Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Who Would Pope Francis Vote For? A Jewish Socialist?

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Probably not Ted Cruz; probably not any Republican or any conservative. His teachings indicate that the Pope is a progressive, especially on economic matters. He sounds a lot like Jesus in fact. He may not have the shekels to spread around that the Adelsons, Kochs and Rove are going to spend to help elect right-wing ideologues and handmaidens to the wealthy-- the demographic that popes have always backed-- but this Pope's teachings can have a tremendous impact on voters in 2016.

The Pope and Bernie Sanders both see the economic issues being debated in society in moral terms. And Bernie has acknowledged his admiration for the Pope's teachings along these lines. Like many American progressives regardless of religion, Sanders says he finds himself "very close to the teachings of Pope Francis," and he recently described Pope Francis as "incredibly smart and brave." Sanders told NBC News that "the issue we're dealing with is actually the struggle to rebuild American democracy. Economically, over the last 40 years, we've seen a middle class in this country disappearing. 99% of all new income generated today goes to the top 1 percent. The top one-tenth of 1 percent owns as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Does anybody think this is the kind of economy we should have. Do we think it's moral?"



Sunday, writing for Politico, Ben Schreckinger asserted that the Pope is causing problems for Republican Catholics. His message of a more just and equitable system doesn't click with the kind of right-wing beliefs the Papacy has traditionally stood behind. And this Pope is getting down in the weeds with issues like Palestine and climate change. In September Pope Francis will address Congress about climate change and environmental degradation, two topics Republicans would rather sweep under the rug.

Jeb Bush and other GOP defenders of everything and anything that can be viewed as part of the status quo would rather read fascist-oriented, anti-democracy philosopher and racist Charles Murray, who Bush said is the author who has had the most impact on his thinking. Murray's new book, By The People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, is a sick, anti-American, fully dishonest right-wing screed that tramples democracy under its heels, something conservatives have always worked to do. Murray is clearly Satan's choice-- as well as the GOP's-- to debate Pope Francis.

Schreckinger interviewed Sam Clovis, a Catholic and political activist who’s run for U.S. Senate and state treasurer in Iowa. "In northwest Iowa," said Clovis, "we are discussing this a great deal, and sometimes it's hard for us to reconcile the pronouncements we read from the Holy Father with our conservative principles."
Jeb Bush-- who praised the pontiff in a commencement speech at Liberty University this month-- could lose out in the Iowa caucus, said Clovis. “It’s going to cause a lot of problems for Jeb Bush, because Republicans are simply not going to take him seriously,” he said.

Bush declined to address whether his admiration for the pope might affect how religious conservatives view him. In his speech at Liberty he said, “I cannot think of any more subversive moral idea ever loosed on the world than ‘the last shall be first, and the first last.’

“It’s a voice like no other,” he continued, “seen in the example of Francis the saint, or of Francis the pope.”

The other Catholic Republicans in the presidential conversation have taken their own wary approaches to Francis.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who often touts his religious conservatism, has also embraced Francis but sidestepped his apparent differences of opinion with the pope on matters like evolution and the Big Bang. Francis has said that both theories are compatible with Catholicism. But Jindal would not say when asked last year whether the pope’s statement altered his support for a bill that would allow Louisiana schools to teach creationism.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, meanwhile, have worked to draw a distinction between the pope’s authoritative declarations of Catholic belief, which they would feel compelled to follow, and his mere opinions, which they don’t consider binding. Earlier this month, Rubio said that as a political leader, he had a responsibility to oppose a diplomatic thaw with Cuba, even though the pope had signaled his support for it. In January, Santorum said he was agitated by the pope’s “off the cuff” remarks about Catholics not needing to “breed like rabbits” but that he would continue to heed Francis when “he speaks as the leader of the Catholic Church.” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has remained uncharacteristically quiet on Francis, though one of his closest political allies, Catholic billionaire Ken Langone, has complained publicly about the pope’s statements on capitalism and inequality.

As the pope prepares to launch a global lobbying campaign in favor of climate action and a tour of the U.S. that will include an address to Congress made at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Catholic Republicans have some advice for their fellow Catholics in the GOP field: The candidates can continue to honor Francis’ religious authority while safely disregarding his “political opinion.”

...But the distinction between the pope’s moral authority and mere political opinion will get harder to draw this summer when Francis’ forthcoming encyclical is expected to make environmental protection and shielding the poor from the effects of climate change a matter of church doctrine.

“Obviously, when it comes to science, the pope is not infallible. Galileo proved that,” said Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and Washington-based analyst for the National Catholic Reporter, though he noted that Francis did earn a master’s degree in chemistry before entering the seminary. “When it comes to, however, the question of the impact of climate change on humanity, this is a moral issue. We’re talking about death and destruction on an apocalyptic scale.”

Reese said the optics of the pope’s congressional address could get awkward. “I think it’s going to be hilarious,” he said. “What’s going to happen when Pope Francis says, ‘You should welcome the immigrants. You should take care of global warming.’ I mean what are the Republicans going to do? Because the Democrats are going to jump and applaud. Are the Republicans just going to sit on their hands?”

Mike McCarron served as executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops during Bush’s tenure as governor and Rubio’s tenure as speaker of the Florida House. “It would be my expectation that both of them are going to have a lot of respect for Pope Francis. Both of them regard their Catholic faith very seriously. When I interacted with them, it was very clear that it was important to them.”

And while Rubio has always maintained a respectful tone, he criticized the pope’s support for the U.S.’ diplomatic rapprochement with Cuba, saying in December: “I would also ask His Holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy.” “The pope is a shepherd of a faith. … He’s not a political figure,” Rubio said at the Council on Foreign Relations earlier this month. Santorum has been even blunter, remarking in January, “It’s sometimes very difficult to listen to the pope and some of the things he says off the cuff.”

But Bush has praised the pope’s style of public engagement. The former Florida governor told National Review last month that Francis’ attitude could “absolutely” help Catholics in public life. “I do think he can help change the conversation. Because right now, it’s just full of land mines,” said Bush.

Like so much else about Bush, his embrace of Francis places him in sync with a majority of Americans but at odds with large swaths of the Republican primary electorate. Seventy percent of Americans view Francis favorably, as do 90 percent of American Catholics, an approval rating that rivals his now-sainted predecessor John Paul II, according to a February survey by the Pew Research Center.
Yesterday, Bernie made a powerful speech to officially kick off his presidential campaign. You can read the whole speech here. Here are a few inspiring highlights that I hope will make you want to contribute to his run for the Democratic nomination.
Today, we stand here and say loudly and clearly that; "Enough is enough. This great nation and its government belong to all of the people, and not to a handful of billionaires, their Super-PACs and their lobbyists."

Brothers and sisters: Now is not the time for thinking small. Now is not the time for the same old-- same old establishment politics and stale inside-the-beltway ideas.

Now is the time for millions of working families to come together, to revitalize American democracy, to end the collapse of the American middle class and to make certain that our children and grandchildren are able to enjoy a quality of life that brings them health, prosperity, security and joy-- and that once again makes the United States the leader in the world in the fight for economic and social justice, for environmental sanity and for a world of peace.

My fellow Americans: This country faces more serious problems today than at any time since the Great Depression and, if you include the planetary crisis of climate change, it may well be that the challenges we face now are direr than any time in our modern history.

Here is my promise to you for this campaign. Not only will I fight to protect the working families of this country, but we're going to build a movement of millions of Americans who are prepared to stand up and fight back. We're going to take this campaign directly to the people-- in town meetings, door to door conversations, on street corners and in social media-- and that's BernieSanders.com by the way. This week we will be in New Hampshire, Iowa and Minnesota-- and that's just the start of a vigorous grassroots campaign.

Let's be clear. This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders. It is not about Hillary Clinton. It is not about Jeb Bush or anyone else. This campaign is about the needs of the American people, and the ideas and proposals that effectively address those needs. As someone who has never run a negative political ad in his life, my campaign will be driven by issues and serious debate; not political gossip, not reckless personal attacks or character assassination. This is what I believe the American people want and deserve. I hope other candidates agree, and I hope the media allows that to happen. Politics in a democratic society should not be treated like a baseball game, a game show or a soap opera. The times are too serious for that.

...Today, we live in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world but that reality means very little for most of us because almost all of that wealth is owned and controlled by a tiny handful of individuals. In America we now have more income and wealth inequality than any other major country on earth, and the gap between the very rich and everyone is wider than at any time since the 1920s. The issue of wealth and income inequality is the great moral issue of our time, it is the great economic issue of our time and it is the great political issue of our time. And we will address it.

Let me be very clear. There is something profoundly wrong when the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, and when 99 percent of all new income goes to the top 1 percent. There is something profoundly wrong when, in recent years, we have seen a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires at the same time as millions of Americans work longer hours for lower wages and we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth. There is something profoundly wrong when one family owns more wealth than the bottom 130 million Americans. This grotesque level of inequality is immoral. It is bad economics. It is unsustainable. This type of rigged economy is not what America is supposed to be about. This has got to change and, as your president, together we will change it.

But it is not just income and wealth inequality. It is the tragic reality that for the last 40 years the great middle class of our country-- once the envy of the world-- has been disappearing. Despite exploding technology and increased worker productivity, median family income is almost $5,000 less than it was in 1999. In Vermont and throughout this country it is not uncommon for people to be working two or three jobs just to cobble together enough income to survive on and some health care benefits.

...Let me be as blunt as I can and tell you what you already know. As a result of the disastrous Supreme Court decision on Citizens United, the American political system has been totally corrupted, and the foundations of American democracy are being undermined. What the Supreme Court essentially said was that it was not good enough for the billionaire class to own much of our economy. They could now own the U.S. government as well. And that is precisely what they are trying to do.

American democracy is not about billionaires being able to buy candidates and elections. It is not about the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and other incredibly wealthy individuals spending billions of dollars to elect candidates who will make the rich richer and everyone else poorer. According to media reports the Koch brothers alone, one family, will spend more money in this election cycle than either the Democratic or Republican parties. This is not democracy. This is oligarchy. In Vermont and at our town meetings we know what American democracy is supposed to be about. It is one person, one vote-- with every citizen having an equal say-- and no voter suppression. And that's the kind of American political system we have to fight for and will fight for in this campaign.

When we talk about our responsibilities as human beings and as parents, there is nothing more important than leaving this country and the entire planet in a way that is habitable for our kids and grandchildren. The debate is over. The scientific community has spoken in a virtually unanimous voice. Climate change is real. It is caused by human activity and it is already causing devastating problems in the United States and around the world.

...Let us be honest and acknowledge that millions of Americans are now working for totally inadequate wages. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage and must be raised. The minimum wage must become a living wage-- which means raising it to $15 an hour over the next few years-- which is exactly what Los Angeles recently did-- and I applaud them for doing that. Our goal as a nation must be to ensure that no full-time worker lives in poverty. Further, we must establish pay equity for women workers. It's unconscionable that women earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to men who perform the same work. We must also end the scandal in which millions of American employees, often earning less than $30,000 a year, work 50 or 60 hours a week-- and earn no overtime. And we need paid sick leave and guaranteed vacation time for all.

This campaign is going to send a message to the billionaire class. And that is: you can't have it all. You can't get huge tax breaks while children in this country go hungry. You can't continue sending our jobs to China while millions are looking for work. You can't hide your profits in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens, while there are massive unmet needs on every corner of this nation. Your greed has got to end. You cannot take advantage of all the benefits of America, if you refuse to accept your responsibilities.

That is why we need a tax system which is fair and progressive, which makes wealthy individuals and profitable corporations begin to pay their fair share of taxes.

It is time to break up the largest financial institutions in the country. Wall Street cannot continue to be an island unto itself, gambling trillions in risky financial instruments while expecting the public to bail it out. If a bank is too big to fail it is too big to exist. We need a banking system which is part of the job creating productive economy, not a handful of huge banks on Wall Street which engage in reckless and illegal activities.

If we are serious about creating jobs, about climate change and the needs of our children and the elderly, we must be deadly serious about campaign finance reform and the need for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. I have said it before and I'll say it again. I will not nominate any justice to the Supreme Court who has not made it clear that he or she will move to overturn that disastrous decision which is undermining our democracy. Long term, we need to go further and establish public funding of elections.

The United States must lead the world in reversing climate change. We can do that if we transform our energy system away from fossil fuels, toward energy efficiency and such sustainable energies such as wind, solar, geo-thermal and bio-mass. Millions of homes and buildings need to be weatherized, our transportation system needs to be energy efficient, and we need a tax on carbon to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuel.

The United States remains the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care for all as a right. Despite the modest gains of the Affordable Care Act, 35 million Americans continue to lack health insurance and many more are under-insured. Yet, we continue paying far more per capita for health care than any other nation. The United States must join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee health care to all as a right by moving toward a Medicare-for-All single-payer system.

At a time when millions of Americans are struggling to keep their heads above water economically, at a time when senior poverty is increasing, at a time when millions of kids are living in dire poverty, my Republican colleagues, as part of their recently-passed budget, are trying to make a terrible situation even worse. If you can believe it, the Republican budget throws 27 million Americans off health insurance, makes drastic cuts in Medicare, throws millions of low-income Americans, including pregnant women off of nutrition programs, and makes it harder for working-class families to afford college or put their kids in the Head Start program. And then, to add insult to injury, they provide huge tax breaks for the very wealthiest families in this country while they raise taxes on working families.

Well, let me tell my Republican colleagues that I respectfully disagree with their approach. Instead of cutting Social Security, we're going to expand Social Security benefits. Instead of cutting Head Start and child care, we are going to move to a universal pre-K system for all the children of this country. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt reminded us, a nation's greatness is judged not by what it provides to the most well-off, but how it treats the people most in need. And that's the kind of nation we must become.

And when we talk about education, let me be very clear. In a highly competitive global economy, we need the best educated workforce we can create. It is insane and counter-productive to the best interests of our country, that hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college, and that millions of others leave school with a mountain of debt that burdens them for decades. That must end. That is why, as president, I will fight to make tuition in public colleges and universities free, as well as substantially lower interest rates on student loans.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Nailing the job interview, Zonker Harris-style

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by Ken

As last week's Doonesbury Classic reminded us, there was a moment there, back in 1982, when the core players were contemplating the leap from college to the real world, when it looked as if Zonk's future might lie in -- surely the least probable of the callings he's bumped up against -- um, software?


MONDAY -- "Maybe you can break the kiln"

Doonesbury     by G. B. Trudeau



TUESDAY -- "Careful, Zonk, you'll peak before the interviews"

Doonesbury     by G. B. Trudeau



WEDNESDAY -- "Well, I'm off for my interviews"

Doonesbury     by G. B. Trudeau



THURSDAY -- "So you'd like to break into the commodities field?"

Doonesbury     by G. B. Trudeau



FRIDAY -- "Who could argue with 'remarkable'?"

Doonesbury     by G. B. Trudeau


SATURDAY -- "How long have you been interested in software?"

Doonesbury     by G. B. Trudeau


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Osama's secret stashes

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On May 20, 2015, the ODNI released a sizeable tranche of documents recovered during the raid on the compound used to hide Usama bin Ladin. The release, which followed a rigorous interagency review, aligns with the President’s call for increased transparency–consistent with national security prerogatives–and the 2014 Intelligence Authorization Act, which required the ODNI to conduct a review of the documents for release.

The release contains two sections. The first is a list of non-classified, English-language material found in and around the compound. The second is a selection of now-declassified documents.

The Intelligence Community will be reviewing hundreds more documents in the near future for possible declassification and release. An interagency taskforce under the auspices of the White House and with the agreement of the DNI is reviewing all documents which supported disseminated intelligence cables, as well as other relevant material found around the compound. All documents whose publication will not hurt ongoing operations against al-Qa‘ida or their affiliates will be released.

Now Declassified Material (103 items) [see list onsite]

Publicly Available U.S. Government Documents (75 items) [see list onsite]

English Language Books (39 items) [see list onsite]

[plus Material Published by Violent Extremists and Terror Groups (35 items), Materials Regarding France (19 items), Media Articles  (33 items), Other Religious Documents (11 items), Think Tank and Other Studies (40 items), Software and Technical Manuals (30 items), Other Miscellaneous Documents, and Documents Probably Used by Other Compound Residents (10 items)]
-- from the website of the ODNI
by Ken

As you've undboutedly heard, a veil has begun to be lifted over the stuff Osama bin Laden left behind in his final hideaway in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Suddenly we're privy to a cache of e-mails sent and received and a stash of 39 English-language books he kept.

Who knew we could go to the Web page of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for dish? I actually find this more interesting than the revelations so far revealed regarding the late Osama bin Laden, revelations that included both assorted documents and the titles of 39 English-language books that formed an odd little library of sorts linked to Osama in the Abbottabad compound to which he was traced and in which he was killed by Navy SEALs.

Note for the record that the ODNI Web page specifies:
This list contains U.S. person information that is being released in accordance with the Fiscal Year 2014 Intelligence Authorization Act (section 309) requirement that the Director of National Intelligence conduct a declassification review of certain items collected during the mission that killed Usama bin Ladin on May 1, 2011, and make publicly available any information declassified as a result of such review.

All publications are unclassified and available commercially or in the public domain.

The U.S. Intelligence Community does not endorse any of the publications on this list.
By now everyone, his brother, and his butcher has had a shot at analyzing Osama's English-language bookshelf for what the titles reveal about, well, goodness-only-knows-what. You can google a dozen or two of those. My favorite theory, though, is provided by Daniel W. Drezner, professor of international politics at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, in a washingtonpost.com "PostEverything" post, who had a shock of recognition looking at the mini-library and from personal experience recognized "Osama bin Laden, perpetual impoverished grad student."

While acknowledging that "if there is a common theme to his English-language library, it’s great power war and imperial decline" ("that fits both his conspiracy books and his more conventional selections"), he's struck by the "scattershot nature" of the selections.
There were other quality books on empire that bin Laden should have had in his possession given that he was so invested in this topic. Why this odd mix?
And that's when the light bulb lit.
[A]s I perused this mish-mash of conspiracy tomes, quasi-conspiracy tomes, radical texts, mainstream bestsellers, and the occasional hidden gem, it struck me as an off-kilter, but very familiar mix.

And that’s when it hit me: this is the precise collection of books you would find if you went to a used bookstore and bought out the entire international relations section.

Any former graduate student who trolled used bookstores in search of bargains while living off of a modest stipend in the days before Amazon.com knows what I’m talking about. The search for book bargains never ends for impoverished grad students.
And for Professor Drezner, the pieces all fit together: Osama's known "deep frustration with the isolation at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan" and al-Qaeda's reputation as "a remarkably stingy operation in terms of its expenses and reimbursement procedures."
And he imagines a scene inside the Abbottabad compound beetween Osama and courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti:
BIN LADEN: I’m bored. There’s nothing to do here.
AL KUWAITI: So go read a magazine.
BIN LADEN: I’ve read every magazine three times now. Even the porn ones are getting old.
AL KUWAITI: Fine, I’ll go get you some new stuff.
BIN LADEN: No, I need books to study the enemy. Go and fetch me some books on the fading American Empire.
AL KUWAITI: Fine.
BIN LADEN: But don’t spend too much, OK?
AL KUWAITI:  Fine.
BIN LADEN:  Seriously, nothing from Barnes and Noble. Go to an independent bookstore. Wait, better yet, a used one!
AL KUWAITI: Fine.
BIN LADEN: And make sure you get a receipt.
AL KUWAITI: Fine!!!!
Actually, I'm so tickled by the professor's nifty theory that I've devoted much more space than I intended to what has been revealed by the DNI. Because I'm more interested in what hasn't been revealed.


THE BIG GUY'S PORN STASH

This is the most obvious omission. It's conceded that the Big Guy had a porn stash. For some reason, though, the ODNI watchdogs have declined to release any more information about it. Not only is this disappointing for both bin Laden and smut enthusiasts, it misses a prime opportunity to build traffic on the ODNI website. They'll miss all those extra clicks they could have had when they start accepting advertising.

Here's how the Daily Mail reported the smut story:
U.S. officials refuse to release details on the 'extensive' porn collection found in Osama bin Laden's Pakistani bolt-hole, because of the 'nature' of the smut. . . .

While it was widely reported that Navy SEALs recovered a large digital collection of sex videos from the compound when they staged a secret mission to kill bin Laden in 2011, the U.S. government says it is not going to describe or release details on any of the pornographic materials.

'We have no plans to release that at this point in time,' Brian Hale, a spokesman for the DNI, told The Telegraph, 'Due to the nature of the content the decision was made not to release it.'

Officials also refused to describe what kind of porn was kept in the bin Laden household.

Just two weeks after bin Laden was shot dead inside his Abbottabad compound, Reuters reported that pornography was recovered from the property. At the time, the collection was described as 'fairly extensive,' containing many modern videos.

It's estimated that bin Laden lived in the house with about 22 others, so it's unknown whether bin Laden actually watched any of the tapes.

However, the detail painted the al Qaeda leader as a hypocrite, since watching porn clashed with his fundamentalist image. 

AND THE OTHER, REALLY SECRET LIBRARY

My sources, who are unimpeachable and pinky-swear that they didn't just make this up, insist that there was another, even more secret English-language library, which for some reason remains classified. What distinguishes this group, apparently, is that all of these books are inscribe -- though apparently all in variations of the same hand, described as "like a third-grader's, or someone who's not writing in his native script."

For example, the first title on the list, Stephen Raichlen's Barbecue! Bible, is said to be inscribed: "Nobody can dry-rub and slow-roast a slab of mean like the O-man. XOXO, Steve." And The Fountainhead is inscribed: "This is one hot broad, Osama, baby. I'll never forget our long sessions together. Your workout body, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan." And the Martha Stewart volume is inscribed: "In remembrance of our times together in the chicken coop. Yours ever, Martha."

The Barbecue! Bible (Stephen Raichlen)
The Bridges of Madison County (Robert James Waller)
Winston Churchill: The Wit and Wisdom of
Fifty Shades of Grey (E. L. James)
The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
The Gilmore Girls Companion (A. S. Berman)
The Godfather (Mario Puzo)
Going Rogue: An American Life (Sarah Palin)
The Little House Collection Box Set (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
Male Grooming: Fabulous Tips on Looking Great (Ed West)
Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide 1996
The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch (Michael Wolff)
Men Are Stupid . . . And They Like Big Boobs: A Woman's Guide to Beauty Through Plastic Surgery (Joan Rivers with Valerie Frankel)
The Metrosexual Man: A Head to Toe Guid to Male Grooming and Manscaping (Gabriel Villa)
The Mill on the Floss (George Eliot)
Rachael Ray's Look + Cook
Remembrance of Things Past (Marcel Proust)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Coloring Book
Seinfeld Ultimate Episode Guide (Dennis Bjorklund)
Martha Stewart Entertaining
Take My Wife, Please! Henny Youngman's Giant Book of Jokes
Titanic and the Making of James Cameron (Paula Parisi)
The Valley of the Dolls (Jacqueline Susann)
The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy (Bill Carter)
You Might Be a Redneck If (Jeff Foxworthy)
You: Staying Young: The Owner's Manual for Extending Your Warranty (Michael Roizen and Dr. Oz)
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More Magic From Bernie Sanders-- An Economic Agenda

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This morning, just before Bernie Sanders' official declaration of candidacy, John Harwood got to ask him 10 questions for CNBC. Here are a few of the most relevant to American voters looking for a better opportunity for the future:
HARWOOD: After the revolution, what does it look like? What do you see happening to the 1 percent?

SANDERS: What is my dream? My dream is, do we live in a country where 70 percent, 80 percent, 90 percent of the people vote? Where we have serious discourse on media rather than political gossip, by the way? Where we're debating trade policy, we're debating foreign policy, we're debating economic policy, where the American people actually know what's going on in Congress? Ninety-nine percent of all new income generated today goes to the top 1 percent. Top one-tenth of 1 percent owns as much as wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Does anybody think that that is the kind of economy this country should have? Do we think it's moral? So to my mind, if you have seen a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to the top one-tenth of 1 percent, you know what, we've got to transfer that back if we're going to have a vibrant middle class. And you do that in a lot of ways. Certainly one way is tax policy.

HARWOOD: Have you seen some of the quotations from people on Wall Street, people in business? Some have even likened the progressive Democratic crusade to Hitler's Germany hunting down the Jews.

SANDERS: It's sick. And I think these people are so greedy, they're so out of touch with reality, that they can come up and say that. They think they own the world.

What a disgusting remark. I'm sorry to have to tell them, they live in the United States, they benefit from the United States, we have kids who are hungry in this country. We have people who are working two, three, four jobs, who can't send their kids to college. You know what? Sorry, you're all going to have to pay your fair share of taxes. If my memory is correct, when radical socialist Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, the highest marginal tax rate was something like 90 percent.

HARWOOD: When you think about 90 percent, you don't think that's obviously too high?

SANDERS: No. That's not 90 percent of your income, you know? That's the marginal. I'm sure you have some really right-wing nut types, but I'm not sure that every very wealthy person feels that it's the worst thing in the world for them to pay more in taxes, to be honest with you. I think you've got a lot of millionaires saying, "You know what? I've made a whole lot of money. I don't want to see kids go hungry in America. Yeah, I'll pay my fair share."

HARWOOD: If the changes that you envision in tax policy, in finance, breaking up the banks, were to result in a more equitable distribution of income, but less economic growth, is that trade-off worth making?

SANDERS: Yes. If 99 percent of all the new income goes to the top 1 percent, you could triple it, it wouldn't matter much to the average middle class person. The whole size of the economy and the GDP doesn't matter if people continue to work longer hours for low wages and you have 45 million people living in poverty. You can't just continue growth for the sake of growth in a world in which we are struggling with climate change and all kinds of environmental problems. All right? You don't necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country. I don't think the media appreciates the kind of stress that ordinary Americans are working on. People scared to death about what happens tomorrow. Half the people in America have less than $10,000 in savings. How do you like that? That means you have an automobile accident, you have an illness, you're broke. How do you retire if you have less than $10,000, and you don't have much in the way of Social Security?
Also this morning, as the clock ticked down to Bernie's 5pm rally in Burlington, MSNBC's Steve Kornacki made the case for his candidacy on the network's website, acknowledging that the challenge against Hillary-- "the most overwhelming non-incumbent front-runner either party has seen since the dawn of the modern nominating process"-- is Herculean. "[W]hile the odds that he’ll actually defeat her are vanishingly slim, he may nonetheless be better-positioned than any other Clinton challenger to at least make her break a sweat."
It’s easy to dismiss Sanders as nothing more than a niche candidate, an avowed “democratic socialist” with a diehard following on the far-left. Raising money will be a challenge and Sanders will rely heavily on modest contributions from grassroots donors. His outsider posture and distance from the Democratic establishment also means he won’t be reeling in many high-profile endorsements. (Just last week, Vermont’s Democratic governor, Peter Shumlin, snubbed Sanders and threw his support to Clinton.) Nor does Sanders have much of a campaign infrastructure in place right now.

But write him off completely at your own peril, because Sanders actually has a few things working in his favor. There’s his message, for one thing, a frontal assault on the political system and a pledge to directly combat the “billionaire class.” This is hardly new talk from Sanders, who has been on Capitol Hill for 24 years now, but the climate has shifted since the 2008 economic meltdown and income inequality, wealth concentration and corporate power are unusually prominent in the national debate. And with economic anxiety still high and rampant frustration with Washington’s paralysis, there’s a potentially wide opening for a damn-the-system crusade like Sanders is leading.

It’s more than that, though. There’s also his personality and his image – grumpy demeanor, disheveled appearance, disinterest in discussing anything not related to policy, contempt for personal questions. He is the antithesis of a packaged political candidate and his authenticity is a powerful tool. Look at it this way: Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is poised to join Sanders in the Democratic race later this week, is planning to stress many of the same economic themes as Sanders. But which one of them sounds like he means it more? Sanders’ team can’t afford polling yet, but they are quick to point to his strong favorable/unfavorable scores in public surveys as proof of his potential appeal.

In this sense, Clinton’s seeming invincibility makes her the ideal opponent for Sanders. All of the attributes that contribute to her strength-- her bottomless bankroll, her legion of high-powered endorsers, her extensive connections to the country’s financial elite, her marriage to a former president-- mark her as the embodiment of the political establishment against which Sanders defines himself. Plus, her strength has kept the Democratic Party’s brightest non-Hillary White House prospects-- like, say, Elizabeth Warren-- on the sidelines, making it easier for Sanders and his message to stand out.

His appeal is broader-- or potentially broader-- than most assume. In Vermont, Sanders has built a formidable coalition not only of Democrats and liberals but also of economically downscale conservative white voters. Here it’s worth noting that Sanders routinely votes against gun control measures and ventures into culture war politics rarely and grudgingly.

The good news for Sanders is that he’s gained more early polling traction than any of the other Clinton challengers-- O’Malley, former Virginia Senator James Webb, and former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee. He’s also shown himself to be a star on social media, where his policy ruminations regularly go viral, and his team bragged of bringing in $1.5 million in the 24 hours after his announcement of candidacy last month. His team hopes to raise $50 million this year-- not nearly enough to rival Clinton, of course, but plenty to build out full-fledged operations in all of the early primary and caucus states.

At a minimum, the Sanders team believes he’ll be able to emerge as the de facto non-Clinton candidate. Already, there are encouraging signs for them on this front. A recent Iowa poll put Sanders at 14%, more than O’Malley, Webb and Chafee combined; and a New Hampshire poll gave him 18%, more than doubling up the other three. (That said, he still trails Clinton by around 50 points.)

The venues for the lead-off contests are favorable for Sanders: Iowa and New Hampshire, two states with small, rural populations that aren’t too different from Vermont, where Sanders has now won ten statewide elections. The leftward, activist-oriented bent of Iowa’s Democratic caucus electorate is well established; it’s the state where Clinton finished in third place in 2008 the beginning of the end of her first presidential campaign. And right on Iowa’s heels will come New Hampshire, where Democrats already know Sanders as their next-door neighbor.

Realistically, Sanders could fare surprisingly well in these two states, knock the other non-Hillary candidates out of the race, then gobble up 20-to-30% in primaries and caucuses throughout the spring and arrive at the convention with hundreds of delegates-- enough to command attention and shape the platform.
Earlier today, we sort of asked if you believe in magic. Music and magic could help, but contributions from ordinary working people are what's going to give Bernie a chance to compete. Can you help?


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Believe In The Magic That Can Set You Free-- Bernie!

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In a few hours Bernie Sanders will officially kick off his presidential campaign back home in Burlington. Virtually no one in the political universe thinks he has a chance to beat Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic primary. Unless... and there are a lot of possibilities that could open up the race in an unexpected way. Wikipedia has a page dedicated to the endorsements for the Democratic Party primaries, 2016. Nearly the entire page is made up of people and organizations backing Hillary Clinton-- including progressive icons like Howard Dean, Al Franken, Tammy Baldwin, Raul Grijalva, John Lewis, Judy Chu, Ted Lieu and Mike Honda. Celebrities include Robert De Niro, Elton John, Lady Gaga, Bill Maher, George Clooney, Beyoncé, Barbra Stresiand, Dustin Hoffman, Nicolas Sarkozy, Chris Rock, Sharon Osbourne, RuPaul and... Nevada's Moonlite BunnyRanch. Bernie's endorsers may not have the pizzazz of a RuPaul, but they are trusted communicators-- like Thom Hartmann, Ed Schultz, and Bill Press-- and political activists-- like Ben and Jerry, the founders of Ben and Jerry's, Jody Evans (founder of CODEPINK), Bill McKibben, Marianne Williamson, Matt Taibbi, Mark Ruffalo, and John Nichols.

The Associated Press ran an article yesterday asserting that Bernie "is laying out an agenda in step with the party’s progressive wing and compatible with Warren’s platform-- reining in Wall Street banks, tackling college debt and creating a government-financed infrastructure jobs programme." It isn't untrue but it misses the point: Bernie has been creating that agenda and platform for many decades. He's not trying to fit a mold. The mold is largely modeled on him. Sanders was founding the Congressional Progressive Caucus long before you had ever heard of Elizabeth Warren, unless you took one of her classes at Harvard. But this is how the media frames the story:
Whether Sanders can tap into the party’s Warren wing and influence Clinton’s policy agenda remains unclear. But he has been on the forefront of liberal causes as Clinton has seemed to be tacking to the left.

Clinton regularly refers to an economic deck stacked against American workers-- rhetoric that offers comparisons to Warren’s frequent description of the economic system being “rigged” against middle-class families.

Sanders has joined with Warren to drive opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade proposal, arguing it would ship jobs overseas. Clinton has avoided taking a specific position on the trade deal.

The Vermont senator has introduced legislation to make tuition free at public colleges and universities, a major piece of Warren’s agenda. The free tuition would be covered by a mix of state and federal money and paid for by higher taxes on Wall Street investment firms, hedge funds and other financial transactions. Clinton’s campaign has signalled that she intends to make debt-free college a major piece of her campaign.


But not all of Bernie's ideas are easy for Hillary to even mouth. Yesterday, writing for Truthout, Dean Baker used one-- the Robin Hood tax-- to demonstrate why many grassroots progressives so fervently prefer Bernie to Hillary.
Last week Bernie Sanders, the Senator from Vermont and only announced challenger to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, took a strong stand for everyday people. He proposed a financial transactions tax (FTT), effectively a Wall Street sales tax, and to use the revenue to make public colleges tuition free.

While making college affordable to low and middle income families is important, the proposal for an FTT is a real game changer. There is no single policy that would have anywhere near as much impact in reforming the financial sector. A FTT would effectively impose a sales tax on stocks and other financial assets, so that speculators have to pay a tax on their trades, just like people who buy shoes or clothes.

There are three points people should understand about a FTT. The first is that it can raise an enormous amount of money. A FTT could be imposed at different rates. Sanders proposed following the rate structure in a bill put forward by Minneapolis Congressman Keith Ellison. Eleven countries in the European Union are working to implement a set of FTTs that would tax stock trades at a rate of 0.1 percent and trades of most derivative instruments at the rate of 0.01 percent.

Extrapolating from a recent analysis of the European proposal, a comparable tax in the United States would raise more than $130 billion a year or more than $1.5 trillion over the next decade. This is real money; it dwarfs the sums that have dominated most budget debates in recent years. For example, the Republicans had been trying to push through cuts to the food stamp program of $40 billion over the course of a decade. The sum that can be raised by this FTT proposal is more than thirty times as large. The revenue from a FTT could go far toward rebuilding the infrastructure, improving the health care system, or paying for college tuition, as suggested by Senator Sanders.

The second point is that Wall Street will bear almost the entire cost of the tax. The financial industry is surely already paying for studies showing the tax will wipe out the 401(k)s held by middle income families. This is nonsense. Not only is the size of the tax small for anyone not flipping stock on a daily basis, research indicates that most investors will largely offset the cost of the tax by trading less.

Most research shows that trading volume falls roughly in proportion to the increase in transaction costs. This means that if a FTT doubles the cost of trading then the volume of trading will fall by roughly 50 percent, leaving total trading costs unchanged. Investors will pay twice as much on each trade, but have half as many trades. Since investors don’t on average make money on trades (one side might win, but the other loses), this is a wash for the investor.

While most middle income people don’t directly trade the money in their retirement accounts, they do have people who manage these funds. The research means that the fund managers will reduce their trading, so that the total costs of transactions that are passed on to the investor remain roughly constant. This means that the financial industry will bear almost the entire cost of the tax in the form of reduced trading volume.

This gets to the last point: a smaller financial industry is a more efficient financial industry. The purpose of the financial industry is to allocate money from savers to companies that want to finance new investment. As the industry has exploded in size over the last four decades there is no reason to believe that it has gotten better in serving this basic function. In fact, the stock bubble at the end of the 1990s and the housing bubble in the last decade might suggest that it has gotten worse.

A study from the Bank of International Settlements and more recent research from the International Monetary Fund find that a bloated financial sector slows growth. An oversized financial sector pulls resources away from more productive sectors of the economy. People who could be engaged in biological research or developing clean technologies are instead employed on Wall Street designing computer programs to beat other traders by a microsecond to garner profits at their expense. A FTT will make much of this activity unprofitable, encouraging people to turn to more productive work.
That's bold leadership, not tepid political calculation. And it's why Blue America is helping Bernie raise funds for his campaign. Please consider helping here. This week, writing for Mother Jones, Kevin Drum shared some fascinating research into the political complexion of our country these days. "A pair of grad students," he wrote, "surveyed 2,000 state legislators and asked them what they thought their constituents believed on several hot button issues. They then compared the results to actual estimates from each district derived from national surveys."
Everyone-- both liberal and conservative legislators-- thought their districts were more conservative than they really were. For example, in districts where 60 percent of the constituents supported universal health care, liberal legislators estimated the number at about 50 percent. Conservative legislators were even further off: they estimated the number at about 35 percent.

Why is this so? The authors don't really try to guess, though they do note that legislators don't seem to learn anything from elections. The original survey had been conducted in August, and a follow-up survey conducted after elections in November produced the same result.

My own guess would be that conservatives and conservatism simply have a higher profile these days. Between Fox News and the rise of the tea party and (in the case of universal health care) the relentless jihad of Washington conservatives, it's only natural to think that America-- as well as one's own district-- is more conservative than it really is. But that's just a guess. What's yours?
The platform that Bernie Sanders is running on is very much what Americans believe in, and the direction he wants to move the country in is the direction most people want to see the country move in. It's a shame we have an electoral system designed to minimize all that. Want to help? Blue America has a page for that.



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Monday, May 25, 2015

Honoring the true spirit of Memorial Day: Everyone bought a mattress, right?

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Shaun Hiltner, manager of the Rockville Pike Mattress Warehouse, begins his Memorial Day commemoration by posting sale signs in Rockville (MD). Darting through traffic to post signs, says Shaun, is "the most deadly part of being a mattress salesman," which is widely known to rank with tight-rope walking, bomb defusing, and census-taking as one of the highest-risk occupations.

by Ken

As the Memorial Day weekend draws to a close, most Americans staring at themselves in mirrors or selfies will be asking themselves the question that looms so large for us during this holiday season: Did I buy a mattress over the weekend?

The Washington Post's Monica Hesse was all over the story ("It’s Memorial Day weekend, and these mattress salesmen will not rest").
Early on the Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend, at approximately the same time that a Rockville mattress salesman named John Pattammady was telling himself that the decision not to hire the cheerleaders had been the correct judgment for this particular mattress event, another Rockville mattress salesman named Shaun Hiltner was blowing up a 35-foot-tall inflatable vinyl giant whose official name was Mattress Man.

“Nice,” he said, appraising the figure, which dominated the front of the Mattress Warehouse where he was store manager.

Already this morning he had darted into traffic to stake six dozen “sale” signs along the highway exit. (“The most deadly part of being a mattress salesman,” he said.) Already he had lofted a promotional weather balloon 40 stories above the shopping plaza. John, for his part, had spent the previous evening staking his own signs in front of his store, Mattress Fame, as well as acquiring many small American flags for appropriate festivity. (“You can get them down at the dollar store,” he said.)

It was one of the mattressiest weekends of the year on one of the mattressiest stretches of the region. A three-mile strip of Rockville Pike contained Shaun’s store, John’s store, a Sleepy’s, another Sleepy’s, a Mattress Discounters, another Mattress Discounters, a Savvy Rest and a Healthy Back, and every store was competing for the customers who trudged between them carrying holiday circulars or humming jingles. . . .
Those trudging customers are, of course, the living embodiment of the Spirit of Memorial Day. But the true mattress professional that those trudgers can never be taken for granted. "If the weather's too nice," cautions John Pattammady of Mattress Fame, "everyone will go to the beach." And John knows, reports Monica Hesse, that among the Memorial Day observers who shun the beach,
when it came to mattresses, you never could guess with a customer. He had seen men driving Jaguars and wearing $300 shoes come in and demand to spend no more than $200 on a mattress.
John's Rockville competitor Shaun Hiltner of Mattress Warehouse also knows the rigors of dealing with participants in the Memorial Day mattress ritual. Here's Monica again:
To be a mattress salesman over Memorial Day was about being an educator and a therapist, Shaun believed. Peering behind what buyers said they wanted, into the depths and desires of the long-weekend suburban American psyche.
This is clearly not a vocation for the faint of heart. Brian Foley, the assistant manager at Mattress Warehouse, learns the hard way that shoppers are not to be trusted. He had to seek counsel from Shaun, his boss, to deal with a young couple who --
were trying to make their first joint mattress purchase — a very firm one, please — but they tried several without success, and eventually Brian was stumped. “Shaun?” he called. “Do you have any suggestions?”

Shaun had a feeling, related to a salesman slogan he’d once heard: “Buyers are liars.” It didn’t mean people intentionally lied. It meant sometimes they didn’t know what they wanted until they were lying on it — so he tried the firm-mattress couple on a slightly softer bed.
“Oh, this is nice,” the boyfriend said.

“You want to feel something really nice?” Shaun said, and led them across a few aisles.

“Oh, wow,” said the girlfriend, lying down on the appointed mattress.

“I never expected this out of a bed,” said the boyfriend.
Instead of buying something very firm, they’d fallen in love with a $2,000 “luxetop plush microcoil,” one of the softest beds in the store.
Is it any wonder that Memorial Day is such a fraught holiday? Oh, the horror! The mattress wars are hell, and Monica has many more war stories to share, from just the first day of this year's commemoration. Why, it's a wonder that any of these folks make it through the whole weekend to tell their tales.



What could say "Memorial Day" more than the age-old ritual of the Tying of the Sale-Priced Mattresses on the Car Roof?
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GOP candidates flip-flop in the breeze -- all except Scott Walker, who just lies

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With a Doonesbury bonus: The deep roots
of modern conservative policy-making


"None of the leading Republicans," says E. J. Dionne Jr., is willing to offer a more fundamental challenge to the party’s rightward lurch over the past decade."


"Unfortunately for the Republican Party and the country, [Wisconsin Gov. Scott] Walker’s careful parsing of shape-shifting counts as one of the cerebral high points of the debate among the party’s 2016 presidential candidates."
-- E. J. Dionne Jr., in his Washington Post column
"The right's political correctness"

by Ken

In case you're coming late to Governor Walker's "shape-shifting," it's the lying scumbag's way of explaining that he's not a "flip-flopper," not he!, no way, no matter how often or how conveniently he may change his positions on any subject to suit alterations in the political temper of the moment. As E. J. Dionne Jr. explains the governor's position -- and I'm going to trust him, in part because I consider him a highly trustworthy observer and for the rest because I'm damned if I'm going to watch the vile sack of filth:
“A flip would be someone who voted on something and did something different,” the Wisconsin governor explained last week on Fox News. His altered views on immigration don’t count because he is not a legislator. “These are not votes,” he helpfully pointed out.
Oh.

E.J., declaring this "sheer brilliance!," goes on to note a lucky -- for Governor Walker, that is -- coincidence:
Other than former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Walker’s major rivals at the moment are Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.). They have all cast lots of votes. So Walker can accuse them of flip-flopping while claiming blanket immunity for himself.
If the governor had an honest cell anywhere in his lying carcass, he could have offered the simpler and truer explanation that when he takes a position, only his all-consuming self-servingness comes into play, and never the truth, except possibly for his apparently inborn aversion to it. And as a right-winger, he has official sanction to lie, which he exercises at all opportunities except when he's cornered and can't come up with a suitable lie.

I assume E.J. doesn't feel it necessary to point out the obvious: that Governor Walker's new position on flip-flopping is utter bullshit, just like everything else he says. You either take a position or you don't, and while everyone is certainly entitled to change a position, and indeed should be encouraged to do so when they find their previous position unsatisfactory, you can't pretend that you haven't changed your position. Well, you can, but then you would be lying. Which is certainly nothing that would faze Governor Walker. It's where he lives.


At last week's Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City (which Howie wrote about earlier today), Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker makes sure that none of his rivals can tell more lies per microphone minute -- and the Right kinds of lies -- than he does.

The immediate issue for the governor is his flip-flop on immigration. And this leads E.J. to his mournful observation that his creative obfuscation "counts as one of the cerebral high points of the debate" among his party's 2016 presidential aspirants. "The shortage of philosophical adventure and the eagerness of GOP hopefuls to alter their positions to make them more conservative," says E.J., "a Republican primary electorate that has moved so far right that it brooks no deviation."

And so, E.J. notes, even Rand Paul, currently best known for his one-man stand against the Republicans' official position on the national-security state (they're all for it, in case you've forgotten), "even Paul has recast his foreign policy positions to make them sound more hawkish and thus more in keeping with prevailing Republican views."

The same is true, E.J., says of the band of self-styled "reform conservatives," who seem incapable of taking any even slightly unorthodox position without simultaneously declaring their unbroken fealty to the most rightward of right-wing "beliefs," or at least the beliefs of the moment.
With occasional exceptions, they have been far more interested in proving their faithfulness to today’s hard-line right than in declaring, as conservatives in so many other democracies have been willing to do, that sprawling market economies need a rather large dose of government. Conservatives, Levin says, are “eager to build on the longstanding institutions of our society to improve things.” Good idea. But somehow, the successes of decades-old governmental institutions in areas such as retirement security, health-care provision and environmental protection are rarely acknowledged.
"Where, for example," E.J. wonders,
is the candidate willing to acknowledge that, like it or not, there’s no way that anywhere close to all Americans will be able to get health insurance unless government plays a very large role? Where is the Republican who will admit that if the party had its way on further tax cuts, many programs Americans like would fall by the wayside?
And this is awkward, E.J. points out, because "many Republicans, especially reform conservatives, know that most Americans who criticize government in the abstract still welcome many of its activities."
Yet stating this obvious fact is now politically incorrect on the right. Conservatives who condemn political correctness in others need to start calling it out on their own side. Otherwise, Scott Walker’s artful redefinition of flip-flopping could become the 2016 Republican debate’s most creative intellectual contribution.
What E.J. is again too polite to point out is that these same right-wing pols have done much to create this situation by encouraging and exploiting the hardening of the Republican base's position -- precisely because it then makes that base so poliically exploitable.

Which doesn't create much of a problem as long as your only consideration is the personal gain you can derive from swearing loyalty to what the base wants to hear at any given moment. But if in a moment of weakness you want to consider what might be good for the country or for Americans generally, well, if you know what's good for you, you'll keep your trap shut.

The comfort lies in knowing that if at any moment there's a change in the voodoo bromides the organized American crazies want to hear, you can always change your position -- as long as you don't have a voting record to answer to, according to one newly enunciated lying-scumbag theory.


IS THE SKY BLUE? OR, THE DEEP ROOTS
OF MODERN CONSERVATIVE "THINKING"


DOONESBURY     by G. B. Trudeau

[Click to enlarge.]
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Chris Christie, the Christiecrats and Pipelines – Again!

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Nancy Wittenberg, Governor Christie's plant as executive director of New Jersey's Pinelands Commission, is a former lobbyist for the NJ Builders Association who understands her mission.

by Anonymous Operative

On May 21, South Jersey Gas filed an “amended” application to run a 22-mile pipeline through the New Jersey Pinelands. And we’re using the word “amended” loosely here, because there were no substantive changes in the pipeline itself.

In January, 2014, the Pinelands Commission rejected essentially the same plan when it was submitted in the form of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between itself and the Christie-controlled Board of Public Utilities. Under an MOA the Pinelands Commission can grant a waiver for a project that would be otherwise not be allowed under New Jersey’s 1979 Pinelands Protection Act, but only if the Pinelands Commission finds that it primarily serves the needs of the Pinelands. The proposed pipeline would only serve the interests of Rockland Capital Energy Investments, which owns an outmoded coal-fired power plant that has to be converted to natural gas. (The plant was originally scheduled to close in 2013, but it just received its second two-year reprieve from the Christie-controlled Department of Environmental Protection.)

This time, SJG is applying directly to the Pinelands Commission as a private party, instead of through an MOA. That approach would let senior commission staff approve the application without having the commissioners vote on it. And Nancy Wittenberg, the executive director of the Pinelands Commission, is a former lobbyist for the New Jersey Builders Association. Aside from that, there are no real changes in the application. (For a detailed discussion, see the post "‘New’ Pinelands Pipeline Proposal Based on Brazen Lies” by Bill Wolfe, the New Jersey director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.)

But this different tack hardly seems necessary, now that the Pinelands Commission has been stacked with pro-pipeline members by the Republican Christie and the über-corrupt South Jersey Democratic Party boss George Norcross.

The Norcross-controlled Christiecrats on the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders did their part by replacing their longtime commissioner, environmental activist Leslie Ficcaglia, with Jane Jannarone, a realtor and former Freeholder.

And instead of renominating Robert Jackson, who voted against the pipeline, Christie nominated Robert Barr, a protégé of arch-conservative Democratic State Sen. Jeff Van Drew. Barr was turned down twice by the Senate Judiciary Committee before finally getting approved thanks to some underhanded maneuvering by Senate President Steve Sweeney, the public face of the Norcross machine in Trenton. And it took more bullying to get the Barr nomination through the full Senate—but bullying is a Sweeney specialty. You can read about the whole process here, here (update), and here.

The most striking things about that floor vote were that (1) more Democrats voted against Barr than for him, (2) Barr had more votes from the GOP than from Democrats, (3) most of the Dems who voted for him were South Jersey Christiecrats, and (4) the only South Jersey senator to vote against Barr was not a Democrat, but Republican Diane Allen. There you have the Norcross machine at work, aiding and abetting Christie.

Those two changes in membership alone could be expected to assure Pinelands Commission approval of the pipeline project. So why is South Jersey Gas altering its application to make an end run around the commission? They’ve never been embarrassed by that kind of corruption before!

The pipeline could still be stopped in court, and environmental groups have vowed to sue. DWT will be following this story.
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Ben Carson Wins The Southern Republican Leadership Conference Straw Poll (No, Really)

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Late last week a convention of right-wing politicians-- the Southern Republican Leadership Conference-- was in Oklahoma City to be treated to the songs and dances of 17 Republicans running for the GOP presidential nomination, although mostly beamed down from satellite. Only Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee's wife Janet showed up in person. Oil and water might not mix but Big Oil and the Republican Party sure do.
Oklahoma is an oilman’s state: bought, run and sustained by men who’ve made huge fortunes on fossil fuels and in which fracking has been under way for so long and so deeply that scientists now believe the spate of hundreds of earthquakes there are anthropogenic. One of the events was an 87th birthday party for T. Boone Pickens, whose legendary fortune gushed from crude.

In case anyone failed to notice the theme of “Energizing America,” emblazoned on the backdrop of the stage, a glimmery silver-blue tower of the Devon Oil Company loomed a block to the northwest, and the Chesapeake Energy Arena and the Continental Oil Center flanked the venue, reminders of who really runs the Sooner state. In the hours between speeches from the big name candidates, CEOs of the local energy concerns strolled to the stage to hail the future of oil and to complain that the oil glut in America has caused thousands of layoffs and losses of billions of dollars in profits. On Thursday, Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb “interviewed” Larry Nichols, chairman of Devon Oil, on stage. Nichols has personally and through the company PAC doled out a million dollars to politicians and Lamb joked about knowing “who pays the bills.”

Rick Perry, until recently governor of neighboring Texas, suggested Obama didn’t understand or respect American oil and gas as a national security issue. He promised he would flood Asia with liquefied natural gas to send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin: “If you’re going to use energy as a weapon, the United States is going to deploy the largest arsenal.” The conference offered the crowded field of candidates a chance to road-test messages that might resonate enough to win them not just the first straw poll in the Republican cycle but a place at a Fox News debate in August.

...Whether the straw poll means anything in the long run or is just a bit of fun remains to be seen. The political experts doubt non-politician Carson’s viability.

Some attendees called the surfeit of candidates a sign of Republican vibrancy, but others wondered how the party would cull the still-growing herd without a civil war over money and debates. Professional politicos worried that a Fox News Channel decision to limit debates later this year to candidates above a certain support level could banish the sole female and black candidates-- a “bad visual,” to be sure.

Steve Curry, a longtime state Republican foot soldier and national convention delegate, said the crowded field is “a blessing and a curse.” He predicted multiple candidates would still be viable through the fourth or fifth state primary: “We gotta make up our minds. I think most people have narrowed it down to two or three already. I once had to organize a debate for 12 congressional candidates for one seat, and I know it’s not easy as a consumer of information to get enough information in that situation to make a decision.”

The conference gave attendees the opportunity to do just that. College kids in blue T-shirts reading STRAW POLL roamed the halls with iPads, exhorting people to vote. The end result was Carson with 25.4 percent,  Walker at 20.5 and Cruz with 16.6. Christie and Perry came in fourth and fifth with around 5 percent each.
Meanwhile Fox News' most recent poll of likely voters measured the favorability and unfavorability of 13 politicians. The results show they're not oversampling Fox viewers. Bill and Hillary Clinton and President Obama are by far the most popular politicians in the survey.
Bill Clinton 54-40%
Barack Obama 47-51%
Hillary Clinton 45-49%
Jeb Bush 37-44%
Mike Huckabee 35-35%
Rand Paul 34-35%
Marco Rubio 31-27%
Chris Christie 28-45%
Ted Cruz 27-35%
Ben Carson 26-16%
Scott Walker 25-21%
Carly Fiorina 13-17%
John Kasich 12-14%
Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Carly Fiorina and John Kasich aren't known by enough people to make the poll very meaningful. When Fox narrowed the sample to just Republican primary voters and asked who they would like to see as the party nominee, the results show Jeb Bush and Ben Carson leading and Donald Trump beating 7 legitimate candidates:
Jeb Bush- 13%
Ben Carson- 13%
Scott Walker- 11%
Mike Huckabee- 10%
Marco Rubio- 9%
Rand Paul- 7%
Chris Christie- 6%
Ted Cruz- 6%
Donald Trump- 4%
John Kasich- 2%
Rick Perry- 2%
Rick Santorum- 2%
Carly Fiorina- 1%
Bobby Jindal- 1%
Lindsey Graham- 0%
George Pataki- 0%
Hard to read these numbers, even this early in the game, without wondering if this is leading directly to a brokered convention. There are too many candidates for debates to help voters figure out who to support. The possibility of none of these candidates ending up with a majority of convention delegates is strong, perhaps unavoidable. And any of the candidates who have a billionaire-funded Super PAC bankrolling their bid have no need to drop out of the race-- and there's still just one vice presidential slot to bargain away. It hasn't yet, but this is going to get very, very bloody.

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