Saturday, November 30, 2013

So Happy, So Proud

"Go ahead- make my day", said Clint Eastwood in Sudden Impact.  On day 20 of his campaign to reassure extreme conservatives he hates President Obama as much as they do

In an interview with a local radio station Monday night, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called Obamacare a “train wreck.”

"This is just an awful law. It made no sense and that's why I didn't get into a state exchange. And no, I have absolutely no regrets. In fact, I’m really glad that the train wreck’s not mine; it’s his," Christie told listeners on New Jersey 101.5FM, referring to President Barack Obama.

Nothing could have made Chris Christie's day more than the problems encountered by the federal exchange that the governor opted for over a state-run exchange.  He's not disappointed that so few people have been able to compete the application to secure health care insurance. Instead, he is glad that Barack Obama, and not he, is identified with the "train wreck" which thus far has denied health care to all but a few New Jerseyans.

If Governor Christie were interested in the health of his state's residents, he might have set up a state exchange and thereby joined the three Democratic governors who recently took to the op-ed page of The Washington Post to explain why the health care exchanges set up in their states thus far have been an unqualified success.

Jay Inslee of Washington, Steve Beshear of Kentucky, and Daniel P. Malloy of Connecticut wrote

In our states — Washington, Kentucky and Connecticut — the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” is working. Tens of thousands of our residents have enrolled in affordable health-care coverage. Many of them could not get insurance before the law was enacted.

People keep asking us why our states have been successful. Here’s a hint: It’s not about our Web sites.

Sure, having functioning Web sites for our health-care exchanges makes the job of meeting the enormous demand for affordable coverage much easier, but each of our state Web sites has had its share of technical glitches. As we have demonstrated on a near-daily basis, Web sites can continually be improved to meet consumers’ needs.

The Affordable Care Act has been successful in our states because our political and community leaders grasped the importance of expanding health-care coverage and have avoided the temptation to use health-care reform as a political football.

In Washington, the legislature authorized Medicaid expansion with overwhelmingly bipartisan votes in the House and Senate this summer because legislators understood that it could help create more than 10,000 jobs, save more than $300 million for the state in the first 18 months, and, most important, provide several hundred thousand uninsured Washingtonians with health coverage.

In Kentucky, two independent studies showed that the Bluegrass State couldn’t afford not to expand Medicaid. Expansion offered huge savings in the state budget and is expected to create 17,000 jobs.

In Connecticut, more than 50 percent of enrollment in the state exchange, Access Health CT, is for private health insurance. The Connecticut exchange has a customer satisfaction level of 96.5 percent, according to a survey of users in October, with more than 82 percent of enrollees either “extremely likely” or “very likely” to recommend the exchange to a colleague or friend.

In our states, elected leaders have decided to put people, not politics, first.

The numbers are trickling in, though a few states have not released data yet.  But the chart below places New Jersey second from the bottom among the 46 states reporting in completion rate of an application for health insurance.

Chris Christie is glad he did not join the federal exchange, a decision which thus far has placed his state next to last in number of completed applications.  This is, of course, the same Christ Christie who four times (successfully) vetoed funding for women's health care, including a 90-10 federal-state match for Medicaid funding, passed by the Democratic legislature.  This is the same Chris Christie who defends eschewing a state-run exchange in favor of a federal-run exchange which he labels a "train wreck."  And it's the same Chris Christie who was re-elected with the help of the (ostensibly Democratic) President who wouldn't utter a favorable word for the Democratic challenger.

Barack Obama, a de facto supporter of a governor who finds birth control, pap smears, and breast cancer screening extraneous, remains a little bit of an enigma.  But for Chris Christie, Republican all-but-declared candidate for president, it's all about "me, me, me."

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pope Francis Mentioned Him 125+ Times More Than Did Rush Limbaugh

And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:23, English Standard Version)

In a rant Wednesday, Rush Limbaugh criticized Pope Francis for not pledging allegiance to limitless consumerism, unlimited capitalism, and outsourcing jobs.  Really:

They have been unable to meet the demand, for whatever reason.  They have just recently caught up, and would you like to know how they did it?  They have put one million people on different assembly lines, 600 employees per assembly line at the factory in China at the one factory, where they are making 500,000 iPhones a day, and they still haven't caught up to demand. 

That's a lot of people who are thrilled with something new to buy. A lot of people in China make a lot of money on these places.  I mean, they're not paid what they're paid in America, but they're paid much higher than anybody else in China at these factories.  There's a lot of income being earned.  There's a lot of product being made.  There are a lot of taxes being paid.  There's all kinds of economic activity taking place.  It is stunning.  One hundred production lines, 600 people per line.

A total of more than 300,000 workers dedicated solely to building one product, the iPhone 5S, in one factory.  And this company has many different factories. They make 500,000 phones a day, and they still haven't caught up.  Now, there's a new phone from Motorola, the Moto X.  It has sold 500,000 in one quarter, and the iPhone 5S is selling 500,000 a day, and that's even short of demand.

That's a lot of people thrilled at something new to buy. 

Contrast that with the remarks in the "Apostolic Exhortation" in which Pope Francis observed

Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

The Pope courageously and incisively added some thoughts even Bernie Sanders probably wouldn't (couldn't) dare utter, at one point maintaining "one cause" of "lack of opportunity"

is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.

He tackled inequality by arguing

just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.

Limbaugh was not amused, and weaved criticism of the pontiff into condemnation of the Democratic Party (quelle surprise!) and even suggested the pope is a knave or dupe: "what this is, somebody has either written this for him or gotten to him.  This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope."  He was particularly exorcised by Pope Francis' recognition

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed.

Pope Francis hardly could have been more explicit if he had mentioned the perpetual conservative saint himself, Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6).  Nor could Limbaugh have been more explicit in his faith that if the rich be fed, the poor will be.  He claimed

So reading what the pope's written about this is really befuddling because he's totally wrong -- I mean, dramatically, embarrassingly, puzzlingly wrong.  Here's another excerpt.  "Pope Francis said that trickle-down policy..." We hear about trickle-down policies?  "Pope Francis said that trickle-down policies have not proven to work."

Oh, but they have.  It's exactly what Obama is trying to create, in fact, although he wouldn't dare call it that. When you hear Obama talking about job creation and people going to work and roads and bridges being -- what the hell is it but trickle-down?  The left has defined trickle-down as the rich are compassionate and give people things.  And when that doesn't happen, they say that trickle-down doesn't work.  The left has bastardized terms and definitions to the point that trickle-down's become a dirty word. 

Trickle-down is human nature!  Trickle-down is exactly what happens when you engage in economic activity.  You spend money and it trickles down to everybody you spend it with, and then it trickles down to everybody they end up interacting with economically.  Trickle-down is precisely what happens.  But the left has defined trickle-down as the rich are supposed to give the money that they don't need away to people. 

A lot of people might find the trickle-down gospel, alien to Jesus Christ, a little hard to believe.  PBS Newshour reports

American food banks that saw demand for emergency meals take off during the recession are working to meet yet another increase for 2014, following cuts to food stamps that took effect Nov. 1, 2013.

The $5 billion cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will affect 47.7 million people, one out of every seven Americans. A family of four will lose $36 a month in food assistance, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, dropping from $668 to $632 a month.

In New York City, with 63 percent of pantries and kitchens reporting shortages, the cuts will add stress to an already strained system, says Triada Stampas, a spokesperson for Food Bank for New York City. That food bank, the nation's largest, delivered 72 million meals last year. The organization calculates that across the five boroughs, SNAP cuts will mean that New Yorkers who get assistance will eat a total of 76 million fewer meals acquired with food stamps in the next year.

"We've been talking to private donors for months about these cuts," said Stampas. "But I want to dispel the notion that private charity can make up for the cuts, that's simply not possible. "

Bob Aiken, the CEO of Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks nationwide, said their branches are going to see more visitors as SNAP cuts shrink monthly food budgets.

Feeding America expects to deliver 3.3 billion meals in 2014, an increase from the 3.2 billion meals delivered in 2013 and the 2.2 billion meals delivered in 2009.

With a 46 percent increase in the number of people seeking meals after the recession hit -- from 25 million in 2006 to 37 million 2010 -- Feeding America has been struggling to keep up with demand.

"We are very concerned about the impact this cut will have on struggling low-income people and our network food banks," Aiken wrote in a statement in response to the SNAP cuts. "Unfortunately, our food banks across the nation continue to be stretched thin in their efforts to meet sustained high need in the wake of the recession."

Rush remarked  "The United States of America and its genuine exceptionalism has allowed people to reach the pinnacle of their ability combined with their ambition and desire." Apparently not.  But then it isn't surprising to hear this mindless boosterism from someone who can go on an extended rant (in transcript form, 51 paragraphs) about capitalism, poverty, the Roman Catholic Church, and poor people without mentioning this man:



HAPPY THANKSGIVING.... especially to those who won't eat anything like this for another year.

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Time Will Tell

It's a gamble. But probably not much of one.

On Wednesday, Rush Limbaugh commented

I ran across this -- I don't even know what it's called, the latest papal offering, statement from Pope Francis. Now, I'm not Catholic.  Up until this, I have to tell you, I was admiring the man.  I thought he was going a little overboard on the common-man touch, and I thought there might have been a little bit of PR involved there. But nevertheless I was willing to cut him some slack.  I mean, if he wants to portray himself as still from the streets where he came from and is not anything special, not aristocratic. If he wants to eschew the physical trappings of the Vatican, okay, cool, fine.  But this that I came across last night totally befuddled me. If it weren't for capitalism, I don't know where the Catholic Church would be. 

Now, as I mentioned before, I'm not Catholic.  I admire it profoundly, and I've been tempted a number of times to delve deeper into it.  But the pope here has now gone beyond Catholicism here, and this is pure political.  I want to share with you some of this stuff. 

"Pope Francis attacked unfettered capitalism as 'a new tyranny' and beseeched global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality, in a document on Tuesday setting out a platform for his papacy and calling for a renewal of the Catholic Church. ... In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticizing the global economic system, attacking the 'idolatry of money.'"

I gotta be very careful.  I have been numerous times to the Vatican.  It wouldn't exist without tons of money.  But regardless, what this is, somebody has either written this for him or gotten to him.  This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.  Unfettered capitalism?  That doesn't exist anywhere. Unfettered capitalism is a liberal socialist phrase to describe the United States.Unfettered, unregulated. 

At 1:00 p.m. Pacific time- 4:00 p.m. Eastern time- on Wednesday, Digby brilliantly responded

Ok, now I'm starting to really enjoy this. Has anyone alerted Wild Bill Donohue to the fact that Rush Limbaugh is calling the pope a Marxist? If Donohue were anything other than a broken down right wing hack, he's be bringing forth the anti-gay, drug addict slurs right about now. (After all, the guy usually defends everything the Church does, including priest pedophilia.) Nothing? Chirp??? 

She could not know for sure at that time that Donohue would not react to Limbaugh's remarks.  But, recognizing his allegiance to politically conservative ideology, she probably does know that the website of the organization "Wild Bill" heads, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, recently argued on its website

The board of directors at Time Warner cannot distance themselves from Bill Maher any longer. On Friday night, Maher teed up Dan Savage, another anti-Catholic bigot. What happened was particularly vicious.

Maher commented on gay couples who adopt children, alleging that a Hawaiian bishop said these kids had a greater chance of committing suicide. Here is how Savage responded: “That’s total bulls***. He’s confusing children of gay parents with children who are raped by Catholic priests. Sorry, I am just done being lectured about children and their safety by Catholic-f***ing bishops, priests, cardinals.” Shortly thereafter, Savage again remarked about “kiddie-f***ing Catholic priests.”

We are sending to every member of Time Warner’s board of directors a copy of 54 anti-Catholic statements made by Bill Maher on TV [click here to read the report]. Friday’s show concluded the season. The time has come to close this show once and for all.

And now, for what you probably hope is the last time, the clip in which not Bill Maher but a guest of Bill Maher made the remark which set Donohue off:

Donohue's silence- if it remains- is particularly telling given an article published in the hard-right Daily Caller approximately an hour and a half before Limbaugh's rant.  In it, the Catholic League head maintained "Pope Francis is neither liberal nor conservative. He's simply Catholic, and a towering champion of its many causes."

Now a towering figure on the right has criticized Pope Francis for "regurgitating this stuff" about rapacious capitalism and has charged him with being "totally wrong , I mean, dramatically, embarrassingly, puzzling wrong."   The next 24 hours will test whether Bill Donohue is committed to his faith in Catholic Christianity or little more than a "right wing hack."

                                            HAPPY THANKSGIVING

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Tough Audience

Writing in National Review, James Jay Carafano of the Heritage Foundation argues

Nothing in this agreement prevents Iran from just picking up where it left off. Nothing in this agreement affects Iran’s effort to improve its long-range ballistic missiles. Nothing can stop Iran from continuing to work on how to weaponize (build a bomb suitable to be put on a missile) a nuclear device in secret.

In return for getting precious little, the negotiators oppose Iran at the table gave up the one thing the mullahs really feared – a continuing squeeze on Tehran’s dwindling bank account.

But David Rothkopf, who urges the USA "to work very closely with the Saudis, the Gulf states, and the Israelis in defining the terms of an Iran deal they can live with" (photo from Reuters) nonetheless concedes

For the hawks to suggest that the deal freezing Iranian uranium-enrichment efforts above the 5 percent level, halting work on the heavy-water reactor near Arak, and granting daily inspections to Iran's centrifuge-laden facilities at Natanz and Fordow makes matters more dangerous in the short term is just indefensible on its face. Absent such a deal, all enrichment and technological advancement efforts would continue unabated and without inspections. Iran would almost certainly move more quickly toward having a bomb without this deal than with it.

Carafano, however, cannot be dissuaded from uninformed cynicism. He remarks "Our White House likes this deal. But, our White House also thinks its policies in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, and Syria have been just super."

Three years ago, Carafano was more generous toward Obama because "To be frank some Obama programs have started to look like Bush clones - because they work and are necessary. Keeping GITMO open; staying the course in Afghanistan and Iraq; and fighting global terrorism.."  Now, the President is criticized for his policy toward Iraq, Libya, Egypt, and Syria.

A few months ago, President Obama faced the choice of condoning chemical weapons use by the despot in Damascus or launching missile strikes, which may have proven ineffective while plunging the United States into its fourth war in the region in ten years.  He might have moved against Syria, possibly destablilizing the regim, and giving an opening to Al Qaeda, or turning a blind eye to Bashir Al Assad's mass murder. The President instead grasped an opportunity to enter negotiations.  Simply insane, I tell you.

Thankfully, American forces have been withdrawn from the quagmire in Iraq but Carafano views Obama's policy as a failure.  He should look elsewhere.   Dafna Linzer on the MSNBC website explains

The sad truth of Sunday’s nuclear agreement with Iran is that it could have come 10 years earlier and with far fewer costs.

It took a Mideast war, an accelerating nuclear program, a crisis with U.N. inspectors and crippling sanctions before the sides started talking.

More importantly, it was the election of President Obama and the return of the reformist leadership in Tehran that made an historic deal between the United States and Iran even possible.

For Obama, the possibility of peacefully ending 30 years of hostilities between the two nations - and the threat posed by the uncertainty of Iran’s nuclear program - has been a sought-after goal since his first moments as the 44th president of the United States.  

His 2009 inaugural address made those ambitions clear even as Iran was governed by the hostile leadership of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” Obama said in the opening hour of his presidency.

Though he never wavered from that sentiment, Obama had little room to run without a partner on the other side. That finally came this year, when Hassan Rouhani was elected as Iran’s president, returning to the world stage with committed reformists who had long sought to heal wounds with the West.

Chief among the key players is his foreign minister, Javad Zarif, an architect of Sunday’s deal and one of the best known Iranian figures in Washington. This wasn’t Zarif’s first attempt at reconciliation on behalf of the Persian people. But like Obama, he too lacked a partner when he first tried to reach out more than a decade ago.

That was before there was an operating plutonium plant in the town of Arak, enriched uranium at underground facility in Natanz or an Iranian leadership bent on vilifying Israel and inflaming world ire. 

When the United States was attacked by Al-Qaeda on Sept. 11, 2001, it was by a terrorist organization that was no friend to Iran.

Acting from inside Afghanistan and Pakistan - two nations that border Iran - al-Qaeda’s actions destabilized the region and brought on a swift counterattack by U.S. forces who remain in the region.

Hundreds of al-Qaeda members streamed across Iran’s borders. Many were caught and identified. The most dangerous, including Osama bin Laden’s relatives, were imprisoned. Low-level fighters were returned to their home countries - but not before Zarif secretly shared their identities, finger prints, passports and other information with the U.S. government.

There was other quiet but vital cooperation along the Iranian-Afghan border to stop al-Qaeda,  the heroin trade and warlords from smuggling weapons and goods out of Afghanistan. 

The Bush administration benefited greatly from all of it but that’s not the impression it conveyed to the American public or the Iranian people.

Iran’s leaders, working through a Swiss diplomatic channel, sent the State Department a lengthy proposal for embarking on negotiations. Tehran’s leaders sought a “grand bargain,” with everything on the table, including restoring relations with Israel, and giving up any interest in pursing nuclear capabilities that could be used for weapons.

If only they had been greeted with silence. Instead, Bush used his 2003 State of the Union address to enlist Iran into what he deemed an “axis of evil,” along with Iraq and North Korea.

Within two months, operating on his doctrine of preemption, Bush invaded Iraq and had troops on two of Iran’s major borders. His stable of neo-conservative advisers made no secret of their conviction that Iraq was a “demonstration effect,” meant to weaken and pressure Iran.

It had the opposite effect. With Saddam Hussein and the Taliban removed from power, Iran’s influence in the region only grew, particularly in Iraq where U.S. troops struggled with a violent insurgency that eventually claimed the lives of more than 4,000 American troops.

And when an Iranian dissident group revealed a small but secret nuclear effort underfoot at Natanz in Iran, Iran moved quickly to fortify and defend it on the world stage. Years of concealment and obfuscation on the part of Iran defined a bitter relationship with U.N. inspectors who only gathered more evidence that pointed tot he desire for a nuclear weapons program.

Bush was reelected in 2004, defeating John Kerry - who would wait nine years to become the Secretary of State who negotiated Sunday’s deal on behalf of the United States.

In those intervening years, Bush told Iranians in 2005 to stay home on election day rather than exercise one of the few political rights available. In the wake of low turn out, and lower expectations, Ahmadinejad became president, ushering in eight years of open hostility.

There have been cyber attacks and proxy wars; terrorism at the hands of Hezbollah - an Iranian ally and surrogate - and dead scientists in the intervening 10 years. Israel, with its own right-wing leadership and internal politics, has fueled tensions, even harming its own relationship with the Obama administration in an unsuccessful effort to keep up pressure on Iran.

When Zarif’s team first proposed a deal in 2003, Iran had not yet mastered the ability to enrich uranium - the key fuel for a nuclear bomb - to dangerous levels.

Today, Iran’s nuclear program includes a massive plutonium reactor and thousands of centrifuges enriching uranium ever nearer to bomb grade.

Sunday’s deal seeks to roll those gains back and lock down the program into a safe and verifiable place. In exchange, Iran hopes for a phased way back into the global economy - with modern airplane parts and access to long-frozen financial assets.

George W. Bush deserves compassion. How awkward it must have been, in those days when the Administration was considering launching a war against Iraq, to have had Baghdad's primary adversary offer the U.S.A. an olive branch.  How inconvenient it was to ignore an opportunity to end Iran's nuclear ambitions, provide greater security to the USA's only reliable ally (Israel)  in the region, and possiblyestablish a bulwark against the Hussein regime.

The preferred option became war, of which the only benefit has been replacement of an anti-Tehran, anti-Al Qaeda dictator with a regime supportive of Iran, the nation the right is condemning President Obama for negotiating with.

If that seems to make no sense, it's because it doesn't. But George W. Bush was re-elected and if his supporters, such as James Carafano, can whitewash recent history and blame President Obama for the disastrous consequences brought on by his predecessor, all the better.

                                       HAPPY THANKSGIVING

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Another Year, And Still Exceptional

We're number 1!

Yes, America is still #1.  That would be the United States of America specifically, though Canada deserves an honorable mention. So do Great Britain, Sweden, France, Australia, and Ukraine- as long as the guy is big in the U.S.A.

It is People magazine's annual sexiest men alive list, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo takes down the honor for 55-year-old men.  New York magazine's Dan Amira explains

This year, in addition to naming one random attractive man as its "Sexiest Man Alive," People magazine created an entire list of sexiest men alive at every age (well, from 20 to 59, the age at which men stop being sexy, we guess). In a bit of an upset, Governor Andrew Cuomo took home the crown in the 55-year-old category, and though flattered, he implied that he didn't exactly earn the honor. 

"I think it’s about New York,” Cuomo said. “I think New York is sexy, and since I’m the New York governor, I think that’s how they got there.”

Labeling New York (city? state?) "sexy" can't hurt the standing of a New York governor, even one who, unfortunately, harbors national ambitions; and being the governor of of the state which includes Manhattan can't hurt him.  Still, inadvertently, Cuomo may have hit upon the greatest factor when- albeit referring to his relatively advanced age- he stated " I had a limited scope of competition."  Limited, indeed.

In the main competition, the "Sexiest Man Alive 2013" (pictured below, #3; slideshow here) category, People identifies 12/13 men.  Ten of those are American, one British, and one or two Canadian. (The brothers Scott, both Canadian, count as one. Seriously.)

In the "Sexy at Every Age" (pictured below, 50-year-old George Clooney; sideshow here) category, there are 22 men.  Of those, over half- twelve- are American.  Four other are British, one Canadian, and one Australian, each from an English-speaking country. The other men are French (1), Swedish (1), and Ukranian (1),

The latter three, who apparently are not USA nationals, nevertheless are popular in this, the world's reigning superpower. Of the world's approximately 7.127 billion people, approximately 317,134,000- 4.45%- reside in the southern portion of North America.  The other six other nations comprise roughly 3.40% of the planet.Between that group and the USA, nations comprising 7.85% of the world's population are represented on the "Sexy at Every Age List," a more inclusive one than the Sexiest Man Alive group, in which evidently males of only English-speaking nations need apply.

It is inconceivable, apparently,  that either list include anyone from mainland China (at 1,361,260,000, 19.1%) or India (at 1,236,880,000, 17.4%).   None of the approximately 1.3 billion males (admittedly, some of them children or gasp! over 59 years of age) possibly compare to individuals (especially Americans) who are celebrities here.  They simply do not rate.  Only "America" is exceptional, with honorable mention for a few others.


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The Cheney's Battle- Not

(Sarcasm Alert)

Wow! Did she really say that?

On the video clip played on Sunday's Up with Steve Kornacki, GOP TV's Chris Wallace is seen telling/asking Liz Cheney, candidate for the Republican nomination for senator in Wyoming "You talk about your position against same sex marriage.  Your sister Mary who is married to a woman, put out this post. The response:   "For the record, I love my sister, you, but she is dead wrong on the issue of marriage." Hatred spewing from every pore, Cheney responded "Yeah. And, listen, I love Mary very much. I love her family very much. This is just an issue on which we disagree."

Joan Walsh and Steve Kornacki himself were fairly restrained in their outrage. Not so the others. Representative John Yarmuth brought up the Matthew Shephard case, arguably implying some connection between Cheney's remark and the torture and murder of a gay young man in Wyoming in 1998. Particularly disingenuous was Sahil Kapur of Talking Points Memo, who asserted "You know, she`s thrown her sister under the bus. And I would say this is not simply an issue where siblings disagree. I disagree with my sister plenty, but I`ve never argued that she should be treated unequally under the law."

Respectively: no, she hasn't; yes, it is; and neither has she.

Liz Cheney did not argue that, in the presence of a law authorizing same-sex marriage, her sister Mary "should be treated unequally under the law."  Rather, she suggests that same-sex marriage should not be the law (legal; government-authorized).  Aspiring to be a United States Senator, Liz clearly does not favor the concept of gay marriage nor does not want it to be the law of the land.

And yes, it is "simply an issue where siblings disagree." Cheney prefaced none of her responses to Wallace as "and one more thing, Chris, about the gay marriage thing." She was asked specifically about a prior remark and, instead of dodging the question or pretending she had never made the statement, contended her sibling "is dead wrong on the issue of marriage."   Perhaps Mary's feelings were hurt, though it's hard to believe she had no inkling of her sister's position on the issue.

One would think a veteran Republican operative such as Mary Cheney would be able to handle the alleged affront.  Naively, another member of the panel, Washington bureau chief John Stanton, seemed to be unaware when he maintained "this notion of sort of a pattern of attacking people that have relied on you and you have- you should have some sort of loyalty to..."

So, too, was Bill Maher, who on Friday's Real Time acknowledged "I’m sure there are a lot of Wyoming people who find gay marriage icky.  But what they found even ickier was throwing your sister under the bus.”  (Three days-plus later, there is no media report of Mary Cheney being crushed by a bus, or of even suffering a scratch; apparently it was a light bus.)  Dan Savage, author, columnist, and gay advocate, told Maher (video below) "Mary does a pretty good approximation of evil" and stated, as reported by Raw Story

Unlike her sister, Liz, who’s saying ‘it’s a state issue,’ Romney wanted to rewrite the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage in every state, even overturning gay marriages in states where it had already been legalized. Romney was 1,000 times worse than Liz, and Mary wrote that f*cker a check.  

This is the individual some (obviously not Savage) supporters of same-sex marriage see as a victim. A little over four years ago, open explained

Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, recently contributed $1,000 to Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rob Portman, who as an Ohio congressman voted to ban same-sex marriage and to prohibit gay and lesbian couples from adopting children in the District of Columbia, reports the left-leaning investigative news website Raw Story.

This donation was just Cheney's third federal campaign contribution of her life that met the Federal Election Commission's disclosure threshold, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis, and is her largest to date.

In September of 2003, she contributed $850 to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. And in the closing months of the 2008 election, she gave Virginia Republican congressional candidate Keith Fimian $500.

Cheney has long advocated equal rights for gays, sometimes more forcefully than others. 

She almost quit the Bush-Cheney reelection team when President George W. Bush endorsed a federal constitutional amendment that would provide marriage benefits to only heterosexual couples. She expressed further opposition to the so-called Federal Marriage Amendment in her 2006 autobiography. And in 2007, she criticized evangelical Christian minister James Dobson after he condemned her plan to raise a child with her partner.

Yet these views haven't kept her from financially supporting Republican politicians whose social views are far more conservative than her own. She has previously stated that she doesn't always have the "luxury of being a single-issue voter on same-sex marriage."

Cheney's contribution to Portman is notable given Portman voted for the 2004 Federal Marriage Amendment and also voted in favor of a measure to ban adoption by same-sex couples in the District of Columbia. Portman was ultimately tapped to serve as the U.S. Trade Representative and later head of the White House Office of Management and Budget during Bush's second term.

Fimian, meanwhile, attracted the ire of liberals during the 2008 campaign for his opposition to abortion rights and involvement with the conservative Catholic business association, Legatus, which was established by Domino's Pizza founder and abortion rights opponent activist Tom Monaghan. 

Fimian lost to Democrat Gerry Connolly in the race to fill the seat vacated by retiring Republican Tom Davis, and Fimian has already vowed a rematch.

Legatus, for which Fimian serves on the board of directors, is headquarters in the Florida town of Ave Maria, which was developed with Monaghan's financial support to cater to a new Catholic university and law school. During the area's construction, Monaghan made national headlines in 2006 when he announced the town would ban condoms and other contraceptives -- a comment he later retracted.

Cheney, the younger of Cheney's two daughters, boasts more than 15 years of political, corporate, public affairs and strategic communications experience, including outreach to the gay community for Coors Brewing Company and directing vice presidential operations for her father during the 2004 reelection campaign.

That would be the notoriously anti-gay (and anti-union) Coors Brewing Company, for which Mary Cheney worked as a p.r. flack when it was convenient. Though the rights of gay men and women are not a high priority for M. Cheney, they appear to be so for M. Cheney because it affects her personally. For Mary Cheney, supporting same-sex marriage is as it is for many Republicans- a worthy cause because it personally affects them.   Liz Cheney's position can be criticized.  But as Savage seemunderstands, doing so in the context of a perceived slight to her sister is a case of misplaced outrage.

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sate, Legal, Rare, And Zero

In a guest column in The Washington Post on March 7, Bill Clinton famously wrote of the Defense of Marriage Act

When I signed the bill, I included a statement with the admonition that “enactment of this legislation should not, despite the fierce and at times divisive rhetoric surrounding it, be understood to provide an excuse for discrimination.” Reading those words today, I know now that, even worse than providing an excuse for discrimination, the law is itself discriminatory. It should be overturned.

We are still a young country, and many of our landmark civil rights decisions are fresh enough that the voices of their champions still echo, even as the world that preceded them becomes less and less familiar. We have yet to celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment, but a society that denied women the vote would seem to us now not unusual or old-fashioned but alien. I believe that in 2013 DOMA and opposition to marriage equality are vestiges of just such an unfamiliar society.

Americans have been at this sort of a crossroads often enough to recognize the right path. We understand that, while our laws may at times lag behind our best natures, in the end they catch up to our core values. One hundred fifty years ago, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln concluded a message to Congress by posing the very question we face today: “It is not ‘Can any of us imagine better?’ but ‘Can we all do better?’ ”

The answer is of course and always yes. In that spirit, I join with the Obama administration, the petitioner Edith Windsor, and the many other dedicated men and women who have engaged in this struggle for decades in urging the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.

It takes some courage to admit a mistake, even when (as in this case) it is done with one's finger firmly raised to determine the direction of the wind.  Clinton did so by referring to the "society that denied women the vote" as "alien." It is time he acknowledge another mistake, one in which denial of rights to women should be considered just as alien.  Instead of marriage equality, perhaps we might call it "reproductive equality."

Assistant editor of Salon Katie McDonough notes

During a Monday interview on the campaign trail, Wendy Davis did something that a lot of politicians do when talking about abortion with national audiences. While explaining her position on reproductive rights, she suggested that a so-called world without abortion is something everyone wants.

“The goal that we should have is that we see zero abortions,” she said. “But in order to achieve that goal we have to make sure that women are receiving the kind of healthcare and planning that they deserve.”

Davis did this for the same reasons Bill Clinton said abortion “should not only be safe and legal, it should be rare,” back in 1996, and for the same reasons so many other advocates and lawmakers use the exact same line. Because they believe it’s a moderate position that will save them from being cast as “extreme” when it comes to abortion rights, which they see as a kind of political death.

But ultimately, it’s a position that denies reality. And Davis — who is right about so much else — is wrong about the objectives of the reproductive rights movement. There simply is no such thing as a world without abortion, nor should we claim to wish for one. Women will always need abortion care. What they don’t need is more stigma.

Slamming "shaming" of women who choose to terminate their pregnancy, McDonough adds

There is a way to have nuanced conversations about the complexity of people’s personal views about abortion without suggesting it’s a problem to be solved or a social ill to be eradicated. It’s a medical procedure, an incredibly safe and common one. Calling “zero abortions” a goal is — besides being completely false — line for line, what antiabortion lawmakers like Rick Perry say when advocating for policies that deny women basic medical care.

President Clinton's pithy enunciation of his reproductive rights policy- to make abortion "safe, legal, and rare"- has played a major role in requiring abortion rights proponents to assure audiences they are "personally opposed to abortion" or, as in Davis' case, to declare their goal as "zero abortions."

A chart (below) in the recent groundbreaking article by Meaghan Winter in New York magazine on abortion identifies the twenty-six states which in 2012 and/or 2013 passed restrictions on abortions.  It breaks the restrictions into five categories: "made abortion illegal under specified circumstances; required an ultrasound and/or detection of fetal heartbeat; required a waiting period and/or counseling before an abortion procedure; enacted restrictions on the facilities and/or providers; limited insurance coverage for abortion procedures."

There are thirteen states with laws limiting access to abortions beyond twenty weeks, although it's difficult to determine how that's accounted for in the chart.  While those are intended to ban abortion (post-viability, and in the first few weeks, pre-viability), the other restrictions do not violate Bill Clinton's wish that abortions be "safe, legal, and rare."  All the restrictions are intended to make the procedure rare and some of the restrictions, proponents would (ludicrously) argue, safer.  When not restricting abortions to a specific stage (usually prior to 20 weeks) of pregnancy, abortion remains no less legal than they were.

They would be legal, and rare (or at least rarer).  But as Digby remarks, "this idea that there should be 'zero abortions' only reinforces the idea that it is an immoral act."  In standing up to a Texas legislature and for women's rights, Wendy Davis demonstrated the courage Bill Clinton could only dream of having, were it not beyond his imagination.  But in proposing zero abortions as a goal, she is going down the same road as President Clinton, whose vision of abortion as "safe, legal, and rare" too often has been reinterpreted as "rare."

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Saturday, November 23, 2013


Andrew O'Hehir of Salon laments the "long list of dishwater Democratic policies" and notes

Clinton convinced himself that the only way to govern in the aftermath of Reaganism was through the noxious politics of “triangulation,” which produced welfare reform, “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the enormous neoliberal, job-exporting scams of GATT and NAFTA. We can debate the reasons for the relative prosperity of the Clinton years (no overseas wars to fight), but Clinton was every bit as much a Wall Street president as George W. Bush, helped drive the stock-market and real estate boom that would later turn toxic, and on most substantive policy questions found himself to the right of every 20th-century Republican president not named Ronald Reagan.

Democratic apologists may be correct that the party has done the best it could to adapt to screwy circumstances, and that no Democrat could have been elected president since the Reagan revolution if the party hadn’t shifted right in pursuit of soccer moms, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and (just for instance) insurance executives. But the result is that one of our only two political parties – and don’t start talking about third parties, because that’s not happening in my lifetime or yours — possesses no clear convictions, beyond the desire to be slightly less obnoxious than the other one. 

The last two Democratic presidents- both of whom were elected to a second term- possess few clear convictions, particularly on anything of substance, as reflected by President Obama's triangulation, which is at least somewhat analogous to President Obama's obsession with bipartisanship.

But there is something upon which there is near unanimity among Democratic politicians, pundits, and other heavy hitters.   As of early April, there were a mere seven (7) Democratic Senators who had not come out in favor of same-sex marriage, and among them were three who maintained simply that the issue should be decided at the state level (the worst possible outcome, by the way).   And we learn

Illinois is now the 16th state to allow same-sex marriage.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill into law Wednesday in Chicago that makes the state the largest in the Midwest to legalize gay weddings. The law takes effect in June when county clerks can begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported

Wages and salaries equaled just 42.6 percent of the economy in the April-June quarter, near a record low set in 2011.

More than 8.5 million jobs were lost in the recession and its aftermath, leaving workforces leaner and more productive. Corporate revenue rose as the economy recovered.

But workers haven’t benefited much. With unemployment still high, they’ve had little leverage to demand higher pay. Many have been happy just to have a job.

“We’ve just had a very lopsided economic recovery,” said Ethan Harris, an economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Being employed no longer precludes poverty. Many of those employees  (presumably) happy merely to have a job work at America's largest employer, in which

An advocacy group called Organization United for Respect is chastising Walmart for setting out storage containers to collect donations for employees who can't afford a Thanksgiving dinner.

The Web page and Facebook page of the group feature a photo of two storage containers underneath a sign that says, "Please donate food items here so Associates in Need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner."

The same dynamic applies at McDonald's, which underpays its workers while providing what the company refers to as "food."  In July, it compiled with Visa a sample budget(chart, below) for its typical worker, which condescendingly demonstrated that most of its employees cannot subsist on their pay from the fast food restaurant.  The Atlantic's Jordan Weissman explained

This hypothetical worker doesn't pay a heating bill. I guess some utilities are included in their $600 a month rent? (At the end of 2012, average rent in the U.S. was $1,048). Gas and groceries are bundled into $27 a day spending money. And this individual apparently has access to $20 a month healthcare. McDonald's, for its part, charges employees $12.58 a week for the company's most basic health plan. Well, that's if they've been with the company for a year. Otherwise, it's $14. 

The bottom line for corporations has been exceptional and growing, aided by the proliferation of paid and unpaid internships, which have nearly replaced the full-time, entry-level paid full time position for recent college graduates.  That is only one of many reasons that earlier this year, corporate profits per dollar of sales hit an all-time high (a) while wages as a share of GDP hit an all-time low (b), as the graphs below from the St. Louis Fed (by way of Business Insider) indicate.



The New Republic's Timothy Noah has observed "In the United States, economic mobility is lower than it was during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; it is no longer accelerating, as it was during the ’50s and ’60s; and it is either about the same or a little lower than it was in 1970.  Nor does the United States of America remain the star of upward mobility it once was, for

Meanwhile, mobility in the United States has fallen dramatically behind mobility in other comparably developed democracies. A 2007 study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) combined a number of previous estimates and found income heritability to be greater in the United States than in Denmark, Australia, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Spain, and France. Italy was a little bit less mobile than the United States. The United Kingdom, which had been far less mobile than the United States during the late nineteenth century, brought up the rear, but this time it was just a bit less mobile than the United States. The OECD’s ranking was based on a somewhat conservative U.S. estimate of 47 percent income heritability; Mazumder of the Chicago Fed puts it at 50 to 60 percent, which would rank the United States either tied with the United Kingdom for last place or dead last after the United Kingdom. Thanks to a 2012 recalculation by Miles Corak, an economist at the University of Ottawa, we can now add Switzerland, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and Pakistan to the list of societies that are more mobile than the United States. (Italy and the United Kingdom were once again found to be less mobile than the United States, along with Chile, Brazil, Peru, and China.)

Growing income inequality has morbid implications, additionally.  David Cay Johnston recently found (chart, below)

Life expectancy at birth in America is now a year shorter than the average of 34 modern countries, while in 1970 it was a year longer, a detailed report just released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows...

The quality of life for older people in countries where people live longer is also generally better, the OECD report shows, which means more happiness and less cost.

So why is America falling behind?

Because, the report says, the U.S. has a “highly fragmented” health care system, millions eat a poor diet and some use illegal drugs. It also noted the effects of “adverse socio-economic conditions” caused by worsening poverty and increasing income inequality.

There is also another factor, though less important than economic factors particularly harmful to the less affluent: a health care system, inadequate nutrition, use of addictive drugs, and income inequality. Johnston adds "America also has a higher murder rate than most of the modern world, which primarily affects young people’s life expectancy."

As the Economic Policy Institute indicates, the child poverty rate,at 17.1%, is higher in the U.S.A. (as measured by the share of children living in households with household income below half of median household income) than in 25 peer countries.  And the relative poverty rate (as measured by the share of children living in households with household income below half of median household income) is higher here than in any of the other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.   The school privatization movement- led by fraudster Michelle Rhee and fueled by funding from the likes of Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, and the Gates family- is contributing to socio-economic school segregation.

The American dream of a stable and growing middle class has all but vanished.  Leave all that aside; pay no attention to that man behind the curtain (video for entertainment purposes only).  Instead, let's join Democratic politicians and the establishment pundity as they all whoop and holler.  DOMA has fallen, Proposition 8 has been overturned in California, and in Idaho on November 8, according to the L.A. Times

...  four couples filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking the right to same-sex marriage. The lawsuit covers those who were married elsewhere and want their nuptials to be legally recognized, as well as those seeking to wed.

“Like many other couples with a lifelong commitment, the unmarried plaintiffs are spouses in every sense, except that Idaho law will not allow them to marry,” according to the complaint, emailed to reporters. “In fact, under Idaho law, solemnization of their commitment without a marriage license is a crime.”

Surely, utopia is just around the corner.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fifty Years In, The Myth Persists

If you weren't already persuaded that Lee Harvey Oswald was not the lone assassin of President John F. Kennedy, this should convince you:

Lee Harvey Oswald was a communist. We know that a leftist, a communist assassinated JFK. That is the official Warren report conclusion. And yet the media cannot let go of the fact that because there were a lot of white Republican businessmen in Dallas, that it was a climate of hate, a climate of fear, a climate of extremism in Dallas that led to Kennedy's death. Every conspiracy theory that you have heard that makes you think Lee Harvey Oswald was not the assassin was started by the Democrats. Every one.

You go back and look at these wacko movies that they made with all the focus in New Orleans and you will find wacko leftist filmmakers who started all of these conspiracy theories.

As it happens, however, Rush Limbaugh is not the only one in possession of The One True Explanation.™ Politico recently asked of Robin McNeil, Jim Lehrer, and Bob Schieffer  "what do you make of the findings of the Warren Commission?"  Here are the responses, of McNeil in full and exerpts of Lehrer and Schieffer:

(McNeil): It satisfied me because I never had the time or the inclination afterward to become an assassination student or an assassination buff. I have yet to see a bit of evidence that convinces me otherwise. I thought the Oliver Stone movie was ridiculous.

(Lehrer): But I didn’t have any theories that replaced the single-man theory, shooter, and for the last 50 years, I’ve been waiting to hear that story that, OK, somebody on their death bed makes a confession that they were Lee Harvey Oswald’s driver or they helped him get the gun or whatever. That’s not happened and 50 years later, I’m pretty well satisfied that, with the absence of any provable information to the contrary, it was true that it was just one guy, Lee Harvey Oswald. And it was just unbelievable, but it happened that one man did it.

(Schieffer): .I always try to keep an open mind as to whether there may have been someone else involved in some other way. There’s no question that Fidel Castro knew that the Kennedy administration were trying to kill him and sabotage things in Cuba, but there’s never been any evidence that has been shown to me that I found conclusive that there might have been anyone other than Oswald involved.

Actually, Jim Lehrer is correct- it is unbelievable that one man did it.  Politico, as has become the norm, queried interviewees about the findings of the Warren Commission, implying that Chief Justice Warren's group has presented the official government finding.  But as Kennedy assassination scholar Bob Katz reminds us

The House Select Committee on Assassinations, headed by Robert Blakey, a former Justice Department prosecutor, was a two-year probe that included hundreds of interviews, the discovery of new evidence, scientific tests on new and old evidence, plus the most extensive review of available FBI, CIA, Secret Service and Warren Commission files. The HSCA final report stated bluntly that President Kennedy "probably was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy."

Didn't know that, huh? Not mentioned in your American history textbook? Well, why would that be?

Rarely (if ever) is anyone asked to comment on the House Select Committee on Investigations, as if the public is to assume that the Warren Commission conducted the official, and only, government investigation. The HCA in 1978 concluded

Scientific Acoustical Evidence Establishes a High Probability That Two Gunmen Fired at President John F. Kennedy; Other Scientific Evidence does not Preclude the Possibility of Two Gunmen Firing at the President; Scientific Evidence Negates Some Specific Conspiracy Allegations.

Perhaps nothing is any more remarkable that, after the Warren Commission- its findings and the committee itself- has been repeatedly debunked over the past half century, its supporters have been given a free pass while the burden of proof has been placed upon conspiracy theorists. The respondent is then expected to summon up a serious demeanor and remark that there has been no evidence presented to suggest a second gunman. And he or she does so without any hint of doubt, suggesting that all evidence has been released and put on public display. But David Talbot, founder of Salon and author, explains

We need the facts – as Jefferson Morley, one of the few journalists to devote serious effort to the Kennedy case, has demonstrated. Morley has been pursuing a lengthy Freedom of Information battle with the CIA to pry loose more than 1,500 documents that the agency is still concealing in defiance of the 1992 JFK Records Act. At long last, we need the government to come clean and provide the American people with what is legally theirs – every piece of classified information relating to the Kennedy assassination. Failing that, if the CIA continues to defy the law, the nation needs another Edward Snowden.

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Teflon Rhee

Fraud (noun):

a: a person who is not what he or she pretends to be (Merriam-Webster);
b: Michelle Rhee (not Merriam-Webster)

When then-District of Columbia Chancellor of Schools Michelle Rhee closed schools and fired teachers, it was inevitable that she would become the toast of Washington for what was widely, euphemistically, touted as "reform." It was nearly as predictable that she would appear on the cover of Time Magazine and on the Oprah Winfrey Show and draw praise from Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

And oh, the Today Show. Bob Somerby caught the propaganda piece of propaganda from NBC correspondent/news host Savannah Guthrie and Jenna Bush Hager (Somerby's critique is well worth the read.):

GUTHRIE (3/17/11): This morning on “Education Nation Today,” saving America's schools.
Michelle Rhee captured headlines as the chancellor of schools in Washington, DC, making sweeping changes and some enemies along the way. Rhee lost her job, but not her passion for education reform. “Today” contributing correspondent Jenna Bush Hager, a teacher herself, caught up with Michelle Rhee recently.

Jenna, good morning!

HAGER: Good morning. That's right. Michelle Rhee is truly a maverick in education reform. She's controversial and a courageous change-maker. And these days, as budget cuts mean teacher layoffs, Rhee is leading the fight for a quality education for every child.
Michelle Rhee may have lost her job, but she gained a mission. She continues her life's passion to fix America's broken schools with a new lobbyist group, Students First.....

HAGER: Rhee's reforms are part of a recent documentary, “Waiting for Superman.” But her firebrand approach also inspired relentless criticism and protests in Washington. (Speaking to Rhee) While you were chancellor, the union and others who protested you, calling you names such as "hatchet lady”- How could you keep a thick skin during all of that?

RHEE: For me, what was going through my mind was, You know what? You can call me whatever names you want, you can yell at me as loud as you want to, under my watch I am not going to continue to allow the absolute dysfunction.

Who is this Michelle Rhee and why does she hold this spell over the nation's movers and shakers? Bob Somerby reports a portion of the profile of Rhee in 2008 by Evan Thomas of Newsweek:

THOMAS (9/1/08): Over the next two years, working with another teacher, she took a group of 70 kids who had been scoring "at almost rock bottom on standardized tests" to "absolutely at the top," she says. (Baltimore does not keep records by classroom, so NEWSWEEK was unable to confirm this assertion.) The key to success was, in her word, "sweat," on the part of the teacher and the students. "I wouldn't say I was a great teacher. I've seen great. I worked hard," says Rhee.

She had an epiphany of sorts. In the demoralized world of inner-city schools, it is easy to become resigned to poor results—and to blame the environment, not the schools themselves. Broken families, crime, drugs, all conspire against academic achievement. But Rhee discovered that teachers could make the critical difference. "It drives me nuts when people say that two thirds of a kid's academic achievement is based on their environment. That is B.S.," says Rhee. She points to her second graders in Baltimore whose scores rose from worst to best. "Those kids, where they lived didn't change. Their parents didn't change. Their diets didn't change. The violence in the community didn't change. The only thing that changed for those 70 kids was the adults who were in front of them every single day teaching them.”

And neither, as it turns out, did their academic achievement change much. The University of Maryland Baltimore County was commissioned by the Baltimore City School System to conduct a study of seven privatized elementary schools, one of which was Harlem Park Elementary, the school at which Rhee taught. On August 2, 1995, the day after the report was released, the Baltimore Sun's Jean Thompson reported of Tesseract, the name given the the schools by their corporate owner:

THOMPSON (8/2/95): Baltimore's privately managed public schools show little difference from comparable city-run schools on test results, attendance, parent involvement—or even cleanliness, an evaluation released yesterday found.

The report, prepared by the Center for Educational Research at University of Maryland Baltimore County, represents the first outside evaluation of the closely watched Education Alternatives Inc. experiment.

While reporting few positive results in achievement, the report said, "Change takes time and there has been an investment in the first three years that can be recouped by continuation."

In scholarly terms, the study lays out EAI's academic struggle: Only in the past year has the Minnesota-based management firm improved test scores to near the levels recorded at its schools before EAI assumed control in 1991.

Researchers said that with 11.2 percent more money, with new computers and with college-educated interns in its classrooms, the firm's schools don't do significantly better than seven comparable elementary schools run by the city.

"The evaluation team found Tesseract and comparison schools more alike than different," the study says.

It adds, "The promise that EAI could improve instruction without spending more than Baltimore City was spending on schools has been discredited."
Intensely watched nationally as the largest experiment in school privatization so far, the company's "Tesseract" program—the name comes from a children's book about time travel—has spent $106 million in public funds since 1992.

This didn't inspire Rhee to object to the "outstanding success" claimed for her on the website of District of Columbia mayor Fenty nor of the nonprofit, the New Teacher Project, she headed. Nor was she deterred from telling The Washington Times' Harry Jaffe, in yet another adoring profile

The experience I had in Baltimore was I went into one of the poorest, most segregated communities in Baltimore. I taught at a school with 100 percent African-American kids, most all of them on free and reduced lunch. I was in the neighborhood where they later filmed The Wire....

In my second year of teaching, we took them from the bottom to the top on academics, and what I learned from that experience was these kids were getting screwed because people wanted to blame their low achievement levels on the single-parent households and on the poverty in the community. In that two-year period, none of those things changed. Their parents didn’t change.... (only) What we were doing with them in school.

The acclaim kept on coming, though, as Jack Gellum and Marisol Bello report today in USA Today

In just two years, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus went from a school deemed in need of improvement to a place that the District of Columbia Public Schools called one of its "shining stars."

Standardized test scores improved dramatically. In 2006, only 10% of Noyes' students scored "proficient" or "advanced" in math on the standardized tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Two years later, 58% achieved that level. The school showed similar gains in reading.

Because of the remarkable turnaround, the U.S. Department of Education named the school in northeast Washington a National Blue Ribbon School. Noyes was one of 264 public schools nationwide given that award in 2009.

Michelle Rhee, then chancellor of D.C. schools, took a special interest in Noyes. She touted the school, which now serves preschoolers through eighth-graders, as an example of how the sweeping changes she championed could transform even the lowest-performing Washington schools. Twice in three years, she rewarded Noyes' staff for boosting scores: In 2008 and again in 2010, each teacher won an $8,000 bonus, and the principal won $10,000.

But they note

A closer look at Noyes, however, raises questions about its test scores from 2006 to 2010. Its proficiency rates rose at a much faster rate than the average for D.C. schools. Then, in 2010, when scores dipped for most of the district's elementary schools, Noyes' proficiency rates fell further than average.

A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.'s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes' classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.


Among the 96 schools that were then flagged for wrong-to-right erasures were eight of the 10 campuses where Rhee handed out so-called TEAM awards "to recognize, reward and retain high-performing educators and support staff," as the district's website says. Noyes was one of these.

Rhee didn't erase anything on her own- managers know not to do the dirty work themselves but to put subtle pressure on their subordinates to do what they want done. Rhee was no exception:

From the start, Rhee emphasized a need to raise scores, restore calm to chaotic schools and close those with lagging scores and small enrollments. She paid bonuses to principals and teachers who produced big gains on scores. She let go dozens of principals and fired at least 600 teachers. Others retired or quit.

Turnover was brisk. Richard Whitmire, author of The Bee Eater, a biography of Rhee, reported that Rhee hired 1,918 teachers during her three years in office –– about 45%of those on the payroll last October. Only 2,318 current teachers had been hired before Rhee took charge.

The pressure on principals was unrelenting, says Aona Jefferson, a former D.C. principal who is now president of the Council of School Officers, representing principals and other administrators. Every year, Jefferson says, Rhee met with each principal and asked what kind of test score gains he would post in the coming school year. Jefferson says principals told her that Rhee expected them to increase scores by 10 percentile points or more every year. "What do you do when your chancellor asks, 'How many points can you guarantee this year?' " Jefferson says. "How is a principal supposed to do that?"

But the paeans to Rhee, a star of the documentary "Waiting for Superman," continue unabated. She now heads a new nonprofit, StudentsFirst, and tours the country advising such anti-worker governors as Ohio's Kasich and Florida's Scott.

Eventually, this empty suit will lose steam. But the ideas she pushes, including evaluation of teachers by student test scores and privatization of public education, will find a new spokesperson and the schoolchildren will continue to be the pawns in their political power play.

Gobs Of Money Await

You know it's not an election year when you read

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a group of state schools superintendents Friday that he found it “fascinating” that some of the opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

Those "white suburban moms" are coveted in election years, but not so much when an advocate of privatizing public education chooses them as a target.  In some contexts, invoking race- as in white suburban moms- is a fireable offense, though apparently not when the cause is one near and dear to the the heart of the private sector and, one suspects, the "socialist" Barack Obama.

Ethnic stereotyping aside, Duncan's characterization fails to meet the test of accuracy.  Bob Somerby picks up on Diane Ravitch arguing

So, contrary to the loud complaints from the reform chorus, American students are doing quite well in comparison to those of other advanced nations. Are the scores of American students falling? No. Between 1995 and 2011, the mathematics scores of our students in fourth and eighth grades increased significantly. In science, the scores did not fall; they were about the same. In reading, the scores increased from 2001 to 2011.

But that won't do.  The rationale, raison d'etre, and pretext of the education reform (i.e., for profit) movement is that public schools and their teachers are failing children.  The numbers don't bear it out; neither does the reality that socio-economic status has an enormous impact upon educational achievement. Significant also are related factors, including a large immigrant population handicapped by a language barrier and the legacy of a political system determined for generations to keep one race of people ill-educated.

It is comforting for neo-liberals to imagine, and push on the community, the idea that vouchers here, a charter school there, an end to teacher tenure over here will turn around an educational system the "reformers" are determined to convince the public is failing.  Rather, in his state, Jersey Jazzman observes (graph, below), approximately 2/3 of the discrepancy in proficiency rates across schools can be attributed to the variation in free/reduced school lunch, one indicator of relative affluence.

But the "free market"- which increasingly demands government preference and favoritism- cannot be denied. Ravitch explains the Ocean Charter school was given by the Los Angeles Unified School District

an iPad for every student, whether they want it or not.  After all, they will need the iPads for Common Core testing. Curiously, the devices cost $768 each, more than the retail price.

The iPad giveaway is a pilot run on the district's $1 billion planned purchase.

The part that puzzles me most is the cost. If the cost for Los Angeles alone is $1 billion, what will be the cost for the nation?  $50 billion? $100 billion? No wonder the big tech corporations are thrilled with the Common Core. And since the devices and the content will be obsolete in three years, how many more billions will leave America's classrooms to pay for new technology?

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Simply a Felon

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