additional person” to oversee efforts to contain Ebola, Obama told reporters, adding that experts have told him “a flat-out travel ban is not the way to go” because current screening measures at airports are working.

He said he had no philosophical objection to a travel ban but that some travelers might attempt to enter the United States by avoiding screening measures, which could lead to more Ebola cases, not fewer.

randpaul1

A final dose of stupid came from Sen. Rand Paul, who told an audience of college students that you could catch Ebola by standing three feet from someone who is infected.

His comments directly conflict with statements from world health authorities who have dealt with Ebola outbreaks since 1976.

Paul…made his comments during a stop at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire Wednesday. In his remarks, he called Ebola “incredibly contagious” and suggested it could spread at a cocktail party attended by someone who is symptomatic, according to CNN video footage….

“You’re not going to get AIDS at a cocktail party. No one’s going to cough on you and you’re going to get AIDS. Everybody knows that. That’s what they make it sound exactly like,” Paul, a doctor and potential presidential contender, said Thursday at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. “But then you listen to them closely, they say you have to have direct contact. But you know how they define direct contact? Being within three feet of someone.”

World health authorities have been clear that Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids, and that blood, vomit and feces carry the most virus. Health workers are at particular risk because in the course of caring for patients, they draw blood and clean up diarrhea when the patients are most infectious. Likewise in the epidemic zone in West Africa, people involved with burials of highly infectious bodies are at high risk.

In other news . . .

Bill Clinton is heading down to Louisiana on Monday to stump for Mary Landrieu, according to Politico.

Former President Bill Clinton will campaign in Louisiana Monday with Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, joining the endangered incumbent in the state capital of Baton Rouge.

Clinton, unlike President Barack Obama, can be an effective surrogate in the red Southern states where the Democratic majority hangs in the balance.

The visit, Clinton’s second for Landrieu this election cycle, comes a day before the start of early voting, which runs from October 21-28.

Bill Clinton stumps for Coakley

I’ve been hoping Bill would find time to come to Massachusetts to campaign for Martha Coakley for Governor, and what do you know? He blew through here yesterday! He spoke at Clark University in Worcester.

WORCESTER — Former President Bill Clinton told a capacity crowd at Clark University today that elections are just one big job interview.

Speaking in Worcester in support of Martha Coakley’s run for governor, Mr. Clinton said Ms. Coakley’s actions and advocacy as attorney general indicate how well she will perform once she completes that job interview.

“All you’ve got to do,” he told more than 800 people who waited in a line the length of the Main South campus in monsoon-like conditions to get into Atwood Hall, “is increase the number of employers who make the hiring decision.”

Ms. Coakley, a Democrat, and her running mate, Steve Kerrigan of Lancaster, are in a tight race with Republican Charlie Baker and his running mate, Karyn Polito of Shrewsbury. Mr. Clinton tried to convince the crowd they had the potential to make it a landslide.

“I don’t care what the polls say, she can win this race handily if you want it bad enough,” Mr. Clinton said.

Now we just need Hillary to show up.

How about a little economics news? It seems people in Europe are getting fed up with Angela Merkel’s austerity obsession, according to the NYT. I can’t excerpt from the piece, but here’s a report from The Local in Italy:

Italy and France on Thursday reacted to turmoil in global stock markets by stepping up their calls for the European Union to switch course to focus on growth, not on balancing budgets.

But their calls were once again batted away by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who insisted the way out of the crisis was for all eurozone states to stick to agreed rules on the size of their deficits.

In the latest salvos in a simmering row that is set to come to head at a summit of EU leaders next week, Rome and Paris went on the offensive on the sidelines of the ASEM meeting in Milan.

“We in a very delicate moment in terms of the international economic and financial situation,” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said.

“Which is all the more reason for Europe to show itself capable of producing an economic response based on investment in growth and not only on rigour and austerity,” Renzi said.

He also said a “focus on growth” was recommended by the IMF – “and they don’t seem to be dangerous communists to me”.

merks2_2396548b

According to UK Reuters, the U.S. has warned Europe about the possibility of deflation.

The United States on Wednesday renewed a warning that Europe risks falling into a downward spiral of falling wages and prices, saying recent actions by the European Central Bank may not be enough to ward off deflation.

In a semiannual report to Congress, the U.S. Treasury Department also said Berlin could do more to help Europe, namely by boosting demand in the German economy, Europe’s largest.

“Europe faces the risk of a prolonged period of substantially below-target inflation or outright deflation,” the Treasury said.

The Guardian today published a summary of Europe’s “five years of economic crisis.”

Finally, Janet Yellen has expressed concern over growing economic inequality in the U.S. Reuters reports:

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Friday the growth of economic inequality in the United States “greatly” concerned her, and suggested in a detailed speech on the politically charged issue that Americans should ask whether it was compatible with their values.

With global financial markets rebounding from days of frenzied selling, Yellen did not comment on the volatility or on monetary policy. Instead she focused on the gulf between rich and poor that has only grown wider over the last several decades and, she said, through the U.S. economic recovery.

“The extent of and continuing increase in inequality in the United States greatly concern me,” Yellen told a conference on inequality at the Boston branch of the central bank.

“It is no secret that the past few decades of widening inequality can be summed up as significant income and wealth gains for those at the very top and stagnant living standards for the majority,” she told economists, professors and community workers.

“I think it is appropriate to ask whether this trend is compatible with values rooted in our nation’s history, among them the high value Americans have traditionally placed on equality of opportunity.”

Good for Yellen. Now let’s see some action beyond the words.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a fabulous Friday!!

friday-121