The Confederate Battle Flag is nothing to be proud of. By Ed Kilgore
The legacy of the late internet activist Aaron Swartz lives on.
Just this past week, Aaron received the ultimate pop culture tribute: he was the answer to a question on Jeopardy. The topic was “Tech Drop-Outs.” Here’s the clue, which was worth $2,000:
This Stanford dropout & RSS pioneer died in 2013 while fighting government charges
But Jeopardy is far from the only attention, cultural, political, or otherwise, that Aaron has received since his tragic death this past January. Consider the following:
— A Kickstarter for an authorized documentary about Aaron met its goal in a matter of days.
— Posthumously, Aaron won the American Library Association’s prestigious James Madison Award, which honors “individuals or groups who have championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s right to know at the national level.”
This week, an important committee vote will take place in the U.S. Senate. Senate Republicans have long been filibustering President Obama’s appointees to the National Labor Relations Board. As you probably know, the NLRB is a an important federal agency that oversees elections for labor union representation and makes decisions regarding the unfair labor practice cases that are brought before it. It’s the main body that protects a number of crucial labor rights. Employees, for example, have the right to organize a union and engage in pro-union activities without suffering discriminatory treatment or retaliation from an employer. And employers are legally required to bargain with the union.
Presidents choose the members of the NLRB, and very rarely have any appointees met serious opposition. But since the right-wing war on labor, and on President Obama, continues to rage, Senate Republicans have for years now been filibustering Obama’s slate of appointees. Obama, in response, made a recess appointment of three people to the NLRB about a year and a half ago. Recess appointments of this nature are common, but earlier this year, G.O.P -appointed judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals struck down those appointments. This week, a brand new Appeals Court decision upheld the original ruling, albeit for different legal reasons.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee met for a hearing on Obama’s five NLRB appointees (a compromise slate composed of three Democrats and two Republicans). Next week, the Committee will vote on whether to send the nominations to the Senate floor. Since it’s a majority Democratic committee, that seems likely to happen. What is far from clear is whether the full Senate will ever get a chance to vote on the nominees. A Republican filibuster may well prevent such a vote from ever happening.
Let’s not put too fine a point on it: a successful filibuster would spell disaster for organized labor. Assuming that the Appeals Courts’ rulings on the alleged unconstitutionality of President Obama’s recess appointments are upheld (and they probably will be, given that we have a very right-wing, majority Republican Supreme Court), the NLRB will be, by late August, left without a quorum of voting members and will be unable to issue rulings on new cases. Employers would then have license to do pretty much whatever they want, so far as organized labor is concerned. As ThinkProgress’s Ian Millhiser reports, without a functioning NLRB
Michael Kinsley has written some unfortunate columns lately. The austerity one drew more attention, but a second column, on gay marriage politics, was also fairly cringe-inducing. In that column, Kinsley strongly sympathized with homophobes whom he claimed were being unfairly attacked; but where actual LGBTQ people who want basic human rights are concerned, his sympathies were far less in evidence. Scott Lemieux did a fine job eviscerating Kinsley’s silly arguments in the gay marriage column, so I won’t address them here.
But I did want to note that Kinsley’s column is symptomatic of a growing tendency I’m witnessing in some elite discourse, which I’ll call homophobia denialism. It seems that, because LGBTQ people have been gaining the right to marry in some states, homophobia is no longer a serious problem. Never mind that gay marriage is legal in only twelve states so far; that, barring a favorable Supreme Court decision, it will likely remain illegal in many states for years to come; and that the federal Defense of Marriage Act still bars married single-sex couples from many rights heterosexual couples enjoy, such as Social Security survivors’ benefits.
In short, we have a long way to go before same sex marriage becomes a universal right in this country. And even when that happens, it hardly means that homophobia is over, any more than passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act meant racism was over.
Here’s what I mean: take these three heartbreaking stories of homophobia in action that have made headlines just in the past day or two:
— In New York City on Friday night, a 32-year old gay man named Mark Carson was shot dead in cold blood in what police are describing as a “hate crime.” The murder took place on a public street just blocks away from the Stonewall Inn, the bar that was ground zero in the modern gay rights struggle. A longtime Greenwich Village resident quoted in the New York Times said, “It’s outrageous. [Snip] They say we’ve worked through homophobia, but it’s not gone away. It’s just not usually as out there in the open like it was this morning.”
Readers, my next couple of posts will be delayed. I was just working on a long one which, sadly, got eaten when my computer suddenly shut down. Normally when that happens the post is saved and can be retrieved, but that didn’t occur this time.
In the meantime, please read Paul Krugman’s superb piece on austerity economics in the current New York Review of Books, and talk amongst yourselves!
Today would have been Joey Ramone’s 62nd birthday. Joey and the rest of the Ramones were one of the most influential bands in rock history. It’s sometimes forgotten, but punk rock proper began at CBGB’s in New York City with the Ramones and other bands. The American bands got there first, and only later did punk spread to England. The Ramones got together in 1974 and released their first album in 1976, while, for example, the seminal English punk bands the Sex Pistols and the Clash each formed in 1976 and released their first albums in 1977.
It’s tragic that the Ramones, in the band’s lifetime, never really got its due. The three core members, Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee all died in the early aughties, just as the band was beginning to accrue some mainstream respect. The Ramones documentary End of the Century, which I strongly recommend, is heartbreaking. It dramatizes the many times when it seemed like the band might finally be on the verge of mainstream success, only to have it cruelly snatched away from them.
But now, at long last, the Ramones are recognized as icons. They’ve been inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, at least one of their songs (“Blitzkrieg Bop”) has been used in TV commercials and is played at sporting arenas, and in 2011, they even won a Grammy for lifetime achievement (really!).
Joey was always my favorite Ramone. He was the sweetest Ramone, the one with the deepest love for early rock and roll like the 60s girl groups, and the band’s most politically liberal member (Johnny was the Ramones’ resident conservative).
Here is Joey and the band performing one of my all-time favorite Ramones songs, “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker”:
Now for some good news: according to economic consultant Rick Nevin, this year, the U.S. in on track to experience the lowest murder rate in over 100 years. Nevin reports that, based on preliminary FBI data, the weighted average murder rate in 30 large localities nationwide this year is 18% lower than it was at this time last year. Even in my hometown of Chicago, for example, which has suffered from a sky-high homicide rate, murders have declined by an astonishing 39%, as compared to this time last year. And New Orleans, which in recent years has experienced the nation’s highest murder rate, has seen an 11% decline in homocides this year.
Nevins, like Kevin Drum, believes the crime is attributable to declining rates of lead exposure in childhood. Here’s Drum, referring to curves on a chart which measures the relationship between lead exposure and the murder rate (you’ll have to click on his post to see the chart, because I’m not able to upload it here):
It’s one thing to have two simple curves that match up well. That could just be a coincidence. But to have two unusual double-humped curves that match up well is highly unlikely unless there really is an association. Put that together with all the statistical evidence from other countries; plus the prospective studies that have tracked lead exposure in individual children from birth; plus the MRI scans showing the actual locations of brain damage in adults who were exposed to lead as children—put all that together and you have a pretty compelling set of evidence. Lead exposure doesn’t just lower IQs and hurt educational development. It also increases violent tendencies later in life. If we want less crime 20 years from now, the best thing we can do today is clean up the last of our lead.
Kevin has reported at length on the relationship between lead exposure and violent crime.
The declining murder rate is wonderful news, but it’s no reason to be complacent. Sane gun control laws, of course, would lead to even more significant declines in the rates of homicide and other violent crimes. And unfortunately, a lot of lead is still around. The good news, though, is that lead abatement efforts are wildly cost effective:
Put this all together and the benefits of lead cleanup could be in the neighborhood of $200 billion per year. In other words, an annual investment of $20 billion for 20 years could produce returns of 10-to-1 every single year for decades to come. Those are returns that Wall Street hedge funds can only dream of.
As Kevin writes, “If we want less crime 20 years from now, the best thing we can do today is clean up the last of our lead.”
Earlier this week, the New York Times reported on the disturbing case of a Catholic priest who, following his 2003 conviction of the sexual abuse of a young boy, continued to work with children . The priest, a man named Michael Fugee, has been working at New Jersey church where, according to the Times, he has “attended weekend youth retreats, traveled with the church’s youth group to Canada, and heard confessions from minors behind closed doors.”
This is in spite of the fact that in 2007, Fugee and the Archdiocese of Newark signed an agreement with prosecutors in which they agreed that Father Fugee would not be
assigned any tasks that would put him in a position to have unsupervised contact with children, including involvement with youth groups, attending youth retreats or hearing confessions of children.
Fugee voluntarily stepped down from ministry on May 2, and there have been calls for Newark’s archbishop, John J.Myers to resign as well.
This clear evidence that the Church continues to enable clergy who commit sexual assault is, of course, deeply disturbing. But the main reason I’m citing the article here is to highlight the way the author of the article, Russ Buettner, described his crimes:
The priest, Michael Fugee, was convicted in 2003 of criminal sexual conduct stemming from allegations that he had groped a boy’s crotch during several wrestling horseplay encounters when he was associate pastor at St. Elizabeth Church in Wyckoff, N.J. (emphasis mine).
New York Times, seriously? “Horseplay”? That term is a stunningly offensive way to describe the crime of sexual assault. It minimizes and excuses what occurred — “oh, we were just ‘horsing around’ and things got out of hand.” Right — and in the midst of these carefree fun and games, the adult priest’s hand just happened to find itself grabbing and fondling the child’s genitals. Sure, happens all the time — who hasn’t experienced this?
The “unmasking-of-the-troll” narrative is burgeoning genre in internet journalism, and it’s one that is frequent fascinating, and occasionally riveting (see these two classic examples, for instance). Yesterday, Salon published a piece by Andrew Leonard that is a major contribution to this genre. Leonard’s article illuminates one of the most serious weaknesses of one of the best, most popular, and most important sites on the internet: Wikipedia.
Wikipedia, as I’m sure you know, is the internet’s largest online encyclopedia. Like practically everyone else on the internet, I’ve used it countless times. It’s my go-to source for learning or confirming basic facts (what year was Representative X first elected to Congress? who won the best actress Oscar in 1938?) — going to Wiki first for these kinds of things tends to save time. I’ve also surfed the site to explore various passions of mine, such as history and music. In fact, Wiki does a particularly brilliant job with pop music. It includes entries detailing the histories of obscure bands (The Tammys, anyone?), the recording of a classic album or song, and the origins, scope, and legacy of an entire genre. On those occasions when a Wikipedia article is less than comprehensive, I feel irrationally peeved (what? you mean the the George Jone discography is incomplete?).
Wiki also does a superb job at explicating scientific and technical subjects. The instructor of a statistics class I once took assigned Wikipedia articles as supplemental materials to explain various concepts.
No print encyclopedia could possibly be this comprehensible or accessible; nor, of course, could it be free. Wikipedia stands as one of the world’s great institutions of human knowledge. But like every great institution, it also has its share of serious problems.
I bet you thought that right-wing talk radio couldn’t get any more vile and hateful. Well, if you believe that, then you better sit down and read this disturbing profile of a conservative talk show host named Pete Santelli. It’s from the invaluable site Right-Wing Watch.
The author of the post, Miranda Blue, explains that Santelli is the type of figure that RWW normally wouldn’t cover; his show is internet-only and his audience is relatively small. But though he’s still marginal, he’s becoming increasingly less so. Of late he’s been attracting some big-name gun activists to his show, such as Ted Nugent and the head of Gun Owners of America, Larry Pratt. Gun Owners of America, you see, is a group that believes the NRA frequently hasn’t “gone far enough.” Though far smaller than the NRA, it is growing in influence. This recent New York Times profile of the organization credits it with being a major player in the recent Congressional defeat of the background check gun control bill.
Now on to this Santelli lunatic. Santelli is a conspiracy theorist who dwells in the most fetid swamps of the far right. Last week on his show, he called for the execution of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the entire Bush family. As Right Wing Watch reports:
On his show last week, Santilli went on a disgusting, violent rant in which he called for the entire Bush family and President Obama to be “tried, convicted and shot” for “treason” (and in George H.W. Bush’s case “involvement with his cronies in the John F. Kennedy assassination”) and for Hillary Clinton to be “tried, convicted and shot in the vagina.”
Here is the fabulous Janelle Monae. This is her latest music video, which co-stars Erykah Badu. Music video is a medium where Monae really shines, due to her bold, arresting sense of style and killer dance moves.
Used to be a time when ending work on Friday night meant something more exciting than a nap. But I’m trying to “live in the present,” so I’ll be snoozing soon.
Here are some final items of a herky-jerky day:
* One of the worst “news” articles I’ve seen this year: Daily Caller claims DHS persecuting conservatives but protecting Shariah Law advocates. Looks like something out of a Gingrich ‘12 campaign flier.
* If you missed it, check out New York Times piece on insurance shenanigans that helped give Bayonne Medical Center the highest medical procedure prices of any hospital in America.
* Elizabeth Warren blasts House Committee action approving rollback of regulations governing derivatives.
* At Ten Miles Square, John Sides discusses research showing majority of “civil unions” supporters now conservatives, which is a big change from a decade ago.
* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer examines the unhappy Chilean precedent for privatized education.
And in non-political news:
* In case you want to run for the border on the way to work, Taco Bell is testing a breakfast menu including, of course, a waffle taco.
So that’s it for the day. Kathleen Geier will be back in for weekend blogging. Let’s close shop with another fine Curtis Mayfield performance: “Keep On Keeping On,” from 1972.
Just can’t resist putting up this video (via Dave Weigel) of what was apparently the Big Moment in today’s House Ways & Means Committee hearing on the IRS, when Rep. Mike Kelley (R-PA) went a bit off-script in grilling a hapless and clearly puzzled outgoing acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller:
On second thought, maybe Kelley did have the script. By constantly straying from what the IRS was doing in the subject at hand to general condemnations of the agency as a “monster under the bed” and all-purpose demon, Kelley (who clearly had some unpleasant encounters with the IRS in his pre-congressional life) is trying to imply that the hassling of 501(c)(4) is the same as IRS tax enforcement actions where “they can come in and take everything away from you.”
People, people: the IRS wasn’t roaming around the countryside looking for Tea Party groups to persecute; it was responding (yes, poorly, no doubt) to voluntary applications for a tax exemption that has been routinely and massively abused over the years. Nobody’s doors were being kicked down; nobody was being fined or threatened, so far as we know. Yes, a benefit was delayed or withheld to which the applicants might have (or might not have) been entitled as a matter of (really bad, in my opinion) public policy. But any “monster under the bed” was entirely in their own minds, as it is in Mike Kelley’s.
If you want a good assessment of the distance the Republican Party has traveled in the starboard direction recently, don’t just look at what the overtly crazy people are saying. Look at what the alleged “grown-ups” of the GOP are saying. It can be shocking—kind of like seeing your favorite prim-and-proper elementary school teacher on the Strip in Vegas hooched-up and raging.
This occurred to me today upon reading a dispatch from the Georgia Republican State Convention by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution’s Jim Galloway:
When it came to the burgeoning Internal Revenue Service scandal, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson on Friday managed to squeeze 10 minutes of outrage into the four minutes allotted him before a sparsely populated state Republican convention.
Isakson told the crowd, in the first hour of its two-day meeting, that the Senate Finance Committee - on which he sits, and which oversees the IRS - had just agreed to have outgoing IRS Commissioner Steven Miller questioned by the panel next week about elevated scrutiny given tea party and patriot groups seeking tax-exempt status.
But did ol’ Johnny—a famously calm veteran pol who has often been accused of excessive moderation by his fellow Republicans (google “RINO Johnny Isakson” and you get a vast number of hits)—express his detached objectivity going into these hearings? Not so much:
“I’ve seen lots of things I did not like. I’ve seen lots of things about government that I loathe. But I’ve never seen anything worse that what appears to have happened in Internal Revenue. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I will not sleep until every individual is called forward and everybody’s asked this simple question: ‘Who gave you the okay? Who gave you the order to do this?’ They’re not going to tell me it was these two little agents in Cincinnati, Ohio. I think it went a lot higher than that, and we need answers.”
Isakson’s been in public office for thirty-two of the last thirty-six years. This is the worst thing he’s ever seen? He’s not going to sleep until all his questions are answered?
Lord-a-mercy. If a state Republican convention drives Johnny Isakson to this kind of rhetoric, what on earth will Paul Broun say? They may have to put up Gallagher-style plastic protective sheets so front-row delegates are not drowned in the flying spittle and bile.
At WaPo’s Plum Line today, Greg Sargent reports what he’s hearing from Harry Reid’s folks on the Senate leader’s strategy for dealing with Republican filibusters of nominees, and Jonathan Bernstein game-plans it all out. It’s all interesting and provides relatively good news, but I have to say I’m not as excited as the Post guys just yet.
Sargent reports that once Senate action on immigration is completed (theoretically in June), he’ll invoke the “nuclear option” with a majority-vote-sustained rules change that eliminates the right to filibuster on executive-branch or judicial nominations, if in the meantime Republicans have filibustered three particular nominations: Richard Cordray (who is supposed to get a vote next week), Thomas Perez (who has been cleared by the Senate HELP Committee on a party-line vote) and Gina McCarthy (cleared by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on a party-line vote). It’s not clear whether Reid will insist Republicans have to let all three go through without a filibuster, or just one or two, and whether they can avoid the “nuclear option” by “pulling their punches” to give the nominees 60 votes. It’s also unclear whether Reid’s demands for better behavior will extend beyond these three nominees.
Bernstein describes Reid’s strategy here as part of a complex chess game whereby Reid keeps publicly threatening the “nuclear option” while Senate Republicans figure out what they can “get away with.” The President is reportedly “on board,” which is important less because Reid needs his public support than because some obstructionist efforts on nominations are clearly aimed at securing concessions from the president: notably with respect to McCarthy, whose nomination is being linked to assurances EPA won’t issue climate-change regulations any time soon, and/or to presidential approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Now determining what Republican senators can “get away with” ultimately depends on how far Reid himself—never a big enthusiast for filibuster reform—is willing to go, and how many Democratic votes he has to back up a particular threat. If it turns out letting a couple of the identified nominations “go through” with a pulled-punch filibuster is the actual circuit-breaker for calling off the “nuclear threat,” and/or if Republicans are rewarded with presidential favors for “playing ball,” then I won’t be joining any victory celebrations, particularly if it means the “nuclear threat” is off the table (as it is apparently already off the table for filibusters of regular legislation) for the foreseeable future.
Still, this whole discussion is encouraging to anyone who rightly feared filibuster reform efforts had ended with the watery “agreement” Reid reached with Mitch McConnell back in January. And any progressive who is or can get into touch with a Democratic senator should keep the pressure on for maximum audacity on this front. The 60-vote Senate that’s emerged since 2008 represents a fundamental shift in how the federal government operates. I’d personally like to see the filibuster killed once and for all (filibuster delenda est!) but since that ain’t happening real soon, we can only hope Harry Reid isn’t bluffing this time and will push reform as far as it can go.
So a day after reports that it was stalemated, the House “Gang of Eight” working on immigration reform legislation announced an agreement today—or rather announced an agreement had been reached, since no details were released. It seems, according to various sources, that the solons are going to head to committee with an understanding that competing versions of the provisions on guest workers and health coverage for the newly legalized will battle for votes.
In other words, you can call this an agreement or a “deal,” but to the extent that it contains agreements-to-disagree on hot-button topics (and they pretty much all are, given the highly inter-related intra- and trans-partisan politics of this subject), it’s mainly an effort to “move the process along” at a point when real agreement is impossible and the clock is ticking.
All in all, it’s a hamburger job rather than a breakthrough, and the Gang is looking more like an under-rehearsed flash mob. But it’s better than nothing.
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