Lazy Saturday Afternoon Reads

Spring is on the way!

Spring is on the way!


 

Good Afternoon!!

I woke up this morning with my eyes so scratchy and watery that I couldn’t read anything on-line until I took a long hot shower. It’s either a cold, a sinus infection, or very early pollen in the air–or maybe all three. Who knows? Anyway, I’m feeling better now.

There’s plenty of news this morning, but not a lot of *new news,* if you know what I mean. The Middle East is still in chaos, Malaysian Airlines 370 is still missing, Republicans are still insane; yet the Earth still continues to turn on its axis. I’ve tried to find a few stories worthy of your attention–I’ll let you be the judge.

UPDATE (11:57 Eastern):

There actually is some breaking news from Ukraine. BBC News is reporting that Russian troops storm[ed a] Ukraine airbase in Crimea, shots fired.

Shooting and explosions have been heard as Russian troops – backed by armoured vehicles – stormed a Ukrainian airbase in Crimea.

Reports say at least one person was injured during the assault on Belbek base, near Sevastopol. The base is now said to be under Russian control.

Earlier, several hundred unarmed protesters seized a Ukrainian naval base at Novofedorivka, western Crimea.

Pro-Russian militia has also been seizing Ukrainian Navy ships.

The BBC’s Ian Pannell, in Crimea, says the Ukrainian troops on the peninsula feel beleaguered and abandoned by their chiefs in Ukraine….

In Belbek, two armoured personnel carriers burst through the wall of the base followed by Russian troops firing weapons in the air.

An ambulance was then seen entering the base amid reports that at least one person was injured.

The Ukrainian soldiers were later gathered at the base main square in front of the heavily armed Russian troops.

The storming followed an ultimatum by the Russians to surrender.

Did you hear that Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has blocked Twitter in his country?

Reuters: Furious reaction, political split after Turkey bans Twitter.

A court blocked access to Twitter after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s defiant vow, on the campaign trail on Thursday ahead of March 30 local elections, to “wipe out” the social media service, whatever the international community had to say about it.

Industry Minister Fikri Isik said talks with Twitter were taking place and the ban would be lifted if the San Francisco-based firm appointed a representative in Turkey and agreed to block specific content when requested by Turkish courts.

Twitter turkey

What’s Erdogan’s problem with social media?

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for 11 years, is battling a corruption scandal that has been fed by social media awash with alleged evidence of government wrongdoing. He did not mention the Twitter ban at two campaign rallies on Friday.

Turkey’s main opposition party said it would challenge the ban and file a criminal complaint against Erdogan on the grounds of violating personal freedoms. The country’s bar association filed a separate court challenge.

Twitter users called the move a “digital coup”, some comparing Turkey to Iran and North Korea, where social media platforms are tightly controlled. There were also calls for protests.

“Waking up to no Twitter in Turkey feels like waking up to a coup. The modern equivalent of occupying the radio stations,” U.S. author and journalist Andrew Finkel, who has reported from Turkey for more than 20 years, said on his Twitter account.

This morning Reuters reports that

Turks attempting to access Twitter have found an Internet page carrying court rulings saying that a “protection measure” has been taken, blocking the site.

But many have been able to get around the ban, either by using virtual private network (VPN) software or changing their Domain Name System (DNS) setting, effectively disguising their computers’ geographical whereabouts.

By Saturday, though, computers that had been set with DNS numbers widely circulated to help people get around the ban were not able to access the Internet at all.

“Apparently alternate DNS servers are also blocked in Turkey. New settings are being circulated,” wrote one Twitter user.

Apparently twitter is very popular in Turkey. The Washington Post has lots more reactions to the Turkish Twitter ban.

I know everyone is sick of the missing MH370 story, so I’ll just give you one link to a minor update.

WaPo: Australia expands search for missing jetliner as China investigates new satellite image.

Chinese satellite image

Chinese satellite image

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — China released a new image of a “suspected floating object” in the Indian Ocean on Saturday, in the vicinity of an Australian-led search that has brought fresh hope to the hunt for a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner.

China has sent ships to investigate, according to the Malaysian government.

The Chinese government said one of its satellites spotted the object on March 18, about 75 miles west of the location released by Australia earlier this week.

A grainy image of the latest find was tweeted Saturday by Chinese state television, CCTV. It is dated two days after the two images released by Australia.

The search for the missing airliner has now entered a third week, with the main hope for a breakthrough hinging on planes and ships being able to locate floating objects picked up by satellites in a desolate stretch of ocean almost as close to Antarctica as to Australia.

Michelle Obama is on a good will tour of China with her mother and two daughters. Time reports on the First Lady’s defense of “the free internet” in a speech at Peking University.

First Lady Michelle Obama used a trip to China Saturday to promote the liberating “power of technology” in a veiled swipe at the harshly restrictive Internet and media environment in the country.

At her first—and only—major speech scheduled during her…trip…Obama said that new technology can “open up the entire world and expose us to ideas and innovations we could never have imagined.”

“It is so important for information and ideas to flow freely over the Internet and through the media,” she said. “Because that’s how we discover the truth, that’s how we learn what’s really happening in our communities, in our country and our world.”

President Xi Jinping and his wife welcomed U.S. first lady and her mother and daughters

President Xi Jinping and his wife welcomed U.S. first lady and her mother and daughters


 

I never watch the Sunday talk shows, because they are horrible; but Paul Waldman of WaPo’s The Plum Line apparently hasn’t given up on them.

Waldman asks: Can the Sunday shows get better?

Most members of Congress would kill to be interviewed on one of the shows, since getting such an appearance instantly brands you as an important person whose opinions are worth listening to. But “Meet the Press,” the oldest and most venerated of the shows, has been struggling of late, falling behind “This Week” and “Face the Nation” in the ratings, leading to some rumors about David Gregory’s future. But as Michael Calderone reports in the Huffington Post, the network is “doubling down” on Gregory as it tries to gingerly step its way into the digital world. The problem, though, is what they put on the air every Sunday.

There’s a conceit about the Sunday shows, that they hold the powerful accountable. It’s where “newsmakers” come to be raked over the coals, unable to escape the probing queries of savvy and unrelenting interrogators. But it’s awfully hard to watch the shows and believe that’s true. What happens instead is that the powerful come on the shows, and the hosts try (and almost always fail) to trap them with various kinds of “gotcha” questions, which the powerful handle by returning again and again to their carefully planned messages. The result, even for those of us who love listening to and talking about politics and policy, is remarkably tedious.

Meet the press

So how can these awful shows be improved?

Let me make a couple of suggestions I know they’d never consider. First, ban all party chairs, White House communication staff, party “strategists,” and anyone else whose primary objective is to spin from ever, ever, ever appearing on the show. Ever. To ask a question I’ve raised elsewhere: Has anyone anywhere in the United States turned off their TV and said, “Wow, that interview with Reince Priebus was really interesting”? Of course not, and the same applies to his Democratic counterpart, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. That’s because their job is to deliver talking points, and they do so with a discipline worthy of the Marine Honor Guard, no matter what questions they’re asked. And they get plenty of time on cable, so why waste valuable minutes on a Sunday show by letting them repeat the same talking points they’ve recited 100 times that that week?

And while we’re at it, why not go farther and cut down the interviews with elected officials and candidates by three-quarters or so? I’m serious. When was the last time you saw a truly edifying interview on a Sunday show with a senator or member of Congress? If you want to talk about what’s going on in Ukraine, I could hardly care less what John McCain (the shows’ most frequent guest) thinks about it, and I doubt I’m alone. He knows next to nothing about the situation, and as a minority party senator with almost no support among his colleagues, he’ll have precisely zero impact on the outcome of events. So how about, as a first rule, the people you bring on should 1) know as much as possible about the things you’re going to discuss, and 2) have little if any interest in spinning?

Good luck with that. I’d say the very best thing that could be done is to ban both John McCain and Lindsey Graham from ever appearing on Sunday shows. And for heaven’s sake get rid of David Gregory and put Bob Schieffer permanently out to pasture. BTW, Bob’s guest tomorrow will be Mitt Romney because he undoubtedly has all the answers on what’s up with Russian and Ukraine.

A few more quick hits . . .

Politico: Judge strikes down Mich. same-sex marriage ban

Reuters: Pope appoints former child victim to church group on sex abuse

Talking Points Memo: Creationists Complain Tyson’s ‘Cosmos’ Isn’t Giving Them Airtime

Business Insider: North Dakota State Is America’s Team

So . . . what stories are you following today? Let us know in the comment thread and have a terrific weekend!


MTP: Jindal’s Pants catch fire & melt Dancin’ Dave’s Disco Ball

mtpBobby Jindal got the first word on the budget sequester this morning on MTP. His “reasonable” face to the nation is no where near his record as Louisiana’s worst Governor Ever. He was basically there to state how easy it is to cut government spending and taxes since he’d done such a bang-up job of it in Louisiana. As usual, Jindal was whistling Dixie out of his bony, malignantly narcissistic ass.  Let me demonstrate Jindal Budgeting Tricks 101 for those in the national media that will NEVER actually do any research on these hideous and false claims.

Some national press figure should do some homework on what Jindal’s done to the budget in Louisiana and the dishonest, destructive, and unconstitutional ways that he’s found to “balance” it. His budget director more than fessed up last week to the fact that he’s cut state services beyond the point where basic needs met by the state will go unmet.  This includes the State Patrol which  I would assume even Republicans find a necessary expenditure and service. That’s not preventing him from going on national TV and telling a completely different story about how easy it is to find fat in budgets. This information is succinctly put by Stephan Winham writing for The Louisiana Voice.   Mr. Winham should know.  He’s the now retired State Budget Director.  This year’s Jindal Budget will go beyond hurting the state and selling off state assets to potential corporate donors to his presidential campaign.  Please, some one stop him before he kills again.

The governor is happy to tout his refusal to increase state taxes. He is also happy to talk about his successes in reducing the size of government and refusal of additional federal support. He is very direct, if not necessarily consistent, when it comes to holding the line on these things. Although there is no second half to his current plan to eliminate income and franchise taxes, he assures us that, if he actually ever presents a proposal for the other side of the equation, it will be income neutral.

If Nichols’ testimony is to be taken at face value, we can only assume it is not possible to maintain critical services with our current level of recurring revenue. So far, the governor’s approach to reducing state government has been to gradually strangle it through continued submission of unrealistic budgets intended to give the impression everything is okay. The legislators adopt these proposals and congratulate themselves on another successful year.

In reality, everything is not okay. The governor knows it. Ms. Nichols knows it. The legislators interested enough to pay attention know it. As long as projected revenues from reliable, stable sources do not equal projected necessary expenditures, things will NEVER be okay. Governor Jindal has not submitted, nor has the legislature adopted, such a budget during his entire administration. This is proven by the mid-year cuts that are always necessary in adopted yearly budgets and the never-ending projections of deep holes for every future year.

Governor Jindal has been quoted repeatedly in the national press saying we all have to learn to live within our means. If he really believes this, why does he not present budgets that allow the state of Louisiana to do so? I think Ms. Nichols has made the answer quite clear – because we simply cannot live the way we want to within our present means. Presenting a truly balanced budget would result in an outcry from even the staunchest fiscal conservatives who would immediately begin to cry, “Why don’t you cut the fat, not the meat?” They would never accept there isn’t enough fat left to leave the meat alone.

This year, Jindal’s budget relies heavily on selling off LSU’s hospitals.  It’s just a matter of time before our Tier 1 school loses Louisiana Hussyits accreditation and the med school’s standing is jeopardized.  The hospital in Monroe that serves some of the poorest folks in the state can’t find a buyer and will most likely just be shut down.

The budget cuts about $780.6 million from those programs on the assumption that all but two of the state’s 10 public hospitals will be privatized. So far, only five of those hospitals have announced plans for partnerships with private companies, and none of those proposals has been finalized.

Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, described the public hospital situation bluntly as he questioned Nichols about the process Friday. “Public hospitals are gone after this budget,” Thompson said. “Don’t exist. Over. Finished.”

Thompson’s concerns focused on E.A. Conway Medical Center in Monroe. No private company has been identified as a possible partner for it, and the budget does not include enough money to operate the center for 12 months. Thompson said the center cares for some of the poorest residents in the state.

That’s not all of the last drops of the safety net programs that are on the table.  Plus, every year since Jindal’s taken offce, the budget estimates have been far rosier than occurs, so midbudget year slashes have been necessary.  I lived through those at both UNO and at SELU when I was there.  Let me just say I’m glad to be teaching at a private institution while living here.  It gets harder to justify staying here in Louisiana every year.  The kids graduated LSU and bolted. Thanks goodness Jean went to med school and is doing her residency in Nebraska. I love New Orleans and my little Bywater gem,  but it’s hard to see much of a future in a state that’s been gutted of assets to appease Republican political donors. As an economist, I know that it’s going to take a good decade to get over the impact from that kind of loss of infrastructure alone. State expenditures now include running the same functions with an added layer of payments for corporate inefficiencies, executive bonuses, and lush corporate profits and dividends.  I can’t wait until he starts selling off the state parks next year and all of our arenas and stadiums.  I’m assuming that some of the universities will collapse completely too and be auctioned off for some obscene use. That’s about all we have left now.  I’m also assuming he’s got his eye on that BP money.  He ran through a lot of the Katrina/FEMA money during his first year or so.   We simply aren’t using sustainable sources of revenue.

Here’s some more things on the table.

The budget also cuts funding for the Early Steps program, which provides therapy to developmentally disabled children under the age of 3. It proposes to make up the shortfall by charging some participants in the program.

Families that make more than 250 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $57,000 for a family of four, would have to pay for Early Steps on a sliding scale depending on their income, Greenstein said. About half of the 9,400 children who participate in the program each year belong to families that would be affected by the change.

The revised rules, which are expected to save the state about $1.7 million, would require the passage of new legislation before they could go into effect. Officials have not yet worked out exactly how much families will pay, Greenstein said.

The department is also planning to move pregnant women who are now receiving care through Medicaid into a program set up under the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, that provides subsidized health insurance.

Here’s additional cuts in the budgets for the State Police and higher education.

Jindal and other administration officials have noted that if the budget passes, about 26,000 state government jobs will have been shed since the governor took office five years ago.

Among the positions that will not be funded next year are 44 commissioned officers and 39 civilians in the State Police. The last new class of State Police cadets began training in the fall of 2008. When they graduated, there were 1,153 troopers in the force. That number has since fallen to 964 troopers.

State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson said he’s been dealing with the loss of troopers by putting officers who formerly spent much of their time behind a desk, such as investigators, on the road and by hiring retired officers to work on a part-time basis during peak hours. He also credited increased cooperation with sheriffs’ offices and local police departments, as well as an effort to make troopers more of a visible presence on the road, for decreasing traffic fatalities.

The agency is looking for money for new troopers and hopes to be able to graduate a class by the end of 2014, Edmonson said. Nichols said there are no plans for a new cadet class in this year’s budget.

As you can see, a lot of Jindal’s budget cuts come from selling off state assets.  These are one time occurrences so they only fill the holes for one year.

The state expects to make $47 million by selling six state properties, including a portion of the campus of Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville, which was privatized last year; office buildings in Baton Rouge; and a Department of Insurance property. The administration had intended to sell the Department of Insurance property last year and included that same anticipated money in last year’s budget.

Jindal has also diverted funds from other projects.  Most people fear that he will divert funds from the BP oil settlement and RESTORE which are supposed to go to coastal restoration.  Jindal’s budget revenue tricks are short term while his guts in public services and taxes are permanent.  I can’t imagine any one would want to be governor following these steps.  This is basically a short term plan to shore up his presidential appeal to right wing, tea party nuts.  The state will suffer for decades as it tries to unwind the damage.  Already, he’s pulled funds from the Rigs-to-Reef funds.

Yesterday, we learned that during the last two years, Governor Jindal has raided nearly $45 million from the Rigs-to-Reefs fund, which, as its name implies, requires rig operators to contribute a certain portion of their income to create and develop infrastructure projects along the Louisiana coast that could offset some of this destruction. But instead of spending that $45 million on needed coastal restoration projects, Jindal pilfered from the fund in order to offset losses in the State’s General Fund. Thankfully, the Board of the Artificial Reef Fund is now speaking out and making it abundantly clear that, for them, Jindal’s use of their monies is unconstitutional

Robert Mann–the Director of LSU’s Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs –came up with a better series of questions that Disco Dave should’ve asked our Governor who is evidently relying on the ignorance of the national press to enhance his national prospects.

1. You say you are a fiscal conservative. But how do you square that with your habit of cobbling together your state’s budget every year with non-recurring revenue? Didn’t you campaign against such a practice as reckless and fiscally irresponsible?

2. Do you believe that your Republican gubernatorial colleagues in Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and North Dakota are reckless in accepting federal funds to expand their state’s Medicaid programs? What do you know that they don’t?

3. Why have you not yet visited the community of Bayou Corne, Louisiana, where hundreds of your constituents have been homeless for months because of a collapsing salt dome?

4. You have fired or forced out a considerable number of staff members, state legislators, university officials and others who disagreed with your policies. Why are you so uncomfortable with dissent or contrary views?

5. You have a biology degree from Brown. Do you believe in evolution? Do you believe that creationism is science?

6. Your administration has slashed higher education funding by more than $400 million in the past several years. The LSU system president, Williams Jenkins, said recently that those budget cuts had harmed LSU and threatened its status as a tier-one university. When was the last time you visited the LSU campus, or any other university campus, to meet with students to discuss the impact of those cuts on their education?

7. Do you believe that sales taxes are inherently regressive and harmful to the poor? Is exempting only groceries, medicine and utilities enough to shield the poor from the impact of a large state sales tax increase?

8. Why would you oppose a 4-cent renewal of your state’s cigarette tax and then propose more than a dollar increase in the same tax? Why was the 4-cent renewal an unacceptable tax increase, but a dollar increase is not?

9. Do you believe that purchasers of guns ought to first be required to undergo a basic background check? Why do you believe people should be allowed to carry guns into churches?

10. You campaigned on transparency. Why do you believe the records of your office should be shielded from public view?

Of course, Disco Dave would actually have to rely on research instead of Beltway memes to follow this line of questioning so it’s doubtful that any of Mann’s questions even crossed his mind. Disco Dave and staff are probably doing the Harlem Shake right now since it’s the “in” thing and investigative journalism is so 1973.  At least, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick was there to challenge some of Jindal’s rationale on the sequester.

Patrick, a frequent surrogate for Obama during the 2012 campaign, reacted yesterday to criticism by fellow “Meet the Press” guest Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, saying the current standoff on Capitol Hill over how to pull the economy out of a looming nosedive “is not of the president’s creation.”

“The president hasn’t campaigned and hasn’t wanted to govern constantly being in conflict with congressional Republicans,” said Patrick. “From the very beginning, it was the leadership of the Republicans … who said their No. 1 agenda was to make this president a one-term president. When he won a second term, their No. 1 agenda is to slow down the recovery of our economy and that needs to be called out. It is a fact.”

But Jindal countered Obama “needs to stand up at the plate if he really thinks this is going to devastate the military, devastate air-traffic control, really devastate meat inspections …

“The reality is the federal budget this year, even after the cuts, will still be larger,” Jindal said. “Families and businesses out there during this national recession have had to tighten their belts, do more with less. You ask any American out there, ‘Is there at least 3 percent of the federal budget that’s being wasted today?’ Let’s not cut the air-traffic controllers first, let’s go cut the waste.

“It is time to stop campaigning,” Jindal said of Obama. “It is time to actually do the job right here in Washington, D.C.”

8504266430_e253fb7911_oDisco Dave did at least chide Jindal for having a state that resides on the bottom of every conceivable quality of life measure possible. Jindal insists he’s got things going in the right direction.  HA!

Here are some statistics, state to state, Massachusetts to Louisiana, that reflect kinda more services, less taxes, and the different results. Put that up there. You have a bigger population in Massachusetts. You see that there. The high school graduation rate much higher in Massachusetts. The median income about 20,000 higher. The percentage of population without healthcare insurance much higher in Louisiana. The percentage of the population on food stamps much higher in Louisiana. So does this, do results break a little along some of the ideological and philosophical lines about taxes and the amount of government services?

Still, Jindal should take his own advice rather than killing the state he governs with ALEC-inspired policies meant to enrich the richest and enslave the poorest.  He’s been in perpetual campaign for president mode since about the second or third year of his first term.  His second term is basically nothing but appeasement of Republican primary voters and donors.  He continues to divert state funds to religious madrassas and private, charter schools that are not required to follow the same strict state and federal laws regulating the state’s public schools.  He has defunded Higher Education to the point that even LSU’s accreditation is in jeopardy and most universities have had cut into vital services and programs.  I’ve already inkled just some of the nasty things happening to the state’s health care system and public safety.  The minute the FEMA funds and BP Oil spill funds leave the state, we’ll fall so far below Mississippi we may never catch up again.  Those are the few stimulatory sources of funding we have.  Don’t forget that he’s trying to increase our sales taxes which will undoubtedly kill a lot of retail stores and the tourist industry. Consumer demand of these items are extremely price sensitive so it’s likely to cut in to the revenues of many of Lousiana’s small businesses.

Again, will some one PLEASE out this man for the liar that he is and stop him before he kills again?


Monday Reads

Tea by Fireplace dreamstime_14660067Good Morning!

So, I’m so ready for this week to be over and it’s barely started.  I need to hit the hardware store and get a new pair of shoes.   National Crass Consumerism Day makes any trip anywhere completely unpleasant so I’m tapping my toes and fingers and happy to be headed towards Carnival Season.

The great divide and debate on the role of assault weapons and military grade ammo clips continued to run amok this week on Dancing Dave’s Disco and Ammo show yesterday.  The NRA’s Chief Gun Nut still insists that armed patrols and teachers is the way to go rather than the way the rest of the civilized world has toned down it’s mass murder massacre numbers.  Disco Dave waved around an ammo clip as  LaPierre begged for more people to call him crazy.  So, I’ll oblige.   LaPierre is crazy and whoever had Diane Fienstein’s name in the drinking game spent the rest of the day drinking it all off.

“I know there’s a media machine in this country that wants to blame guns every time something happens, I know there’s an anti-Second Amendment industry in this country,” LaPierre shot back. “I’m telling you what I think will make people safe.”

The NBC moderator then confronted LaPierre with several newspaper reactions to the press conference, headlines which called LaPierre “crazy” and a “gun nut.” The NRA CEO was unfazed: “If it’s crazy to call for putting armed police in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy,” he replied.

“You don’t think guns should be a part of the conversation?” Gregory pressed again.

LaPierre responded that you could do what Sen. Dianne Feinstein wishes and ban all high-capacity magazines, but “it’s not going to make any kids safer.” He also added that he got supportive emails from gun owners saying they went to bed safer knowing they had a gun at their side.

“A feeling is not a fact,” Gregory interjected. “That’s a reassurance, not evidence.”

The two then went head-to-head over LaPierre’s proposal to arm security guards in schools, noting that the policy has “failed” in the past, as in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. The NRA head claimed that the Columbine security forces were told not to go into the school, despite exchanging fire — but they waited for SWAT to show up to enter the building.

An unconvinced Gregory asked LaPierre how the program would work and how many officers he envisions on each campus. LaPierre responded that he’d prefer that police forces figure that out, because they already know how to protect politicians, the media, and office buildings.

After pressing LaPierre further on why he is unwilling to concede gun control measures as one part of the potential solution, the NRA leader responded that “you can’t legislate morality … legislation works on the law-abiding, it doesn’t work on criminals.”

“If it’s possible to reduce the loss of life, you’re willing to try [gun control]?” Gregory repeatedly asked before holding up a high-capacity magazine of ammunition. “Isn’t it possible that if we got rid of these … isn’t it just possible that we could reduce the carnage in a situation like New Haven?” Gregory pushed.

bor121219I live in a state full of gun nuts carrying concealed weapons and we are the number one state in gun deaths.  Lotta good those guns and the carry permits do us.  It scares the daylights out of me to think that any one that doesn’t have a uniform on might have a gun on them.  I do not want to get caught in the cross fire between an aspiring Rambo and some well-armed person in a psychotic break.  It makes me want to stay home and suck my thumb, frankly.

Nowadays, however, there are four states that require no permit at all to carry a gun, and 35 states have permissive “shall issue” or “right-to-carry” laws that effectively take the decision of who should carry a weapon out of law enforcement’s hands. These laws say that if an applicant meets minimal criteria — one is not having been convicted of a felony, and another is not having a severe mental illness — officials have no choice about whether to issue a permit.

Some states go even further by expressly allowing guns where they should not be. Nine states now have “carry laws” that permit guns on campuses; eight permit them in bars; five permit them in places of worship. In Utah, holders of permits can now carry concealed guns in elementary schools.

Among the arguments advanced for these irresponsible statutes is the claim that “shall issue” laws have played a major role in reducing violent crime. But the National Research Council has thoroughly discredited this argument for analytical errors. In fact, the legal scholar John Donohue III and others have found that from 1977 to 2006, “shall issue” laws increased aggravated assaults by “roughly 3 to 5 percent each year.”

The federal government could help protect the public from lax state gun laws. For starters, the Fix Gun Checks Act, proposed last year in Congress, would close gaping loopholes in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and make a huge difference in identifying many people who should be denied permits under “shall issue” laws yet slip through the state systems.

Similarly, Congress could require that states set higher standards for granting permits for concealed weapons, give local law enforcement agencies greater say in the process, and prohibit guns from public places like parks, schools and churches. It could also require record-keeping and licensing requirements in the sale of ammunition, and strengthen the enforcement capabilities of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The one thing Congress absolutely must not do is pass a law requiring all states to grant legal status to permits from others; that would undercut states that have relatively strong laws and would turn a porous system into a sieve.

A ProPublica article shows how Rove’s strategy to get Republicans elected in 2010 created the current dysfunctional Congress.  It’s also likely to keep it that way until redistricting happens.  Read how Republican Dark Money and Ed Gillespie pulled it off.

Republican strategist Karl Rove laid out the approach in a Wall Street Journal column in early 2010 headlined “He who controls redistricting can control Congress.”

The approach paid off. In 2010 state races, Republicans picked up 675 legislative seats, gaining complete control of 12 state legislatures. As a result, the GOP oversaw redrawing of lines for four times as many congressional districts as Democrats.

How did they dominate redistricting? A ProPublica investigation has found that the GOP relied on opaque nonprofits funded by dark money, supposedly nonpartisan campaign outfits, and millions in corporate donations to achieve Republican-friendly maps throughout the country. Two tobacco giants, Altria and Reynolds, each pitched in more than $1 million to the main Republican redistricting group, as did Rove’s super PAC, American Crossroads; Walmart and the pharmaceutical industry also contributed. Other donors, who gave to the nonprofits Republicans created, may never have to be disclosed.

While many observers have noted that mega-donors like Sheldon Adelson backed losing candidates, a close look at the Republicans’ effort on redistricting suggests something else: The hundreds of millions spent this year on presidential TV ads may not have hit the mark, but the relatively modest sums funneled to redistricting paid off handsomely.

Where Democrats were in control, they drew gerrymandered maps just like Republicans. They also had their own secretive redistricting funding. (Last year, we detailed how Democrats in California worked to undermine the state’s attempt at non-partisan redistricting.) But Democrats got outspent 3-to-1 and did not prioritize winning state legislatures. They also faced a Republican surge in 2010.

Exactly how the Republican effort worked has been shrouded in mystery until now. But depositions and other documents in a little-noticed lawsuit in North Carolina offer an exceptionally detailed picture of Republicans’ tactics.

Documents show that national Republican operatives, funded by dark money groups, drew the crucial lines which packed as many Democrats as possible into three congressional districts. The result: the state’s congressional delegation flipped from 7-6 Democratic to 9-4 in favor of Republicans. The combination of party operatives, cash and secrecy also existed in other states, including Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan.

Redistricting is supposed to protect the fundamental principle of one-person-one-vote. As demographics change, lines are shifted to make sure everyone is equally represented and to give communities a voice. In order for Republicans to win in North Carolina, they undermined the votes of Democrats, especially African-Americans. (Party leaders in North Carolina say they were simply complying with federal voting laws.)

The strategy began in the run-up to the 2010 elections. Republicans poured money into local races in North Carolina and elsewhere. It was an efficient approach. While congressional races routinely cost millions, a few thousand dollars can swing a campaign for a seat in the state legislature

The Republican effort to influence redistricting overall was spearheaded by a group called the Republican State Leadership Committee, which has existed since 2002. For most of that time, it was primarily a vehicle for donors like health care and tobacco companies to influence state legislatures, key battlegrounds for regulations that affect corporate America. Its focus changed in 2010 when Ed Gillespie, former counselor to President George W. Bush, was named chairman. His main project: redistricting.

And so now, we either live in liberal ghettos or Rovistan.

So, BB sent me this link to  Bruce Bartlett article in the FT.  His hypothesis sounds pretty close to mine and remember, he used to be a Republican too.  It’s called “How Democrat s Became Liberal Republicans”.   I also agree with his rationale.

The dirty secret is that Obama simply isn’t very liberal, nor is the Democratic Party any more. Certainly, the center of the party today is far to the right of where it was before 1992, when Bill Clinton was elected with a mission to move the party toward the right. It was widely believed by Democratic insiders that the nation had moved to the right during the Reagan era and that the Democratic Party had to do so as well or risk permanent loss of the White House.

It is only the blind hatred Republicans had for Clinton that prevented them from seeing that he governed as a moderate conservative – balancing the budget, cutting the capital gains tax, promoting free trade, and abolishing welfare, among other things. And it is only because the political spectrum has shifted to the right that Republicans cannot see to what extent Obama and his party are walking in Clinton’s footsteps.

One of the few national reporters who has made this point is the National Journal’s Major Garrett. In a December 13 column, he detailed the rightward drift of the Democratic Party on tax policy over the last 30 years.

“In ways inconceivable to Republicans of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Democrats have embraced almost all of their economic arguments about tax cuts. Back then, sizable swaths of the Democratic Party sought to protect higher tax rates for all. Many opposed President Reagan’s 1981 across-the-board tax cuts and the indexing of tax brackets for inflation. Many were skeptical of Reagan’s 1986 tax reform that consolidated 15 tax brackets into three and lowered the top marginal rate from 50 percent to 28 percent (with a “bubble rate” of 33 percent for some taxpayers). They despised the expanded child tax credit and marriage-penalty relief called for under the GOP’s Contract With America.

“Now all of that is embedded in Democratic economic theory and political strategy. The only taxes that the most progressive Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson wants to raise are those affecting couples earning more than $267,600 and individuals earning more than $213,600 (these are the 2013 indexed amounts from President Obama’s 2009 proposal of $250,000 for couples and $200,000 for individuals). Yes, some of this increase would hit some small businesses. But that can be finessed.”

I think that a lot of the Democratic Party’s rightward drift resulted from two factors. First is the continuing decline of organized labor from 24 percent of the labor force in 1973 to less than half that percentage in 2011. And the decline among private sector workers has been even more severe.

So, there’s a few long reads to keep you busy on a wet winter day.  I’m looking forward to severe weather and tornado threats by Tuesday.  Hopefully, you’ve got a better weather outlook in your future!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?