Monday, June 30, 2014

Just to Be Clear: Hobby Lobby Decision Is About Sex and Abortion

Mad Men's Christina Hendricks: Remind
me again why she's a star. Oh, yeah, right.
Make no mistake, we in America like our women, like Christina Hendricks, hot, very hot. There are a thousand reasons to like and admire women, but let's not pretend that having sex with them is not principal among them. I don't think I'm out on a limb here. Sex, and plenty of it, is a lifelong pursuit of men. And for the straight among us, Christina Hendricks is, let's say, a reasonable role model.

It's just the way America rolls. That's what confounds me. What's up with the Republican Party pretending that they hate sex? I get that, down in its core, its vision has been hijacked by the abortion issue. Kevin Drum thinks so.

It's pretty obvious that the Five Dicks on the Supreme Court know that the Hobby Lobby owners probably aren't completely down on all birth control (that's for Rick Santorum to writhe over). They know that it's just the ones Hobby Lobby thinks are actually a form of abortion.

But the Dick writing for the majority, Samuel Alito says that “It is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial.” In other words, they don't have to be right about the science to object to something. They only have to think they're against it for the Supremes to say, "Okay, as long as you think you're right, that's all that's necessary to have a deep religious conviction. You could be full of shit, for all we know. But, hey, it's all good." Dahlia Lithwick of Slate seems to think that's a recipe for judicial disaster going forward. Samuel Alito thinks he has crafted a narrow ruling. Holy shit, is he wrong.

That leaves me with only one conclusion: The Five Dicks who formed the majority on this "narrow" catastrophe have a wink-wink-nudge-nudge deal going. They know it's about abortion. It's what focuses them in the pronouncement that closely held corporations are people and religious rights mean we hate abortion. Other religious objections? Piffle.

It's also about sex because women on birth control are having too much sex because they're sluts. I was raised Catholic, and the Five Dicks are Catholic, so I'm pretty sure the nuns convinced them that women are sluts. They tried to teach me that, but a weird thing happened. I had sex, and what they were telling me suddenly made no sense at all! I can only guess how the Five Dicks reacted to the same experience, though their ruling is a dead giveaway.

Awwwh, poor lads, but don't take it out on the rest of us, especially not the ladies. Leave that to Rush Limbaugh. Nobody listens to him anymore.

I'm pretty sure these aren't the nuns that made the Five Dicks hate sex.

Yes, Women, Men Decided What Birth Control You Can Have Under Obamacare

(Updated below)

These haven't been controversial since forever. Now they are, and it'll cost you!

The gist of the Majority opinion in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby is that birth control is not a compelling government interest. If it were, women could get it for free! It's not, so, ladies, cough up.

But let's be clear about this: Only the men of the Supreme Court -- minus that bleeding-heart Stephen Breyer -- think it's not a compelling public interest. All three women seemed to think it was important.

There you have it, a clear religious test. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, and men like to have their women pay for sexual freedom. Men already have it! Kinda funny how that works, huh?

Also, let's be clear: Preventing discrimination in the workplace, according to the majority opinion, is compelling government interest that religious beliefs cannot trump. Men will protect the workplace from religious interference. The Supreme Men says that's just right.

Wait a minute. Hobby Lobby is a workplace. The women in that workplace just got discriminated against. Kinda funny how that works, huh?

From now on, let's call them the Hobby Lobby Five. Or we could call them
the Five Dicks. I think I'll switch off. Today, what the hell, the Five Dicks.
(courtesy Daily Kos)

Update. Echidne (a blogger, and a woman, I often read) points out -- among other interesting aspects of today's Dickish decision -- that the Five Dicks are all Catholic. No wonder they didn't take the atheists' position...

By Saying Hobby Lobby Is Not About Discrimination, the Supremes Say It's About Women Having Sex

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg forced Justice Alito's hand in her dissent. Alito took
the bait, hook, line and sinker. Now we know it's about sex. Good on ya, Sam!

If any women in the U.S. still believe conservatives have their backs, please note that conservatives, more than anything, don't want you to be on your backs or in any position where birth control would be handy.

The Supreme Court has, with its Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby decision, made it clear that the conservative vision for America -- celebrated broadly by the Republican Party -- doesn't include freedom to have sex while avoiding pregnancy. And if we ever thought that Hobby Lobby was about religious beliefs (other than don't have sex, life's a, bitch, and then you die), we now know that it is not. Here's Slate, laying it down:
What kind of laws might violate religious employers’ religious principles? After birth control coverage, the most obvious candidate is an LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance. Liberals have been fretting for months that a pro-Hobby Lobby ruling could undermine such laws, allowing any purportedly religious employer to violate them with impunity. The question suddenly emerged as a dire threat as florists, bakers, and photographers have claimed a religious right to break state law to discriminate against gay couples, and state after state proposed their own riffs on RFRA. The issue became a minor cause célèbre among conservative commentators, and, as the Hobby Lobby ruling approached, gay rights advocates braced for the apocalypse.
But on Monday morning, the apocalypse didn’t come. In fact, quite the opposite: In its ruling for Hobby Lobby, the court—in an opinion authored by arch-conservative Justice Samuel Alito—explicitly stated that RFRA could not be used as a “shield” to “cloak … discrimination in hiring” as a “religious practice to escape legal sanction.” RFRA doesn’t permit employers to break a law when there is a compelling government interest backing that regulation, and, according to Alito, the government “has a compelling interest in providing an equal opportunity to participate in the workforce.”
Cat's out of the bag, Alito. The government has a compelling interest -- in spite of deeply held religious beliefs that gayness is evil in the eyes of the Lord -- to prevent discrimination in the workplace, but it sure as hell does not have a compelling interest in women's health.

In fact, it's quite the opposite, according to Alito. Remember, women need a doctor's help in the form of a prescription or a medical procedure -- such as with IUDs -- to access most of these preventive-medicine, birth-control services. The good Justice Alito, and by extension the rest of the Court's conservatives, makes it clear that there is no government interest in helping women have more sex. If they choose to have sex at all, in fact, pregnancy is now the more likely result. So, the government, it would seem, has a compelling interest in assuring that either women curtail their sexual activity or have more babies. Conservatives for the win!

So, go ahead, women, vote for Republicans. Just stay off of your backs and avoid drugstores. Instead, get a hobby. And, of course, feed that hobby at the local Hobby Lobby. That's surely in your self-interests, too.

With the McCullen v. Coakley decision, the Court said have at it, protesters.
Rumble with the abortionists! With Hobby Lobby, the Court said no to birth
control, too. Awwh, women, quit your grumbling! Religion is good for you.

Let's Keep Doing It Because Kansas Is the Heartland!

What do you mean it was never about an economic boom? What do you mean
it was only about lowering taxes on the rich? We can raise the sales tax! Sure
that hurts the poor, not the rich. What do you mean it looks like we planned it?

Kansas elected its former senator Sam Brownback to the governorship in 2010. He then launched a program to use all the junk economics he could find to lower state taxes to record lows. You go, Kansas!
Two years ago Kansas embarked on a remarkable fiscal experiment: It sharply slashed income taxes without any clear idea of what would replace the lost revenue. Sam Brownback, the governor, proposed the legislation — in percentage terms, the largest tax cut in one year any state has ever enacted — in close consultation with the economist Arthur Laffer. And Mr. Brownback predicted that the cuts would jump-start an economic boom — “Look out, Texas,” he proclaimed.
But Kansas isn’t booming — in fact, its economy is lagging both neighboring states and America as a whole. Meanwhile, the state’s budget has plunged deep into deficit, provoking a Moody’s downgrade of its debt.
Yes, the latest poll has Brownback losing the governorship to Democrat Paul Davis by six points, mostly because of his tax cuts. Does that mean if Brownback loses, we'll see tax rates return to what they were before the state was broke? Of course not. Republican legislature!

Following the GOP down the rabbit hole. Sounds like a plan. Good luck, Kansas.

Kansas in the future. But they're free!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Why Does a Dumb State Stay Dumb? It's the Policies, Baby

One way to keep wages down: These guys are not in the Carpenters' Union.

Joe Stiglitz has a really cogent op-ed in the NYTimes today, and nails down exactly what has happened to the U.S. over the last forty years, economically and politically speaking. Here are the money graphs:
The problem of inequality is not so much a matter of technical economics. It’s really a problem of practical politics. Ensuring that those at the top pay their fair share of taxes — ending the special privileges of speculators, corporations and the rich — is both pragmatic and fair. We are not embracing a politics of envy if we reverse a politics of greed. Inequality is not just about the top marginal tax rate but also about our children’s access to food and the right to justice for all. If we spent more on education, health and infrastructure, we would strengthen our economy, now and in the future. Just because you’ve heard it before doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try it again.
We have located the underlying source of the problem: political inequities and policies that have commodified and corrupted our democracy. It is only engaged citizens who can fight to restore a fairer America, and they can do so only if they understand the depths and dimensions of the challenge. It is not too late to restore our position in the world and recapture our sense of who we are as a nation. Widening and deepening inequality is not driven by immutable economic laws, but by laws we have written ourselves.
I have a hard time understanding why an educated, insightful, even vaguely compassionate human being would be able to read Stiglitz' piece without not only agreeing with it but regarding it as a true and urgent call to arms. We know how to construct more equitable societies and what the benefits of such societies are. We lived through our middle-class boom decades. Those years had what these years do not: a united community that understood that a public-private partnership worked, with each sector having a role that it did best. Government provides the structure for jobs -- like building the national highway system or flying into action when a great catastrophe, like a hurricane or a deep recession, hits -- that only it can do, and the private sector does the bulk of the nation's business, with government regulating markets just to the extent that corruption and greed can't smother the efficacy of otherwise free markets. To reverse-engineer Gorden Gecko, greed is not good. Drive is good. Innovation is good. Figuring out how to use the Cayman Islands to avoid paying your fair share in taxes is not.

How does this fit into the conversation I've been having -- mostly with myself -- about the number of college grads determining the success or failure of a given U.S. state? Mississippi has low educational achievement, high poverty, sketchy health care coverage, and huge Republican dominance in its politics. The notion that it would favor refusing the Medicaid portion of the ACA, being not only against raising the minimum wage but being against a minimum wage at all, fighting the union movement, and keeping welfare payments low while cutting the education budget to starvation levels flies in the face of all a down-and-out state should be doing to cure its ills. Remember, too, that this is how it's been for decades. Essentially, Mississippi's population keeps voting against its own self-interests. That makes it dumber than fuck in my book.

Here's the nub of it: What you're doing now isn't working, Mississippi! Do something else!

And that goes for the rest of the U.S. No state is perfect, and heaven knows DC isn't either. But like Joe Stiglitz says, we know how to do it because we've done it before, and it's worked. It's time to do it again. Unless, of course, you're dumber than fuck or live in a Faux News/Rush Limbaugh bubble. Then God help us all.

A recipe for increasing poverty.

How does Washington state keep its residents out of poverty? Pay them more.

We aren't adding enough jobs, even underpaying ones.

Is this an accident? If it isn't, shame on us.

Henry Ford paid his workers enough to afford his cars. Walmart pays its
workers enough to afford its low prices, with government asisstance, of course.

Friday, June 27, 2014

How Many College Grads Are Enough?

Beyond maybe becoming a better person, I suppose getting a job is also nice.

I don't know the answer to my own question, but it occurred to me after I republished The Street article about the smartest and dumbest states in America that the question is worth considering. Of course, the language in The Street's article is provocative, and that may well be why I liked it. But the truth is that The Street's central metric -- the percentage of college graduates in a given state -- is not necessarily an accurate measure of smartness or dumbness. George W. Bush went to Yale and Harvard. Case closed.

Yet it might still be a reliable framework. The "smartest" state by this metric is Massachusetts, with 38.2% of its residents having a bachelor's degree. It makes sense since Massachusetts has such an abundance of top colleges and universities. I don't even need to name them. And if you go through the list of smart and dumb states, the median income does a good job of tracking education levels. More college grads equals higher pay. That's almost American Dream 101, it's so accepted by conventional wisdom. Massachusetts is sitting pretty at $65,339, 5th highest in the land.

But that brings up things we easily gloss over, such as the fact that the state with the highest number of college grads has almost two-thirds of its residents with only a high-school diploma or less (okay, some people dabble in college or drop out, or just achieve a two-year associate's degree). So, how much is enough to make a state likely to be a success? And what happens to all the non-college grads? Do they just languish in the lower classes?

I don't know the answer, but I've got a few guesses and observations. First, I get why the state with the lowest college-grad percentage, West Virginia at 17.3%, might have fallen on hard times -- if it ever had good times (well, of course it did, right?). It's a coal-mining state and home to a great swath of Appalachia. It's 48th in median income and sports a very high poverty rate. They make movies about how life stinks in West Virginia. (Note. I wrote the previous sentence before researching its veracity; it turns out the movies I was thinking about -- Winter's Bone, Songcatcher, and Coalminer's Daughter -- were written about Arkansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky. Oh well, they're good movies about the same circumstance, poverty in the mountains of the Southern states.)

Still, West Virginia nowadays isn't for the faint-hearted, regardless of any John Denver song. No offense to any West Virginia native: Like all the states of the Union, it has its special natural beauty, vibrant history, and trials and tribulations. I'm just saying that a state in a slump whose main industries are coal-mining and lumber is bound to have a number of challenges, not the least of which is having a habit of chopping the top off of its mountains.

West Virginia: Here's to the job creators! We need jobs, not mountains!

I bet if I had a little time, I could find some great spots in West Virginia, and I repeat, the people there are just as good and deserving as those in any other state. Forbes placed Morgantown, West Virginia, at #10 on its list of best towns in America for careers and business, in spite of its median income of $36,636, as compared to San Rafael, California -- a town of approximately equal size -- with its median income of $61,441. Don't always trust these "10 Most fill-in-the-blank" studies.

So why am I writing about the 10 smartest or dumbest states? Food for thought. And here's the thought that remains at the end of the day: What are the educational, environmental, health, and budget priorities that any given state should follow to better itself? Chopping off the top of mountains can't be a very good priority, or am I missing something?

Does West Virginia chop off its mountain tops because it has fewer college grads or in spite of it?

The Supremes: A Buffer Zone for Me but Not for Thee

Rachel Maddow has her moments. Often. Here she takes 20 minutes (stick with it, it's good) to lay out the absurdity of the Supreme Court decision on buffer zones around abortion clinics. I'd been thinking along these lines, but she does the work and nails it:

Don't want to have to say this, but the question follows: Take away the buffer zone, and what comes next?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Gun Self-Defense Is a Myth

This has nothing to do with self-defense. It's just an example of men waving
their penises while not so subtly threatening the mulatto in the White House.
I suppose it helps to know that this is Open Carry Texas parading around a
local Target store. Take-off on Obama logo + Oreos + Target = threat. Clever.

Atrios points out why self-defense as practiced today in the "greatest nation on Earth" is a myth. Do read the article Atrios links to. For more, read the weekly GunFAIL feature in Daily Kos.

I suppose this is ridiculously optimistic, but we will someday reach a critical mass, and this insanity -- that could and does happen only in America -- will come to an end. In our lifetime? Dunno.

Is Obamacare Crashing Our Economy (in a Good Way)?

(Updated below)

Someone at Business Insider seems to think so:
The revision [downward in GDP] largely boils down to one thing: healthcare spending.
"Two thirds of the revision is in consumption, cut to +1.0% from +3.1%," said Pantheon Macroeconomics Ian Shepherdson. "Almost of all this huge hit is in the healthcare services component, cut to -1.4% from +9.1%."
According to the BEA, healthcare spending went from adding 1.01 percentage points to subtracting 0.16 from the headline GDP growth number.
"So much for the BEA's initial view that the start of Obamacare triggered a surge in spending on healthcare," said Shepherdon. "The press release offers no detail on what triggered this massive revision."
 More people insured for less. Imagine that.

Update. TPM weighs in with a more nuanced report. Still good, but measured.

Blue States Are Smart, Red States Are Dumb. Why?

Mississippi state flag: 2nd dumbest state. Stuck in the past?

The Street did a "The 10 Dumbest States in America" feature, then expanded it to include "The 10 Smartest States in America." Quite revealing.

I'm not editorializing when I notice that the smartest states are politically blue and the dumbest states are politically red, though it's worth noting and thinking it through. What does this say about anything? I'd say it says a lot and should be a cause for reflection.

My state, California, wasn't on either list. That's probably because, though it's overall one of the bluest states in the Union, it's actually two states: the red, farm state in the Central Valley and other rural areas and the blue, educated state on the coast. Guess where the highest median income is.

California's Central Valley: Megafarmers do very well, farm workers not so much.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Changed My MInd. I DO Want to Kick George Will When He's Down

Down and out, I hope. Read this, especially the comments. Not a lot of love out there anymore, George.

Note. George Will was not the first name in Google auto-complete when I typed George W. He was fifth, one behind George Wallace. Sort of appropriate.

Holy Crap! Department: Romney Is Now the GOP Frontrunner

(h/t Daily Kos)

A new Suffolk University/Boston Herald poll puts Mitt Romney up by 15 percent for 2016. Anything can happen, but holy crap!

Just a reminder, people:

Mitt Romney, what a concept...

GOP Rising Stars Not Rising Anymore

Daily Kos has a couple of good stories on Scott Walker and Chris Christie. They're so cool!

Shit just got real.  "Scott Walker Involved in Criminal Scheme" is currently the BANNER headline on the front page of 18 Wisconsin newspaper sites.  The breath and depth of the coverage is simply devastating.  The story is engulfing Walker across the entire state, from cities to suburbia to even rural farm country.
Just as we are digesting the news of Governor Scott Walker being in the center of a criminal scheme, I thought I'd check in on how the prosecutors are doing with Governor Chris Christie, and found Esquire is just breaking this this exclusive story. Scott Raab and Lisa Brennan report EXCLUSIVE: PROSECUTOR IS CLOSING IN ON GOV. CHRISTIE, saying "indictments against four cronies are near certain, sources say. Only question is if David Samson, Christie's longtime crony, will flip. They claim to have two inside sources.
Sure, I don't like the ideologies of Walker and Christie. I think, additionally, they're punks, bullies. The problems with punks and bullies is that they've been getting away with it -- in some cases, since they first started bullying in elementary school -- that they think they're immune.

Maybe they aren't.

Iraq Fault Lines: Mainstream Media Is Pro-War, Americans Are Not

IED blows up, al-Anbar province, 2006. We broke it, we can't fix it.

Whenever you hear any news at all in the mainstream media about the goings-on in Iraq these days, just remember that these same outlets -- even the New York Times -- were all-in with the Iraq War since before it started. So don't be surprised if all of them -- except perhaps the New York Times, which learned its lesson somewhat from the Judith Miller debacle -- are all-in for some form of reinvolvement or, at the very least, entertaining some idea that it's Barack Obama's fault. It's happening on his watch!

How did we get into this mess? Media Matters has a good rundown on the journalists responsible. Digby of Hullabalo reminds us in a piece that Paul Wolfowitz and others in the Bush administration responsible for getting us in this mess are delivering outrageous lying hoping to distance themselves from their war crimes. Off the subject but concurrent with the war talk, Media Matters also has a piece listing all the Faux News and "talk" radio noise claiming that Hillary Clinton not only planned the Benghazi attack and the cover-up but also that she had a hand in the timing of the capture of the man most responsible for the attack itself. Though, now they're claiming that he's a "patsy." Sheesh, there's no pleasing these assholes. If Jesus came back for Judgement Day, they'd claim it was a liberal plot to distract from the monster IRS email scandal.

Just noting that it's not healthy listening to either the mainstream media -- in the tank for war, it's fun to cover -- or the right-wing noise machine, whose whole effort is essentially a fact-free zone.

Here are two fun videos of Presidents Mitt Romney and John McCain. Just wondering: Why do we even ask these people anything?

Fun with Paul Wolowitz, who's all over the tellie as an "expert" lately. Here he is in 2003 telling how cheap and easy Iraq will be now that we've "won." Start at 2:15 and stop at 7:00.

Here's John Stewart noticing -- as we all did -- that Paul Wolfowitz shouldn't have ever been listened to.

Here's Wolfowitz nowadays, playing his expert role to a fawning Niel Cavuto:

Here's Politico:
According to a Public Policy Polling survey released Tuesday, 54 percent of voters say they agree more with the president on Iraq, compared with 28 percent who said they agree more with McCain.

American public 1, mainstream media 0.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Issues That Can Win: A Universal Carbon Tax

Reminder: why China would support efforts to reduce carbon-based pollution.

To kick off this discussion, a funny question: Why would "Communist" China support carbon reductions while the American Republican Party would not?

Weird thinking about that, huh? The answer is that China is beginning to understand that health is a vital component of stability, something the Communist Party desires above all else. It has, in the past, killed its citizens for stability. It's getting to the point, though, where China would rather win over its citizens with policy, not oppression. Why? The potential for revolution never goes away, regardless of how you work to cleanse the dissidents. Good paychecks, full tummies, and good housing -- and, yes, good health -- can be cheaper and easier than maintaining vast police states. Also, too, life is better, and with it so is productivity.

The Republican Party has different priorities. As long as "it's a job killer!" polls well, regardless of the silliness of the rhetoric, Republicans will shill for the corporations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It's the profit, stupid.

Political Animal points out that a carbon tax could work, if it was coupled with reduced taxes elsewhere. Making the idea attractive to Republicans is hard, but what if the corporations could get in on the tax tradeoff, as well?

This Bloomberg View article on how to sell a carbon tax makes sense: Use all  of the revenue from a carbon tax to reduce taxes elsewhere. Republicans might buy into that one.

I favor another approach, which may be harder to sell because its concept is so broad: a carbon-footprint tax. I first learned of this idea from a friend of mine, Tobi, when we were driving around the Swedish countryside last fall. Here's roughly how it works, as I recall:
  • The tax would run from pretty hefty all the way to an earned tax credit. If you want to eat carbon, so be it. Have at it, but be prepared to pay the tax. If you want to reduce your carbon consumption to zero or even better, so much the better.
  • Corporations and private individuals would both have an opportunity to reduce their tax rates by dumping high-carbon-use practices.
  • If you are rich and want to own five cars, great. Pay the tax. If you're middle-class, live in the city, and don't have a car, great. Your taxes drop. If you own a certified "green" car -- electric, hybrid, low-mileage diesel, etc. -- you pay a reduced rate, depending on total carbon footprint.
  • If your home is certified green -- meeting certain insulation standards, green appliances, etc. -- your taxes go down further. Have solar panels? Down go your taxes.
  • At some point, taxpayers are green enough to actually receive income from going green. If properly structured, a carbon-footprint tax scheme could fight income inequality: If the rich want to live high on the hog, let them subsidize the poor or green-savvy citizens who would love the tax breaks, even credits.
I'll keep it simple for now. But imagine a world in which income distribution flows to more normal levels, while carbon is reduced further and further. If the rich resent high taxes because of their carbon-rich lifestyle, stop using carbon! The rich can't say, "We earned this money!" Of course you did, we're only taxing you because of the reckless way you're spending it. Keep your money if you want! Go green!

From a political standpoint, it's hard to attack the rich for being stinking rich. It's easier to attack them for being stinking polluters. Lifestyles of the rich and famous give your children asthma. That's a better campaign than give me some of your money!

A quick counter-counterargument in advance: This would be bad for the economy. No, it wouldn't! Companies that play to pay a lower carbon tax would lower their tax burden. Those that build greener plants, office buildings, low-emission fleets, etc. lower their tax overhead, which will match the cost of going green. If enough companies do it, the cost of solar, wind, electric cars, batteries, etc., etc., will drop while these green industries grow the economy along the way.

Who loses? Okay, there are losers. The oil companies. The coal-mine operators. The natural gas producers that can't adequately reduce leakage of methane (not technically carbon, but must be in the mix). But these companies have been running ads for years about how green they are, how they're with us humans who want to grow, thrive, and survive. Now they can walk the walk: Invest your billions now in green systems. Nobody is stopping ExxonMobil from becoming the largest swappable electric-car-battery operation in the world. Nobody is preventing Chevron from becoming the world's largest producer of biodiesel. BP can become the largest distributor of hydrogen, with the most hydrogen stations in the world.

You get the point. These ideas aren't crazy. They're innovative, and they lead to jobs, healthy workers, and higher productivity. The countries that get on-board will lead and thrive. Those who don't will be left behind and will end up scrambling to get a piece of the action in a reduced-carbon world. They'll look more like Beijing than Stockholm. C'mon, it's good business. Republicans should be first in line.

ExxonMobil wants to solve our energy challenges. We're with you, if you're for real.

Here's a link to a site that has thought about this, right up to including dividends (revenue distribution).

Iraq: The Worst War Plan in History Comes Home to Roost

The Iraq War Gang of Four: Missing? Condoleezza Rice.

Fareed Zakaria lays out the broadly accepted truth: A deeply flawed battle plan, coupled with a disastrous decision to remove Sunnis from power -- de-Baathification -- led to a Shiite-dominated government that broke all agreements with the Sunnis, then turned around and persecuted them, which included torture and execution.

Any attempt by the usual suspects -- McCain, Graham, and all the Chicken Hawks -- to lay this at the feet of Barack Obama is political claptrap and should be rejected out of hand. Zakaria:
If the Bush administration deserves a fair share of blame for “losing Iraq,” what about the Obama administration and its decision to withdraw American forces from the country by the end of 2011? I would have preferred to see a small American force in Iraq to try to prevent the country’s collapse. But let’s remember why this force is not there. Maliki refused to provide the guarantees that every other country in the world that hosts U.S. forces offers. Some commentators have blamed the Obama administration for negotiating badly or halfheartedly and perhaps this is true. But here’s what a senior Iraqi politician told me in the days when the U.S. withdrawal was being discussed: “It will not happen. Maliki cannot allow American troops to stay on. Iran has made very clear to Maliki that its No. 1 demand is that there be no American troops remaining in Iraq. And Maliki owes them.” He reminded me that Maliki spent 24 years in exile, most of them in Tehran and Damascus, and his party was funded by Iran for most of its existence. And in fact, Maliki’s government has followed policies that have been pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian.
Deputy Secretary of State Paul Wolfowitz
said Iraqi oil would pay for the war. Right.
On the one hand, no one should be surprised that a Shiite, Maliki, would favor his sect in forming his government. However, wiser hands -- which the Bush administration did not have -- would have worked from the beginning to integrate Sunnis, Kurds, and Shiites into a unity government. Or with really wiser hands, they could have decided not to invade Iraq at all. Once the Sunni-dominated power structure, one that had existed for centuries, fell apart, all the players ended up in Humpty-Dumpty Land. The result is a Sunni insurgency, in both Iraq and Syria, funded by Turkey and Saudi Arabia and resisted and counter-funded by elements in Lebanon, Iran, and Syria.

The potential for a regional war split along Sunni-Shiite lines, with Kurds thrown into the mix, was baked into the cake by the Bush/Cheney debacle beginning in 2003. The solution now? Stay the hell out. Boots on the ground? Won't happen. Bomb, bomb, bomb? Who? For how long? Toward what end? It will only stir the hornet's nest and build more hatred for America and the West.

We broke it, and it turns out we couldn't buy it. Real smart.

There she is, the belle of the ball. Nice work. And remember,
her title was National Security Advisor. Heckuva job, Condi!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

How the Press Is Prevented from Legitimate Reporting in American War Zones

The New York Times bravely printed Chelsea Manning's op-ed on how the U.S. hides the truth of what goes on in American war zones. A principal inspiration for the system is to avoid a repeat of a free press causing Americans to turn against the Vietnam War.

Read it.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The California Teacher "Tenure" Decision That Won't Stand Scrutiny

How do you gauge effective teaching? His students look enthusiastic, but what
if he's asking "How many students want to ban homework for the rest of the year?"

As a former California teacher, I was horrified by the recent (tentative) ruling that might bring an end to California's so-called teacher tenure law. I was instinctively appalled by the decision, and after a few days I found out why my instincts were right. Here are some facts:
  • The case was underwritten by a Silicon Valley billionaire named David Welch, who created a group called Students Matter, which is a subsidiary of StudentsFirst, which is, yes, Michelle Rhee's anti-union outfit. After choosing an attorney dream team, they went in search of students "harmed" by long-established teacher-protection statutes. This is a labor-law court action masquerading as an education reform effort.
  • California doesn't have a "teacher tenure" law. Its teachers are granted permanent status after two years of teaching. They still need to undergo the continual administrative observation process which applies to all teachers at all levels of their careers. If an area of concern is discovered, the teacher is given time to correct it. If subsequent observations discover the problem is not corrected, steps are taken, sometimes including dismissal. The "permanent status" is merely a due process framework, one that all workers profit from. Who wants to get fired by a supervisor because WTF?
  • The other process under fire is LIFO, or last in first out. That's a very common practice where the longer a worker has been on the job, the safer his or her position is. It's called seniority. It's a well respected criterion. It takes the randomness out of layoffs. Period. Enemies of this practice in education say this protects ineffective teachers. Proof?
  • The reasoning of judge Treu in this case is extraordinarily shoddy and most likely won't stand scrutiny. Early commentary pointed to weak support for requiring strict scrutiny and problems with accepting plaintiffs' expert-witness testimony as fact, when in actuality the "facts" are admitted guessimates that presume there are 1 to 3 percent ineffective teachers in California. Even if there were, that means that 97 to 99 percent of California students receive an education from effective teachers. For this you eviscerate teacher protections that have worked well for decades?
Read this article by David Atkins for background on the case and this one on Atkins' first reaction to the decision. Slate's Jordan Weissmann has an important article today amplifying the weakness of Judge Treu's decision.

When you see the players involved in this case, you realize this is not about improving education. It's about dismantling teachers unions and privatizing education. It's straight from the conservative playbook, right up to including billionaires' money to destroy worker protections and government services. That's it in a nutshell. With luck, it won't work because of the weakness of their case. Next stop is the California Court of Appeals, often the graveyard of shoddy decisions.

StudentsFirst education grifter Michelle Rhee:
With the help of billionaires, you can grift big!

Update. More opinion pieces coming in on the decision. Here's a couple of graphs from a well-reasoned response in the NYTimes:
Everyone agrees that closing the achievement gap should be a high priority. But the remedy should fit the problem.
The lack of effective teachers in impoverished schools contributes to that gap, but tenure isn’t the cause. Teaching in those schools is a hard job, and many teachers prefer (slightly) easier jobs in less troubled settings. That leads to high turnover and difficulty in filling positions. Left with a dwindling pool of teachers, principals are unlikely to dismiss them, whether they have tenure or not.
Get that? Making teaching a less desirable profession will make it harder to remove ineffective teachers in impoverished schools. This has always been obvious to me. Make a job attractive -- higher salary, better benefits, better job security -- and better candidates apply. The opposite delivers the opposite. Duh.

Michelle Rhee loves the decision. Duh. Notice how she says "nine courageous young people who put their names on the lawsuit" and "the frustration that led these nine students to file a lawsuit." The suit was formulated, and then the billionaires' dream team went looking for some "perfect" plaintiffs. C'mon Michelle.

Here's a very telling reaction in the LATimes that hits the nail on the head:
As (NYU professor and education policy expert Diane) Ravitch points out, lawyers for the unions intervening in the case checked out the records of the teachers of the nine plaintiffs, who were all California public school students. "Two of the plaintiffs attend charter schools, where there is no tenure or seniority," she observes. Two others (the Vergara sisters) attend a pilot school in the Los Angeles Unified School District where teachers can be dismissed for any reason, including "ineffectiveness."
In other words, their teachers weren't even subject to the rules on teacher dismissal they were challenging.
As for the other plaintiffs, their testimony identifying some teachers as "bad" or "ineffective" only underscored the complexity and difficulty of making teacher evaluations. It's certainly not uncommon for a teacher to be detested by some students and adored by others. In this case, one of the teachers identified as bad by a plaintiff had been named a "teacher of the year" by the Pasadena Unified School District and others had excellent records.
Got that? This decision is toast, or had better be.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

One Picture Will Convince You Solar Is the Future, and Why China Will Lead It

Question: Who is the largest producer of solar panels? China.

Question: Who currently leads in solar-panel installations? China.

Question: Who has the largest solar-energy production capacity? Germany. Second, China.

Question: Who needs to get away from coal energy because of crippling pollution? China.

Question: Who is lagging behind China in solar energy production? The U.S.

Question: Who is lagging behind China in solar-panel production? The U.S.

It didn't have to be this way, but there are definite pluses to the whole affair. One thing is certain: America -- I mean, uh, the Republican Party -- should stop pretending we can't work with the world on this. It doesn't even have to be "to save the planet." It could just be "to make life better." And, by today's standards, it's getting cheaper all the time. So all the "job killer" and "economy crusher" is just hot air.

Source: Department of Energy.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Eric Cantor Loses Primary in Spite of the Fact He Sucked as Majority Leader

Eric Cantor posing next to American flag, symbolizing his deep policy priorities.

I'm sorry for Eric Cantor, I really am. As Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, he got next to nothing done during his tenure. Either he championed causes -- like repealing Obamacare -- that were doomed to defeat or he opposed causes -- job training, budget deals, gun control -- that would hand Barack Obama a policy victory. In the end, he got absolutely nothing done, except, perhaps, arranging to have the credit rating of the U.S. lowered twice because of obstructionism (the actual cause for the credit downgrades, by the way).

He strutted around with the "leadership," stood around with them at photo ops, then oops got booted. With his impressive record, he should be a lobbyist in no time.

Note. It's possible that his "support" for immigration reform did factor into his loss. But remember, he never had any intention of bringing immigration reform to the floor, ever. He just hoped that he could feint support for Hispanic causes. Oops, backfired. He got fired by his own conservative brethren. Now, the result is Hispanics know the right despises them. Uh oh, 2016.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Over the Past Thirtysome Years, the Government Lowered Taxes. With What Result?

Conservatives idolize Reagan. Why? For starting our long, steady decline? For
helping jump-start income inequality? For starting the trickle down that never did?

Have wages gone up for the middle class? No. Have the wealthy gotten wealthier? Heck yeah. Do we think our government services are better? No. Do we think government is more effective? No.

So why did we cut taxes? So life would be better in America? Maybe so. Did it work? Doesn't look like it.

What are the chances we'll raise taxes on the wealthy to achieve a more equitable society? Not likely. What are the chances we'll pass laws that encourage labor unionization, even though we know that the demise of the labor movement coincided with the long slide into stagnant wages? Not likely. Unions have become very unpopular, even demonized.

Let's do a Harpers sort of thing.

Decrease in federal minimum wage, over the last 46 years:

Increase in income by quintile, plus top 5%:

Graph showing bottom two quintiles spending more than they make:

The decline of unionism:

 Top-bracket tax rates, since inception of federal income tax, with trend line:

 One hundred years of income inequality:

The last two charts are very telling: Historically, income inequality in the U.S. tracks top marginal tax rates. Look at income inequality's rise since 1980. That tracks the continuously lowered tax rates beginning with Reagan and ending with Bush II, with an assist from Obama, who only restored the higher tax rates on the very highest earners.

Now compare this with the flatness of the minimum wage increases over time. In fact, in real dollars, the minimum wage is below where it was in the 1970s. In addition, the lowest four quintiles have nearly flat wage increases, while the top quinitle does markedly better. The top 5% put the rest in the dust. In truth, a large portion of the top 5%'s income rise is actually due to the terrific increases in those of the top 1% and even the top .1%.

As the minimum wage has lost ground since the 70s, and wage growth in general has been flat since then, it's not surprising seeing union participation begin to fall in the 1970s, as well. The union movement in great part gave us the American middle class. Now its decline tracks the decline of the middle class. You don't have to be a fan of unionism to see the connection.

Look, finally, at the the graph that shows household after-tax income and expenses. The bottom two quintiles make less than their expenses. How could this be so? Either the poor and very poor get by with food stamps and other assistance, or they acquire debt, sometimes at exorbitant rates from Payday loans. A third component is that some of the bottom two quintiles are seniors spending down savings. Some estimates place this share at 25% or fewer of Americans. Senior poverty is rarer these days, for obvious reasons. In any event, the poor and very poor, whether seniors or not, don't make enough to get by without assistance or acquiring debt or spending down savings.

Now, there's one last piece to this puzzle. Satisfaction with government:

The first chart shows satisfaction with government at an all-time low of 18%. The second chart shows "dysfunctional government" being the number-one problem facing America, easily surpassing the economy or jobs.

My conclusion: If real wages are flat or even falling for some quintiles, and taxes on the rich are considerably lower than when Reagan began slashing them in 1981, and the wealthiest Americans are even more wealthy today than at anytime since just before the 1929 stock-market crash, and satisfaction and opinion of government are at historic highs, why would anybody believe that our economic policies have been wise in the past 35 years?

The trends all track or mirror each other. So, the way to fix this is:
  1. Raise the minimum wage to as high as $12, even $15.
  2. Encourage unionism to support middle-class-level wages.
  3. Raise taxes back to pre-Reagan levels.
  4. Spend new revenues on discretionary non-defense spending, especially on education, job training, health care, safety-net programs, and shoring up, not cutting, Medicare. Social Security can be extended nearly indefinitely by raising the cap on FICA taxes. And, yes, by all means, pour money into infrastructure spending. That supports the economy and encourages businesses to locate in the U.S.
  5. States should find a way to make college more affordable, even free. Europe does it, Australia does it. So can we.
I don't even have to present graphs about rising college tuition or rising student debt, but they're a huge part of our current dilemma. Education has always been touted as the portal to the American Dream. That portal is slammed shut for many Americans, and those that build up huge student debt are being denied an easy entry into the American economy. In fact, they're a principal drain on the American economy. Fix higher education spending, and fix the economy at the same time.

A last comment: If you look at the satisfaction with government chart, you see that the figure went negative around 2005. That, friends, is Hurricane Katrina. Why? That was the turning point. George W. Bush's performance was so bad that his numbers plummeted and along with them trust in government, from which its reputation has never recovered.

It's funny. Satisfaction and trust in government don't historically track the level of taxation. If the government is effective, people don't mind paying taxes. That's been true since taxes first started being collected.

George W. Bush looking at Katrina damage: The moment trust in government ended.

Bush in Jackson Square. Hopelessly clueless, and people stopped believing.

Heckuva job. We can do better. We must. What needs to be done, only government can do. Time to get to work, actual work.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Finally, a Way to Understand -- and Support -- Net Neutrality

John Oliver did all of us a solid: He explained net neutrality and why it's vital we support it and not let the cable cartel bamboozle the FCC (hint, the FCC is not bamboozled, we are).

Do follow his recommendation and go comment -- in favor of net neutrality -- at the FCC comments page on the Internet.

If you need some inspiration, read this to discover you're not alone if you hate your cable company (I hate mine, Comcast, and I'm leaving it as soon as my mandatory 2-year contract is up.)

Tell your friends. This is too important to ignore.

Friday, June 6, 2014

If You Ever Thought the American Dream Was Real, Do You Now?

Simple answers to simple questions: Maybe yeah, but you really shouldn't anymore.

Somebody's dream home.

The American Dream was based on the idea that we all have a shot. We all don't have a shot. In fact, the shot that some of us had was so hopelessly gamed -- most especially during the housing bubble -- that many of us never had a chance. It took dumb luck, like I had, to not get crushed. And even then, the odds were stacked against us.

I remember the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago in which hundreds of demonstrators were beaten and arrested. They were carted off in droves, with the "authorities" saying it was the protestors' fault. Later, after an extensive investigation, the mayhem was declared to have been a "police riot." That's right, the police went crazy, beat and gassed people, drove them into corners where they couldn't escape, and then arrested them for resisting arrest. It was a travesty.

What happened during the housing bubble was very much the same. The usual suspects -- here's one of them, and another one -- say there was nothing the government could do to protect the homeowners that got swept up. But it's not true. Basically, the housing bubble was a bank riot, a bunch of banks that ran wild, issuing loans willy-nilly, then robo-signing their foreclosure papers, and avoiding millions in property and deed transfer fees by creating a fake electronic transfer system that no one really approved -- as far as I know -- and in the end, the Fed or Fannie or Freddie ate all the bad paper. The banks were made whole. The people? Not so much. The towns and cities, with the crap foreclosed homes falling apart? Not so much.

My family was not immune. We were actually damaged by it. One of my brothers, who was virtually unemployable and hadn't held down a job in several years, was offered a no-doc loan for $350,000. When I told him I seriously doubted it, he was so insulted, he stopped talking to me. (And I was wrong: Washington Mutual had pre-approved him for the no-doc loan.) My other brother, when I told him there was bubble and that we should sell the family home before it was too late, didn't believe me (our last parent had died, this was in the process of unraveling an estate). Instead, he borrowed heavily -- yep, a virtual no-doc loan from, yep, Washington Mutual (this brother hadn't worked in seven years, long story) -- and bought the family home for himself. He poured money into updating it, lived in it for a couple of years, and then put it on the market. He lost more than his entire worth at the end of the whole process (sold it for more than $200,000 LESS than an offer he turned down in 2007). He was sixty-six, with no income other than Social Security. He, too, doesn't talk to me.

I've made this personal to make a point, and that's that the collapse of the American Dream can break families in ways that aren't always obvious. I can live with the estrangement of my older brothers. What else am I going to do? Imagine all the other myriad ways the housing collapse shattered families. They're countless, each its own individual tragedy.

It didn't have to be this way, but the Big Boys Who Make the Rules said so, yes, this is too the way it goes.

So bye bye American Dream.

Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, left. Said he'd help homeowners,
then didn't. Said he couldn't. Right. That must have been it, he couldn't.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Boycott National Companies That Pay Below $10.10 an Hour. It's That Simple.

Twenty companies with the most low-wage workers.

I haven't shopped at Walmart in 20 years anyway. Some time maybe two years ago, I ate at McDonald's and said, "Shit, this is shitty food." Same thing a year ago at Taco Bell. Their tortillas taste like cardboard. Now I've stopped thinking outside the bun. I don't go near them. I eat at my local taqueria. A little more expensive, but great!

They probably don't pay any more than Taco Bell, but that's not the point. Here's the point: If everyone picked the top-ten corporations that should be paying a higher minimum wage but aren't, and stopped shopping there ever, we'd see a $10 or higher minimum wage in no time. Seriously,

What, are they just going to let sales slip 5 percent? Their stock would tank. Again, you'd be eating better. Shop the sales at the really local chains. Skip Macy's. Seeing their name in the top twenty gives me the willies. Their workers can't afford to shop there!

Boycotting national food joints and retailers that pay below $10.10 should be a no-brainer. For example, make In-N-Out Burger your go-to burger joint (It's mine since I abandoned my juvenile attachment to McDonald's). Make Costco your go-to big-box store. Shun TJMax (I'm cutting up my card today). Nordstrom pays a decent wage. I might make Nordstrom Rack my go-to clothing discounter. Encourage everyone you know to do the same.

Now, the beauty of this is that is skips the mom-and-pop dilemma -- joints that supposedly would get hurt by a higher minimum wage. Go ahead, go to your local non-chain burger joint. Encourage them to pay their workers more, reminding them that better-paid workers are more loyal (thus you don't have to train new workers so much), more reliable, more retainable, and don't steal everything they can get they hands on. But support them if you think they're worthy.

Bowe Bergdahl Didn't Desert. Good Luck convincing anybody.

Bowe Bergdahl, hardened criminal.

It has been verified that Bowe Bergdahl was captured by Afghanis within thirty minutes of leaving his post. A soldier is not a deserter until he's been gone thirty days.

This doesn't resolve the issue of why he left in the first place. We don't know that yet.

But when listening to the GOP-rounded-up gang of media specialists from Bergdahl's platoon (and, yes, GOP operatives are behind the media onslaught), remember that saying something doesn't make it so.

Another important fact: Bowe Bergdahl was the last POW from Iraq and Afghanistan. Now there are none.

Another important fact: The five "high-value" Taliban that we traded were being illegally held or at least would be if not released at the end of the Afghanistan War. There are no charges against them. We were going to have to release them anyway, unless of course you're in favor of doing illegal things, which since Bush/Cheney may be the-way-we-conduct-business-since-9/11.

America fuck yeah! Except Bergdahl. Fuck him. That's just the way we roll! Semper Fi!

My actual opinion: The way the Bowe Bergdahl release from five years of captivity has been handled politically and in the media represents one of the darkest hours in an already dark era of American politics. It's disgraceful in so many ways. Bergdahl may not be an exemplary soldier. "Hero" former Vietnam vet and Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey may be an example of another possible non-exemplary soldier. Shit happens in war. Still... Kerrey killed women and children and got a Bronze Star. Bergdahl gets raked over the coals for taking an ill-advised walk.

America, fuck yeah!

Former Senator Bob Kerrey: What happened that night in the Vietnamese village
is "none of your damned business." He later served on the 9/11 Commission.

Little Tommy Friedman Misses So Badly It Hurts My Head

Proof that Little Tommy Friedman married well. Wish there was proof
he was rehabbed. He needs it, desperately.

Foreign affairs specialists like Little Tommy Friedman sometimes marry well. Good for him. But he shouldn't tout the American values we've introduced to Vietnam and Iraq. Blowing stuff and people up is rarely a project for passing on the best America has to offer. The fact that we missed blowing up a part of a country doesn't make us special. It makes the people we didn't blow up special. At some point, Little Tommy Friedman needs to go away. Unfortunately, the New York Times hasn't decided that time is now. More's the pity. So he gets to publish stuff like this.

But don't fall for his crap. It makes Atrios' head explode. I can see why. Atrios long ago did the world the favor of flagging this video from a Charlie Rose appearance, which, in spite of how eloquently glib he was, should have gotten Friedman banned from the human race. It didn't and hasn't, but a man, and the human race, can dream.

Until then, Little Tommy Friedman gets to drop that he's the commencement speaker in the part of Iraq that was not forced to Suck. On. This. I see what Atrios means.

God, I used to admire this guy. Shame on me. But I went to rehab, and now I'm better. I don't know which of the 12 Steps I'm on, maybe the apology tour. I'm sorry, folks, if I ever caused you harm by praising Little Tommy Friedman. What's the next step? Going back to drink? That might work.

Friedman's official "I'm majorly relevant" portrait.