Friday, May 31, 2013

Same Old, Same Old

A few weeks ago Jonathan Easleyy of The Hill reported

First lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) suffers from adulthood obesity and is an example of why her "Let’s Move" campaign is such an important initiative.

Speaking Wednesday on the "Today" show, the first lady was asked to comment on reports that Christie secretly underwent a medical operation in February to help him lose weight.

“The one thing I will say is that there are millions of people like the governor who struggle with adulthood obesity, and that’s one of the reasons why 'Let’s Move' is so important,” she said. “Because we want to start working with kids when they’re young so that they don’t have these challenges when they get older.”

The first lady initially tempered her comments by calling it a private family decision.

Of course she did- because, as Easley added, "The New Jersey governor is one of the most popular political figures in the country, and many consider him to be in the top-tier of potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates."   And no one may criticize Chris Christie.

Especially, it would seem, in front of his BFF, Barack Obama.   In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, in late October the President toured Atlantic City, N.J. with Christie and appeared at a press conference in a photo-op valuable to both men.  Atlantic City mayor Lorenzo Langford, who has feuded with the NJ Governor was notably absent, presumably because he might have imperiled the comity between the two Republicans- uh, er, the Republican and the Democrat.

Several conservative opinon-makers were Incensed that one of the party's governors would be campaigning with the Democratic president a few days before a close election.  Predictably, MSNBC bloggers were contemptuous of the right, one praising Christie for allegedly "abandoning partisanship in favor of responding to a natural disaster-induced crisis," another slamming "the right-wing's growing rapid hatred of bipartisanship."

But Christie's favor to the President has been returned.   As Matt Katz (unofficial stenographer to the Governor) effused Tuesday

The boys of October are back, just in time for summer.

"Jersey, you still got a lot of road ahead, but when you look out on this beach here, it looks good!" President Obama told the Jersey Shore this afternoon.

Invoking the phrase officials have adopted as part of the Jersey Shore tourism campaign, Obama said: "You are stronger than the storm."

"After all you've dealt with and after all you've been through, the Jersey Shore is back and it's open for business."

Obama and Gov. Christie, the bipartisan duo that worked closely in the aftermath of Sandy -- and in the process triggered controversy of seismic levels in the lead-up to Election Day -- are hanging out today on the Jersey Shore. Beyond the political implications, the event is intended to let America know that the state's main tourist destination is largely up and running, ready to welcome tourists.

Ah, yes," just in time for the summer", two guys from the neighborhood just "hanging out," knocking back a couple.   In his next, the fifth, paragraph, Katz got around to telling us where on the "Jersey" ("New Jersey" is just, oh, so formal) shore the two buds were.

The President's support for Christie, campaigning for re-election to the Statehouse, is apiece with one of the President's most curious habits.    Republican SenatorLincoln Chafee, who became an Independent and was elected Governor of New Hampshire, has now switched his party identication to Democrat in his bid to be re-elected.   Chairperson Peter Shumlin of the Democratic Governor's Association says the organization will support "whomever emerges as the Democratic nominee."  Nonetheless

In an encouraging sign for Chafee, the White House publicly embraced him as a soon-to-be-minted Democrat on Wednesday, issuing a statement from Obama praising Chafee as “an independent thinker and leader” who hasn’t been constrained by party labels
“I enjoyed working with Linc when he was a Republican in the United States Senate, and I look forward to continuing that collaboration on the issues that matter not just to the Democratic Party, but to every American,” Obama said. “I’m thrilled to welcome Linc to the party of Jefferson and Jackson, Roosevelt and Kennedy – and I look forward to working with him in the years ahead.”

It’s no surprise that Chafee would win a warm reception from Obama: The ex-Republican campaigned for the president in 2008 and 2012 and spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte last summer.

Obama has returned the favor: he declined to endorse a Democrat for governor in 2010, when Chafee was running as an independent in a three-way race. And when Chafee ran TV ads featuring archival footage of the president praising him, Obama and his aides did not object.

In fact, despite being officially neutral in 2010, Obama was perceived as so Chafee-friendly that the Democratic nominee that year, Frank Caprio, told Rhode Island radio station WPRO that the president could “take his endorsement and really shove it.”

Chafee ultimately won with 36 percent of the vote, while Caprio fell into third place.

Blogging at Hullabaloo, David Atkins notes that the state Democratic establishment is displeased that what he accurately dubs "the Neoliberal-in-Chief" has endorsed Chafee.  The Governor's whose switch of party is particularly opportunistic, his only chance to avoid what otherwise would be near-certain defeat for the unpopular governor in this reliably Democratic State.  Atkins explains

Lincoln Chafee has finally decided to switch parties and become a Democrat. The short and simple analysis is that Chafee faced an uncomfortable three-way battle in which many Democrats declined to endorse their own fellow Democrat Frank Caprio in order to assure that a Republican didn't sneak into the Rhode Island governorship. Chafee's switch to the Democratic Party means that he can potentially avoid that situation if he runs for re-election.

A lazy progressive take on Chafee's switch is that Republicans have become so extreme that they've driven the likes of Chafee out of their party, that more sensible Republicans should switch away also, that the GOP is facing death throes as the Bachmanns are laughed out of Congress while the Chafees become Democrats. Yada yada. But I'm not going to do that, because it would be whistling past the graveyard.

The reality is that while Chafee is reliably liberal on social issues, he largely remains an economic conservative. That makes him wholly inadequate as a Democrat.

Now, if Rhode Island were a tough red state in which Chafee was a reliable winner against a bevy of hyperconservatives, that would be different. Ben Nelson, for instance, will always get a pass in Nebraska because there aren't good alternatives. But Rhode Island is not that. Good progressive Democrats with real progressive economic values can and should win in Rhode Island. Lincoln Chafee is not the best of a bad bargain. He's the worst of a good bargain.

Chairperson of the Ventura County (CA.) Democratic Central Committe, Atkins concludes

As Democrats, we can do better than Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island, particularly now that he's saddled with bad approval ratings. We must do better.

And it must be the state party leadership in Rhode Island that stands up to the President and makes it clear that they expect and demand a real Democrat run for and win the governorship of the Ocean State.

Congressional Democrats, liberal pundits, and others must support the President as he is saddled with the largely trumped-up Benghazi and IRS scandals. (The AP/Justice Department scrum is a different matter.)  But if (though unlikely) Obama's troubles grow and the possiblity of  impeachment looms, House Democrats might remember that a defining characteristic of Barack Obama's political career has been that, when faced with competing interests of party and self, he never has wavered.

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Now It's "Court Packing"

It is true, as Digby maintains, that (Bob) "Dole previewed the nasty attitude that animates the right today. He may have been more of a legislative pragmatist, but his rhetoric was Gingrichian before Gingrich was cool."   Still, as she concedes, Dole was a singularly humorous politician and accurate when

Asked on “Fox News Sunday” if the Senate was broken, Dole responded that “it is bent pretty badly.”

“It seems almost unreal that we can’t get together on a budget, or legislation,” said Dole, who served in the Senate from 1969 to 1996. “We weren’t perfect by a long shot, but at least we got our work done.”

Dole came back to the Senate last December to support a United Nations treaty to bar discrimination against people with disabilities, which failed after a vast majority of Republicans declined to support it.

Dole said in his Fox News interview that he isn’t sure there would be a place for him and other big-time Republicans of his generation, like Presidents Reagan and Nixon, in the current GOP.

“Reagan couldn’t have made it. Certainly, Nixon couldn’t have made it, because he had ideas. We might have made it, but I doubt it,” said Dole, who called himself a “mainstream conservative Republican.”

The former Kansas Senator and 1996 GOP presidential candidate made these remarks Sunday- before the latest indication that the Repub Party has become a hyperpartisan gang of ruthless rogues.  On Tuesday, Dole's charges were verified when Jennifer Bendery of The Huffington Post revealed

Republican senators are fuming about President Barack Obama's attempt to fill empty seats on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, charging him with "court-packing" and alleging that his push to confirm nominees is all politics.

But not only is Obama not "court-packing" -- a term describing an attempt to add judges to a court with the goal of shifting the balance, not filling existing vacancies -- but Republicans' efforts to prevent Obama from appointing judges amount to their own attempt to tip the scales in their favor. What's more, some of the GOP senators trying to prevent his nominees from advancing previously voted to fill the court when there was a Republican in the White House.

As it stands, the powerful D.C. Circuit has 11 seats, three of which are vacant. Obama has signaled plans to put forward nominees for all three open slots as soon as this week. But Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and other Republicans are pushing legislation that would eliminate those seats and keep the court where it is: with eight judges, four of whom were appointed by Democrats and four of whom were appointed by Republicans.

Grassley has argued that the court simply doesn't need to have three more judges because it has a lighter workload than other circuit courts -- a stance that Democrats say overlooks the fact that the court is second in stature only to the Supreme Court and takes on particularly complex cases. But Grassley has also suggested that Obama is trying to pack the court.

"I'm concerned about the caseload of this circuit and the efforts to pack it," Grassley complained during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week, charging the administration -- six times -- with court-packing. Of course, Grassley was quickly corrected by a colleague, who said that court-packing isn't about filling existing vacancies.

Still, Grassley isn't alone in making these charges. During floor remarks last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Democrats of plotting with the White House "to pack the D.C. Circuit with appointees," and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) worried aloud that Democrats may "decide to play politics and seek -- without any legitimate justification -- to pack the D.C. Circuit with unneeded judges simply in order to advance a partisan agenda."

Even The Wall Street Journal piled on last week, arguing in an editorial that the D.C. Circuit "doesn't need new judges to handle the workload" and filling those vacant seats would be akin to "packing the court for political ends."

Despite Bendery's claim to the contrary, it is not "a sign of just how partisan the Senate has become when a president's effort to nominate judges for empty seats is equated with court-packing."  It is a sign of how partisan the Repub congressional party (as well as the WSJ) has become.

There is, however, a glimmer of consolation in all this, the suspicion that the GOP is merely play-acting.    Commenting on Gingrich's perspective, James Antle III in The American Conservative laments "Today’s GOP is as much Gingrich’s party as Reagan’s or Nixon’s. Chest-beating often replaces prudence, the party frequently makes use of both libertarian and traditionalist themes without taking either of them very seriously."  Fortunately, many in the party's congressional wing probably don't really believe what they say about court-packing, or much of anything else.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Rape Isn't Always Rape, Or It Is, Or Whatever

There is something seriously wrong with Nick Ross' argument in Saturday's Daily Mail of the United Kingdom.  Unfortunately, few if any are noticing it.  He writes

The real experts, the victims, know otherwise. Half of all women who have had penetrative sex unwillingly do not think they were raped, and this proportion rises strongly when the assault involves a boyfriend, or if the woman is drunk or high on drugs: they led him on, they went too far, it wasn’t forcible, they didn’t make themselves clear... For them, rape isn’t always rape and, however upsetting, they feel it is a long way removed from being systematically violated or snatched off the street.

Such stranger attacks – the sort most often reported by the newspapers – make up only a small proportion of rapes that women divulge through surveys.

The assumption is that any woman who chooses not to pursue a claim is being let down by the State or is acting irrationally. But could it be that she is right? What if she feels partly responsible for what happened? What if she realises there is no evidence other than her word against his? What if her life is bound up with that of her assailant? What if she feels humiliated as well as violated?

Should she be expected to disclose all this in public and then put her life on hold for the greater good? Do we want a justice system that overrides the victims’ sense of what is in their own best interests, or one that, in order to accommodate them, ceases to be just?

Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams notes

Ross’ comments quickly stirred up an inevitable tempest over consent and assault — Sarah Green of End Violence Against Women told the Guardian the remarks were “horrible” and “trotting out the same spurious myths about rape.” And columnist Martin Robbins scoffed at “the myth of the self-guiding penis,” noting that “it allows offenders to abdicate responsibility for their actions, and transfer it to seductive women; it leads people to assume that rape is a crime of passion rather than a cold, premeditated act of psychological manipulation and physical oppression.”

Williams herself claims Ross "insists that 'I’m not saying rape isn’t rape' – except when he says, 'Rape isn’t always rape'.”  But hes did not contend that rape is not always rape; rather, that there are women "who have had penetrative sex unwillingly (who) do not think they were raped."  He does seem insufficiently perturbed by that, prompting Williams to argue "In other words, if a woman blames herself for her rape, that's just dandy, because ladies are always using their feminine wiles anyway."

Certainly, many of the women "who have had penetrative sex unwillingly do not think they were raped,"  though their perception makes the reality of the horrific experience no less real.  They may, in fact, blame themselves without cause. Were that not the case, all acts of rape would be reported to the authorities when, as Ethan Bronner of the New York Times reported last year, "scholars and practitioners are certain that rape is heavily underreported, especially to the police."  Failure to recognize rape as rape sets back the cause of personal liberation- and crime prevention.  Acknowledgement of reality- in this case, that many women forcibly sexually assaulted do not report the crime- need not imply acceptance.

If Williams is aghast that Ross believes there are degrees of rape, her argument is less with the British author than with the (U.S.) Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Bronner explained   

The very term “rape” has such a tortured — many would say ignominious — history that the F.B.I. just this year changed its definition after eight decades, and a number of states have purged their criminal codes of it entirely, referring instead to levels of sexual assault. Many experts now believe that rape is best understood as an act of unwanted bodily invasion that need not involve force.

And it's not only the F.B.I.:

States have been adjusting their definitions of rape for the past 30 years, many moving away from the insistence on evidence of force because most rapes do not result in harm to the woman separate from the act itself. The armed rapist and severely bruised victim, what some have called “real rape” or “legitimate rape,” account for 14 percent of rape cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control study.

Like the word “terrorism,” the word “rape” comes with so much baggage that some are tempted to avoid it. A number of states, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and New Jersey, and the federal government no longer refer to rape in their legal codes but rather to degrees of criminal sexual conduct. This was something pressed by feminist lawyers in the 1980s in the hope that by removing a crime from its patriarchal origins, judges and jurors might assess it more like other crimes. It is not clear if the change has had the desired effect.

Bronner wrote, also, "Scott Berkowitz, president of Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, said that stranger rape is more typically reported but that most rape is committed by someone who knows the victim." Bronner's paraphrase of Berkowitz' observation sounds a whole lot like Ross' comment "Such stranger attacks- the sort most often reported by the newspapers- make up only a small proportion of rapes that women divulge through surveys."

If all forms of what is commonly thought of as "rape" were treated in an identical fashion by the court system, either: a) each perpetrator would receive a punitive prison sentence, which would have one heck of an impact on prison overcrowding; or b) all rape, including that by a stranger, would result in nothing more serious than a probation term.  If Williams believes either is a viable option, she ought to say so, though one hopes she is far too aware to think that all such acts- and all offenders- are identical.

It's a shame, really, that in response to a truly offensive argument, Williams says only "A woman’s body is not a laptop in the back seat of a car."   Ross claims 

Rape victims were once treated appallingly, as though it was all their fault, but have we now gone too far the other way? Many of the victims seem to think we have. The main argument of my book is this: we can aggravate crime by tempting fate, and we curb it by playing safe.

We have come to acknowledge it is foolish to leave laptops on the back seat of a car. We would laugh at a bank that stored sacks of cash by the front door. We would be aghast if an airport badly skimped on its security measures.

Well, yes, it is foolish- not illegal- to leave a laptop on the back seat of a car, though one suspects that such a careless action (actually, inaction) is actually more common than rape.  But consider this scenario:  You, your immediate family, and your close friends, all of whom desire an upgraded model of a laptop computer, happen by an automobile with one in view in the backseat.  There is no police officer anywhere in sight to suggest that a theft would be stymied.

Do you, your loved ones, or your acquaintances with values approximating yours, swipe the laptop computer?  Of course not.  Others may, but only because in a large, random group of individuals, someone is going to be sufficiently malicious, bordering on evil, to enter another person's property and commit a theft.

And if it was you who thoughtlessly (not criminally- thoughtlessly) left a laptop on the back seat, do you deserve to have it stolen in what is clearly and legally a criminal act?   If you think so, please seek professional help.  Victims of crime, whether of rape, theft, burglary, or other illegal acts, are not responsible for the crime.  The offender is, a simple concept both Nick Ross and Mary Elizabeth Williams, each in his/her own distinct way, are struggling with.

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Bad Advice

He's at it again.

On April 26, I quoted National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske, who two days earlier had released the President’s national blueprint for drug policy, the 2013 National Drug Control Strategy.  In it, President Obama's appointee had written" Put simply, an enforcement-centric 'war on drugs' approach to drug policy is counterproductive, inefficient, and costly. At the other extreme, drug legalization also runs counter to a public health and safety approach to drug policy."

To that I blogged "Sorry, but the White House here has it rear end-backward, with no acknowledgement- not even a hint of an acknowledgement- that marijuana is different than, say, cocaine or heroin."

Unfortunately, I was wrong.  Kerlikowske acknowledges a difference between marijuana and hard drugs- and believes marijuana is worse.  

No, really.   McClatchy reports that at an Urban Institute policy discussion on Thursday

Gil Kerlikowske, the White House director of national drug-control policy, said a study by his office showed a strong link between drug use and crime. Eighty percent of the adult males arrested for crimes in Sacramento, Calif., last year tested positive for at least one illegal drug. Marijuana was the most commonly detected drug, found in 54 percent of those arrested.

The study found similar results in four other cities: New York, Denver, Atlanta and Chicago. Among the cities, it included examinations of 1,736 urine samples and 1,938 interviews with men who were arrested.

Kerlikowske, a former police officer in Seattle who apparently learned little there, concludes “It means abandoning simplistic bumper-sticker approaches, such as boiling the issue down to a ‘war on drugs’ or outright legalization.”

There are many problems with the report from McClatchy reporter Rob Hotakainen, upon which Kerlikowske bases his logic-challenged approach.  The must be world turned upside down, given that a blogger on is guilty of sound reason, observing that the most commonly used drug- alcohol- was included in the study but omitted from Hotakainen's report.  Further

The most detail Adam II provides is whether the arrest was for a violent crime, a property crime, a drug crime, or "other." If you're going to argue (as Kerlikowske has) that the link between marijuana and crime is so troubling that it precludes the possibility of legalization, it certainly matters whether an arrest is the result of a traffic stop in which officers claimed to smell weed, an unconstitutional stop-and-frisk, or an undercover officer convincing an autistic student to buy him a joint.

Marijuana also is the most oft-used illegal drug and, because the penalty for its use in most jurisdictions is less than for most other banned substances, the individuals arrested (arrestee is a made-up word) would be more likely to admit to its use than, say, to partaking of heroin, cocaine, or amphetamines. Drug tests, further, are more likely to pick up use of marijuana than of most other drugs.   Means of testing, amount of drug, length of use, frequency of use, and personal metabolism are among the factors which determine whether a test will bepositive.  Your mileage will vary.

Digby maintains if Administration officials "think it's going to destroy the moral fiber of America (or whatever they're so afraid of) they should just say it instead of using nonsensical 'statistical' evidence that can't stand up against the most rudimentary logic."  Gavin Aronsen of Mother Jones applauds Kerlikowske's preference for "rehabilitation over incarceration" as "a step in the right direction" while noting "it still paints pot smokers with a broad brush as drug abusers who need help to get their lives back on track."   

Gil Kerlikowske's broad brush, as well as his opposition to both marijuana legalization and the drug war, constitute a big step in the wrong direction.  Change you can believe in.

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Exquisitely Sensitive Students

Writing Saturday in Salon, Jonathan Bernstein argues "It’s time to call out a major Republican theme of how politics should be practiced in a democracy: the supposed right to be free from criticism. It may sell wonderfully inside the conservative closed-information loop, but it’s a nasty idea that sorts exceptionally badly with democratic politics."

One example, he notes, is

Mitch McConnell’s epic op-ed this week, in which McConnell claimed the First Amendment was imperiled by “explicit attacks on groups and other private citizens” by Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign. Those attacks did, in fact, happen; McConnell linked to an Obama campaign page which publicized opposition research on big Mitt Romney donors. Again, there’s no claim that the research was incorrect or that anything beyond that criticism took place (nothing about harassment by federal government agencies, for example). It’s just the criticism alone that is, for McConnell, beyond the pale. For McConnell, the whole thing is “the left-wing playbook: Expose your opponents to public view, release the liberal thugs and hope the public pressure or unwanted attention scares them from supporting causes you oppose.”

Bernstein observes "The First Amendment and political speech are indeed very close to the core of democracy. The Republican delusion that it includes the right to be free from criticism is, therefore, quite destructive." To those who would, he concludes, "disagree with me? They are free to say so."

There are individuals who find repugnant Bernstein's notion that disagreement is protected speech in the American system.  Some of them, remarkably, are ensconced in the institution- the university- in which free exchange of ideas and the search for truth traditionally have been mainstays.    And some of them are students at the Ivy League's University of Pennsylvania.  Will Marble of The Daily Pennsylvanian reported

Comments that Vice President Joe Biden made about China during last week’s commencement address has drawn ire from “disappointed” international students.

“Imagine you study abroad — say in England — and then you’ve worked very hard for four years, spent so much sweat, toil to get that degree and you wake up in the morning in your academic regalia,” recent Wharton graduate and former Chinese international student Tianpu Zhang said, “and suddenly there’s this old guy standing on the podium saying, ‘You guys suck.’”

Zhang wrote a post on Renren — the Chinese version of Facebook — condemning what he saw as an “inappropriate” use of the commencement address. The post went viral, picking up considerable media attention.

"There's this old guy..."  So much- at least in this case- with the vaunted Chinese reverence for age which, according to one source, has faded.  Reeking with a sense of entitlement, Zhang demands his feelings not be hurt.

“The general agreement is that the content is somewhat inappropriate and shouldn’t have been delivered to the faces of thousands of Chinese students,” Zhang said in a petition calling on the V.P. to apologize. With "a thousand Chinese students and their families there listening to his speech, commencement is, he contended, "not the time for such politically-charged rhetoric."

This  wasn't Johnny Depp, Celine Dion, or some other famous celebrity, or even a famed director or writer who was invited to give a speech.  It was the Vice-President of the United States: and nary a word was uttered about the obstructionism of congressional Republicans, Crossroads GPS, or even terrorism committed by Islamic extremists.  

Biden was positive in a similar manner to that of the classic commencement address. We read 

“I love to hear people tell me — now to use the vernacular — ‘China’s going to eat our lunch,’” Biden said in his speech. Echoing Steve Jobs’ advice to “think different,” he went on to say, “You cannot think different in a nation where you cannot breathe free. You cannot think different in a nation where you aren’t able to challenge orthodoxy because change only comes from challenging orthodoxy."

Zhang demonstrates, further, the defining characteristic of political correctness from both the right and the left: facts are optional.  "Even if there is truth in your comments about China," he wrote, "commencement is not the time for such politically charged rhetoric. Instead of encouraging international cooperation and progress, you portrayed us as obstacles that our American classmates have to overcome."  Even if there is truth in your comments about China, he contends, as if truth is optional, an insignificant annoyance.

Approximately 5 percent of the total undergraduate and graduate student population at the University are Chinese.  The 350 students who as of last Wednesday afternoon had signed the petition clearly do not understand the value of challenging orthodoxy.  Responding to an anti-Biden post in a blog called "Beijing Cream," an individual recognized the offended students "are pretty lucky to be able to criticize and demand an apology from the Vice President. When they get back here, let them try that with Wen Jiabao and see how far they get." 

Marble noted 

Zhang said the organizers had two goals. “One is the ultimate goal to make Biden apologize, but we know that’s very hard to reach because our voice is pretty small and he has so many other [things] to care about,” she said. “The second goal is to make the school pay more attention to international students.” They also sent a letter to the offices of Penn President Amy Gutmann and Vice Provost for Global Initiatives Ezekiel Emanuel asking them to forward the petition to Biden’s office.

In its statement, the university noted it “does not review or approve the remarks delivered by speakers at its annual commencement ceremony. Vice President Biden’s comments are entirely his own and should not be construed to reflect the views or policies of the University.”   Well, of course it does not review or approve a speaker's remarks: neither  fealty to administrators' views nor strict adherence to orthodoxy is required in academic institutions in the U.S.A.

Despite the best efforts of Mitch McConnell, Tianpu Zhang, and some others, this is still a democratic republic (unlike mainland China), and one can still criticize its leaders, even the nation itself, without risk of arrest, deportation, or execution.  Insensitivity to one's feelings is not a capital crime, not in this nation, not yet and- hopefully- never. 

The students who have signed the petition may be demonstrating proficiency in their area of study: engineering, business, science, or whatever it may be.  But in the area of free inquiry, neither the University of Pennsylvania nor the Vice-President of the United States, sadly, has made an impression on these individuals impaired by growing up in a totalitarian state.

                                                 HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Fiscal Conservatism, For Real

Right-wing Republican senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio are blocking efforts by other Republicans and by Democrats to open negotiations on a budget, long demanded of the Obama administration by the GOP.  To Senator John McCain, two of them, Texas' Cruz and Kentucky's Paul, are "wacko birds on the right."   (Lee is sympathetic to McCain on comprehensive immigration reform, and Rubio is the leading candidate for the party's presidential nomination.   Even John McCain is careful whom he ridicules.)  To New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman, they are "budget hawks."

The four Repub senators and Representative Justin Amash of Michigan (he also a "wacko bird"), resisting increasing the debt limit to pay for what Congress already has voted to appropriate, are eager for the nation to default on its obligations.  But to New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman, that qualifies them as "budget hawks,"  which is slightly less offensive than the label usually applied to politicians who push to increase spending on their preferred programs (e.g., defense), cut income taxes, and explode the national debt.  Generally, they are generously labeled "fiscal conservatives."

This, however, is genuine fiscal conservatism:

Gov. Mark Dayton signed the higher education bill with $250 million in additional funding Friday but vetoed its $1.5 million appropriation for Teach for America.

In his veto letter (PDF), Dayton said he was axing the funding — $750,000 a year for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 — because he didn't like the way Teach for America was selected for the grant.

He called the national organization, which recruits college graduates and professionals to teach in urban and rural districts, "a well-established, national program" and noted that it has assets of $350 million.

"With those financial resources available, it is not clear why a $1.5 million grant from the State of Minnesota is required to continue or expand the organization's work here," he said in the veto letter.

Dayton's veto is no less bold because Teach for America is a dangerous and destructive program.  Mark Naison, a professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University and director of Fordham’s Urban Studies Program, last year wrote

Never, in its recruiting literature, has Teach For America described teaching as the most valuable professional choice that an idealistic, socially conscious person can make.  Nor do they encourage the brightest students to make teaching their permanent career; indeed, the organization goes out of its way to make joining TFA seem a like a great pathway to success in other, higher-paying professions.

Several years ago, a TFA recruiter plastered the Fordham campus with flyers that said “Learn how joining TFA can help you gain admission to Stanford Business School.”  The message of that flyer was: “use teaching in high-poverty areas as a stepping stone to a career in business.”  It was not only disrespectful to every person who chooses to commit their life to the teaching profession, it effectively advocated using students in high-poverty areas as guinea pigs for an experiment in “resume-padding” for ambitious young people.

In saying these things, let me make it clear that my quarrel is not with the many talented young people who join Teach For America, some of whom decide to remain in the communities they work in and become lifetime educators.  It is with the leaders of the organization, which enjoys favor from the Obama administration, captains of industry, members of Congress, the media, and the foundation world.  TFA alumni have used this access to move rapidly into positions as heads of local school systems, executives in charter school companies, and educational analysts in management consulting firms.

The organization’s facile circumvention of the grinding, difficult, but profoundly empowering work of teaching and administering schools has created the illusion that there are quick fixes, not only for failing schools but for deeply entrenched patterns of poverty and inequality.  No organization has been more complicit than TFA in the demonization of teachers and teachers’ unions, and no organization has provided more “shock troops” for education reform strategies which emphasize privatization and high-stakes standardized testing.  Michelle Rhee, a TFA alum, is the poster child for such policies, but she is hardly alone.

Her counterparts can be found in New Orleans (where they led the movement toward a system dominated by charter schools), in New York (where they play an important role in the Bloomberg education bureaucracy) and in many other cities.

In his veto letter (here in PDF), Governor Dayton did not address the value- or lack thereof- of Teach for America, instead arguing
My principal concern, however, is the way in which TFA was selected as the recipient of this grant. To my knowledge, no competitive grant program was established; no other applications were solicited; and no objective review was made by an independent panel ofexperts. Instead, the funds were inserted into the Senate's Higher Education bill, directed to this organization, and retained in the Conference Committee's report.

If the Legislature deems it is in our state's best interest to encourage programs like TFA, a formal grant program should be established within the Minnesota Department of Education, and all qualifying organizations should be allowed to apply for funding. The legislation should establish the goals for such a program and the results by which its effectiveness will be evaluated. This type of competitive grants process would be a fairer way to distribute public funds.

It is uncertain whether Mark Dayton believes Teach for America is a worthy program.  Nonetheless, his veto reflects an unusual approach in an environment in which conservatives and neo-liberals join forces to destroy public education.  He has demonstrated, in a genuine application of fiscal conservatism, that the rich and powerful have no constitutional right to a government subsidy.

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

On The Substance, Though

President Obama delivered at the National Defense University on Thursday one of his heavily nuanced, on-the-one-hand and on-the-other speeches (transcript here). Perhaps it should not be surprising then, that two pundits- one a liberal/progressive blogger, the other a right-wing, deftly partisan, highly manipulative bigot representing the class interests of the 1%- would  come away with a similar suspicion about the evening's co-star, Medea Benjamin.

Characteristically bereft of facts, Rush Limbaugh contended

The president agrees with pretty much everything she was saying. This is the first time that Code Pink has not been thrown out of whatever they were protesting.That woman went on and on and on and on and on. So the whole thing was staged.

Appearing later in the day on Democracy Now, Benjamin was asked by host Amy Goodman "first of all, how did you get into the National Defense University for this address? I would assume your face isone of the most famous on Capitol Hill."  Benjamin replied "There are some secrets, Amy, that could be disclosed. But it was great to get in there."

Benjamin frequently interrupted the President, who consistently responded with crowd-pleasing restraint and reason, choosing not to ridicule or turn on the activist, even at one point gracefully stating (to applause), "Now, ma'am let me finish. Let me finish, Ma'am. Part of free speech is you being able to speak, but also, you listening and me being able to speak."

Far be it for Limbaugh to argue that it was the President's calm, deliberative response that indicates may have been aware of what was coming.      More cogently and plausibly, Steve M maintains

I think he wanted her there. I think he wanted her to stay there. It would not surprise me to learn that he knew she was there and asked the security detail to let her stay awhile. (She was eventually removed.) I think he wanted her kept there long enough to heckle him a few times. I think he wanted her there so he could triangulate.

After all, in this speech he rejected the term "global war on terror." He announced that he's putting some curbs on drone attacks and making moves toward greater transparency. he's also looking to Congress to stop blocking the closure of the Guantanamo prison, and he'd like to overturn the Authorization to Use Military Force that was passed a few days after 9/11.

So, even though he defended the drone program in general, and the notion of a continuing militarized response to Islamist violence, he is, naturally, making himself vulnerable to attacks from crazy, war-loving right-wingers -- or, as they're more commonly known, "the entire Republican Party apart from Ron Paul." (Paul is, needless to say, crazy on pretty much every other issue.)

The Daily Beast's Caroline Linton writes that Benjamin

... also was a scourge of the Bush administration as well. In 2002, she protested as then–secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld testified on Capitol Hill about Iraq, and she was removed from the House gallery in 2006 when she interrupted a speech by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. At the Republican National Convention in Tampa in 2012, she held up signs calling former secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a “war criminal.”

In 2007, she was part of a delegation that marched to the gate at the Cuban site of Guantánamo prison...

Linton's account of the whereabouts of Benjamin and the latter's caution about "secrets" which must not be outed, suggest a Forrest Gump quality about the activist.  Still, Benjamin was well ahead of the curve in targeting Rumsfeld, who was so inept even President Bush had to force him out the door in 2006, and her bold criticism of Mushroom Cloud Rice, who to this day largely escapes the condemnation she is due, should be widely acclaimed.

But the last word belongs to Will Bunch, who recognized that Obama's long-term objectives are worthy while the short-term actions still are falling short.  "Watch what he does, not what he says," cautions Bunch, who concludes "the journey of 1,000 miles starts with the very first step. So... 999.99 miles to go!"

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Pathetic Wolf

Go ahead.  Laugh at Wolf Blitzer.  You know you want to do it.

And you wouldn't be laughing about a natural disaster, or at its victims, but at a member of the media elite trying to relate (or trying to appear to relate) to a resident of middle America in a patently condescending fashion.   Blitzer (video below) on the ground with a tornado victim, says to a young woman and her baby "But we're happy you're here; you guys did a great job and you've got to thank the Lord, right?  Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?"

Hesitating, the woman (whose theological views differ from mine) replies "well, I'm actually an atheist."

Well, she actually is courageous, remarkably so.  Digby comments

I don't know what Blitzer's personal religious views are, but he comes across in this segment as attempting to talk down to the "little people" of Oklahoma as one of them by using their religious vernacular. Blitzer doesn't seem like the Bible-thumping type, but he is extremely condescending and constantly out of his depth. Fantastically for her, the tornado victim he was interviewing had the courage of her convictions and embarrassed the heck out of him.

But it goes beyond that because the alternative is so very easy and, yes, so politically correct.   Prompted by the interviewer, the interviewee could have responded as does virtually everyone in an even vaguely similar situation and agreed that God has smiled upon her.   She might have ascribed her good fortune to the Almighty, thereby implying that God had the good sense to single her out for favor.

But she did not.  With a notable sense of grace, the woman stated her opinion, which served as an inadvertent rebuke to an anchorman playing reporter, and a poor one at that. She might have given God the credit her life was spared- while that of so many others wasn't- and pleased the network newsman.

Privately thanking God, in whatever way the individual wishes, is a personal act one willingly chooses.   A reporter not covering a religious story should not, in courtroom vernacular, "lead the witness," but instead allow the individual opportunity to express herself in the sacred or secular manner she chooses.  Blitzer needn't have pursued an expression of gratitude for the Almighty from his subject.  There will be plenty of people now, and in the next disaster, who will do so unprompted, in some cases sincerely, in others not.   For them and for all the others, it is a choice no network personality, eager to trivialize religious faith, should attempt to influence.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

It 's That Social Contract Thing

Repub Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma opposed aid, which he called a "slush fund," to mitigate the effects of Hurricane Sandy.  However, he said on MSNBC this morning, that

was totally different.  They were getting things, for instance, that was supposed to be in New Jersey. They had things in the Virgin Islands. They were fixing roads there, they were putting roofs on houses in Washington, D.C. Everybody was getting in and exploiting the tragedy that took place. That won’t happen in Oklahoma.

Nope, can't have that- roads people can drive on, houses with roofs, and other luxuries.  Still, this attitude marks Inhofe, perhaps his chamber's foremost climate change denier, the more progressive and humane Oklahoma Senator.   Coburn spokesman Tom Hart has notified Politico in an e-mail "He'll ask his colleagues to help Oklahoma by setting priorities and sacrificing less vital areas of the budget."

Luckily, there is a third option, somewhere between the double standard of James Inhofe and the ruthless dogmatism of Tom Coburn.  Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island responded on the Senate floor to Inhofe by declaring (hat tip to Charles Pierce)

So, you may have a question for me. Why do you care? Why do you, Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, care if we Republicans run off the climate cliff like a bunch of proverbial lemmings and disgrace ourselves? I'll tell you why. We're stuck in this together. We are stuck in this together. When cyclones tear up Oklahoma and hurricanes swamp Alabama and wildfires scorch Texas, you come to us, the rest of the country, for billions of dollars to recover. And the damage that your polluters and deniers are doing doesn't just hit Oklahoma and Alabama and Texas. It hits Rhode Island with floods and storms. It hits Oregon with acidified seas, it hits Montana with dying forests. So, like it or not, we're in this together.

Rush Limbaugh, as expected, missed an important point today when he remarked "Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island senator, got on an anti-Republican rant over global warming five minutes after the tornado hit."

Whitehouse, unlike the senior Senator from Oklahoma who opposes aiding his own citizens unless he can make others suffer at the same time, wasn't talking only about climate change.  He was speaking of us, a concept Limbaugh, Inhofe and Coburn (both of whom opposed Hurricane Sandy relief aid), and some other Republicans are unable to grasp.  It is about an assumption of responsibility, about our responsibility for us as a community, us rather than I or my.

It is an idea as old as the founding of the Republic, the notion of a United States of America, and a motivating force behind enactment of Social Security.   Wage earners of today take care (however inadequately) of the elderly, who helped raise them.  Later, these wage earners in their declining years, will be helped by that day's wage earners.   Pay it forward.  And on and on.

The same spirit lives today in politicians like Whitehouse and Elizabeth Warren, the latter who, upon announcing a proposal to require banks to offer students the same loan rates as banks get from the federal government, noted  "in effect, the American taxpayer is investing in those banks.  We should make the same kind of investment in our young people who are trying to get an education. Lend them the money and make them to pay it back, but give our kids a break on the interest they pay. Let’s bank on students."  And in the same vein when last autumn she reminded us

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along. 

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Aiming For That Sweet Spot

He should know better than this- but, hey, this is Marco Rubio, whose parents were or were not (option B is the correct answer) refugees from Castro's Cuba, and there is a presidential nomination to secure.  On Friday, the Senator of Sleaze told Fox News

Look, the president doesn’t have clean hands in this, because as I said yesterday on the floor of the Senate, this organization of his, this administration has created a culture of intimidation. It's his campaign, it's this White House, it’s basically an attempt to muscle anyone who is their political opponent and to use whatever power they have at their disposal to intimidate people that they don’t agree with.

There are few people who know any better than Rubio that this Administration doesn't "use whatever power they have at their disposal to intimidate people that they don't agree with."   On or before Sunday, March 12 the Senator wrote Treasury Secretary Jack Lew "I strongly urge that you and President Obama demand the IRS Commissioner’s resignation, effectively immediately. No government agency that has behaved in such a manner can possibly instill any faith and respect from the American public."

A few days later, the President who applies the full force of the federal government to intimidate his political opponents referred to the IRS "misconduct" as "inexcusable," declared "Americans have a right to be angry about it," and announced he had accepted the resignation of the guy in charge of the agency, much as demanded by Rubio.

Only of course Steven Miller, whose resignation had been requested by Obama appointee Lew with (undoubtedly) the President's approval, wasn't the IRS commissioner.  He was the acting IRS commissioner, appointed to replace Commissioner Douglas Shulman, a Bush appointee under whom the vast majority of the misconduct had taken place.   But Rubio is planning a run at the GOP's presidential nomination, and facts are optional.

Rubio's letter to the Treasury Secretary was cunningly deceptive.  He claimed

Recent revelations about the Internal Revenue Service’s selective and deliberate targeting of conservative organizations are outrageous and seriously concerning. This years-long abuse of government power is an assault on the free speech rights of all Americans.

But a claim of "selective and deliberate targeting of conservative organizations" is a selective and deliberate claim.   Bloomberg News reports that at least three Democratic groups were examined, none of the GOP groups had its application rejected, and the review of applications went well beyond Tea Party groups.

Admittedly, though, more applications from conservative groups than from liberal groups were reviewed, in part because conservative organizations were more prone to submit them, though they actually are not required for tax-exempt status.  But Noam Scheiber explains the primary reason why it might seem that right-wing groups were targeted:

Yes, the IRS employees in Cincinnati, looking for shortcuts to process the wave of applications, used conservative-themed catchwords to filter for groups that were perhaps too election-focused to merit 501(c)(4) status. But there is a plausible explanation for this: Most of the campaign-minded applications they were getting were conservative! This is a credit to the tea party movement, which for a while was generating levels of grassroots activism that the left could only envy. Why did the IRS not screen for “corporate greed” or “plutocracy” or “inequality”? Well, maybe because those words would have netted precious few applications to scrutinize.1

Not to mention that the applications from tea party groups demanded special attention for another reason: These groups were proudly political! Even if you take at face value the movement’s initial claim to be something all its own, something more than just the conservative wing of the Republican Party, its whole purpose from the get-go was to orient American politics and government toward its constitutional roots by intervening in elections at all levels, starting with Republican Party primaries. The tea party groups’ whole mission called their suitability for 501(c)(4) status into question.

But while Rubio might have complained about the IRS singling out tea party groups, he chose instead to refer to "targeting of conservative organizations." As the Floridian no doubt has noticed, the "Tea Party," a quixotic and unpredictable movement, is at times the object of scorn of the mainstream media while its astroturf funders, and conservative forces generally, are protected by that same media.    And, perhaps not surprisingly, the IRS did the same, for as Scheiber notes

The biggest problem with the Cincinnati office’s extra scrutiny of the groups was not that it was not justified, or not even that it would lead to predictable wails of manufactured outrage once it came out.2 It’s that it was a poor use of limited resources. At the same time it was sending long questionnaires to groups like a tea party outfit in Waco, the IRS was doing precious little to rein in the groups that were making a true mockery of the law on 501(c)(4)’s—outfits like Crossroads GPS, the organization co-founded by Karl Rove that spent $71 million last year. This spending was undeniably geared toward influencing the 2012 election but, unlike regular super PACs such as its sister group American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS was not required to disclose the source of the funds. All told, the 501(c)(4)’s spent $254 million in last year’s election, nearly three times what they spent in 2010. And yes, most of this spending was on behalf of the Republican side.

Which is to say that even as many small-fry conservative groups that were floating across the 501(c)(4) line found themselves getting hassled with time-consuming queries from Cincinnati, the great white sharks of the right floated on by, untouched. Now, Washington has flown into one of its predictable, oh-so-gratifying uproars about the clumsy attempts to regulate the little guys—Marco Rubio demands the head of the IRS (unfortunately, there isn't one), President Obama declares himself outraged, and the Beltway scorekeepers wonder if this outrage is sufficiently outrage-y. ("The question being asked in the political world today is whether [President Obama's] condemnations are too little, too late," declares one pundit.) Meanwhile, the odds that anything will be done to deal with the big guys—by, say, defining “insubstantial” investment in election activity to mean something far less than 49.999 percent—dwindle further, making the mockery of our laws a permanent condition. That is the real scandal.

No doubt you're shocked! shocked! that the GOP and President Obama (pardon the redundancy) are little concerned that the likes of Crossroads GPS, Priorities USA, and Americans for Prosperity go about their political and partisan business unscathed.  The same traditional media, which generally has been favorable (with many, many exceptions) to candidate and President Obama, now is aghast at IRS misconduct.  

As a leading Repub, Marco Rubio will exploit the anger of the party's popular base toward the media by criticizing it periodically on the road to 2016.   An early favorite of the tea party movement, he now is vulnerable with the GOP electorate for his support of comprehensive immigration reform.  Consequently, he currently is running advertisements on Rush Limbaugh's program (and perhaps other right-wing shows) defending the concept on conservative grounds.

Rubio plans to remain popular- or at least acceptable- with the far right while he plays the tune of the corporate media and reinforces his status as its Golden Boy.  He will keep the "Tea Party" at arms length while maintaining a staunch conservative record, popular with Republicans of all types.  While hewing to conservative myths accepted as conventional wisdom, he will play the tune of a media which simultaneously welcomes ethnic minorities and defends the interests of the 1% against the public and organized labor.

When Marco Rubio claims President Obama "doesn't have clean hands" in the IRS debacle and denounces the agency loathed by most, and feared by many, Republicans, he protects the corporate foundation of the Republican Party and gives us a valuable glimpse into his playbook.

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Exploiting As Fast As He Can

Two days ago, the increasingly loathsome Marco Rubio told Martha McCallum of Fox News

Look, the president doesn’t have clean hands in this, because as I said yesterday on the floor of the Senate, this organization of his, this administration has created a culture of intimidation. It's his campaign, it's this White House, it’s basically an attempt to muscle anyone who is their political opponent and to use whatever power they have at their disposal to intimidate people that they don’t agree with.

President Obama's "attempt to muscle anyone who is their political opponent" apparently did not extend to then-Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, whose vote for the Affordable Care Act the President begged for in vain.   Obama assured her

"You could be a modern day Joan of Arc," he offered. I laughed and replied, "Yes, but she was burned at the stake!" I added, "I don't mind taking the heat, but I have to believe it's the right policy for America." The President responded, "Don't worry, I'll be there with a fire hose."

The president met with the Senator eight times in person and several times otherwise, and Snowe has written

Throughout the health reform debate, the President worked with me in good faith, and I believed he was doing so now. By this point, however, I realized that the legislation had essentially been pre-ordained. ... "Mr. President," I responded, "I sincerely appreciate your offer. But if I couldn't secure changes in the bill now, it's not going to happen when I'm the only Republican on that conference with all the Democratic leaders."

Senator Rubio claimed also

So, whether it’s the Associated Press, whether it’s witnesses at the State Department, or whether it’s using the IRS to go after groups that don’t agree with the Obama agenda, this is an administration that has created a culture of intimidation through its campaign and through the White House throughout the federal government.

The thoroughly hyped IRS scandal, however, is not about "using the IRS to go after groups that don't agree with the Obama agenda."  Brad Friedman notes

While Steven Miller, the now-fired Acting IRS Commissioner (it was a George W. Bush appointee who left last year who actually headed the agency during the period in question) "conceded that 'foolish' mistakes were made by people trying to be more 'efficient'," the Guardian reports, adding: "No new major details about the scandal emerged" during hearings which they describe as having "fizzled".

"I do not believe partisanship motivated the people involved in the practices described," Miller testified. "I think what happened here was that foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient in their workload selections." He explained that the IRS had received some 70,000 applications for tax-exempt status, but that they have just 150 staffers assigned to process them all.

The Florida Senator isn't the least bit concerned about the Administration's efforts to discourage sources from cooperating with the Associated Press.  And the IRS fiasco is being exploited by Rubio and his fellow travelers as red meat for the GOP popular base.   But Rubio's real interest is in assuring the Repub donor base that he's in their corner.  He continued

...This is an organization in the Obama campaign and in the Obama White House that has created a culture of intimidation. Of hardball tactics against their political opponents. It’s not just the IRS. It’s the NLRB, who went after Boeing for moving their facility from Washington to South Carolina. And there will be other cases like this that we’ll be talking about in the days to come.

Out of the blue, the Senator complains about "the NLRB, who went after Boeing."  It's  those worthless workers duped by the nefarious unions, at least to Rubio, who is leading the GOP effort to increase the number of individuals in the workforce and drive down labor rates.  (Yes, that's a major objective of comprehensive immigration "reform.")    Taking on the IRS diverts attention from immigration reform, which could cause him trouble with the Repub popular base, while attacking the National Labor Relations Board sends an important signal to the corporate powerhouse that finances his party, including its presidential candidates.

Eventually, the NLRB dropped its complaint against Boeing upon a request by the union, which signed an agreement in which the company agreed to build a revamped 737 jet at a factory near Seattle, hence preserving many jobs. Pat Garofalo of Think Progress explained a year-and-a-half ago

Ever since the NLRB first filed the complaint, the GOP has mischaracterized it as having something to do with so-called “right-to-work” states, states where workers are allowed to free-ride on union contracts. However, the actual complaint was about whether or not Boeing moved a production line from Washington to South Carolina in retaliation against workers for striking.

It is illegal to shift production in order to retaliate against workers, and Boeing executives, on-tape, pretty clearly said that their motive for moving to South Carolina was to do just that. As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick wrote, “there is ample precedent for the argument that threatening to move facilities because of strikes is illegal under the National Labor Relations Act. And certainly the NLRB might reasonably have taken a Boeing executive at his word when he told the Seattle Times (on video!) that this was precisely what motivated the relocation.”

Rubio, the leading prospect for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, recently introduced a bill which, he maintains, would require the IRS to fire any employee found “willfully” violating “the constitutional rights of a taxpayer," a notion which sounds innocuous but which  is breathtakingly dangerous.   In his irresponsible approach to the IRS blunder, he is betting that a clever, though ungenerous, Republican, H.L. Mencken, was right when he stated "no one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people."   He is praying, additionally, that Mencken was prescient when he continued "nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby."

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Another Sort-Of Democrat For Another Sort-Of Governor

It's hardly a tsunami, but is another bad sign for Barbara Buono, the bold state senator who has chosen to take on New Jersey governor Chris Christie in November's election.   During Friday's visit by Governor Christie to a small Burlington County municipality

“I am still that liberal, but my job is to do what’s best for the residents of the City of Burlington and in doing that, I have to maintain the support for Governor Christie,” Burlington City Mayor Jim Fazzone said today. “We need him to lead the state.”

Fazzone is the fifth Democratic mayor to endorse the Republican governor’s bid for a second term. Christie will likely face state Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, in November.

Christie said Fazzone’s endorsement is of particular importance because Burlington City is in the 7th Legislative District, which is represented by Republican Sen. Diane Allen and Democratic Assemblymen Troy Singleton and Herb Conaway. It’s considered one of the few legislative swing districts in November.

Fazzone said he got to know Christie during superstorm Sandy and admired his “organizational and administrative skills.”    Blue Jersey blogger vmars writes

A liberal doesn't back someone for Governor who opposes a woman's right to choose over another candidate who supports it.
A liberal doesn't back someone for Governor who wants to reign in worker's rights to organize over another candidate who supports these rights.
A liberal doesn't back someone for Governor who proposes tax cuts for rich people while reducing aid to schools and towns over someone who wants to increase aid with a millionaire's tax.
A liberal doesn't back someone for Governor who vetoes same sex marriage for purely political reasons against someone who voted for the same bill.
A liberal doesn't back someone for Governor who wants to deny bail to people indicted for any violent offense against someone who doesn't.
A liberal doesn't back someone for Governor who delays implementing medical marijuana laws against someone who voted to legalize medical marijuana.
A liberal doesn't back someone for Governor who wants to use public funds to private schools with no government oversight over someone who doesn't.
A liberal doesn't back someone for Governor who backed out of the RGGI in the face of science against someone who supports greenhouse gas reductions.
A liberal doesn't back someone for Governor who takes money from affordable housing to fill a budget gap (while proposing tax cuts) against someone who opposes such raids.

Sure, Christie threatened to “take the bat out on” 77-year-old state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), called Democratic Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle "a jerk,"  publicly called a reporter "an idiot," called a 34-year old man (whom he wasn't aware was a Navy Seal) an "idiot," and, aiming to set the public against devoted government employees, accused teachers of "using the students like drug mules."  But Governor Christie's belligerence, and hostility against anyone who would question him, is more a question of character- which the governor singularly lacks- than policy choices he has freely made.

Vmars notes Christie's opposition to reproductive freedom, but he has gone beyond opposition to abortion rights.  Joshua Henne, described as "co-founder of White Horse Strategies, a communications and political consulting firm, and spokesman for One New Jersey," last year explained

In 2010, with the stroke of a pen, Gov. Christie eliminated a $7.4 million budget line that provided basic reproductive health services. This money helped support critical care and cancer screenings for more than 135,000 patients. It covered clinical breast exams and Pap tests. When cutting this line item, Christie said it was necessary for “fiscal discipline.” Yet, research shows family planning saves taxpayers approximately $3.75 for every $1 that’s invested. So, when Christie eliminated the funding, it myopically meant New Jersey taxpayers could essentially be on the hook for an additional $28 million in Medicaid spending.

Always a trendsetter, Christie was ahead of the curve by putting reproductive rights on the chopping block. Last summer, when the Legislature approved a budget that included restoring women’s health funding, he again slashed $7.5 million in family planning services. Christie even had the temerity to say his budgets provide full funding for women’s health. Apparently, the governor’s dictionary fails to include Planned Parenthood or other reproductive health-care providers in its definition of women’s health.

But, it’s not just about whether Christie believes in a woman’s “right to choose.” It seems he doesn’t believe in a woman’s right to ... well ... anything. Last year, Christie cut $486,000 in grants to Hispanic Women’s Resource Centers and another $450,000 from a postpartum education campaign. He also slashed funding for the Paid Family Leave insurance program, saying it was overfunded. The state has still failed to spend the money mandated by the Legislature to advertise the program and provide outreach. All the while, Christie refuses to even contemplate a millionaire’s tax and has given tax breaks to mall and casino developers even as he claims the state coffers are bare. It’s clear where his priorities lie.

The argument against the re-election of Chris Christie is easy to make, and will be made by Buono, to anyone who will care to listen.  Unfortunately, the sound of Democratic mayors willing to sell out their constituents may be more impressive to a media which continues to be entranced by the New Jersey governor.

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Heading Down The Rathole

Salon's Alex Seitz-Wald quotes California Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, referring to North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones, remarking Monday on MSNBC

I wish there was more GOP interest when I raised the same issue during the Bush administration, where they audited a progressive church in my district in what looked like a very selective way.  I found only one Republican that would join me in calling for an investigation during the Bush Administration. I'm glad now that the GOP has found interest in this issue and it ought to be a bipartisan concern.

If Schiff longs for bipartisan cooperation, he better hurry.   When, as Seitz-Wald points out, the Bush 43 Administration went after liberal All Saints Episcopal Church in Padadena, Greenpeace, and the NAACP, there was nary a concern expressed by Republicans.  When the ruling in Citizens United inspired a doubling of hard ideological groups- most of them conservativepretending to educate the public about public policy and registering as 501(c)(4), the GOP was predictably silent.   Not surprisingly, even media darlings such as Marco Rubio and Chris Christie raised no complaint, thereby enhancing their image in the Village.

There is only about a year until posturing begins for the 2016 presidential race, at which time the GOP no longer even pretend it cares about reform.  If a Repub President takes over in January, 2017, the only only interest of his/her party interest his/her party in the IRS will be an urge to eliminate.

Blame, though, lies not only with the party which exists to further corporate dominance over the middle and lower classes, but also with the Democratic Party, whose voices prior to the current scandal included Schiff and too few others.  Even now, Democratic outrage is centered on alleged targeting of conservative groups, none of which- so far as we know- has had its tax-free status revoked, notwithstanding their overt political activities.  

"The only known 501(c)(4) applicant to have its status denied," writes Joan Walsh, is the Maine chapter of Emerge America, "which trains Democratic women to run for office." Another liberal group has written Dave Weigel "when we applied for tax-exempt status, Progress Texas received the same type of additional scrutiny that Tea Party groups are complaining about. The similar treatment indicates the IRS was likely addressing a flood of 501c4 applications after Citizens United."   Weigel states he is "getting a bunch of emailed IRS letters from groups whose leaders feel they were unusually hassled" and they aren't all from the right.   (As the graph, below, from Ezra Klein, indicates, less than a third of the groups reviewed in 2012 contained the key words "patriot," "tea party," or "9/12.")

The shortcuts taken by the Cincinnatti (and possibly other) offices of the IRS derived far less from ideological bias than from pragmatism.   The IRS budget is down, David Cay Johnston reports, 17%-20% in real terms since 2002.  The range of functions it is required to perform have increased.   Further, in 2012 its Exempt Organizations division processed 2,774 tax exemption applications, compared to 1,777 in 2011 and 1,741 in 2010.

This trend is not limited to the Internal Revenue Service.  Available revenue varies significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  But most government employees across the country would confirm (were anyone interested in asking) that the tasks their agency is expected to perform, and the duties they individually are assigned, have increased substantially in recent years.   And this demand on their time has expanded often with declining budgets.   Government workers everywhere have resorted to "short cuts," as exempt organizations director Lois Lerner described the approach apparently taken in the Cincinnatti office.

Republicans, obviously, will not tell us this.  Neither will President Obama, who yet dreams of a Grand Bargain, and who has responded to the scandal by successfully soliciting the resignation of the acting director of the IRS, though the agency was headed during most of this period by Bush appointee Douglas Shulman.

Neither will the GOP nor President Obama inform us that the greatest sin committed was harassment of small groups    The IRS made sure not to mess with the big boys- politically aggressive groups such as the pro-Obama Priorities USA, Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, and the Koch Brothers' Americans for Prosperity, which have vast legal resources.  They have been allowed to maintain the fiction that they operate as "social welfare"organizations, and so maintain their tax-exempt status as 501(c)(4).

Good luck to Adam Schiff and the few members of Congress who would like to protect the interests of the American public and voter and bring a sense of fairness to the IRS.   There was, once upon a time, an organization targeted by the Republican Party and which the Democratic Party was afraid to defend.  Its name was ACORN and, through GOP disinformation and a combination of Democratic ignorance and cowardice, it was legislated out of existence.

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On a Positive Note, It's What He Believes

During the War of 1812, Master Commandant Oliver Perry wrote to Major General William Henry Harrison " we have met the enemy and they ...