Thursday Reads: A Historic Agreement Between the U.S. and Cuba

Adrian_Rumbaut_series_Mas_cerca_de_ti_3

 

Good Morning!!

Finally we have some good news to discuss, if Republicans can somehow be prevented from ruining it. The U.S. and Cuba have reached an agreement to normalize relations between the two countries after 50 years of hostilities and sanctions. In celebration of this long-overdue step forward, I’m going to illustrate this post with the work of Cuban artists. You can read about the above painting of Marilyn Monroe superimposed on a photo of Che Guevara and the artist Adrian Rumbaut at the Cuban Art blog. Here’s a bit of background:

In the work, Adrian Rumbaut has reproduced Alberto Korda’s famous 1960 photograph of Che Guevara, and he  inserts his vision of American Richard Avedon’s iconic photo of Marilyn Monroe as well.  In the letters on the side of the painting, Rumbaut gives credit to both Korda and Avedon for their images, and provides the date of his painting.

Interestingly, Korda had worked as a fashion photographer as a young man, and he wanted very  much to be the Richard Avedon of Cuba. He photographed the “beautiful people” of the Batista era before the revolution, and models lined up in front of his studio to have their picture taken. Taken by surprise by the “triumph of the revolution” in 1959, he worked subsequently with Raul Corrales, Castro’s official photographer, to capture the excitement of the revolution. In his image of Che, something survives of his earlier experience with beautiful women.

Korda’s image of Che — snapped in 1960 and also known as Guerrillero Heroico — has been repeatedly reproduced worldwide, serving as both a symbol of protest and as a fashion accessory.

The iconic photo has taken on increasingly exotic forms, each created with different intentions and evoking varied responses. Along with Marilyn Monroe, Jesus Christ, Madonna, and Princess Diana have all had their pictures adapted and inserted under Che’s familiar red star beret. It isn’t an exaggeration to note that Che the icon has overtaken Che the revolutionary.

The original “Che” photograph was taken at a dangerous moment, a time when the new revolutionary government was preparing for imminent US invasion. It was at the start of the Cuban Revolution’s second year, and Castro’s government  had ordered a boatload of weapons and ammunition — mostly rifles and grenades — from Belgium. The armaments were loaded onto a French ship, La Coubre which, unfortunately, exploded upon arrival in Havana Harbor in March 1960. The crew and 75 Cuban dockers were killed. More than 200 were injured.

Here’s a wonderful example of Cuban street art that I found at a Cuban travel site, Insight Cuba.

Cuban-Art-Graffiti

See more examples of Cuban “graffiti” at the link.

Some background on what’s happening from CNN yesterday: Cuba releases American Alan Gross, paves way for historic easing of American sanctions.

Washington (CNN)U.S. contractor Alan Gross, held by the Cuban government since 2009, was freed Wednesday as part of a landmark deal with Cuba that paves the way for a major overhaul in U.S. policy toward the island, senior administration officials tell CNN.

President Barack Obama spoke with Cuban President Raul Castro Tuesday in a phone call that lasted about an hour and reflected the first communication at the presidential level with Cuba since the Cuban revolution, according to White House officials. Obama announced Gross’ release and the new diplomatic stance at noon in Washington. At around the same time, Cuban president Raul Castro was set to speak in Havana.

President Obama announced a major loosening of travel and economic restrictions on the country. And the two nations are set to re-open embassies, with preliminary discussions on that next step in normalizing diplomatic relations beginning in the coming weeks, a senior administration official tells CNN.

Talks between the U.S. and Cuba have been ongoing since June of 2013 and were facilitated by the Canadians and the Vatican in brokering the deal. Pope Francis — the first pope from Latin America — encouraged Obama in a letter and in their meeting this year to renew talks with Cuba on pursuing a closer relationship.

Gross’ “humanitarian” release by Cuba was accompanied by a separate spy swap, the officials said. Cuba also freed a U.S. intelligence source who has been jailed in Cuba for more than 20 years, although authorities did not identify that person for security reasons. The U.S. released three Cuban intelligence agents convicted of espionage in 2001.

The developments constitute what officials called the most sweeping change in U.S. policy toward Cuba since 1961, when the embassy closed and the embargo was imposed.

Read much more at the link. It’s a good article that provides quite a bit of background on the historic agreement.

Marino_The_Raft_La_Patera

More details on the secret negotiations from William M. LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh, authors of the book Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana, published in October of this year.

Secret meetings with Cuba finally pay off.

Presidents frequently conduct sensitive diplomatic dialogues in secret, because the furor of public attention makes it politically impossible to reach the compromises necessary for agreement. These secret talks are often crucial for diplomatic advances — as we learned Wednesday with the stunning revelations about the impending talks between Washington and Havana that have been underway secretly for the past few months. President Barack Obama’s far-reading initiatives are reminiscent of the secret talks Henry Kissinger held with Beijing to lay the groundwork for President Richard M. Nixon’s historic diplomatic opening to China.

When the mere act of talking to an adversary is too politically sensitive, presidents can resort to private emissaries, despite the risks created by relying on amateur diplomats. Obama had help from both Canada and the Vatican in reaching these new agreements.

In our recent book, Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana, we uncovered literally dozens of secret diplomatic contacts and negotiations. Despite what Kissinger called the “perpetual antagonism” between the United States and Cuba, there is a rich and colorful history of dialogue between these two nations over the last 50 years.

There are lessons to be learned from this half-century of back-channel talks about what works and what doesn’t when conducting secret negotiations.

First, a history of animosity makes adversaries wary. Neither wants to appear weak by making concessions too easily. Goodwill gestures may go unrequited and the apparent obstinacy of one side or the other can doom a diplomatic process before it gets off the ground. When Fidel Castro was in power, for example, he worried constantly that any concession to U.S. demands would be read as weakness and lead to a redoubling of U.S. efforts to overthrow him.

Read all about it at the Reuters link.

From the Masters of Cuban Art Image Gallery“La Conga” by Evelio Garcia Mata.

“Garcia Mata plays the rhythm of the conga in the body of the mulatto dancer, who lifts her left arm as she does the kick-step. She wears a sensual typical dress and is accompanied by a group of six musicians. The painting beautifully represents when Afro-Cuban music became main-stream, and a representative of Cuban culture at large.”

- Alfredo Triff, Musician and Art Critic

Cuba_Mata_Conga

Isn’t it amazing that Pope Francis–the first Latin American to lead the Church–was instrumental in making this happen? As a long-lapsed Catholic, I’m truly surprised and pleased. After years of regressive Popes, this guy seems to be a throwback to the days of Pope John the XXIII when it seemed that the Church might move into the 20th century.

From The Atlantic: How the Pope Helped End the Cuba Embargo.

On Wednesday, a senior Obama administration officials spoke of an “extraordinary letter” written by the pope to President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro over the summer in which he urged the two men to mend the relationship between their countries.

As one official noted, the correspondence “gave us greater impetus and momentum for us to move forward.”

In a press conference on Wednesday, which also happens to be the pope’s 78th birthday, President Obama credited Francis for his influential “personal plea” and thanked him for his “moral example.”

In particular, I want to thank his Holiness Pope Francis, whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is.

According to officials, Pope Francis brought up Cuba several times during his meeting with the president in March and, given Francis’ significance as the first pope from Latin America, it’s fair to assume that his clout likely helped bring Castro to the table as well.

Vatican officials were also said to have been present during the negotiations between the United States and Cuba, marking them the only other country to directly participate in the talks. While Canada reportedly hosted the majority of the secret meetings of the two sides, according to a Vatican statement, the pope also hosted Cuban and American representatives together earlier this year during the final deal was struck.

Some reactions to Obama’s great achievement.

From the LA Times, Miami reacts to Obama’s Cuba move: Tears of joy, cries of ‘traitor’.

A tale of two restaurants unfolded in South Florida on Wednesday.

In Miami’s Little Havana, Versailles Restaurant hosted hard-line Cuban exiles railing against President Obama’s decision to establish full diplomatic ties with the Cuban government. They waved placards and hurled insults bilingually, putting on the show they’ve been rehearsing and staging for half a century.

The show at Versailles involved megaphones and pickup trucks, national news outlets parked in front of a spot that serves tasty espresso, and a handful of outspoken Cuban Americans who yell loud enough to scare viewers in Nebraska. Whenever major news breaks about Cuba, the media flocks to Versailles to take the pulse of the Cuban community.

Meanwhile in Hialeah, a city with a far larger number of Cubans and Cuban Americans than Little Havana, Tropical Restaurant served cafeteria-style meals to a quieter, more sanguine crowd. Here, many welcomed Obama’s decision.

“It’s going to be better for the Cuban people. It’s going to be better for the United States,” said ReinierOropeza, 33, an accountant who to came to the U.S. from Cuba in 1998.

Many Cubans here are young, or came to the United States more recently, or have closer ties with their families in Cuba.

Oropeza said many older Cubans are stuck in the past.  “They are old and they stand back and blame Castro. They already did what they had to do. So young people have to take over now.”

Once again, read much more at the link.

Read more about this mural by 100 Cuban artists at The New York Times, Feb. 3, 2008: It’s Not Politics. It’s Just Cuba.

Courtesy of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts “Cuba Colectiva,” a 1967 mural by 100 artists for the Salon de Mai exhibition in Havana, on view at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Courtesy of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
“Cuba Colectiva,” a 1967 mural by 100 artists for the Salon de Mai exhibition in Havana, on view at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

 

More reactions from Republican politicians:

Drunken party-pooper John Boehner is not happy. 

(Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker John Boehner sharply criticized President Barack Obama’s policy change toward Cuba, calling it “another in a long line of mindless concessions” to a brutal dictatorship.

“Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy freedom – and not one second sooner,” Boehner said in a statement.

Cry me a river, a$$hole. At least Cubans have free health care.

Marco Rubio, who is supposedly a Catholic after transitioning through the Mormon and Southern Baptist churches, had the temerity to “call out the Pope on Cuba” according to Politico.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Catholic, criticized Pope Francis on Wednesday after the pontiff played a key role in helping the United States and Cuba forge an agreement that resulted in the release of American Alan Gross from Cuba.

Rubio said he would “ask His Holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy.”

The Florida Republican said he didn’t criticize Francis’ personal appeals to help facilitate Gross’ release, but was speaking in response to the White House’s announcement about talks to normalize relations with Cuba after a nearly 50-year embargo with the country.

Rubio is set to play a major role in Cuba policy as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Western Affairs, and he noted Wednesday some of Congress’ leverage points, such as funding for embassies and nomination of a U.S. ambassador to Cuba.

“I’m committed to doing everything I can to unravel as many of these changes as possible,” Rubio said.

More from Huffington Post: Marco Rubio Fires Back On Cuba: Obama Is The ‘Worst Negotiator’ In My Lifetime.

President Barack Obama will get no money for his Cuba policy, no ambassador will be confirmed and the embargo will never be lifted, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) vowed in a blistering press conference on Wednesday.

In a historic move earlier in the day, Obama announced that the United States will begin talks with Cuba to normalize full diplomatic relations, marking the most significant shift in U.S. policy towards Cuba in 50 years. The president’s remarks followed the release on Wednesday morning of American Alan Gross, who had been held in a Cuban prison for five years. Gross’ release was negotiated in exchange for the freeing of three Cubans who had been jailed in the U.S. for spying.

“This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, based on a lie,” Rubio, who is the son of Cuban immigrants, told reporters on Capitol Hill. “The White House has conceded everything and gained little.”

“I’m committed to doing everything I can to unravel as many of these changes as possible,” he added.

Why is this moron in the U.S. Senate? Obama will have more battles ahead with the Republican Congress, but he seems determined to move ahead with the changes he wants to make anyway. I’m rooting for him.

What do you think? What other stories are you following today? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread and enjoy your Thursday!


Thursday Reads: Through the Looking Glass?

Reading Woman, Armando Barrios

Reading Woman, Armando Barrios

 

Good Morning!!

I’ve spent the past week or so reading escapist literature and watching old TV shows in an effort to anesthetize myself against the overload of bad news we’ve been hit with lately. Yesterday I was feeling a lot better–my escapism seemed to be working to improve my overall mood.

Then last night as I was surfing around in search of interesting reads for this morning’s post, I came across something that jumpstarted me right through Alice’s looking glass.

You’ve probably heard about it too. Lois Lerner, who used to work for the IRS and who is at the center of one of the GOP’s crazy efforts to create a scandal that will bring down President Obama used the word “crazies” in a private e-mail to a colleague who was complaining about right wing radio hosts. Here’s the text of e-mail as quoted in The Washington Post yesterday.

During the exchange, Lerner says she is traveling in Great Britain. The name of the person she is emailing with was blacked out.

Lerner: “I’m ready. Overheard some ladies talking about American today. According to them we’ve bankrupted ourselves and at through. We’ll never be able to pay off our debt and are going down the tubes. They don’t seem to see that they can’t afford to keep up their welfare state either. Strange.”

Other person: “Well, you should hear the whacko wing of the GOP. The US is through; too many foreigners sucking the teat; time to hunker down, buy ammo and food, and prepare for the end. The right wing radio shows are scary to listen to.”

Lerner: “Great. Maybe we are through if there are that many assholes.”

Other person: “And I’m talking about the hosts of the shows. The callers are rabid.”

Lerner: “So we don’t need to worry about alien teRrorists. It’s our own crazies that will take us down.”

GOP crazies2

My initial response was the same as that of Mark NC at News Corpse (a site that makes fun of Fox News), So F**king What? Former IRS Official Says That GOP Crazies Are…CRAZY!

Republicans and their friends at Fox News have mastered the art of building mountains of bullshit from the lowliest troll-hills. It’s one of their favorite tactics to malign Democrats. Just grab a sentence fragment from a long speech and pretend that it is the whole of the comment from which it was extracted. Then feign outrage that such an awful remark could have been uttered.

The latest example of this rhetorical deceit was demonstrated when the GOP chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp, unscrupulously and selectively released some emails purported to be from Lois Lerner, the former IRS official who has been hounded by malevolent cretins like Rep. Darrell Issa in an attempt to fabricate ammunition to use against President Obama. Despite hundreds of wasted hours (costing millions of taxpayer dollars) engaged in hyper-partisan investigations, the Republican Inquisition has produced nothing implicating the President in any untoward activity.

The emails that Camp is now crowing about are just as meaningless as all of the other bogus “smoking guns” that these wingnuts have claimed would topple the administration. The headline that Camp has wrenched from the documents is that Lerner may have referred to certain individuals as “crazies” or “a-holes.” And, of course, this would only be an atrocity if those individuals were Republicans. Suffice to say that Camp wouldn’t give a Fig Newton if they were Democrats.

As Camp characterized this affair, Lerner was allegedly caught red-handed expressing her disgust for Republicans. And as the person at the center of the controversy over whether the IRS improperly subjected Tea Party groups to extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status, Camp believes that these emails prove that she was biased. Consequently, Camp regards the emails as justification for appointing a special prosecutor and escalating the legal assault on Lerner and, ultimately, the White House.

There’s just one problem. The emails don’t don’t say what Camp alleges they say. And even if they did it wouldn’t mean anything. Most people in government have personal opinions and allegiances. There isn’t anything wrong with that, so long as it doesn’t interfere with the fair execution of their duties. And the evidence shows that Lerner’s department scrutinized applications of all political persuasions. The only organization that was denied tax-exempt status during the time in question was a liberal group.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich. (center), flanked by the committee's ranking member, Sander Levin, D-Mich. (right), and Sam Johnson, R-Texas.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich. (center), flanked by the committee’s ranking member, Sander Levin, D-Mich. (right), and Sam Johnson, R-Texas.

Please read the rest at the link.

So this humorous site agrees with me, but more mainstream sites are seemingly going along with the Camp’s notion that this e-mail is evidence of a major scandal. For example, Dave Wiegel characterized it as a “bombshell,” although he does point out that Lerner’s anonymous “e-mail partner” was talking about talk radio hosts, not Republicans in general. Huffington Post reported that Lerner had made “two disparaging remarks about members of the GOP.” Both HuffPo and Politico write that in one e-mail Lerner referred to Republicans as “a–holes,” but they sidestep the fact the context was a discussion of right wing talk show hosts.

As we approach the midterm elections, I can’t help but feel that most of the mainstream media is cheering for a Republican takeover. Am I the crazy one?

Here’s another example from self-described libertarian Nate Silver, Democrats Are Way More Obsessed With Impeachment Than Republicans.

House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday that Republicans have no plans to impeach President Obama, and that all the impeachment talk was driven by Democrats hoping to stir up their base.

Boehner’s statement isn’t literally true: There have been mentions of impeachment around the edges of the GOP and by some Republican members of Congress. But on the whole, Democrats are spending a lot more time talking about impeachment than Republicans.

Consider, for example, the Sunlight Foundation’s Capitol Words database, which tracks words spoken in the House and Senate. So far in July, there have been 10 mentions of the term “impeachment” in Congress and four others of the term “impeach.” Eleven of the 14 mentions have been made by Democratic rather than Republican members of Congress, however.

Impeachment chatter has also become common on cable news. On Fox News this month, Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor, called for Obama’s impeachment, for instance. But for every mention of impeachment on Fox News in July, there have been five on liberal-leaning MSNBC.

OK, so that’s this month. And this proves what? Democrats are throwing around the word “impeachment” in hopes of calling attention to what Republicans have been saying for years!  So f$%king what?!

Impeach obama

Again, I must resort to News Corpse for a sensible interpretation of the impeachment talk, CONSPIRACY: President Obama Is Trying To Impeach Himself.

Ever since the first inauguration of President Obama, right-wingers have been trying to undo the people’s decision to make him America’s chief executive. They declared that their top legislative objective was to make Obama a one-term president. In pursuit of that goal they have blocked most of his policy initiatives, judges, and government reforms. At the same time they have been hyper investigatory on everything from Fast and Furious, to the IRS, to ObamaCare, to his birthplace. All of this was squarely aimed at crippling or revoking his presidency.

This year Obama’s critics came out of the impeachment closet and began openly advocating for that legal nuclear option despite not having any legal basis for it. While many Tea-Publican whack jobs were earlier to the gate, Sarah Palin burst onto the scene a couple weeks ago with her own demand that Congress do their duty and trump up some phony articles of impeachment. It got so absurdly intense that Obama addressed it himself with fitting mockery.

So of course the next shoe to drop in this melodrama is that, along with everything else in the world, Obama is to blame for this too. In fact, according to some in the rightist crackpot community, it was all part of his nefarious plot to embarrass the GOP. Here is what Texas Republican Steve Stockman had to say about it when interviewed by the ultra-fringe rightists at WorldNetDaily:

“President Obama is begging to be impeached. […] He wants us to impeach him now, before the midterm election because his senior advisers believe that is the only chance the Democratic Party has to avoid a major electoral defeat. Evidently Obama believes impeachment could motivate the Democratic Party base to come out and vote.”

There you have it. The evil genius in the White House orchestrated the whole Obama-hate campaign from its earliest days in 2008 just so that he would be able to use impeachment, which is every president’s dream, as an election strategy six years into his presidency.

Earth to Nate Silver and the rest of the mainstream media: Steve Stockman, although insane, is an actual member of the House of Representatives, not some fringe character with no influence. And he has plenty of company in the House and even in the Senate (Ted Cruz anyone?). These people are crazy and they are in positions of awesome power.

GOP idea men?

GOP idea men?

Here’s one more example of mainstream acceptance of GOP insanity before I end this post and run screaming into the street while pulling my hair out in handfuls. From John Dickerson of Slate (via CBS News), Why the GOP’s class of 2016 hopefuls may be the best in generations.

What if they held a presidential campaign and a think tank broke out? House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who is considering running for president, offered his thoughts on poverty last week. Sen. Marco Rubio has been giving regular policy speeches on poverty, college loans, and helping the middle class. Former senator and GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum is promoting a book of policy proposals on education, family, and revitalizing American manufacturing. Sen. Rand Paul is offering ideas on criminal justice and will give a big foreign policy speech in the fall. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has given speeches on health care and education aimed at a national audience. His staff recently sent an email titled “policy leader” that linked to a Time piece about how he is preparing to be the candidate of ideas in 2016.

What the f&cking f&ck? Rich Santorum? Bobby Jindal? Marco Rubio? Paul motherf&&cking Ryan?! These are “candidates of ideas?” Dickerson continues,

Who isn’t trying to be the ideas candidate in the 2016 campaign? Texas Gov. Rick Perry is working to overcome his 2012 debate aphasia, so he’s trying to show some policy chops. Though former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush holds controversial ideas on Common Core education standards and immigration, those close to him say he won’t run unless he can promote those ideas with gusto.

It isn’t usually this policy-thick in the GOP presidential field. In primaries, there is sometimes one conservative candidate who tries to position himself through the creativity of his proposals, but mostly candidates engage in displays of strength on questions of orthodoxy–how much they want to cut taxes, shrink regulation, and lock up the borders. Now the Republican candidates are not only seeking to distinguish themselves from each other with the quality and originality of their ideas, but they are making the case that unless the party promotes new ideas, it will not prevail.

The class of candidates for 2016 has the potential to be the most robust in almost 40 years–perhaps in modern Republican history. It depends on who finally decides to run, of course, but six governors and four senators are thinking seriously about it.

GOP idea men?

GOP idea men?

I’m sorry. Dickerson thinks these morons are competing with each other on “quality and originality of…ideas?” Am I nuts? Am I hallucinating this crap? Surely Dickerson can’t really believe this sh#t.

Here’s a little sanity from Ed Kilgore of Washington Monthly, Can the Big Brains of the GOP Survive the Primaries? and Damon Linker of The Week, Why GOP reformers are bound to fail. But even Kilgore seems to believe that Republicans will take over the Senate. From Talking Points Memo:

It’s true that public opinion surveys are not showing any 2010-style GOP “wave,” but Democrats are rightly nervous that when polls begin identifying likely voters closer to November, superior Republican “base enthusiasm” could put a thumb on the scales in their favor.

At least Kilgore thinks that catering to the base could hurt Republicans in the 2016 presidential election.

Why? Why would anyone vote for these insane right-wingers? And why is the media rooting for them? I just don’t get it. Am I crazy or what?

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today? Share your thoughts and links in the comment thread.

 


Monday Reads: A World of their Own

images (34) Good Day! I’m way late with this because I simply cannot find much that isn’t just a depressing continuation of the same old same old.   The Republican 2016 Clown Car looks to be filled with the same old nonsense.  So, I just decided to make you all aware that they are still as crazy as ever.  Can some one as stupid as Rand Paul and clearly out of the mainstrain of what generally passes as republican politics win the nomination?  Not a day goes buy that Paul hasn’t cooked up some story with no basis in fact, but can the party take that and push it onto the national stage?

Not that long ago, most Republican leaders saw Rand Paul as the head of an important faction who, like his father, ultimately had no shot at becoming the party’s presidential nominee.

Now the question is no longer whether Paul can win the nomination, but whether he can win a general election.

The shift follows a year in which the Kentucky senator has barnstormed the country, trying to expand the party’s base beyond older, white voters and attract a following beyond than the libertarian devotees of his father, Ron Paul. Although the job is far from complete, Paul has made undeniable progress, judging from interviews with more than 30 Republican National Committee members meeting here this week.

That he has struck a chord with this crowd is all the more telling because it is heavy with GOP establishment-types who tend to prefer mainstream candidates.

“I don’t see how anyone could say it’s not possible he’d win the nomination,” Texas GOP chairman Steve Munisteri said. “His mission is to convince people of what his coalition would be in November” 2016.

During a speech Friday to the RNC gathering, Paul received a standing ovation after saying that the GOP didn’t need to dilute its message download (10)but that it had to communicate it better to non-traditional audiences — and suggesting implicitly that he’s the guy to do it.

I’m really confused  by their continual obsession with trying to communicate their messages better.  I’d say most of us hear it loud and clear and we completely reject it along with people that know what they’re doing.  Economists, data and studies reject their economics message. Science rejects their messages about women’s anatomy, climate change, and the use of fracking.  Humanity rejects the notion that the poor, elderly, and downtrodden should be further ground under the heals of the privileged.

Marco Rubio inkled his interest in the Presidency on the Sunday Talk Show Circuit and showed that his strong point wasn’t science at the same time.  He doesn’t believe that humans are contributing to climate change.  At least, he didn’t completely deny its existence.  This is another one clearly caught in the Koch money trap.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a GOP star and possible 2016 presidential contender, does not believe human activity is causing climate change, he said Sunday.

“I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it,” Rubio said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy,” he added.

A National Climate Assessment released by the White House last week found that Rubio’s home state of Florida is one of the most vulnerable to rising sea levels and changes in temperatures and storm patterns. President Obama has proposed several new regulatory programs to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, which most scientists say are the chief cause of a warming global climate.

Rubio said he doesn’t agree that actions humans take today could affect how the climate is changing.

“Our climate is always changing,” Rubio said. “And what they have chosen to do is take a handful of decades of research and say that this is now evidence of a longer-term trend that’s directly and almost solely attributable to manmade activities.”

images (35)My governor continues to deliberately confuse bigotry with ‘religious liberty’. Jindal doesn’t ever register on any of the polls of Republican preferences for 2016, but he’s never ending  quest for relevancy and the presidency continues.

Speaking at Liberty University’s 2014 Commencement yesterday, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R) attacked “elite” liberals who, he claimed, have launched “an assault on the freedom of expression in all areas of life.”

“Today the American people, whether they know it or not, are mired in a silent war,” Jindal began. “It is a war — a silent war — against religious liberty.” He claimed that Obama Administration’sargument against Hobby Lobby “strikes at the core of our understanding of the free exercise of religion.”

“Under the Obama regime,” he continued, “you have protection under the First Amendment as an individual, but the instant you start a business, you lose those protections. And that brings us to the second front in this silent war: the attack on our freedom of association as people of faith.”

 Jindal claimed that the Obama Administration would prevent religious groups from selecting “their own ministers or rabbis.” “Thankfully,” he said, the Supreme Court decided to shoot down the administration, “so for the time being, at least, the federal government doesn’t get to decide who can preach the Gospel.”

“Make no mistake — the war over religious liberty is a war over free speech. Without the first, there is no such thing as the second.”

Deliberate misinterpretation of the first amendment seems to be en vogue these days.  Just ask the Supremes. The chattering class has been pretty 1insistent that the Democrats will lose the Senate come elections this fall.  Yet, many of the most vulnerable democratic candidates continue to hold their ground. 

Democratic candidates are holding their own in three key Senate races despite a daunting political environment for their party in the upcoming midterm elections, according to new NBC News-Marist polls of Arkansas, Georgia and Kentucky.

And in one race in particular, Democrats are more than just competitive.

In Arkansas, with less than six months until Election Day 2014, incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., leads Republican challenger Tom Cotton by 11 points among registered voters, 51 percent to 40 percent. (That finding is largely in line with other polling from that race since April showing Pryor either leading or tied.)

In Georgia, Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn is running neck and neck against all of her potential GOP opponents in November.

And in Kentucky, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes is within one point of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell among registered voters, 46 percent to 45 percent.

Famous-Self-Portraits-Winston-Churchill-560x400I personally don’t see any groundswell against Mary Landrieu here in Louisiana.  Most of the local papers seem to show that no one knows her potential challenger.  Additionally, the Koch ads aren’t having much impact because she’s a strong supporter of the Keystone Oil Pipeline and has been running ads calling for changes in the Affordable Health Care Act. I guess we’ll see how many times these groups can change their ad messages.

One message shift is apparent from la la land.  The GOP has gone mostly quiet on ObamaCare with the exception of candidate Scott Brown who wants to repeal its implementation in New Hampshire.

Republicans virtually ignored the final release of ObamaCare’s enrollment numbers and a report that healthcare spending jumped in the first quarter of 2014. Mentions of the law have dwindled in press conferences by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), where they were a mainstay earlier this year.

And on the Senate side, the usual partisan rancor was almost completely absent during last week’s confirmation hearing for the next Health and Human Services secretary. Only a few GOP senators mentioned ObamaCare in their questions, and three Republicans failed to attend the event at all.

The House has no plans to vote on ObamaCare legislation in May, according to a memo from Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) released late last month.

It is also unclear when the party’s replacement proposal for the law will come to a vote.

Despite pressure from conservatives, Cantor has not committed to put a bill on the House floor by August recess.

Democratic leaders have long insisted the law would boost their electoral hopes in the fall, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) predicted this week that GOP opposition would haunt Republicans.

“The Republican position of repeal has become increasingly problematic for GOP Senate candidates, so it’s no surprise that they’re beginning to abandon their failed strategy of wasting millions attacking Democrats on ObamaCare,” said DSCC spokesman Justin Barasky.

On the campaign trail, it is clear that some candidates and groups are starting to pivot.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently launched its first major ad campaign looking toward the general election.

While all the ads touted GOP lawmakers’ and candidates’ work to boost the economy and create jobs, only a handful made mention of ObamaCare.

Looking toward his general election fight, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) released an ad last week that also focused on job creation.

The problem is that the Republicans have done absolutely nothing in terms of job creation legislation and their records stand for themselves.vintage_1_1394880169263_3450429_ver1.0_640_480

I posted this down thread a few days ago, but really would like to end on Teddy Kennedy’s true defense of religious liberty given at Liberty Baptist College . It stands in stark contrast to the speech given by my Demon Governor. This is what religious liberty looks and sounds like.

The founders of our nation had long bitter experience with the state, as both the agent and the adversary of particular religious views. In colonial Maryland, Catholics paid a double land tax, and in Pennsylvania they had to list their names on a public roll — an ominous precursor of the first Nazi laws against the Jews. And Jews in turn faced discrimination in all of the thirteen original Colonies. Massachusetts exiled Roger Williams and his congregation for contending that civil government had no right to enforce the Ten Commandments. Virginia harassed Baptist teachers, and also established a religious test for public service, writing into the law that no “popish followers” could hold any office.

But during the Revolution, Catholics, Jews, and Non-Conformists all rallied to the cause and fought valiantly for the American commonwealth — for John Winthrop’s “city upon a hill.” Afterwards, when the Constitution was ratified and then amended, the framers gave freedom for all religion, and from any established religion, the very first place in the Bill of Rights.

Indeed the framers themselves professed very different faiths: Washington was an Episcopalian, Jefferson a deist, and Adams a Calvinist. And although he had earlier opposed toleration, John Adams later contributed to the building of Catholic churches, and so did George Washington. Thomas Jefferson said his proudest achievement was not the presidency, or the writing the Declaration of Independence, but drafting the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. He stated the vision of the first Americans and the First Amendment very clearly: “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.”

The separation of church and state can sometimes be frustrating for women and men of religious faith. They may be tempted to misuse government in order to impose a value which they cannot persuade others to accept. But once we succumb to that temptation, we step onto a slippery slope where everyone’s freedom is at risk. Those who favor censorship should recall that one of the first books ever burned was the first English translation of the Bible. As President Eisenhower warned in 1953, “Don’t join the book burners…the right to say ideas, the right to record them, and the right to have them accessible to others is unquestioned — or this isn’t America.” And if that right is denied, at some future day the torch can be turned against any other book or any other belief. Let us never forget: Today’s Moral Majority could become tomorrow’s persecuted minority.

The danger is as great now as when the founders of the nation first saw it. In 1789, their fear was of factional strife among dozens of denominations. Today there are hundreds — and perhaps even thousands of faiths — and millions of Americans who are outside any fold. Pluralism obviously does not and cannot mean that all of them are right; but it does mean that there are areas where government cannot and should not decide what it is wrong to believe, to think, to read, and to do. As Professor Larry Tribe, one of the nation’s leading constitutional scholars has written, “Law in a non-theocratic state cannot measure religious truth, nor can the state impose it.”

The real transgression occurs when religion wants government to tell citizens how to live uniquely personal parts of their lives. The failure of Prohibition proves the futility of such an attempt when a majority or even a substantial minority happens to disagree. Some questions may be inherently individual ones, or people may be sharply divided about whether they are. In such cases, like Prohibition and abortion, the proper role of religion is to appeal to the conscience of the individual, not the coercive power of the state.

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


Friday Reads

PostcardOldAbsintheHouse

Good Morning!

So, I am trying to get with it again.  Seems like it’s always something.  Grades to get in.  Issues with my elderly father.  Daughters so busy that I seemed to have slipped their minds.  Doctor’s appointments. I am going to try to take this weekend to catch up with reality.  I should also make a point of going out and enjoying my home city which is one of the great places of this country.

Speaking of reality, there is so much weirdness around the issue of immigration these days that I thought I’d post on it.  I live in what can only be described as the melting pot of all the melting pots in the country.  It is what makes us unique in the world.  We’ve got a unique cuisine, culture, and music because we just soaked it all in from every one else and put it out there to grow.  But, there’s a lot of people that are scared of that kind of thing.  Just smell that Gumbo!  Listen to that Jazz!  Embrace the dancers of a second line!  None of that would exist without the blending of Africans, Caribbeans, Americans, and all kinds of Europeans!

In the land of tabloid terrors, immigrants loom large. Flick through the pages or online comments of some of the racier newspapers, and you’ll see immigrants being accused of stealing jobs or, if not that, of being workshy and “scrounging benefits”.

Such views may be at the extreme end of the spectrum, but they do seem to reflect a degree of public ambivalence, and even hostility, towards immigrants in a number of OECD countries. Anecdotal evidence is not hard to find. A columnist from The Economist reported this encounter between a British legislator and one of his constituents, Phil: “‘I’m not a racist,’ says Phil, an unemployed resident of the tough Greenwich estate in Ipswich. ‘But we’ve got to do something about them.’”

Surveys offer further evidence: For example, a 2011 study in five European countries and the United States found that at least 40% of respondents in each country regarded immigration as “more of a problem than an opportunity”. More than half the respondents in each country also agreed with the proposition that immigrants were a burden on social services. This sense that immigrants are living off the state appears to be widespread. But is it true?

New research from the OECD indicates that it’s not. In general across OECD countries, the amount that immigrants pay to the state in the form of taxes is more or less balanced by what they get back in benefits. Even where immigrants do have an impact on the public purse – a “fiscal impact” – it amounts to more than 0.5% of GDP in only ten OECD countries, and in those it’s more likely to be positive than negative. In sum, says the report, when it comes to their fiscal impact, “immigrants are pretty much like the rest of the population”.

The extent to which this finding holds true across OECD countries is striking, although there are naturally some variations. Where these exist, they largely reflect the nature of the immigrants who arrive in each country. For example, countries like Australia and New Zealand rely heavily on selective entry, and so attract a lot of relatively young and well-educated immigrants. Other countries, such as in northern Europe, have higher levels of humanitarian immigration, such as refugees and asylum-seekers.

That said, there’s been a general push in many countries in recent years to attract better educated immigrants, in part because of the economic value of their skills but also because such policies attract less public resistance. For example, a survey in the United Kingdom, where resistance to immigration is relatively high, reported that 64% of respondents wanted to reduce immigration of low-skilled workers but only 32% wanted fewer high-skilled immigrants. Indeed, one objection that’s regularly raised to lower-skilled immigrants is the fear that they will live off state benefits.

But, here again, the OECD report offers some perhaps surprising insights. It indicates that low-skilled migrants – like migrants in general – are neither a major drain nor gain on the public purse. Indeed, low-skilled immigrants are less likely to have a negative impact than equivalent locals.

So what connects homophobia, Marco Rubio and US immigration Policy?  Basically, the connection is outright discrimination for any GLBT who wants to be an American.  Rubio has threatened to leave negotiations on immigration if any GBLT rights are included.  He also says it should be legal to fire any one for their sexual orientation.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a co-author and key proponent of the Senate immigration bill, said he will revoke his support if an amendment is added that allows gay Americans to petition for same-sex spouses living abroad to secure a green card.

“If this bill has in it something that gives gay couples immigration rights and so forth, it kills the bill. I’m done,” Rubio said Thursday during an interview on the Andrea Tantaros Show. “I’m off it, and I’ve said that repeatedly. I don’t think that’s going to happen and it shouldn’t happen. This is already a difficult enough issue as it is.”

The amendment, introduced by Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, would grant green cards to foreign partners of gay Americans. Leahy originally introduced the measure during the Senate Judiciary Committee markup of the bill, but he withdrew it under pressure from Republican lawmakers who said it would reduce the chance of the bill passing.

Why does he think that firing any one for sexual orientation is also on target?

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is touted as a top GOP presidential prospect in 2016, thinks it should be legal to fire someone for their sexual orientation.

ThinkProgress spoke with the Florida Senator at the opening luncheon of the annual Faith and Freedom Forum on Thursday and asked him about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill to make discrimination against LGBT individuals illegal across the country.

Though Rubio bristles at the notion of being called a “bigot,” he showed no willingness to help protect LGBT workers from discrimination. “I’m not for any special protections based on orientation,” Rubio told ThinkProgress.

KEYES: The Senate this summer is going to be taking up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which makes it illegal to fire someone for being gay. Do you know if you’ll be supporting that?

RUBIO: I haven’t read the legislation. By and large I think all Americans should be protected but I’m not for any special protections based on orientation.

KEYES: What about on race or gender?

RUBIO: Well that’s established law.

KEYES: But not for sexual orientation?

Watch the video at the link for his astoundingly bigoted answer.

The US Congress has just been told that Syria has used chemical weapons on its rebels.  What does this mean for the US and for our allies?courtyard new orleans

The Obama administration, concluding that the troops of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria have used chemical weapons against rebel forces in his country’s civil war, has decided to begin supplying the rebels for the first time with small arms and ammunition, according to American officials.

The officials held out the possibility that the assistance, coordinated by the Central Intelligence Agency, could include antitank weapons, but they said that for now supplying the antiaircraft weapons that rebel commanders have said they sorely need is not under consideration.

Supplying weapons to the rebels has been a long-sought goal of advocates of a more aggressive American response to the Syrian civil war. A proposal made last year by David H. Petraeus, then the director of the C.I.A., and backed by the State Department and the Pentagon to supply weapons was rejected by the White House because of President Obama’s deep reluctance to be drawn into another war in the Middle East.

But even with the decision to supply lethal aid, the Obama administration remains deeply divided about whether to take more forceful action to try to quell the fighting, which has killed more than 90,000 people over more than two years. Many in the American government believe that the military balance has tilted so far against the rebels in recent months that American shipments of arms to select groups may be too little, too late.

Some senior State Department officials have been pushing for a more aggressive military response, including airstrikes to hit the primary landing strips that they said the Assad government uses to launch the chemical weapons attacks, ferry troops around the country and receive shipments of arms from Iran.

But White House officials remain wary, and on Thursday Benjamin J. Rhodes, one of Mr. Obama’s top foreign policy advisers, all but ruled out the imposition of a no-fly zone and indicated that no decision had been made on other military actions.

Mr. Obama declared last August that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would cross a “red line” that would prompt a more resolute American response.

cafe du monde vintageSo what does the latest Supreme Court Decision on free speech mean?  Oddly enough, it means no protests in their front yard!

The Supreme Court has come up with a new regulation banning demonstrations on its grounds.

The rule approved Thursday comes two days after a broader anti-demonstration law was declared unconstitutional.

The new rule bans activities such as picketing, speech-making, marching or vigils. It says “casual use” by visitors or tourists is not banned.

That may be a way of addressing the concern posed by a federal judge who threw out the law barring processions and expressive banners on the Supreme Court grounds.

The judge said the law was so broad that it could criminalize preschool students parading on their first field trip to the high court.

The president of the Rutherford Institute, which challenged the law on a protester’s behalf, calls the new rule “repugnant” to the Constitution.

What on earth ?

The Supreme Court on Thursday issued a new regulation barring most demonstrations on the plaza in front of the courthouse.

The regulation did not significantly alter the court’s longstanding restrictions on protests on its plaza. It appeared, rather, to be a reaction to a decision issued Tuesday by a federal judge, which narrowed the applicability of a 1949 federal law barring “processions or assemblages” or the display of “a flag, banner or device designed or adapted to bring into public notice a party, organization or movement” in the Supreme Court building or on its grounds.

The law was challenged by Harold Hodge Jr., a student from Maryland who was arrested in 2011 on the Supreme Court plaza for wearing a large sign protesting police mistreatment of blacks and Hispanics.

Lawyers representing the Supreme Court’s marshal told the judge hearing Mr. Hodge’s case that the law was needed to allow “unimpeded ingress and egress of visitors to the court” and to preserve “the appearance of the court as a body not swayed by external influence.”

But Judge Beryl A. Howell of Federal District Court in Washington ruled for Mr. Hodge. “The absolute prohibition on expressive activity in the statute is unreasonable, substantially overbroad and irreconcilable with the First Amendment,” she wrote, adding that the law was “unconstitutional and void as applied to the Supreme Court plaza.”

The Supreme Court addressed the constitutionality of the law in 1983, in United States v. Grace, saying it could not be applied to demonstrations on the public sidewalks around the court.

On the grand plaza in front of the courthouse, however, Supreme Court police have been known to order visitors to remove buttons making political statements.

The regulation issued Thursday, which the court said was “approved by the chief justice of the United States,” requires visitors to “maintain suitable order and decorum within the Supreme Court building and grounds.” It bars demonstrations, which it defines as “picketing, speech making, marching, holding vigils or religious services and all other like forms of conduct that involve the communication or expression of views or grievances, engaged in by one or more persons, the conduct of which is reasonably likely to draw a crowd or onlookers.”

So, that is my offering this morning.  I’m headed to the doctor but will be around later!  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Sunday Morning Open Thread

sunday paper cat

Good Morning!!

It’s Sunday again and the Villagers will be hanging out on the Sunday shows pushing the austerity agenda and talking about the two other issues that are on their minds these days–guns and immigration. I have to wonder if they aren’t ginning up those two issues just to keep Americans in the dark about how the oligarchs, with the help of President Obama, are trying to make the U.S. economy into as big a mess as Europe’s.

Here’s a list of the folks who’ll be lecturing us on the various “news” and talk shows today, courtesy of DailyKos. Basically it’s going to be the Marco Rubio show.

Meet the Press: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL); Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY); Sen. Mike Lee(R-UT);  Roundtable: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Katty Kay(BBC), David Brooks (New York Times) and Chuck Todd (NBC News).

Face the Nation: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL); Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV); Sen. Pat Toomey(R-PA); Former Astronaut Mark KellyRoundtableDavid Ignatius (Washington Post),David Sanger (New York Times), Amy Walter (Cook Political Report) and John Dickerson(CBS News).

This Week: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL); Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY); Sen. Jeff Sessions(R-AL); MLB Player Mariano Rivera; MLB Player Robinson CanoRoundtableGeorge Will (Washington Post), Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Ruth Marcus (Washington Post) and Kimberley Strassel (Wall Street Journal).

Fox News Sunday: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL); Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL); Sen. John Cornyn(R-TX); Roundtable: Former Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), Marjorie Clifton (Spike the Watercooler), Republican Strategist Karl Rove and Former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN).

State of the Union: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ); Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL); Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV); Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA); Democratic Strategist Donna Brazile; Republican Strategist Ana NavarroGerald Seib (Wall Street Journal); Reliable Sources:Amy Holmes (The Blaze); Ana Marie Cox (The Guardian); Nia-Malika Henderson(Washington Post); Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN); Democratic Strategist Paul Begala; Filmmaker Robert Greenwald.

The Chris Matthews ShowJoe Klein (TIME); Katty Kay (BBC); Amy Walter (Cook Political Report); Peter Alexander (NBC News).

Fareed Zakaria GPS: Former OMB Director David Stockman; Former Economic Adviser to President Obama Austan Goolsbee; CourtTV Founder Steven Brill; Game Show Network CEO David GoldhillAnthony Bourdain (CNN); Former Tata Group Chair Ratan Tata.

Plus, I’ve got a few interesting reads for you from various sources.

Politico finds that Obama’s big donors aren’t ponying up for his “Organizing for America”–the group that is supposed to help push his austerity agenda.

The group, which has no fundraising limits and is not required by law to release donor information, raised $4.9 million in its first three months of existence. By comparison, the Democratic National Committee — which is limited in what it can raise by law — brought in $14 million in the quarter after Obama was first elected in 2008.

The top donor to OFA, Philip Munger, gave $250,000 – a modest sum for a top contributor to a major profile outside group.

Earlier reports in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times suggested that the pro-Obama nonprofit was looking for a high-profile group of donors to chip in $500,000, $1 million or more.

Democratic Party donor mainstays like Fred Eychaner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Stephen Speilberg, Steve and Amber Mostyn and others are missing from the list, which includes all donors who gave $250 or more.

Barack and Michelle Obama also are not listed as donors.

Loyal Obama donors like Penny Pritzker, Jane Stetson, Azita Raji and others are also missing — though the top Obama campaign bundler Andrew Tobias chipped in $50,000 to the new group.

Other major Obama campaign fundraisers on the list include: Barbara Grasseschi, Nicola Miner, William Freeman, Wayne Jordan, Michael Kemper, Imad Zuberi, Frank White, Naomi Aberly, and South Carolina Democratic Party chair Dick Harpootlian.

Business Insider publishes The States With The Heaviest Student Loan Debts And Highest Delinquency Rates (the research comes from the St. Louis Fed). Check those out at the link.

To continue the academic theme, Alternet has a piece on Academia’s Indentured Servants. This may give you an idea of why I soured on teaching for a living.

On April 8, 2013, the  New York Times reported that 76 percent of American university faculty are adjunct professors – an all-time high. Unlike tenured faculty, whose annual salaries can top $160,000, adjunct professors make an average of $2,700 per course and receive no health care or other benefits.

Most adjuncts teach at multiple universities while still not making enough to stay above the  poverty line. Some are on  welfare or homeless. Others depend on charity drives held by their peers. Adjuncts are generally  not allowed to have offices or participate in faculty meetings. When they ask for a living wage or benefits, they can be  fired. Their contingent status allows them no recourse.

No one forces a scholar to work as an adjunct. So why do some of America’s brightest PhDs – many of whom are authors of books and articles on labour, power, or injustice – accept such terrible conditions?

“Path dependence and sunk costs must be powerful forces,” speculates political scientist Steve Saidemen in a post titled ” The Adjunct Mystery“. In other words, job candidates have invested so much time and money into their professional training that they cannot fathom abandoning their goal – even if this means living, as Saidemen says, like “second-class citizens”. (He later  downgraded this to “third-class citizens”.)

I spend much of yesterday playing a video game called Minecraft. When my nephews were little, I helped them play games on the computer. Nowadays they help me (they are ages 10 and 7). Every time they get hooked on a new game, they want me to play it too.

First it was Plants vs. Zombies, which I loved. Now it’s Minecraft, and I’m getting addicted to that too. It’s a virtual world where you build things out of 3-D looking blocks. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s amazingly fun because it’s open ended and can go on forever, limited only by your imagination and designing and building skill. Of course there are other challenges like attacks by monsters and getting lost underground–which happened to me yesterday.

Anyway, there was an interview with the guy who developed Minecraft, Markus Persson, in The New Yorker this week. Not only that Persson has currently been voted number 2 on Time’s list of most influential people.

So if you like to escape into virtual worlds, check it out. I have to add that I never played video games at all until I met Dakinikat. She encouraged me to get started at my advanced age.

Last night the news broke that a man named Eric Williams had been arrested in connection with the murders of two Texas prosecutors. He is a former Texas justice of the peace. TPM reports:

Williams, 46, had not been publicly named a suspect or a person of interest in the case, but authorities did interview him and test him for gunshot residue on March 30, just hours after the bodies of the county District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, were found in their home in Forney, Texas.

Williams lost his position after being convicted last year of stealing county computer equipment. Both McLelland and Mark Hasse, a county prosecutor killed Jan. 31, were reportedly involved in Williams’ case.

According to The Dallas Morning News, investigators searched Williams’ home late Friday and “have obtained old cellphones, his computer and boxes of other materials.” Williams’ attorney, David Sergi, said Williams was cooperating with investigators and “vigorously asserts his innocence and denies any involvement” in the killings.

According to CBS News, Williams was charged with “making a ‘terroristic threat'” and is being held on $3 million bond. It sounds serious, doesn’t it?

CBS News correspondent John Miller spoke to “CBS Evening News” on Saturday about the latest development in the case. “What is going on,” he said, “is they shifted their view in this case away from their original theory that it might have been part of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang — because that prosecutor’s office was involved in a case there — more to individual people who were prosecuted by both of the district attorneys who were murdered.

“And that brought them to Eric Williams, who is an elected justice of the peace, who was then both prosecuted by Mark Hasse, one of the murdered district attorneys, and by Mike McLelland, the D.A. Looking into him, they found out he was somebody who made threats to other people, who had a large collection of guns, and possibly had a grudge. Of course he denies all this.”

Miller had previously spoken to Williams a couple of times. “He says he understands why they’re looking at him,” Miller explained. “that they have to do their jobs, that he has nothing to do with that case, and that he’s been cooperative. He says his case was about the political undertows in the county, but he understands what’s going on.”

Miller’s home was searched on Friday, but law enforcement officials were looking at him previously.

Earlier this month, Williams said he voluntarily submitted to a gun residue test after authorities contacted him while investigating the deaths of the McLellands. Sergi has said Williams also submitted to a gun residue test and gave his cellphone to authorities when he was questioned after Hasse’s death.

I’m going to wrap this up with something uplifting (pun intended). It’s an amazing video of a golden eagle flying in slow motion. Sadly, I can’t embed it here, but please go watch it. You won’t be sorry.

What’s on your mind today? Please post your links freely in the comments, and have a great Sunday!!


The Surreal World of The Villagers vs. The Nightmare Reality of the 99 Percent

Amazing Portraits of Salvador Dali (13)

This is going to be sort of a cross between a morning reads post and a rant.

Yesterday, Dakinikat and I were talking about how lately it seems like it’s hard to find things to blog about because there’s nothing really new happening in the political world. Sure, there’s news coming out of DC, but it’s pretty much the same thing every day. The Republicans hate President Obama and continue to do their best to block everything he tries to do. Obama sort of sounds like a liberal at times, but he’s still offering that “grand bargain” to the Republicans who hate his guts and still letting down the voters who elected him in the process.

Republicans pretend to obsess over the federal deficit and debt and economic writers like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich repeatedly try to explain that the problem with our economy right now isn’t the deficit or the debt, but the high unemployment and stagnating wages that keep the lower 99 percent of us from spending our money as freely as we’d like.

Lugubrious Game, by Salvador Dali, 1929

Lugubrious Game, by Salvador Dali, 1929

As I looked around for Thursday reads last night, I began to feel as if I’d entered a surreal alternative reality–almost as if I had awakened to find myself in a Salvador Dali painting in which everything seems crazy and nothing ever changes. The only breaks from the tedium of the Village come when there’s news of another shooting and the media covers it for a few days–like the recent obsession with ex-cop “Rambo” Christopher Dorner.

Now that Dorner has gone down, there’s another high-profile shooting for the media to focus on. USA Today reports: Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius charged with murder.

South African police on Thursday said they would charge Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius with murder after his girlfriend was shot and killed at his home earlier Thursday morning.

The circumstances of the incident are still unclear but police in South Africa said they would oppose bail when the Paralympic gold medalist appears in court Friday. The hearing was scheduled for Thursday afternoon but was delayed to give forensics investigators time to do their work, the Associated Press reported.

Police in South Africa do not name suspects in crimes until they have appeared in court but police spokesperson Brigadier Denise Beukes said that Pistorius was at his home after the death of the victim and that “there is no other suspect involved,” The Associated Press reported.

Britain’s Sky News first named the woman as Reeva Steenkamp, a model and recent contestant on Tropika Island of Treasure 5, a South African reality TV show. A talent agent for Steenkamp said she was the victim. However, police have yet to confirm the woman’s relationship with the Olympic and Paralympic athlete.

South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp attend an awards ceremony in Johannesburg, South Africa last November.(Photo: Lucky Nxumalo, AP)

South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp attend an awards ceremony in Johannesburg, South Africa last November.(Photo: Lucky Nxumalo, AP)

Meanwhile, as the Villagers ignore the need for gun safety legislation and argue about the deficit and the supposed out-of-control government spending that isn’t actually happening, the rich get richer and the lower 99 percent get screwed. Case in point, please read this piece in The New Republic by Timothy Noah that the Villagers will either ignore or mock: The One Percent Gobbled Up the Recovery, Too. In fact, it put the 99 percent back in recession.

Emmanuel Saez, the Berkeley economist who (with Thomas Piketty, an economist at the École d’economie de Paris) first mapped the enormous 34-year run-up in income share for America’s top 1 percent, came up last year with a statistic that was widely quoted by people who care about rising income inequality. In 2010, the first year of economic recovery after the 2009-2010 recession, 93 percent of all pre-tax income gains went to the top 1 percent, which in that year meant any household making more than about $358,000. This was, I quipped at the time, a members-only recovery. No 99-percenters need apply.

Saez has now updated (PDF) this statistic to include 2011. When you look at the economic recovery’s first two years, the top one percent (which by 2011 meant any household making more than about $367,000) captured 121 percent of all pre-tax income gains.

How is it even possible for the one percent to capture more than 100 percent of all income gains since the last recession? Looked at from one point of view, it’s not. It is enough to say that in 2010 and 2011 all of the recovery went to the one percent. If you were in the bottom 99 percent, as by definition nearly all of us are, you didn’t see a dime of that recovery.

What happened to the rest of us then?

Over 2010 and 2011, it saw, on average, a slight net decline in pre-tax income of 0.4 percent. This “negative growth” is what, at least theoretically, boosts the one percent’s share of income gains from 100 percent to 121 percent. If you think of income distribution as a Pac-Man game, with the one percent as Pac-Man, imagine your Pac-Man consuming all the pac-dots in one game and then somehow, after you’ve left the arcade, gobbling up some of the pac-dots in the next player’s game too. Another way to put it is that the one percent didn’t just gobble up all of the recovery during 2010 and 2011; it put the 99 percent back into recession.

Sadly, airhead talking heads like Joe Scarborough will continue to have much more influence in the Village than actual economists like Emmanuel Saez and real reporters like Timothy Noah.

Speaking of airheads, after the SOTU speech on Tuesday night we had the pleasure of watching baby-faced Florida Senator Marco Rubio make a complete ass out of himself on the TeeVee. Hullabaloo blogger David Atkins, who–unlike Rubio–is somewhat knowledgeable about economics, tried to explain to the the latest “great Republican hope” (before his speech) that not only do deficits not cause unemployment, but also our federal deficit is steadily decreasing. Of course no reader of Dakinikat’s posts needs any of this explained. But I still want to link to Atkins’ concluding paragraphs.

Why is the deficit shrinking? Mostly, because of the pickup in economic activity. The elimination of some of the tax cuts for the wealthy will also help. The Affordable Care Act will also be taking a bite out of our extravagant healthcare costs.

4. None of this has any impact on unemployment. Generally speaking, there are two kinds of jobs: public sector and private sector. Even though the private sector is doing better, public sector jobs are still declining due to conservative policies theoretically designed to reduce deficits. Private sector jobs, meanwhile, depend on consumer demand–not corporate profit. American corporations are experiencing record profits, but they aren’t hiring because there’s not enough middle-class consumer demand for them to hire workers.

4a. The lack of consumer demand leading to poor private-sector job growth in spite of record profits has nothing to do with deficits or uncertainty in the investing climate. It has everything to do with income inequality and economic insecurity among the middle and lower classes.

4b. The obsession over deficits among conservative politicians is directly responsible for public sector job cuts that are helping to drive up the unemployment rate and kill consumer demand.

All of which means that politicians like Marco Rubio who insist that the deficit is directly hurting employment are either so ignorant of economics that they shouldn’t be handling public policy, or so cynically manipulative that they shouldn’t be handling public policy.

And no “reporter” in Washington or elsewhere should be covering Rubio’s statements without providing a basic lesson in macroeconomics as context for his fact-free response.

Actually, Village idiots “reporters” like Chris Cillizza pretty much ignored whatever substance there was in Rubio’s speech and approvingly reported on the personal history that Rubio discussed. But beforehand, Cillizza wrote that Obama should focus on deficit in State of the Union

It’s the deficit, stupid. A look back at Obama’s first three State of the Union speeches, plus the address to a joint session of Congress in 2009, suggests a similar thematic pattern: He starts with the economy, moves to education and then, in the middle section of the speech, addresses the deficit. (The exception was in 2011, when Obama began his speech with a riff on partisanship.) In 2012, Obama spent just five minutes on the debt — less time than he spent on partisanship (51/2 minutes) or foreign policy (six minutes).

He should flip that script in this State of the Union and spend the bulk of his time talking about the deficit. Here’s why: In January 2009 polling by Pew Research Center, 53 percent of respondents said reducing the deficit was a “top priority.” In January 2013, that number soared to 72 percent, by far the biggest increase of any issue over that time. (By contrast, 85 percent said strengthening the economy was a top priority in 2009, while 86 percent said so at the start of this year.)

The debt is the issue of the day, and one that, if Obama is beginning to eye his legacy as president, could go a long way toward shaping how history remembers him. Make this speech a deficit speech.

For Cillizza and his ilk, “the deficit” (or “the debt,” which he doesn’t seem to understand is not the same thing) is “the issue of the day,” and unemployment and the other struggles of the 99 percent are completely invisible. Oh, and by the way, Dick Cheney loved Rubio’s speech.

I could go on and on like this, but I’ll stop now. I just wanted to rant for a bit in hopes of pulling myself out of my current malaise. I’ve realized finally that there isn’t going to be any real change as because the Villagers (often including the President) are just going to continue focusing on cutting spending and ignoring the problems facing those of us who live in the real world.

If you stayed with me this far, thanks for letting me rant! Now, I welcome your links to whatever you are reading and blogging about today.


Thursday Reads: Demographics, Anti-Science Republicans, and Biblical Views of Rape

Good Morning!!

The meme of the day yesterday was that Latino voters reelected President Obama. As usual, the role of women in the election is getting short shrift. In fact, the gender gap this year was even bigger than in 2008. At HuffPo, Laura Bassett writes:

According to CNN’s exit polls, 55 percent of women voted for Obama, while only 44 percent voted for Mitt Romney. Men preferred Romney by a margin of 52 to 45 percent, and women made up about 54 percent of the electorate. In total, the gender gap on Tuesday added up to 18 percent — a significantly wider margin than the 12-point gender gap in the 2008 election.

Women’s strong support in the swing states gave Obama a significant advantage over Romney, despite his losses among men and independents. While Obama lost by 10 percentage points among independents in Ohio, he won by 12 points among women in the state. In New Hampshire, women voted for Obama over Romney by a margin of 58 to 42 percent, while men preferred Romney by a narrow 4-point gap. Pennsylvania showed a 16-point gender gap that tipped the scale toward Obama.

Yes, Latinos voted for Obama by a wide margin, but guess what? There was a gender gap there too.

Overall Obama won three out of every four votes (75%) cast by Hispanic women and 63% of Hispanic men, a 12-point gender gap. Four years ago the gap was only four points as Obama won 64% of men and 68% of Latino women. Romney won 35% of Latino men and 24% of women.

Here’s another interesting demographic factoid: there isn’t much of a gender gap when it comes to voters wanting to keep abortion legal, and that holds true with Latinos as well as voters overall.

Exit poll results found that about two-thirds of Hispanics (66%) said that abortion should be legal while 28% disagreed. Among all voters, a somewhat smaller majority (59%) would allow legal abortions while 37% were opposed.

There is no gender gap on views on abortion among Hispanics or among all voters, according to national exit polling. About two-thirds of men (64%) and Latino women (67%) would permit legal abortion, as would 58% of all male voters nationally and 60% of women.

As Dakinikat noted yesterday, Republicans are busy trying to figure out how to attract Latino voters, who represent about 10% of the U.S. population. But they refuse to recognize the power of women voters, and they apparently haven’t noticed that overall, the majority of both men and women disapprove of Republicans using the government to control women’s bodies.

If the anti-science-and-math Republicans hadn’t disdained Nate Silver’s predictions, they could have been forewarned. On October 21, Silver wrote about the “historically” huge gender gap in 2012.

If only women voted, President Obama would be on track for a landslide re-election, equaling or exceeding his margin of victory over John McCain in 2008. Mr. Obama would be an overwhelming favorite in Ohio, Florida, Virginia and most every other place that is conventionally considered a swing state. The only question would be whether he could forge ahead into traditionally red states, like Georgia, Montana and Arizona.

If only men voted, Mr. Obama would be biding his time until a crushing defeat at the hands of Mitt Romney, who might win by a similar margin to the one Ronald Reagan realized over Jimmy Carter in 1980. Only California, Illinois, Hawaii and a few states in the Northeast could be considered safely Democratic. Every other state would lean red, or would at least be a toss-up.

IMHO, it would behoove both Democrats and Republicans to keep in mind that women are more than half of the electorate, and we are sick and tired of being pushed around.

In other news,

it came out yesterday that Mitch McConnell offered Marco Rubio the opportunity to run the NRSC for the midterm elections in 2014, but Rubio turned the job down. From Real Clear Politics:

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has been courted by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to take over the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the 2014 midterm season, but the freshman lawmaker declined the entreaty, sources told RCP.

It might seem early to think about the next campaign cycle, but Senate leadership elections will take place in short order. And given the GOP’s losses in Senate races Tuesday night, the party is looking to make some changes.

McConnell probably hoped that Rubio could help the party with it’s diversity issues.

Rubio, a rapidly rising star in the party after his huge but unlikely victory in the 2010 election, is a favorite of McConnell’s. And as a 41-year-old Cuban-American capable of delivering some of the party’s best speeches, he’s someone the GOP brass likes to put in front of the cameras. Not only is he inspirational, but he helps the diversity-challenged party bridge several divides with voters.

What’s more, Rubio is a star fundraiser who was able to pull in hundreds of thousands of dollars for Mitt Romney’s failed presidential bid, a skill that would be a boon to the Senate campaign committee. Of course, he can still be used by the NRSC to raise money, but he wouldn’t have to deal with the party’s divisive primaries as one of its leading strategists.

Much to McConnell’s chagrin — and for the second time in several months — Rubio’s career will not go in the direction that the Kentucky senator had been hoping for: When Romney was poring over running-mate prospects, McConnell was pining for Rubio, and he made his preference well known.

I just had to share this:

Dick Morris’ attempt to explain why he was so wrong in his prediction that Romney would win the election in a landslide, taking 325 electoral votes.

I’ve got egg on my face. I predicted a Romney landslide and, instead, we ended up with an Obama squeaker.

According to Morris, if Romney had won with 325 electoral votes it would have been a landslide. If Obama wins Florida, he’ll get 335 electoral votes, and it won’t be a landslide–it’ll be a “squeaker.”

The key reason for my bum prediction is that I mistakenly believed that the 2008 surge in black, Latino, and young voter turnout would recede in 2012 to “normal” levels. Didn’t happen. These high levels of minority and young voter participation are here to stay. And, with them, a permanent reshaping of our nation’s politics.

In 2012, 13% of the vote was cast by blacks. In 04, it was 11%. This year, 10% was Latino. In ’04 it was 8%. This time, 19% was cast by voters under 30 years of age. In ’04 it was 17%. Taken together, these results swelled the ranks of Obama’s three-tiered base by five to six points, accounting fully for his victory.

Morris could have done what the Obama campaign did and looked at the latest census numbers, but right wingers don’t believe in empirical evidence. But the real cause of Morris’ failure to make the correct prediction was Sandy and Chris Christie.

But the more proximate cause of my error was that I did not take full account of the impact of hurricane Sandy and of Governor Chris Christie’s bipartisan march through New Jersey arm in arm with President Obama. Not to mention Christe’s fawning promotion of Obama’s presidential leadership.

It made all the difference.

See? Morris’ mistaken prediction had nothing to do with Morris’ stupidity and the fact that he lives in the Fox News right wing bubble.

Harry Reid says he will take action to reform the filibuster rules.

From HuffPo:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pledged on Wednesday to change the rules of the Senate so that the minority party has fewer tools to obstruct legislative business….

“I want to work together, but I also want everyone to also understand, you cannot push us around. We want to work together,” Reid said.

“I do” have plans to change the Senate rules, he added. “I have said so publicly and I continue to feel that way … I think the rules have been abused, and we are going to work to change them. We will not do away with the filibuster, but we will make the senate a more meaningful place. We are going to make it so we can get things done.”

I sure do hope he means that.

Finally, a longer read.

I think we all agree that the Republican Party has been taken over by right wing religious nuts who claim to take the bible literally–even though they tend to pick and choose which parts of the Bible to pay attention to and which parts to ignore.

During the past couple of years, we watched Republicans in statehouses around the the country do their darnedest to take away women’s access to abortion and even contraception.

Mitt Romney chose as his VP a man who tried to change the definition of rape and who believes that rape is just another method of conception.

A string of Republican officeholders and candidates unself-consciously revealed themselves to be utter troglodytes who had bizarre notions about rape and who were quite willing to force victims of rape and incest who were impregnated to bear their perpetrators’ offspring.

If anyone thinks Republican crazies will change their minds just because women successfully voted down Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock and Rick Berg, I think they’d be sadly mistaken. I want to recommend an article I read at Alternet a few days ago: What the Bible Says About Rape. It’s long, but a very important read. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Christians of many stripes are scrambling to distance themselves, their religion, or their God from Republican comments about rape . The latest furor is about Washington State congressional candidate John Koster, who opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest and added for good measure that “incest is so rare, I mean it’s so rare.” Before that, it was Indiana candidate Richard Mourdock, who said, “I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen” backed up by Texas senator John Cornyn insisting that “life is a gift from God.” These men share the January sentiment of Rick Santorum: “the right approach is to accept this horribly created — in the sense of rape — but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you.”

Those Christians who see the Bible as a human, historical document have the right to distance themselves. Those who see the Bible as the unique and perfect revelation of the Divine, essentially dictated by God to the writers, do not. The fact is, the perspective that God intends rape babies and that such pregnancies should be allowed to run their course is perfectly biblical.

I am not going to argue here that the Bible teaches that life begins at conception. It doesn’t. The Bible writers had no concept of conception, and no Bible writer values the life of a fetus on par with the life of an infant or an older child. One does say that God knows us while we are developing in the womb, but another says he knows us even before . Levitical law prescribes a fine for a man who accidentally triggers a miscarriage . It is not the same as the penalty for manslaughter. Therapeutic abortion is never mentioned, nor is the status of the fetus that spontaneously aborts. Under Jewish law, a newborn isn’t circumcised and blessed until he is eight days old, having clearly survived the high mortality peri-natal period. For centuries the Catholic Church believed that “ensoulment” occurred and a fetus became a person at the time of quickening or first movement, sometime during the second trimester.

However, if we take the viewpoint of biblical literalists and treat the Good Book as if it were authored by a single perfect, unchanging Deity, then a man is on solid ground thinking that rape babies are part of God’s intentions.

As long as the Republican Party is controlled by “christians” who take the bible literally, women’s rights to autonomy are threatened. No woman should vote for any Republican as long as this state of affairs continues.

Now what are you reading and blogging about today?