Lazy Caturday Reads

By Jackie Morris

Good Afternoon!!

The lies come thick and fast from the Trump administration. It’s not just Trump; it’s his entire gang of shameless prevaricators.

Remember those MAGA hats that Trump signed for service members in Iraq? The White House swore up and down to CNN that they didn’t distribute the campaign merchandise, but people who were there say otherwise.

Of course we can’t be sure these tweets are legit, but come on! Who actually believes these soldiers bought Trump hats and banners and had them shipped to Iraq? Give me a break. I know this is a minor scandal in the scheme of things Trump, but still…

And besides, this was supposed to be a secret, surprise visit, so are we supposed to believe these folks always carry their MAGA hats and banners around with them and to the mess hall?

OK, I know I’m beating a dead horse, but I get so tired of all the gaslighting.

Now check this out. Remember that NYT story awhile back about undocumented immigrants working at Trump’s New Jersey golf club?

The New York Daily News: New Jersey AG has obtained evidence of possible crimes at Trump’s golf club — and Mueller, FBI are involved in probe.

New Jersey prosecutors have collected evidence that supervisors at President Trump’s Garden State golf club may have committed federal immigration crimes — and the FBI as well as special counsel Robert Mueller have played part in the inquiry, the Daily News has learned.

Anibal Romero, a Newark attorney who represents several undocumented immigrants who used to work at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, said Friday he recently met with investigators from the state attorney general’s office and handed over fraudulent green cards and Social Security numbers that management at the club allegedly procured and gave his clients, Victorina Morales and Sandra Diaz.

Before he met with the state prosecutors, Romero said he reached out to Mueller’s office because, while he wanted to contact federal authorities, he was concerned about looping in the Justice Department, which was headed by Jeff Sessions at the time.

Mueller’s office got back to Romero and said the issue was out of their jurisdiction, but they apparently passed the information on to the FBI.

A few weeks later, an FBI agent in New Jersey called Romero.

“He said to me that he had received a referral from Robert Mueller’s office and that he already knew the specifics and that he wanted to meet with me in person,” Romero said.

By S. Telari, Deviant Art

Romero then met with two agents at a federal office in Branchburg, N.J., and outlined the same evidence he had already given the AG prosecutors. The agents said they would “coordinate” with the AG’s office, according to Romero.

Romero said he’s stayed in touch with the FBI and the attorney general’s office but declined to confirm whether either of the agencies have formally opened investigations.

“I’m confident that federal and state authorities will conduct a complete and thorough investigation,” Romero said.

How many states is Trump under investigation in now? I’ve lost count.

Here’s a funny media story from by Ashley Feinberg at HuffPost: The Thinnest Skins In Media In 2018. Their diapers runneth over. You’ll have to click on the link to read the details, but here’s the list of included media figures:

Jake Tapper, CNN Anchor And Respecter Of Troops

Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine Columnist And Scab

Jim VandeHei, Axios CEO And Co-founder, Unofficial Spokesman For Zuckerberg 2020

Maggie Haberman, Nonpartisan New York Times Non-non-reporter

Jonathan Swan, Axios-Branded Dictaphone

Chris Cillizza, CNN Something-Or-Other

Glenn Greenwald, Prophet Of Civil Liberties And Ironic Capitalization

Salena Zito, Gas Station Oracle

Chris Cuomo, Famous Brother Haver

Ben Wittes, Prose Torturer

Ashley Feinberg, Professional Corncob

Now go read. You won’t be sorry.

Here in Massachusetts, the Governor just signed a new law regulation short-term rentals. The Boston Globe: Baker signs long-awaited Airbnb bill, opening new era for industry.

Governor Charlie Baker on Friday signed first-of-its-kind legislation to tax and regulate the short-term housing rental market in Massachusetts, capping years of debate over how to navigate an industry that has exploded through companies like Airbnb.

The new rules will take effect July 1 and could transform a market that spans the state, from Cape Cod summer homes to Boston apartment buildings to Western Massachusetts vacation retreats.

The bill requires every rental host to register with the state, mandates they carry insurance, and opens the potential for local taxes on top of a new state levy. A chief negotiator for the House said the goal is to register every short-term rental in the state by September, and local officials, including in Boston, say the new law will help buttress their own efforts to regulate the booming market.

Airbnb is fighting back.

But before Baker’s ink could dry, the law drew a sharp rebuke from Airbnb, which called it “flawed” and unnecessarily complex. Advocates who have closely followed the process — including Airbnb’s decision to sue in federal court to overturn Boston’s municipal regulations — warn a lawsuit against the state could also follow.

More details on the law:

Beyond requiring all hosts to register and carry insurance, it also subjects short-term rentals to the same 5.7 percent state levy now paid by hotels — but exempts people who rent their homes 14 or fewer nights a year. Officials have estimated that tax could raise at least $25 million annually.

It also would allow cities and towns to impose their own taxes of up to 6 percent, except in Boston, where it would be 6.5 percent, with occasional hosts also exempted.

Additional taxes would be levied on hosts who own multiple units. And an extra fee would also fall on units in Boston, Cambridge, and a handful of other cities that support the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, but only after bonds are paid off on the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in South Boston.

Some cities, including New York and San Francisco, have used short-term rental registries to rein in the industry, but this law makes Massachusetts the first state to require all hosts to register. That, more than the taxes, has been the focus of debate in recent months.

It will be interesting to see how this works out.

Time Magazine has a new story on Paul Manafort: Exclusive: Russian Ex-Spy Pressured Manafort Over Debts to an Oligarch.

When the U.S. government put out its latest sanctions list on Dec. 19, the man named at the top did not seem especially important. Described in the document as a former Russian intelligence officer, he was accused of handling money and negotiations on behalf of a powerful Russian oligarch. The document did not mention that the man, Victor Boyarkin, had links to the 2016 campaign of President Donald Trump.

Jackie Morris for Amnesty International

A months-long investigation by TIME, however, found that Boyarkin, a former arms dealer with a high forehead and a very low profile, was a key link between a senior member of the Trump campaign and a powerful ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In his only interview with the media about those connections, Boyarkin told TIME this fall that he was in touch with Trump’s then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in the heat of the presidential race on behalf of the Russian oligarch. “He owed us a lot of money,” Boyarkin says. “And he was offering ways to pay it back.”

The former Russian intelligence officer says he has been approached by the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Boyarkin’s response to those investigators? “I told them to go dig a ditch,” he says. Peter Carr, the spokesman for the Special Counsel’s Office, declined to comment. Through his spokesman, Manafort likewise declined to comment on his alleged connections with Boyarkin.

But those connections could be potentially important to the Special Counsel’s inquiry. They would mark some of the clearest evidence of the leverage that powerful Russians had over Trump’s campaign chairman. And they may shed light on why Manafort discussed going right back to work for pro-Russian interests in Eastern Europe after he crashed out of the Trump campaign in August 2016, according to numerous sources in the TIME investigation.

Read the rest at the link. It’s a long story.

One more from Buzzfeed: These Are 50 Of The Biggest Fake News Hits On Facebook In 2018.

By Max Carlier

After spending two years launching third-party fact-checking programs, rolling out News Feed updates, and investing in other anti-misinformation initiatives, Facebook is still the home of viral fake news.

For the third year in a row, BuzzFeed News compiled a list of 50 of the most viral false stories on Facebook and measured their total engagement on the platform. And in spite of a prediction from Facebook’s top anti-misinformation product manager that these articles would see a decline in engagement in 2018, this year’s top-performing hoaxes generated almost as many shares, reactions, and comments as last year’s.

The top 50 fake stories of 2018 identified by BuzzFeed News generated roughly 22 million total shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook between Jan. 1 and Dec. 9, 2018, according to data from BuzzSumo and Trendolizer. This was only 7% fewer engagements than the 23.5 million engagements generated by to top 50 of 2017, and slightly more than the top 50 fakes identified by BuzzFeed News in 2016, when those links generated 21.5 million engagements.

Read the whole thing at Buzzfeed. How long before Facebook goes the way of AOL?

So . . . what else is happening on this long holiday weekend? Post your recommendations in the comment thread below.


Tuesday Reads

statue1

Good Morning!!

Actually I’m fuming this morning. It’s bad enough that–like others here at Sky Dancing blog–I have a nasty cold; but what’s really making me mad as hell is that Charlie Baker, the Republican governor of Massachusetts, joined the hateful crew of governors who say they don’t want Syrian refugees in his state.

Curses on all the idiots who voted for this man! Shame on them! We could have had the first woman governor of this state, an intelligent and compassionate person–Martha Coakley. Instead we have Charlie fucking Baker, who doesn’t seem to understand that he can’t control who comes into this state. This is America. We don’t ask people to produce their papers at state borders. Anyway, as Dakinikat noted yesterday, the Constitution gives authority over immigration to the federal government.

I hope the Massachusetts cities that typically help immigrants and refugees–like Lowell and Cambridge, for example–will continue their good work to help desperate people who are trying to escape from terrorism and live normal productive lives and show our stupid governor what true humanity is all about. I hope my town will do the same.

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I’m so angry right now that I think it’s actually clearing out my sinuses. Here’s the Boston Globe on Baker: Baker’s stance on refugees draws ire of immigration groups.

Governor Charlie Baker joined more than two dozen other governors Monday who said they did not want Syrian refugees to resettle in their states, citing security concerns after the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris.

“I would say no as of right now,” Baker told reporters at the State House, shortly before he attended a Thanksgiving luncheon honoring immigrants and refugees in Massachusetts. “No, I’m not interested in accepting refugees from Syria.”

What an asshole.

Baker’s remarks — a departure from Septemberwhen he signaled support for the refugees— earned swift rebuke from immigrant advocates. Lawyers said under the Refugee Act of 1980, governors cannot legally block refugees….

Since October 2011, the United States has admitted 2,159 Syrian refugees into the country, according to the State Department, including 72 in Massachusetts. After a year, refugees can obtain a green card after undergoing more background checks, and after five years they can apply for US citizenship.

Under federal law,the president, after consulting with Congress, sets the number of refugees admitted every yearand the government works with the United Nations and nonprofits to resettle refugees around the United States.

“Neither Massachusetts nor any other state can fence Syrian refugees out of the state,” said Laurence Tribe, a Harvard constitutional law scholar. “We are a union and must sink or swim together.”

So there, Baker. Now sit down and shut up.

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From Slate, here’s a list of the governors who say they don’t want desperate human beings who are only trying to protect their families from terrorism:

  • Republican Robert Bentley of Alabama
  • Republican Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas
  • Republican Rick Scott of Florida
  • Republican Nathan Deal of Georgia
  • Republican Mike Pence of Indiana
  • Republican Bruce Rauner of Illinois
  • Republican Bobby Jindal of Louisiana (who is the son of parents who emigrated to the U.S. from India’s troubled Punjab state in 1971)
  • Republican Paul LePage of Maine
  • Republican Charlie Baker of Massachusetts
  • Republican Rick Snyder of Michigan
  • Republican Phil Bryant of Mississippi
  • Democrat Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire
  • Republican Chris Christie of New Jersey
  • Republican Pat McCrory of North Carolina
  • Republican John Kasich of Ohio
  • Republican Greg Abbott of Texas
  • Republican Scott Walker of Wisconsin

Sickening.

More reactions to Baker’s ugly and ignorant statement and the actions of the rest of these hateful governors:

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Worcester Telegram: Local Syrians decry Baker’s refugee stance.

Salah Asfoura understands Gov. Charles D Baker Jr.’s reluctance to accept Syrian refugees in Massachusetts aftr terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris. But Mr. Asfoura said it was a difficult and personal issue to judge objectively: Mr. Asfoura’s brother and his family fled Syria and arrived in Worcester just a few weeks ago.

“I understand the worries after what’s happened in France and on the international level, I can understand the worries of having insurgents come in,” said Mr. Asfoura, president of the New England chapter of the American Syrian Forum, an organization to increase awareness of the Syrian crisis. “It depends on how you evaluate them … but then, you can’t say you can’t do it anymore, you can’t not accept any.” [….]

Local Syrian-Americans, a recent refugee and others were disappointed in the news.

“I believe that this decision is wrong, because we cannot judge the victims for the crime of the terrorists,” said Bashar, a recent refugee to this country. Bashar, who arrived here with his family about 1½ years ago after his business and property were destroyed in Syria, asked that his last name not be used because family members remain in the country and may be targeted by terrorists. 

His immediate family is applying for political asylum, he said. “Those who killed the people in France killed people in Syria. It was ISIS, and now (governors) are punishing the victims.” [….]

“There are tens and tens of thousands of terrorists who came from all over the world to my country to kill my people, and those terrorists are managed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia,” Bashar said. “I wish the U.S. put the utmost pressure on those governments – Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan – to stop funding, training and facilitating the passage of terrorists through the borders into my country.”

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MassLive: Anti-Defamation League ‘deeply disappointed’ with GOP governors, including Charlie Baker, for refusal to accept Syrian refugees after Paris attacks.

The Anti-Defamation League said it is “deeply disappointed” with GOP governors, including Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, for refusing to accept Syrian refugees after Friday’sISIS attacks that killed 129 people and injured more than 430 others in Paris.

“This country must not give into fear or bias by turning its back on our nation’s fundamental commitment to refugee protection and human rights,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt said Monday, urging governors to keep their doors open during the humanitarian crisis.

“Now is precisely the time to stand up for our core values, including that we are a proud nation of immigrants,” Greenblatt said. “To do otherwise signals to the terrorists that they are winning the battle against democracy and freedom.”

Now here’s an assessment from ultimate Villager Chris Cillizza: You might not like Republicans calling for a ban on refugees. But it’s smart politics.

Think what you will, but one thing is clear: The political upside for Republican politicians pushing an immigration ban on Syrians and/or Muslims as a broader response to the threat posed by the Islamic State sure looks like a political winner.

The Pew Research Center did an in-depth poll looking into Americans’ view on Islamic extremism in the the fall of 2014 — and its findings suggest that politicians like Cruz have virtually nothing to lose in this fight over how best to respond to ISIS’s latest act of violence.

More than 7 in 10 Republican voters said they were “very concerned” about the rise of Islamic extremism in the United States. That’s almost double the amount of Democrats (46 percent) who said the same and 30 percentage points higher than independents who expressed great concern about Islamic extremism in America.

That marked concern with the threat of Islamic extremism is accentuated by a deep lack of confidence among Republicans with the Obama administration’s ability to handle what they perceive to be a growing threat.

For people like Cillizza, there is no right and wrong. There is only political expediency. These people turn my stomach.

What do you think? Please post your thoughts and comments on any topic in the thread below.

 

 


Tuesday Reads: Two Business Models and Their Effects on Workers, Customers, and Corporate Profits

woman-reading-porch

 

Good Morning!!

I love this painting by American impressionist Frederick Childe Hassam. Just looking at it relaxes me. The colors are gorgeous and somehow surprising. I wouldn’t normally expect orange to have a calming effect, but it does for me in this work. It’s interesting that Childe Hassam used the color orange quite a bit in his paintings. The subject of this painting is a startling contrast to what’s happening in the world right now, and that’s why I decided to use it and others by Childe Hassam today as a reminder that there is still beauty in the world despite the ugliness of world events.

I’m going to focus on a local Massachusetts story today, and I hope you’ll share your thoughts on it; but please feel free to discuss any topics you wish in the comment thread. I’m going to be focusing on working people and working conditions, so I’m going to begin with this great piece by Robert Reich at Truthdig, The Disconnect Between Workers’ Pay and Social Worth.

What someone is paid has little or no relationship to what their work is worth to society.

Does anyone seriously believe hedge-fund mogul Steven A. Cohen is worth the $2.3 billion he raked in last year, despite being slapped with a $1.8 billion fine after his firm pleaded guilty to insider trading?

On the other hand, what’s the worth to society of social workers who put in long and difficult hours dealing with patients suffering from mental illness or substance abuse? Probably higher than their average pay of $18.14 an hour, which translates into less than $38,000 a year….

Or consider kindergarten teachers, who make an average of $53,590 a year.

Before you conclude that’s generous, consider that a good kindergarten teacher is worth his or her weight in gold, almost.

One study found that children with outstanding kindergarten teachers are more likely to go to college and less likely to become single parents than a random set of children similar to them in every way other than being assigned a superb teacher.

And what of writers, actors, painters, and poets? Only a tiny fraction ever become rich and famous. Most barely make enough to live on (many don’t, and are forced to take paying jobs to pursue their art). But society is surely all the richer for their efforts.

At the other extreme are hedge-fund and private-equity managers, investment bankers, corporate lawyers, management consultants, high-frequency traders, and top Washington lobbyists.

They’re getting paid vast sums for their labors. Yet it seems doubtful that society is really that much better off because of what they do.

Read the rest at the link. Robert Reich is a treasure, isn’t he? He never gives up.

Childe Hassam, French Tea Garden

Childe Hassam, French Tea Garden

Now to the local story, which I see as related. I have posted links recently in morning posts and comments about a work stoppage that has been going on here in Massachusetts and that has implications for retail and other low-wage workers around the country. I posted this article from Esquire last week, but I’m going to link to it again: The Last Stand for the Middle Class is Taking Place in a Parking Lot in Massachusetts, by Chris Farone.

Americans have grown to accept that corporations will invariably take advantage of their low wage workers, and executives have done nothing recently to pretend like this isn’t the case. When asked if his multinational beast would fight a federal hike in employee compensation, Walmart U.S. President Bill Simon told reporters in May, “We are not opposed to a minimum wage increase, unless it’s directed exclusively at us.” Compassionate stuff.

It’s a dangerously low bar set by the nation’s largest retailer — don’t expect your bosses to support an acceptable living wage for workers, let alone bonuses or a 401k, or even respect.

But at one of the most popular grocery store chains in New England–Market Basket–there is a struggle going on that could be turning point similar to the fight by fast food workers for better pay and benefits. Farone writes:

Here’s the most unusual part: Protesting employees are demanding the return of their beloved CEO, ousted by a board focused solely on the bottom line. After store workers were fired for skipping shifts to rally outside Market Basket headquarters last week, their then-chief executive, Arthur T. Demoulas, said in a statement, “This is not about me. It is about the people who have proven their dedication over many years and should not have lost their jobs because of it.”

Demoulas was ousted by his cousin Arthur S. Demoulas, who had managed to take over control of the company’s board of directors and whom workers suspect want to take the company in a different (anti-worker) direction. The reason Arthur T. is beloved is that he paid his workers a living wage, provided them with outstanding benefits, all the while attracting customers with quality local produce and low prices–underselling every other grocery chain in New England, including Walmart–all this while making handsome profits.

Market Basket’s formula proves that executives and managers and cashiers can all profit, together. Employees get the benefits of a 15 percent profit sharing plan provided by Market Basket, while the groceries the store sells are less expensive, on average, than Walmart’s. As for the register: Market Basket rang in $4.6 billion in revenue last year, and is the 127th biggest privately owned company in America.

And it proves that none of this matters in the American economy if those at the top aren’t getting more than enough. Executive pay is the only beast America’s brand of the free market is designed to feed in 2014. CEOs made 331 times what an average worker made in 2013, and it’s clear that there will be no exceptions.

The American economy no longer exists to support a thriving middle class, or to help the weakest among us attain a livable wage for an honest day’s work. It is solely in existence to add to the pile of wealth for the unchecked at the top.

Childe Hassam, Church at Old Lyme (Connecticul)

Childe Hassam, Church at Old Lyme (Connecticul)

You can see how the Market Basket formula threatens other corporate bosses. Because it’s successful.

As it turns out, the Market Basket formula does work. In a recent study of Massachusetts grocery store chains, the nonprofit Washington DC-based Center for the Study of Services found “DeMoulas Market Basket’s prices averaged about 22 percent lower than the average prices at the Shaw’s stores [they] checked and 10 to 21 percent lower than the prices at the Stop & Shop stores.” Despite paying starting full-timers $12 an hour and having many career employees on the payroll who make six figures, the survey found that Market Basket had, on average, lower prices than all of their competitors — including Walmart.

Despite such presumably tight profit margins, Market Basket pays its roughly 19,000 workers yearly bonuses that often equal up to several months worth of salary, plus invests the equivalent of 15 percent of every paycheck into a retirement plan. At the same time, the company is impressively profitable. Shareholders have pocketed in excess of $1 billion since 2000, while the business is currently the 127th biggest privately owned American company according to Forbes. In 2013, Market Basket reportedly rang in $4.6 billion in revenue.

Demoulas workers began protesting in store parking lots, store shelves are empty because the workers who deliver goods and stock the shelves aren’t doing so, and loyal customers are refusing to shop at Market Basket until Arthur T. is back in charge. And please note these are non-union workers.

Last week, Arthur T. offered to buy out Arthur S’s share in the company. That offer is still on the table. But over the weekend, the board announced that workers who had been protesting would be fired if they didn’t come to work yesterday. They also announced a job fair to attract replacement workers. The protesting workers announced they would continue to protest. So how did the job fair work out?

From the Boston Globe: Few Show Up for Market Basket Job Fair as Protests Enter Third Week.

Day one of Market Basket’s job fair did not seem to turn out many current employees looking to change positions within the company. Dozens of protesters marched back and forth across the entrance to the company’s Andover facility, continuing the remarkable worker and customer protest into its third week. At one point a shuttle bus brought in fresh protesters, who took a shift on the picket line as grateful protesters handed off signs and pictures to them.

Few vehicles took the left turn into the facility’s parking lot. Those that did were met with leers and jeers from the crowd, which quickly followed police orders whenever a car did come through.

“I don’t think anyone will show up,” said Mike, a North Andover Market basket employee who declined to give his last name for fear of retribution from the company. “Most of us believe this is a scare tactic to get us back to work.”

Childe Hassam, Acorn Street, Boston

Childe Hassam, Acorn Street, Boston

After the failure of the job fair, executives announced that people could apply for Market Basket jobs secretly by e-mail.

AP, via ABC News: Market Basket Workers Plan Huge Rally for Ex-CEO.

Employees who have organized massive protests over the past two weeks say they are expecting up to 15,000 employees, customers and supporters to attend a rally Tuesday outside a Market Basket store in Tewksbury.

The family-owned chain has been in turmoil since June, when a board controlled by Arthur S. Demoulas fired his cousin, CEO Arthur T. Demoulas.

Hundreds of warehouse workers and drivers who support Arthur T. Demoulas have refused to deliver food to the chain’s 71 stores, leaving store shelves severely depleted and prompting customers to defect to other supermarkets.

Workers are hoping Arthur S. Demoulas’ side of the family will accept an offer from his cousin to buy the company, which is known for its low prices.

As for the firings that took place yesterday, Mass, NH Attorneys General warn Market Basket.

The Attorneys General in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts have sent the Market Basket CEOs a warning saying if anyone is fired they better get the wages they are owed.

“Even though they may have the right to terminate employees we want to make sure the company knows that for payment, wages, for benefits may have accrued over a time period, those are due on the day of termination,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley.

And there will be lawsuits, Fired Market Basket Supervisors Plan To Sue. So, to sum up, the board of directors of Market Basket seems willing to bring down the company to support one side of a family dispute over contrasting business models–on the one hand, a focus on the bottom line and making profits for the fat cats; on the other, a focus on sharing profits with workers, making customers happy,  and in the process making plenty of money for all concerned. Who will win? I don’t know, but, IMHO, this is an important struggle.

What do you think?

Childe Hassam, Bowl of Goldfish

Childe Hassam, Bowl of Goldfish

More Headlines:

The Guardian: US fast-food workers fight McDonald’s as battle for better wages heads to court.

Bloomberg: Israel Pulls All Troops From Gaza as New Cease-Fire Holds.

New York Times: Eight Days in Gaza: A Wartime Diary, by Atef Abu Saif.

AP on a crazy scheme to bring down the Cuban government–why do we keep doing stupid stuff like this? US Sent Latin Youth Undercover in Anti-Cuba Ploy.

New York Times: Behind Toledo’s Water Crisis, a Long-Troubled Lake Erie.

The Guardian: The case of baby Gammy shows surrogacy for the repulsive trade it is, by Suzanne Moore.

The Hill: US won’t turn back flights over Ebola.

Politico: Congress approval hits new low (poll).

The Daily Beast Exclusive: ‘Pro-Troop’ Charity Pays Off Tea Party Cronies Instead.

What else is happening?


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

I don’t know if this has anything to do with “Romneycare,” but the news came out yesterday that the average life expectancy in Massachusetts is nearly 81 years!

Life expectancy for people in Massachusetts hit an all-time high in 2009, as the rate of deaths from major killers, such as heart disease and cancer, declined, according to a report released Wednesday by the state Department of Public Health.

Overall life expectancy from birth was 80.7 years in 2009, the most recent year for which data are available, compared with 78.5 years nationally. Since 2000, death rates in the state from stroke, heart disease, all cancers combined, and diabetes have continued to drop.

Deaths from HIV and AIDS have dropped dramatically in recent years. Nearly 1,000 people died in both 1994 and 1995, during the peak of the epidemic. In 2009, there were 124 deaths from HIV and AIDS. The decline, the authors write, is the result of advances in treatment and a reduction in the infection rate.

Life expectancy varied by location. Check this out: in Brookline it was 87 years!

From the Sydney Morning Herald, Melinda Gates tells “How I convinced Bill to give away his millions.”

Imagine for a moment that you are married to one of the richest men on the planet. You have three beautiful children and a $125 million home, complete with an indoor swimming pool boasting underwater speakers and a home cinema. How would you choose to spend your days? Shopping? Lunching? Ah yes, travelling – but to the dirt-poor villages of Bangladesh? The wretched slums of India? To TB wards and Aids clinics to sit with the dying and the ostracised?
Melinda Gates, wife of the Microsoft magnate Bill, flew in from a field visit to Niger and Senegal on Tuesday, and will have risen by 4.30 yesterday morning to conduct meetings and interviews before the real working day begins.
In her capacity as co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, she will then join Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, in hosting a family-planning summit for global leaders in London. Together, they will launch a $4 billion fund-raising effort that would deliver safe contraception to 120 million women and girls in developing countries.

The article doesn’t really say how she convinced her husband to become a philanthropist, but there’s some information about Melinda’s early life.

Gates’s conscience was cultivated from an early age. Unlike her Harvard drop-out husband, who was born into a privileged Seattle background, she is one of four children brought up in modest circumstances in Texas, where education was regarded as the holy grail. Her housewife mother regretted not attending college. Her engineer father set up a cleaning business on the side to raise the cash for his children’s education, and as a teenager Gates scrubbed floors to help out.

It’s nice to know that there are some wealthy people who actually want to use their money to help others instead of collecting homes and cars and horses like certain presidential candidates.

Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, Dick Cheney is holding a fundraiser for Mitt Romney today in his home in Wyoming.

Romney officials have said little publicly about the event, expected to be a high-dollar but low-publicity evening that will give top donors the chance to dine with Messrs. Cheney and Romney.

But the campaign trumpeted the reception and private dinner in an email to potential attendees, telling them that “Jackson Hole is a beautiful summer destination and this will be a memorable event.”

The dinner offers an opportunity to continue a string of fundraisers that have given Mr. Romney an advantage in the money race with President Barack Obama in the past two months.

“The past two months” are the operative words in that last sentence. Despite all the talk of Mitt Romney besting President Obama in the money race, Obama is still far ahead of the presumptive Republican nominee in terms of money collected since the two announced their candidacies. At HuffPo, Paul Blumenthal writes:

According to a report from the Sunlight Foundation, Mitt Romney will need to outraise President Barack Obama by $158 million over the next four months if he wants to take the lead in overall fundraising. This punctures a bit of the new narrative of Romney having passed Obama in fundraising. Sunlight’s Bill Allison: “For Mitt Romney, the magic number is $158 million. That’s how much he’ll have to outraise President Barack Obama over the last four months of the campaign to surpass the president, the record holder for campaign fundraising. Obama’s advantage has been lost in media reports highighting the Republican nominee’s $106 million June haul.

Romney’s June number doesn’t even put him on track to out-raise Obama.

For that to happen, Romney would have to best Obama by $39.5 million a month for each of the last four months of the campaign, which is $5 million more than the advantage Romney had in June.

The Obama campaign seems to be keeping this quiet so they can play the underdog. Interesting, huh?

Perhaps in an effort to even the score, Romney is planning fundraisers in foreign countries. We’ve already talked about the events that are being organized for him in London at the time of the Olympics. USA Today reports that he is also planning a fundraiser in Israel.

Mitt Romney is reportedly planning a fundraiser in Jerusalem during his visit to Israel later this month.

The Jerusalem Post reports that donors will be charged “$60,000 or more per plate” at the event. Romney is jointly raising money with the Republican National Committee, and $75,000 is the maximum donation to the Romney Victory Fund.

Romney is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, among others, during his trip. The Israel visit will come after Romney attends the Summer Olympics in London.

I’ve been posting in comments for the past couple of days about the mysterious disappearance of Jesse Jackson, Jr. He took a medical leave on June 10, but no one would say where he was. Rumors spread that he was in rehab for drugs or alcohol. Finally today, the news came in a statement from Jackson’s chief of staff that Jackson is in an inpatient facility being treated for a “mood disorder.”

The statement quoted the unnamed Jackson doctor saying: “The congressman is receiving intensive medical treatment at a residential treatment facility for a mood disorder. He is responding positively to treatment.”

Earlier today, Ald. Sandi Jackson, said she is hopeful physicians will release details soon about her husband.

“I’m hopeful that my husband’s doctors will be able to release something soon,” she told the Tribune. “I’m in constant talks with them about Jesse’s condition and his medical prognosis going forward.”

Rep. Jesse Jackson, 47, a Chicago Democrat, has been on a medical leave since June 10, but his aides and family have declined to disclose the nature of his medical problem, where he is being treated or when he may return to work.

A mood disorder could mean major depression or bipolar disorder. Whatever is wrong, I hope Jackson will recover and be able to return to the House of Representatives. At present, he isn’t expected to return until after Labor Day, if then.

I couldn’t help noticing this NYT article about a 12-year-old boy who died tragically and unexpectedly of septic shock: An Infection, Unnoticed, Turns Unstoppable.

For a moment, an emergency room doctor stepped away from the scrum of people working on Rory Staunton, 12, and spoke to his parents.

“Your son is seriously ill,” the doctor said.

“How seriously?” Rory’s mother, Orlaith Staunton, asked.

The doctor paused.

“Gravely ill,” he said.

How could that be?

Two days earlier, diving for a basketball at his school gym, Rory had cut his arm. He arrived at his pediatrician’s office the next day, Thursday, March 29, vomiting, feverish and with pain in his leg. He was sent to the emergency room at NYU Langone Medical Center. The doctors agreed: He was suffering from an upset stomach and dehydration. He was given fluids, told to take Tylenol, and sent home.

But Rory was already in grave danger.

Bacteria had gotten into his blood, probably through the cut on his arm. He was sliding into a septic crisis, an avalanche of immune responses to infection from which he would not escape. On April 1, three nights after he was sent home from the emergency room, he died in the intensive care unit. The cause was severe septic shock brought on by the infection, hospital records say.

I hope everyone will read this very sad article. An overwhelming infection that began with strep killed my graduate school mentor–the same infection that killed young Rory. One day he began vomiting and thought he had a stomach virus. The next day he was dead. This happened a few months after I earned my Ph.D. with his help and support. As you can probably imagine, this was a terrible shock to me and I’m really still grieving–I have tears in my eyes as I write this. Everyone should be aware that sepsis is “a leading cause of death in hospitals, can at first look like less serious ailments…”

Moments after an emergency room doctor ordered Rory’s discharge believing fluids had made him better, his vital signs, recorded while still at the hospital, suggested that he could be seriously ill. Even more pointed signals emerged three hours later, when the Stauntons were at home: the hospital’s laboratory reported that Rory was producing vast quantities of cells that combat bacterial infection, a warning that sepsis could be on the horizon.

The Stauntons knew nothing of his weak vital signs or abnormal lab results.

This is starting to turn into a health care post, so I’ll return to politics before I wrap up. Yesterday everyone was talking about Mitt Romney’s speech to the NAACP. He was booed when he talked about repealing Obamacare and at a few other points. So why did he go? Surely he doesn’t expect to win over many African American voters. I thought this piece by Jamelle Boule provided a possible answer: Mitt Romney’s Successful Speech to the NAACP

As an attempt to persuade, Mitt Romney’s speech to the NAACP this morning was an exercise in futility. African Americans are loyal Democratic voters, and aren’t particularly interested in an agenda of tax cuts for the rich and spending cuts for everyone else. But that wasn’t the point. Romney almost certainly knows that he’ll only win a tiny percentage of black voters in November—at best, he’ll match John McCain’s performance in 2008. If current opinion surveys are any indication, it’s more likely that he’ll win fewer African American voters than any Republican in recent history.

The point of this address to the NAACP was to send a signal to right-leaning, suburban white voters—that Mitt Romney is tolerant, and won’t represent the bigots in his party. But there’s a sense in which Romney had it both ways: Not only did he reassure hesitant whites, but by pledging to repeal Obamacare—and being booed by the audience—he likely increased his standing with those who do resent African Americans. By going to an audience of black professionals and sticking with his stump speech, there’s a sense in which Romney might receive credit for refusing to “pander.”

That makes a lot of sense to me. Here’s another piece I found interesting about Romney’s efforts to woo Evangelical Christians:

Several years ago, when Mitt Romney was merely a multi-millionaire Massachusetts politician, he couldn’t locate the conservative Christian evangelical movement with a GPS or MapQuest. Over the past few years however, Romney and his team have been holding a series of meet-ups – whose pace has been recently accelerated – with conservative Christian leaders to assure them of Romney’s fealty to their issues.
When Romney heads off to Israel later this summer, he hopes to accomplish at least three objectives: renew his longtime friendship with Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu; convince Jewish donors and voters that he is more Israel-friendly than President Barack Obama; and, send a message to conservative Christian evangelicals that he can be trusted.

Right win Christians are hoping Romney picks a VP from one of their own

“Acceptable nominees could be Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, Bob McDonnell, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, and Marco Rubio.”

Please let it be Rick Santorum! That would be the kiss of death for Romney’s chances.

Those are my suggested reads for today. What are you reading and blogging about?


Deval Patrick Gets It Just Right on Romney’s Record

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick appeared on Meet the Press this morning. I haven’t seen the whole program; but from what I’ve read about it along with what Patrick has said about Mitt Romney in other interviews, I think he’s getting it just right. Here’s what he said on MTP, according to The Boston Globe:

Patrick, a co-chairman of Obama’s reelection campaign, said the presumptive Republican presidential nominee had a poor record of job growth as governor, repeating the familiar statistic that Massachusetts ranked 47th in the nation in that category when Romney was in office.

But, Patrick said, that “doesn’t mean he was a failure as governor.”

Really? What specifically did Romney do well as governor? Why he signed the nation’s first universal health care law and pushed for the individual mandate that citizens must purchase health insurance. Patrick knows full well that Romney doesn’t want to be praised for that accomplishment. Every Obama surrogate should hammering health care achievement home, again and again. Back to the Globe article:

Host David Gregory asked the governor to respond to former President Bill Clinton’s statement Thursday that “there’s no question that in terms of getting up and going to the office and basically performing the essential functions of the office, the man who has been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold.”

Gregory suggested Clinton’s remarks undercut one of Obama’s major arguments.

“It undercuts the spin on the argument that the president has made,” Patrick replied. “The president has never attacked Bain. It’s not about Bain. It’s never been. Bain’s a fine company.”

Really? What’s it about then?

“He had a terrific career creating wealth,” Patrick said. “There is very little evidence that, either in the public or the private sector, he’s had a terrific career creating jobs.”

The corporate media is comparing Patrick’s approach to what Cory Booker said previously on MTP. But I think they’re wrong. More Obama surrogates should follow Patrick’s lead. Sure, Bain is a terrific company and Romney deserves credit for his role in building the business. But at Bain and as governor, Romney didn’t create jobs. But, hey…he led the way to socialized medicine in Massicusetts! Isn’t that great?

Here’s an opinion piece that Patrick wrote for CNN a couple of days ago. In it he spells out a very clear argument against Romney as POTUS. Of course he leads with Romney’s failure to create jobs in the state. Everyone knows by now that Massachusetts ranked 47th among the states in job creation.

and that was in relatively good economic times. Real wages declined (while rising across the nation). Instead of helping workers and small businesses adjust to changes in the global economy, Romney cut critical work force training programs and millions in economic development funds. Instead of promoting Massachusetts to attract jobs, he used the state as a punchline on the national Republican political circuit.

When Patrick took office he had to clean up Romney’s messes.

He left behind a bureaucracy whose work force grew during his term, an unsustainable public pension system and a culture of poor accountability throughout state government.

Young people and jobs were leaving our state. Our roads and bridges were crumbling, and his Republican predecessors’ poor oversight of the infamous Big Dig project in downtown Boston resulted in billions of dollars of cost overruns, substandard workmanship and debilitating debt that he made no effort to remedy.

In the face of budget challenges, what did Romney do? He raised nearly every fee and surcharge that didn’t bear the title “tax” and cut funding for the schools. In a state where education is our calling card, Romney was responsible for the second largest per pupil cut in education funding in America during his second year in office.

Sure Romney’s a nice guy, Patrick says, and he was very successful in business. But in his only time in office Romney failed to create jobs or stimulate the economy. Why did this happen?

Romney sincerely believes that people are better off on their own: on their own to deal with their unemployment; with under-resourced public schools and no way to pay for college; with neglected infrastructure; with a job market that needs skills they didn’t have. He does not fundamentally believe that government should help people help themselves. And he has a record as governor of Massachusetts to demonstrate how much damage his leadership does to people, their families and our future.

Finally, here’s a recent interview that Patrick did with John King in which he makes similar arguments.

I think the Obama campaign should have their other surrogates emulate Deval Patrick’s approach–call it hitting Romney with a velvet glove that has a steel lining. You don’t have to yell and scream to get your message across. Patrick is calm, cool, and collected. He’s not “nauseated” by attacks on Bain or private equity, like Corey Booker. He doesn’t call Romney’s career at Bain “sterling,” like Bill Clinton did. He explains why Romney’s career at Bain is irrelevant to job creation, while his time as Governor is. And he strongly praises the one achievement Romney doesn’t want to talk about: health care reform.

I don’t know if this can all be boiled down to a 30-second sound byte, but Deval Patrick is coming pretty close with this:

“He had a terrific career creating wealth,” Patrick said. “There is very little evidence that, either in the public or the private sector, he’s had a terrific career creating jobs.”

The Obama campaign should keep Patrick front and center, hammering home the message that Romney knows nothing about job creation–and in fact really doesn’t care about it–but he sure deserves all the credit in the world for leading his state to universal health care.


As Governor, Romney Tried to Eliminate a State Commission Focused on Protecting LGBT Youth

Gov. Mitt Romney at a 2006 press conference

Wow! Today is not a good day for Mitt Romney. First the Washington post comes out with a major article on his career as a bully and gay bash in high school and now Talking Points Memo has learned that Romney was so up-tight about Boston’s gay parade in 2006, that he threatened to get rid of an LGBT anti-bullying commission formed by previous Republican Governor Bill Weld in 1992 after he learned about the shocking rate of suicide among gay school children.

Check this out from a May 12, 2006 Boston Globe article (via TPM):

Angered that his name appeared on a press release touting a gay pride parade, Governor Mitt Romney moved yesterday to curtail the activities of a 14-year-old advisory commission on gay and lesbian youth.

The commission chairwoman, Kathleen M. Henry, said she was called yesterday by Beth Myers, the governor’s chief of staff, who told her that the governor planned to issue an executive order ”revoking our existence” and creating another youth commission whose purview would be all of the state’s youth, not just gays and lesbians. The commission would have all new members, she said.

Romney later backed down after being “inundated…with outrage.”

Administration sources said Romney’s aides were angered by an ”unauthorized” news release issued by the commission March 27 announcing this weekend’s Youth Pride parade. The release, which described the celebration of ”gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth and their supporters,” went out on official state stationery, with the names of Romney and Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey appearing with the names of the commission chairwoman and vice chair.

They were apparently also freaked out by a meeting with Brian Camenker, a right wing “activist,” who showed them pictures of the previous year’s parade and suggested Romney wouldn’t go over well as a national candidate if he lent his name to such shocking goings-on.

”Last year [at the parade] they had boys in fishnet stockings and high heels parading down Boylston Street,” Camenker said. ”They had boys dressed as women embracing. We presented stuff, and they were visibly sickened by what they saw. I said, basically, this group has to go. It’s so manifestly destructive to kids that you have to get rid of it. They said they’d do something.”

Allowing the commission to remain in existence demonstrates ”pure cowardice on the governor’s part,” he said. ”This shows that Romney probably doesn’t have what it takes to run the country if he can’t even make a decision about this.”

Eventually the anti-bullying group started an independent commission so they wouldn’t have to deal with Romney’s squeamishness about homosexuality. And this guy is running around the country claiming President Obama is living in the past.

Feel free to use this as an open thread.


Warren faces down Misogynist Heckler

A video has emerged of Elizabeth Warren being called a “socialist whore” by an unemployed tea party activist who also manages to get in a birther meme at the same time.  Ms. Warren stayed classy.

Moments into a speech before volunteers here Wednesday evening, Elizabeth Warren was interrupted by a Tea Party supporter who hurled a gender-based epithet at the Senate candidate. The man, who said he’d been unemployed since February 2010, objected to Warren’s expressed affiliation with the frustrations of Occupy Wall Street, and argued that the Tea Party has been protesting Wall Street excess for longer than the nascent global movement.

The crowd tried to shout the man down, but Warren told her supporters to let him speak. “No, no, it’s alright. Let me say two things,” she said. “I’m very sorry that you’ve been out of work. I’m also very sorry that the recent jobs bill that would’ve brought 22,000 jobs to Massachusetts did not pass in the Senate.”

Speaking in a packed VFW hall, Warren went on to address his question about her association with Occupy Wall Street. “I’ve been protesting what’s been going on on Wall Street for a very long time,” she said, but added that the movement has its own independent agenda and will proceed along its own course.

“Yeah, so has the Tea Party,” the man said, before losing his cool.

“Well, if you’re the intellectual creator of that so-called party,” he said, “you’re a socialist whore. I don’t want anything to do with you.” The crowd shouted him down as he added that Warren’s “boss,” presumably referring to the president, was “foreign-born.” He then attempted to storm out through a side door. Finding it locked, he retreated out the back of the VFW hall instead.

In April, before President Obama released his “long form” birth certificate, 43 percent of Republicans said that the president was either definitely or probably born in a foreign country, according to a Gallup survey. After he released the birth certificate, the number dropped, but still held at roughly one in four when polled in May.

Warren took the challenge in stride. “So, we are here to do work, and I think we have a reminder that we have a lot of work to do,” she said as the heckler struggled with the door.

You can watch the video over at HuffPost.  Warren sympathized with the man’s unemployment situation and talks about her efforts to restrain Wall Street before he goes off on her.  The meeting was held in Brockton, Mass and was supposed to be for volunteers.  It was obviously an ambush.