Friday Nite Lite: Banjoville No-Go Zone

2c3e47220eb5cccd01d245ddb55db014Evening

Before I get to the cartoons, a little side note.  The letter to the editor is from The North Georgia News, our local Banjoville newspaper…the “Legal Organ” of Union County.

I use it as an example of what Chez Pazienza at The Daily Banter discusses here, about the stupidity of people, racism and the panic of fear it can bring about.

A couple of days ago we mentioned here how the mayor of Paris was planning to sue Fox News because the network incorrectly, ludicrously claimed that parts of Paris and the U.K. had become something it called Muslim “no-go zones,” where non-Muslims weren’t allowed to enter and where Sharia law superseded federal and local law. One expert on Fox News even made the shocking pronouncement that the entire city of Birmingham, England was one of these “no-go zones.” Just to make sure it’s understood what we’re talking about here, Fox News told its audience of epistemically sealed-off reactionary yokels that reactionary Muslims had taken over and sealed-off segments of free countries and cities and that those countries and cities had allowed this to happen. Try unpacking that inside your head for a moment and see if smoke doesn’t begin coming out of your ears.

3a6c9e2ef9eb64f86da78aa6f03cf44dWell, I realize it’ll be hard to believe, but everything Fox blithered into the ether on this was a giant steaming pile of horseshit. No, there are no Muslim no-go zones in France or England and, by extension, there aren’t going to be any Muslim no-go zones popping up in the United States anytime soon. Yes, there are pockets of the Muslim community scattered throughout the free world the same way there are pockets of every other ethnic, racial and religious background in exactly the same position; cultures tend to stick together in areas outside of their comfort zones. There are also almost certainly cases of these communities attempting to address civil concerns within their community internally in the same way, ironically, that orthodox Jewish neighborhoods sometimes do. There are even, to be sure, bad actors amongst these communities who take their desire for insulation too far. But to claim that Muslim enclaves, specifically, represent a threat in that they’ve been able to culturally terraform the land upon which they’ve set up, making it somehow toxic to outsiders, including law enforcement, is absurd. And for Fox News to say so is irresponsible and inflammatory (which is par for the course for Fox).

In response to being called out by both the French and British Prime Minister David Cameron, Fox News backed off the report, issuing a rare retraction and apology. CNN’s Anderson Cooper also apologized for furthering the rumor by biting down hard on Fox News’s bait and reporting its own story of supposed no-go zones. But the problem is that once the poison has been injected into the cultural and media c8bcc2febf1c76867f520d365b06d290bloodstream it’s impossible to eradicate. The misinformation becomes part of the conversation, because people — particularly those who are already inclined to believe it because it confirms their biases — disregard the retraction and remember only the initial story, even if it’s crap. We live in an age in which deliberate distortion and conspiracist nonsense spread like Ebola and can wreak almost as much havoc.

There never were any government “death panels” accompanying the Affordable Care Act, and yet the second that phrase was uttered it created a snowball that ultimately became an unstoppable avalanche of bullshit. No amount of shoveling would make it go away. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and yet there are still people out there who believe Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. People believe what they want to believe, regardless of the facts. Go on television and tell them something that feeds the foundations of their ideological bent and even if you tell them two seconds later you were wrong, they’ll find the retraction more dubious than the initial faulty report. This is what makes misinformation and outright disinformation so dangerous.

So with that as a set up, I bring you a taste of my little redneck mountain town:

 

What do you seek?

Dear Editor,
For all practical purposes, Christianity
has been, or soon will be, extinguished in the
Middle East, in most of the continent of Africa,
China, Indonesia and the surrounding nations in
favor of Islam.
Britain is rapidly being culturally redefined

as Muslim. A Prelate of the Anglican
Church recently commented that Sharia should
become part of the Anglican liturgy. Debate is
always afoot in the Parliament to increasingly
honor Muslim sensitivities.
In Paris, the Right Bank has long been un-
der the aegis of Muslims. The old haunts of the

Impressionists are no longer
safe for white Christians.
The day might come
when Sacre’ Coeur  might
hear the Islamic Call to Prayer
resonating from its towers and
domes. That’s what happened
to Hagia Sophia.
The yelping of the “politically-correct,”

“tolerant,” Humanist, anti-Christian, “diversity”-

hungry curs grows

louder with every passing
week to reduce, limit, curtail
and, perhaps, to eventually
eliminate Christianity from the
United States.
Perhaps such as they favor

Sharia Law and all that it
implies, entails and involves
— from massacres to beheadings
to the beating and stoning of nonconformist

women and children to the censoring of

anti-Islam publications, shows,
plays and broadcasts.
I have to wonder: Is
the Progressive strangling of
the Judeo-Christian Ethic in
America what you Progressives
/Liberals/Democrats at the AJC seek?
George Mitchell

(You can see the image of this letter further down below btw…)

And if that wasn’t enough…the talk on the local Banjoville Topix Forum is even more disgusting.

Thankfully the thread has been taken down, but I have screenshots of the “discussion” that you can look at here and here. I don’t know if it would be beneficial to our talk here, and there is horrible stuff on those threads….so you have been warned.  But Back to Chez’s article, where he is bringing up Dak’s favorite Gov.

Louisiana governor and world’s most embarrassing Rhodes Scholar Bobby Jindal is doubling down on his assertion that Europe is full of Muslim “no-go zones” and stoking the fears of his idiot constituency by saying that if we’re not careful we might soon see them in America. Jindal had already claimed that no-go zones were a real thing over the weekend during a speech in London, but despite the Fox News retraction, there he was on Fox News saying that there are areas in Western cities where the police won’t go and which are essentially off-limits to non-Muslims entirely. “If people don’t want to come here to integrate and assimilate, what they’re really trying to do is set up their own culture, their own communities,” Jindal said. “What they’re really trying to do is overturn our culture. We need to recognize that threat… We’re gonna see our own no-go zones if we’re not serious about insisting on assimilation and integration.”

And he’s not the only one picking up that ball and running with it. Family Research Council president and giant-penis-in-a-necktie Tony Perkins is now stating unequivocally that Muslim no-go zones aren’t on their way to America because they’re already here. “Dearborn, Michigan is one of the places. There are some places in Minneapolis,” he says. “I don’t think it’s as clear-cut as what we’ve seen in Europe.” Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who’s Muslim, has already written an official open letter to Perkins calling him a fucking lunatic, or at the very least offering to show him around Minneapolis where he can see for himself whether these Muslim no-go zones he’s so terrified of actually exist. Maybe not such a good idea considering that we’re talking about a guy who’s an evangelical preacher. Perkins obviously doesn’t need to see proof of something to believe it’s real.

This is only the beginning, I promise. When you combine our susceptibility to fear-based disinformation with our tendency to fixate on subjects that are easily memed and hashtagged, “no-go zones” is tailor-made to become the next big conservative night terror. Screw reality — everybody panic.

What’s interesting about this, certainly about Jindal’s fear of foreign cultures setting up camps in the United States and refusing to assimilate — spreading their culture with little concern for what existed before it — is that it’s already happened on a grand scale. And I’m not even talking about the original immigrants who arrived here in the late 1400s and basically took right over.

And in a response to this right-wing horror of a city being taken over by a “foreign” culture or entity…Chez gives us one place as an example. Miami.

…an entire U.S. city which often feels like foreign soil. This is by no means an insult to the Cuban and Cuban-American population that arrived and assumed every position of political and cultural authority imaginable, merely an acknowledgment that Miami is unlike any other city in America because of the awesome power a “foreign” presence has been able to wield. In Miami, 70% of the population is Hispanic, with many speaking Spanish as their primary language or interchangeably with English. The leadership of the city’s body politic often feels like it has corruption running through its veins the way real bodies have blood. The city has in the past exercised its own foreign policy, strong-arming the federal government via a robust and fearsome voting bloc and even refusing to cooperate with that government’s law enforcement when it disagreed with the laws it was obligated to respect and uphold. It was once a literal war zone for foreign drug gangs, rivaling a current Mexican border town. It’s been called a flat-out banana republic, even by the people who live there.

ngn1-21-15OpEd1_001None of this makes Miami a bad place — quite the contrary, actually. It’s my hometown and it’s a fucking nuthouse; what’s not to love? But other than maybe Tom Tancredo, who was pretty much laughed out of the party, I’ll be damned if I’ve ever heard one frightened peep out of the Republicans regarding the foreign takeover of an entire American city. (Not surprisingly, you’ll hear lawmakers complain about the invasion of Haitians, but I’ll leave you to reach your own conclusions about that.) Hell, some of those hiding in plain sight in Miami were even terrorists, and yet — nothing.

It might have something to do with the fact that Cuban-Americans have traditionally been rabid, rock-solid backers of conservative politics, honest-to-God fish in a barrel to be shot by eager electoral panderers. But Muslims, they’re so dangerous for so many reasons — some of which are political — ngn1-21-15OpEd2-1_001that even a small community of them is enough to send the right into a frenzy, convinced that their specific brand of foreign religious law is already being imposed and the police are now forced to simply look the other way. (Nothing at all like when cops allowed for animal sacrifices in Santeria rituals in Miami because it was considered part of the accepted religious culture.)

Miami’s a whole city. Muslims congregate in a neighborhood and conservatives suddenly declare it a demilitarized zone.

I wish I could tell you that the attitude of the anti-anyone but white Christian here in Banjoville is only slightly peppered throughout the area, but it is not. You can see from the other letters to the editor, the Christian Right even more pronounced than some may think…seeing the hate and hypocrisy written by the Local Banjoville citizen assholes in these letters to the editor on a weekly basis just makes it more difficult to enjoy the beauty of the landscape this town has to offer. Ugh.

Okay, now for the cartoons.

Cagle cartoons, so click to see the image:

American Snipper by Political Cartoonist Pat Bagley

Deflated Balls by Political Cartoonist Cameron Cardow

Fantasy Football by Political Cartoonist Rick McKee

Jeb and Romney Clash by Political Cartoonist Pat Bagley

Catholics and rabbits by Political Cartoonist Joe Heller

State of the Union by Political Cartoonist David Fitzsimmons

 

AAEC – Political Cartoon by Tom Stiglich, MEDIA NEWS GROUP – 01/22/2015

Cartoon by Tom Stiglich -

Easier To Grip – Political Cartoon by Tim Campbell, Current Publishing – 01/23/2015

Cartoon by Tim Campbell - Easier To Grip

On Cuba:

AAEC – Political Cartoon by Gustavo Rodriguez, El Nuevo Herald – 01/23/2015

Cartoon by Gustavo Rodriguez -

 

AAEC – Political Cartoon by John R. Rose, Byrd Newspapers of Virginia – 01/23/2015

Cartoon by John R. Rose -

TURN OVER – Political Cartoon by Deb Milbrath, Cartoon Movement – 01/23/2015

Cartoon by Deb Milbrath - TURN OVER

JONI ERNST SHOES – Political Cartoon by Deb Milbrath, Cartoon Movement – 01/22/2015

Cartoon by Deb Milbrath - JONI ERNST SHOES

STATE OF THE UNION – Political Cartoon by Deb Milbrath, Cartoon Movement – 01/21/2015

Cartoon by Deb Milbrath - STATE OF THE UNION

 

AAEC – Political Cartoon by Charlie Daniel, Knoxville News Sentinel – 01/23/2015

Cartoon by Charlie Daniel -

1/25 Luckovich cartoon: Trading places | Mike Luckovich

012515-toon-luckovich-ed

This is an open thread….

 


Friday Reads: The Overlords are winning

&"Good Morning!

The combination of low voting patterns and big money in politics is finally coming to an ugly fruition.  The plan was all laid out in the Powell memo of 1971.  Its leaking to Jack Anderson will probably be remembered as one of the last acts of a press free of uber-corporate ownership and manipulation. It was also the beginning of the framework that ultimately led to the Citizen’s United case 5 years ago establishing a freedom of speech right for corporations best encapsulated by Mitt Romney’s famous gaffe in Iowa of “Corporations are people, my friend”.

Though Powell’s memo was not the sole influence, the Chamber and corporate activists took his advice to heart and began building a powerful array of institutions designed to shift public attitudes and beliefs over the course of years and decades. The memo influenced or inspired the creation of the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Accuracy in Academe, and other powerful organizations. Their long-term focus began paying off handsomely in the 1980s, in coordination with the Reagan Administration’s “hands-off business” philosophy.

Most notable about these institutions was their focus on education, shifting values, and movement-building — a focus we share, though often with sharply contrasting goals.*  (See our endnote for more on this.)

So did Powell’s political views influence his judicial decisions? The evidence is mixed. Powell did embrace expansion of corporate privilege and wrote the majority opinion in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, a 1978 decision that effectively invented a First Amendment “right” for corporations to influence ballot questions. On social issues, he was a moderate, whose votes often surprised his backers.

The combination of the Southern Strategy, the business interests behind the Powell Memo, and the insipid and wrongly labelled “Moral Majority” has created an unholy trinity of neoconfederates,  billionaire plutocrats, and christianist extremists that now drive the Republican Party.   We now have a SCOTUS and majority in Congress set to undo many of the advances of the late 20th century.  A lot of this came from the mind of Nixon and his cronies.

… Democrats were expanding rights while the Republicans wanted to narrow them or keep them restrictive.

This realignment did not exactly start with Nixon or end with him. Barry Goldwater had voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act (although he had supported other civil rights bills), but the GOP in general then was unencumbered by a Southern constituency and its leadership often favored civil rights.

After Nixon, though, there was no turning back. In 1980, Ronald Reagan — ever the innocent — went to Mississippi and the Neshoba County Fair to tastelessly proclaim his belief in “states’ rights.” Nearby, three civil rights worked had been killed just 16 years earlier, protesting one of those bogus rights — the right to segregate the races. Reagan never acknowledged any appeal to racism. Racists took it as a wink anyway.

At one time, a good many African-Americans voted Republican — the party of Lincoln, after all. Jackie Robinson initially supported Nixon , as did Joe Louis. The former heavyweight champion had even supported a Republican in the 1946 congressional campaign against Rep. Helen Gahagan Douglas, a liberal civil rights advocate, whose California district was substantially black. As late as the 1970s, there were African-American enclaves in Maryland that voted Republican.

The damage Nixon did to his own party, not to mention the rights of African-Americans and the cause of racial comity, has lasted long after the stench of Watergate has dispersed. It not only persuaded blacks that the Republican Party was inhospitable to them, but it in effect welcomed racists to the GOP fold. Dixiecrats moved smartly to the right.

Excuse me for extrapolating, but segregationists are not merit scholarship winners. Racism is dumb, and so are racists. The Democratic Party showed racists the door.

The GOP welcomed them and, of course, their fellow travelers — creationists, gun nuts, anti-abortion zealots, immigrant haters of all sorts and homophobes. Increasingly, the Republican Party has come to be defined by what it opposes and not what it proposes. Its abiding enemy is modernity.

The first death knell of democracy was probably the undoing of the Fairness Doctrine followed closely by the demonization of labor via the busting of the Air sipaphotosthree072008-SIPAUSA.30068566000008.sm-aTraffic Controller’s Union.  There are a lot of reasons why the FCC should try to bring it back.  The primary one I can think of is the disservice the Fox Propaganda network does to the country in terms of Science and truth.  There was some paranoia in the right wing last year that the FCC was thinking about a Fairness Doctrine 2.0.

Under the controversial doctrine, which the FCC abandoned in 1987 and formally took off the books in 2011, the agency required radio and TV stations to air opposing views on controversial issues.

Pai expressed alarm that the FCC could soon start questioning why Fox spends so much time covering the attacks in Benghazi, or why NBC has focused on the controversy over lane closures in New Jersey.

House Republicans made a similar accusation in December, claiming the FCC was working on a “Fairness Doctrine 2.0.”

“Given the widespread calls for the commission to respect the First Amendment and stay out of the editorial decisions of reporters and broadcasters, we were shocked to see that the FCC is putting itself back in the business of attempting to control the political speech of journalists,” Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote in a letter to the FCC.

 “It is wrong, it is unconstitutional, and we urge you to put a stop to this most recent attempt to engage the FCC as the ‘news police.’

The controversy stems from a study the agency plans to conduct on “critical information needs.” The FCC is required by law to study ways to eliminate barriers to entry for small media businesses.

Among other things, the agency plans to ask TV journalists about their “news philosophy” and “the process by which stories are selected.” The study will gather data on “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.” The FCC also wants to examine how local TV stations cover “critical information” such as “economic opportunities” and the “environment”.

image13There have been many more instances of cases sent to the Supreme Court and end runs by states around civil rights and liberties like the christianists’ obsession with ending a woman’s right to an abortion without exception in the first two trimesters.  We’re beginning to see some of the final steps in the plan this year.  We’ve watched the court gut the Voting Rights Act.  Are they now set to gut the major provisions of the Fair Housing Act?

A sharply divided US Supreme Court on Wednesday took up a challenge to the Fair Housing Act (FHA) in an action that liberal critics say could gut the major civil rights provision.

At issue in a case from Dallas, Texas, is whether the housing law authorizes lawsuits over racially neutral measures that nonetheless disproportionately impact minority residents.

Liberals support the so-called disparate impact theory of civil rights enforcement, while conservatives warn that such an approach could lead to racial quotas in housing and other areas.

The case has attracted significant attention, with friend-of-the-court briefs filed by various civil rights groups, 17 states, and 20 cities and counties. On the other side, briefs have been filed by a number of conservative groups and business associations, including insurance companies, banks, finance companies, and home builders.

The FHA prohibits anyone from refusing to sell, rent, or otherwise make unavailable a house or apartment to a person because of their race, religion, or national origin. There is no dispute about this aspect of the law.

After the FHA was enacted in 1968, federal courts and agencies began embracing a broader interpretation of the law’s scope, concluding that, in addition to barring intentional discrimination, the statute also authorizes lawsuits when housing decisions disproportionately harm minority groups.

The case before the high court involves a lawsuit challenging decisions by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs in awarding tax credits for low-income housing in Dallas. The Housing Department sought to provide new affordable housing in areas where existing housing was blighted or nonexistent. It sought to do so under race-neutral criteria.

Despite that goal, not everyone was satisfied with the agency’s performance. A Dallas-based group seeking to foster racial integration, the Inclusive Communities Project, sued the Housing Department because it said the agency had failed to provide adequate opportunities for low-income housing in Dallas’ more affluent suburbs.

Also percolating its way through Congress is a ban on all abortions after 20 weeks based on the nonscientific nonsense that the nervous system of a fetus is developed enough at that point to experience pain.  It is not.   It’s the usual, sneaky, lying way that religionists use to confuse the easily confused. A controversial provision caused the bill to be tabled.  Republican Congresswomen were upset by a redefinition of rape tucked away in the bill that sought to ensure that only narrowly approved definitions of “rape” would be treated differently. 

It’s one thing to campaign on stopping abortion—it has been a largely successful GOP plank since Roe v. Wade, and one that helped create a juggernaut connection between evangelical Christians and the Republican Party. (Yes, there have been occasional hiccups.) But it’s a different and more complicated matter to actually institute sweeping restrictions successfully.

Republicans have sought for years to ban abortions after 20 weeks. (Molly Redden has a definitive history.) The House GOP has been trying directly for the last few years, but each attempt has come to nought. Besides, even a successful House bill would have run into the Democratic Senate. But with a newly enormous majority in the House and a newly minted majority in the Senate, Republicans finally had a chance to get a bill to the president. While Obama would surely reject it, it would be a powerful political gesture and please the party’s pro-life allies. Even better, they had the opportunity to schedule the vote to coincide with the March for Life in Washington on Thursday.

They almost made it, but then the GOP coalition fell apart—not on wavering opposition to abortion overall, but on the technicalities. Like many such proposals, the bill would have allowed for exceptions in a few limited cases, such as rape. This bill made rape an exception, but only if a woman reported it to law enforcement. As Ed O’Keefe reports, that set off alarms for a bloc of female Republican lawmakers. They worried that the rape-reporting restriction was too strict, and that the bill would alienate young voters and women from the party. And so Wednesday evening, GOP leaders abruptly yanked the bill. Instead, the House passed a less restrictive bill Thursday, permanently banning federal money from going to pay for abortions. A ban already exists, but it has to be renewed every year.

The vise in which the party finds itself is easy to understand but hard to loosen. On the one hand, the party’s religious base has worked hard for Republicans and expects to see results, and most elected officeholders are personally pro-life. (Pulling the bill when thousands of the most fervent pro-lifers are in Washington must be an especially bitter pill for leaders.) But everyone knows the GOP faces a demographic time bomb, since its voters are older and whiter and more pro-life than the general population, so it’s risky to do anything that might make it harder to win them over.

North Carolina’s Renee Ellmers, one of the prominent dissenters in this case and now a target for grassroots conservative fury, is no swing-district moderate. She won reelection in November by defeating American Idol also-ran Clay Aiken by a whopping 18 points. Ellmers removed her name as a sponsor, then said she would vote for the bill—but still requested that no vote be held until concerns could be addressed.

It’s a surprising and little-known fact that opinions about abortion have barely budged in the American public in the 42 years since Roe. As Karlyn Bowman and Jennifer Marsico wrote for The Atlantic, despite years of heated debate, a slight majority of Americans still consistently back legal abortion, even as they personally oppose it. The GOP has found great success at enacting restrictions in states it dominates.

Indeed, it seems that Republican men want certain exemptions to the act of “rape”.   It’s amazing to see that Republican women rebelled at the idea of “legitimate rape”.

In sum, some Republican women basically shamed the House into dropping the vote for the bill, mostly because they’re worried it’s going to kick off another “legitimate rape” debacle as male Republicans go on cable TV to brag about the bill and are asked to explain why they only allow for rape exceptions if the victims have reported to the police.

What’s really amazing about this story is that Rep. Renee Ellmers and other female Republicans were pretty much guaranteed to support the bill if the male Republicans allowed for what is really a minor tweak in the language, allowing the rape exception to cover all rape victims, not just the minority that file police reports. After all, this bill is just a symbolic gesture, a wet kiss to the Bible-thumpers amassing on the Hill today for the annual rite of lady-hating sex phobia known as the March for Life. Obama was going to veto it anyway. They had nothing to lose by expanding the definition of “rape” to mean any time a man forces sex on a woman. In fact, they should have welcomed the change, because the original language would have meant reporters asking male Republicans why they require women to file police reports to be believed, which in turn means someone was bound to start talking about “legitimate rape”. Ellmers is hardly some kind of political genius. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where this was headed.

So I’m forced to conclude the reason that so many male Republicans were unwilling to concede this teeny weeny issue is that it was really important to them to pass a bill that formally suggests that women frequently lie about being raped and should be assumed to be lying until a man, in this case a police officer, blesses her account of what happened.

It would be easy to see all of this as the last vestiges of old, white male privilege.  Afterall, the news is full of things like this: “A Shocking Number of Americans Under 30 Have No Religion — This Country Is Going to Change.”  Again, I keep hoping that we’ll be able to dance on the graves of the Koch Brothers, Pat Robertson, Antonin Scalia, Phyliss Schafly and the like and that it will all go away. Still, it took like 40 years for them to undo so many things.  It seems like it will take longer than that to put it all back together again and actually make progress.

And as the Keystone Pipeline Boondoggle snakes its way through this very corrupt Congress, we get news of two pipeline disasters.  The first one is in Montana. 

Walter-Cronkite-Earth-Week-poster-web

A second large oil spill into Montana’s Yellowstone River in less than four years is reviving questions about oversight of the nation’s aging pipeline network.

Investigators and company officials on Wednesday were trying to determine the cause of the 40,000-gallon spill that contaminated downstream water supplies in the city of Glendive.

Sen. Jon Tester said Saturday’s spill from the decades-old Poplar Pipeline was avoidable, but “we just didn’t have the folks on the ground” to prevent it.

The Montana Democrat told The Associated Press more frequent inspections by regulators are needed, and older pipelines should face stricter safety standards.

“We need to take a look at some of these pipelines that have been in the ground for half a century and say, ‘Are they still doing a good job?'” Tester said.

The latest spill comes as Republicans and some Democrats, including Tester, want the Obama administration to approve TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf.

Keystone would cross the Yellowstone roughly 20 miles upstream of the Poplar Pipeline spill.

The second is in North Dakota where three million gallons of fracking brine spilled.

Almost 3 million gallons of saltwater drilling waste spilled from a North Dakota pipeline earlier this month, a spill that’s now being called the state’s largest since the North Dakota oil boom began.

The brine, which leaked from a ruptured pipeline about 15 miles from the city of Williston, has affected two creeks, but it doesn’t currently pose a threat to drinking water or public health. The pipeline’s operator — Summit Midstream Partners — discovered the spill on Jan. 6, but officials didn’t find out about the true size of the spill until this week.

The pipeline company has been trying to clean up the spill by vacuuming water from the creek, but in doing so, they’re also capturing a lot of fresh water.

“The problem is that … the creekbed is kinda being replenished with water so we extract, it fills; we extract, it fills,” John Morgan, a spokesman for Summit Midstream told the Grand Forks-Herald.

North Dakota Department of Health Environmental Health Section Chief Dave Glatt said he hasn’t seen any impacts to wildlife yet, but officials won’t likely know the full impact until all the ice melts. Officials have discovered chloride concentrations in Blacktail Creek as high as 92,000 milligrams per liter — far higher than normal concentrations of about 10 to 20 milligrams per liter.

“That has the ability to kill aquatic life and so we’ll want to see if the aquatic life was able to get out of the way, and if they weren’t, how badly they were impacted,” Glatt said.

Greed, religious extremism, and bigotry!  Say hello to SCOTUS and the new Congress!

I find all of this very, very depressing. What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads: Is the California Measles Outbreak a Product of Neo-Liberal Thinking?

Woman Reading on a Settee, William Churchill

Woman Reading on a Settee, William Churchill

Good Morning!!

I’m going to focus on just one story today. I wanted to try to understand something I’m curious about–what’s causing the rapid spread of measles in California?

The outbreak of measles that started at Disneyland in December is spreading rapidly across California, into other states, and even into Mexico. Five Disneyland employees have now been diagnosed with the disease (three have recovered and others are being tested), and the number of reported cases traced to Disneyland has passed 60.

Last week I wrote about an unvaccinated woman who contracted the measles virus in Disneyland and then took two airline flights to the Seattle area during the holidays before she was diagnosed. How many other people did she infect? Measles is highly infectious, airborne virus that can be spread by coughing and sneezing, like the common cold. From the CDC website:

Measles is a highly contagious virus that lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected person. It can spread to others through coughing and sneezing. Also, measles virus can live for up to two hours on a surface or in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed. If other people breathe the contaminated air or touch the infected surface, then touch their eyes, noses, or mouths, they can become infected. Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.

Infected people can spread measles to others from four days before to four days after the rash appears.

Another case was recently identified in Eugene, Oregon. The man is so sick that he hasn’t been able to talk to anyone, but his wife says he was in Disneyland and also went to the Rose Bowl game and then flew back home before he started showing symptoms. How many other people did he infect? UPDATE: It turns out the man did not go to the game–see story in comment thread.

Measles cases are also turning up in Northern California, according to SFGate: Disneyland measles outbreak spreads to Bay Area.

A large outbreak of measles that started at two adjacent Disney theme parks in December has now sickened people all over California, including a handful of Bay Area residents, and is prompting public health authorities to urge everyone to get vaccinated if they aren’t already.

California has reported 59 cases of measles since mid-December, the bulk of them in people who either visited or had close contact with someone who had been to Disneyland or California Adventure Park in Anaheim, public health officials said in a media conference call Wednesday. Seven measles cases have been reported in the Bay Area: in Alameda, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

Most of the people who have become infected were unvaccinated. Because of the threat of infection, public health officials said people who aren’t vaccinated — either because they can’t get the vaccine or they choose not to — should avoid public places where large groups of people, especially international travelers who may carry measles, congregate.

“We can expect to see many more cases of this vaccine-preventable disease unless people take precautionary measures,” said Dr. Gil Chavez, deputy director of the Center for Infectious Diseases with the California Department of Public Health. “I am asking unvaccinated Californians to consider getting immunized to protect themselves and family and community at large.”

measles

I had measles as a child, and fortunately I didn’t develop any of the complications, such as blindness, severe ear infections, pneumonia, and encephalitis (rare). But now that we have a vaccine for measles, children don’t need to risk these possible dangerous consequences of getting the virus. Sadly, we have a lot of people in this country who believe conspiracy theories about vaccines.

How do the anti-vaxxers avoid the vaccines? Most states require vaccinations for children attending school, but most states also allow religious exemptions. Here’s a list of vaccine requirements in each state. Every state but Mississippi and West Virginia allows religious exemptions; a few states also allow “philosophical” exemptions. Only California allows “objections based on simply the parent(s) beliefs.” I’m guessing some parents avoid vaccinating their children by home-schooling them.

Bloomberg reports that Orange County has banned unvaccinated kids from attending school because of the measles outbreak.

Health officials in Orange County, Calif. have banned two dozen students who have no immunization records from attending high school in the wake of a measles outbreak that has been traced back to Disneyland.

Sixty-seven confirmed measles cases have been reported in California in the current outbreak. One student from Huntington Beach High School who was infected with the disease attended class following winter break, exposing fellow students to the highly contagious illness, especially those who did not receive a childhood vaccination against it.

“If there is a case in the school and their child is not immunized, they will be removed from the school for 21 days,” Dr. Eric Handler, the Orange County public health officer, told the Los Angeles Times. “From an epidemiological standpoint, in order to prevent spread of the disease, this is a necessary measure.”

Now check this out:

In Southern California…many schools now report that upwards of 10 percent of students have not received childhood vaccinations. In Northern California, the figures are even worse, with clusters of under-vaccinated children in the San Francisco Bay Area resulting in one out of every four children going without the recommended immunizations.

Herd Immunity

Herd Immunity

Most of the parents who opt out of having their kids vaccinated are relatively affluent and well-educated, according to science writer Tara Haelle at Forbes. She notes two reasons why measles is spreading so rapidly in California.

Those two things are the extreme infectiousness of the disease and the low levels of herd immunity, or community immunity, in pockets of southern California. Measles infects 9 out of every 10 non-immune individuals it finds. It’s airborne and hangs around up to two hours after an infected person leaves the area. It doesn’t take much for this disease to spread through a population that isn’t immune from previous exposure or through vaccination. Or, to put it another way, in an unvaccinated population, each person infected with the measles will transmit the disease to 12 to 18 other people. If no one were vaccinated against measles, we would be up to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cases by now. We aren’t because there are some levels of herd immunity, but it’s because herd immunity has been weakened that we’re seeing additional cases at all.

She also debunks the notion that undocumented immigrants are spreading the virus.

Meanwhile, one of the biggest myths popping up in comment threads and on social media is that undocumented immigrants have something to do with this outbreak, or any other outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease. We don’t yet know who Patient 0 – the first person with the disease – was at Disneyland, but we don’t really need to know. It’s not undocumented immigrants we should be pointing the finger at. It’s home-grown, upper-middle class, well-educated, mostly white southern California parents who have chosen not to vaccinate their children we should be giving the side-eye to. When vaccination rates in the region are below some developing countries’ rates, you don’t need undocumented immigrants to bring in the disease. Unvaccinated Americans do a fine job of that all on their own. A look at past cases makes this clear.

When the CDC tracked measles cases for the first half of 2013, they found that 159 cases resulted from 42 importations of the disease – but more than half those importations were U.S. residents returning to the States from abroad. Similarly, the outbreak of close to 400 cases in Ohio last year began with unvaccinated U.S. travelers returning from a visit to the Philippines. And the largest outbreak in San Diego since 1991 occurred in 2008 after an intentionally unvaccinated 7-year-old boy returned from a vacation in Switzerland with his family and brought back the measles. That last case is particularly of interest because the boy was a patient of Dr. Bob Sears, who has been spreading misleading information about measles in the midst of this outbreak.

Interestingly, she says that some people who have been vaccinated will still get the disease. But someone who hasn’t been vaccinated is 35 times more likely to get measles than someone who has had the vaccine.

Dr. Bob Sears

Dr. Bob Sears

Here’s some more information about Dr. Bob Sears, and Orange County pediatrician and author of “The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child.” From the LA Times: Vaccination controversy swirls around O.C.’s ‘Dr. Bob.’

While the vast majority of physicians are troubled by the anti-vaccination movement, Sears, 45, lends a sympathetic ear. About half his patients forgo vaccines altogether. To others, he offers “Dr. Bob’s” alternative and selective vaccination schedules, which delay or eliminate certain immunizations.

At a conference this year in Rancho Mirage, Sears told a roomful of pregnant women, new mothers and healthcare professionals that vaccines work well and are responsible for the nation’s low disease rate, something parents who don’t want to immunize can take advantage of.

“I do think the disease danger is low enough where I think you can safely raise an unvaccinated child in today’s society,” he said. “It may not be good for the public health. But … for your individual child, I think it is a safe enough choice.”

That approach frustrates infectious-disease experts, who in recent years have found themselves combating some celebrities’ anti-vaccination beliefs.

“We eliminated endemic measles in the U.S. in 2000. It’s now 2014 and we’re at 400 cases. Why?” Dr. Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said in an interview in June. The number of cases has since risen to nearly 600. “Because people listen to Bob Sears. And, frankly, I blame him far more than I do the Jenny McCarthys of this world. Because he’s a doctor. And he should know more.”

Here’s an interesting article from The New Republic, The Best Way to Combat Anti-Vaxxers Is to Understand Them A new study underlines the similarity between “neo-liberal” thinking and the anti-vaccination movement. Well The New Republic should certainly understand neo-liberal thinking–they practically invented it. An excerpt:

“Anti-vaxxers,” as they are often referred, are an easy group to stereotype and a difficult group to humor. In most thinking circles, they are cast as “the other”; people either too stupid to understand the science behind vaccination, or too selfish to care about the impact of their choices on those around them.

But vaccine skeptics aren’t as different from their critics as we might like to think. And their rise in number over the past decade has less to do with stupidity, or even selfishness, than it does with beliefs about knowledge, trust, and freedom of choice that are pervasive throughout our culture, whether you choose to vaccinate your kids or not.

Dr. Jennifer Reich, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Denver, has been researching the anti-vaccination movement since 2007, seeking to understand the processes by which people come to reject vaccines. Over the past seven years, she has conducted in-depth interviews with parents who refuse mainstream vaccine recommendations, along with doctors, alternative healers, and public policymakers.

Not all of the parents Reich spoke with were “anti-vaxxers” in the sense that we typically think of the term; only a small minority identified as activists in the Jenny McCarthy mold, campaigning other parents not to vaccinate or advocating for policy change. Nor did they necessarily abstain from vaccination completely.

Rather, what united them was a sense that vaccines were up for negotiation: to be administered or rejected depending on the convictions of the parent and the needs of the child. Reich’s interviewees saw themselves as critical consumers of information. They engaged with doctors not as authorities to be obeyed, but as another data point to be evaluated, embraced, or discarded. They continually assessed risk: How likely was it that their child would be exposed to Disease A? What would be the consequences if they contracted Disease B?

disneyland-cast-l

It seems to me that what these anti-vaxxers have in common with neo-liberals is that they have lost the sense that as Americans we are all in this together. They focus only on their own needs and ignore the ways in which their choices about whether to vaccinate their children could impact others and society as a whole.

Just one more article before I wrap this up.

From Philly.com: California Measles Outbreak Shows How Quickly Disease Can Resurface in U.S.

Fifteen years after measles was declared eliminated in the United States, the recent outbreak traced to two Disney parks in California illustrates how quickly a resurgence can occur….

Experts explain the California outbreak simply.

“This outbreak is occurring because a critical number of people are choosing not to vaccinate their children,” said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and an attending physician at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Division of Infectious Diseases.

“Parents are not scared of the disease” because they’ve never seen it, Offit said. “And, to a lesser extent, they have these unfounded concerns about vaccines. But the big reason is they don’t fear the disease.” ….

Researchers have found that past outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases are more likely in places where there are clusters of parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated, said Saad Omer, an associate professor of global health, epidemiology and pediatrics at Emory University School of Public Health and Emory Vaccine Center, in Atlanta.

“California is one of the states with some of the highest rates in the country in terms of exemptions, and also there’s a substantial clustering of refusals there,” Omer said….Other reasons include the belief that their children will not catch the disease, the disease is not very severe and the vaccine is not effective, Omer noted.

In California, vaccine exemptions have increased from 1.5 percent in 2007 to 3.1 percent in 2013, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times.

So, in a sense California is endangering people in other states. Omer says there’s recent legislation to make it more difficult to get exemptions, but “it is too soon to know the effects of the new law.”

So . . . comment on this issue if you wish; but feel free to treat this as an open thread. Have a great day Sky Dancers.


Wednesday Reads: #SOTU Aftermath

d977f3793197d3f408b824d6167c4bb8Good Morning

Oh boy, is it.

I guess we will just dive into the obvious this morning, by looking at the reactions and responses to Obama’s sixth SOTU speech from last night.

And away we go….

I thought this was a biggie score from last night, Transgender Individuals Recognized For First Time Ever In A State Of The Union Speech

President Barack Obama pushed for protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals Tuesday evening, making it the first time lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have ever been recognized directly in a State of the Union address.

“As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I’ve prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained,” said Obama, adding, “That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer.”

The other big thing of the night, at least to my eyes, was the visual “optics” of Republicans Refuse To Stand Up And Support Fair Pay. Literally.

I hope that Dem campaigns make the most of that during 2016. Women make up half the voting population dammit!

When President Barack Obama called on Congress to raise the minimum wage and strengthen federal equal-pay laws for women, congressional Republicans refused to stand up and support it. Literally.

“Of course, nothing helps families make ends meet like higher wages. That’s why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. Really. It’s 2015. It’s time,” Obama said Tuesday during his annual State of the Union address.

“And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.”

The remarks drew a standing ovation from many in the chamber, but not from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and some Republicans, who remained seated.

Assholes.

But hey, the Latins got the “Royal Republican” treatment too. I am talking about the GOP responses to Obama’s Immigration policy. GOP Speech Pushes Immigration Reform—in Spanish Version Only | Mother Jones

On Tuesday night, freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida delivered the Republicans’ Spanish-language response to President Obama’s State of the Union address. His remarks initially were billed as a translation of Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst‘s official GOP response. That put the GOP in an awkward spot, as Mother Jones first reported on Tuesday: Ernst has long been a proponent of making English the official language of US government communications.

In the end, Curbelo’s speech wasn’t an exact replication of Ernst’s. Whereas the senator relied upon numerous anecdotes of life in small town Iowa, Curbelo stuck to more general platitudes to open and close his speech. But when it came to policy, each largely followed the same script—Curbelo’s essentially used the same structure and rephrased the same talking points, albeit in a different language.

But there was also a conspicuous divergence: While Ernst’s speech included comments about abortion politics, Curbelo instead touted the need for immigration reform. “We should work through the appropriate channels to create permanent solutions to our immigration system, modernize legal immigration, and strengthen our economy,” he said, according to a translation by the Democratic opposition research firm American Bridge. From there, Curbelo went directly back into language also found in Ernst’s speech, saying: “In the past, the President has expressed support for ideas like these; now we ask him to collaborate with us to get it done.”

Similarly, Curbelo briefly touched on education reform and Cuba—two topics Ernst didn’t broach.

GOP Mentions Immigration In State of The Union Rebuttal…But Only In Spanish

Curbelo is far more liberal on immigration than many of his colleagues. He voted against an amendment last week to end Obama’s executive actions on immigration, and opposed the final Department of Homeland Security funding bill when such measures were included. He also supports immigration reform and the Dream Act, which would allow young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to stay.

For all the talk from Republicans who oppose executive action on immigration about the urgent need to end it, the issue didn’t make the cut for Ernst’s speech. She said Republicans want to “correct executive overreach,” but didn’t refer to immigration specifically.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who delivered his own State of the Union rebuttal, did not mention immigration, either.

Uh, the hog castrator is totally against immigration reform btw…

But the Official GOP response, given by a woman wearing a pair of camo heels (no shit, for serious) wasn’t really a response at all, but more like another example of the GOP attempt to pander to the women…I mean court the women voters. (Like that shit with the Spanish only response.) More on Joni in a bit.

If you are counting, there was five GOP responses last night. That does not count the ones from Rand and Cruz.

Instead of 1 Awkward SOTU Response, GOP Offers 5 — NYMag

In SOTU rebuttal, Rand Paul outlines 2016 vision – The Washington Post

Joni Ernest GOP SOTU Response 2015 FULL TRANSCRIPT VIDEO | Mediaite

Cruz vine here:

 

The best commentary on Joni Ernst rebuttal is from Karoli: Joni Ernst Tells Tale Of Time Trickle-Down Economics Spilled All Over Her Shoes | Crooks and Liars

Joni Ernst told a touching tale of how she only owned one pair of shoes as a child, and how she had to wear bread bags on her feet to keep her shoes dry when it rained.

When was that? During the Great Depression? Not so much, since Ernst was born in 1970. No, her time in bread bags was during the Reagan era — 1980 to 1988. Even allowing for the possibility that there was some flow-through from Carter into the Reagan years, Ernst’s tale of “we didn’t have much but we didn’t need much” falls squarely into Reagan’s trickle-down years.

Senator Ernst’s follow-up statement: “These days though, many families feel like they’re working harder and harder, with less and less to show for it.” That just further indicts Republicans and the whole trickle-down theory, given that it’s been the operative economic theory for the past 30 years.

Other than that little wrinkle in time, Ernst’s rebuttal was safe and quite white bread-ish. No terrible gaffes, but no details either. Not a one. Just some warm fuzzies about how Republicans understand that mean Uncle Washington isn’t working, and how they’ll kick his butt. It was like she was reading all the kids a chapter out of the conservative coloring book.

The only takeaway anyone should remember is Ernst’s affirmation that what Reagan and his league of conservatives left her with is bread bags on her feet.

And about that poor bread bag childhood: Late Night GOP Bad Ideas & Lies Open Thread » Balloon Juice

From the District Sentinel post:

Amid a fledgling primary campaign, rural Iowa state lawmaker Joni Ernst crafted a quirky hardscrabble persona that propelled her to both the forefront of the race and, eventually, the United States Senate. In a 30-second spot that gained attention for its employment of hog castration imagery, Sen. Ernst (R-Iowa) claimed that her farmer parents “taught us to live within our means” and said that “it’s time to force Washington to do the same.” …

The truth about her family’s farm roots and living within one’s means, however, is more complex. Relatives of Ernst (née: Culver), based in Red Oak, Iowa (population: 5,568) have received over $460,000 in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2009. Ernst’s father, Richard Culver, was given $14,705 in conservation payments and $23,690 in commodity subsidies by the federal government–with all but twelve dollars allocated for corn support. Richard’s brother, Dallas Culver, benefited from $367,141 in federal agricultural aid, with over $250,000 geared toward corn subsidies. And the brothers’ late grandfather Harold Culver received $57,479 from Washington—again, mostly corn subsidies—between 1995 and 2001…

Sen. Ernst’s family’s financial interest notably came up once during her campaign. In October, Salon reported that Richard’s construction company was awarded $215,665 in contracts from the Montgomery County government in 2009 and 2010, while Ernst was the body’s auditor. The bids won by Culver included Federal Emergency Management Agency projects worth $204,794…

 

But here in link dump format are some pundit’s and other politician’s takes on the busy night on the Hill.

State of the Union: ‘I still believe’ – Obama’s address vows equality over hostility | US news | The Guardian

Video: Georgia freshmen discuss their first State of the Union | Political Insider blog

Rand Paul’s SOTU Response: Lies, Doom And Empty Promises | Crooks and Liars

Rep. Steve King Wins! Worst #SOTU Tweet Ever | Crooks and Liars

Fox Misleadingly Suggests Obama’s Tax Plan Will Be “Raising Your Taxes” | Research | Media Matters for America

Obama trolls the GOP: How a not-so-lame-duck president left them bumbling – Salon.com

Republicans Irked By Obama Zinger In State Of The Union Address

Confident Obama throws punches | TheHill

Addicting Info – Obama’s Brilliant Comeback To Republicans’ Attempted Diss At State Of The Union Is Legendary (VIDEO)

Joni Ernst Responds to SOTU By Not Discussing It At All

In State of the Union Speech, Obama Defiantly Sets an Ambitious Agenda – NYTimes.com

Obama Greets Civil Rights Icon Before State of the Union

Body language and ad-libs show Obama won’t back down against GOP majority

Most Important Sentence in Obama’s Speech | RealClearPolitics

Wolf Blitzer: I Can’t Remember Another SOTU with So Many Veto Threats | Mediaite

Face of the Union: An illustrated guide to Obama’s State of the Union speech – The Washington Post

Obama’s Penultimate State Of The Union: Swagger, Successes And Not Screwing It All Up | BobCesca.com | News and Politics Blog and Podcast | We Cover the World

More to come in the comments below.

Otherwise just think of this as an open thread…


State of the Union Live Blog

SOTU-Bingo-2014-1Tonight we’re watching the State of the Union address to see exactly what the last two years of the Obama presidency may bring.  It will be a tough few years given the group that was sent to Congress last fall.  We’re about to see a bunch of whackadoodle dandies go wild.  There are several rumors up on the internet concerning possible executive orders that will be announced to tonight.  Here is one of the more interesting ones.

It is being reported that one of President Obama’s surprises at the State Of The Union will be an announcement of an executive order that will take on the Koch Brothers and Citizens United.

Eleanor Clift of The Daily Beast reported:

Wednesday is the fifth anniversary of Citizens United, and reformers have been told that the president may announce executive action in his SOTU speech that would require businesses contracting with the government to disclose political contributions after contracts have been awarded. This would ensure that the contracting process is blind, but also give the public (and the media) the information needed to connect the dots to look for backroom deals or conflicts of interest.

Guess who happens to have multi-million dollar contracts with the Department of Defense? The federal government hatingKoch Brothers have tens of millions of dollars in defense contracts with the federal government. Rush Limbaugh also has a federal government contract that allows his showto be broadcast on the American Forces Network.

It is possible that the president will announce this executive order tonight, but he may also decide to wait and make a separate announcement. When/if the president does decide to make this announcement it will be a huge boost to transparency. The Koch brothers have a web of secret organizations that they route their money through, so most of their campaign spending will remain a secret, but it will become a bit easier to connect the dots and figure how much direct influence campaign donations are having on public policy decisions.

Ron Fournier of the National Journal  suggests we just the President’s agenda with this set of criteria.  Progress or Politics?

Republicans just seized control of Congress. President Obama’s job-approval ratings just jumped. Gas prices and the unemployment rate are down. The gross domestic product is up. Now what? Democratic and Republican leaders face a choice: Begin governing together, or treat this moment like just another stop on a perpetual campaign.

Unfortunately, both the White House and the GOP-led Congress seem focused prematurely on 2016. Republicans are sending to the White House legislation they know Obama will veto. The president is pushing an agenda he knows Congress won’t pass. It’s a recipe for more gridlock, more fighting, more courting of donors and ignoring the needs of a country in transition.

In other words: The state of the union is the status quo.

If you’re OK with that, stop reading. If you’d rather see progress than partisan gains, consider this: The State of the Union address is an opportunity for the president to chart a path toward consensus on issues like jobs, social mobility, education, infrastructure, energy, the debt, the environment, and terrorism.

Is Obama more interested in politics or progress? Here are five ways to tell from his address tonight.

SOTU 1Will Obama be effective?

Isn’t Obama a lame duck? After all, this speech comes after Republicans won control of both chambers for the first time this presidency. Here’s a trivia question: When was the last time a President gave his seventh year State of the Union to a Congress that wasn’t controlled by the other party? Answer: Franklin Roosevelt in 1939. Every other two termer had lost control of Congress by the last lap of his presidency. They all faced a steeper political terrain than Obama does. Dwight Eisenhower faced Cold War setbacks. Ronald Reagan spoke in 1987 right after the Iran-Contra scandal broke, and he had to lead the speech with a discussion and apology. Bill Clinton was in the middle of his Senate impeachment trial in 1999. And George W. Bush spoke at a time when we were losing in Iraq. He faced withering controversy over the “surge” of troops, which proved a good policy, but made for a challenging speech environment. Some of them had productive last two years; some didn’t. But there is much room for a creative president and Congress to achieve things, even by fighting.

For President Obama, the new party balance offers some unexpected benefits. In recent years, Congress has been paralyzed, polarized, and entirely dysfunctional. Now conservatives control it, but at least it might actually pass legislation. Obama suddenly will be more central, more relevant than he has been in domestic politics over the past year. His veto pen will be all that stands between the Republican agenda and enactment. He can draw lines, pick fights, or choose cooperation. In so doing, too, he will have the ability to make broad public arguments in the context of a real debate—on the economy, on the role of government, on contentious long-term issues such as climate change.

How can the President use this diminished but still potent platform?

So, grab the popcorn and let’s see if this year’s hostile audience pulls any big tricks.130212-sotu-bingo

President Obama is courting controversy with his decision to address a group that has become dominated in recent years by extremists.

Some have questioned the appropriateness of the President speaking to such an extremist group, especially because in the past it has issued threats against the United States government.

The SOTU will be streaming at CSPAN and on the White House Website if you want to avoid the District Puppetry errrrr Punditry.

 


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.

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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! 


MLK Holiday Reads

mlk-drawings-children-300x200Good Morning!

It’s our holiday to celebrate the contributions of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King!  No holiday celebration is complete without drawings by grade school children!!

President Obama will give his SOTU address tomorrow and will call for raising taxes on the wealthy to provide tax cuts for the middle class.   This is an interesting strategy and I’m sure the Republicans are planning on screaming “class war” for the next few days.

President Obama will use his State of the Union address to call on Congress to raise taxes and fees on the wealthiest taxpayers and the largest financial firms to finance an array of tax cuts for the middle class, pressing to reshape the tax code to help working families, administration officials said on Saturday.

The proposal faces long odds in the Republican-controlled Congress, led by lawmakers who have long opposed raising taxes and who argue that doing so would hamper economic growth at a time the country cannot afford it. And it was quickly dismissed by leading Republicans as a nonstarter.

But the decision to present the plan during Tuesday’s speech marks the start of a debate over taxes and the economy that will shape both Mr. Obama’s legacy and the 2016 presidential campaign.

It is also the latest indication that the president, untethered from political constraints after Democratic losses in the midterm elections, is moving aggressively to set the terms of that discussion, even as he pushes audacious moves in other areas, like immigration and relations with Cuba.

The president’s plan would raise $320 billion over the next decade, while adding new provisions cutting taxes by $175 billion over the same period. The revenue generated would also cover an initiative Mr. Obama announced this month, offering some students two years of tuition-free community college, which the White House has said would cost $60 billion over 10 years.

The centerpiece of the plan, described by administration officials on the condition of anonymity ahead of the president’s speech, would eliminate what Mr. Obama’s advisers call the “trust-fund loophole,” a provision governing inherited assets that shields hundreds of billions of dollars from taxation each year. The plan would also increase the top capital-gains tax rate, to 28 percent from 23.8 percent, for couples with incomes above $500,000 annually.

Those changes and a new fee on banks with assets over $50 billion would be used to finance a set of tax breaks for middle-income earners, including a $500 credit for families in which both spouses work; increased child care and education credits; and incentives to save for retirement.

The initiative signals a turnabout for Mr. Obama, who has spoken repeatedly about the potential for a deal with Republicans on business tax reform but little about individual taxation, an area fraught with disagreements.

“Slapping American small businesses, savers and investors with more tax hikes only negates the benefits of the tax policies that have been successful in helping to expand the economy, promote savings and create jobs,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah and chairman of the Finance Committee. “The president needs to stop listening to his liberal allies who want to raise taxes at all costs and start working with Congress to fix our broken tax code.”

Republicans have already referred to it as “trolling” given that they run both houses of the US Congress and will pass neither one.  This does, 6a00d8341cc08553ef010536e23afe970c-800wihowever, have very bad optics for them.  It puts them squarely in league with the uberwealthy.

“It’s not surprising to see the president call for tax hikes, but now he’s asking Congress to reverse bipartisan tax relief that he signed into law,” said Don Stewart, deputy chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Stewart said that “Republicans believe we should simplify America’s outdated tax code; that tax filing should be easier for you, not just those with fancy accountants; and that tax reform should create jobs for families, not the [Internal Revenue Service].”

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, also criticized the proposal.

“This is not a serious proposal,” said Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck in a public statement. “We lift families up and grow the economy with a simpler, flatter tax code, not big tax increases to pay for more Washington spending.”

937882789_34faf345d5Plan details include hitting big banks and inheritance taxes.  These suggestions really go at the types of tax cuts that incent gambling and increase financial wealth rather than industrial and business wealth that create jobs and economic growth.

During his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Barack Obama will lay out a plan to extend tax credits to the middle class by hiking taxes on wealthier Americans and big banks, according to senior administration officials.

Under the plan, the capital gains tax for couples with income over $500,000 per year would be raised from its current level of 23.8 percent up to 28. The plan would also strip a tax break, known as a “step-up,” that allows heirs to avoid capital gains taxes on large inheritances.

In addition, the plan would institute a new tax on the biggest financial institutions, basing the fee on liabilities in order to discourage risky borrowing. The administration says the fee would hit the roughly 100 banks that have assets of $50 billion or more.

The president’s plan would use revenues from those tax code changes to finance credits aimed at the middle class, officials said. That includes extending the earned income tax credits to families without children, which would benefit an estimated 13 million low-income workers, while also tripling the maximum tax credits for child care in low- and middle-income homes.

“This proposal is probably the most impactful way we can address the manifest unfairness in our tax system,” an administration official said.

The tax hikes on capital gains would run into heavy opposition from Republicans in the GOP-controlled Congress. Other elements of the president’s plan, however, have enjoyed some degree of bipartisan support. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) has proposed a similar tax on big banks, and many Republicans favor the idea of broadening the earned income tax credit.

According to officials, the capital gains tax reforms would impact “almost exclusively” the top 1 percent of earners, carving out the majority of middle-income families from the hikes.

scan0002[17]Here’s an essential  outline for the items up for revision in the President’s plan. Is it his Piketty moment?  This one is my personal favorite but they’re all good.

Raise the top capital gains tax rate from 23.8 to 28 percent. This is straightforward enough. Money you get from investments is taxed less than money you get from, you know, actually working, and while that might be good for the economy, it’s not good for a basic sense of fairness. Not when the top 400 households are getting 16 percent of all capital gains, and the top 0.1 percent are getting half of them. That’s why, as theCongressional Budget Office (CBO) dryly puts it, “preferential tax rates on dividends and capital gains provide almost no benefit to households in the bottom four quintiles, but provide notable benefits to households in the top quintile”.

So Obama wants to push the top capital gains tax rate, which only applies to couples making more than $500,000, up from its current level of 23.8 percent to 28 percent, where it was when Ronald Reagan left office. In all, the White House calculates that increasing the capital gains tax and getting rid of step-up basis would raise 99 percent of its money from the top 1 percent, with 80 percent of that coming from the top 0.1 percent.

This is one of the items that has really drawn money out of doing business and into stock market gambling.  Why work when you can day trade your life into a lower tax bracket as a wealthy person?

Here’s a few political things sure to give you some fits and giggles.  Lady Lindsey is said to be considering a run at the Presidency. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham acknowledged on Sunday he’s seriously exploring a bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

Asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” if he had started polling voters about his chances in 2016, Graham said he is not polling, “but we set up a testing-the-waters committee under the IRS code that will allow me to look beyond South Carolina as to whether or not a guy like Lindsey Graham has a viable path.”

“I don’t know where this will go, but I’m definitely going to look at it,” said Graham, the senior senator from South Carolina.

Another Tiger Beat on the Potomac exclusive says that Sarah Palin is the only Republican with less popularity than Chris Christie.MLK picture_thumb[1]

A new CBS poll shows 29 percent of Republicans would like to see Christie run for the Republican nomination for president. But 44 percent say no. CBS points out “Only former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s numbers are more underwater: 30 percent of Republicans say they’d like to see her run, but 59 percent disagree.”

Fifty-nine percent of Republicans would like to see Mitt Romney jump into the 2016 race, while 26 percent believe he should stay out.

“Fifty percent of Republicans would like to see former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on the campaign trail as well, while 27 percent disagree,” pollsters said. “If both Romney and Bush run, analysts expect them to wage a competitive battle for the allegiance of the Republican establishment.”

Numbers for some of the others often mentioned:

– Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: 40 percent of Republicans urge him to get in, and 29 percent say stay out.

– “Twenty-seven percent of Republicans would like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul to mount a bid, but 34 percent disagree. Twenty-six percent would like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to run, while 19 percent would not. Twenty-one percent want Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to run, while 25 percent want him to not run.”

– Gov. Rick Perry of Texas: 21 percent yes, 29 percent no.

– Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana: 14 percent yes, 20 percent no.

– Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin:  22 percent yes, 12 percent no.

Maybe winning isn’t everything after all. “Republicans, by a 61 to 35 percent margin, believe it’s more important to have a nominee who agrees with them on the issues than a nominee who can win the general election,” according to the poll.

Eeeshhh.

Well, that’s it for today!  We’ll see you with a live blog for the SOTU tomorrow!! Have a great holiday!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?