Saturday, April 18, 2015

Tennessee pulls back from the nuttiness of designating the Bible as the state's official book


Daryl Cagle, (click to enlarge)

by Ken

So it appears that Tennessee will not, after all, designate the Bible as the state's official book. On Wednesday, the state House voted 55-38 to do just that. But as Dave Boucher reported Thursday evening for The Tennessean:
The Bible will not become the official book of Tennessee this year.

Bolstered by opposition from Republican leadership, the Senate voted 22-9 to send the Bible to committee, effectively killing the bill a day after it was adopted by the House.

"This isn't the time or place now in the full Senate floor to delve into that. We really need to look into it in committee," Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said about two hours before the vote.

Gov. Bill Haslam and Attorney General Herbert Slatery oppose the bill; Slatery recently announced he thinks the bill violates the state and federal constitutions.

Norris led the effort to kill the bill in the Senate. He asked for the bill to be sent back to the Senate Judiciary Committee to address the Slatery opinion. The Senate agreed, supporting Norris and effectively killing the bill for the year.

"I sure hope it won't pass. I think it'll be a dark day for Tennessee if it does," Norris said Wednesday.

"All I know is that I hear Satan snickering. He loves this kind of mischief. You just dumb the good book down far enough to make it whatever it takes to make it a state symbol, and you're on your way to where he wants you."

Bill sponsor Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, and other supporters argue the bill highlights the economic and historical impact of the Bible in Tennessee. The House passed the bill by a 55-38 vote Wednesday after two hours of debate over the course of two days.

"The Bible has great historical and cultural significance in the state of Tennessee," Southerland said Wednesday, at times getting emotional on the Senate floor.
On Wednesday, after the large-majority House vote in favor of the bill, the outcome didn't look nearly so sensible. To their credit, though, a host of red-blooded Tennessee conservatives got the issue right. Like the state's lieutenant governor, Ron Ramsey.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, has been outspoken in his belief that the bill belittles the Bible by placing it next to state symbols. After the vote, Ramsey heralded the decision to send the bill back to committee.

"I am a Christian, but I am also a constitutionalist and a conservative. It would be fiscally irresponsible to put the state in a position to have to spend tax dollars defending a largely symbolic piece of legislation," Ramsey said in a statement.

"We don't need to put the Bible beside salamanders, tulip poplars and 'Rocky Top' in the Tennessee Blue Book to appreciate its importance to our state."
The reference to fiscal irresponsibility is interesting, and brings me to the case made by The Frisky's Robyn Pennacchia, who wrote after the state House passage on Wednesday:
The Senate will vote on it today, and then it will go to the governor, and then if it’s passed people will sue and if it’s not we’ll have to hear about how Christians are oppressed even in the Bible Belt. I will probably have to write another goddamned blog post about it.

As much as I want to make this about the separation of church and state–and it most definitely is, even the TN state attorney general agrees with me there–there are a few things about this vote that actually bothered me more. In particular, this line from the New York Times article on the subject [actually an AP report -- Ed.].
While supporters acknowledged the likelihood of a lawsuit if the bill becomes law, some said it would be worth the expense.
Really? With 17 percent of your population living below the poverty line, this is what you think is fine to spend money on, Tennessee? Seriously? You’re one of the ten poorest states in the country, and you’re going to spend your people’s tax money on some stupid and purely symbolic gesture that people in your state will most likely only be reminded of during pub trivia?

To boot, not to be petty, but Tennessee is like, number 11 in terms of taker states. They take in far more federal tax dollars than they put out. We’re giving them money, and they are cool with spending theirs on–I don’t know, trying to make Jewish people feel unwelcome or something? You know, given how much Republican lawmakers go on and on about their fears that poor people are secretly purchasing filet mignon with their $29 a week food stamp budget, you’d think they’d oppose measures like this which barely serve any purpose other than to court lawsuits.

That’s not entirely true though. I’m going to say a pretty large part of it is also bread and circuses. These people are basically just distracting the poor white Christians in their state by going “Look at how special we think you are! You just go and ignore the fact that we have the sixth highest unemployment rate in the country, OK? Just think about how nice you’d feel if the government gave a ringing endorsement of your personal choice of religion, and about how all the mean atheists want to take that away from you! They don’t want you to be special! Look here, don’t look there!”

Notice that the other two states who have tried to advance such measures–and failed–were Mississippi and Louisiana. Both of which, I’m sorry, have a lot more important things to attend to than trying to test the boundaries of the separation of church and state with a vote on what the state book is going to be. You know, there is that saying about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Mercifully, the Tennessee Senate similarly put a stop to the madness, at least for this year. But that doesn't mean this phony-baloney issue is going to go away, and everything Robyn says here is assuredly to the point. Let's hope she doesn't have to keep saying it.

Labels: , ,

As the hustling Hucksterbee makes more candidate-like noises, we ponder: What makes Minister Mike run?


"Everywhere I go," says Minister Mike, "people tell me they hope I run." Like this guy? Has the Hucksterbee perhaps been spending too much time on the "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" circuit?

by Ken

Yesterday former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee announced that he will announce his decision whether to run for president in 2016 on May 5. Already, though, our radio fanatic Jack, who keeps us up to date on doings at the intersection between radio and politics, was passing along word that Minister Mike, now a perennial GOP presidential wannabe, was making noises like a 2016 GOP presidential wannabe.

First there was this Inside Radio report:
Huckabee Ends Radio Commentaries

Posted: Thursday, April 16, 2015

As he considers a potential presidential run, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee will end his daily radio commentaries, effective May 1. “The Huckabee Report,” which currently airs on more than 500 stations, will be available in podcast form to subscribers.

The three-times-daily commentaries were picked up by WYM Media Management in January, after Huckabee ended a six-year relationship with Westwood One. Syndicated talker and Fox News Channel contributor Mike Gallagher will replace Huckabee, starting May 4. Huckabee earlier announced he’s leaving Fox News Channel, ending his six year-old television show.

Huckabee said Wednesday morning that his daily commentaries would no longer be broadcast and hinted he was getting closer to deciding whether to make a second run for the White House. "I've had biting and tough commentary about some of the more absurd ways in which Washington defied common sense and busted our family budgets as well as in which their naive and so called smart diplomacy caused us to lose our friends' trust and gain nothing but the ridicule of our enemies," Huckabee said. “But, as I move closer to the decision to do more than talk about these concerns and do something about them, I will bring the broadcast version to a close.”

Huckabee will distribute his commentaries online as part Huckabee Exclusive, a subscription-based portal that offers daily podcasts, weekly videos and a news summary of the big stories of the week with Huckabee’s take on them.
Then there was this perspective from radio maven Tom Taylor:
Sounding like a 2016 candidate, Mike Huckabee launches a subscription site and drops his daily radio commentary

Radio’s been pretty good to the former Arkansas governor, ever since a local station helped him through college as he worked as a DJ. Nearly a year and a half ago, he ended his three-hour daily talk show with Cumulus, but kept up his thrice-daily commentaries through WYM Media and WYD Media Ad Sales (December 17 NOW). The latest from Arkansas Online is that Huckabee’s leaving the short-form business at the end of this month, and that WYM will replace him with Mike Gallagher’s “Gallagher Online,” starting May 4. Huckabee says “Everywhere I go, people tell me they hope I run [for president], but they miss the television show and would miss my being on radio, if my candidacy caused it to cease as well.” He says “that’s why I have launched the Huckabee Exclusive,” costing $7.95 a month or about $60 a year. That keeps him from running afoul of the FCC’s equal time rule for broadcasting – and gives him a new revenue stream. He reportedly felt that his 2008 Presidential run was hampered by a lack of funds. Meanwhile, Huckabee’s about to be a radio station owner. The March 16 NOW had the story about Huckabee buying stations through the new Bluff City Radio group, in which Mike’s a minority partner. Bluff City’s buying AC “K-Train” KTRN (104.5) in Pine Bluff, plus construction permits for three new FMs.
At the mention of that $7.95-a-month "Hucksterbee Exclusive," Jack asks: "What kind of nuts are going to pay for that?"

A fair question, but I take it back a step and ask, what kind of nuts think the Hucksterbee has a shot at the 2016 GOP presidential nomination? Or, for that matter, most of the other GOP nutters making candidate-like noises for 2016 -- in the grand tradition of the Band of Nutters who comprised the never-to-be-forgotten (however-hard-we-may-try) 2012 GOP presidential field?

It puts me in mind of this recent Borowitz Report:

LOUISVILLE (The Borowitz Report)—With an official announcement on his campaign Web site, Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) has joined a crowded field of people who will never be elected President in their lifetimes.

While Paul and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) are the only officially announced Republican candidates with a zero-per-cent chance of ever winning the Presidency, a burgeoning roster of totally pointless candidacies is waiting in the wings.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and neurosurgeon Ben Carson are just a few of the men thought to be considering squandering time and money pursuing an office that they will never occupy in a billion years.

On the Democratic side, only former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has stepped forward as someone who could only be elected to the White House in an alternate universe.

Minutes after his announcement, aides to Senator Paul said that they believed that he would emerge as the top choice of voters who are determined to waste their votes in 2016.

“There’s no one out there who has a more remote chance of being elected, unless Trump decides to run,” one aide said.
Well, I'm here to say that Minister Mike has every bit as remote a chance as the Rand Man. No, I'm going to say remoter. And he's someone who might at some point be talked to by other, less remotely chanced GOP candidates, since the Rand Man with his crypto-libertarian views has access to a slice of the GOP voter base that the other candidates don't. At this point does anyone really believe that Minister Mike can bring any significant amount of support from his supposed evangelical base to the dance?

But I guess for all these nutters who crawl out of the woodwork to preen as GOP presidential wannabes -- yes, even for The Donald -- there's the upside of a kind of national attention they can't get any other way, which might at some point lead to other opportunities, without any real downside, unless you count the possibility of making a disastrous fool of your candidatorial self. But then, how big a price did one of 2012's most celebrated GOP candidate fails, then Texas Gov. Rick Perry, suffer? After all, is he not pretending to be a serious 2016 candidate, and are there not media hucksters on call to explain to us why it could really happen?

Meanwhile, all those commentating gigs Minister Mike is having to separate himself from in anticipation of another run, would he have had those if he hadn't invented himself as a presidential couldbe? So maybe it's not so much politics per se as politics-as-bizniz?

Labels: , , , , ,

James Surowiecki wonders about the failure to rein in out-of-control CEO pay, and reaches a conclusion that may surprise you


"[T]he failure of say-on-pay suggests that shareholders and boards genuinely believe that outsized C.E.O. remuneration holds the key to corporate success."
-- James Surowiecki, in "Why C.E.O. Pay Reform Failed"

by Ken

Remember, not so long ago, when the issue of outlandish, and ever outlandisher, executive pay was a burning issue, or at least an issue, in the land? What ever happened to all that outrage? In his latest New Yorker "Financial Page" column (April 20), James Surowiecki looks at the question Why C.E.O. Pay Reform Failed."

Our James begins by pointing out that now, in the heart of corporate shareholder meeting season,
American companies will engage in a quaint ritual: the shareholder meeting. Investors will have a chance to vent about performance and to offer resolutions on corporate policy. Many will also get to do something relatively novel: cast an advisory vote on the pay packages of C.E.O.s and other top executives. This power, known as “say-on-pay,” became law in 2010, as part of the Dodd-Frank bill. In the wake of the financial crisis, which amplified anger about exorbitant C.E.O. salaries, reformers looking for ways to rein in the practice seized on say-on-pay, which the United Kingdom adopted in 2002. The hope was that the practice would, as Barack Obama once put it, help in “restoring common sense to executive pay.”
"Say-on-pay," James notes, "is the latest in a series of reforms that, in the past couple of decades, have tried to change the mores of the executive suite.
For most of the twentieth century, directors were paid largely in cash. Now, so that their interests will be aligned with those of shareholders, much of their pay is in stock. Boards of directors were once populated by corporate insiders, family members, and cronies of the C.E.O. Today, boards have many more independent directors, and C.E.O.s typically have less influence over how boards run. And S.E.C. reforms since the early nineteen-nineties have forced companies to be transparent about executive compensation.

These reforms were all well-intentioned. But their effect on the general level of C.E.O. salaries has been approximately zero. Executive compensation dipped during the financial crisis, but it has risen briskly since, and is now higher than it’s ever been. Median C.E.O. pay among companies in the S. & P. 500 was $10.5 million in 2013; total compensation is up more than seven hundred per cent since the late seventies. There’s little doubt that the data for 2014, once compiled, will show that C.E.O. compensation has risen yet again. And shareholders, it turns out, rather than balking at big pay packages, approve most of them by margins that would satisfy your average tinpot dictator. Last year, all but two per cent of compensation packages got majority approval, and seventy-four per cent of them received more than ninety per cent approval.


"Simply put," James says, "they targeted the wrong things."
People are justifiably indignant about cronyism and corruption in the executive suite, but these aren’t the main reasons that C.E.O. pay has soared. If they were, leaving salary decisions up to independent directors or shareholders would have made a greater difference. As it is, studies find that when companies hire outside C.E.O.s—people who have no relationship with the board—they get paid more than inside hires and more than their predecessors, too. Four years of say-on-pay have shown us that ordinary shareholders are pretty much as generous as boards are. And even companies with a single controlling shareholder, who ought to be able to dictate terms, don’t seem to pay their C.E.O.s any less than other companies.
Are you getting this? The people directly affected by crazy CEO salaries, surprisingly independent corporate boards and of course the shareholders themselves, are A-OK with the salaries they're shelling out to supposedly star CEOs. Why? Because, says James, "Just about everyone involved now assumes that talent is rarer than ever, and that only outsize rewards can lure suitable candidates and insure stellar performance." And it doesn't seem to matter that "evidence for these propositions is sketchy at best."

James turns to Southwestern Law School corporate-law professor Michael Dorff, author of the new book Indispensable and Other Myths.
Dorff told me that, with large, established companies, “it’s very hard to show that picking one well-qualified C.E.O. over another has a major impact on corporate performance.” Indeed, a major study by the economists Xavier Gabaix and Augustin Landier, who happen to believe that current compensation levels are economically efficient, found that if the company with the two-hundred-and-fiftieth-most-talented C.E.O. suddenly managed to hire the most talented C.E.O. its value would increase by a mere 0.016 per cent.


Professor Dorff tosses another disclaimer into the issue of rightful CEO compensation: "that performance pay is overrated."
For a start, it’s often tied to things that C.E.O.s have very limited control over, like stock price. Furthermore, as he put it, “performance pay works great for mechanical tasks like soldering a circuit but works poorly for tasks that are deeply analytic or creative.” After all, paying someone ten million dollars isn’t going to make that person more creative or smarter. One recent study, by Philippe Jacquart and J. Scott Armstrong, puts it bluntly: “Higher pay fails to promote better performance.”

"So," says James, "the situation is a strange one."
The evidence suggests that paying a C.E.O. less won’t dent the bottom line, and can even boost it. Yet the failure of say-on-pay suggests that shareholders and boards genuinely believe that outsized C.E.O. remuneration holds the key to corporate success.
Lurking here, James suggests, may be "the powerful mystique" of a smattering of "truly transformative C.E.O.s" like Apple's Steve Jobs. "But, more fundamentally," he says, "there’s little economic pressure to change: big as the amounts involved are, they tend to be dwarfed by today’s corporate profits." (The emphasis here is mine.)
Big companies now have such gargantuan market caps that a small increase in performance is worth billions. So whether or not the people who sit on compensation committees can accurately predict C.E.O. performance—Dorff argues that they can’t—they’re happy to spend an extra five or ten million dollars in order to get the person they want. That means C.E.O. pay is likely to keep going in only one direction: up.
Call it Christmas in April.

Labels: ,

2016 Congressional Races-- The State Of Play


A new Cook rating of House seats portends another DCCC failure coming up in 2016 despite the best possible climate for Democratic candidates for House seats. Cook calls 211 seats "solid Republican" while only 169 seats are solidly Democratic. Caveat, Cook is a generally poor source for accurate, timely information. Example: Cook calls CA-25 "solid Republican" despite its being represented by an extremist freshman, Steve Knight, and despite the fact that as of this year CA-25 has, for the first time, a Democratic Party voter edge. Cook also awards Ileana Ros Lehtinen a solid Republican seat (FL-27) despite Obama's 53-47% win over Romney in the demographically shfting district. Cook's analysis mislabels numerous districts from Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Virginia to New York and New Jersey.

Cook lists 19 Democratic seats and 36 Republican-held seats as the most likely to flip. Here's the list of vulnerable Democratic seats:
NE-02- Brad Ashford (Blue Dog)
FL-18 [Patrick Murphy, not running]
AZ-01- Ann Kirkpatrick (New Dem)
CA-07- Ami Bera (New Dem)
CA-52- Scott Peters (New Dem)
FL-02- Gwen Graham (Blue Dog)
MN-08- Rick Nolan
AZ-09- Kyrsten Sinema (Blue Dog)
CA-16- Jim Costa (Blue Dog)
CA-24 [Lois Capps, not running]
CA-26 Julia Brownley
CA-36- Raul Ruiz
CT-05- Elizabeth Esty (New Dem)
IA-02- Dave Loebsack
MD-06- John Delaney (New Dem)
MN-07- Collin Peterson (Blue Dog)
NY-04- Kathleen Rice (New Dem)
NY-18- Sean Patrick Maloney (New Dem)
NY-25- Louise Slaughter
Please note that of the 19 vulnerable Democratic seats, only 3 are held by Democrats who reliably vote for progressive ideas and values: Louise Slaughter, Dave Loebsack and Rick Nolan. The rest are a rancid collection of ConservaDems, almost all of whom have joined the Blue Dogs and/or the New Dems. All of them will be hysterical as November 2016 approaches and Democratic voters sniff their putrid records and opt not to vote in their races. These 16 are the "Boehner boys" who are always giving the GOP license to call their reactionary agenda "bipartisan." Many of the 16 will be high up on the DCCC's priority list. Contribute to the DCCC and you are contributing to the reelection campaigns of fake Dems who virtually always vote with the GOP when it matters, like Sean Patrick Maloney, Jim Costa, Kyrsten Sinema, Gwen Graham, Brad Ashford, Scott Peters...

If you want to contribute to progressives running for Congress, forget the DCCC. You can contribute on this Blue America page instead.

Labels: , ,

Friday, April 17, 2015

An eighth-grader can't wear an incendiary T-shirt like this in a class photo, can she?


Apparently she can't in Owensville, Ohio, where her school principal ordered the T-shirt Photoshopped out. (Sophie, the student in question, supplied this photo of herself holding the T-shirt to the website Women You Should Know.)

by Ken

Just this afternoon in my previous post I was reduced to spluttering in the face of the continued misunderstanding emanating from the Vatican, which doesn't quite get that female people are people just like male people are. Of course the Vatican isn't alone. The Vatican motto enshrined by Pope John Paul II and Pope Cardinal Ratguts, and apparently now tolerated by Pope Francis, is "Them Bitches Be Hos." They're okay to cook and clean, and of course to bear children, for which purpose it's even okay to have s*x with them. But otherwise, they're just accessories.

In case you were wondering why it matters that an organization as influential as the Catholic Church champions the mental deformity that produces this bullshit, we have a case in point this week coming out of Ohio. For once, thank goodness, it's not a case of rape or other violence perpetrated against a woman. But it's pretty appalling nonetheless, not least for being perpetrated by a school.

Since I was extremely un-confident about an embedded version of this clip loading, I'll suggest that you watch it onsite.

A picture is supposed to be worth a thousand words, but sometimes it's what's not in the picture that sends the words flying. As with the eighth-grade photo from Clermont Northeastern Middle School in Owensville, Ohio, in which the principal had a T-shirt with the word "FEMINIST" worn by a student in the front row Photoshopped out, apparently because it might cause controversy -- or even "upset" some people.

Here's Ian Millhiser reporting the story for ThinkProgress:
An eighth grade student at Clermont Northeastern Middle School in Batavia, Ohio wore a black T-shirt on class photo day which included the word “FEMINIST” written across the shirt in white letters. Yet, while the shirt does not violate any school rule and the student has worn it to classes before, the school chose to doctor her class photo to remove the word.

According to the site Women You Should Know, which identifies the student as “Sophie,” Sophie asked principal Kendra Young why the word “FEMINIST” was removed from her shirt in the class photo that was distributed to students, and was told that “the photographer called me and brought it to my attention and I made the decision to black it out because some people might find it offensive.”

Principal Young has reportedly apologized to Sophie for doctoring her shirt, and Young also offered to provide Sophie with an unaltered copy of the class picture. According to a local news report, however, the doctored photo is displayed within the school.

And here's a more detailed account provided by the student's mother, Christine, to the website Women You Should Know:
A couple of weeks ago Sophie wore a t-shirt to school that she had made that said “FEMINIST.” She wore the shirt all day without any issues. It also happened to be the day the 8th grade class pictures were taken.

On Monday, the pictures were handed out to the students and Sophie sees the photo and notices that the word FEMINIST had been blacked out on her shirt. Sophie went to the school principal, Mrs. Young, to find out why this happened. Mrs. Young said, “the photographer called me and brought it to my attention and I made the decision to black it out because some people might find it offensive.”

A friend of Sophie’s called me and I went to the school. Mrs. Young walked out and wouldn’t talk to me about what had happened. I have emailed her twice and she has yet to contact me at all.

Sophie was not violating dress code, she was not inappropriately dressed. Being a feminist is not a bad thing. She should be allowed to express herself.

She just wants everyone to be treated equally. That’s it. The end. She thinks everyone should be treated kindly and with love and that we should all have the same rights. Merriam Webster’s definition of feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal opportunities. Most people, especially in this area, seem to think feminism and misandry go hand and hand and that’s a common misconception. You can still love men and be a feminist. You can still be a homemaker and be a feminist. That’s where we are with this. We just want equality.

I am completely dumbfounded by the situation. I’m upset that the principal won’t speak to me or return my emails regarding the situation. I would think she would want our involvement. I’m just shocked by how the entire thing is being handled.
Wednesday afternoon, the same blogpost reports Christine provided this update:
I actually had a meeting with Mrs. Young (the one who blacked out the shirt) today. She apologized to me profusely, of course, after the local news station called her this morning! She asked me if we were good? I told her she needed to apologize to Sophie and ask her that question. She seemed dumbfounded by that. So she called Sophie down to the office. She apologized to Sophie and asked “What do you want from this?” Sophie replied, “I want everyone to realize that we NEED feminism. I want you to have someone come into the school and educate everyone about feminism. I want us to go to the news station together and show the people that we are working together the make this school and our community and better place for everyone. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.” I was so proud of her. She never once said I want a public apology or anything like that. She just wants to give to others. She is such a great kid.
Surely of all people a school principal, charged with educating the students under her oversight, should understand that if there are people who are violently upset by the mere word "feminism," then the one person whose problem it isn't is the student wearing the T-shirt. It's certainly the problem of any such people who would have made a stink about it, but the solution is for them to get over it -- or go the hell back where they came from, which can't possibly be the U.S.A. And I guess it's a problem for the school and for society insofar as we allow censorship merely to coddle their diseased sensibilities and deformed understanding of how our country is designed to work.

Labels: , , , , ,

The Vatican calls an early end to -- but doesn't abandon -- the old regime's inquisition into American nuns


NYT caption: "Pope Francis met with a delegation from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious at the Vatican on Thursday. Pool photo by L'Osservatore Romano"

"Women are not capable, in the Vatican's mind, of governing others or even themselves. Is it any wonder so many nuns have left the orders or avoided joining them? Who wants to be bullied?"
-- Garry Wills, writing in NYRB in 2012

by Ken

As of now, it looks as if you can choose your spin on the Vatican's sudden wrapping up, two years ahead of schedule, of its inquisition into the bad behavior of American nuns, which most rational observers was the only organized part of the Catholic Church that could be seen pursuing Jesus's mission under the increasingly medieval papacies of Pope Francis's predecessors, the monstrous John Paul II and the even more monstrous Pope Cardinal Ratguts.

It seems clear that the present pope wanted the matter put to rest, and it's perfectly plausible that if the inquisition, pushed elements of the unspeakably vile scum that had accumulated power under the authority of John Paul II and Ratguts, had proceeded to term under the regime of a pope in the same mold -- some of whom, like the unspeakable Cardinal Raymond Burke, have in fact been purged by Pope Francis -- the results would have been worse, that those people would have known how to really put those uppity bitches in their place.

As it is, however, it looks to me as if the reactionaries have gotten an awful lot of what they were crusading for, and the uppity bitches have indeed been put in their place.


Laurie Goodstein's report, headlined "Vatican Ends Battle With U.S. Catholic Nuns' Group," sees sweetness and light emanating from Pope Francis's happy-days Vatican.
The Vatican has abruptly ended its takeover of the main leadership group of American nuns two years earlier than expected, allowing Pope Francis to put to rest a confrontation started by his predecessor that created an uproar among American Catholics who had rallied to the sisters’ defense.

Anticipating a visit by Francis to the United States in the fall, the Vatican and the American bishops were eager to resolve an episode that was seen by many Catholics as a vexing and unjust inquisition of the sisters who ran the church’s schools, hospitals and charities.

Under the previous pope, Benedict XVI, the Vatican’s doctrinal office had appointed three bishops in 2012 to overhaul the nuns’ group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, out of concerns that it had hosted speakers and published materials that strayed from Catholic doctrine on such matters as the all-male priesthood, birth control and sexuality, and the centrality of Jesus to the faith.

But Francis has shown in his two-year papacy that he is less interested in having the church police doctrinal boundaries than in demonstrating mercy and love for the poor and vulnerable — the very work that most of the women’s religious orders under investigation have long been engaged in.

Ending the standoff with the nuns is one of several course corrections that Francis has set in motion. He has also worked on reforming the Vatican Curia, the Vatican’s central administration, instituting tighter oversight of Vatican finances, and has created a commission to deal with sexual abuse by clergy members.

He has made no changes in doctrine — on Wednesday, he reiterated the church’s teaching that marriage can be only between a man and a woman — but Catholics worldwide say he has done much to make the church’s tone more welcoming.

On Thursday, that included calling an unexpected meeting with four of the leaders of the Leadership Conference. The four women were photographed in his office and said afterward in a statement that they were “deeply heartened” by Francis’ “expression of appreciation” for the lives and ministry of Catholic sisters.

“He met with them himself for almost an hour, and that’s an extravagant amount of papal time,” said Eileen Burke-Sullivan, a theologian and consultant for women’s religious orders and vice provost for mission and ministry at Creighton University, a Jesuit school in Omaha. “It’s about as close to an apology, I would think, as the Catholic Church is officially going to render.”

Francis has never talked explicitly in public about the imbroglio with American nuns. But he has spoken about creating “broader opportunities” for women in the church, and the value of nuns and priests in religious orders. He is a member of the Jesuit order.
A clear signal that the Vatican under Francis was taking a more conciliatory approach to American sisters came in December with the announcement of the conclusion of another, separate investigation of American women’s orders, which was known as an apostolic visitation. That process involved sending questionnaires to 350 religious communities and teams of “visitors” to 90 of them, asking about everything from their prayer practices to living arrangements.

Both of these investigations of American women’s religious orders began at the urging of American and some foreign prelates who accused the sisters of disobeying the bishops and departing from Catholic doctrine. It set off protests by Catholic laypeople across the country, who signed petitions and sent letters to the Vatican in defense of the sisters. . . .


Cathy Lynn Grossman's report, headlined "Pope Francis to keep Vatican reins tight on U.S. nuns," begins:
The honeymoon between progressive Catholics in the USA and Pope Francis -- cheered for his humble ways and dedication to the poor -- may have ended Monday when he "reaffirmed" last year's stinging rebuke of most U.S. nuns.

Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group of religious order leaders who represent 57,000 American nuns and sisters, were told Pope Francis supports the Vatican takeover of the LCWR initiated by Pope Benedict XVI last year.

A controversial report issued last spring by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) ripped into the sisters for allegedly spending more energy on social justice causes than on promoting church doctrine and for espousing "radical feminism."

In June, Archbishop James Peter Sartain, archbishop of Seattle, and two other bishops were assigned to revamp the group's structure and programming. Although the sisters called the original CDF report a "scandal" based on "misconceptions," their members voted in August to prayerfully participate in the Vatican-run governing structure while maintaining what they called "mission integrity."

Monday, the nuns' top leaders and Sartain met with Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller, head of the CDF, in Rome. Muller told them that while the pope "expressed his gratitude" for their contributions to "schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor," Francis also "reaffirmed" the Vatican takeover.

Muller told the sisters their job is to promote "cooperation" with local bishops and bishops' conferences, according to Religion News Service.

After Monday's meeting, the LCWR issued a statement calling their conversation "open and frank." . . .


Because this is one of the eye-poppingest smackdowns of the Ratguts regime. I wrote a couple of posts about it in May 2012 (most recently this one), heavily under the influence of a remarkable New York Review of Books blogpost by Garry Wills, later published in the NYRB of June 7, 2012, "Bullying the Nuns," which I had reposted here, in which, as I wrote, Wills "stood up for American nuns under attack by the Vatican (its dirty work done by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' designated pit bull, Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain)."

The Wills piece, I recalled, began:
The Vatican has issued a harsh statement claiming that American nuns do not follow their bishops' thinking. That statement is profoundly true. Thank God, they don't. Nuns have always had a different set of priorities from that of bishops. The bishops are interested in power. The nuns are interested in the powerless. Nuns have preserved Gospel values while bishops have been perverting them. The priests drive their own new cars, while nuns ride the bus (always in pairs). The priests specialize in arrogance, the nuns in humility.
As I wrote, "I reread the piece when I plucked the [June 7 NYRB] out of the mailbox, and it seems to me if anything more remarkable than it did orignally, and as always with Garry Wills, it defies -- no, positively mocks at -- the impulse to compress. It includes, among many other things, a stunning tribute to his seventh-grade teacher -- 'Sister John Joseph when I met her, but she recovered her real name after the [Second Vatican] Council, and as Anne O’Connor congratulated me on anything I wrote,' having 'kept in touch with me for all the years until her death in 1996."

If, as it appears, the Vatican has knuckled under to the troglodytes, and returned to the John Paul II-Ratguts attitude toward women, "Them Bitches Be Hos," it might help them begin to develop a glimmering of the appropriate sense of shame to reread Wills's tribute to his old teacher.
Anne O'Connor was just the kind of nun the Vatican is now intent on punishing. She had been a social worker before she became a nun, work that she loved and went back to several times as a Dominican. She was quick to shed the old habit (which was designed to disguise the fact that there was a woman somewhere in that voluminous disguising of hair, breasts, and hips), and quick to take back her own name. After she took on several high offices in her order, she became the mother provincial of the California branch of the Dominican order during the 1960s, coping with the changes of that volatile era on her college campuses.

Now the Vatican says that nuns are too interested in "the social Gospel" (which is the Gospel), when they should be more interested in Gospel teachings about abortion and contraception (which do not exist). Nuns were quick to respond to the AIDS crisis, and to the spiritual needs of gay people-- which earned them an earlier rebuke from Rome. They were active in the civil rights movement. They ran soup kitchens.
"This," I wrote, "is vintage Garry Wills, reminding us seemingly offhandedly that what the bishops are denouncing as 'the social Gospel' is in fact the Gospel, whereas the things that now obsess the Church fathers and their bully-bishops, like abortion and contraception, have never had any place in the actual Gospel." Small wonder, then, that the Vatican, as Wills wrote --
stripped the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, representing most American nuns, of its powers of self-government, maintaining that its members have made statements that "disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals." Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle has taken control of the Conference, writing new laws for it, supplanting its leadership, and banning "political" activity (which is what Rome calls social work). Women are not capable, in the Vatican's mind, of governing others or even themselves. Is it any wonder so many nuns have left the orders or avoided joining them? Who wants to be bullied?
I hope American Catholics, and American Catholic women in particular, are paying close attention.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Fast Track Introduced into Senate & House; Wyden Proud of His Role


More true than you know; China wins big if TPP passes (source)

by Gaius Publius

What we anticipated has occurred. Fast Track, the necessary precursor to the TPP (next-NAFTA) "trade" agreement, has been introduced into the Senate and the House. They're calling it the Hatch-Wyden-Ryan bill, and well they should. ("Ryan" is Paul Ryan, by the way.)

Bottom lines first:
  • Wyden should lose his job over this, and may.
  • All of Obama's "good guy" cred is falling fast. Anyone who "gets" TPP knows he's cashing out or selling out. (Polite talk is that he believes his own BS.)
  • The battle is on, starting in the Senate.
  • The bill will have a very tough time in the House, thanks to progressives and Republicans both working to defeat it.
Scan the headings below for sections you want to explore further. This is still being analyzed.

The News

From the House announcement page (Paul Ryan "speaking"):
Hatch, Wyden and Ryan Introduce Trade Promotion Authority Legislation

Finance, Ways and Means Leaders Deliver Bill Needed to Achieve High-Quality Trade Deals that Open Markets, Benefit American Workers and Job Creators

WASHINGTON — Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) today introduced bipartisan, bicameral Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation that establishes concrete rules for international trade negotiations to help the United States deliver strong, high-standard trade agreements that will boost American exports and create new economic opportunities and better jobs for American workers, manufacturers, farmers, ranchers and entrepreneurs.

The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (TPA-2015) outlines 21st century congressional negotiating objectives that any administration— Republican or Democratic—must follow when entering into and conducting trade talks with foreign countries while also increasing transparency by requiring that Congress have access to important information surrounding pending trade deals and that the public receive detailed updates and see the full details of trade agreements well before they are signed. When the trade agreement meets the United States’ objectives and Congress is sufficiently consulted, the legislation allows for trade deals to be submitted to Congress for an up-or-down vote, an incentive for negotiating nations to put their best offer forward for any deal. At the same time, the bill creates a new mechanism to withdraw TPA procedures and hold the administration accountable should it fail to meet the requirements of TPA. ...

TPA-2015 creates a stronger, more effective framework for Congress to partner with an administration in the pursuit of trade agreements that meets the demands of the 21st century global economy—a framework that ensures Congress has a strong voice in negotiations.

The bill establishes new trade-negotiating objectives that reflect today’s economic challenges, including measures to combat currency manipulation, and eliminate barriers to innovation and digital trade, among others. Updated provisions address government involvement in cyber theft, protect trade secrets and the negotiating objectives continue to call for trade agreements to provide a high standard of intellectual property protection. The bill also updates [unenforceable] provisions to promote human rights, and strengthen labor and environment protection, to reflect America’s most recent trade accords.

Furthermore, TPA-2015 modifies TPA procedures to enhance accountability of the Executive Branch and further strengthen congressional oversight and creates a new mechanism for the removal of expedited procedures for a trade agreement if, in the judgment of either the House or Senate, that agreement does not meet the requirements of TPA.

The TPA bill comes as the two of the most ambitious trade negotiations in the nation’s history —the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP)—are underway to further tear down trade barriers to American goods and services. According to data from the World Bank, together these two trade agreements would further open markets encompassing nearly 1.3 billion customers and approximately 60 percent of global gross domestic product.

TPA expired in 2007 and is needed for the United States to successfully conclude these negotiations.

A summary the bill can be found here, section-by-section summary of bill here and a copy of the bill text can be found here.
Hope you skimmed, though there's some telling stuff in it. Now you know.

The Response

Lori Wallach, the go-to person on TPP, responds:
The trade authority bill introduced today would revive the controversial Fast Track procedures to which nearly all U.S. House of Representatives Democrats and a sizable bloc of House Republicans already have announced opposition. Most of the text of this bill replicates word-for-word the text of the 2014 Fast Track bill, which itself replicated much of the 2002 Fast Track bill. Public Citizen calls on Congress to again oppose the outdated, anti-democratic Fast Track authority as a first step to replacing decades of “trade” policy that has led to the loss of millions of middle-class jobs and the rollback of critical public interest safeguards.

In the past 21 years, Fast Track authority has been authorized only once by Congress – from 2002 to 2007. In 1998, the U.S. House of Representatives voted down Fast Track for President Bill Clinton, with 71 GOP members joining 171 House Democrats. ...

Instead of establishing a new “exit ramp [from Fast Track rules],” the bill literally replicates the same impossible conditions from past Fast Track bills that make the “procedural disapproval” mechanism to remove an agreement from Fast Track unusable. A resolution to do so [exit Fast Track] must be approved by both the Senate Finance and the House Ways and Means committees and then be passed by both chambers within 60 days.
What about Wyden's bragged-about modifications?
The bill’s only new feature in this respect is a new “consultation and compliance” procedure that would only be usable after an agreement was already signed and entered into, at which point changes to the pact could be made only if all other negotiating parties agreed to reopen negotiations and then agreed to the changes (likely after extracting further concessions from the United States). That process would require approval by 60 Senators to take a pact off of Fast Track consideration, even though a simple majority “no” vote in the Senate would have the same effect on an agreement. In contrast, the 1988 Fast Track empowered either the House Ways and Means or the Senate Finance committees to vote by simple majority to remove a pact from Fast Track consideration, with no additional floor votes required. And, such a disapproval action was authorized before a president could sign and enter into a trade agreement.
And what about that Wyden bragging?

Wyden Brags About His Role

In a letter to supporters, Wyden proudly wrote:
This new TPA framework means that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will represent a real opportunity for workers in Oregon and around the country.
This may, or will, come back to bite him. Oregon has a struggling wood-products industry. And:
To that end, I helped secure critical [unenforceable] protections for labor rights, the environment, and fundamental human rights as part of the TPA .... On balance this agreement represents trade done right for workers and businesses here in Oregon and all across America.
Keep that in mind, Mr. Wyden. If it bites you, it came from your words. The list of those noticing is not small.

What Are the Odds of Passage?

They seem "long." Wallach:
Today’s bill faces long odds for approval. Members of Congress who supported past trade initiatives have been angered by the extreme secrecy of TPP negotiations and the administration’s refusal to include currency disciplines in the pact.
I was part of a conversation recently that included several members of Congress on this topic. The Democratic opposition is strong and strongly felt. And the Republican opposition seems to be growing. Alan Grayson, in an interview conducted in January and broadcast in February, concurred (jump to 41:20 for the TPP comments).

I count the odds as long as well, but this issue is big for both sides, meaning there are major dollars at stake. Assume circumstances could change much as we move forward.

Mark Pocan — One of Many Opposed

Mark Pocan is one of many who opposed Fast Track. His office release the following (my emphasis):
Pocan Opposes Fast-Track Trade Promotion Authority Plan

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) today issued the following statement on the Trade Promotion Authority proposal introduced by U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI):

“This Trade Promotion Authority Bill repeats the trade mistakes of the past and fails to provide critical protections for American workers, the environment, and our overall economy.

“The Hatch-Wyden proposal puts the paychecks of hardworking Americans on the line. Over the last three decades, in large part because of bad trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA, Americans have worked harder than ever for less. In fact, hundreds of thousands of jobs – factory jobs, middle-class jobs – in states across the country were lost. Anyone who does not see the connection between our economy and the failed trade agreements of the past will remain on the wrong side of the future. We cannot let history repeat itself by pushing a Trade Promotion Authority bill which paves the road for an agreement which undermines American sovereignty and puts our workers’ wages and jobs at risk.

“If passed, Fast-Track would ram through trade agreements, negotiated in secret, through Congress without giving Members of Congress sufficient time to debate and limits Congress’ ability to make amendments. Essentially, this Fast-Track proposal provides carte blanche to the President and the U.S. Trade Representative on trade matters, while tying Congress’ hands.

“With still too many questions left unanswered and a history of broken trade promises, Congress should not give away its constitutional authority to the President – regardless of party. I urge my colleagues to oppose this trade promotion legislation because it does not do enough to protect American workers, our environment, and our economy.”
Pocan is one of many. Note that "regardless of party" part. The resistance is bipartisan, and the reasons on the Republican side are many. Please lobby your Congress people; then be hopeful. More coming.


Labels: , ,

Wisconsin Is In Play-- But No One Has Told The DCCC


Republicans are afraid that unless their nominee wins a couple of blue states, they're doomed to another painful Electoral College defeat. New Jersey voters have made it clear that there's no way their governor, Chris Christie, will get their votes. Most New Jersey voters say he's unfit to be president. Christie says even if he loses New Jersey's 14 electoral votes, he can still pick up New Hampshire (4 votes) and Pennsylvania (20 votes). Pennsylvania shares a lot of media coverage with much of New Jersey and Christie says that's why he will win the state. Except the New Jersey consumers of that media-- or nearly 70% of them-- say he shouldn't be president. The last time Pennsylvania gave its 20 electoral votes to a Republican was 7 elections ago-- 1988-- despite floods of baseless Republican optimism every four years.

It's been even longer since Wisconsin awarded its electoral votes (10) to a Republican. The last time was Reagan's 49-state 1988 reelection sweep. But Governor Scott Walker, Republicans crow, will change that. A new poll from Marquette Law School indicates that Walker would be far from a shoo-in. In fact, if the election were held today, Hillary Clinton would beat him 52-40%. Walker's job approval rating has slipped from 49% in October 2014 to 41% now. It appears that 2016 is not going to be a good year for Wisconsin Republicans. Russ Feingold is leading right-wing nut Rom Johnson 54-38%. Feingold's favorability rating is 47% and Johnson's is 32% and, by way of comparison, the other incumbent, Tammy Baldwin, has a 36% favorable rating.
Voters’ views of the direction of the state have taken a downturn since October. Fifty-three percent say that the state is now on the wrong track while 43 percent say the state is headed in the right direction. In October, 51 percent of registered voters said the state was headed in the right direction while 44 percent said it was on the wrong track.

Voters also see the state’s employment situation as turning down compared to other states, with 52 percent saying that Wisconsin is lagging behind other states in job creation, 34 percent saying that the state is doing about the same as other states and 8 percent saying that the state is creating jobs faster than other states. In October, 42 percent said the state was lagging, 38 percent said about the same and 13 percent said Wisconsin was creating jobs faster.

Opinion about the state’s budget situation has also turned more negative, with 38 percent saying the budget picture is worse than several years ago, 25 percent saying it is about the same and 33 percent saying it is better now. In October, 27 percent said the budget was worse, 23 percent about the same and 44 percent saying it was better than a few years ago.

Voters are opposed to a number of cuts proposed by the Walker budget. Seventy-eight percent oppose cutting $127 million from the K-12 public school budget, while 18 percent support the proposal. Seventy percent oppose cutting $300 million from the University of Wisconsin System budget; 26 percent support this.

Sixty percent oppose making the Natural Resources Board an advisory-only board, while 30 percent support that change.

...Voters were asked their view of the recently passed “right to work” legislation, with a question that provided two arguments frequently made by supporters of the legislation and two arguments frequently made by opponents. The order of supporting and opposing arguments was randomized, so that about half of respondents heard the supporting arguments first and about half heard the opposing arguments first. The question text was:

Recently the state adopted a “right to work” law that says workers in private companies cannot be required to pay union dues as a condition of employment. Supporters say the law will increase workers’ options to work where they wish and make Wisconsin more attractive for business. Opponents say the law will weaken unions and drive down pay scales for everyone. Do you support or oppose this new law?

Forty-four percent say they support the law while 50 percent say they oppose it, with 5 percent saying they don’t know.

Thirty-four percent of registered voters say that they would like to see Walker run for president while 62 percent would not like him to run. In October 2014, 26 percent wanted him to run and 68 percent did not.  Among those who consider themselves either Republicans or independents leaning toward the Republican Party, 66 percent support a Walker presidential bid, with 29 percent opposed; in October 2014 just 44 percent favored a run with 48 percent opposed.

Asked whether any governor can run for president and still handle his or her duties as governor, 67 percent think that a governor cannot, with 29 percent saying that a governor can do both. Among Republicans and independents who lean Republican, 48 percent think a governor can do both and 48 percent say a governor cannot.

Clinton leads five potential Republican opponents in hypothetical 2016 matchups among registered voters. Clinton leads Paul 49-41, leads Bush 49-38, leads Walker 52-40, leads Rubio 50-38 and leads Cruz 52-36.
The DNC is looking for a big Hillary Clinton win in 2016 and the DSCC is looking for a big Feingold win. The DCCC? Crickets. Wisconsin has two overwhelmingly blue districts-- Pocan's WI-02 (Madison, D-17) and Moore's WI-04 (Milwaukee, D+23)-- one Republican district that partisan-- Sensenbrenner's WI-04 (R+13). And then there are 5 more swingy districts, Paul Ryan's (R+3), Ron Kind's (D+5), Glenn Grothman's (R+5), Sean Duffy's (R+2) and Reid Ribble's (R+2). Is the DCCC going to take advantage of Hillary and Feingold at the top of the ticket to take back a  couple of House seats? Not a chance! They've recruited no Wisconsin candidates and offered no support to any would-be candidates. Neither Steve Israel nor his puppet Ben Ray Luján has the slightest interest in or understanding of Wisconsin. Expect... nothing from the DCCC.

Labels: ,

Thursday, April 16, 2015

All hail Hubble, the Little Telescope That Could -- and meet the "Mystic Mountain" pillar of dust and gas it captured


Achenblog caption: "A star-forming region in the Carina Nebula, seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Livio and Hubble 20th anniversary team"

"So here is one of the big insights about outer space: It’s big. And it’s full of big stuff. I know I’m threatening to go over everyone’s head here with the scientific and technical language. Sorry, it just makes me feel smarter to sling the jargon."
-- Joel Achenbach, in his Achenblog post today

by Ken

The last time we visited with Washington Post ace science writer Joel Achenbach, he was excited, as he often is, understandably, working his science beat, but he was excited about sharing some "Uplifting thoughts about Doomsday," which made it a little hard to share in his excitement, even when he finally declared himself "cautiously optimistic."

Today on the Achenblog, however, Joel is excited about the Hubble Telescope as it approaches the quarter-century mark.

The Hubble Telescope! How that name reverberates for those old enough to know what the hell it is. Turning 25! Meaning it's old enough that more and more people now alive have no idea what the hell it is, or more importantly was when it came into, or rather out of, this world, which is to say a joke, a comical nom de catastrophe for wretched ineptitude. But poor Hubble persevered, and overcame, and went on to provide us with a window onto the universe such as we've never had before. And Joel A the science guy is here to celebrate, asking, "Mystic Mountain: Is this the Hubble Space Telescope’s greatest image?"

Achenblog caption: "At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, employees keep an eye on the Hubble as it keeps an eye on the universe (Photo by Joel Achenbach)"

The Hubble is about to turn 25. That’s an awesome milestone for a piece of hardware that’s vastly exceeded expectations. We’re doing a story that will run between now and the anniversary of the launch next Friday. See also Rachel Feltman’s Speaking of Science blog for coverage. Here’s a verbatim e-mail exchange I had the other day with astrophysicist Mario Livio, about the “Mystic Mountain” pillar of dust and gas (above) that became the 20th anniversary image of the Hubble Space Telescope back in 2010:

JA: “How big is the Mystic Mountain? I mean, like, in hundreds of miles, billions of miles, light years?”

Mario Livio: “It is about 3 light-years tall, which is about 18 trillion miles.”

So here is one of the big insights about outer space: It’s big. And it’s full of big stuff. I know I’m threatening to go over everyone’s head here with the scientific and technical language. Sorry, it just makes me feel smarter to sling the jargon.

The other thing you see in Hubble images is the dynamism of the cosmos. Nothing out there is static. It’s roiling and rumbling. It’s exploding and exuding and entropically eroding. The whole thing is expanding, and thanks to the Hubble and some other telescopes we now know the expansion is accelerating. Hang on for dear life, folks.

I’ll have more to say on the Hubble after this brief intermission when I go find my gate (am at BWI again — my second home!).


I’m back. So I’ve already covered space is big and space is dynamic, my two major insights, and now here’s another bonus observation: The Hubble is a great story of human engineering, not only because it works so well but because for a while there it didn’t work very well at all. Spherical aberration: the two most dreaded words in any telescope’s vocabulary. [Mudge from the Boodle suggests two more: “bird poop.”] The flawed mirror threatened to render the whole project a disappointment, but in 1993 shuttle astronauts flew to Hubble, grabbed it, and put in an instrument [COSTAR, for “Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement”] that corrected the aberration. Hubble was off to the races.


Admit it now, have you been oppressing Bill O'Reilly again? Aren't you ashamed of yourself?


"Martyrdom is a huge deal in Catholicism -- the Lives of the Saints are filled with stories of martyrs tortured and killed for their beliefs -- and hey, in many strands of Christianity, if you're not being oppressed, you're not doing it right. . . .

"I can call Bill O'Reilly a bigot all day long, and that has nothing to do with me oppressing him for his religion. For what it's worth, I happen to know a lot of Catholics who are not bigots and don't give two fucks about gay people getting married! Or, quite frankly, what non-Catholics do, period, so long as they're not bothering anyone."

by Ken

Wingnut warrior John Stossel as the voice of reason? You know we must be dealing with some big-deal kind of crazy. And we are, we are.

Make sure your hard hats are safely in place, ladies and germs, and join me as we venture into a toxic swampland ateem with flora and fauna that may sometimes bear a passing resemblance to their counterparts in the real world but should all be treated as lethally contaminated. Yes, friends, we're going to journey into a realm from which few travelers return with their sanity intact: the mind of Bill O'Reilly.

As The Frisky's Robyn Pennacchia pinpoints in the post we're about to look at, Billo is never more content or at peace than when he's presenting himself as a martyr, and in these, his years of official dotage, he seems to have been feeling more and more oppressed. And since he is, as he always likes to remind us, a "journalist," nothing is more important to his reporting of a story than his feelings. In fact, most of the time his feelings are the story. Specifically, he is feeling oppressed as a Christian! This takes quite a bit of doing, but if anybody can successfully masquerade as a victim of oppression on the basis of his membership in a pulverizingly dominant oppressor class, it's our Billo.

Here's how Robyn reported this meeting of, er, minds in her post yesterday, "Bill O'Reilly Pretty Sure Christians Are Being 'Verbally' Murdered In This Country":
Ever the culture warrior, Bill O’Reilly spoke with his agnostic but still totally conservative friend John Stossel Tuesday night about his fears regarding the ways Christians are totally oppressed in this country.

While Stossell suggested that while there may be places in the world where Christians are oppressed, they are not oppressed here in America, and are certainly not being killed here in America for being Christians. O’Reilly disagreed, you see, because they are being “verbally killed.”

Now, while you may think that O’Reilly was suggesting that people are going around using the Avada Kedavra curse on innocent bible-believing Christians, he was not. His big example, naturally, was the fact that people in department stores say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”–you know, because nothing oppresses Christians like acknowledging that Jewish people exist and also have a holiday around that time! His second example was the horrifying fact that–gasp–secular progressives can go around calling Christians bigots for not wanting gay people to get married, or say they are anti-women just because they don’t believe women should have any say in their reproductive choices! They can just say these things! Out loud! And in a room full of people!

Stossell attempted to be the voice of “reason”–suggesting that the problem wasn’t so much people who are agnostic or atheist, but “big government” infringing on “individual liberty.” Which is also not the case here, as it would actually be more of a “big government” thing to require department store employees to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” or to put me in jail for calling Bill O’Reilly a bigot and a chauvinist pig.

The only example O’Reilly brought up that could reasonably be argued as the government infringing on “individual liberty” is the whole thing where bigots don’t want to make cakes for gay weddings. However, the thing is–when the government doesn’t allow businesses to discriminate like that, they are actually protecting the “individual liberty” of people who should be able to buy from any public business they choose. Yes, in this situation they are choosing between the “individual rights” of a business and the individual rights of a person, but historically, in these situations the rights of individual people have won out over the rights of businesses to discriminate.
As Robyn goes on to point out, Billo comes honestly by his "gung-ho" attitude toward "the idea of being oppressed." Martyrdom, she notes, "is a huge deal in Catholicism -- the Lives of the Saints are filled with stories of martyrs tortured and killed for their beliefs -- and hey, in many strands of Christianity, if you’re not being oppressed, you’re not doing it right.


From Billo's passion for martyrdom, it's just a small leap to an offer one can hardly see the poor fellow refusing. "I also think this may have something to do with O’Reilly’s well known kinky side," Robyn says. "So I have an offer!" And what an offer she has!
O’Reilly, you pay me $5000 an hour and I will totally oppress you.

I will take my free birth control pills right in front of you while cackling maniacally about all the babies I’m not going to have.

I will take you to a gay wedding!

I will repeatedly tell you allllll about how I don’t believe in god and also how evolution and global warming are definitely real things. And you will just have to sit there while no one comes to arrest me.

I will make you clean my entire apartment while I read to you from Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex.”

I will poke you with a pointy stick until you finally give up and say “Happy Holidays!”

I’ll drip hot wax on your face while making you recite the Pledge of Allegiance in it’s original form–without the “under god” part.

I will throw falafel at you every time you mention Jesus or the Bible. If it continues, I will lock you in the bathroom for days on end.

For an extra $10,000, I will follow you around for a week and refuse to let you buy or sell anything unless you agree to take the mark of the beast, and then threaten to behead you for refusing to worship the anti-christ or Satan or whatever.

I mean, if you want, we can totally go for martyrdom here. I could press your hand on a George Foreman grill and call you St. Lawrence? Nero used to sew Christians up in animal carcasses and throw them to the dogs–I could like, put you in an Easter Bunny costume and send you to a furry convention? Or we could go like St. Cecelia and I can make you take a crazy hot bath–without a “falafel thingy” while you try to sing and I criticize you for being off-pitch? I don’t know. I mean, I kind of faint at the sight of blood so I won’t be able to follow it up with half-beheading you and letting you bleed out over three days. Plus, you know, I just had you wash the floor. This also rules out tearing you limb from limb or having you drawn and quartered.
Robyn's susceptibility to the Martyrdom of Billo appears to be connected to a Catholic upbringing of her own, which she appears to have put safely behind her.
Truth be told, I don’t even really know how to oppress Bill O’Reilly for being Christian. At least not properly. I don’t want to physically hurt anyone or throw them in jail for expressing their opinions. I just want to be allowed to do my own thing, and not be required to participate in the Christian religion if I choose not to. I absolutely believe that people have the right to practice their religion, I just don’t believe that right extends to infringing on the freedoms of other people to not practice their religion.
What's more, Robyn thinks "it is absurd to suggest that just because someone practices a religion, that they ought to be protected from criticism." She notes that Billo himself shows a keen understanding of this point "when it comes to other religions -- like, for instance, Islam." Yes, when it comes to other religions, Billo can be pretty free with the criticism.

It is, in fact, "quite blasphemous," Robyn insists, "when you ask people to participate in your religion without believing in it." She goes on to ask, "Do you really think your god wants that?" (Now this may be going one step too far. Because yes, I think Billo probably does think his god wants this, very much.)
The saints and martyrs? The oppression and torture they faced had nothing to do with not being “allowed” to force other non-believers to abide by their religion’s rules. They just wanted to be free to practice their religion and be left alone. You can do that here, in America. Just like I can “practice” my non-religion. We’re not going to force you to take part in pagan rituals, or any other religious practices you don’t believe in, so try extending the same courtesy to the rest of us.
Oh, I get it. Billo extending courtesy to anyone outside the wingnut teepee? It's a fantasy! You know, a Tax Day fantasy!

Labels: , , ,

Hillary Clinton, Progressives & the Uphill Climb


What both parties will soon be filling your brain with (source)

by Gaius Publius

The increasing likelihood that Hillary Clinton may achieve the Democratic nomination for president without a serious challenge from the left has progressive discussion groups abuzz. There are, of course, a variety of opinions on whether this is good or bad. What I'd like to do here is define what "good" and "bad" mean in this context.

One kind of "good" outcome for progressives would be for the nation to be governed from people-first principles. A bad outcome for progressives would be a continuation of money-first, "let no insider be prosecuted" governance — a continuation, in other words, of the last eight years.

This puts a lot of issues under one umbrella — most of them economic — like student debt, banker fraud, abuse by the national security state, abuse by police, wage depression, wage theft, accelerating income and wealth inequality, immigration policy (which has a strong economic aspect, since illegal immigration is economically encouraged by the very forces that decry it), and the like. Call these the Warren Wing concerns, spotlighted by a Piketty awareness.

Another kind of "good" outcome, for Democrats, would be for the party to continue to hold the White House — keeping the Republicans out of power, at least on Pennsylvania Avenue — and perhaps to recapture the Senate, and even the House.

Notice that these "good" outcomes don't equal each other; nor do they necessarily include each other. The first "good" is a progressive good, the second is a party good. Is the Democratic party a progressive party? There's the source of the problem. Clearly it's not, at least to date, in a great many of its policies, starting with the current push to pass TPP, the next NAFTA-style trade agreement. What Obama is doing to pass TPP is beyond extraordinary, and it will take both progressives and Republicans in the House and (perhaps) the Senate to keep it off his desk. (Read the link to see what I mean by "beyond extraordinary.")

There's a reason there's a "Warren Wing" in the party, and a reason why it's opposed and hated by most of the party's leaders.

So your first bottom line is — Democrats are united in winning the White House. Progressives are divided in winning with Hillary Clinton. In a nutshell, that presents a problem for Democrats and for Hillary Clinton. It's possible she could lose if progressives don't support her in sufficient numbers.

What Do the Polls Say?

I'll just summarize this and let you click through, since I want to get you to the next section. There have been a number of polls on Clinton's popularity and electoral chances. The latest is from Gallup, an organization that does not "lean left." Their bottom lines are three:
  • Clinton's favorable rating is 48%, her lowest since 2008
  • 54% of Democrats prefer to have a competitive primary
  • Still, 57% of Democrats want her as 2016 nominee
On the last point, if you drill down to "Democratic-leaning independents," that 57% becomes 53%. This makes a nice story: "A majority wants her as the nominee." Invert that, though, and it becomes: "Between 43% and 47% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents do not want her as the nominee."

Click through for the underlying data if you like. I hope, though, you see the problem. This could be "bad" in both senses above, since it opens the door to any Republican nominee who seems sane. It's a given that the Republican will be the most well-funded presidential candidate in the country's history, an instant advantage in a campaign marketplace that resembles product-perception manipulation more than anything related to ideas — what I'm calling a Campbell's Soup campaign.

How Upset Are the Most Upset Progressives?

In a word, very. I want to quote something I received via email from a respected progressive writer and thinker, reproduced with permission. It does not matter who wrote this. I can say personally that I've heard this view expressed a hundred times at and since the last Netroots Nation:
The economic left has no hope in this miserable process. HRC [Hillary Clinton] is a creature of Wall Street. It comes naturally to her, with her background in elite schools and her status in the political and wealth circles. It is utterly impossible to imagine that she will do anything for people past a tiny raise in the minimum wage. Her judicial appointments will be Stephen Breyer, not Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Her cabinet will be filled with people like Penny Pritzger and Larry Summers.

I simply won't participate. I won't vote and I won't help her. She has no charisma for the left, and little for anyone else. The Republicans will put up the usual clownish excuse for a leader, but it really doesn't matter. I expect more people than ever will just refuse to participate after a hate-filled campaign. The oligarchy will feed the serfs just enough to keep them from revolting, and enforce their will with the usual repressive police force. The recent publicity for murderous cops will die out, and soon they'll be killing poor whites too. It's going to be ugly everywhere....
"I simply won't participate." Read those paragraphs again, just to be sure you absorb what it says. It says quite a bit. You don't have to agree with the writer or her/his ferocity. Just know that this thinking — and feeling — is far more widely held on the activist and intellectual left than even the "left" understands. Why? Because progressives tend not to say this to progressives inclined to disagree ... or inclined to say back to them: "But ... Republicans!" They had that conversation years ago, and they're done with it.

It doesn't matter what I think of Hillary Clinton, nor does it matter what you think of her. I know quite a few people who think quite highly of her. The problem is those polling numbers, and all those progressives who don't think highly of her. They are going away and aren't coming back.

Do Voters See Clinton the Way Disaffected Progressives Do?

If you look at the charges leveled by the writer above, you'll see several that have almost entered the "mainstream" — the body of "what everyone knows to be true," whether true or not. She's:
  • "A creature of Wall Street"
  • An insider with a "background in elite schools"
  • Someone with "status in the political and wealth circles"
  • Likely to appoint the Robert Rubins and the wealthy, like "Penny Pritzker and Larry Summers"
Whether she is or isn't, does or doesn't do any of these things, that perception will likely stick, despite the attempt to swing her campaign — remember, this is nothing more than image manipulation — in a pro-populist (pro-Warren Wing) direction.

She can waffle on her policies, but that will confirm the concerns. She can state her policies explicitly — for example, would she veto TPP if it crosses her desk? — but even that may not be enough, because again, this is nothing more than an exercise in image manipulation, and you have to be believed to be successful.

And regardless of what she says or does, the Republican machine will find her most vulnerable positions (among other things), including those bulleted above, and hit the public with them constantly. If people are inclined to believe something, a manipulative ad campaign is halfway home, and Republicans are pros at this, masters with doctor's degrees in crowd manipulation.

What's the Answer?

The real answer, of course, is a primary in the Democratic party, with a candidate from the real (i.e., credible) left who will give voters a place to park an anti–neo-liberal, anti–Third Way protest vote. (I'll have more on Clinton as a proponent of Third Way policies later.) This would replicate what Sen. Eugene McCarthy did in 1968 — he gave Lyndon Johnson a realistic "sense of the party" in a way that polling could never do.

If Hillary Clinton survives a process like that, she may not be the most progressive candidate, but she will know the degree of Democratic support she has among progressives and those less progressive. Without a process like that, she enters the main event never having done battle, never having tested the degree of her real support among Democratic voters.

A surprise there would be a "bad" on both counts listed above.


Labels: , , , ,

Massive Tax Cut For The Wealthiest 0.2%


The status quo that conservatives, by definition, seek to conserve is the status quo of an hereditary aristocracy with a concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a relatively few families. That garbage ideology crossed over the Atlantic and accounts for the third of colonials-- the conservatives-- siding with the British against the Patriots. Today it helps define what the Republican party is. Conservatives-- primarily, but not exclusively, Republicans-- have always opposed the Estate Tax and they are still fighting to abolish it. Tuesday, Dana Milbank skewered the Republicans with this particular mania of theirs.
Give credit to Republicans in Congress.

They’ve discovered, belatedly, that income inequality is a problem, and they’re no longer proposing to give tax breaks to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Now they are proposing to give tax breaks to the wealthiest two-tenths of 1 percent of Americans.

On Tuesday afternoon, the House Rules Committee took up H.R. 1105, the “Death Tax Repeal Act of 2015,” with plans to bring it to a vote on the chamber floor Wednesday-- Tax Day. It is an extraordinarily candid expression of the majority’s priorities: A tax cut costing the treasury $269 billion over a decade that would exclusively benefit individuals with wealth of more than $5.4 million and couples with wealth of more than $10.9 million.

That’s a tax break for only the 5,500 wealthiest households in the country each year, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. Of those, the 318 wealthiest estates each year-- those worth $50 million or more-- would see an average windfall of $20 million each, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

And this at a time when the gap between rich and poor is already worse than it has been since the Great Depression? Never in the history of plutocracy has so much been given away to so few who need it so little.

This is the ultimate perversion of the tea party movement, which began as a populist revolt in 2009 but has since been hijacked by wealthy and corporate interests. The estate tax has been part of American law in some form since 1797, according to the advocacy group Americans for Tax Fairness, a shield against the sort of permanent aristocracy our founders fought to rid themselves of.

It had long been a conservative ideal, and the essence of the American Dream, to believe that everybody should have an equal shot at success. But in their current bid to end the estate tax, Republicans could create a permanent elite of trust-fund babies.

The estate tax was a meaningful check on a permanent aristocracy as recently as 2001, when there were taxes on the portion of estates above $675,000; even then there were plenty of ways for the rich to shelter money for their heirs. As the son of a schoolteacher and a cabinetmaker, I’d like to see the estate tax exemptions lowered-- so that taxes encourage enterprise and entre­pre­neur­ship while keeping to a minimum the number of Americans born who will never have to work a day in their lives. The current exemption of $5.4 million (the current estate tax has an effective rate averaging under 17 percent, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center) does little to prevent a permanent aristocracy from growing-- and abolishing it entirely turns democracy into kleptocracy.

The kleptocrats offer all sorts of bogus justifications for giving away $269 billion to a few thousand of the wealthiest Americans.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), appearing late Tuesday before the Rules Committee, claimed that the estate tax is “absolutely devastating” to family farms, and he claimed the repeal would remove “an additional layer of taxation” from assets that had already been taxed.

Double taxation? Americans for Tax Fairness, citing Federal Reserve data, notes that 55 percent of the value of estates worth more than $100 million comprises unrealized capital gains that have never been taxed.

Hurting family farmers and small businesses? In the entire country, only 120 small businesses and farms (100 of them large farms) were hit by the estate tax in 2013. And for that tiny number affected, there are all sorts of provisions already in place to soften the blow: low valuation rules, delayed tax payments and other breaks and discounts.
So today House Republicans get to vote on a tax cut for the wealthiest 0.2%. As Social Security Works put it, "If there was any question about whose side they're on, a passing tax cut that would only impact estates larger than $5.4 million while claiming we can't afford our Social Security system makes it clear... As if the $3 trillion tax giveaway to the super-rich embedded in their budget wasn’t enough, they now want to deliver an additional $269 billion tax cut that would only impact two out of every 1,000 estates... The estate tax has been slashed twice already--In 2001 as part of the Bush tax cuts, and again in 2012. It has been reduced to the point where it now only effects estates worth more than $5.4 million for individuals or $10.9 million for couples. Instead of repealing it, Congress should restore the estate tax to its pre-Bush levels and could use that income to expand Social Security."

UPDATE: The Vote

Just after noon, Republicans happily voted to give the wealthiest of the wealthy another massive tax break by eliminating the Estate Tax. The final vote was 240-179. Three Republicans-- Walter Jones (R-NC), David Jolly (R-FL) and Scott Rigell (R-VA)-- voted with the Democrats against this travesty, although 7 right-wing fake Dams crossed the aisle in the other direction and spit in the face of American working families-- these seven:
Brad Ashford (Blue Dog-NE)
Sanford Bishop (Blue Dog-GA)
Jim Costa (Blue Dog-CA)
Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)
Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)
Dutch Ruppersberger (MD)
Kyrsten Sinema (Blue Dog-AZ)

Labels: , , ,