AMERICAblog NewsChris Trejbal – AMERICAblog News http://americablog.com A great nation deserves the truth // One of America's top progressive sites for news and opinion Mon, 18 Jun 2018 20:28:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.6 Oregon didn’t reject LGBT rights on Election Day http://americablog.com/2016/11/oregon-didnt-reject-lgbt-rights-election-day.html http://americablog.com/2016/11/oregon-didnt-reject-lgbt-rights-election-day.html#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2016 16:46:31 +0000 http://americablog.com/?p=140181 National headlines would have you believe Oregon voters rejected LGBT rights on election day. Don’t believe it.

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The national news would have you believe that Oregon voters rejected lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights on Election Day.

Don’t believe it.

Oregon’s secretary of state race doesn’t typically warrant national headlines. But national media, reeling after blowing forecasts in the presidential election, was happy to turn attention elsewhere.

“Oregon official who shut down Christian bakery loses election” – CNN.

“Oregon official who bullied Christian bakery loses election” – Fox News.

“Oregon official who destroyed Christian bakery over gay wedding cake loses election” – The Daily Caller.

“Shut down,” “bullied,” “destroyed” – It’s fascinating how editorial slant quickly escalates.

Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian will continue upholding LGBTQ rights.

Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian will continue to uphold LGBT rights.

Someone who doesn’t pay close attention to down-ballot races in the Pacific Northwest would be forgiven for believing that Oregon issued a stunning rebuke to LGBT overreach.

Indeed, that’s how Fox News reported it: “An Oregon bureaucrat who waged political jihad against the owners of a Christian bakery was given the heave-ho by voters,” their story begins.

The bakery in question entered the national zeitgeist in 2013 when the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa refused to make a cake for a lesbian couple’s wedding, citing religious objections. Democratic Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian ruled the bakery had violated the Oregon Equality Act and fined the owners $135,000. The bigoted bakers quickly became heroes of the Christian Right which raised more than half a million dollars for them.

The owners, not Avakian, closed the bakery in October.

It was but the highest-profile incidence of Avakian standing up for LGBT rights. In a case that received less national attention, he fined a Portland bar $400,000 for discriminating against a transgender women’s group.

This year, Avakian ran for secretary of state. He lost to Republican Dennis Richardson. It was the first time Oregon had elected a Republican to statewide office since 2002.

CNN’s erroneous assertion that Avakian closed the bakery notwithstanding, the basic facts of those headlines are true. Yet they are also negligently misleading.

During the campaign, the cake and the Portland bar were never serious issues. Rather, Avakian lost primarily because he planned to expand the secretary of state’s role beyond its constitutional authority. For example, he wanted to audit private companies and implement education programs.

As a result, even the progressive Willamette Week didn’t endorse him, writing, “The secretary of state is an administrator, who oversees elections, audits, the corporation division (which registers businesses) and the state archives. The secretary of state does not make or enforce laws and has nothing to do with civil rights.”

Richardson ran a smart campaign focused on the core responsibilities of the office, not social issues. That message resonated with Oregonians, at least more than Avakian’s.

Avakian will remain the labor commissioner for two more years. There was no “heave-ho.” He didn’t lose a re-election referendum on his job performance. Like Tim Kaine, he returns to his previous elected position. He still has the power to fine the next bakery that doesn’t want to make a cake for a same-sex couple.

“Oregon official who upheld the rights of same-sex couples remains on the job” apparently wasn’t an exciting enough headline.

With a healthy debate underway about how Google, Facebook and other portals handle fake news, it’s worth remembering that even CNN can run with a fake narrative.

Oregon voters didn’t reject LGBT rights. In fact, they endorsed them by becoming the first state to elect an openly LGBT governor.

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Republicans can’t win Obamacare subsidies case http://americablog.com/2015/06/republicans-cant-win-obamacare-subsidies-case.html http://americablog.com/2015/06/republicans-cant-win-obamacare-subsidies-case.html#comments Fri, 05 Jun 2015 16:00:18 +0000 http://americablog.com/?p=129370 No matter what happens in King v. Burwell, Republicans lose.

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As the Supreme Court winds down its current term, some big decisions are coming this month. Most eyes are on Obergefell v. Hodges, the same-sex marriage case, but don’t forget that Obamacare is on trial again. In King v. Burwell, the court could punch a deadly hole in the Affordable Care Act.

Republicans have tried to tear down President Obama’s signature policy achievement since the get-go. In the House of Representatives, they have voted more than 50 times to repeal Obamacare, but the Senate has served as a bulwark to ensure that the gains made for the health of the American people remain in place.

Republicans failed in the courts, too. A challenge of the ACA’s mandate that almost all Americans buy insurance lost.

But you know what they say: If at first (or second, or fiftieth) you don’t succeed…

Conservatives returned to the Supreme Court this term in King v. Burwell. It’s a dry, legalistic case that centers on a couple of words in the Affordable Care Act. It gets somewhat technical, but the short explanation is that one section of the law, read a particular way, could forbid the federal government from providing subsidies to American families who buy insurance through the federal health insurance exchange. Those who buy through state-run exchanges would not be affected.

Defenders of Obamacare insist that the challengers at best are misinterpreting a passage to create conflict that doesn’t exist when read in the full scope of the law. At worst it’s just a typo.

Still, apparently there’s enough room for debate to merit a Supreme Court case, and the court could go either way. No matter what, though, Republicans will lose. Every scenario spells political damage for the GOP.

Consider the possibilities:

Nuclear option: SCOTUS rules against subsidies and Republicans do nothing

In some sense, this is the easiest path for Republicans. There’s no coalition to build, no consensus to find among disparate conservative views. Just stand aside and let nature take its course.

Neil Siefring urges that approach at The Daily Caller:

Republicans shouldn’t disrupt Obamacare’s collapse if the Supreme Court decides the subsidies are unworkable. The blame for this lies squarely with our scholar-leader President Obama and the Democrats. Republicans should not rescue them from their mistakes. Republicans have pointed out for years that Obamacare is unworkable. If the Supreme Court helps prove them correct, Republican leadership in the House should take advantage of the decision to pivot health care back to the states as rapidly as possible and get the federal government out of the health care business at which it has failed so badly.

Republicans in the House and Senate should resist the temptation to provide mouth-to-mouth to the bureaucracy the left has constructed. They have done so too often in the past.

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act, via Wikimedia Commons

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act, via Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, millions of Americans who rely on subsidies and the health care exchanges would stop buying insurance. Everything would snowball from there.

Without the larger pool of clients, insurance companies and the overall healthcare system would face mounting costs, driving up prices for everyone else.

Low-income families that benefit from preventive health services would not receive them. Minor problems would become major health issues over time, costing everyone more money in the long run. Much of Obamacare would likely unravel.

That might appeal to some of the far right, but the Republicans who killed the subsidies and did nothing to prevent the ensuing pain and suffering would hand Democrats a powerful issue heading into the 2016 congressional and presidential elections. “All Republicans can do is tear down progress and screw over the poor,” campaign ads will proclaim in so many words. “They promised to replace Obamacare, but they did nothing.”

Most of the 30 states that use the federal exchange do so because Republican governors and legislatures refused to create their own. Those are some of the most cash-strapped states, unable and unwilling to pay for the subsidies themselves.

Republican legislatures and governors could create state exchanges, like they were originally encouraged to do. But as other states discovered, setting up an exchange can be tough, expensive and time-consuming. Plus those state leaders would risk being seen as embracing Obamacare.

Apply a Band-Aid: SCOTUS rules against subsidies and Republicans restore them

If the Supreme Court rules against the subsidies, it will be based on a technical error in the drafting of the Affordable Care Act. There’s nothing inherently unconstitutional about providing the subsidies, only an arguable oversight in how Congress wrote the law. A new law could correct that error.

That’s what many of those governor’s want. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is the most recent to demand that Congress fix things. Walker threw down the gauntlet:

We’re gonna push back. This is a problem that was created by this president and the Congress that was in the majority at that time. There’s gonna be incredible pressure — we heard it about a month and a half ago when I was at the White House with all the other governors from across the country. The president doesn’t have a fallback plan. But this is not something the state created. This is something the federal government — this president and the Congress created. They’ve gotta come up with a solution.

There’s some small chance that a few Republicans in competitive districts would join with Democrats to pass such a law. It would almost certainly be a stopgap, temporary extension, setting up another crisis in a year or two, most likely after the 2016 election. The GOP – more so than Democrats – has become quite adept at kicking the can down the road rather than making difficult policy and spending decisions.

Again, Democrats would be able to hammer them on the campaign trail. “See, even Republicans want to preserve Obamacare. But now they’ve set up a health care cliff.”

Many Republicans running last year made killing Obamacare a cornerstone of their campaigns. If they go back on that promise, they would infuriate and demoralize their base. That’s not the way to head into a presidential election year.

Continued failure: SCOTUS upholds subsidies

This might be the least damaging outcome for Republicans, but it still isn’t good. In terms of the law itself, nothing would change; the subsidies would continue. In terms of the bigger debate, however, things will remain far from settled.

Another Supreme Court loss would be incredibly demoralizing.

Republicans could fall back on their old strategy, but surely it’s wearing thin with their base. After a few dozen pointless votes to repeal Obamacare in the House of Representatives, a couple of more won’t satisfy anyone. They could try some scarlet-letter laws, but they just made the party look silly and impotent. When you can’t do something real, go for hollow symbolism.

Democrats would seize the rhetorical high ground in this case, too. They would declare, “See, we told you so. Republicans have been wasting everyone’s time with a frivolous lawsuit because they can’t abide an Obama success and can’t accomplish repeal legislatively.”

It’s not a slogan that fires people up, but it does reiterate who the losers are. Again, not exactly the way to head into 2016.

Win or lose in King v. Burwell, Republicans will come out damaged. Then again, if there’s one party that is capable of screwing up an excellent opportunity like this, it’s the Democrats. That’s the only thing Republicans have going for them.

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After marriage equality, let’s win secular wedding equality http://americablog.com/2015/05/secular-wedding-equality.html http://americablog.com/2015/05/secular-wedding-equality.html#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 18:00:53 +0000 http://americablog.com/?p=127970 Secular Americans shouldn't have to choose between fake belief and bureaucracy on their wedding day.

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Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could finally grant marriage equality to same-sex couples in all 50 states. But that isn’t enough. We also need wedding equality.

Suppose you are Christian, Muslim or Jewish. At your wedding, you want the celebrant who solemnizes your marriage to be someone important in your life, someone who shares your values and will offer meaningful wisdom. It makes sense to turn to a favorite minister, imam or rabbi.

Secular Americans – atheists, agnostics, humanists and spiritualists who do not subscribe to any particular religion – cannot do the same. Most states deny them the right to choose the secular celebrant they want. They cannot even get a ship’s captain to marry them anymore.

secular wedding minister

(Photo courtesy of the author.)

I do not want to imply that nonbelievers have had to endure anything near what the LGBT community has endured. The latter faced social and legal bigotry for decades, even centuries.

But even if it hasn’t been as bad, it hasn’t been good. Nonbelievers are second-class citizens in many regards, especially on their wedding day. And  LGBT Americans are considerably less likely to be religious than straight Americans.

Generally, nonbelievers have two wedding options: Pretend to be religious or pay a judge.

A common trick is to have the preferred celebrant sign up as a minister online. Everyone pretends for a day that he or she subscribes to the virtual church’s worldview. Alternatively, they can usually find a not-very-strict minister, maybe a laid back Unitarian, to do the wedding.

The other option usually is to have a judge or county clerk solemnize the wedding. A couple can have a “wedding” before their friends and the celebrant they want, but the official solemnizing takes place later in a civic building. How romantic!

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Neither is an ideal way to start a lifetime of married bliss. Those who choose the religious route must turn their back on sincerely held non-belief in order to satisfy the state. They must become hypocrites. Those who choose the judge must rely on a stranger and maybe hold a sham wedding that doesn’t actually count but makes for a nice, expensive show. Then they drop a few more dollars to pay for the judge’s time, a fee not mandated for religious weddings.

Those might not sound like terrible hurdles, but the point is that there shouldn’t be any hurdles. The Constitution guarantees all citizens equality under the law, regardless of their faith or lack thereof. A secular couple should not have to compromise their beliefs or accept a bureaucratic wedding just because they don’t believe in a god.

There’s hope, though. Last year, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals unanimously ruled against this sort of wedding discrimination in Indiana. These were not bleeding-heart liberals. President Reagan appointed two of them. President Clinton appointed the third.

The court’s opinion pulled no punches:

The state’s willingness to recognize marriages performed by hypocrites, show that the statute violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as well as the First Amendment. It is irrational to allow humanists to solemnize marriages if, and only if, they falsely declare that they are a ‘religion.’ It is absurd to give the Church of Satan, whose high priestess avows that her powers derive from having sex with Satan, and the Universal Life Church, which sells credentials to anyone with a credit card, a preferred position over Buddhists, who emphasize love and peace. A marriage solemnized by a self-declared hypocrite would leave a sour taste in the couple’s mouths; like many others, humanists want a ceremony that celebrates their values, not the ‘values’ of people who will say or do whatever it takes to jump through some statutory hoop.

Indiana chose not to appeal. That’s too bad insofar as national affirmation of wedding equality by the Supreme Court would eliminate the problem.

Indiana joined a handful of other states that have some accommodation for secular weddings. In California, which arguably has the best system, just about anyone can get a one-day license to solemnize a wedding. The happy couple truly can choose the person they want to give meaning to their wedding day.

Oregon State Rep. Mitch Greenlick testifies about the secular wedding bill, which he sponsored. Pro Tip for the gentleman behind him who would raise concerns about losing business to secular celebrants: Don't wear your Union Jack socks when you want something from and American legislature. There's history there. (Image capture from Oregon Legislature video.)

Oregon State Rep. Mitch Greenlick testifies about the secular wedding bill . He is the chief sponsor. (Image capture from Oregon Legislature video.)

Most states, though, still want a holy person to solemnize a marriage. Even in very secular Oregon, that’s true, but it soon could change there.

The Oregon Legislature is considering amending the law. A bill pending in the State House of Representatives’ Committee on Rules (HB 3483) would add legislators, former legislators and celebrants from secular organizations to the list of legal wedding officiants. Presumably legislators are on the list because hey, there’s money to be made in retirement by holding some weddings.

Predictably, Oregon Republicans appear to be lining up against the bill. In committee hearings, they called it a “bad bill” and said they have serious concerns about it. A hearing today could determine if the bill advances out of committee.

Allowing secular weddings would have zero effect on religious Americans. The faithful could still have their priest, rabbi or imam solemnize their wedding.

Nonreligious Americans should not have to jump through extra hoops or pay extra fees to wed. They deserve the same right to choose someone important in their lives to celebrate their wedding, just as their religious neighbors can.

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Golf Digest’s May issue is absurdly sexist. Again. http://americablog.com/2015/04/golf-digest-sexist.html http://americablog.com/2015/04/golf-digest-sexist.html#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 16:00:53 +0000 http://americablog.com/?p=127065 Women and golfers deserve an apology from Golf Digest for its latest sexist cover.

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Yesterday, I received the new issue of Golf Digest, and it’s as awful as I’d been warned. I called to cancel my subscription.

The May issue features Lexi Thompson on the cover. Lexi Thompson is an LPGA player who hits the ball farther than I or any other average male golfer. In the photo, she has what looks like a towel slung over her naked torso. At least they gave her a golf glove.

Gender bias exists in many sports. Basketball, soccer and baseball/softball all treat women as lesser, especially when it comes to TV coverage. But it goes deeper in golf, where discrimination is part of the history of the game.

Golf Digest's May 2015 cover.

Golf Digest‘s May 2015 cover.

Augusta National Golf Club, home of last weekend’s Masters tournament, did not admit women until 2012. It admitted its third last year. Progress feels slower than a five-hour round of golf.

Augusta wasn’t a lone holdout, of course. Golf clubs around the country were the playgrounds of men for decades. Women made strides in the workplace, in politics, in society, but not on the links. Some golf clubs stubbornly remain men-only.

Even where women are allowed to play, they often are treated as second-class golfers. Clubs reserve the best morning tee times for men. Women play on “Ladies’ Day” (often Tuesday) or in the afternoon. That does not work so well for female business leaders hoping to do some business on the green.

Golf Digest perpetuates that sexism.

Most months, Golf Digest‘s cover features a male professional or celebrity golfer. Usually he holds a golf club and is dressed in a golf shirt (you can find their archived covers here).

Golf Digest covers (top to bottom) featuring Rory McIlroy (April 2015), Paulina Gretzky (May, 2014) and Jordan Spieth (February 2015).

Golf Digest covers (top to bottom) featuring Rory McIlroy (April 2015), Paulina Gretzky (May, 2014) and Jordan Spieth (February 2015).

Then it gets around to putting a woman on the cover and things go laughably wrong in an age in which Hillary Clinton is the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. The editors forget about golf and go Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. A year ago, Golf Digest earned the ire of evolved golfers when it featured a sexy golf picture of Paulina Gretzky. She isn’t a professional golfer, but she is blonde, fit and looks good in a sports bra and tights. A year before that, it was a scantily clad Holly Sonders swinging the club in the magazine’s pages that sparked outrage.

The editors did not learn their lesson. Instead, they doubled-down with a topless model this year. Indeed, the photo of Thompson was shot by Sports Illustrated Swimsuit veteran Walter Iooss, Jr.

In fairness, the magazine’s cover featured male golfer Rory McIlroy with his shirt off last month. That was shocking because it was the exception. This month’s is shocking because it is the embarrassing norm.

Things got no better inside this month’s edition. The story that went with the cover photo featured more pictures of professional women golfers working out in tight clothing. Perhaps the irony of the article that followed a few pages later was lost on editors: “Need more T? Increasing your testosterone will help you hit bigger drives.” (I am not making this up.)

Editor Jerry Tarde tried to head off controversy printing a “Mea Culpa, Ladies” letter at the front of the issue. In other words, he knew the cover was problematic, and went ahead with it anyway.

As an apology, it lacked culpa. Tarde was downright proud of his cover. He called it “historic” and claimed there’s nothing wrong with it because Thompson’s mother was at the photo shoot and she didn’t mind.

Meanwhile a picture of LPGA star Michelle Wie in a skin-tight dress dominated the page. “Have you ever seen anyone more fit in evening wear?” Tarde unironically asked. (Again, not making this up. He really is that tone-deaf.)

He concluded his letter, “PLAY LIKE A GIRL has become our new mantra.” Not like a woman, mind you, and that’s the problem. In Golf Digest‘s world, female golfers are girls. They are cute or fit, suitable for looking at as long as they don’t get in the way of the men.

Golf will continue to struggle with widespread acceptance as long as it treats half of the potential players as objects rather than athletes.

Women and all golfers deserve a real mea culpa from Golf Digest’s publisher Condé Nast. It can start by firing Tarde, who has shown he lacks the editorial judgment to serve all golfers.

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Who really surrendered at Appomattox Court House? http://americablog.com/2015/04/really-surrendered-appomattox-court-house.html http://americablog.com/2015/04/really-surrendered-appomattox-court-house.html#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 14:00:18 +0000 http://americablog.com/?p=127037 The South is a drag on America. Let the former Confederacy secede.

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This past weekend marked the 150th anniversary of America remaining whole. On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, ending the Civil War.

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrenders to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. (Library of Congress)

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrenders to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. (Library of Congress)

For such an important moment in our nation’s history, there were few parades and celebrations marking Appomattox. Those that did occur featured as many reenactors in grey, who honored the memory of the “Lost Cause.”

Usually the winners write the history books, but in the case of the Civil War, the losers have had too much of a final say. The cause of Southern secession is remembered in many places as a noble fight for states’ rights and sovereignty, not one of treason against the federal government. The Civil War remains a cornerstone of Southern cultural identity.

The North ended slavery in America, but one need look no further than the bumpers of Ford F-150s in North Carolina — to say nothing of Mississippi’s state flag — to see how stubbornly resistant to change the South remains.

So as nice as the Appomattox surrender was, can we have a do-over? The states of the Confederacy drag down the rest of the country and, for economic and cultural reasons, we’re better off without them. I’m not saying it would have been better if the South had won the Civil War. It wouldn’t have. But given where we are today, it might be time to think about a peaceful separation.

And by that I mean this: We should seriously consider taking the 11 states that formally seceded — plus Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma (territories with pro-Confederacy leanings at the time), and Missouri and Kentucky (which had dual governments) — and kick them out of the Union.

Here’s why:

The U.S. Census Bureau used to produce an annual report on how much money each state, county and congressional district received in federal spending. Then, a few years ago, Congress and the Obama administration told it to stop. Ostensibly, it was a cost-saving measure, but it’s more likely that they were just tired of state-shaming.

Most famously, the Tax Foundation used the data to figure out which states received more money than they sent to Washington, and which received less.

Other organizations have run similar calculations since, and the results are always the same: The Confederate states are the real Welfare Queens, consistently taking in far more federal spending than they return in tax revenue.

Wikimedia Commons

The Confederate States (Wikimedia Commons)

A handful of states are head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to mooching off of the federal government, most notably Texas, but as a group Confederate states received more than $1.25 per $1 in federal taxes paid. Taxpayers in the rest of the country are basically subsidizing Southern states that would otherwise be financially insolvent.

But money is only one part of the failings of the South relative to the rest of the country. It does no better socially. From voting rights to reproductive health to LGBT equality, the Confederacy consistently has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

Quality of life is also worse in Dixieland. Obesity is more prevalent, along with all of the health problems that accompany it. Fewer Southerners have a high school diploma, and more of them can’t read. Teen pregnancy is higher. And so on. And you can draw a straight line between the the underfunding of these states’ public schools, which are then told to push thoroughly-discredited abstinence-only sex education curricula, and those negative quality of life outcomes.

The United States of America could instantly boost its standings in international rankings of well being simply by giving the Confederates what they’ve wanted for 150 years: independence. The U.S. could balance its budget and have a healthier, better-educated populace. Plus, we’d jettison much of the Tea Party caucus that’s blocked progress on literally every major public policy issue facing America today.

Of course the political and economic realities are such that we’re stuck with each other. Who would be responsible for America’s outstanding debt? Who would get the military infrastructure? What current treaties would bind the Southern states? Could other like-minded states join them (looking at you, Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Utah, West Virginia (oh the irony) and Wyoming)?

The questions are endless and only get tougher the more you think about them. But there is value in asking, and in acknowledging that the fiercest opponents of government handouts are among the biggest takers.

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How to win the climate change wars http://americablog.com/2015/04/climate-change-wars.html http://americablog.com/2015/04/climate-change-wars.html#comments Mon, 06 Apr 2015 14:00:26 +0000 http://americablog.com/?p=126858 In the climate change war, science is losing the messaging battle. It's time to embrace the war on coal.

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America has failed to act decisively on climate change not because the science isn’t there but because the message isn’t. Reason and science are losing the marketing war to polluters and the politicians they’ve purchased.

If we’re going to get serious about climate change, we need to declare war.

There’s nothing like a good war metaphor to stoke the imagination and rally the people. Conservatives have Ronald Reagan’s “War on Drugs” and George W. Bush’s “War on Terror,” along with Fox News’ imagined “War on Christmas” and “War on Christianity.”

Recreational boats by the Bidwell Marina at Lake Oroville in California during low water (drought) conditions on March 2. (California Department of Water Resources)

Recreational boats by the Bidwell Marina at Lake Oroville in California during drought conditions on March 2. (California Department of Water Resources)

Progressives talk of a “war on women” and Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.”

War is extreme. There’s no room for squishiness when we’re at war. We’re in it to win.

Yet squishiness is exactly what we get from the leaders ostensibly on the side of action. The Obama administration this week hailed a climate proposal it had submitted to the world, but it falls far short of the carbon reduction goals needed to avoid a two degree Celsius rise in global temperature — a rise that scientists say would have destabilizing effects on human society. Instead, the plan only reiterates what Obama had already committed to last year in talks with China. That’s not war; that’s surrender.

Meanwhile, in drought-stricken California, Gov. Jerry Brown announced unprecedented water conservation mandates. He, too, capitulated to special interests. In a state where 80 percent of water consumption is agricultural, not residential, urban users must reduce consumption by 25 percent while agribusiness must reduce consumption by…nothing. Brown’s order asks farmers and ranchers only to stop ignoring a state requirement that they report data about their water use. They don’t have to do anything. More squishiness.

Conservatives have the “war on coal,” a phrase they can throw around to trash the Environmental Protection Agency and anyone else who suggests that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Coal serves as a placeholder for fossil fuels in general. First they came for the coal, and I did not speak…

If we are to match war with war, what should the other side invoke?

Are climate change deniers waging a war on the world? A war on humanity? A war on the future? Yes to all of those, but as metaphors, they lack marketable zing.

A war on the West? For many Americans, that might be a good thing. California, Oregon and Washington are bastions of liberalism, after all.

Drought in the WestWhat about a war on farmers? Even if Brown is shielding California farmers now, they’re going to feel the global warming hurt eventually. It’s only a matter of time until agriculture in the rest of the country starts to suffer. That might work, but it could be a hard sell in rural communities that lean conservative and anti-science.

What do you think is the right message? Share it in the comments.

In the meantime, there’s another way to think about it.

A war metaphor has two parts. Someone wages war on something, but it isn’t always someone good waging war on something bad (e.g., the War on Terror). Sometimes someone bad wages war on something good (e.g., the war on women).

For example, with the war on coal, conservatives have successfully framed coal as the victim. Someone bad (President Obama and environmentalists) are waging war on something good (fossil fuels, miners, rural communities and the economy).

It’s not the victim. Burning coal produces an obscene amount of greenhouse gases and other toxic pollutants. That’s something worth waging war on, and we do a disservice pretending otherwise.

Rather than look for a new metaphor, let’s co-opt the other side’s war. Don’t pretend that there’s no war on coal; admit it. Put the “war on coal” on websites, on billboards, and in campaign ads. Use the same sort of blunt messaging that has worked so well for the other side.

That doesn’t mean coal-mining communities are enemies. On the contrary, they are victims of coal, too. America cannot turn its backs on them. Job training and rural economic investment must remain cornerstones of tackling climate change.

Tell conservatives they were right. There is a war on coal. It’s a just war, and we’re waging it vigorously.

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Chuck Hagel’s resignation: McCain and Cornyn were right http://americablog.com/2014/11/mccain-cornyn-right-hagel.html http://americablog.com/2014/11/mccain-cornyn-right-hagel.html#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 13:00:53 +0000 http://americablog.com/?p=124921 GOP Senators McCain and Cornyn were right: Chuck Hagel wasn't qualified to be Secretary of Defense.

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Republican senators who opposed the Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be defense secretary were right about one thing: Hagel wasn’t qualified.

Hagel resigned on Monday, reportedly under administration pressure to do so.

Two years ago, when President Obama nominated the Vietnam veteran and former Republican senator from Nebraska to join his cabinet, he might have thought it would boost his bipartisan bona fides after the bitter 2012 presidential election. He might have even thought that senators would rally around one of their own nominated to a position that historically saw confirmations occur with little controversy.

It didn’t work out that way. The GOP immediately went into attack mode. Hagel had always shown insufficient fidelity to the hard-core conservative line. He had even donated to a few Democratic candidates. Republicans also questioned whether he supported Israel and would cut support defense spending cuts.

Chuck Hagel.

Chuck Hagel.

The most deplorable attacks came from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who suggested that North Korea was funneling cash to Hagel, and that he had ties to Iran.

A short-lived filibuster threat delayed the confirmation vote, and when it did happen, it was an almost party-line vote.

But credit where credit is due. A few Republican senators assessed Hagel correctly.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., warned, “I do not believe that Chuck Hagel, who is a friend of mine, is qualified to be secretary of defense.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was even blunter. “There’s simply no way to sugar coat it,” he said. “Sen. Hagel’s performance before the Senate Armed Services Committee was remarkably inept, and we should not be installing a defense secretary who is obviously not qualified for the job and who holds dangerously misguided views on some of the most important issues facing national security policy for our country. Sen. Hagel is clearly the wrong man for the job.”

There was some self-fulfilling prophesy in this. By making the confirmation process so controversial and partisan, Hagel took the job damaged. It was never clear that he had the support he needed to lead America’s armed forces effectively.

Nevertheless, it turns out that McCain and Cornyn made a valid point. As news broke that Hagel was being forced to resign, an anonymous White House official admitted, “He wasn’t up to the job.”

This raises legitimate concerns about Obama’s decision process. Did he choose someone unqualified simply because he was so desperate to appear bipartisan?

There is a lesson in all of this, too, but it is not that Republicans were right two years ago. Rather, it is that when a party is throws every accusation it can think of against the wall, sometimes one of them sticks.

The GOP used Hagel to punish Obama for trouncing Mitt Romney. Their goal was and is to deny him even the smallest victory.

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Put the brakes on the per-mile vehicle tax http://americablog.com/2014/11/put-the-breaks-on-per-mile-vehicle-tax.html http://americablog.com/2014/11/put-the-breaks-on-per-mile-vehicle-tax.html#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 18:41:56 +0000 http://americablog.com/?p=124824 Some states are considering charging a per mile instead of per gallon tax. A decidedly unprogressive idea.

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America’s roads and bridges are crumbling.

Historically, motorists have paid for roads with a gas tax, but it has not kept pace with inflation, nor wirh fuel-efficient hybrid and electric cars that use little to no gas. Some states therefore are considering charging per mile instead of per gallon.

Strangely, this un-progressive idea is gaining traction in progressive states. California, Washington, Nevada and Massachusetts all are kicking the idea around. The liberal Center for American Progress likes it too.

Oregon, one of the few bright spots for Democrats in this month’s elections, seeks 5,000 volunteers to pay 1.5 cents per mile instead of 30 cents per gallon as part of a pilot project.

A mileage tax does have a progressive veneer. It would raise desperately needed money for infrastructure, and it would benefit low-income drivers who typically own older, less-fuel-efficient vehicles.

Scratch the surface, though, and one finds conservative outcomes that will harm the environment, climate change and civil liberties.

Sure, some of the people who drive gas-guzzlers are poor, but many more are just selfish owners of pickup trucks and SUVs. They will save big with a mileage tax.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 2, 2013: White Hummer H2 limousine at the city street. Art Konovalov / Shutterstock.com

MOSCOW, RUSSIA – JUNE 2, 2013: White Hummer H2 limousine at the city street. Art Konovalov / Shutterstock.com

The Oregon proposal illustrates this. Imagine two Oregonians who each drive 10,000 miles per year. Driver A has a hybrid car and gets and average 45 mpg. Under the current per gallon tax, she pays $67 per year. Driver B has an SUV that optimistically gets 17 mpg. He pays $176 in gas tax.

Both would pay the same $150 for 10,000 miles under the proposed mileage tax. Energy-efficient Driver A winds up paying more than double what she paid under the gas tax so that Energy Inefficient Driver B can pay less, and the state can raise some money.

The mileage tax therefore eliminates one of the biggest incentives for choosing a fuel-efficient vehicle.

Supporters spin that as a plus. Everyone pays the same for the same amount of driving, they say. Yet their impacts on the roads, the planet and society are not the same at all.

The idea of using the tax code for social engineering is nothing new. Elected officials from the right and the left hand out tax breaks to things they like, and impose heavier taxes on things they don’t. They levy sin taxes on alcohol, tobacco and marijuana (where applicable) to discourage consumption. They let people who pay mortgages or have children pay less to encourage homeownership and reproduction.

Larger, heavier vehicles cause more wear to pavement than lighter, fuel-efficient ones. The gas tax captures that disparity. (If Oregon really wants to target the people who cause the most wear and tear, it would ban or tax the studded tires that needlessly chew up the roads to the tune of $50 million every year.)

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Meanwhile, the more gasoline a vehicle burns, the more greenhouse gases and other nasty chemicals it emits. Society has a compelling interest in encouraging more-efficient use of natural resources and keeping our air breathable. Making people pay higher taxes for polluting more is one way to do it. A mileage tax, on the other hand, allows people to use as much gas as they like, as inefficiently as they like, without any additional consequence.

Motorists would also lose a great deal of privacy under this scheme as someone would need to track their driving to tally their mileage.

Oregon hopes to get around the Big Brother aspect by contracting GPS tracking and billing to private companies. The companies would store the personal travel information, not the state. But it’s hard to take comfort in that. We have all how seen how well the private sector shields personal data from government snooping (or from hackers). All it will take is one call from an NSA agent, or overzealous police officer, and where one has traveled winds up in a government database. (Such information can also prove useful in contentious divorce cases.)

The Oregon Department of Transportation also figures that those private partners will not charge the state much because what they really want is access to the personal information of all of the state’s vehicle owners. Rather than bill the state, companies would use that data to sell things like insurance and maintenance warranties. If you want to drive, you’ll have to agree to receive more junk mail and aggressive marketing of dubious services. Seeing as those companies will know everywhere you drive, they’ll be able to target their pitches.

The mileage scheme turns out to be a money-loser, too. According to ODOT, overhead on the gas tax is about 0.5 percent in Oregon. Under the mileage tax, even once upfront implementation costs are paid, overhead runs about 5 percent of gross revenue. For the state to maintain its current revenue, it will have to charge motorists more in aggregate just to make up the difference, let alone actually raise more money for roads.

Many states are in a transportation funding hole because lawmakers feared raising the gas tax to keep up with inflation and the marketplace. Sadly, the mileage tax is not the answer.

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Wehby, Merkley and a cowardly newspaper in Oregon http://americablog.com/2014/10/wehby-merkley-cowardly-newspaper.html http://americablog.com/2014/10/wehby-merkley-cowardly-newspaper.html#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 13:17:18 +0000 http://americablog.com/?p=124046 The Oregonian chose not to endorse in the state's U.S. Senate race between Democrat Merkley and Republican Wehby.

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The Oregonian, Portland’s no-longer-daily newspaper, recently exhibited the sort of editorial cowardice that is symptomatic of an industry in decline.

The paper’s editorial board chose not to endorse in Oregon’s U.S. Senate race between Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley and Republican Dr. Monica Wehby. It printed a non-endorsement endorsement.

The Oregonian doesn’t like Merkley because he’s a progressive Democrat. It doesn’t like Wehby because … well because she’s just that terrible of a candidate.

Watching Wehby’s campaign implode has been fascinating. Just a few months ago, George Will held her up as the sort of strong female candidate Republicans need, and proclaimed her slogan, “Keep your doctor/Change your senator,” the best bumper sticker of the year. The Oregonian itself endorsed her in the primary.

Then came the police reports of stalking filed by her ex-boyfriend and ex-husband, the two plagiarism incidents, and her hiding from the media and debates.

Monica Wehby

Monica Wehby

Most embarrassing of all for everyone who jumped on the Wehby bandwagon early, is that she proved a complete policy lightweight. Perhaps she’s a good doctor, but on the substantive issues people might expect their senator to be versed in, Wehby is out of her depth.

Even a partisan editorial board could not endorse her. Well, at least not The Oregonian’s.

Merkley will win, Wehby presumably will go back to neurosurgery, and The Oregonian will continue its sad slide into irrelevance.

The Oregonian is not the only newspaper that eschews controversial endorsements. In Virginia last year, few papers could bring themselves to endorse über-conservative Ken Cuccinelli, or his challenger Democrat Terry McAuliffe, in the race for governor. Newspapers have written none-of-the-above endorsements in congressional and even presidential races in recent years. Columbia Journalism Review has a good report on the papers that are abandoning editorials — and the few returning to them.

Some editors and publishers fear that anything controversial will lead to canceled subscriptions, hastening their doom. Others simply don’t want to deal with phone calls and emails from irate readers And still others think they somehow demonstrate wisdom and nuance by beind fearfully neutral. They have weighed the options and found both sides wanting, so they choose not to decide.

If only voters had that luxury. Individually, they can under-vote. But unless they do so en masse (including convincing the candidates, their friends and family not to vote), someone will emerge victorious on Election Day, or after a recount.

I’ve written editorials for newspapers for more than 15 years. One of my first editors had a philosophy that stuck with me. “If the voters have to decide, we have to decide,” he’d say. We endorsed in almost every contested race from president down to the local library board.

Sometimes we didn’t like any of the candidates, and we’d say so. Then we’d hold our noses and recommend the one who was least bad.

The Oregonian lacked that courage. (And it’s not like the Wehby-Merkley race has two bad options. Merkley actually is quite good.)

Sometimes the best candidate isn’t even a Democrat or Republican. In its haste not to endorse, The Oregonian ignored three candidates in the race. The Pacific Green, Libertarian and Constitution candidates might be long shots to win, but if the major party candidates were so bad, they at least deserved consideration.

There’s a case to be made that newspaper editorials, and endorsements in particular, are an anachronism, that they don’t influence readers or public policy, that they are “nothing but a propagandistic ploy.” It’s not a view I share, but it’s certainly a discussion worth having.

But if newspapers do decide to print editorials and endorse candidates, they should do so boldly. Waffling and hand wringing wastes everyone’s time.

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Red states give more to churches, not charities http://americablog.com/2014/10/red-states-give-churches-charities.html http://americablog.com/2014/10/red-states-give-churches-charities.html#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 12:00:28 +0000 http://americablog.com/?p=123747 People in red states give a lot of money to “charities” that do not do a whole lot of charitable work.

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On Tuesday, The Washington Post’s political blog The Fix declared, “Red states give more to charity. It’s because of religion.”

Take that, all you agnostics and atheists.

If you were more like the people of faith in Republican states, you wouldn’t be such tightwads. You would do more to help the needy in your communities, at least more than the socialist big government programs that you are always pushing down real Americans’ throats.

Or something like that.

Writer Philip Bump cites data from The Chronicle of Philanthropy that shows the 17 states that gave the most money to charities in 2012 all voted for Mitt Romney that year. Those also happen to be the most religious states in the country, so Bump sees a religious divide.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy

The Chronicle of Philanthropy

The old warning that correlation is not causation comes to mind, but Bump is right, religion almost certainly plays some role in this. It’s just not the role he thinks. People don’t give more because of religion, at least not that way.

Religious people give a lot of money to charity because churches, synagogues and mosques count as charities in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service. When they drop $1 or $20 on the collection plate on Sunday, it is a charitable donation.

To the IRS, a dollar given to the Thomas Road Baptist Church used to build an even grander palace for the Falwell clan in Virginia is the same as a dollar given to Meals on Wheels, the Red Cross or any number of charities that actually do some good in the world.

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People in red states, then, give a lot of money to “charities” that do not do a whole lot of charitable work, unless you count convincing people to believe in fairy tales and to vote against their self-interest as charity.

Sure, some churches put donations to good work, but a lot more of that money goes to proselytizing and keeping preachers in the sort of lifestyle to which they have grown accustomed in an age of prosperity gospel.

If The Fix had just looked in the Washington Post’s archives, it would have found a report from 2013 that reported about one-third of all charitable giving goes to churches, etc. That doesn’t even include religious schools that indoctrinate students and charitable organizations that happen to be aligned with a faith; it’s just the houses of worship.

Like so many things in the tax code, the biggest beneficiaries of tax breaks for charitable giving are the wealthy. A one-percenter who gives $1,000 to charity gets to shave that off his income at the highest marginal rate, and hence gets more bang for his buck than a middle-income family that might have little to no tax burden once all of the other deductions are accounted, if they itemize at all rather than take the standard deduction.

An excellent case can be made that the federal government should eliminate deductions for charitable donations, especially donations to churches – that whole First Amendment separation of church and state thing to start. Eliminating just the church-charity deduction would save the federal government about $12.5 billion per year.

But with a House of Representatives that is solidly in Republican hands, and a Senate that at best will be closely divide come January, the odds of repealing that handout are about as likely as Congress voting “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance.

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Say goodbye to America’s landmarks this Independence Day http://americablog.com/2014/07/say-goodbye-americas-landmarks-independence-day-climate-change.html http://americablog.com/2014/07/say-goodbye-americas-landmarks-independence-day-climate-change.html#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 15:48:29 +0000 http://americablog.com/?p=121070 Ellis Island, Jamestown, Mesa Verde and 27 other national landmarks could soon disappear thanks to climate change.

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As we celebrate the nation’s birthday, let us all take a moment to say goodbye to some beloved members of the American family. Ellis Island, Jamestown, Mesa Verde and 27 other national landmarks could soon disappear thanks to climate change.

A national celebration with a dash of mourning won’t be so different from many of the family cookouts taking place from sea to shining sea this weekend.

Generations gather for good food and good company, but grandma and grandpa are on everyone’s mind. Maybe they’re slowing down. Maybe the doctor had some bad news. Maybe they’re not remembering all of the grandkids’ names like they used to. Everyone knows that this might be one of the last times that the whole family is together.

Liberty Island after Hurricane Sandy. (National Park Service)

Liberty Island after Hurricane Sandy. (National Park Service)

Adults will want to savor the family stories that will eventually be lost with generations gone by. Everyone knows that one of these years will be the last, and the family will be forever diminished.

Likewise, while our cherished national monuments will certainly make it to next year, their end too is in sight.

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently documented more than two dozen iconic American sites that are most at risk. They will succumb to the rising sea levels, floods, storm surges, wildfires and other localized disasters that a warming planet unleashes.

The Statue of Liberty, which welcomed millions of immigrants to our shores, will have a hard time standing when the waves lap at its feet. Seawater inundated 75 percent of Liberty Island and most of Ellis Island when Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012.

Rising sea levels could soon submerge Jamestown in Virginia, America’s first permanent English settlement.

Ruins of Jamestown Church at the turn of the 20th century, prior to the Tercentennial in 1907 A photochrom postcard published by the Detroit Photographic Company Photograph of ruins of the Old Church at Jamestown, Virginia, circa 1902. This is an image of a place or building that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the United States of America.

Ruins of Jamestown Church at the turn of the 20th century, prior to the Tercentennial in 1907.
A photochrom postcard published by the Detroit Photographic Company Photograph of ruins of the Old Church at Jamestown, Virginia, circa 1902.

Coastal erosion is eating away at the Everglades in Florida and the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

Wildfires increase in frequency and severity, especially in the West, threatening not only landmarks but also national forests and other public lands.

The Union of Concerned Scientists’ list, below, is by no means comprehensive. It offers only a taste of what America has bargained away because it is unwilling to take the steps necessary to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

National-Landmarks-at-Risk-Map-of-Case-Study-Sites_Full-Size

Here’s a list of the national monuments in peril:

Alaska: Cape Krusenstern National Monument and Kivalina — Bering Land Bridge National Monument and Shishmaref
California: GrovelandCésar E. Chávez National Monument — NASA Ames Research Center
Colorado: Mesa Verde National Park
Florida: Castillo de San Marcos, Fort Mose, St. Augustine’s historic downtown, and the Lincolnville Historic District in St. Augustine — Prehistoric shell structures at Ten Thousand Islands and Canaveral National Seashore — NASA Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral
Hawaii: Kaloko-Honokōhau and Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Parks
Louisiana: NASA Michoud Assembly Facility
Maryland: Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument — Historic Annapolis and U.S. Naval Academy
Massachusetts: Boston’s Faneuil Hall and the Blackstone Block Historic District
Mississippi: NASA Stennis Space Center
New Mexico: Bandelier National Monument and Santa Clara Pueblo
New York: Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
North Carolina: Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
South Carolina: Charleston’s Historic District
Texas: Johnson Space Center
Virginia: Historic Jamestown — Fort Monroe National Monument — NASA Wallops Flight Facility and Langley Research Center

Republicans in particular have proved a roadblock to addressing the threat. They won’t even acknowledge the problem; faith-based reality has little room for fact-based science. For all their devotion to “independence,” conservatives rarely welcome independent thinking.

The eggheads at the Union of Concerned Scientists are not alone in sounding the alarm. The Government Accountability Office this week reported on efforts by the Department of Defense to prepare for climate change. The GAO concluded that the military isn’t ready yet. Leaders at at-risk installations lack the tools they need to implement strategies to keep their facilities ready to defend America.

In the grand scheme of things, these losses are minor. What are a few lost landmarks compared to the billions of people worldwide who will face catastrophic challenges as the Earth warms?

At least, it's not nukes.

At least it’s not nukes.

But maybe when Faneuil Hall, in Boston’s historic wharf area, is under water even Republicans will be finally forced to act to save the planet. That, after all, is where Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty met to plan the original Boston Tea Party.

Perhaps a bit more water can inspire a second call to action, before our nation, and its heritage, are permanently diminished.

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Virginia’s “Redskins Caucus” takes pride in a slur http://americablog.com/2014/06/virginias-redskins-caucus-takes-pride-slur.html http://americablog.com/2014/06/virginias-redskins-caucus-takes-pride-slur.html#comments Wed, 25 Jun 2014 12:00:54 +0000 http://americablog.com/?p=120743 3 members of the Virginia General Assembly are rallying for the cause of racism with a “Redskins Pride Caucus."

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Washington Redskins NFL team owner Dan Snyder has new allies in his fight to keep his team’s embattled name. Three members of the Virginia General Assembly are rallying for the cause of racism with a “Redskins Pride Caucus.” Virginia never was very quick to abandon bigotry.

Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City; Del. Jackson Miller, R-Manassas; and Del. David Ramadan, R-Loudon announced their caucus on Monday. It is proof that sports can transcend politics. The D.C. suburbs that they represent are generally the more progressive part of the purple state. Confederate flags fluttering on front porches and emblazoned on pickup trucks whose horns blare Dixie are the stuff of rural Virginia.

Pride is one of the seven deadly sins because it rarely ends well. The LGBTQ community’s annual Pride Week is perhaps the only notable modern exception. Most often when people invoke pride, it is because they cannot otherwise defend their despicable beliefs.

Washington-REdskinsConfederate flag wavers insist they are not racists or traitors in their longing for Southern freedom from Northern tyranny. No, they are just taking pride in their heritage and ancestry. They fool no one but themselves.

Americans cling to historical bigotries longer than they should, but we eventually get it right as a nation.

The tide against “Redskins” has been turning for a while. Late night television mocks Snyder’s insistence that a racial epithet is immutable. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office revoked protection of the “disparaging” name and logo. Fifty U.S. Senators signed a letter urging a new name.

Pressure will grow. It cannot be long until the other NFL owners turn on Snyder. The league rarely tolerates this sort of distraction, especially if it starts to cut into profits.

Redskins defenders call the attack on their beloved team name political correctness run amuck. Rather, it is political correctness exactly where it should be. In a civilized, multicultural society, we should not tolerate a racial slur serving as the mascot for a sports team whether in the NFL or the local high school division.

One can have a reasonable discussion about names like “Indians,” “Seminoles” and even “Braves.” They are not the same sort of slur. “Redskins” is a term whose sole purpose is to belittle a people.

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Humans are particularly adept at inventing slurs that reduce people to nothing more than a single physical, religious or ethnic characteristic. It’s so much easier to see only hebes, wops, wetbacks and yellow Chinamen. When a person is just a slur, he or she is no longer worthy of consideration. Unique personalities, hopes and dreams cease to matter.

Del. Ramadan is the most surprising member of Virginia’s Racist Pride Caucus. He moved to the United States from Lebanon as a child and graduated from a high school in Beirut. I wonder if he’d feel the same way about the Washington Hajji or Towel Heads with suitably racist logos.

Slurs like “Redskins” are acceptable in neither polite society nor professional sports. The holdouts embarrass the rest of us. In most of the country, Washington football apologists are the racist uncles that we try to keep from talking too much in mixed company because we know it’s only a matter of time before they drop the n-word.

In Virginia, they are lawmakers with a podium and too much time on their hands.

Update (June 25, 9:10 a.m.): The Redskins Caucus is growing. It now has 17 Republicans and five Democrats as members, including Sen. Minority Leader Dick Saslaw. Only in Virginia.

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Virginia GOP allegedly bribed Dem. Sen. Puckett to block Medicaid expansion http://americablog.com/2014/06/virginia-gop-bribes-sen-puckett-to-block-medicaid-expansion.html http://americablog.com/2014/06/virginia-gop-bribes-sen-puckett-to-block-medicaid-expansion.html#comments Mon, 09 Jun 2014 17:28:04 +0000 http://americablog.com/?p=120171 The senator and his daughter get lucrative jobs & the GOP takes over the state Senate, killing Medicaid expansion.

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Republicans in Virginia have allegedly bribed Democratic state Sen. Phil Puckett to resign in exchange for lucrative, prestigious jobs for him and his daughter, and handing the GOP the state Senate. Bribery, it seems, is only wrong when it’s someone else doing the buying.

Virginia has been embroiled in a budget standoff for months. Republicans, who control the House of Delegates, refuse to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Democrats, who control the Senate thanks to a tiebreaker, and who also hold the governor’s office, insist on Medicaid expansion in the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in July.

The stalemate threatens to shut down state government, a sad reenactment of the federal shutdown drama.

Former Virginia Sen. Phil Puckett says talk to the hand.

Former Virginia Sen. Phil Puckett says talk to the hand.

Puckett’s resignation changes that dynamic. Republicans now hold a one-vote majority in the Senate. They can pass a Medicaid-free budget and challenge the governor to veto it. It’s all about whom the public would blame for a shutdown. As long as the legislature couldn’t move a budget, blame lay there. If Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoes a budget, blame will fall on him (at least that’s the plan).

In Sen. Puckett, Republicans found a doting father with profound moral flexibility. Puckett scores a cushy deputy director position at the state tobacco commission, salary to be determined later. His daughter will be confirmed as a circuit court judge by the General Assembly. Who could ask for anything more?

In return, the GOP takes over the state Senate, and scores a huge political win on the Medicaid fight, succeeding at denying health care to hundreds of thousands of poor Virginians. Such are the high-minded priorities of modern Republicans.

The party might even retain control of the Senate if it wins a special election in Puckett’s conservative, coal-friendly district. Virginia then could return to the days of transvaginal ultrasounds, hybrid vehicle taxes, and discrimination against gays and women at state universities.

Democrats cry foul at Puckett’s treachery, but they can’t do much about it. In Virginia, corruption is in the eye of the beholder — or at least in the hands of federal investigators and lawmakers who like their palms greased, thank you very much.

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Virginia legislators had an excellent opportunity to pass meaningful ethics reform this year. Both major parties were unified in their disgust with Republican former Gov. Bob McDonnell, who has been accused of accepting bribes by federal prosecutors. When lawmakers convened in Richmond, they discussed ways to crack down on the graft that the state’s lax ethics rules allowed.

It was all talk. Ultimately they passed only timid ethics rules that leave the spigot of cash and gifts wide open. Even if they had passed stronger legislation, it would not have addressed the Puckett scenario. As long as lawmakers get to write their own ethics rules, they aren’t about to prevent themselves and their families from enjoying profitable futures.

Virginia isn’t unique in this. Such despicable yet legal political wheeling and dealing takes place in every state and in Congress. This just happens to be the most brazen example in recent memory.

Pollyannaish editorial writers and commentators in the commonwealth no doubt now will call for more reform. They might urge voters to remember this craven behavior when the next legislative elections come around in 2015.

Good luck with that. Voters’ memories aren’t that long. Even if they were, bitter partisanship and expertly gerrymandered electoral districts ensure incumbents return year after year.

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State Department has (mostly) thrown in the towel on climate change http://americablog.com/2014/05/state-department-mostly-thrown-towel-climate-change.html http://americablog.com/2014/05/state-department-mostly-thrown-towel-climate-change.html#comments Fri, 02 May 2014 13:00:40 +0000 http://americablog.com/?p=118467 State has mostly shifted from prevention of, to preparation for, climate change and its ensuing damage.

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Scientists and environmentalists are not alone in their despair that the world no longer can prevent climate change. The U.S. State Department has (mostly) thrown in the towel, too. Now it’s all about preparing for the aftermath.

When State Department officials recently met with opinion journalists from around the country, climate change came up repeatedly. Diplomats whose areas of expertise included the Middle East, East Asia, foreign aid, India and more kept coming back to the consequences of a warmer planet. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are treating it as the serious issue that it is diplomatically because they can’t do much domestically.

In the basement of the State Department that day, we heard words like “adaptation” and “resilience.” Diplomats asked, “How do we deal with this?” not “How do we prevent it?

Todd Stern, Special Envoy for Climate Change, once or twice mentioned efforts to reduce emissions and the need for international agreement, but they were not the focus of discussion. Real action is probably unattainable. Developing countries want to pin more expense on developed countries than the latter will tolerate, and an intractable disagreement on Capitol Hill between Democrats who mostly believe in science and Republicans who don’t ensures greenhouses gases will continue to build up in the atmosphere.

Climate change billboard, courtesy of the Freeway Blogger.“There are plenty of questions still to be worked out and worked through by scientists with respect to how fast, how bad, how large the impacts, and so forth. But the fundamentals are clear and it is happening on the ground,” Stern said.

The moral was that climate change is real, and we’d best figure out how we will react to it.

“This is a quintessential global problem,” Stern explained. “This is unlike most other environmental problems that you can clean up locally.” Where an oil spill might affect the Gulf of Mexico, it is contained. Climate change affects everyone everywhere.

Nancy Lindborg, USAID Assistant Administrator or the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, painted a grim human picture. Increased natural disasters will strike. Even if the United States is far from an international leader on curbing emissions, it still can be a leader it implementing mitigation measures.

“We are putting an increased emphasis on building resilience,” Lindborg said. “We’re seeing that where you have chronic poverty, and often coupled with the ever-greater impacts of climate change, we need to get upstream of what is a cycle of disasters.”

Preparation ranges from developing and sharing climate-resistant seeds to better managing resources. Lindborg and her fellow diplomats know all too well that when resources become scarce, the potential for conflict skyrockets.

Nisha Biswal, assistant secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, talked about work the Army Corps of Engineers has done in Bangladesh helping prepare disaster response systems and construct cyclone shelters.

Climate change exacerbates other environmental problems. Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, cited water shortages as an example. With changing rainfall patterns on a global scale, droughts are becoming more common in places that can little withstand it. Meanwhile, rising sea levels threaten low-lying coastal communities.

She also noted the increasing acidification of seawater that is killing many organisms that form the foundation of the oceans’ ecosystem. The Seattle Times recently documented some of the destruction already underway.

Too many Americans refuse to accept the evidence before their eyes and reject the overwhelming scientific consensus that the world is on a path to global climate catastrophe. At least there are smart people in Washington working on the issue anyway. Republicans in Congress might be a roadblock to legislative action, but executive measures remains possible and essential as a bulwark against the worst outcomes.

That’s an important fact to remember as the 2016 presidential election approaches. If America elects a president who denies the problem even exists, efforts to prepare will cease.

But climate disaster will not.


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Cliven Bundy and his fellow “welfare ranchers” http://americablog.com/2014/04/cliven-bundy-welfare-ranchers.html http://americablog.com/2014/04/cliven-bundy-welfare-ranchers.html#comments Tue, 29 Apr 2014 13:00:47 +0000 http://americablog.com/?p=118218 If Cliven Bundy brings attention to one thing, let it be scandalously-low cattle grazing fees on federal lands.

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The national obsession with Cliven Bundy dissipated quickly after he said “the negro” might have been better off when they were slaves.

Conservative pundits and Republican senators ran from Bundy’s overt racism. Even if Bundy is forgotten, he brought fresh attention to a pernicious policy problem. The public is getting ripped off by ranchers.

The media obsessed over the shiny, but ultimately irrelevant, aspects of the Bundy incident. Militias, anti-American conservative conspiracies, the right of the federal government to own land and charge fees to use it, pervasive racism on the right, welfare, and bickering television personalities all are settled issues, but they get ratings.

Lost was the only real issue of substance down on the Bundy ranch: ludicrously cheap federal grazing fees.

Bundy refused to pay the fees and racked up penalties. That was enough to attract armed followers willing to fight federal officials enforcing the law. That he didn’t pay them doesn’t make him a welfare mom, it makes him a crook.

Cattle Grazing in the Agua Fria National Monument by the Richinbar Mine site in Arizona. (BLM)

Cattle grazing in the Agua Fria National Monument by the Richinbar Mine site in Arizona. (BLM)

But welfare for ranchers is real. It’s just underreported. Fees that ranchers pay are a fraction of market rates for grazing on private land or purchasing feed.

The Bureau of Land Management administers about 245 million acres of public land mostly in Western states. It allows livestock grazing on about 155 million acres and issues about 18,000 permits and leases to ranchers that typically last 10 years.

BLM charges $1.35 per animal unit month. An AUM is grazing for a cow and calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month. That’s the same rate the federal government charged in 2013, and the year before. In fact, that’s about how much the government has charged for decades except most recently for a few years under President George W. Bush when it went up a few pennies.

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To put that in perspective, $1.35 will get you one or two cans of cat or dog food, far short of a month’s supply.

The rate is the result of a convoluted formula that Congress adopted in 1978 as part of the Public Rangelands Improvement Act. It sets $1.35 as the minimum, and it doesn’t adjust for inflation. It also is open to political manipulation.

When BLM redoes the math each year, ranchers and their lobbyists make sure nothing changes. Grazing on public lands remains cheap. Ranchers win. The public loses.

In 2013, the average rate for grazing on private lands in the West was $18.90 per head per month. Feed costs are comparably high.

Private Range Fees

Average private monthly grazing fees per state. Bold text is 2013. Regular text is 2012.

Conservatives insist that government should run more like a business. No business would remain viable if it charged 1/14th of the going market rate.

Federal lands are a public resource, and the American people deserve fair compensation from those who use them for private profit. That should include money to offset environmental damage and water pollution caused by grazing. A 2005 Government Accountability Office report found that federal agencies recouped only about 15 percent of their administrative costs from ranchers. In 2004, taxpayers lost $123 million to grazing.

Periodically a brave lawmaker bucks the ranching special interests and introduces legislation to fix that disparity. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska, introduced legislation in 2012 to set fees comparable to nearby private rangeland. In Nebraska, grazing fees on private land cost $34. His bill died in committee.

Even the Obama administration, for all its talk about environmental stewardship and fiscal responsibility, has been afraid to touch the grazing fee.

Let Cliven Bundy ride off into the sunset, as all cowboys must, but don’t let his fellow ranchers continue exploiting America’s resources without paying their fair share.


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Ingenious new attack ad from Oregon GOP http://americablog.com/2014/04/ingenious-new-political-attack-ad-oregon-gop.html http://americablog.com/2014/04/ingenious-new-political-attack-ad-oregon-gop.html#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 16:20:00 +0000 http://americablog.com/?p=117597 Republican Senate attack ads evolve to the next level in today's free-wheeling campaign finance environment.

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A radio advertisement in Oregon’s GOP Senate primary between Monica Wehby and Jason Conger set a new standard for insidious genius. It’s no “Boats ‘N Hoes” scandal, but it’s a template for underhanded campaigning in the future.

The winner in the May primary will face Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley in November.

The spot targets Conger, a state representative with support among hard-core conservatives.

Monica Wehby

Monica Wehby

Establishment-favorite Wehby, a Portland pediatric neurosurgeon, did not purchase or produce the ad. It was an independent expenditure by a political action committee. It even says so at the end. “Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.”

That’s their story, and their sticking to it.

National media have picked up on the fact that Andrew Miller, one of the super PAC’s organizers and major contributors, is romantically involved with Wehby. MSNBC calls it the “most romantic political contribution ever.” Miller gave $31,000, and another GOP donor chipped in $75,000.

Super PACs may not coordinate with candidates. Miller insists there’s been neither pillow talk nor dinner conversation about how he would spend $106,000 supporting Wehby’s campaign.

Pundits have skewered this ludicrous claim. It’s just one more example of the broken campaign finance system post-Citizens United.

What the pundits have missed, however, is the ad’s audacious genius. Everyone loves a love story, but the legacy of this ad will be something more than one more PAC flaunting coordination rules.

The 60-second ad tries to convince Republicans that Conger is a RINO — Republican In Name Only. A woman narrates some of his controversial votes in the legislature. (It’s worth listening to the whole thing just for the hilarious intonation alone.)

“Republican Jason Conger voted five times with Democrats for Oregon’s Obamacare,” it says.

It fails to mention that Conger cast those votes holding his nose. They weren’t for the Affordable Care Act but to ensure Oregon created its own exchange lest the feds take over. That the state exchange has been a complete disaster is a separate issue.

Jason Conger

Jason Conger

The ad cites a few other votes without context. These sorts of blunt statements that lack nuance are typical attack-ad fare.

Finally there’s the disclosure that we’re all used to hearing: “Paid for by,” here’s the genius bit, “If he votes like that in Salem, imagine how he will vote in Congress.”

Huh? That’s just more attack, not a disclosure. Miller actually named his committee: “If he votes like that in Salem, imagine how he will vote in Congress.” Brilliant.

The “Paid for by” bit is supposed to help listeners know who is dumping money into political ads, but the rules don’t say you have to pick a helpful name. Substance and disclosure waste precious airtime better filled with one more attack.

It’s campaign evolution. Remember when candidates had to start saying, “I’m Joe Smith, and I approved this message,” at the end? Then it became, “I’m Joe Smith, and I approved this message because my opponent hates America.

The anti-Conger ad just took it to the next level. A descriptive name or the identities of donors would help people identify who is buying an election. A creative name provides a shroud of secrecy and more messaging. Most people don’t have the time or expertise to dig through Federal Election Commission filings to figure out who is really behind the money.

The radio-spot ups the obfuscation, too, by getting the PAC’s name wrong. It’s actually “If he votes like that in Salem imagine what he will do in Congress.” It’s harder to search the FEC when you don’t even have the right name. (The ad says “how he will vote,” not “what he will do.”)

The possibilities are endless. Come 2016, we might see the “Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi” and “End the war on women” committees form. They’ll spend millions, and few people will ever know who’s really pulling the strings.

Congress or the Federal Election Commission will not fix this any time soon. There’s a genuine free speech concern about the right to name committee’s whatever one wants, but that won’t be the real cause of inaction. Rather, politicians win or lose by the financial support they receive. If they can help those donors and spenders stay on message with a fair degree of anonymity, so much the better.

My name is Chris Trejbal, and I approve of this attack ad.


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The Earth is toast, per new UN report on climate change http://americablog.com/2014/03/earth-toast-climate-change.html http://americablog.com/2014/03/earth-toast-climate-change.html#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 22:05:38 +0000 http://americablog.com/?p=116220 A new United Nations report finds that climate change already is affecting the world, and it will only get worse.

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Climate change will have devastating effects on the planet and humanity. So concludes an international team of experts in a report released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (Read the summary for policymakers below, or browse the full report online.)

The report is part two of a one-two punch. The first punch came last fall when IPCC found that the scientific evidence for climate change is overwhelming and almost certainly caused by humans.

Part II takes a close look at what the world can expect as temperatures rise globally. The scientists found not just a grim future, but also a grim present. Climate change is already affecting the world, and it only will get worse.

Both natural and human systems are vulnerable. Many of the coming problems will harm the world’s poorest people the most, but challenges will not be isolated to those communities. Indeed, local problems will have widespread repercussions on food supplies and in dealing with climate refugees.

climate-change-surfRising sea levels will displace millions of people. Drought will affect communities around the globe. Other places will see increased rainfall that causes floods and mudslides. Severe weather incidents like major hurricanes will strike more frequently. Formerly bountiful agricultural areas will produce less or nothing. Species will move or go extinct. And so on.

In America and the rest of North America, wildfires will increase in frequency and intensity, more people among vulnerable populations will die from heat-related causes, and rising sea levels and extreme weather will cause flooding in coastal areas.

Humanity no longer has the luxury of preventing the problems. Now it must prepare to deal with them.

The report contains some faint optimism. If the world acts quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it might mitigate some of the worst consequences. At least it might postpone them so that we have more time to prepare.

At this point, it is hard to do more than appreciate such quaint hope. The world has known that these problems were coming for more than a decade, but we have done nothing. Carbon emissions continue to increase.

America and the world do not confront climate change because it is hard. When one of America’s major political parties does not even acknowledge that the problem is real, despite the scientific consensus, what hope is there for international compromise and national action?

I suspect there’s even some unspoken schadenfreude at work. When New York and San Francisco flood, it will be divine retribution washing clean bastions of sinful urban liberalism. “Real Americans” will be safe from rising seas (well, other than Alaskans and most of the South — they’re toast too). Meanwhile, their crops turn to dust and wildfires tear through their communities as they lose their coastlines.

Phil Plait at Slate reminds us that midterm elections are this fall. “Does your representative have his head in the sand? You can do something about it.” (Emphasis his.)

Good luck with that. Gerrymandered congressional districts and a Republican Party whose success depends on keeping its base divorced from reality all but guarantees that America will keep its head in the sand.

Here’s the report, and below that is a video accompanying the report:

Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (Summary for Policymakers) by christian_trejbal

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Will the Supreme Court allow the Secret Service to silence dissent? http://americablog.com/2014/03/will-supreme-court-allow-secret-service-silence-dissent.html http://americablog.com/2014/03/will-supreme-court-allow-secret-service-silence-dissent.html#comments Thu, 27 Mar 2014 12:00:28 +0000 http://americablog.com/?p=115934 The Secret Service insulated President Bush from liberal protesters, but not conservatives.

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The Hobby Lobby case was not the only important First Amendment action at the U.S. Supreme Court this week. While “corporations-of-faith” demanded the right to discriminate, the government itself demanded the right to suppress political speech.

Attorneys on Wednesday argued a case called Wood v. Moss, which looks at whether the Secret Service may treat protesters differently based on their views.

The case involves an incident in 2004 when President George W. Bush ate on the patio of a restaurant in Jacksonville, Oregon. Both pro-Bush and anti-Bush demonstrators gathered on nearby streets. The anti-Bush demonstrators happened to stake out space closer to the president.

The Secret Service ordered the anti-Bush folks to move. They insist it was as a security precaution.

That alone would not have been a problem. It’s the agents’ job to keep a safe zone around the commander in chief.

The problem is that they allowed pro-Bush supporters to remain closer than detractors. Presumably, supporters then had a better chance of being seen and heard by the president and media.

Anti-Bush demonstrators claim that the Secret Service’s real goal was not insulating the president from safety, but from indigestion; that the Secret Service feared the content of the speech, rather than any danger posed by the demonstrators themselevs.  They filed a lawsuit against the agents involved, alleging that those agents violated protesters’ constitutional rights.

The fundamental question is not whether Secret Service agents have the right to protect the president. They have wide latitude to ensure the president’s safety. And they may limit free speech and other rights when doing their job, especially when agents must act during a crisis.

What happened in Oregon was something else. Agents had time to weigh options, and they chose to treat people who disagreed with the president differently than they treated Bush’s supporters. That sort of viewpoint discrimination cuts at the heart of the First Amendment.

If agents had moved everyone back to the same distance, there would have been no foul. All they needed to say was, “We’re worried about the president’s safety. All demonstrators need to stay at least a block away from the restaurant.” Instead, they gave preferential treatment to one side, to one argument.

Justice Stephen Breyer articulated the tension during Wednesday’s hearing. “I know everyone understands the importance of guarding the president in this country. Everyone understands the danger. You can’t run a risk,” he said. “At the same time, no one wants a Praetorian Guard that is above the law, and we have examples of history of what happens when you do that. So everyone is looking for some kind of line that permits the protection but denies the Praetorian Guard.”

Some conservatives have tried to draw parallels between this case and a case the court heard earlier this year challenging buffer zones around clinics that provide abortions. They argue that one cannot consistently criticize the Secret Service and support buffer zones.

That argument contains a false equivalency, though. Clinic buffer zones apply to pro-choice and anti-choice activists alike. There is no viewpoint discrimination. Moreover, clinic laws aim to protect the already-adjudicated constitutional rights of women to seek medical help (abortion or otherwise) without having to run a gauntlet of harassment and intimidation. The president enjoys no constitutional right to a quiet lunch.  And in any case, private citizens are not the same as public officials.  The president’sofficial actions are inherently matters of public concern.

The courts historically have ruled that political speech deserves the First Amendment’s strongest protection. The notion that we all have equal opportunity to publicly support or oppose laws, and wars, is at the core of our democracy.

If the Supreme Court now rules that agents of the government may treat people differently based solely on what they have to say, it will grant government the power to silence dissent. The Secret Service would become Breyer’s Praetorian Guard, and that is precisely what the Founders sought to prevent.

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The NRA is about to veto Obama’s Surgeon General nominee http://americablog.com/2014/03/nra-veto-obamas-surgeon-general-nominee.html http://americablog.com/2014/03/nra-veto-obamas-surgeon-general-nominee.html#comments Tue, 18 Mar 2014 12:00:43 +0000 http://americablog.com/?p=115267 Dr. Vivek Murthy supports the medical consensus that guns are dangerous and should be regulated.

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President Obama’s nominee for Surgen General is in jeopardy, thanks to a group of spineless Senate Democrats who fear the NRA. Dr. Vivek Murthy might not even get a vote.

Firearms activists usually wade into nomination fights only when the office in question is one that has something to do with guns – judges, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, etc.

Dr. Murthy is eminently qualified to serve as the nation’s public health leader. He trained at Harvard and Yale, and is an instructor at Harvard Medical School. He would be the first Indian-American to hold the position.

Doctor via Shutterstock

Doctor via Shutterstock

The problem, according the National Rifle Association, is that he, like most Americans, supports tougher gun regulations. Most Americans, however, won’t dump a ton of resources into tight Senate races, so Democrats in swing states are running scared of the NRA using this vote against them in the coming elections.

Murthy has indeed endorsed greater gun control. Surprise! He’s an urban Democrat from Boston who worked as an emergency room doctor and saw firsthand the aftermath of gun violence.

He supports the Affordable Care Act, too — something that hardly endears him to Republican senators who grasp at any excuse to stymie the President, and health care reform.  Do you know who else supports the Affordable Care Act?  The AMA.

Dr. Murthy’s position are mainstream American medicine

It would be one thing if a Surgeon General nominee came out stridently against the medical consensus. If a president went off the deep end and nominated someone who opposed vaccinations, for example, that doctor would deserve neither confirmation nor a medical license.

Murthy’s position on guns, however, is not extreme — it’s in line with prevailing medical views. The American Medical Association’s official policy statements include commonsense warnings that only the NRA and other true believers could oppose.

The AMA supports educating the public regarding methods to reduce death and injury due to keeping guns, ammunition and other explosives in the home,” one policy states.

The organization also supports “the right of local jurisdictions to enact firearm regulations that are stricter than those that exist in state statutes and encourage state and local medical societies to evaluate and support local efforts to enact useful controls.”

It favors waiting periods and background checks for all gun purchases and came out against Florida’s gag rule that attempted to prevent doctors from inquiring about gun safety in the home.

The AMA even cites current gun culture and lack of regulation as a “serious threat to the public’s health inasmuch as the weapons are one of the main causes of intentional and unintentional injuries and deaths.”

Some doctors disagree with AMA policy positions. They tend to become senators instead of Surgeon General.

Three physicians currently serve in the U.S. Senate: Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn, Wyoming’s John Barrasso and Kentucky’s Rand Paul. All are Republicans who oppose public safety measures that would regulate firearms.

A fourth doctor has a slim chance of joining them in November. Dr. Monica Wehby seeks the GOP nomination in Oregon to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, who is a favorite in a blue state. She served in the AMA leadership when it reaffirmed many of its gun policies in 2013, but she resigned to run for Senate. She now tells Republican primary voters that she is all for the right to keep and bear arms.

Senators have a responsibility to ignore the NRA when it takes such a ludicrous stand

The NRA has a right to support or oppose any nominee it wants. Senators have a responsibility to ignore the NRA when it takes such a ludicrous stand. They should judge Murthy on his qualifications as a doctor, not on the paranoid fears of a group that sees government bogeyman ready to seize its members guns around every corner.

Back in November, Democrats reformed the filibuster rule to curb the worst abuses by Republicans. No longer would the minority be able to deny the President his appointments to certain executive and judicial positions, something the GOP has done at a record pace since President Obama took office.

Apparently courage was a temporary condition.

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Do Virginia students really need Terry McAuliffe deciding what to call the “Sea of Japan”? http://americablog.com/2014/03/virginia-students-really-need-terry-mcauliffe-deciding-call-sea-japan.html http://americablog.com/2014/03/virginia-students-really-need-terry-mcauliffe-deciding-call-sea-japan.html#comments Fri, 07 Mar 2014 22:44:53 +0000 http://americablog.com/?p=114464 Pandering for votes trumps a sound education from the right and the left.

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Virginia’s new Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe is learning that campaign promises have consequences. He’s landed the commonwealth in the middle of a longstanding dispute over the Sea of Japan and the Korean Peninsula. In the process, he helped Democrats lose the moral high ground when it comes to education.

McAuliffe, a long-time friend of the Clintons, will be a player in the 2016 presidential election if Hillary decides to run. He could help deliver purple Virginia, but first he has to overcome this self-made controversy.

Last year, McAuliffe ran for governor against Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Libertarian Robert Sarvis. In order to score some votes in the all-important D.C. suburbs, he promised the growing Korean population there that he’d make sure Virginia students learned that the “Sea of Japan” is also known as the “East Sea” in South Korea. (In the Korean community, the name “Sea of Japan” is considered a holdover from Japanese occupation.) True to his word, he backed a bill to require textbooks in Virginia schools to identify it as both.

Democratic lawmakers in New York and New Jersey have introduced similar bills.

Sea of Japan/East Sea, photo credit:  Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons

Sea of Japan/East Sea, photo credit: Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons

There’s a messy history behind the name of this particular body of water. I won’t pretend to know enough to declare whether it deserves one name or the other. I’m not an expert. And neither is McAuliffe.

The International Hydrographic Organization, which has considerable say over naming bodies of water, has punted on the question until at least 2017.

Progressives criticize conservatives when they attempt to manipulate schools to ideological ends. When Republicans stack school boards, and demand that the fabricated controversies over evolution and climate change be taught, Democrats rightly call foul.

The Sea of Japan vs. East Sea tug-of-war might be an actual controversy, but not one that politicians should solve by legislatively imposing one view on students. Democrats taking sides are no better than Republicans who politicize education.

Things rarely go well when government concludes that it knows better than educators and researchers what children should learn in school. It is one thing for states to set broad expectations for students. It is something else entirely for them to allow politics to determine the minutia of textbooks. Education becomes indoctrination.

When Japan, one of Virginia’s biggest foreign trade partners, started to complain, the governor quietly tried to kill the bill. The GOP-controlled House of Delegates, still stinging from having lost every statewide race last year, would not let him off the hook. The chamber advanced the bill that had already passed the Senate.

Now McAuliffe must decide whether to deliver on his campaign promise and sign the bill, or break his promise and smooth things over with Japan. Either way, the real losers are Virginia’s students. They might have thought Democrats at least had their backs, but no longer. Pandering for votes trumps a sound education from the right and the left.

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