AMERICAblog News A great nation deserves the truth // One of America's top progressive sites for news and opinion Thu, 28 May 2015 16:00:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Reminder: Ann Coulter is probably faking it Thu, 28 May 2015 16:00:04 +0000 Ann “Coultergeist” Coulter is out with a new book, ¡Adios, America! The Left’s Plan to Turn our Country into a Third World Hellhole. If you didn’t know better, title may leave you confused as to whether she means that America is doomed, or that the conservative firebrand is immigrating to Mexico.

Unfortunately, it isn’t the latter.

The book is, predictably, a racist screed against the “browning” of America — going after the latino community for attempting to destroy America from within. Aided and abetted by the Democratic Party, of course.

In an Q&A with Fusion on Tuesday to promote the book — not to Fusion’s latino audience, but to the conservatives who salivate every time she says something racist to a latino’s face — Coulter called Mexicans more dangerous than ISIS militants, described Mexican culture as “deficient” and refused to give an audience member a hug when asked (the audience member noted that when she posed the same question to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the avowed racist manned up and gave her a hug).

I could go into the rest of the details in Coulter’s book, but I won’t. Her ideas do not deserve to be taken seriously.

What’s more, there’s reason to believe that they aren’t supposed to be taken seriously. As Chris Sosa documented in Salon two years ago, the Ann Coulter we know is, in all likelihood, the original — and far more devoted — Stephen Colbert.

For starters, Coulter’s past belies her image as a caricature of Liz Cheney and the aforementioned Arpaio. As Sosa writes:

Most people aren’t aware that Coulter had a career as a journalistic voice and lawyerprior to her current incarnation. She helped found Cornell University’s student paper the Cornell Review, obtained a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School, and practiced law in New York City. Her work as a litigator for the civil liberties organization Center for Individual Rights and assistance in crafting deportation legislation with Sen. Spencer Abraham may give an idea of her ideology.

Later in her career, she realized that throwing debasing rhetorical bombs — “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building” or “Like the Democrats, Playboy just wants to liberate women to behave like pigs, have sex without consequences, prance about naked, and abort children.” — was a conservative goldmine. All ten of her previous books have hit the bestseller list of the very newspaper she loves to hate, and her latest is unlikely to be an exception.

Read Coulter’s work as committed satire, and she makes far more sense. Sosa again:

Is Ann Coulter genetic? (

Ann Coulter, via Shutterstock

While liberals had a collective meltdown, [these quotes] could be attributed to Lisa Lampanelli with no fanfare whatsoever. It’s a matter of context. Ann Coulter had found the perfect recipe: treating news spaces as comedy platforms where she could deliberately make ridiculous statements to infuriate liberals who would be too dense to notice what was going on. But her performance requires equal condescension to conservatives, without whom the Coulter brand would disappear. Coulter knows her performance hurts the right, and she clearly doesn’t care.

Sosa goes on to articulate how Coulter’s absurd use of circular citations in her endnotes serve as a literary middle finger to serious readers, how her affable and poised backstage persona doesn’t match her derangement when the cameras start rolling. What’s more, Coulter counts Bill Maher and Joy Behar as close personal friends — both comedians who, as Sosa notes, “find large swaths of the American public stupid beyond repair and make a living out of taunting them.”

When Stephen Colbert hit the stage, liberals across the country took pleasure in being able to laugh at a caricature of conservative movement — and at the conservatives who didn’t get the joke. But Coulter was doing Colbert’s act long before he hit the airwaves; she just kept a straight enough face that no one’s ever been sure whether to laugh.

Serious or not, Ann Coulter’s a joke that isn’t funny. Whether her intentionally insulting, racist invective is the literary equivalent of clickbait or industrial-strength performance art is irrelevant: People are going to use ¡Adios, America! as another excuse to hate brown people, no matter what Coulter truly believes.

Data currently unavailable for “one person, one vote” Supreme Court case Thu, 28 May 2015 14:00:18 +0000 On Tuesday, the Supreme Court announced that it will reconsider whether one person really does equal one vote, as plaintiffs in Evenwel v. Abbott argue that the current standard of using total population to determine legislative districts gives unfair electoral advantages to people who can’t vote.

The “one person, one vote” principle was established in 1964, and since then it has been held that states are allowed to decide for themselves how best to implement it. Like Texas, most have chosen total population. If the Court sides with the plaintiffs in Evenwel, it could potentially force states to redraw their maps based on the number of eligible voters as opposed to overall numbers of people.

There are a number of moral and theoretical reasons why the eligible voter standard would be worse than the total population standard: It would make it harder to draw majority-minority districts in accordance with the Voting Rights Act; it would unfairly disenfranchise felons, children and the mentally incapacitated who, while citizens, are ineligible to vote; and, perhaps most importantly, it would redefine the idea of “representation,” suggesting that elected officials don’t necessarily represent everyone to whom the laws they craft apply, and instead only represent those who are eligible to vote for them.

But even if none of that were the case — even if plaintiffs in Evenwel stood squarely on the right side of this argument — they would still have a major practical problem: The data necessary to implement the eligible voter standard doesn’t currently exist.

As FiveThirtyEight‘s Leah Libresco notes, the total population figures currently used to draw district lines come from Census data (as the Constitution suggests it should), and those figures include everyone, including prisoners, felons, children, the mentally incapacitated and non-citizens. One could easily remove children from the estimate by subtracting everyone under the age of 18, but that only gets you the voting age population, not the eligible voter population that the plaintiffs in Evenwel are advocating. After all, they’re trying to disenfranchise non-citizens, not children.

The Supreme Court, via Wikimedia Commons

The Supreme Court, via Wikimedia Commons

Libresco goes on to suggest that the American Community Survey, a supplemental survey that does ask respondents about citizenship, could potentially be combined with Census data to get an estimate on voting age citizens within given boundaries. But again, not all citizens are eligible to vote, and the ACS does not ask about criminal record or mental capacity. (She also notes that if House Republicans had their way in 2012, the ACS wouldn’t exist.)

This poses a problem for the eligible voter standard given how massive the United States’s prison population is. There are 21 counties in which prisoners comprise at least 20 percent of the total population, and only two states — Vermont and Maine — allow prisoners to vote. Add to this the fact that many of these prisoners will remain ineligible to vote long after they are released from prison — in many cases never having their rights restored — and it becomes nearly impossible to calculate the eligible voter population based on data currently collected by the Census Bureau.

All this being the case, the Court will be ruling on more than whether “one person, one vote” really means “one eligible voter, one vote” this coming October; it will be ruling on what data the Census Bureau is constitutionally obligated to collect every ten years. If they decide that non-voters should be excluded from district apportionment, get ready for a few extra questions on your survey next time around.

Watchdog groups calling for DOJ to investigate Jeb Bush for campaign finance violations Thu, 28 May 2015 12:00:03 +0000 Yesterday, CBS News reported that two campaign finance watchdog groups, Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, have officially asked the Department of Justice to investigate whether presidential candidate Jeb Bush is illegally coordinating with Right to Rise, the super PAC supporting his candidacy.

As the groups state in a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Bush and Right to Rise “are engaged in a scheme to allow unlimited contributions to be spent directly on behalf of the Bush campaign and thereby violate the candidate contribution limits enacted to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption.”

The groups also cite the persistent 3-3 deadlock in the Federal Elections Commission as their reason for appealing to the Department of Justice instead, noting that Lynch has the power and the authority to appoint an independent prosecutor in order to investigate and enforce campaign finance violations.

Under FEC rules, any potential candidate who “acts” like a candidate can technically be forced to file paperwork declaring their candidacy. “Acting” like a candidate can range from running advertisements to raising more money than could reasonably be used to test the waters (a figure the FEC pegs at $5,000) to saying that you’re running.

Jeb Bush, via Right to Rise, has done all of these things and more. Not only has Right to Rise produced and run advertisements, those advertisements have featured Bush, which candidates are barred from doing. He has raised what he himself has called a record amount of money for a Republican primary candidate. He has spent inordinate amounts of time in early primary states and at fundraisers for Right to Rise. He has even said that he’s running for president. As the watchdogs’ letter points out, “The fact of his candidacy is so apparent, and so overt, that Bush himself has found it hard to maintain what is really the ongoing charade of his purported non-candidacy,” citing Bush’s accidental announcement in Nevada earlier this month:

But while practically every likely candidate has raised well over $5,000 through their associated super PACs, and a few others have even accidentally let the magic words — “I’m running for president” — slip, that isn’t why Jeb Bush is being singled out by Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center for DOJ scrutiny. Instead, Jeb is drawing the attention of watchdog groups due to his brazen disregard for what few restrictions there are for candidates to coordinate with independent entities. As the letter to the DOJ articulates, Right to Rise is clearly being operated by Bush, and can reasonably be construed to be Jeb’s actual campaign. This should make the entity subject to the campaign contribution limits, donor restrictions and disclosure rules that normal campaigns are forced to abide by — limits, restrictions and rules that the super PAC has no intention of following.

As the letter states:

The Right to Rise Super PAC is an entity that Bush, both directly and indirectly through his agents, has “established” and that is “acting on his behalf” for the purpose of raising and spending soft money to promote his presidential campaign. Similarly, Bush, both directly and indirectly through his agents, has “financed,” “maintained” and “controlled” the Right to Rise Super PAC, which is “acting on his behalf” for the purpose of promoting Bush’s presidential campaign. Accordingly, there is reason to believe that Bush is violating section 30125(e) by raising soft money for and through such an entity, and that the Right to Rise Super PAC is violating section 30125(e) by raising and spending soft money on behalf of Bush.

What’s more, Right to Rise is expected to take on functions typically reserved for political campaigns, such as data collection, direct mail and even ground-level organizing. And while he is still directly involved with Right to Rise’s operations, even when he officially declares his candidacy he can still be said to be “controlling” the organization’s operations. As the man most likely to assume control of Right to Rise once Bush declares, Mike Murphy, is a close Bush confidant and adviser who is already playing a crucial role in the day-to-day operations of Jeb’s de-facto campaign, one cannot reasonably say that the the super PAC will be completely independent from whatever official campaign organization emerges.

The letter further outlines the likely members of Right to Rise’s senior staff, showing how closely each one of them is tied to Jeb Bush’s current political team.

Finally, the document outlines how Bush is delaying his campaign announcement for the sole purpose of fundraising for Right to Rise, which is as clear-cut a case of coordination between a candidate and a super PAC as one can find. This is especially the case given that, for all intents and purposes, Jeb bush is a candidate who directly controls a super PAC.

A Department of Justice investigation into the Bush campaign is unlikely. Loretta Lynch is a new Attorney General in a Democratic administration; she will almost certainly avoid going after a high-profile Republican presidential candidate for fear of being cast as a political agent. But just because there is no analogous Democratic case of Jeb Bush’s flagrant violations of what few campaign finance rules we have doesn’t mean that those violations should be ignored.

As with voting rights, when the rules of the game become a partisan issue, the whole system suffers.

By the Ruling Class: Charles Murray’s anti-democratic revolution Wed, 27 May 2015 14:00:04 +0000 Charles Murray has been a Very Big Deal in conservative circles for quite some time now. Before he made waves in 1994 with The Bell Curve, in which he made the case that black people have worse economic outcomes in part because they have worse genes, he helped craft the welfare reform agenda that would permeate American policy throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s.

That Jeb Bush is willing to call the proponent of pseudo-eugenics one of his favorite authors should be enough to establish how respected Murray’s work is within the conservative community. When he writes, they read.

Part of Murray’s reputation has been earned by his refusal to filter the aristocratic libertarian id, taking its ideology to its logical conclusions and refusing to let his arguments get muddied by inconveniences like political viability or basic social norms. When my co-editors and I interviewed Murray via email for The Kenyon Observer in advance of a talk he was set to give at the College two years ago, he was more than up front in saying that he thinks too many Americans (and perhaps too many women) are going to college, and that the “cognitive elite” — a term he relied on heavily in The Bell Curve — have social obligations that go beyond fully exercising their potential; the strong need to lead the weak, whether or not they like it.

However, Murray, seemingly forgetting his role in shaping the welfare reform debate, advised us not to worry because “I don’t think I’ve ever offered a politically viable policy recommendation.”

With Murray’s new book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, he would probably want to revise that statement: He has never offered a democratically viable policy recommendation.

In By the People, Murray outlines all of the bad policies he feels American democracy has produced — government regulation and the social safety net being his primary target — and further bemoans the fact that, despite how awful these policies are, the American people seem to like them. So much so, in fact, that it will be impossible for even a Republican president, Congress and Supreme Court to undo all the damage that the American voters have inflicted upon themselves. As Murray told the Cato Institute in promoting the book, “the Constitution is broken;” traditional democratic means  — even the courts — cannot take us back to the America he envisions.

The only solution, he concludes, is systematic white-collar civil disobedience in which businesses coerce government, and by extension the public, into an economic state of nature. This entails devising a mechanism by which citizens can declare their “de facto freedom” to “ignore a great many complicated laws” that they don’t like — and wield the oligarchic power to give that declaration teeth.

Murray’s premise is simple: “the federal government cannot enforce its mountain of laws and regulations without voluntary public compliance.” In other words, ignorance and subversion of the regulatory system by the corporate class can neuter the government, making it unable to interfere in the marketplace. To make this brand of civil disobedience effective, Murray proposes a “Madison Fund” — calling on the idea that Madison would turn his nose up at much of the 21st Century social welfare state (other Founders would be totally fine with it). This fund would act as a counterweight to the government’s regulatory infrastructure, challenging regulations in court and paying the fines of citizens who violate those regulations in the meantime.

This fund would essentially turn the focus of Monsanto-style bullying via litigation away from the consumer and toward the government, all while transforming government regulation into an “insurable hazard,” as Murray titles one of his chapters. While Murray proposes the Madison Fund as a means of defending the “small businessman” who’s being picked on by the government, the fund is transparently designed to allow large corporations to sue the government into oblivion for daring to tell them that they have to pay overtime, or that there is such a thing as too much rat excrement in our processed foods.

Murray attempts to address this criticism by arguing that, in his ideal conception, the Madison Fund would only go after regulations that are “egregiously stupid,” carefully selecting them such that they would only pursue cases that would avoid public outcry. But given the corporate class’s ability to turn legitimate consumer protections into “egregiously stupid” regulations, Murray can’t be said to be making this argument in good faith. Federal bureaucracy writes and enforces regulations (to the limited extent that it can), but it doesn’t wage large-scale public opinion campaigns on its own behalf, even when it should. To say with a straight face that McDonald’s is going to respond to public opinion rather than shape it when it comes to government regulations is patently absurd.

With the explosion of globalized capital, along with the ongoing privatization of the public sector, organizations of corporations — or even private citizens — have the means necessary to take on governments and win on a regular basis. As Murray writes: “The emergence of many billion-dollar-plus private fortunes over the last three decades has enabled the private sector to take on ambitious national or even international tasks that formerly could be done only by nation-states.” As government weakens and corporate power strengthens, the scales are tipped to the point at which Murray can advocate for business interests waging legal war on the government and it doesn’t sound all that outlandish.

Of course, this legal war is totally illegal. Intentionally filing harassing or otherwise frivolous lawsuits simply for the sake of delaying or unnecessarily increasing the cost of litigation can cause a lawyer to lose their license. But as far as Murray’s concerned, that’s just what the government wants you to think. As he notes, “All systematic civil disobedience should involve acts that are malum prohibitum: illegal because the state says so, not because they are bad in themselves.” As Murray is couching his oligarchic aims in the language of resistance by an oppressed underclass, that makes rejecting the premise of the legal system acceptable.

But in practical terms, Murray isn’t exactly wrong: Litigating against a movement whose weapon of choice is itself litigation can get awfully circular.

It would also play right into their hands: Corporations figured out long ago that the threat of extensive and expensive litigation is enough to avoid being held accountable by consumers. It should come as no surprise that, sooner or later, they would figure out that they were big enough to do the same with the American government. As Murray told Cato, “I want to pull back the curtain, as happened in [The Wizard of Oz], and instead of this powerful goliath you have a little old guy with thinning hair and a microphone.”

Since Charles Murray published Losing Ground in 1984, government has been steadily weakened and large corporations have become increasingly strengthened. That’s produced populist unrest on the streets, but up in the skyscrapers the rich are planning the real revolution: A method of nonviolent resistance that aims to establish an economic order independent from and superseding public scrutiny.

Even Madison, despite his preference for a limited, passive government, understood that society only works if everyone — citizens, leaders and even Murray’s “cognitive elite” abide by the rules we set for ourselves. As Ian Millhiser pointed out in ThinkProgress:

As a congressman, Madison opposed the creation of the First Bank of the United States on constitutional grounds. Yet, as president, Madison signed the law creating a Second Bank. He explained that the nation had accepted the First Bank, and he viewed this acceptance as “a construction put on the Constitution by the nation, which, having made it, had the supreme right to declare its meaning.”

Charles Murray envisions an American in which the wealthy can — and should — violate the social contract, choosing instead to operate in an economic state of nature. Unlike his previous proposals, this one’s completely “politically” viable. Just don’t call it democratic.

Supreme Court to reconsider whether one person really does equal one vote Wed, 27 May 2015 12:00:34 +0000 Yesterday, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear an appeal in Evenwel v. Abbott. The case is being brought by two Texas citizens — represented by Ed Blum, the conservative lawyer who successfully argued against the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action before the Court in recent years — who feel that it is unconstitutional for the state to use total population to draw lines for legislative districts, as the method produces districts with differing numbers of actual voters.

As urban districts have a higher percentage of children and non-citizens than rural districts, the plaintiffs are arguing that rural votes are diluted due to there being more total votes cast in their districts. While a district in North Texas may have the same number of people as a district in Houston, a vote in Houston goes a longer way.

Nearly all states have used total population to set district boundaries since the “one person, one vote” standard was established in Reynolds v. Sims back in 1964. Texas includes non-citizens in its process. The case was recently rejected by a federal appeals court, which held that, based on Reynolds v. Sims, states are free to choose whether to determine district size by total population or eligible voters.

In other words, the same kind of federalism that applies to allocating electoral votes applies to drawing district lines. For better or worse, states get to pick how they do it. You can argue that the total population standard is bad policy if you want, but to call it illegal is a big stretch. As Texas wrote in its motion to dismiss or affirm the case:

Plaintiffs cite no case in which a court has accepted their claim that the Constitution compels States to apportion their legislative districts based on voter population, as opposed to or in addition to total population. And multiple precedents from this Court confirm that total population is a permissible apportionment base under the Equal Protection Clause.

Setting aside the legal gymnastics one has to perform in order to redefine “one person, one vote” on a legal basis, the total population standard is good policy as it intersects with the state interest in protecting voting rights that were established shortly after Reynolds v. Sims was decided.

If the Court were to invalidate the current standard, the voting power of Texas’ growing Hispanic population would take a serious hit. Urban areas like Dallas and Houston would see their “populations” officially cut in half, forcing a redrawing of district lines. As Michael Li, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice told MSNBC, the new standard would make it far more difficult to draw Hispanic-majority districts under the Voting Rights Act, producing more oddly-shaped districts that would in turn be easier to challenge in court as illegal.

A rhetorical question, via Wikimedia Commons

A rhetorical question, via Wikimedia Commons

Li also pointed out that, given Texas’s history of actively working to undermine the voting power of its minority populations, there is reason to doubt that the state will defend the total population standard as vigorously as is warranted and possible.

The eligible voter standard, if adopted, would also raise thorny questions concerning taxation without representation. While non-citizens aren’t, well, citizens, they still pay various forms of taxes, and are often the parents of citizens. Even if they aren’t voting, they and their children deserve to be represented as voters.

What’s more, if the Court accepts the plaintiffs argument, it will leave a large number of actual citizens with diminished representation. The standard the plaintiffs cite in the case, quoting from the 1970 case, Hadley v. Junior Coll. Dist. of Metro. Kansas City, Mo:

…when members of an elected body are chosen from separate districts, each district must be established on a basis that will insure, as far as is practicable, that equal numbers of voters can vote for proportionally equal numbers of officials.

That “as far as is practicable” gets sticky as soon as you argue for a standard other than total population, as changing the standard to eligible or registered voters implies that non-voting citizens — most notably children, felons and the mentally incapacitated –are effectively lesser citizens than those who are eligible to vote. The current standard suggests that the laws passed in Texas affect everyone in Texas equally, and that elected officials are charged with representing everyone within their district’s borders — not just those who voted in their election. By arguing that districts should only take eligible voters into account, the plaintiffs in Evenwel are effectively arguing that representatives are only responsible for representing the will of the electorate, not the people.

Of course, the practical way to get around the issue would be to provide a pathway by which all of the non-citizens the plaintiffs are so worried about could become citizens. But I doubt they’d go for that idea.

Illinois bill would enact automatic voter registration via the DMV Tue, 26 May 2015 16:00:18 +0000 A bill making its way through the Illinois legislature would automatically register citizens who interact with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to vote, making the process opt-out instead of opt-in.

Logistically, the bill is a no-brainer: The information you provide when you get your drivers license is more than enough to register you to vote — proof of residency, date of birth and a valid Social Security number, among other things. All the state has to do is pass that information from the DMV to the registrar’s office; there’s no reason to force citizens to fill out another form with largely the same information.

The DMV is also able to screen citizens and non-citizens, allaying conservative concerns that the bill will provide for fraudulent votes to be cast (and reminding them that photo ID laws do nothing to prevent non-citizens from voting, since they can apply for and obtain drivers licenses).

If passed, Illinois would become the second state with some form of automatic voter registration. Oregon passed their automatic voter registration law earlier this year — a law that is expected to add up to 300,000 citizens to the state’s voter rolls. Illinois has more than three times as many eligible voters as Oregon and is starting from slightly lower baseline registration rates, so automatic registration in Illinois could reasonably be expected to add upwards of one million voters to the state’s rolls.

There’s really no good argument against automatic voter registration other than that more voters are bad news for Republican candidates. The United States remains one of the only Western democracies that doesn’t already have universal opt-out voter registration, and registration requirements constitute a barrier to entry that produces an unrepresentative electorate — one that’s older, whiter and richer than the country as a whole. What’s more, streamlining the process as Illinois is proposing to do would make government more efficient in the kind of ways that Republicans love to talk about.

Illinois Democrats have a majority in the House and Senate, but it remains to be seen if they will be able to produce enough votes to override the veto of Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. From a small-d democratic perspective, the bill is wholly non-controversial: Citizens would provide no extra information to the government and would retain their right to opt-out of the voter registration process, while the state would enjoy a more representative electorate and, by extension, more representative elections.

This means that if the bill dies, it will be due only to big-R Republican inconveniences.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan vetoes criminal justice reform and voting rights, abstains on LGBT protections Tue, 26 May 2015 14:00:33 +0000 Larry Hogan has the unenviable task of being a Republican governor in a blue state. Elected with 51 percent of the vote last year after railing against former Governor Martin O’Malley’s “rain tax,” Hogan now gets to preside over a state that disagrees with him on pretty much everything else.

And Hogan’s quickly gathering the lumps — and vetoes — to show for it.

Last Friday, Governor Hogan vetoed what amounted to the better part of an entire criminal justice reform agenda, nixing bills that would have removed penalties for possessing marijuana paraphernalia, scaled back asset forfeiture and allowed felons to register to vote. The bills are all relatively modest steps against some of the most racially-biased laws our country has on the books with respect to law enforcement and voting rights.

If you need a primer on what asset forfeiture is, and how ridiculous it is, here’s John Oliver’s thorough takedown:

These bills were all considered in the context of the Freddie Gray protests, and, as Lee Fang of The Intercept notes, Hogan explained two of his vetoes as having come at the request of Maryland’s police unions, which have proven to be a major roadblock to criminal justice reforms in Maryland and elsewhere.

So Hogan, the Republican governor of a blue state that he is, has shown that he is more than willing to take out his veto pen when the Democratic legislature passes a bill that cuts against his Republican core.

Which is why it’s telling that, on Sunday, Hogan announced that he will neither sign nor veto bills that provide for new LGBT protections, instead allowing it to become law without his signature.

One bill requires that health insurers cover fertility treatment regardless of sexual orientation. The other allows transgender residents to change their gender identity on their birth certificates. Both of the bills were on Equality Maryland’s list of top legislative priorities for the legislative session, and with good reason: they are big, big deals that extend Maryland residents protections that many other states do not provide.

In explaining the governor’s tacit approval of the protections, a spokesperson for Governor Hogan told The Washington Post that “We’re opposed to discrimination — all forms of discrimination.” The Post went on to note that Hogan has largely avoided planting flags on social issues that have tripped Republicans up nationwide, both on the campaign trail and while in office.

Larry Hogan, via Fort Meade / Flickr

Larry Hogan, via Fort Meade / Flickr

Which leads one to wonder why the racial disparities in our criminal justice system — disparities that the slate of bills Hogan vetoed last week sought to address — don’t count as social issues. After all, marijuana criminalization, asset forfeiture and voting rights for felons are issues on which there is massive racial discrimination.

So when the Governor’s office said that they are “opposed to discrimination — all forms of discrimination,” they betrayed a fundamental ignorance of some of the most striking discrimination sitting right under their noses; discrimination that they only days earlier endorsed by vetoing minor tweaks to which citizens the state considers criminals and what rights those citizens are afforded.

Seeing as how vetoes like this are at the core of what sparked some of the largest protests the state of Maryland has seen in recent memory, they can’t say they don’t know better with a straight face.

George W. Bush reportedly sought to officiate same-sex wedding in 2013 Tue, 26 May 2015 12:00:44 +0000 In his pursuit of multiple presidential terms, George W. Bush cast himself as an all-American, born again believer who would protect and advance Evangelical conservatives’ deeply-held religious belief that “on the third day, God created the Remington bolt-action rifle so that man could hunt the dinosaurs…and the homosexuals.”

In his first bid for the White House, he warned America about “special rights” for the LGBT community. In advance of his second, he championed a constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage. In both cases, he pushed all of the right buttons in the Evangelical community, turning them into one of the most influential voting blocs in the American electorate.

He sold this image so passionately that even many on the left believed it. Sure, we all thought he was an idiot, but at least on social issues we thought he was a genuine idiot.

We were wrong. It was almost certainly all for show.

It made national headlines in 2013 when Bush attended and served as a witness at the wedding of  Bonnie Clement and Helen Thorgalsen. However, as hinted in a Boston Globe article on Saturday, Bush apparently offered to do more. Per the Globe:

Some mornings, Bush drops into H.B. Provisions, a cozy general store owned by Bonnie Clement and her wife, Helen Thorgalsen (George H.W. Bush made international headlines when he attended their wedding in 2013; George W. Bush offered to perform the ceremony but had a scheduling conflict).

As Chris Johnson of the Washington Blade noted on Sunday, this is news beyond what we previously knew about Bush’s involvement at the Clement/Thorgalsen wedding. Officiating same-sex weddings is the stuff of liberal Gay-o-crats and their associated Supreme Court Justices, not theocon ex-presidents who made a career out of trying to prevent such weddings from ever taking place.

George Bush delivers a State of the Union address, via Wikimedia Commons

George Bush delivers a State of the Union address, via Wikimedia Commons

A spokesperson for Bush told the Blade that the former president doesn’t remember making the offer to Clement and Thorgalsen — a response to an uncomfortable question that we can’t say doesn’t sound familiar — to which Matt Viser, the author of the Globe story, would only say that he intends to let his reporting stand for itself.

As Gregory Angelo of Log Cabin Republicans pointed out in the Blade article, if Bush 43 does in fact support marriage equality, it would leave Jimmy Carter as the lone living president who has not yet shifted their position on the issue since leaving office to conform to widespread public opinion. Carter has previously supported nationwide marriage equality, before later saying that the issue should be left to the states.

In any case, I think we’ve struck on an answer for all of those Republican candidates who can’t figure out what to say when asked if they’d attend a gay wedding: “Sure, I’d go to one. I’d even officiate it. I’d just do whatever I could to prevent it from happening before I was invited.”

John Ashcroft’s son pushing constitutional amendment to allow voter ID in Missouri Mon, 25 May 2015 18:40:53 +0000 St. Louis attorney Jay Ashcroft, son of former Attorney General John Ashcroft, is running for Missouri secretary of state as a Republican. And in order to brush up on his conservative bona fides in advance of a primary, he filed an initiative petition on Thursday that would pave the way for a constitutional amendment in the state that would permit the legislature to pass photo ID voting requirements, per the Associated Press.

Missouri’s Supreme Court declared photo ID requirements for voting unconstitutional in 2006, holding that voting is a fundamental right and is therefore subject to heightened scrutiny when restrictions are proposed. Missouri currently has an ID law on the books, but it does not require a photo (a utility bill, bank statement or paycheck suffices).

Ashcroft’s petition seems to be even more of a political ploy when one considers that his primary opponent, State Senator Will Kraus, has already sponsored legislation that would both put a constitutional amendment allowing photo ID on the 2016 ballot and deem photo ID requirements to be state law after such an amendment was approved by the voters. Student IDs and expired IDs would not be accepted, which would put Missouri’s ID law on par with Texas’s and Indiana’s as the most restrictive in the nation. Past attempts at additional voter ID laws in Missouri — pushed by Republicans in the state every year since the court ruling — have been blocked by the Democratic State Senate or vetoed by Democratic Governor Jay Nixon.

Republicans in the state have also argued that reducing early voting hours is crucial in combatting voter fraud.

If Missouri passed a photo ID requirement, as many as 200,000 voters in the state would be affected. As one could probably guess, what few cases of voter fraud that have been documented in Missouri since 2006 would not have been prevented by a photo ID requirement. However, that didn’t stop the town of Kinloch from refusing to swear in its newly-elected African American mayor and alderman earlier this year over allegations of fraud.

As if one needed further reason to believe that these attempts to keep those who lack photo identification from the polls are anything more than a political maneuver to keep predominantly African-American low-income voters from the polls, one need only look at Missouri’s county-by-county map from the 2012 election:



Those blue dots are, from left to right, counties representing Kansas City, Columbia and St. Louis, urban centers that hold much of the state’s African-American population and which voted for President Obama; the rest of the state was deep red. What’s more, Mitt Romney’s ten-point margin of victory came out to just over 200,000 votes, or the number of Missourians who lack a photo ID.

Put another way, if passed, Missouri’s photo ID law could disenfranchise over seven percent of the state’s presidential electorate. All for a a performative, nativist attempt by Republican politicians in the state to prove to their pearly white constituents who’s got the least inclusive interpretation of the democratic ideal.

Michael LaCour likely faked more than just his LGBT canvassing study Mon, 25 May 2015 17:42:34 +0000 Last year, Michael LaCour, a political science Ph.D. candidate at UCLA, published a widely-reported study in Science indicating that single, 20-minute, one-on-one conversations between canvassers and voters could produce significant and lasting increases in support for marriage equality.

There is significant empirical evidence that in-person canvassing can produce significant attitude changes on other issues, and those findings, along with LaCour’s were used as “a template” in the recent Yes Equality campaign in Ireland.

However, when a group of researchers were unable to replicate LaCour’s findings, they dug a bit deeper into his work and discovered that large portions of his paper appear to be faked. Even the organization credited with funding the study has no record of involvement with LaCour or his work. This led LaCour’s faculty co-author to request that the paper be retracted, and led Science to publish an official “editorial expression of concern.”

For his part, LaCour has vowed to respond to the allegations of faked data in detail:

But LaCour is learning the hard way that one allegation of faked findings only invites further scrutiny. Yesterday, Tim Groseclose at Ricochet detailed evidence that he believes shows other instances of faked data in LaCour’s work.

Canvassers, via Wikimedia Commons

Canvassers, via Wikimedia Commons

Groseclose examined two papers, one published in the Journal of Political Communication and one unpublished working paper that was presented at the most recent Midwest Political Science Association conference. While Groseclose believes that the research behind the peer-reviewed work is sound, he documents a number of irregularities in the working paper that lead him to believe that the data are pulled out of thin air.

The paper in question examines the “news diet” of voters and concludes that, contrary to conventional wisdom, voters don’t live in echo chambers; LaCour claims to show that our “news diet” is, for the most part, balanced.

Depending on which research you rely on, there’s support for some version of this conclusion. However, as Groseclose outlines, LaCour’s path to results he claims to have found is checkered at best.

LaCour’s paper relies on a method of measuring ideology in the media that he appears to not understand. The method, previously developed by economists Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro, constructs a list of “loaded phrases” (like “death tax” or “amnesty”) and measures how often such phrases are used in congressional speeches and news outlets. By comparing frequencies, one can then make statements like “The New York Times is approximately as liberal as a speech by Sen. Joe Lieberman” with some degree of empirical confidence. As Groseclose notes, this method was itself inspired by a method that he had formulated previously — a method that Gentzkow and Shapiro give him credit for.

In LaCour’s paper, however, the method appears to have been tweaked manually, leading Groseclose to write: “I do not believe he actually wrote the code that would be necessary to execute his method and, accordingly, I don’t believe that he really computed the estimates that he reports from his method.”

Perhaps the simplest reason to believe that this is the case is that there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to LaCour’s confidence intervals. Basic statistical theory dictates that the larger your sample, the smaller your confidence interval should be. However, in LaCour’s work, this is not the case; the news shows with smaller sample sizes have smaller confidence intervals than shows with larger ones. One would expect anomalies like this to have a plausible explanation in the methods section, but, by Groseclose’s estimate, “approximately 90% of the first two pages [of the methods section] is a word-for-word copying of sentences from Gentzkow and Shapiro’s article;” not a sin in and of itself if the paper states that it relies on Gentzkow and Shapiro’s work, but also no help when it comes to explaining the anomalous results.

As Groseclose also notes, LaCour appears to have a loose understanding of the statistical principles he cites, mistranscribing terms like “Chi-squared” with an “x” instead of the Greek letter. Again, this isn’t incriminating in and of itself, but it does suggest a lack of understanding of the work LaCour is claiming a working knowledge of. As Groseclose writes: “If a researcher is not really familiar with the Chi-Squared distribution, I don’t see how he or she could fully understand the Gentzkow-Shapiro method. And if LaCour does not fully understand the Gentzkow-Shapiro method, I do not see how he could have executed the method that he describes in his paper.”

Groseclose goes on to outline other suspect elements of LaCour’s work, including the lists of loaded phrases used by liberals and conservatives bearing highly unlikely levels of consistency over the three-year period LaCour observes.

Also of note, LaCour’s method labels the Thom Hartmann show as having a conservative bent which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Groseclose discusses what this anomalous result means, and speculates as to why LaCour declined to discuss it in his paper, but at the end of the day it’s either a sign of methodological error or imputation.

As Groseclose notes, the simplest way to prevent issues like these in the future is for academics to provide the data and code they used to produce their results — something LaCour has yet to do. If their data weren’t faked, the output should be the same on someone else’s computer. As political science has become increasingly technical over the years, with the mathematical models becoming more and more complex, Groseclose speculates that if the major political journals were to institute this requirement they would find that a significant number of the papers submitted for publication — and many that have already been published — would not pass muster, as they rely on methodologies that the papers’ authors don’t understand and, therefore, cannot use effectively.

What’s a shame in all of this is that LaCour’s faked LGBT canvassing study is going to be used as evidence against the LGBT movement — and the field  of political science — for years to come, when in fact the finding that LaCour made his research up is an example of the field working as intended: No matter how groundbreaking your research is, it doesn’t mean anything if no one can replicate it. The scientific community polices itself by not taking the work of others for granted, and researchers should always conduct their work under the assumption that whatever they publish will be tested elsewhere.

And in the grand scheme of things, LaCour’s fraud looks rather benign compared to prior debunkings of studies after attempted replications. After all, it’s not like LaCour sparked a global austerity movement based on a typo in Excel.

War never changes, but the way we take care of our veterans must Mon, 25 May 2015 15:04:33 +0000 “Planes and tanks and guns are a cost of war. So is taking care of the men and women who use those weapons and fight our wars.” – Bernie Sanders

The earliest evidence of warfare in the archaeological record only dates back to between 14,340 to 13,140 years ago; not even a blink of an eye in evolutionary terms. Chimpanzees — our closest evolutionary relatives with whom we share 99.9% of our DNA — have been known to engage in war as well, even at times drinking the blood of their enemies and tearing off and eating their limbs.

Wars today are fought for a variety of reasons: access to strategic resources like oil or, in the near future, waterideological and religious differences; access to trade routes or land; for profit; or perhaps for more personal reasons such as to protect what is ours, to protect our loved ones and to defend one’s country. However, whatever the reason, war is hell, and no one suffers more in war than the soldiers, their families and the innocent civilians caught in the war zone.

Imagine, if you will, that you have just enlisted in the military. You are disproportionately more like to be a racial minority or woman, and are most likely also from a poor background, i.e. the backbone of today’s US military. You have enlisted for personal reasons: to give your life meaning; to provide for your family or for college tuition reimbursement; to serve and protect your country and its citizens; to “fight the enemy;” to see the world; because it’s a job like any other; or because your father or mother fought before you and military life is in your blood. Whatever the reason, you are willing to risk your life and your physical and mental health for those values.

Today’s soldiers do not return home to ticker-tape parades and the thanks of a grateful nation, but aren’t they no less heroic than those who fought before them? Oftentimes they are physically scarred with missing limbs, or confined to wheelchairs; over 970,000 are registered with the Office of Veterans Affairs. Even those that physically appear to be fine are still suffering. An estimated 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans return from the war suffering from diagnosable Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and this number is most likely far higher. Either way, one doesn’t have to be diagnosed with PTSD to suffer from what they have seen and experienced. Many have returned disillusioned and furious with the US government itself. Many have been ordered to commit one of the worst acts a human being can inflict on another human being: shooting and killing a man, woman or child.

One would think that with all the taxpayer resources that the US government and military have on their disposal that veteran health and wellbeing would be at the top of their list of priorities, but it isn’t. At all. The US military budget was estimated at $610 billion in 2013, or roughly 3.8% of GDP. They had ample money to spend on their fleet of $116 million F-35 “Lightning” II Jet that, in a fit of military-grade irony. cannot fly within 25 miles of a lightning strike out of fear of exploding. The Pentagon has even asked Congress to stop buying it equipment it does not need, but to no avail. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will wind up costing us between $4 and 6 trillion, but we only allocate $87.6 billion per year (75 “Lightning” jets) for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The runaway military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned the country about in his farewell address as president in 1960 is worse than even he could have imagined.

Why is the US military so overfunded and the veterans so underfunded? Three main reasons: 1. the negative stigmas associated with homelessness and mental illness; 2. the racial and sexual discrimination within the armed forces; 3. the lack of media attention and how far removed the American people are from the fighting.

In order to provide some context for those factors, however, it is important to briefly discuss Max Weber’s 1905 work, The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism. In this work, Weber discusses the relationship between Protestantism — especially the doctrine of John Calvin — and the rise of Capitalism in America. In modern capitalism, the pursuit of wealth and profit is an end in itself, the pursuit of which is not only virtuous but the goal of business. Calvinists believe in the idea of predestination — that God has already determined who is saved and who is damned — and Calvinists looked to their work as a sign of their predestined status. Their fear of being damned became the engine that drove capitalism. The wealth that they accumulated was itself a sign that they were saved, and as a result they became disdainful of the poor, as in their eyes they are lazy and clearly damned (sound familiar?).

This is the context for why the typically wealthy conservatives seemingly despise the poor and homeless. What they fail to realize, however, is that myriad systemic injustices contribute to the cycles of poverty and homelessness. It is therefore difficult to disentangle race, social class and gender from the discussion of homeless veterans. Statistics from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans cite that 12% of the homeless are veterans, 40% of those veterans who are homeless are African American or Hispanic and 8% are female. If you add this to the statistic that one in five veterans suffers from PTSD, is it any wonder why so many of our veterans are homeless and suffering?

2012 Best Medic Competition, via Wikimedia Commons

2012 Best Medic Competition, via Wikimedia Commons

Furthermore, especially with respect to PTSD, our indifference to the wellbeing of veterans is reflective of a larger stigma toward mental illness in America today. Part of the reason for the stigma is the difficulty with correctly identifying and adequately treating mental illness, which stems from a lack of knowledge about how the brain works — nearly everything we know about the brain we’ve learned in the last 30 years — and the remnants of a “stiff upper lip” attitude towards dealing with mental illness within the pursuit of “normalcy” or “perfection.” As acceptance of those with mental illnesses becomes more widespread, hopefully mental health will be treated with equal importance to physical health, and this will in turn have a positive impact on the treatment of veterans with PTSD.

Another key factor contributing to rates of poverty and homelessness among combat veterans are racial and sexual discrimination that occur within the military itself. Since the integration of the military in 1948, white men have had to adjust to the fact that non-white men, women, transgender and LGBT people can be exemplary soldiers. Within the military, 27% of black and Hispanic officers reported being victims of racial discrimination and in 2010 there were 19,000 reported cases of sexual assault — again, these are just the reported figures. Given the rigid structure of the military and the subservience of lower ranked soldiers relative to their superiors, the numbers are most likely substantially higher. In fact, military sexual trauma is the leading cause of PTSD among female soldiers.

To top it all off, we the American people are far removed from war. As Orwell wrote, “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia” (or ISIS, or Al Qaeda, or the Taliban take your pick). Although many of us probably have relatives who fought in World War I or II or Vietnam, unless you personally know someone in the military most of us have no connection to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given that 0.5% of the American population serves in the military, the number of people with that connection is slim at best. Sure Afghanistan and Iraq were always on the news in the early stages of their respective invasions, but they quickly turned into nightly reports of the number of soldiers who died that day in some city with a foreign-sounding name on the other side of the world. It’s a different war from Vietnam when the draft was in effect, and if the draft were similarly in effect for our current wars there would almost certainly be the public pressure necessary to end them by now.

So what can be done to support our troops? How can we give much needed resources to support them when they come home? Giving to charities like the Wounded Warrior Project are certainly a good option, but we wouldn’t have to do that if the government properly cared for their veterans as much as they care about building shiny jets that can’t fly in a thunderstorm. Petitioning Congress to increase funding to Veteran Affairs, or to provide our veterans with proper education and job opportunities would make a difference. Improving the treatment of PTSD; decreasing the stigma surrounding mental illness and homelessness in America; and prosecuting sexual and racial abuse and discrimination within the military are musts.

But what if we could end the endless wars? What if we could dismantle the military industrial complex? What if we could stop the media beating the war drums, and give peace and diplomacy a chance?

The US military is too entrenched in global geopolitics to dismantle it entirely. And the Republicans get up in arms whenever a Democrat even broaches the subject of cutting funding to the military. But maybe we could not be so interventionist, and leave matters that don’t concern us alone. Maybe if we stop the wars and stop the indiscriminate drone strikes we could stop creating more terrorists to fight, and more wars to profit off of weapons manufacturing. Maybe we should start with not “telling with such high zest to children ardent for some desperate glory, the old lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.” (it is sweet and right to die for your country).


It is Mike Huckabee’s deeply-held religious belief that Al Gore should have been president Mon, 25 May 2015 12:00:00 +0000 Mike Huckabee is running for president again, taking his message of God, Guns Grits and Gravy to the voters in hopes that they’re ready to party like it’s 1958. And he’s got a message for anyone who isn’t: You’re not God, so your opinions don’t matter.

That includes you, “Supreme” Court.

In his announcement speech, Huckabee called out those who have “surrendered to the false god of judicial supremacy,” implying that the court’s likely affirmation of marriage equality later this summer can simply be nullified by those who disagree with it. This drew the interest of Chris Wallace, who yesterday asked Huckabee if he was really ready to throw out centuries of precedent and ignore Supreme Court rulings he doesn’t like.

Here’s the video, via RawStory:

Per Huckabee, judicial review is all fine and good, BUT WAIT: “The Supreme Court is not the Supreme Branch, and for God’s sake it isn’t the Supreme Being.” So the Supreme Court can say whatever they want, but that doesn’t mean that what they say, you know, matters.

Mike Huckabee, via Wikimedia Commons

Mike Huckabee, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s a matter of balance of power. If the Supreme Court could just make a ruling, and everybody has to bow down and fall on their faces and worship that law — that isn’t a law because it hasn’t been yet passed — then what if the Supreme Court ruled that they were going to make the decision as to who was going to be the next President, and save the taxpayers and the voters from all the expense and trouble of voting, and they’ll just pick a president. Well we would say they can’t do that. Why can’t they do it? They can’t do it because it’s not in the law.

First off, that totally happenedQuite recently, as a matter of fact. If Mike Huckabee really wants to tell Republican primary voters that Al Gore should have been president, he’s more than welcome to do so, but I don’t think they’ll be too keen.

But beyond that, to his actual point, the Supreme Court isn’t “making” laws when they decide cases like Brown v. Board of Education or Bush v. Gore or Obergefell v. Hodges. They’re evaluating lawsuits that make appeals on existing laws within the context of our Constitution and relevant precedent. If (and probably when) the Court rules this summer that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, they won’t be passing any new laws; they’ll be invalidating laws that have been passed elsewhere.

Just because you (incorrectly) think that God doesn’t like it doesn’t mean you get to ignore it.

The next American revolution has already begun Fri, 22 May 2015 18:00:34 +0000 There is a phenomenon in political philosophy described as a “revolutionary wave.” Time and again throughout history, revolutions in one country have spread beyond its borders and influenced upheaval in neighboring lands.

The Enlightenment ideals of liberty and justice which so famously motivated the American Revolution of 1776 did not remain constrained within America’s borders. Rather, they spread to Mexico and Haiti and Argentina and Bolivia, liberating much of Latin America from Spanish imperialism. The year 1848 is often referred to as the Spring of Nations,” and sometimes more bluntly as “the Year of Revolution.” In this year, a revolution in France led to subsequent revolutions — all founded on nationalistic principles and an opposition to old monarchies — in Germany, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Denmark, Poland and much of the rest of Europe.

Revolutionary waves are by no means restricted to the distant annals of history. The fall of the Soviet Union came about due to a domino effect that the American government was undoubtedly overjoyed to witness. From 1989 to 1991, former Soviet republics — Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, Ukraine and others — declared their independence and abandoned communism one by one in an era labelled by astute historians as “the Fall of Nations.” More recently, the Arab Spring challenged dictators from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, as citizens reacted to autocratic rule, economic ruin and political corruption by pouring into the streets by the thousands.

Governments throughout history have failed to devise any barrier that can consistently and successfully prevent revolutionary consciousness from permeating their borders. Ideas, unlike goods or people, can pass through the tiniest of cracks and prosper in any climate. This, then, begs the question: Why has America remained immune? In the nearly two-and-a-half centuries which have elapsed since our own revolution, countless revolutionary waves have swept around the world and left the American system unaffected.

Furthermore, as evidenced by France, one revolution doesn’t always get the job done. That the issues raised during the political turmoil of the 1960s (itself part of a failed revolutionary wave that also gripped Europe) remain all too relevant today — racial injustice, militarism, political exclusion — make it abundantly clear that America is not done redefining the terms and conditions of its social contract.

Arab Spring protest, via Wikimedia Commons

Arab Spring protest, via Wikimedia Commons

Our present era is characterized by mass political resistance. Like their counterparts in the Arab world, Americans are rising up against their rulers. Both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement gained a great deal of support by offering an outlet for Americans to speak out against a government dominated by corporate interests.  The Black Lives Matter movement erupted into violence in Ferguson and Baltimore as citizens expressed their frustration with a system designed to promote and protect the perpetrators of racist violence. The economic populism of the current Fight for $15 movement has brought thousands into the streets in cities across America. Last September, over three hundred thousand people occupied New York for the People’s Climate March. Bernie Sanders is even using the language of “political revolution” to describe his presidential campaign’s focus on mitigating economic inequality. There is no shortage of issues for which countless Americans feel the need to speak up; and they will continue to get louder until they are heard.

An utter lack of political options motivates these recent movements. Americans are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the two party system and the American system of government as a whole, with only 26% of Americans believing that “the two major parties adequately represent Americans.” A call for bipartisanship is utterly useless when neither party is willing or able to address serious and legitimate grievances that are shared throughout America and the rest of the world.

What is needed is a break from the false dichotomy of the two party system in favor of a new system: A system that is more receptive and responsive to the needs of the nation. A system in which people of principle can seek office without fear of being ground up by one of two party machines. A system in which the will of the American people cannot be trumped by any force — be it corporate or political.

This new system requires a new American revolution. For both moral and practical reasons, this revolution cannot be violent. But as the fall of the Soviet Union demonstrated, extensive political restructuring is possible through purely peaceful democratic means. As it exists today, the American system is entirely incompatible with the democratic ideals upon which it was ostensibly founded. A political revolution is the solution to the countless problems plaguing America today. The strength of American political resistance in the last few years is proof that this revolution has already begun.

Scott Walker and the return of the physiocrats Fri, 22 May 2015 16:00:17 +0000 “The descendants of the first slaves, attached at first to the cultivation of the ground, change their condition. The interior peace among nations, not leaving wherewithal to supply the consumption of slaves, the masters are obliged to take greater care of them. Those who were born in the house, accustomed from their infancy to their situation, revolt the less at it, and their masters have less need to employ rigour to restrain them. By degrees the land they cultivate becomes their country, they become a part of the nation, and in the end, they experience confidence and humanity on the part of their masters.”

This rosy vision of the evolution of slave-based societies comes to us not from an antebellum American propagandist, but from the French controller-general of finances, Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot (born 1727, died 1781). It is one of many “reflections” he wrote on the origin and development of civilization, in a book that became a touchstone for classical liberal economics in the 19th century. During Turgot’s lifetime, however, there was really no such thing as a science of economics. Those who wrote about financial administration, money and land management described themselves as “physiocrats.”

The physiocrats insisted that all wealth came from the land in the form of agricultural produce that supported everyone. Those who did not actually work the land — artisans, for the most part — were dependent on the land’s agricultural surplus, and therefore were not a “productive” class. As Turgot wrote, “The husbandman [farmer] can, generally speaking, subsist without the labour of other workmen; but no other workmen can labour, if the husbandman does not provide him wherewith to exist.” In this physiocratic conception, cities were something like cancerous growths upon the healthy body of a nation. Unsurprisingly, then, the physiocrats hated craft guilds, as they enabled urban workers to charge “unnaturally” high prices for their labor. And, since the land was the sole source of real wealth, there was no good reason to set aside pieces of it to remain unexploited.

(Turgot had a rather starry-eyed notion of global ecology. He saw no limits to the cultivator’s ability to draw from the earth “riches continually renewing.” He also seems to have never given any thought to the economic questions involved in raising children.)

One would think that we would have moved past Turgot’s aristocratic agrarianism a long time ago. In fact, it took an ignorance of history for Turgot to come up with his ideas in the first place: Archeological finds are painting a very different picture from the one of total “savagery” before agriculture that Turgot describes. In any case, the physiocratic ethic remains pervasive in American discourse and public policy. And if the physiocrats had a standard bearer in the 21st Century, his name would be Scott Walker.

The current governor of Wisconsin has refused federal funding for high-speed rail to link the two largest cities in his state; has consistently attacked labor unions in both the public and private sector; and has begun eviscerating Wisconsin’s tradition of land conservation and natural resource stewardship. All of these things get in the way of exploiting precious metals and natural gas. This prioritization of land exploitation at the expense of everything else — especially urban communities — places Walker’s governing philosophy closer to Turgot’s than anyone else’s.

Sadly for urban workers, or indeed anyone who does not own substantial amounts of land, Walker is just one of a growing number of politicians (mostly Republican) who champion Turgot-like solutions to the United States’ economic woes. These men — and they are mostly men — invoke “the free market” or some other vague abstraction to cloak their policies of environmental devastation and immiseration of the working class.

To see what these ideologues are aiming at, we can return to Turgot’s book. Aware (although perhaps lamenting) that “unproductive” craft workers were not going away anytime soon, he proposed to bring them under the firm, benevolent hand of a capitalist over-class:

Thus the whole class employed in supplying the different wants of society, with an immense variety of works of industry, is, if I may speak thus, subdivided into two classes. The one, of the undertakers, manufacturers and masters, all proprietors of large capitals, which they avail themselves of, by furnishing work to the other class, composed of artificers, destitute of any property but their hands, who advance only their daily labour, and receive no profits but their salaries.

Turgot’s argument is as blunt as it is disastrous for the working class. Non-agricultural workers should be completely dependent on “the proprietors of large capitals” to dole out work to them at a level of bare subsistence. Presumably, this proprietor class would be composed of men already rich from land income, who had become bored with plantation life and purchased luxury condos in the cities. After all, slave labor on the estates was quite happy with its lot, and would keep the rural economy humming along as the grain, wine and cotton they produced trickled down into broader circulation.

Sound familiar?

Oddly enough, this brand of economic paternalism was grounded in a skewed conception of what the French thought Chinese society had previously adopted. Turgot and Quesnay, the leading 18th-century physiocrats, were great admirers of “oriental despotism,” which was essentially a buzzword generated by Jesuits who were awestruck upon encountering the longstanding imperial bureaucracy of China in the 17th century. Of course, neither had ever been within a thousand miles of China’s borders, so they were free to meld their aristocratic conceptions of appropriate social orders with whatever they imagined the best elements of Chinese culture to be.

Scott Walker and his Republican allies in Wisconsin are pursuing a dream as ruthlessly reactionary as “oriental despotism.”  They pay no attention to criticisms from urban liberals; indeed a large part of their campaign rhetoric is propelled by hatred of Milwaukee and Madison, the two largest cities in the state.  This hatred is embodied in policies that attempt to marginalize urban citizens’ economic and political rights. Not only has Walker passed some of the most reactionary attacks on collective bargaining rights in recent memory, Wisconsin looks to be ready to pass one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country in advance of the 2016 elections.

In the 21st Century, we really ought to know better than to make policy based on stuffy, tired junk philosophy from the past. A far better alternative to physiocracy is “technocracy” — not the rule of Mark Zuckerberg, but the recognition that all wealth comes from human skills (technocracy is derived from the Greek root techne, or craftsmanship), not nature directly. Wheat may be the product you put in the marketplace, but someone had to teach the first wheat farmer when to plant, how much water her crops needed and at what time it was best to harvest them.

It’s time for political leaders who care about education and prosperity for all to get wise to this re-animated physiocracy and call its absurdity out for what it is.  Walker’s plans, and similar ones in other Midwestern states, are well on their way to being woven into the fabric of society as deeply as Jim Crow codes once were in the South.  Half-baked ideas do not die out with the passage of time:  they find younger and more charismatic spokespeople to propagate them, and they will eat us alive if we don’t fight back.


Irish referendum on gay marriage underway Fri, 22 May 2015 15:28:16 +0000 At this very moment, voters in Ireland are headed to the polls to determine whether same-sex marriage will be a constitutionally protected right for all citizens. If the referendum passes, it would mark the first occasion ever for same-sex marriage to be approved by a national referendum in any country. That means that this represents a historic test to advance the rights of LGBT people that should command attention whether or not one follows politics on the Emerald Isle.

Voting in Ireland ends at 10pm, which means preliminary exit polls may be released as early as 5pm EST. We’ll be live-tweeting updates on the referendum throughout the day.

Irish voters would become the first to approve  same-sex marriage by way of the popular vote in part due to the peculiarities of the Irish Constitution. To date, each of the 18 or so (depending on how you count) countries that have already legalized gay marriage have decided to do so through the courts — as the U.S. Supreme Court looks set to do this June. However, any change to the Irish constitution must be voted up or down by the electorate, and despite the fact that “civil partnerships” have been legal in Ireland for some time, putting same-sex marriage into the constitution will ensure that the government continues to respect these unions with an ironclad guarantee. Otherwise, the policy may be subject to a lengthy appeals process and challenged in the Irish Supreme Court.

Referenda in Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia all produced negative results for same-sex marriage supporters, though the Slovenian legislature passed a law approving marriage equality earlier this year that has yet to take effect.

So far, there have been 35 proposed amendments to the Irish constitution, many of which deal with social issues. The island nation banned abortion, for example, in 1983, and subsequent referenda in 1992 and 2002 have sought to expand or contract those restrictions. In 1986, Irish voters chose not to lift a constitutional ban on divorce by a large margin; that changed in 1996, when attitudes had shifted sufficiently that the ban was removed by similarly large margins. Likewise, 62% of Irish voters chose to prohibit the death penalty in 2002. So legislating hot-button social questions by referenda is nothing new in Ireland, though history has shown that the voters are willing to change their minds, too.

A predominantly Catholic nation, Ireland may not seem like it would be the first nation to accept same-sex marriage by the popular vote, but preliminary polling suggests that a Yes vote approving marriage equality is the likely outcome of the day. All of the major political parties in Ireland, including the leadership of center-right Fine Gael, support the Yes Equality campaign.

Still, as an excellent Guardian article points out, history shows that the polling on these matters has been wrong before in Ireland. This March, 66% percent of voters saw themselves voting Yes on the referendum versus 24% who would vote No. That gap has shrunk slightly in the interim. It is possible that some voters who are agnostic about marriage may say one thing when asked publicly but vote another way when in private. And as always, turnout here will be key, with many young Irish emigrants returning home to turn in their votes today as well.

As of this moment, nothing should be taken for granted. Expect this crucial Irish referendum to be a nail-biter until the very end.


Democrats’ path to victory in the House: Illinois 10 Fri, 22 May 2015 14:00:13 +0000 This post is the first in what will be a series of articles on Congressional Democrats’ best chances for gains in the 2016 election cycle.

The first step to any Democratic majority in the House of Representatives runs through Illinois’ 10th congressional district. The seat, located in the suburbs of Chicago, voted for President Obama by a remarkable 17 point margin in the 2012 election. However, the seat has always proved more difficult to win on the congressional level. Prior to 2012, the seat had been reliably Republican since Ronald Regan’s election in 1980.

2012 was the Democratic Party’s first sign of hope in the seat, when Brad Schneider, with significant support from the DCCC, managed to wrestle control of the seat away from moderate Republican Bob Dold, partially thanks to favorable redistricting by Illinois Democrats. It seemed as if the Democratic party had finally flipped the seat in a way that was going to stick. The district’s more liberal electorate would ensure that IL-10 would be the silver lining for Democrats in what was otherwise a dismal redistricting cycle. However, a perfect storm of low turnout, unfavorable political climate and an opponent with high name recognition would again steal the seat away from the Democratic Party.

During the run-up to the 2014 election, Bob Dold announced his campaign to take back his old House seat. Because of the intensity of the campaigns in the both in the 2010 and 2012 campaign cycle, he had already established high name recognition within his district, allowing him to move past the biggest hurdle most political challengers face. However, this wasn’t the only advantage that Congressman Dold held in his race to unseat Brad Schneider: He was a member of the Financial Services Committee during his first stint in the House. During his time there, he managed to create relationships with big business interests, who donated seemingly limitless sums of money to Dold’s 2014 bid. In other words, the rematch was not a typical congressional race: The challenger had both the name ID and fundraising prowess of an incumbent.

This influx of corporate cash allowed Dold to rebrand himself as a moderate hero in a Washington filled with partisan hacks. He would accept the science of climate change. He would declare himself as pro-choice. He would even become a Republican who supported gay marriage, as long as religious organizations could still discriminate against gay people with no real consequences. And despite these “moderate” positions, his still opposed bans on additional oil drilling in Lake Michigan, and he’s voted to defund Planed Parenthood and end all federal funding for abortions. However, enough voters bought into Dold’s new profile, and, aided by the low turnout resulting from the lack of voter enthusiasm nationwide, he managed to eke out a win by a margin of less than 5000 votes.

Brad Schneider, via Wikimedia Commons

Brad Schneider, via Wikimedia Commons

However, Dold has not lived up to the moderate identity he has assigned himself since returning to Congress, and this gives Democrats the perfect opportunity for a pickup in 2016. Aided by higher turnout and a favorable political climate, a credible challenger should be able to turn this seat blue for the foreseeable future. And with House Democrats having fewer seats than any time since the Eisenhower presidency, electing a Democrat from the district will be critical to gaining back a majority. What’s more, national Democrats already think that they’ve found that challenger in none other than former Congressman Brad Schneider.

Already having declared his candidacy for the 2016 election, it looks as if Schneider will once again blow past his Democratic primary challenger, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, who’s polling at a dismal 12 percent among likely primary voters. And because of his connections in Congress, the DCCC is almost sure to back Schneider in any primary fight.

While Dold will continue to be heavily backed by the big banks, Schneider possibly has an even greater advantage. There were almost 60,000 fewer votes cast in Dold’s 2014 win than Schneider’s victory in 2012. The increased turnout of a presidential election immediately puts Dold in a vulnerable position, no matter how many dollars he has in his campaign war chest.

If the Democratic victory in the district is anywhere near the size of Obama’s margin in 2012, Schneider will stand to gain immensely from those coattails. As split ticket voting is becoming less and less prevalent over time, it’s likely that there simply won’t be enough crossover support to keep Dold afloat. That makes the Illinois 10th Democratic target number one.

Looking back on the benefits of a liberal arts education Thu, 21 May 2015 16:00:45 +0000 It’s been over 30 years since I received my first graduate degree, and I have no regrets about the liberal arts foundation of my higher education. While the question “How can I get the best job?” has encouraged much of higher education to become glorified technical schools, to limit one’s education to employability for employability’s sake is to miss out on what education is supposed to be. What’s more, even in the context of employment, it limits ones opportunities down the road.

In my professional life, I have been involved in teaching, social services and healthcare. At each stage of my career path, my liberal arts education helped not only in opening some doors, but also in dealing with life once I walked through them. In today’s environment, with the speed of both technological and social change, one can expect to have to change jobs or to get some retraining for the workforce. A liberal arts education teaches you how to learn, allowing you to adapt to new challenges, requirements and settings.

I double majored in English and Religion & Philosophy, leading to all of the predictable jokes about my supposedly nonexistent job prospects. At the time, I wasn’t worried because I expected to either teach or enter the ministry. While those fields were good for me at first, I began to see that there were other professions that would suit me better. I eventually went back to get further training for my subsequent jobs, but my background in liberal arts was with me every step of the way.

Learning liberally

I grew up in a small town, which led to my being a bit naïve when I entered college. I was surprised to find that my college professors were intent upon not only teaching me “things,” but also making me struggle with what those “things” meant. Whether it was history, science, literature, music, art or philosophy, everything was grounded in larger questions concerning what it means to be alive in the world. I was introduced to Shakespeare, who wrote more on the human condition than anyone else in the English language, and who more importantly dramatized the conflicts and struggles common to us all. I saw Huck Finn wrestle with the notions of race and slavery; I saw Atticus Finch strive for justice in the segregated South. I came to understand the intricate beauties of poetry, which I began to see as our own “open canon of scripture,” to which we continue to add with each passing year.

There was no condemnation for stepping out of the boundaries. There was just the exhilarating process of examining life, love, joy, sorrow, struggle and friendship. And when what you’re studying is life itself, your education naturally extends beyond the classroom. Some of my best memories from college are the debates and conversations with friends over lunch, about what Professor So-and-so said in class or a project that one of my friends was working on.

It was a wonderful and challenging milieu that fostered an appreciation for others and, in turn, a more progressive consideration of life itself — an outlook that was at once more hopeful than the provincial views I had grown up with and more aware of our past and present social inequities.

Living my education

That being the case, it still took most of my college career to get to the point of being able to think through the concepts I was being exposed to. Many are not developmentally ready to fully profit from their education in their late teens and early twenties. Education is a life-long struggle. For example, I had a conversation with a high school classmate whom I happened to meet years after graduation and who had become a successful banker. He mentioned our high school English teacher and noted that, “We really need what we learned in English class even more when we are in our thirties and forties — much more than we could realize at the time.”

A foundation in the liberal arts forces the student to grapple with the realities and vagaries of life, both before and after they receive their degree. This is especially important in the real world, which doesn’t curve your grades. In the ups and downs I have faced since graduating, I have always had something essential to fall back on; lessons that extended beyond employment and paychecks that could be re-applied to life as it happens.

So by all means, get all the training you can, but make sure you’re learning more than just what’s on the test. Life is more than your first job; educate yourself liberally, and you’ll be prepared to live accordingly.

A modest proposal for fixing the Republican primary debates Thu, 21 May 2015 14:00:20 +0000 We’re 537 days away from Election Day 2016, and the Republican primary field is already getting crowded. Last week, the Republican National Committee released a straw poll that allowed voters to choose from 36 (!) potential candidates. Of course, the list the RNC offered to voters was insane — as the Huffington Post noted, it seemed as though the only people who didn’t make the list were “1) Michele Bachmann, 2) John McCain and 3) Democrats.” — but the Washington Post recently cited as many as 23 potential candidates who could seek the GOP nod.

To be clear, the field won’t end up being that big, but one could make a plausible case for as many as 16 candidates being in the race by late summer. This being the case, 2016 is shaping up to be one of the most wide-open races for a major-party nomination in a very long time. And given that it only takes one well-heeled sugar daddy super PAC to keep a candidate in the race indefinitely, regardless as to how many votes they receive in the early states, we’re likely in for a long, drawn-out brawl for the nomination.

Aside from the political headache associated with letting Hillary Clinton turn her focus to the general election long before their eventual nominee can, this presents a massive logistical problem for the Republican Party. Particularly when it comes to fitting all of the declared candidates on a debate stage.

Republican primary, via Creative Commons

This is what an eight-candidate debate stage looks like. Now picture ten or fifteen. (Image via Creative Commons)

Yesterday, Fox News announced that it will take the simplest approach and simply cap the number of candidates who can appear in the debate the conservative propaganda machine is sponsoring on August 6th. Candidates who rank in the top 10 in an average of the last five national polls released before the debate will be in. The rest will be out.

CNN will take a slightly different approach, separating the following debate into two parts. The first part will feature the top 10 candidates; the second will feature all other candidates who both garner at least one percent in polling averages and have at least one paid staffer in two of the four early primary states.

CNN’s model is certainly better than Fox’s simply because it’s more inclusive, but both seem insufficient in tackling the problem of there being more than ten candidates who, at least on paper, have a plausible path to the Republican nomination. For starters, it seems completely unfair for Donald Trump to take the place of candidates who are serious about seeking the nomination, such as Rick Santorum or John Kasich, who would both be second-class candidates if debates were held today under these frameworks (assuming Trump runs, which he won’t, but still). Furthermore, there are a host of problems with setting debate criteria based on recent polling. FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten laid out some of them in a series of tweets and retweets yesterday:

(Later in the day, CNN clarified that it has a series of tiebreakers in place; Fox added that it will use absolute vote totals to break ties and, in the event of a true tie, will add an eleventh podium.)

All this is to say that relying on polling averages to determine who gets the opportunity to influence polling averages via coveted national airtime is guaranteed to make a few candidates and a lot of supporters very, very upset.

It doesn’t have to be like this. The Republican primary debates could be structured in a way that puts all of the candidates on an equal playing field, gives them adequate air time and encourages them to be as direct and persuasive to the median Republican primary voter as they can.

The Republican primary debates should have a play-in round.

Consider this framework: Candidates that have met CNN’s minimum criteria (one percent in polls; staff in at least two early voting states) are divided into groups of three, four or five, depending on which size would provide for the most even distribution. The groups can either be assigned at random or based on ranking in current polling averages, with higher-polling candidates matched up against lower-polling ones. The groups of candidates then debate with each other in front of a random sample of likely Republican primary voters, who rank candidates in order of preference at the conclusion of each round. The two candidates from each group that receive the highest rank-ordered vote total (tiebreaker being whomever receives more first place votes) are then invited to participate in the top-tier debate, with the rest of the candidates participating in the second-tier debate. This process can be repeated over the course of the primary season so as to allow for candidates who are down in the polls to debate their way back into the top tier.

Not only would this allow every candidate with a serious shot at the nomination a chance to break into the top-tier debates, evidence from political science suggests that it could also change candidates’ debating strategy for the better.

In a series of field experiments conducted on town hall meetings featuring real members of Congress, a team of political scientists led by Professor William Minozzi at Ohio State found that holding town hall meetings that were closed to the public, instead featuring a random sample of representatives’ districts (or state, in the case of one Senator), significantly changed the rhetorical strategy of the politician hosting the event. In ordinary town halls, members of Congress perceive, correctly, that the event is being attended by the most avid political observers. This being the case, they have little to no incentive to be persuasive; the audience is polarized, so they should stick to their base-driven talking points.

However, when town hall attendance is randomized, there is the potential for a large subset of the people in the room to be genuinely persuadable. As researchers observed, members of Congress presented with this situation adjusted their rhetoric accordingly, almost as if a switch had been flipped. Rather than relying on their traditional talking points, they were much more likely to adopt substantive rhetoric and, as a result, were persuasive across all copartisan groups.

This research suggests that holding a debate in front of a random sample of likely Republican primary voters who have direct control over who advances would change the way the candidates approach the play-in round of the Republican debates. Rather than fighting with the moderator or tossing out snappy one-liners to be played on cable news shows over and over again, candidates will have to persuade the people sitting in front of them that they deserve to make it to the next round of the debates.

To be clear, the effects may not be as significant as observed in the field experiments. For starters, the candidates would be speaking to likely primary voters who are, by definition, more politically engaged than the citizens who participated in the prior town halls. Furthermore, they would be debating with other candidates, as opposed to fielding questions from an audience. However, there’s reason to believe that tying entry into the top-tier debate to evaluations by likely voters could change candidates’ debate calculus enough to make them say something substantive that they otherwise wouldn’t. And, even if it doesn’t, it’s still a far more inclusive and less arbitrary way to set the debate field than the methods currently being used.

Holding a play-in debate is therefore both a better process that produces better small-d democratic outcomes than the entry rules devised by CNN and Fox. No candidate would be able to say they were excluded and the voters may finally be given an opportunity to hear the candidates say what they really think (or don’t think) about how to solve the problems they see the country facing.

Bobby Jindal hates gays more than he hates executive orders Wed, 20 May 2015 16:00:27 +0000 Bobby Jindal wants to be president and, for whatever reason, he apparently thinks he can make that happen. He also knows that if he expects to win a Republican primary, he has to hate at least two things: gays and executive orders.

Yesterday, he had to choose which one he hated more, and he picked gays.

Jindal has been pushing for a “Marriage and Conscience Act” in Louisiana, a right-to-discriminate bill that would go beyond the state’s existing Religious Freedom Restoration Act to specifically protect religious business owners from avoiding having to exchange goods and services with people the Bible tells them not to like. In advocating for the bill, Jindal went as far as to pen an op-ed in the New York Times to let the country know that if you love cake and hate gays, Louisiana’s the place for you.

The Marriage and Conscience Act died an ignoble death in committee yesterday in a lopsided 10-2 vote. The bill had faced familiar opposition from business groups who — conscience and decency aside — don’t like it when you make it legal to not sell things.

Almost immediately following the bill’s defeat, Jindal vowed to issue an executive order “that will accomplish the intent” of the bill.

This is ironic to say the least, given what Bobby Jindal’s had to say about executive orders when other people use them. Here’ s what the Governor of Louisiana had to say when President Obama issued an executive order to allow the parents of DREAMers to stay in the country:

The President is lecturing us and not listening to us. He’s bypassing Congress, and ignoring the American people. Unilaterally granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants does nothing to solve our immigration problem, it only makes it worse. Our border is not secure. If we want to solve our immigration problem, job one is to secure the border. Fed Ex can track every package it ships, surely America can figure out who is crossing our borders. I saw the crisis first hand over the summer — I went to the border. I saw folks illegally crossing it. We must secure the border.

Granting amnesty by executive order is wrong. It will incentivize more of this illegal immigration. If the President wants to make the case that the law should be changed, he should go make the case to Congress and our people. This is an arrogant, cynical political move by the President, and it’s why so many Americans no longer trust this President to solve the problems we face.

It doesn’t take too much work with the find and replace function to come up with an awfully similar statement regarding Jindal’s planned executive action:

Bobby Jindal, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Bobby Jindal, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

The Governor is lecturing us and not listening to us. He’s bypassing the Legislature, and ignoring the people of Louisiana. Unilaterally granting the right to discriminate to thousands of hateful Christians does nothing to solve our civil rights problem, it only makes it worse. Our rights are not secure. If we want to solve our civil rights problem, job one is to secure equality. Wal-Mart can track every cake it makes, surely Louisiana can figure out who needs their wedding catered. I saw the crisis first hand over the spring — I went to Memories Pizza. I saw folks being denied food. We must secure equality.

Granting the right to discriminate by executive order is wrong. It will incentivize more of this hateful discrimination. If the Governor wants to make the case that the law should be changed, he should go make the case to the Legislature and his people. This is an arrogant, cynical political move by the Governor, and it’s why so many Louisianans no longer trust this Governor to solve the problems they face.

All true, minus the Memories Pizza bit.

Of course, Bobby Jindal doesn’t care about being a good governor for Louisiana. The state budget is full of holes, its school system is falling apart and, as a consequence, Jindal’s approval rating is in the high 20s. Not unlike some other Republican governors, particularly ones whose last name rhymes with “Misty,” he’s working for Iowa more than he is for his home state. This latest political end-around over the objections of pretty much everyone involved, from Democrats to Republicans to big business, shows what happens when you give up on governing in favor of politicking.

(Inter)National Organization for Marriage propping up Ireland marriage equality opponents Wed, 20 May 2015 14:00:28 +0000 As we’re all well aware, it’s really, really hard to be a Christian in America right now. It’s especially tough if you dare to whisper, speak, tweet or march in favor of the idea that marriage always has been and always will be between one man and one woman. As the public is decreasingly devout and increasingly supportive of marriage equality, America’s Christians are worried that there are fewer and fewer places in which it is still socially acceptable to tell people that their love doesn’t matter.

That’s one of the reasons why one of America’s premier anti-gay hate groups, the — ahem — National Organization for Marriage, is taking its talents across the pond in search of greener pastures on the international anti-gay circuit.

On Friday, Ireland will vote on a referendum that would, if passed, add one line to the country’s constitution that reads: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.” Recent polls show that the referendum is likely to pass with roughly 60 percent support. All of the major political parties in Ireland have backed the referendum. On Saturday, the Guardian reported that NOM recently sent a letter to its list of donors encouraging them to visit, hosted by the parent site, in order to “bring awareness” to the anti-marriage effort. The letter reads, in part:

Just like in campaigns for marriage here in America, slanted public opinion polls become fodder to influence and depress supporters of marriage. This is happening in Ireland. If [the no campaign] can manage to pull off a victory, it will be a tremendous boost to the cause of marriage worldwide. Please do what you can to bring awareness to their efforts.

A spokesperson for NOM denied that the group was funneling American dollars to the campaign against the referendum.

Both sides of the campaign have traded allegations of foreign tampering with the race. Opponents  of the referendum, both Irish and American, have charged that American philanthropist Chuck Feeney has poured millions of his own dollars into the pro-marriage equality campaign through his organization, Atlantic Philanthropies.

Of course, by’s own citation, Atlantic Philanthropies hasn’t made any donations to pro-LGBT organizations since 2011, to say nothing of political campaigns. The campaigns in favor of the referendum, which, unlike the sites being promoted by NOM, use Irish .ie domains for their websites, have denied receiving any international funding. Yes Equality, the primary campaign in favor of the referendum, added in the Guardian that not only have all of its donations come from within the country, but that the average donation was €70.

If the referendum passes, Ireland would be the first country to ever institute marriage equality via popular vote, as opposed to legislation or a judicial decision. This would be a stinging rebuke of the Catholic Church, which has traditionally wielded considerable power in the country.

Keep in mind that Ireland is, at least on paper, a remarkably religious country: 84% of the country’s citizens identified as Catholic in the country’s last census, although surveys conducted shortly afterward showed that only 47% identified as religious, suggesting an even more marked “cultural theism” in Ireland than in the United States. The Irish constitution, while having removed all preferences for particular religious faiths and denominations, still makes explicit reference to God and specifies that a fetus has a right to life. Though loosely enforced, the country still has a blasphemy law on the books.

This high degree of nominal (if not deeply held) religiosity has led to American Christian groups eyeing Ireland before, as the country is seen as one of the last bastions of hope against the supposed moral decay that has gripped the rest of Europe. In 2013, the Atlantic reported that one of Ireland’s most prominent anti-abortion organizations received the bulk of its donations and Twitter following from American citizens; even its donation form was at one point in dollars instead of euros.

In any case, barring a colossal failure of public opinion polling — not impossible in referendum elections — Ireland will affirm marriage equality on Friday despite the best efforts of Christians at home and abroad. If history bothers to remember the National Organization for Marriage’s efforts in the race, it will be only to say that they stood squarely on the wrong side of it.