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Pizza Meow

[ 33 ] November 12, 2014 |

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When was the last time you thought about Totino’s frozen pizza? When you were 16 and hated good food? Me too. That’s some nasty “pizza.” And other frozen pizza-like products. But I have to give them credit–their tumblr is seriously amazeballs. Like there’s some great drugs floating around Totino’s corporate headquarters amazeballs. Whoever is running this thing is pretty good at their job. I mean, it’s sure as hell not going to make me buy their product. But I’ll probably keep checking the tumblr.

The Landrieu Gambit

[ 104 ] November 12, 2014 |

In order to save Mary Landrieu’s job, which will not work, some Senate Democrats are pushing for a vote to pass the Keystone XL Pipeline. Landrieu is throwing a Hail Mary here. Or as our valued commenter Dana Houle puts it:

Now we might say that the Senate Democrats might as well do this. Republicans will obviously push through a Keystone bill as one of their first moves after they take power in the Senate. So why not try to save Landrieu’s career? There are 2 basic reasons. First, it won’t work. She is toast. If she was down 51-49 this might make a difference and could be considered. Down 56-44 or so, forget about it. No way.

Second, does the Democratic Party want to at least pretend to care about climate change or not? That’s a really core question here. At a time when environmentalists feel that they are politically isolated and ineffective, what would such a message send? It would make them feel like labor unions routinely feel, working for politicians that then turn around and vote for policy against green interests.

Moreover, such a gambit gives McConnell all sorts of room to claim a bipartisan bill when it comes up in January. Manchin and Tester are already in favor and probably will vote with Republicans. I’d be shocked if Heitkamp didn’t do the same. This might happen anyway, but it’d be nice to see Democrats at least fight against a Keystone bill. It’ll also be nice to not openly announce to the world that they would rather give away the game in a failed attempt to save a doomed colleague than fight against the most loathed energy project in the green community.

…..And of course the Senate Democrats cave to Landrieu and will hold a vote next week. Pathetic. Just pathetic.

What the New Gilded Age Looks Like

[ 52 ] November 12, 2014 |

The New Gilded Age is not just about growing income inequality, grotesque wealth and conspicuous consumption for the .01%, and politics controlled by corporate leaders openly buying elections. It is about all of things, just as it was in the original Gilded Age. But there’s a lot more facets of it. Mike Konczal recently wrote a long-form book review of the recent works of Nicholas Parrillo, Dana Goldstein, and Radley Balko in the Boston Review. I want to quote him here:

Adam Smith was not the first, but he was certainly one of the most eloquent defenders of justice delivered according to the profit motive. In The Wealth of Nations, he wrote that since courts could charge fees for conducting a trial, each court would endeavor, “by superior dispatch and impartiality, to draw to itself as many causes as it could.” Competition meant a judge would try “to give, in his own court, the speediest and most effectual remedy which the law would admit, for every sort of injustice.” Left unsaid is what this system does to those who can’t afford to pay up.

Our government is being remade in this mold—the mold of a business. The past thirty years have seen massive, outright privatization of government services. Meanwhile the logic of business, competition, and the profit motive has been introduced into what remains.

But for those with a long enough historical memory, this is nothing new. Through the first half of our country’s history, public officials were paid according to the profit motive, and it was only through the failures of that system that a fragile accountability was put into place during the Progressive Era. One of the key sources of this accountability was the establishment of salaries for public officials who previously had been paid on commission.

As this professionalized system is dismantled, once-antique notions are becoming relevant again. Consider merit pay schemes whereby teachers are now meant to compete with each other for bonuses. This mirrors the 1770 Maryland assembly’s argument that public officials “would not perform their duties with as much diligence when paid a fixed salary as when paid for each particular service.” And note that the criminal justice system now profits from forfeiture of property and court fees levied on offenders, recalling Thomas Brackett Reed, the House Republican leader who, in 1887, argued, “In order to bring your criminals against the United States laws to detection” you “need to have the officials stimulated by a similar self-interest to that which excites and supports and sustains the criminal.”

We are once again turning into a nation where everyday people have no say in the basic functions of government. As Konczal says, the Progressive Era began the process of taming the most unequal parts of the nation, in this case, bringing honesty and transparency into government. There is a reason that Republicans from Glenn Beck to Karl Rove openly lament the Progressive Era as when the nation went off the rails. They dream of the Gilded Age and they have gone very far in creating it. Making public service about profit rather than service is another piece of the New Gilded Age, as it was for the first.

Obviously read the whole thing for many specific cases.

Poverty in Massachusetts

[ 71 ] November 12, 2014 |

Poverty rates in Massachusetts are now the highest since 1960. For Republicans, that news no doubt disappoints, since 1900 is more their goal. Luckily Charlie Baker is taking over at the statehouse, so maybe he can push that back a bit more.

Water Theft

[ 20 ] November 12, 2014 |

Hardly surprising that water theft becomes endemic during a drought. With all too scarce water so vital to the survival of California as we know it, this can actually be a pretty serious threat as some people are going to some pretty significant extremes to steal water, whether for themselves or the black market.

Dead Horses in American History (XIV): Special Armistice Day Edition

[ 23 ] November 11, 2014 |

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Dead horse, World War I

This photo was sent to me by a reader. Her grandfather Gabriel Penn Cummings II took it when he served in the U.S. military during World War I. She asked me to post this as a tribute to him. The back of the photo is captioned, “Horse blown up into a tree by H.E. shell.”

Life in the Canadian Oil Sands

[ 13 ] November 11, 2014 |

An interesting photographic exhibit of life in Fort McMurray, Alberta, a city completely dedicated to an extraordinarily dirty form of energy.

Surprisingly diverse populace, I must say. I have trouble seeing all those Muslims in western North Dakota.

See also this sketch comic based upon a worker’s life in Fort McMurray
(h/t Turkle)

The Bush Legacy

[ 61 ] November 11, 2014 |

The Bush family legacy is still very much evolving. Denton, Texas, a town I know very well because my brother lived there for 10 years, has developed into something of a liberalish enclave in north Texas. Austin musicians are moving up there because they can’t afford to live in Austin anymore. It has two schools, one with a legendary music program. So while not exactly hippieland, it is less conservative than the rest of Texas.

Last Tuesday, the voters of Denton did something very unusual for Texas. They passed an ordinance banning fracking in their town. You think the Texas energy elite, filled with scions of the Bush family are going to let that happen in their home state? Nope.

As promised by the oil and gas industry and by Texas Railroad Commission commissioner David Porter, the vote was met with immediate legal backlash. Both the Texas General Land Office and the Texas Oil and Gas Association (TXOGA) filed lawsuits in Texas courts within roughly 12 hours of the vote taking place, the latest actions in the aggressive months-long campaign by the industry and the Texas state government to fend off the ban.

The Land Office and TXOGA lawsuits, besides making similar legal arguments about state law preempting local law under the Texas Constitution, share something else in common: ties to former President George W. Bush and the Bush family at large.

In the Land Office legal case, though current land commissioner Jerry Patterson signed off on the lawsuit, he will soon depart from office. And George Prescott Bush — son of former Florida Governor and prospective 2016 Republican Party presidential nominee Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush — will take his place.

George P. Bush won his land commissioner race in a landslide, gaining 61 percent of the vote. Given the cumbersome and lengthy nature of litigation in the U.S., it appears the Land Office case will have only just begun by the time Bush assumes the office.

The TXOGA legal complaint was filed by a powerful team of attorneys working at the firm Baker Botts, the international law firm named after the familial descendants of James A. Baker III, a partner at the firm.

Baker III served as chief-of-staff under both President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush, Secretary of State under George H.W. Bush and as a close advisor to President George W. Bush on the U.S. occupation of Iraq. He gave George P. Bush a $10,000 donation for his campaign for his race for land commissioner.

Bush, Baker–this is true democracy folks. Remember, America is a meritocracy.

Baker Botts is leading the lawsuit against Denton. George P. Bush will be using this to prepare his inevitable move to governor in the next 10 years. I for one look forward to President Bush in 2036 or so. And no hippies in Denton are going to get in the way of that.

The Wages of Fracking

[ 10 ] November 11, 2014 |

Oh fracking. You are so great with your cheap gas prices and profits for fossil fuel companies. Let’s just keep going full bore into this technology without adequate research on its impact on people or the land. Earthquakes? It’s just Jesus giving you a little shake. Keeping it real for you. As for fracking’s impact on workers, it’s just their sacrifice for the greater good:

A new study published in Environmental Health reveals air pollution data on major, in some cases previously underestimated, health risks from toxic contamination at gas production sites related to fracking. Air samples gathered around “unconventional oil and gas” sites by community-based environmental research teams contained unsafe levels of several volatile compounds that “exceeded federal guidelines under several operational circumstances,” and that “Benzene, formaldehyde, and hydrogen sulfide were the most common compounds to exceed acute and other health-based risk levels.”

This suggests fracking may bring risk of cancer, birth defects and long-term respiratory and cellular damage to local towns and farms. Building on other studies on drilling-related water contamination, the air pollution research may stoke growing opposition from communities near drilling sites, who must weigh the industry’s promises of new investment and jobs against the potential cost to the human health.

The findings also raise questions about the safety of fracking-site workers, who may have far less legal recourse over potential health damage than do local homeowners. Many work contract jobs under harsh, isolated conditions, in a volatile industry where pressure to pump profits is high and labor protections weak.

In contrast to other forms of oil and gas extraction, fracking is a particularly murky field because the process uses massive volumes of chemicals, with little regulatory oversight or corporate transparency.

It’s hard to see how this could lead to long-term health issues since American industry has never, ever, ever, ever, ever killed a worker through a lack of safety and health precautions.

21st Century Organized Crime

[ 66 ] November 11, 2014 |

With civil asset forfeiture, the real organized crime in this country these days is not the Mafia, it’s the police. Or certain police departments anyway that self-fund by stealing your stuff whether or not you have actually committed a drug crime:

The seminars offered police officers some useful tips on seizing property from suspected criminals. Don’t bother with jewelry (too hard to dispose of) and computers (“everybody’s got one already”), the experts counseled. Do go after flat screen TVs, cash and cars. Especially nice cars.

In one seminar, captured on video in September, Harry S. Connelly Jr., the city attorney of Las Cruces, N.M., called them “little goodies.” And then Mr. Connelly described how officers in his jurisdiction could not wait to seize one man’s “exotic vehicle” outside a local bar.

“A guy drives up in a 2008 Mercedes, brand new,” he explained. “Just so beautiful, I mean, the cops were undercover and they were just like ‘Ahhhh.’ And he gets out and he’s just reeking of alcohol. And it’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness, we can hardly wait.’ ”

Mr. Connelly was talking about a practice known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows the government, without ever securing a conviction or even filing a criminal charge, to seize property suspected of having ties to crime. The practice, expanded during the war on drugs in the 1980s, has become a staple of law enforcement agencies because it helps finance their work. It is difficult to tell how much has been seized by state and local law enforcement, but under a Justice Department program, the value of assets seized has ballooned to $4.3 billion in the 2012 fiscal year from $407 million in 2001. Much of that money is shared with local police forces.

The practice of civil forfeiture has come under fire in recent months, amid a spate of negative press reports and growing outrage among civil rights advocates, libertarians and members of Congress who have raised serious questions about the fairness of the practice, which critics say runs roughshod over due process rights. In one oft-cited case, a Philadelphia couple’s home was seized after their son made $40 worth of drug sales on the porch. Despite that opposition, many cities and states are moving to expand civil seizures of cars and other assets. The seminars, some of which were captured on video, raise a curtain on how law enforcement officials view the practice.

From Orange County, N.Y., to Rio Rancho, N.M., forfeiture operations are being established or expanded. In September, Albuquerque, which has long seized the cars of suspected drunken drivers, began taking them from men suspected of trying to pick up prostitutes, landing seven cars during a one-night sting. Arkansas has expanded its seizure law to allow the police to take cash and assets with suspected connections to terrorism, and Illinois moved to make boats fair game under its D.W.I. laws, in addition to cars. In Mercer County, N.J., a prosecutor preaches the “gospel” that forfeiture is not just for drug arrests — cars can be seized in shoplifting and statutory rape cases as well.

And if you are found not guilty of these crimes, do you get your stuff back? Ha ha ha. Of course not.

This obviously should be illegal and I’m glad there is push back growing. But at the same time, police departments are looking to increase their seizures. It’s a plague that must stop.

Another gift from the War on Drugs. Just Say No kids!

Everybody Wins

[ 228 ] November 10, 2014 |

A friend altered me to this highlight of American culinary history.

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The definition of everybody winning is hot cocktail sauce.

The Only Progressive Choice in 2016

[ 76 ] November 10, 2014 |

Rand Paul: thinking person’s choice as political leader:

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) wrote the foreword for a new book from Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano. Napolitano has promoted 9-11 conspiracy theories, attacked President Abraham Lincoln, and defended a former Paul aide with “neo-Confederate” and “pro-secessionist” views.

Napolitano’s Suicide Pact: The Radical Expansion of Presidential Powers and the Assault on Civil Liberties is described by publisher Thomas Nelson as “a shocking chronicle of America’s descent from a free society to a frightening surveillance state.”

In the foreword, Paul writes, “Now President Obama says he just wants to ‘balance’ liberty and national security. Judge Napolitano succinctly answers President Obama. To Napolitano, it isn’t possible to balance rights and security because ‘rights and [national security] are essentially and metaphysically so different that they cannot be balanced against each other.”

Paul praises Napolitano for “unravel[ing] the labyrinthine assault on civil liberties that has taken place as a side effect of the War on Terror.”

He concludes, “Judge Napolitano gets it, and I hope his new book will help the American public to get it; to wake up and mount a defense of our most precious liberties before it’s too late.”

Sen. Paul has engaged in a highly publicized effort to court the black vote for the Republican Party, visiting cities like Ferguson, Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit as well as colleges like Howard University to speak to black audiences. He has also spoken about criminal justice reform and worked with Democrats on the issue.

Yet the pundit he describes as someone who “gets it” has a history of downplaying the racial elements of the Confederacy while attacking President Abraham Lincoln.

In a 2014 appearance on Fox Business’ The Independents, Napolitano said he is a “contrarian” on Lincoln’s legacy and “bemoan[ed] the fact” that the president has been “mythologized.” He attacked “the public school establishment” who “would have you believe he is the fourth member of the blessed trinity.”

Napolitano accused Lincoln of having “set about on the most murderous war in American history” over slavery rather than “allowing it to die” because it “was dying a natural death.” He also argued that Lincoln possibly could have purchased slaves and then freed them, “which would have cost a lot less money than the Civil War cost.”

Napolitano even claimed that “it’s not even altogether clear if slavery was the reason for secession.” (The Daily Show later devoted a segment to dismantling Napolitano’s argument.)

Napolitano claimed that Lincoln’s prosecution of the Civil War – described as “government violence” — led to the creation of Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan. Napolitano decried the image of Lincoln as having “Godlike stature” because of “the demonizing of the south.”

Since Rand Paul has already stated he supports private businesses’ right to discriminate and segregate, the same arguments opponents of the 1964 Civil Rights Act used, though he now claims to not believe that, we can legitimately ask whether Paul thinks Napolitano “gets it” on race and the Confederacy too. Rand Paul can pretend like he’s not a white supremacist all he wants to, but not withstanding a few recent speeches made for political gain, his record his clear. The people he runs with and his own past demonstrate this clearly.

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