Monday Reads: Fairness, Awareness and the death of the Fairness Doctrine

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

I often wonder how different our political, economic, and science discourse would be if the Fairness Doctrine were still in place.  This reflection seems more relevant than ever given the appalling number of voters that fell for ‘fake news’, lies, and promises of virtually impossible policy outcomes.  Both the tariffs and tax bill inflicted on this economy are going to send us to very dark places quite rapidly. All those crazies in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and the rest of Farm country are about to see an Agricultural Crisis as we relearn the Great Depression lesson, once again, of how every one loses Trade Wars. (It’s already sending the markets down as China retaliates big time.)  Craziness is also ensuing as Trump and Bernie Sanders both demonize Amazon with either personal or no reason.  Amazon stocks are taking off–after an initial plunge after Trump’s Tax threats–while it appears that Trump’s net worth crash is partially due to the successful business model built by Bezos.  Property in the Manhattan shopping districts isn’t doing so well.

All you have to do is sort the media in to “normal” vs. right wing propaganda and you see what’s what.  Still, it’s hard to understand how even “normal” media does what it does in the age of false equivalence of facts. But,how about this little blurb in the local in Hutchison, Kansas where small is still sometimes best?  

Consider federal deficits, which are now at a trillion dollars a year and headed still higher. The big reason are GOP tax cuts, although new spending, mostly for the U.S. military, also is adding red ink.

As the tax cuts were being proposed, Congress was warned by its own staff that they would not, as Trump claimed, pay for themselves by fueling additional economic growth.

Not even the White House believes that anymore. A year ago, White House officials vowed their tax cuts would create such energy that the country’s GDP would grow by 4 percent in 2018. A few days ago, the White House announced that it expects 3 percent growth this year.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve predicts the U.S. GDP to grow by 2.5 percent this year.

It’s also worth noting that the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has argued that tax cuts – of any kind – won’t create even a 0.4 percent difference in economic growth.

The story is much the same on other issues: Changing goals, squishy principles and lots of finger-pointing substitute for achievement.

The latest spending bill pushed through late at night with little debate illustrates the lack of sound reason or policy.

NY Mag has a feature up on Trump’s record of  massive corruption. It’s a must read.  The Presidential Pig is on the cover snout and all.

Since Trump took office, his pledge to ignore his own interests has been almost forgotten, lost in a disorienting hurricane of endless news. It is not just a morbid joke but a legitimate problem for the opposition that all the bad news about Trump keeps getting obscured by other bad news about Trump. Perhaps the extraordinary civic unrest his presidency has provoked will be enough to give Democrats a historic win in the midterms this fall, but it is easy to be worried.

Trump’s approval rating hovers in the low 40s: lower than the average of any other president, yes, but seemingly impervious to an onslaught of scandals that would have sunk any other president, and within spitting range of reelectability.

“Why shouldn’t the president surround himself with successful people?” argued Larry Kudlow, now Trump’s primary economic adviser, in 2016. “Wealthy folks have no need to steal or engage in corruption.” The administration seems to have set out to refute this generous assumption. The sheer breadth of direct self-enrichment Trump has unleashed in office defies the most cynical predictions. It may not be a surprise that he continues to hold on to his business empire and uses his power in office to direct profits its way, from overseas building deals down to printing the presidential seal on golf markers at the course near Mar-a-Lago. It is certainly not a surprise that Trump has refused to disclose his tax returns. What’s truly shocking is how much petty graft has sprung up across his administration. Trump’s Cabinet members and other senior officials have been living in style at taxpayer expense, indulging in lavish travel for personal reasons (including a trip to Fort Knox to witness the solar eclipse) and designing their offices with $31,000 dining sets and $139,000 doors. Not since the Harding administration, and probably the Gilded Age, has the presidency conducted itself in so venal a fashion.

It is hardly a coincidence that so many greedy people have filled the administration’s ranks. Trump’s ostentatious crudeness and misogyny are a kind of human-resources strategy. Radiating personal and professional sleaze lets him quickly and easily identify individuals who have any kind of public ethics and to sort them out. (James Comey’s accounts of his interactions with the president depict Trump probing for some vein of corruptibility in the FBI director; when he came up empty, he fired him.) Trump is legitimately excellent at cultivating an inner circle unburdened by legal or moral scruples. These are the only kind of people who want to work for Trump, and the only kind Trump wants to work for him.

Paul Waldman–writing for the American Prospect–believes US voters will essentially toss the lot of them because of a sense of fairness.  This assumes a lot.

At this point, it’s unlikely to change. People are already getting whatever tax cut they’re going to get, and it’s hard to imagine that six months from now many workers will say, “Wait a minute—I am getting more take-home pay! Thanks, Republicans!” Not only that, recent polling shows the tax bill to be a wash at best, with about the same number of people saying they approve of it as disapprove of it, with more usually in the latter camp.

Even if you do approve of it, are you going to rush to the polls to express your gratitude to President Trump and the Republican Congress? If you’re getting another 20 bucks a week, it seems unlikely, especially if you know how much corporations and the wealthy got.

That isn’t to say that the alternative to this bill wouldn’t have been worse for the GOP. When it passed, they breathed a gigantic sigh of relief, knowing that despite the chaos of the Trump presidency and their lack of meaningful accomplishments in this period of one-party rule, at least they could go home to the voters and tell them that they got something done.

But it’s hard to convince people that you just changed their lives for the better with a tax cut if they aren’t seeing the rewards—and they know who is. According to a new reportfrom the Tax Policy Center, people in the lowest income quintile will average a $40 tax cut from the law, or $1.54 per two-week pay period, just like Paul Ryan’s lucky secretary. Those in the middle quintile will average $800, or about $30 per paycheck. And those in the top 1 percent? Their average cut is almost $33,000.

Which is about what everyone expects from a Republican tax plan. And when you play right into people’s expectations, it doesn’t take much to convince them that you have in fact done exactly what they expected you to.

That’s not to mention the fact that if they were looking to win people’s approval for a change to the tax system, they would have done exactly the opposite of what they did. For years, polls have consistently found that what bothered people the most isn’t the amount they have to pay in taxes, even if everyone might like to pay less. The chief complaint voters have long had is that the corporations and the wealthy don’t pay their fair share. So Republicans lowered taxes on corporations and the wealthy, making the system even less fair than it was before.

So, let me just say that all this. All good news coverage and analysis depends on its availability. The idea of understanding all this unfairness assumes that Dear Reader isn’t reading crap put out by Russian Troll Farms or propaganda broadcast by certain news outlets.  It also assumes journalists do due diligence with their sources.  What good is an interview with a Senator if it’s just a lot of lies and nonsense?  Shouldn’t you fact check them all on the spot?

Earlier this month, CNN’s Brian Stelter broke the news that Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner or operator of nearly 200 television stations in the U.S., would be forcing its news anchors to record a promo about “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.” The script, which parrots Donald Trump’s oft-declarations of developments negative to his presidency as “fake news,” brought upheaval to newsrooms already dismayed with Sinclair’s consistent interference to bring right-wing propaganda to local television broadcasts.

You might remember Sinclair from its having been featured on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight last year, or from its requiring in 2004 of affiliates to air anti-John Kerry propaganda, or perhaps because it’s your own local affiliate running inflammatory “Terrorism Alerts” or required editorials from former Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn, he of the famed Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that failed to mention Jewish people. (Sinclair also owns Ring of Honor wrestling, Tennis magazine, and the Tennis Channel.)

The net result of the company’s current mandate is dozens upon dozens of local news anchors looking like hostages in proof-of-life videos, trying their hardest to spit out words attacking the industry they’d chosen as a life vocation.

Now, let’s look at something most Fox watchers have probably no awareness about.  Monmouth University has a polling institute. It provides opinions and analysis. This is the one today: “‘Fake News’ Threat to Media; Editorial Decisions, Outside Actors at Fault”.

The news about “fake news” is not good, according to the Monmouth University Poll. Large majorities of the American public believe that traditional media outlets engage in reporting fake news and that outside sources are actively trying to plant fake stories in the mainstream media. When it comes to the meaning of “fake news,” a majority believe that it involves editorial decisions as well as inaccurate reporting. The public feels that social media platforms are partly to blame for the spread of fake news and are not doing enough to stop it. The poll also finds that Pres. Trump continues to be less trusted than the major cable news outlets as an information source.

More than 3-in-4 Americans believe that traditional major TV and newspaper media outlets report “fake news,” including 31% who believe this happens regularly and 46% who say it happens occasionally. The 77% who believe fake news reporting happens at least occasionally has increased significantly from 63% of the public who felt that way last year.

Just 25% say the term “fake news” applies only to stories where the facts are wrong. Most Americans (65%), on the other hand, say that “fake news” also applies to how news outlets make editorial decisions about what they choose to report.

“These findings are troubling, no matter how you define ‘fake news.’ Confidence in an independent fourth estate is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy. Ours appears to be headed for the intensive care unit,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

The belief that major media outlets disseminate fake news at least occasionally has increased among every partisan group over the past year, including Republicans (89% up from 79% in 2017), independents (82% up from 66%), and Democrats (61% up from 43%). In addition to the fact that a clear majority of Democrats now believe that traditional media outlets report fake news at least occasionally, the poll also finds that a majority of Republicans (53%) feel this happens on a regular basis (up from 37% in 2017).

A plurality of the public (42%) say that traditional news media sources report fake news on purpose in order to push an agenda. Fewer Americans (26%) believe that major media sources tend to report these stories only by accident or due to poor fact checking. Another 7% feel both reasons are equally prevalent. The remainder are either not sure or do not feel that fake news is reported by traditional media outlets. The number who believe this type of false reporting is done on purpose has not changed much from a year ago when it stood at 39%. The number who say it is done accidentally has increased from 17% a year ago as more people feel that the traditional media engages in reporting fake news stories.

Fully 83% of Americans believe that outside groups or agents are actively trying to plant fake stories in the mainstream media. Two-thirds (66%) say this is a serious problem – including 74% of Republicans, 68% of independents, and 59% of Democrats.

And about the Death of the Fairness Doctrine:

The Fairness Doctrine sustained a number of challenges over the years. A lawsuit challenging the doctrine on First Amendment grounds, Red Lion Broadcasting Co., Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission , reached the Supreme Court in 1969. The Court ruled unanimously that while broadcasters have First Amendment speech rights, the fact that the spectrum is owned by the government and merely leased to broadcasters gives the FCC the right to regulate news content. However, First Amendment jurisprudence after Red Lion started to allow more speech rights to broadcasters, and put the constitutionality of the Fairness Doctrine in question.

In response, the FCC began to reconsider the rule in the mid-80s, and ultimately revoked itin 1987, after Congress passed a resolution instructing the commission to study the issue. The decision has been credited with the explosion of conservative talk radio in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. While the FCC has not enforced the rule in nearly a quarter century, it remains technically on the books. As a part of the Obama administration’s broader efforts to overhaul federal regulation, the FCC is finally scrapping the rule once and for all.

This was in August, 2011.  This is from Salon: “From the Fairness Doctrine to fake news: The deregulation of media has proved anathema to democracy”.

The 1990s’ deregulation of media illustrates the effectiveness of the Antidemocracy Movement in convincing Republicans and Democrats alike that a narrow, market-driven, anti-government approach was imperative, even if it led to oligopoly.

As the media became a multibillion-dollar industry, a frenzy of mergers continued, wiping out hundreds of competitors. So today most of what Americans watch and see is controlled by just a handful of companies—all preoccupied with their shareholders’ wealth, not our society’s health. The result is a downward spiral of programming. One telling narrative? By 2000, the average length of presidential candidates’ soundbites on the network nightly news had shrunk to seven seconds, less than a fifth of their length in the 1968 presidential election.

As Craig Aaron, president and CEO of the media-focused public interest group Free Press, explained to us:

Years of rubber-stamping merger deals plus the removal of and raising of ownership limits in the 1996 Act did tremendous damage to the media landscape.

Next to no issue coverage means a bigger microphone for Donald Trump.

The undermining of media as a public good and its parallel consolidation helped take us to the election of Donald Trump. A narrow focus on profitability led to this shocking finding by longtime news analyst Andrew Tyndall: In 2016, from the first of January through October 26, the three major television networks’ evening newscasts together “devoted just 32 minutes to issues coverage.” That’s roughly one-seventh of what it was in 2008. What did they cover instead? Heading into the primary season, sensational Trump stories were all but ubiquitous. By March of 2016, he had received nearly $2 billion in free media coverage. But virtually none of it touched on the serious issues our country faces.

Moreover, our hunch is that many of Trump’s lies were never seriously challenged simply because digging might have interrupted the “excitement” of the election, dimming media’s profits from political advertising. In 2012 such profits accounted for about 20 percent of TV station revenues, as much as four times the share of ten years earlier. Another reason: As online news outlets and social media have taken off, newspaper journalism—long entrusted with investigating in the public interest—has taken a big hit, with its workforce shrinking by 39 percent in 20 years. So even if many outlets wanted to expose Trump’s lies, they had little staff to investigate.

Concurrently, more Americans are choosing self-reinforcing news sources, from blogs to websites—creating an echo chamber that alternative narratives can’t penetrate. As Wired (11/18/16) warned, “We develop tunnel vision [and] eventually become victims to our own biases.” So too has talk radio become increasingly polarized, insular, and narrow-minded, and abetted, unsurprisingly, by essential players in the Anti-Democracy Movement. From 2008 to 2012, the Heritage Foundation, the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity and related groups provided approximately $22 million in sponsorships to extreme right-wing talking heads, including Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin. Many of these radio figures, especially Beck—and the local radio hosts they inspire—were critical in stirring up resentment and providing guidance to Tea Party activists from 2009 onward, as chronicled by journalist Will Bunch in his book The Backlash.

Let’s end with another of the little guys.  This an editorial out of Greensborough.

Fake news!

Sometimes you hear this label applied to news reports that are clearly false and meant to mislead. But other times you hear the cry “fake news” just because the person reading facts does not like what he/she reads.

So with actual as well as perceived “fake news” around, what constitutes real news, news that’s reliable, trustworthy journalism? And how have we gotten to the point of needing to debate whether news is real or not anyway?

Speaking at the Bryan Lecture Series a few weeks ago, Ted Koppel, former ABC News anchor and former host of “Nightline,” gave us a quick history lesson about American journalism. For many years our journalism was kept relatively trustworthy by “gatekeepers,” such as noted TV anchors and well-known editors and publishers.

The FCC wielded more influence through its “Fairness Doctrine,” which, as Dylan Matthews explains, “required that TV and radio stations holding FCC-issued broadcast licenses to (a) devote some of their programming to controversial issues of public importance and (b) allow the airing of opposing views on those issues.”

With the relaxing of Fairness Doctrine enforcement in 1969 and its repeal in 1987, the floodgates were opened for unapologetically biased news and talk shows. Now we find ourselves in a time when factual news is being replaced with more and more opinion writing and greater focus on entertainment. Americans are losing access to hard facts and careful reporting.

How can we begin to get ourselves out of this fix?

You can go read the suggestions along with the rest of today’s linky goodness!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 


Friday Reads

Good Morning!

I thought I’d try to get off the topic of the midterm elections specifically and get on to some general things about why the U.S. Political System seems so completely screwed up right now.  What exactly has led us to the point where the Republicans seem to be a combination of the John Birch banksy-dreams_00349040Society and Theocrats and the Democratic Party sits idly by and twiddles its thumbs hoping the process works like it used to?

William Pfaff has a few things to say about this in an article titled “How Ronald Reagan and the Supreme Court Turned American Politics Into a Cesspool”.   One of the things that does completely amaze me is how the entire Reagan Presidency has turned into a narrative that’s more saga and drama than reality.  There’s some really interesting points here.  How did this election get so removed from reality in that people voted for one set of priorities when it came to issues like marijuana legalization and the minimum wage but then sent people to the District diametrically opposed to these policies?

The second significance of this election has been the debasement of debate to a level of vulgarity, misinformation and ignorance that, while not unprecedented in American political history, certainly attained new depths and extent.

This disastrous state of affairs is the product of two Supreme Court decisions and before that, of the repeal under the Reagan Administration, of the provision in the Federal Communications Act of 1934, stipulating the public service obligations of radio (and subsequently, of television) broadcasters in exchange for the government’s concession to them of free use in their businesses of the public airways.

These rules required broadcasters to provide “public interest” programming, including the coverage of electoral campaigns for public office and the independent examination of public issues. The termination of these requirements made possible the wave of demagogic and partisan right-wing “talk radio” that since has plagued American broadcasting and muddied American electoral politics.

Those readers old enough to remember the radio and early television broadcasting of pre-Reagan America will recall the non-partisan news reports and summaries provided by the national networks and by local stations in the United States. There were, of course, popular news commentators professing strong or idiosyncratic views as well, but the industry assured that a variety of responsible opinions were expressed, and that blatant falsehood was banned or corrected.

The two Supreme Court decisions were “Buckley v. Valeo” in 1976 and “Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission” in 2010. Jointly, they have transformed the nature of the American political campaign, and indeed the nature of American national politics. This resulted from the nature and characteristics of mass communications in the United States and the fact that broadcasting has from the beginning been all but totally a commercial undertaking (unlike the state broadcasters in Canada and Britain, and nearly all of Europe).

The two decisions turned political contests into competitions in campaign advertising expenditure on television and radio. The election just ended caused every American linked to the internet to be bombarded by thousands (or what seemed tens of thousands) of political messages pleading for campaign money and listing the enormous (naturally) sums pouring into the coffers of the enemy.

Previously the American campaign first concerned the candidate and the nature of his or her political platform. Friends and supporters could, of course, contribute to campaign funds and expenditures, but these contributions were limited by law in scale and nature. No overt connection was allowed between businesses or industries and major political candidates, since this would have implied that the candidate represented “special interests” rather than the general interest.

The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission verdict is well known and remains highly controversial since it rendered impossible the imposition of legal limits on political campaign spending, ruling that electoral spending is an exercise in constitutionally-protected free speech. Moreover, it adjudged commercial corporations as legal citizens, in electoral matters the equivalent of persons.

BanksyCleaningUpWhat role has Citizen’s United played in our elections? 

Don’t think Citizens United made a difference for the GOP in Tuesday’s midterms? The plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case thinks so.

Citizens United, our Supreme Court case, leveled the playing field, and we’re very proud of the impact that had in last night’s election,” said David Bossie, chairman of the conservative advocacy organization.

He complained that Democratic lawmakers were trying to “gut the First Amendment” with their proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 ruling, reported Right Wing Watch, which allowed corporations to pour cash into campaigns without disclosing their contributions.

Bossie said this so-called “dark money” was crucial to Republicans gaining control of the U.S. Senate and strengthening their grip on the U.S. House of Representatives.

“A robust conversation, which is what a level playing field allows, really creates an opportunity for the American people to get information and make good decisions,” Bossie said.

Besides the role of dark money, the number of states that will continue to enact voter suppression measures between now and 2016 is expected to increase.

Voters across the country trying to cast votes in Tuesday’s elections ran into hurdles erected by Republican legislatures, governors and secretaries of state. Along with mechanical glitches and human error — which occurred in states with leaders on both sides of the political spectrum — voters faced new laws and policies that made it harder to vote.

In Alabama, a last-minute decision by the attorney general barred people from using public housing IDs to vote. Voter ID laws in North Carolina and Texas sowed confusion. Georgia lost 40,000 voter registrations, mostly from minorities. In all, the group Election Protection reported receiving 18,000 calls on Election Day, many of them having to do with voter ID laws. The group noted that the flurry of calls represented “a nearly 40 percent increase from 13,000 calls received in 2010.”

In the presidential election year of 2016, it looks unlikely that those problems will subside — especially if Congress fails to restore the Voting Rights Act. The two states that had the closest vote tallies in the last presidential election — Florida and Ohio — will go into the presidential election year with Republicans controlling the offices of governor and secretary of state and holding majorities in their state legislatures.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who won reelection yesterday, will be able to appoint a secretary of state and will enjoy the support of a veto-proof Republican majority in the state House.

In Ohio, controversial Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted won reelection on Tuesday, along with Gov. John Kasich. They’ll be able to work with a strengthened GOP majority in the state legislature.

In North Carolina, where a Republican legislature and governor have cracked down on voting rights, the GOP held onto its majority. Republican secretary of state candidates in the swing states of Colorado, Iowa and Nevada also won elections yesterday.

Two influential elections for voting rights also took place in states unlikely to be presidential swing states. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a national ringleader for advocates of restrictive voting laws, won reelection. In Arizona, which has been working with Kansas to defend their states’ respective tough voting requirements, Republican candidate Michele Reagan also won her contest.

Suppression of voting rights and purposeful spread of lies, propaganda, and disinformation are likely to continue as the 2016 Presidential Political season begins.Will the Democratic Party learn anything from the last two disastrous mid term elections? banksy-w1200

This fall, Democrats ran like they were afraid of losing. Consider the issues that most Democrats think really matter: Climate change, which a United Nations report just warned will have “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” across the globe. The expansion of Medicaid, so millions of poor families have health coverage. Our immoral and incoherent immigration system. Our epidemic of gun violence, which produces a mini-Sandy Hook every few weeks. The rigging of America’s political and economic system by the 1 percent.

For the most part, Democratic candidates shied away from these issues because they were too controversial. Instead they stuck to topics that were safe, familiar, and broadly popular: the minimum wage, outsourcing, and the “war on women.” The result, for the most part, was homogenized, inauthentic, forgettable campaigns. Think about the Democrats who ran in contested seats Tuesday night: Grimes, Nunn, Hagan, Pryor, Hagan, Shaheen, Landrieu, Braley, Udall, Begich, Warner. During the entire campaign, did a single one of them have what Joe Klein once called a “Turnip Day moment”—a bold, spontaneous outbreak of genuine conviction? Did a single one unfetter himself or herself from the consultants and take a political risk to support something he or she passionately believed was right?

I’m not claiming that such displays would have changed the outcome. Given President Obama’s unpopularity, Democratic victories, especially in red states, may have been impossible.

But there is a crucial lesson here for 2016. In recent years, some Democrats have convinced themselves they can turn out African Americans, Latinos, single women, the poor, and the young merely by employing fancy computer systems and exploiting Republican extremism. But technologically, Republicans are catching up, and they’re getting shrewder about blunting, or at least masking, the harshness of their views.

We saw the consequences on Tuesday. According to exit polls, voters under 30 constituted only 13 percent of the electorate, down from 19 percent in 2012. In Florida, the Latino share of the electorate dropped from 17 to 13 percent. In North Carolina, the African-American share dropped from 23 to 21 percent.

If Hillary Clinton wants to reverse those numbers, she’s going to have to inspire people—people who, more than their Republican counterparts, are inclined toward disconnection and despair. And her gender alone won’t be enough. She lost to Obama in 2008 in part because she could not overcome her penchant for ultra-cautious, hyper-sanitized, consultant-speak. Yet on the stump this year, she was as deadening as the candidates she campaigned for. As Molly Ball put it in September, “Everywhere Hillary Clinton goes, a thousand cameras follow. Then she opens her mouth, and nothing happens.”

Then, there is this: Former Republican Committeemen Claim Election Judges Coerced Into Voting GOP. banksy-wallpaper-tumblr-12-wide

A day after the election, officials are still counting ballots and the investigation into who made robocalls that allegedly persuaded many judges not to show up Tuesday is heating up.

Two former Republican committeemen are telling 2 Investigator Pam Zekman they were removed because they objected to those tactics.

Judges of election are appointed by their respective parties and they look at a judge’s primary voting records as part of the vetting process. But in these cases the former committeemen we talked to said that vetting crossed a line when judges were told who they had to vote for in the Tuesdays’ election.

One says it happened at a temporary campaign headquarters at 8140 S. Western Ave, which we’ve confirmed it was rented by the Republican Party where election judges reported they were falsely told they had to appear for additional training.

And a former 7th ward committeewoman says she witnessed the same thing at 511. E. 79th Street campaign workers calling judges to come in for additional training. She says there wasn’t any training.

“They were calling election judges, telling them to come in so they could get specific orders to vote for the Republican Party,” said Charon Bryson.

She says she is a Republican but objected to the tactic used on the judges.

“They should not be be pressured or coerced into voting for someone to get a job, or to get an appointment,” said Bryson.

Bryson says she thinks it is like “buying a vote.”

“If you don’t vote Republican you will not be an Republican judge, which pays $170,” she said.

The Board of Elections is now investigating whether calls to judges assigned citywide resulted in a shortage that infuriated the mayor.

“What happened with the robocalls was intentional. As far as we can tell somebody got a list, a list with names and numbers, called them, not to educate, not to promote the democratic process, but to sew confusion,” Emanuel said.

imagesScared by polls that show that people do not want Republican policies and by changes in demographics, Republicans have been pulling out the stops to turn back the tide.  However, none of these fundamentals seem to be driving voting trends or turnout.  WTF is wrong with people?  As a member of the White Women Constituency who seem to be one of the groups that continues to vote against their own interest, I can agree that we should all get our acts together now.  Nowhere was this more evident than in the Wendy Davis campaign.

Once more, with feeling: Greg Abbott and the Republican Party did not win women. They won white women. Time and time again, people of color have stood up for reproductive rights, for affordable health care, for immigrant communities while white folks vote a straight “I got mine” party ticket—even when they haven’t, really, gotten theirs.

The trend is echoed in national politics; we saw it play out across the country last night. To be sure, there are many factors that contributed to America’s rightward dive over the cliff: In a post-Citizens United electoral landscape, racist gerrymandering and voter ID laws appear to have had their intended effects of dividing and disenfranchising already marginalized voters.

But there’s another factor at play that Democrats fail to grapple with, and the Republican Party capitalizes on, time and time again: the historical crisis of empathy in the white community, one much older than gerrymandered congressional districts or poll taxes.

Let’s talk about what a vote for Wendy Davis meant: It meant a vote for strong public school funding, for Texas Medicaid expansion, for affordable family planning care, for environmental reforms, for access to a full spectrum of reproductive health-care options.

On the flip side, a vote for Greg Abbott meant a vote for the status quo, for empowering big industry and big political donors, for cutting public school funds and dismantling the Affordable Care Act, for overturning Roe v. Wade.

White women chose Greg Abbott Tuesday night. We did not choose empathy. Texas has been red for two decades. We do not choose empathy. We choose the fact that our children will always have access to education, that our daughters will always be able to fly to California or New York for abortion care, that our mothers will always be able to get that crucial Pap smear.

We chose a future where maternal mortality—but not our maternal mortality—rates will rise. We chose a future where preventable deaths from cervical cancer—but not our deaths—will rise. We chose a future where deaths from illegal, back-alley abortions—but not our illegal, back-alley abortions—will rise. We chose ourselves, and only ourselves.

Is white privilege such an enticing thing to us that we’ll sell ourselves out just to protect what scraps we’re thrown?

Anyway, between dark money, voter suppression, and the number of voters willing to vote against their policy beliefs and interests, we’re in trouble as a nation.  The Democratic Party just bailed on Mary Landrieu and I’m about to get a Senator that wants to raise Social Security eligibility to age 70, privatize Medicare with vouchers,  and defund student loans.  This doesn’t even count that he voted no to hurricane relief for his own constituents after Hurricane Isaac. At this rate, every white person in the country should get a tube of astrolube with their ballot.  Bend over folks, cause you’ve done it to yourselves!

What’s on your reading and blogging list?


Wednesday Reads: China, North Korea, France and Solomon Islands

Waterman-Ideal-Fountain-Pen-Giclee-Good Morning

Last night a strong earthquake hit the Solomon Islands, triggering a tsunami.  This is the latest information at the time of this writing, according to the Sydney Morning Herald the tsunami warning was cancelled:

Tsunami Fear After Quake Off Solomons

Residents of islands from the South Pacific to Australia were preparing Wednesday for the possible effects of a tsunami set off by an 8.0-magnitude earthquake off the Solomon Islands, according to scientists and news reports from the area.

“Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated,” the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said on its Web site.

The earthquake struck around 11 a.m. Australian time in the Santa Cruz Islands, part of the Solomon chain.The center said the tsunami warning was limited to the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, Kosrae, Fiji, Kiribati, Wallis and Futuna.

Earthquake near Solomon Islands, Tsunami Alert Cancelled

A major earthquake registering at magnitude 8 has hit near the Solomon Islands, with early reports of villages destroyed.

A tsunami measuring 91 centimetres in height was recorded at Lata Wharf in Santa Cruz Islands, near the epicenter, and an 11-centimetre wave was recorded in Luganville, Vanuatu.

[…]

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said the tsunami may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake centre.

The quake struck at a depth of 5.8km at 11.07am AEDT on Wednesday, near the Santa Cruz Islands, which are part of the Solomon Islands nation.

The director at Lata Hospital on the main Santa Cruz island of Ndende said it was believed villages had been destroyed by the quake.

“The information we are getting is that some villages west and south of Lata along the coast have been destroyed, although we cannot confirm this yet,’’ the director said.

I will post updates in the comments.
There has been some wild news out of North Korea, check out the latest propoganda, which was posted on Youtube: North Korea video shows city resembling New York under missile attack
The video is shot as a dream sequence, with a young man seeing himself on board a North Korean space shuttle launched into orbit by the same type of rocket Pyongyang successfully tested in December.As the shuttle circles the globe — to the tune of “We Are the World” — the video zooms in on countries below, including a joyfully re-unified Korea.In contrast, the focus then switches to a city — shrouded in the US flag — under apparent missile attack with its skyscrapers, including what appears to be the Empire State Building, either on fire or in ruins.“Somewhere in the United States, black clouds of smoke are billowing,” runs the caption across the screen.“It seems that the nest of wickedness is ablaze with the fire started by itself,” it added.The video ends with the young man concluding that his dream will “surely come true”.

“Despite all kinds of attempts by imperialists to isolate and crush us… never will anyone be able to stop the people marching toward a final victory,” it said.

Video is at the link.

There are more calls from the UN regarding investigations of human rights in North Korea: UN Official Urges Human Rights Probe of North Korea

A report by a special U.N. investigator is calling for the United Nations to open an inquiry into North Korea for possible crimes against humanity.

In his report Tuesday, U.N. special rapporteur Marzuki Darusmanwants the Human Rights Council to authorize a probe into North Korea’s “grave, widespread and systematic” human rights violations.

He said an inquiry by the Geneva-based body should examine the responsibility of government and individuals in alleged abuses.

North Korea denounced the report before it was made public.

Meanwhile, a court decision is making headlines, this time a ruling in a Chinese Court that has granted an American woman a divorce….In China, a victory for women’s rights and the power of social media

Kim Lee, an American woman who used social media to go public with accusations of domestic violence against her wealthy and famous husband, Li Yang, has just scored a major victory for women’s rights and the rule of law in China.

As reported by Didi Kirsten Tatlow at the New York Times, Lee made history this weekend after a Beijing court granted her divorce on the grounds of abuse and issued a three-month protection order against her ex-husband, a first in the nation’s capital.

“It’s a very important case. All of society was paying attention,” Guo Jianmei, a lawyer, told the Times. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”

And although censorship remains widespread in China, Lee’s court victory is also a testament to the growing power of social media to share information and avoid direct control by government censors. After Lee posted photos and an account of her experience of domestic violence on Sina Weibo, a microblogging service similar to Twitter, it quickly went viral.

Sticking with world news a bit longer, BBC news is reporting: France: Hundreds of Islamist militants killed in Mali

“Several hundred” Islamist militants have been killed since France launched an offensive in Mali last month, the French defence minister has said.

Jean-Yves Le Drian said they had been killed in airstrikes and direct combat with French troops.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said that France may begin pulling out of Mali as early as March.

Back in the US, Anti-Abortion Ideology Trumped Science In Weld County Decision To Stop Providing ‘Morning After’ Pill

When Weld County commissioners decided to stop providing emergency contraception to county patients, concerns rooted in anti-abortion politics trumped scientific facts and testimony provided by the county’s medical chief, according to documents obtained by The Colorado Independent.

Board meeting minutes from the summer of 2010 detail how members led by Commissioner William Garcia were concerned that the popular “Plan B” contraception drugs dispensed at the county’s low-income Title X family-planning clinics prevented pregnancy by destroying fertilized eggs, or inducing abortions, as they put it. Garcia cited reports he found on the Internet to bolster his case and, echoing rhetoric made popular over the last four years by abortion opponents battling health-care reform, he said the board should eliminate Plan B from the county’s services because the law of the land bars tax funding for abortions.

Same old crap…yes? “Reports on the internet.”

Dr. Mark Wallace, who directs the county’s health department, explained to commissioners on at least three separate occasions that summer that Plan B contraception can not abort a fertilized egg. He recommended Weld County continue to dispense Plan B, and he objected to Garcia’s proposal to include any language in the county’s Title X contract that would suggest Plan B was an abortion drug.

“Dr Wallace stated he has a strong professional opinion that Plan B does not disrupt established pregnancies,” the record of the July 12 meeting reads (pdf). “[Wallace] stated the language placed in the agreement regarding Plan B should be medically accurate and should not refer to [PlanB] as an abortive agent.”

Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer–the only woman on the five-member board–was concerned that Garcia’s proposals would put funding at risk and bring popular county family-planning services to an end.

Here it comes…

An anti-abortion Republican, Kirkmeyer was sympathetic to her colleagues’ concerns, but she felt the research cited to support Garcia’s proposals was unproven.

“Plan B is basically a high-dose birth control pill,” she argued, according to the minutes from a May 24 meeting (pdf). “Why is there concern with [Plan B] and not standard forms [of birth control]?

“A lot of women have and will benefit from this type of counseling,” she said.

Despite Wallace’s testimony and initial pushback from Commissioner Kirkmeyer, Garcia’s motion carried unanimously. After roughly a decade providing emergency contraception, Weld County’s clinics stopped dispensing Plan B pills. Conservative Weld and El Paso are the only two counties in Colorado where official policy is to not offer Plan B. Instead, the counties refer patients asking for emergency contraception to other low-cost providers, mainly to Planned Parenthood.

Then the next step is to defund Planned Parenthood, as they have in Texas.

MoJo has an article about the mass shootings of late, What We Still Don’t Know About Mass Shootings

Late last week Megan McArdle of the Daily Beast posted an online interview she did with criminologist James Alan Fox, in part taking issue with our mass shootings investigation at Mother Jones. I was glad to see McArdle continue the conversation with Fox; as he and I agreed in a recent exchange, mass shootings deserve continuing inquiry.

Give that a read.

A new study is out, Mentally Ill Smoke 30% of All Cigarettes.

Federal survey results indicate that smoking intensities as well as smoking rates are dramatically higher in the mentally ill compared with other Americans, officials said Tuesday.

A joint “Vital Signs” report from the CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicated that, among adults who reported symptoms consistent with a recognized mental illness, 36.1% were current smokers, compared with 21.4% of the rest of the population.

The report, based on data from the 2009-2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, also found that 30.9% of all cigarettes consumed in the U.S. were smoked by the mentally ill. In part, this disproportion reflects heavier smoking in the mentally ill, with an average of 331 cigarettes per month compared with 310 in the rest of the smoking population.

Individuals classified as mentally ill in the study represented 19.9% of the sample surveyed after weighing to reflect the general population’s demographics.

I wonder if the subject of this next and last article link would be able to smell a smoker from 100 feet. Evidence moles can smell in stereo

Most mammals, including humans, see in stereo and hear in stereo. But whether they can also smell in stereo is the subject of a long-standing scientific controversy.

Now, a new study shows definitively that the common mole (Scalopus aquaticus) – the same critter that disrupts the lawns and gardens of homeowners throughout the eastern United States, Canada and Mexico – relies on stereo sniffing to locate its prey. The paper that describes this research, “Stereo and Serial Sniffing Guide Navigation to an Odor Source in a Mammals,” was published on Feb. 5 in the journal Nature Communications.

“I came at this as a skeptic. I thought the moles’ nostrils were too close together to effectively detect odor gradients,” said Kenneth Catania, the Stevenson Professor of Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University, who conducted the research.

What he found turned his assumptions upside down and opened new areas for potential future research. “The fact that moles use stereo odor cues to locate food suggests other mammals that rely heavily on their sense of smell, like dogs and pigs might also have this ability,” Catania said.

Catania describes how he did it…

He created a radial arena with food wells spaced around a 180-degree circle with the entrance for the mole located at the center. He then ran a number of trials with the food (pieces of earthworm) placed randomly in different wells. The chamber was temporarily sealed so he could detect each time the mole sniffed by the change in air pressure.

“It was amazing. They found the food in less than five seconds and went directly to the right food well almost every time,” Catania said. “They have a hyper-sensitive sense of smell.”

That is a good start for this Wednesday morning, what are you up to today?


Sunday Reads: Once more with confidence…

With all this heat, I could not bear to put up a picture of hot coffee…so here is a nice cool watermelon to enjoy your summer morning Sunday reads.

Good Morning!

Actually that exclamation point seems a bit overstated. I wanted to write a poetic introduction to this morning’s post. I sat on my bed with the laptop angled up on my lower legs…my fingers on the well-worn keyboard, and nothing could make them move and flick the keys, to write out words on the computer page. I just looked at my hands and saw only that my nails needed to be clipped, and the screen needed to be cleaned.

Must be the heat, it zaps any intelligent thought out of my brain, and it drives my mind into stillness. Nothingness. Only the relief pouring out of my A/C unit and the sound of my fan falls on me. Nothing.

I won’t kid you all into thinking that I have any thought-provoking comment on the news links today. These plastic keys are getting hot under the pressure of my fingertips as they sit waiting for me to get on with it.

Dammit, I should have known that naming a post, once more with confidence was just asking for trouble. So all that I wrote for the intro to this morning’s post is poof, gone. My computer froze, it too must be affected by the heat. No kidding, I had to take a picture of the computer screen so I could retype the paragraphs I did write. Ugh…

For the start of today’s post, I give you this…h/t Boston Boomer who sent me the link last night while I was having computer problems.

Weimar America …Before I even read the article I knew exactly what I was going to be reading about…what little brain cells I have left, the ones who have not melted in the heat, could grasp that headline.

What happens when a nation that was once an economic powerhouse turns its back on democracy and on its middle class, as wealthy right-wingers wage austerity campaigns and enable extremist politics?

It may sound like America in 2012. But it was also Germany in 1932.

Since I’ve been re-reading the book Banality of Evil, and just last month finished the book In the Garden of Beast, this article is not at all surprising to me.

Most Americans have never heard of the Weimar Republic, Germany’s democratic interlude between World War I and World War II. Those who have usually see it as a prologue to the horrors of Nazi Germany, an unstable transition between imperialism and fascism. In this view, Hitler’s rise to power is treated as an inevitable outcome of the Great Depression, rather than the result of a decision by right-wing politicians to make him chancellor in early 1933.

Historians reject teleological approaches to studying the past. No outcome is inevitable, even if some are more likely than others. Rather than looking for predictable outcomes, we ought to be looking to the past to understand how systems operate, especially liberal capitalist democracies. In that sense, Weimar Germany holds many useful lessons for contemporary Americans. In particular, there are four major points of similarity between Weimar Germany and Weimar America worth examining.

Please, if you read nothing else, read the rest of this article…

Next up…David Miscavige: A cult figure in the fame game  This link is about the cult of Scientology, it’s big shot leader and Sea Org…and it is freaky stuff! If you do not know what Sea Org is, you may be one of those folks who have not kept up with the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes split. Some gossip mags are speculating that Sea Org is the reason behind Holmes filing for divorce and seeking full custody of their daughter. Well, I have no comment on that…but a cult is a cult, nuff said.

At first glance, the handsome Georgian mansion in the heart of the Sussex countryside could easily be mistaken for a National Trust property. Indeed, at this time of year, Saint Hill Manor would not look out of place in a BBC costume drama; lawns are manicured and greenhouses stocked with abundant produce.

Only the presence of stern-faced young men sporting pristine black naval uniforms and white flat caps indicate Saint Hill’s true calling. The cadets are members of the Sea Org, the 6,000-strong unit within the Church of Scientology that is run along quasi-military lines and which is treated with a degree of respect that borders on fear by some of its followers.

Many members are little more than children who have signed contracts pledging to perform a billion years of service for the fledgling church which was set up in 1954 by the former pulp fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, and is famed for its celebrity followers.

Banned from having children while part of the group, Sea Org members are considered the Scientology elite, shock troops to be dispatched to the church’s trouble spots. Hubbard declared that they had “unlimited ethics powers”.

Uh…again I can only say, it’s a cult!

Small-framed, sharp-featured and with an unnerving gaze, Miscavige’s official title is “chairman of the Board of Religious Technology Centre“, a stand-alone organisation whose remit is to “preserve, maintain and protect the Scientology religion”. According to the church, the centre “holds the ultimate ecclesiastical authority regarding the standard and pure application of L Ron Hubbard’s religious technologies”.

What this means in practice, according to those who have quit the church, is that Miscavige wields absolute power over Scientology’s followers.

I will omit the Cruise/Holmes discussion and get back to Miscavige:

Scientology claims the abuse it receives is typical of the treatment meted out down the centuries to any new religion. But a plethora of lawsuits alleging that Scientology has harassed its critics, humiliated and beaten its followers and forced family members to break off contact with their loved ones, all denied by the church, have conspired to leave a sinister impression.

There is also unease over the apparent disappearance of Miscavige’s wife, Shelly, another former member of the Sea Org, who was responsible for introducing Holmes to Cruise and who has reportedly not been seen in public since 2007.

In a letter to the Observer, Jeffrey K Riffer, a lawyer who acts for Shelly Miscavige, denied claims his client was missing. “Mrs Miscavige has been working nonstop in the church, as she always has.”

Once it was the case that the church could rely on its internal disciplinary mechanism to ensure negative publicity was kept to a minimum. According to lawsuits, contested by the church, followers were threatened with manual labour if they spoke out about harsh treatment. The ever-present threat of being rejected by the church and having all links with it broken off, was enough to make even sceptical Scientologists stay silent.

But this fear no longer holds sway – even among Miscavige’s own family. “My experience in growing up in Scientology is that it is both mentally and at times physically abusive,” his niece, Jenna Miscavige Hill, told the Hollywood Reporter. “We got a lousy education from unqualified teachers, forced labour… not to mention the mental anguish of trying to figure out all of the conflicting information they force upon you as a young child…

Questions also loom about the fortunes that Miscavige spends on living up his celebrity lifestyle…

Even those who are supportive of the church are tired of Miscavige’s influence. Last New Year’s Eve, Debbie Cook, a high-profile Scientologist, emailed the church’s followers, urging them to reject its demands for money. Under Miscavige, Cook said, Scientology had become too focused on luxury buildings and was holding more than $1bn in reserve instead of spending it on spreading the religion, claims denied by the church. Miscavige, Cook claimed, had dismantled the internal checks that were supposed to prevent the church from being led by a single person.

There are claims that several of Scientology’s former followers have briefed the FBI on Miscavige’s lifestyle. It is alleged that he owns numerous vehicles, flies in corporate jets and has five stewards and two chefs at his disposal – claims denied by the church.

It is ironic that Miscavige, who by masterminding Scientology’s successful claim for tax exemption from the US Internal Revenue Service in 1993 transformed the church’s fortunes, now finds himself its biggest liability.

Well, I still can’t believe this cult is considered a “church” just thinking of all the tax exemptions alone is enough to piss me off. That there is a missing wife, crazed celebrities and indoctrination of children just adds fuel to the fire.

Let’s keep the rage flowing:  TN Tea Party Groups Demand School Textbooks Overlook Slavery

Remember the Tea Party — that reactionary right wing movement that helped lead the Republican Party into the fever swamp of madness?

Well, in places like Tennessee they found especially fertile ground, and that state’s Teabaggers are now demanding that school textbooks leave out America’s history of slavery.

A little more than a year after the conservative-led state board of education in Texas approved massive changes to its school textbooks to put slavery in a more positive light, a group of Tea Party activists in Tennessee has renewed its push to whitewash school textbooks. The group is seeking to remove references to slavery and mentions of the country’s founders being slave owners.

You know, over at the Holocaust museum there was a section that focused on propaganda, and the way the Nazi’s changed the kids history books to push the Aryan ideal and make the kids “good little Nazis.”

From Tennessee to Louisiana, the tea party nutcases are working hard to fuck up the education system. Louisiana Legislator Upset That Education Vouchers Can Go to Muslim Schools

It looks like someone’s pocket Constitution was lost before she voted in the Louisiana legislature. That’s Republican legislator Valarie Hodges, who wholeheartedly supported Bobby Jindal’s school voucher program. Well, she supported it until she discovered that — GASP! — state money could go to Muslim schools.

Now she’s just horrified.

Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Watson, says she had no idea that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s overhaul of the state’s educational system might mean taxpayer support of Muslim schools.

“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” the District 64 Representative said Monday.

“I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school,” Hodges said.

Hodges mistakenly assumed that “religious” meant “Christian.”

HB976, now signed into law as Act 2, proposed, among other things, a voucher program allowing state educational funds to be used to send students to schools run by religious groups.

Well….what about that assumption?

“Unfortunately it will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,” Hodges said. “We need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”

Well, hey, Rep. Hodges. You don’t get to pick and choose the “permissible religions” when you hand over public funds to private concerns, which is why those of us with half a brain think that public school money ought to be used to fund public institutions, especially when there is NO “founders’ religion.”

See, that way it’s easy. My tax money doesn’t go to fund stupid conservative, narrow-minded, intellectually dishonest education controlled by Catholic bishops and Southern Baptist wingnuts, and your tax money doesn’t go to Muslims. Didn’t you believe that whole “freedom of religion” thing in the Constitution?

Jezebel has a funny take on this story here: Republican Horrified to Discover that Christianity is Not the Only Religion

It’s an honest mistake, assuming that the Constitution only protects your own personal megachurch faith. But one Louisiana Republican is learning the hard way that religious school vouchers can be used to fund education at all sorts of religious schools, even Muslim ones. And while she’s totally in favor of taxpayer money being used to pay for kids to go to Christian schools, she’s willing to put a stop to the entire program if Muslim schools are going to be involved.

Valarie Hodges admitted that when she supported Governor Bobby Jindal’s school voucher program, she only did so because she assumed the religious school vouchers could only be used for Christian schools. Religious freedom means that everyone’s free to follow Valarie Hodges’ religion!

Okay, looks like I have a theme going here, and I did not even notice it.  But back to the Jezebel link:

As The Friendly Atheist points out, the brand of Christianity currently espoused by many in the religious right wing would be pretty unrecognizable to the Founding Fathers, who were pretty high on Deism and pretty low on Christian rock concerts/ talking about The Children’s collective virginity/ having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But whatever. Facts are immaterial at this point.

Yup, there is no need to have facts…or science, or anything at all resembling intelligence.

Case in point: LePage calls IRS the ‘new Gestapo’  You know, this healthcare reform, ACA,  is what the GOP supported before it got signed into law and renamed after Obama.

Gov. Paul LePage used his weekly radio address to blast President Obama’s health care law and described the Internal Revenue Service as the “new Gestapo.”

The IRS description was a reference to a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires Americans not insured by their employers or Medicaid to buy health insurance or pay an annual penalty when filing their tax returns. The provision, known more broadly as the individual mandate, was the subject of a multi-state lawsuit, but was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

LePage said the court decision has “made America less free.”

“We the people have been told there is no choice,” he said. “You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo — the IRS.”

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant, responding to LePage’s remarks, said, “We’ve come to expect a bunch of nonsense from Gov. LePage, but this is a step too far. There appears now to be no limit to the extreme language he will use to misinform, degrade and insult people. Somebody needs to explain to him that he’s the governor of a state, and not a talk radio host. I demand a full apology on behalf of all those who suffered at the hands of the real Gestapo.”

[…]

The debate over the mandate has become a political flash point since the health law was enacted. Republicans maintain that the requirement is an unfair tax. Democrats say the mandate was originally a Republican idea born from the conservative Heritage Foundation, which introduced the measure in 1989 as a counterpoint to calls for a single-payer health care system.

[…]

The governor added that Maine will not move forward the ACA’s insurance exchanges — the marketplaces where individuals can shop for health plans from private companies — until the proposed $800 million tab to pay for them passes Congress.

“With these looming uncertainties circling around this issue, Maine cannot move forward right now with Obamacare,” LePage said.

The governor finished his radio address by outlining his ideological opposition to the health-care law, which he said “raises taxes, cuts Medicare for the elderly, gets between patients and their doctors, costs trillions of taxpayer dollars, and kills jobs.”

“Even more disheartening is that reviving the American dream just became nearly impossible to do,” he said. “We are now a nation which supports dependency rather than independence. Instead of encouraging self-reliance, we are encouraging people to rely on the government.”

Oh boy…

Now, let’s move on to the latest news out of the Justice Department: Holder says civil rights ‘under renewed threat’

In an address to the National Council of La Raza convention in Las Vegas on Saturday, Attorney General Eric Holder told the Hispanic advocacy group that the gains of the Civil Rights era were coming “under renewed threat,” and touted the administration’s efforts in protecting the rights of minority groups and immigrants.

“Many of you know this firsthand – and have felt the impact of division, and even discrimination, in your own lives,” said Holder in his address, according to prepared remarks released by the Justice Department.”

The attorney general pledged that the civil rights advocacy group would “never have a more committed partner than the United States Department of Justice” and touted the administration’s record on those issues.

In particular, Holder highlighted the Supreme Court’s ruling last week striking down much of Arizona’s law targeting illegal immigration.

[…]

Holder said with the decision, the justices were “confirming the federal government’s exclusive authority to regulate with regard to immigration issues.”

But Holder, expressed concerns over the provision left standing. “We’ll work to ensure – as the Court affirmed – that such laws cannot be seen as a license to engage in racial profiling.  And we’ll continue to enforce federal prohibitions against racial and ethnic discrimination, in order – as President Obama has promised – to “uphold our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,” he said.

The attorney general also touted the administration’s decision to halt the deportation of some young illegal immigrants, a move popular within the Hispanic community, calling it “a significant – and long-overdue – improvement to our nation’s immigration policy.”

Holder said the next step was for lawmakers to push through more comprehensive immigration reform and he said the administration would “keep working with Congressional leaders – from both parties – to advance the passage of critical legislation like the DREAM Act.”

Hmmm, in an election year…yes, that would be a dream in itself. However according to Holder:

“Over the past three years, our Civil Rights Division has filed more criminal civil rights cases than during any other period in its history – including record numbers of human trafficking, hate crimes, and police misconduct cases,” said Holder, pledging that such efforts would remain a “top priority” for the department.

The Obama administration is also sending Vice President Biden to the convention. He is scheduled to speak on Tuesday.

Romney, however, will not be attending, and chose instead to send a surrogate, former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. Gutierrez was not given a speaking role and instead met with attendees at the conference.

Okay, that about does it for me. Except for one little wish, and that goes to Barney Frank…congratulations on getting hitched this weekend. Rep. Barney Frank Marries Longtime Partner In Newton

Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank tied the knot with his longtime partner Jim Ready on Saturday.

The 72-year-old congressman tried to keep the details of the private ceremony under wraps, but managed to drop enough clues to tip off the media.

Governor Patrick officiated the wedding.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Al Green, Rep. Jim McGovern, and others were seen arriving at the Newton Marriott Saturday evening.

[…]

Ready, 42, lives in Ogunquit, Maine and runs a small business that does custom awnings, carpentry, painting, welding and other services; he is also a photographer.

And what are you all reading about this morning? Stay cool and don’t even bother walking outside today, give this video of Absolutely Fabulous a look-see…especially starting at the 8:20 mark. “Sweetie…Now prepare yourself for the heat…you’re not used to it.”


Friday Reads

We’re closing in on a long weekend.   It’s Independence Day!  Do you know where your constitutional rights are?  The first amendment right to keep the government from institutionalizing one religious viewpoint appears to be under systematic assault these days by the Republican Party.  How can we stop candidates like Michelle Bachmann who create their own American history and distort our laws and civil rights in the process?  Here’s Jonathan Chait’s suggestion.

The Michele Bachmann surge (confirmed most recently by the latest PPP poll) suggests the question is not whether Bachmann is a legitimate contender for the Republican nomination but what it will take to stop her from winning. As I’ll explain, I do think Bachmann can be stopped. But the general advance of conservatism within the Republican Party over the last three decades has been a repeated pattern of the unthinkable becoming thinkable, and the trend has sharply accelerated over the last two years. Moderation simply lacks any legitimacy within the GOP. It exists, but — unlike the Democratic Party, where moderation is a frequent boast — it’s undertaken almost entirely in secret. Since Barack Obama’s inauguration, virtually every quarrel within the Republican Party between moderates and maximalist partisans has been resolved in favor of the latter. Bachmann has positioned herself as a mainstream, serious figure who has also outflanked the other as-yet announced candidates. They will have a hard time attacking her without seeming to attack conservatism itself.

So, what could defeat her? One thing could be the entry of another candidate who can match her conservatism while appearing more electable. Rick Perry is the leading candidate here. Paul Ryan would be another.

A second possibility is that Republican insiders could spill the beans on why she so freaks them out.

I have no idea why any of them think that Rick Perry or Paul Ryan are batshit crazy lite.  Maybe it’s because they aren’t vagina impaired or probably because they kiss up to cults instead of joining them.  But wait, Perry belongs to a similar religious cult and Ryan is in the Ayn Rand cult, so, we’re back to vajayjay of doom explanation.   Frankly, the entire party seems bat shit crazy these days. So, we’re still stuck between bat shit crazy and totally worthless.  (Sigh.)

Another stranger than truth bit of news these days is Steven Colbert and his “SuperPac”.  A “SuperPac is”a political group that can legally accept unlimited contributions from people, corporations, and unions to campaign for candidates and causes”.

Because Colbert’s group will not give any money directly to candidates — instead airing independent ads to support them — Colbert can take donations of any size.

He forced the FEC to make this decision by planning to operate as a real political group, not a parody.

“If we’d viewed this as a funny request, that would have been a lot easier,” Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a George W. Bush nominee, told Colbert at today’s hearing.

In the end, the commission voted 5-1 to approve Colbert’s PAC according to guidelines under consideration at today’s hearing.

Colbert had sought guidance from the FEC on how to handle air-time and help from Viacom, Comedy Central’s parent company — and this is the area in which his SuperPAC has forced precedents with implications for other media companies, like Fox News.

The FEC ruled today that Viacom can fund Colbert’s group, without limit, as long as it only helps out with ads that air during his show …

I’m wondering if this is giving Scalia, Thomas and the rest of the Neanderthal SCOTUS Beastie Boys nightime heart burn?  Whoops!  No hearts!! Some analysts believe that what Colbert is actually doing is exposing holes in campaign finance law.

“I think Colbert is trying to dramatize problems in the campaign finance world in the way that he dramatizes other things,” said longtime campaign finance reform advocate Fred Wertheimer, a longtime advocate for stricter campaign finance rules who is president of Democracy 21. “But nevertheless, the proposals here would potentially open gaping disclosure loopholes in the campaign finance laws.”

Wertheimer is so concerned about what Colbert is doing, in fact, that Democracy 21 has joined with the Campaign Legal Center, another advocacy group, to petition the FEC to reject his request because it could result in the “radical evisceration” of campaign finance rules.

If Colbert gets his way before the FEC, it could blur the lines between political money and media to an unprecedented extent.

For instance, it might enable Fox News pundit-politicians such as Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee to use the network’s resources to boost their own political committees, assert Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center in their FEC filing. It concludes: “Mr. Colbert’s ultimate goals here may be comedic, but the commission should not play the straight man at the expense of the law.”

Colbert’s PAC bit started as a parody of the PAC started by former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to lay the foundation for his presidential campaign. But after lawyers for Comedy Central’s parent company Viacom expressed reservations about Colbert using their corporate resources — in the form of his eponymous late-night faux news show — to promote the PAC, the bit morphed into a riff on how corporations like Viacom can spend cash on politics, thanks to the 2010 high court decision in a case called Citizens United v. FEC.

The Gawker’s John Cook has an interesting piece up on “Roger Ailes’ Secret Nixon-Era Blueprint for Fox News”.   He had me at “secret Nixon-Era” blueprint.  Nothing from Nixon people even shocks me any more.  Is there such a thing as group paranoia?

Republican media strategist Roger Ailes launched Fox News Channel in 1996, ostensibly as a “fair and balanced” counterpoint to what he regarded as the liberal establishment media. But according to a remarkable document buried deep within the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, the intellectual forerunner for Fox News was a nakedly partisan 1970 plot by Ailes and other Nixon aides to circumvent the “prejudices of network news” and deliver “pro-administration” stories to heartland television viewers.

The memo—called, simply enough, “A Plan For Putting the GOP on TV News”— is included in a 318-page cache of documents detailing Ailes’ work for both the Nixon and George H.W. Bush administrations that we obtained from the Nixon and Bush presidential libraries. Through his firms REA Productions and Ailes Communications, Inc., Ailes served as paid consultant to both presidents in the 1970s and 1990s, offering detailed and shrewd advice ranging from what ties to wear to how to keep the pressure up on Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the first Gulf War.

The documents—drawn mostly from the papers of Nixon chief of staff and felon H.R. Haldeman and Bush chief of staff John Sununu—reveal Ailes to be a tireless television producer and joyful propagandist. He was a forceful advocate for the power of television to shape the political narrative, and he reveled in the minutiae constructing political spectacles—stage-managing, for instance, the lighting of the White House Christmas tree with painstaking care. He frequently floated ideas for creating staged events and strategies for manipulating the mainstream media into favorable coverage, and used his contacts at the networks to sniff out the emergence of threatening narratives and offer advice on how to snuff them out—warning Bush, for example, to lay off the golf as war in the Middle East approached because journalists were starting to talk. There are also occasional references to dirty political tricks, as well as some positions that seem at odds with the Tea Party politics of present-day Fox News: Ailes supported government regulation of political campaign ads on television, including strict limits on spending. He also advised Nixon to address high school students, a move that caused his network to shriek about “indoctrination” when Obama did it more than 30 years later.

It’s a long strange read that’s just perfect for a celebration of America!

Well, one democratic senator has a job plan.  I wonder if any one will discuss it?

A bill to create construction jobs and fund new highway infrastructure. A clean-energy jobs program. Reforming the immigration system for high-skilled workers. And a variety of tax cuts and credits.

None are new ideas, but they’re all part of Senate Democrats’ jobs agenda Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) laid out in greater detail Thursday as he portrayed his party as proactively trying to spur economic growth and accused the GOP of deliberately trying to undermine the recovery for political gain.

“We have now been playing entirely on the Republicans‘ field for six months and the recovery has only slowed. We have seen enough to know that their approach is not working,” said Schumer, who heads policy and messaging for Senate Democrats, in a speech to the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

“And we need to start asking ourselves an uncomfortable question — are Republicans slowing down the recovery on purpose for political gain in 2012? … [N]ow it is becoming clear that insisting on a slash-and-burn approach may be part of this plan — it has a double benefit for Republicans: It is ideologically tidy and it undermines the economic recovery, which they think only helps them in 2012.”

Republicans have scoffed at that notion, arguing that Democrats’ solution to the broken economy is tax increases and a continuation of failed stimulus spending. This week, the GOP renewed its push for a constitutional amendment that would require the government to balance its budget each year.

I can’t believe the Republicans are trying that balanced budget crap again.  It’s absolutely the worst thing in the world to do and it’s one of the reasons that states’ economies have caused this recovery to be the worst on record.  They are actively making it worse by crippling state budgets and services.  A balanced budget amendment means that governments get to spend like crazy when tax revenues come in which is precisely when you don’t need it because it’s inflationary.  It also stops governments from deficit spending when they have to and should during a recession.  It causes governments to make recessions longer and more painful.  Just like now!  People like Mitch McConnell shouldn’t be making economic policy decisions based on faith-based Voodoo Economics.  He and other Republicans have basically made a living of telling people complete untruths about economic and financial theory.  Remember, even Ronald Reagan’s economic team has called all this stuff insanity!

Okay, one MORE economics story and then I’ll leave you to firecrackers, beer and the grill.  It’s not much of a surprise, but it’s an academic study that pretty much shows what we’ve thought for some time.

Economists at Northeastern University have found that the current economic recovery in the United States has been unusually skewed in favor of corporate profits and against increased wages for workers.

In their newly released study, the Northeastern economists found that since the recovery began in June 2009 following a deep 18-month recession, “corporate profits captured 88 percent of the growth in real national income while aggregate wages and salaries accounted for only slightly more than 1 percent” of that growth.

The study, “The ‘Jobless and Wageless Recovery’ From the Great Recession of 2007-2009,” said it was “unprecedented” for American workers to receive such a tiny share of national income growth during a recovery.

According to the study, between the second quarter of 2009, when the recovery began, and the fourth quarter of 2010, national income rose by $528 billion, with $464 billion of that growth going to pretax corporate profits, while just $7 billion went to aggregate wages and salaries, after accounting for inflation.

The share of income growth going to employee compensation was far lower than in the four other economic recoveries that have occurred over the last three decades, the study found.

“The lack of any net job growth in the current recovery combined with stagnant real hourly and weekly wages is responsible for this unique, devastating outcome,” wrote the report’s authors, Andrew Sum, Ishwar Khatiwada, Joseph McLaughlin and Sheila Palma.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average real hourly earnings for all employees actually declined by 1.1 percent from June 2009, when the recovery began, to May 2011, the month for which the most recent earnings numbers are available.

Yup, we’re all poorer and the one per cent is richer.  But then, you knew that!

So, here’s the firecrackers!   Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Prosser was videotaped by a news crew basically ripping a mic away from a reporter trying to ask him a question.  Be sure to go watch the video!

Grabbing the microphone – and the spotlight. Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser did both when FOX6’s Mike Lowe attempted to speak with him about the serious allegations of a physical altercation with Justice Anne Walsh Bradley on Thursday.

Six of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court Justices witnessed an alleged physical altercation between Prosser and Bradley in Bradley’s chambers on June 13th.

The basic story is that Prosser was upset about Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s decision to delay release of the high court’s opinion in the collective bargaining case.

The story was leaked, presumably by the Justices themselves, to both liberal and conservative publications. Both cited unnamed sources. But Bradley was quoted as saying Prosser placed her in a choke-hold. Prosser has since denied that.

On Thursday, when FOX’s Mike Lowe asked Justice Prosser about the alleged incident, he grabbed the FOX6 microphone and then gave it back. Prosser did not answer any of Mike Lowe’s questions.

You can watch his odd behavior as captured by the Fox News 6 reporter.  Four of the justices who witnessed the altercation refused to comment and said the matter was under review by the judicial commission and that the sheriff was investigating the situation too.  Prosser never said anything but the body language says a lot.

Hope your long weekend will go great and that you have a few minutes to spend with us!  I understand Wonk’s got a great Hillary post coming up for us tomorrow!   Our Secretary of State is out there putting the world’s women and children first again!  You’ll want to read it for sure!  I’ve stocked up on bacon wrapped filets, Abita Amber, and corn on the cob. Just a little fun down here on the bayou!

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


Consuming the News

I was one of those nerdy little kids in class that loved it when show and tell switched to bringing a current events article and presenting it to the class.  In my grade school, the big day was Wednesday.  I got my first subscription to The Paris Match in 7th grade and my Honors World History teacher turned me on to The Guardian in 11 th grade. My grandmother made sure we all had subscriptions to The Christian Science Monitor until the day she died. I think a lot of it had to do with being trapped in Omaha where nothing EVER happened.  I was fortunate that my family put a high priority on travel because the newspaper subscriptions were  a portion of what kept me away from becoming the archetypal Omahan.  Geographical and cultural isolation can lead to some strange people. (Cue The Deliverance banjos.)

I’ve been returning to the PEJ site now that I know it exists.  That’s where I’ve pulled this book review and an interesting set of suggestions on how to “interpret the news”.  I admit to having a preference for C-SPAN these days as I’m pretty tired of the idiots that filter and read the MSM items now.   I probably will order up the book ‘Blur, How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload’ by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel. The review says its goal is to provide a “pragmatic, serious-minded guide to navigating the twenty-first century media terrain”.  That’s a serious agenda given the number of commercial news outlets we have these days.

Here’s another bit from that:

Blur provides a road map, or more specifically, reveals the craft that has been used in newsrooms by the very best journalists for getting at the truth. In an age when the line between citizen and journalist is becoming increasingly unclear, Blur is a crucial guide for those who want to know what’s true.

What I want to offer up is the list they provide.  It’s called “Ways of  Skeptical Knowing”.   My mother handed me her middle name–Jean–for my birth certificate.  She was always a true to form Show-Me-State skeptic.  That’s why I always consider “Skeptic” to be my authentic middle name.

Ways of Skeptical Knowing—Six Essential Tools for Interpreting the News

1. What kind of content am I encountering?

2. Is the information complete? If not, what’s missing?

3. Who or what are the sources and why should I believe them?

4. What evidence is presented and how was it tested or vetted?

5. What might be an alternative explanation or understanding?

6. Am I learning what I need?

So, armed with this, I got slightly curious about the guys that wrote the book and found an interview with Bill  Kovach at a site called Stinky Journalism.  I gave up writing for the school paper back in high school so I actually didn’t know he’d authored your basic Journalism 101 textbook, The Elements of Journalism. The site explains how Blur “focuses on the importance of verification, fact-checking and evidence in media — whether it be traditional newspaper media or an online blog”.   Evidence!!! Verification!!! Fact-Checking!!!  NOW, we’re talking stuff that sends tingles up and down my researcher leg!!

I found this quote to be very interesting.

“The separation between journalists and citizens is slowly disappearing.  I mean, anyone, anywhere can be a reporter of the next big news incident.  Anyone can be a reporter now, and in terms of the information citizens need because they have access to the online presentation of information from hundreds of sources, they are becoming their own editors.  So it’s imperative that we both help journalists understand this change…and citizens understand how they can determine what they can believe in.”

What drove my Grandmother to send me The Christian Science Monitor, my French teacher to share the Paris Match, and my history teacher to encourage me to read The U.K. Guardian is what drives me to alternative sources on the World Wide Web today. I  was fortunate enough to  develop a healthy skepticism about relying on any one source of information from these precious folks who cared about my development as a person.  I am thankful for my earliest experiences of looking out side of the Omaha World Herald for information.  I do have to say that I was fortunate to be educated in an excellent public  school system that was well known for its outstanding English programs and teachers.  This is the same high school and school system  that produced Kurt Andersen. (One of my friends had a wicked crush on him and used to use my access to get into the Journalism classroom/lab to get near him when we were sophomores.)

I guess I’m bringing this up for several reasons. First, I think part of being in a democracy means that you become an informed citizen.  That implies you need information and it should be factual information.  Second, I think that the powers that be have found so many profound means of disseminating propaganda through main stream sources–think WMDs and the Iraq War– that we have to actively search out alternatives to find out not just the information; but the truth.

Lastly, nothing is making this an imperative as the Wikileaks episode.  What first made some things clear to me in Junior High School was The Pentagon Papers.  For some childish reason, I thought my exceptionally wonderful and moral country would never lie to me or hide things from me other than battlefield plans.  I believe that my reaction to both was formed early by the intents of my grandmother and my teachers to get  me to look outside my narrow life to the world at large.   Our government, many people in our communities and plenty of those around us–including the press–are not always acting from truth or the best interest of all of us.  It’s important to discover intent, funding, and connections.  We must all become investigative journalists.  However, it heartens me to see that there are still journalists that remember they are an important element of democracy.  It saddens me when journalism turns into celebrity gossip rags and spin vehicles.

Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin were the bloggers of their day.  Samuel Adams made certain that the Massachusetts Circular Letter was seen by more than just the local politicians.  His ‘leaks’ outraged the British monarchy.  It also lead to our nascent democracy.  Much of what is going on right now is part of our heritage as Americans.  However, so many people have have access to platforms now that it’s important to do the basic research for ourselves.  We must be vigilant and tenacious truth seekers.