Friday, February 28, 2014

Why Gay Rights Victories in Arizona are Small but Important Steps to Greater Equality

by Nomad

Arizona has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. The state legislature under the thrall of the Tea Party Republicans attracted a lot of negative attention from the whole country.
But those events should be balanced by the good news from Tempe, Arizona. 
Altogether it highlights a larger question: Isn't it time that the federal government put a stop to this state-by-state nonsense once and for all? 

The Other Side of Arizona
After a couple of weeks of really bad press coming out of Arizona, it looks as though the cloud is lifting. After the GOP-led State Legislature drafted a controversial "religious freedom" law which allowed gay discrimination based on "sincerely-held beliefs," the eyes of the nation were focused on Arizona. Would the governor would actually approve of the law?

Human Rights and gay rights groups led calls for a veto, and later they were joined by corporations like tech giant Apple joined in calls to walk away from the bill. On the other side were various religious organizations, right wing pundits and of course, the Tea party.
With all that pressure, Governor Brewer wisely decided against the law.
Now there's a little more good news to report.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

TheTruth Behind Obama's Use of Ambassador Posts as Political Rewards 2/2

by Nomad

In Part One of this two-part series, I told you about the recent embarrassing confirmation hearing for one of Obama's ambassadors. The quality of the president choices has been called into question. More importantly some on the Right have been asking whether the president isn't simply rewarding his top dollar campaign contributors with these positions. 
It's a good question. In this part we will look at the more recent history of this practice and how it has evolved in the last forty years.

A Look Back: Carter, Bush and Son
Candidates that have run on a reformist platform - like Obama- have fallen into the same trap. President Carter, for example, came under fire in 1977 for exactly the same thing. An article in The Telegraph reported at the time that four top ambassadors were high dollar contributors to Carter campaign in the Georgia governor's race in 1970. 
But, of all the presidents, Carter holds the record for the most number of career appointees, meaning people who have spent their lives working for the Foreign Service- not friends or political contributors. 

In 1980 Congress actually attempted to restrict the practice with The Foreign Service Act. It stated that the Foreign Service, which of course includes ambassadors, should be operated on the basis of merit principles. Merit naturally requires some kind of career in the diplomatic service. More specifically, the Act states that ''contributions to political campaigns should not be a factor in the appointment of an individual as a chief of mission.'' 
Upon signing of the bill into law in October of that year, President Carter said:
This bill provides the first comprehensive revision of personnel legislation for the United States Foreign Service in 34 years. It is an important step in the reform, simplification, and improvement of personnel administration in the Government, a top priority of my administration.
It didn't take too long for the Reagan administration to ignore that. According to a 1983 study by the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan tied for the number of political ambassadors they appointed, at 32 percent each, according to a 1983 study by the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA). That figure is just above an average of roughly 30 percent since World War II.

By the time George H.W. Bush became president, it was as if the reforms of 1980 had never been written . In 1989 one report found that half Bush's administration's 26 reported ambassadors-designate were President Bush's enthusiastic campaigners, or direct Republican campaign contributors or old friends of the family. At that time, President Bush had set a new standard for the spoils system. 


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Truth Behind Obama's Use of Ambassador Posts as Political Rewards 1/2

by Nomad

Confirmation hearings for President Obama's choice for the Ambassador position to Norway was, by any measure, a disaster. 
Critics of the administration immediately began asking questions about the process. Why has the President selected so many political campaign contributors for ambassadorial posts? To hear some of the president's critics, you might well think Obama invented this practice. The truth, however, is quite different. But that's not something you're likely to hear from the Republicans or from Fox News. 

Obama's Tsunis Embarrassment
A couple of weeks ago, Long Island property millionaire George Tsunis, Obama's choice to be the US ambassador for Norway made a bumbling mess of question put to him at a Senate hearing. All in all, the nominee seemed embarrassingly ignorant of the country with whom he would be conducting diplomatic relations with.

Tsunis' answers were so ill-informed that they nearly created a diplomatic incident even before the ambassador was confirmed. Norway's Progress Party was so upset by Tsunis labeling them a hate-spewing "fringe minority" group- when in fact, the party forms part of coalition with the government- that a spokesperson for the party called upon Obama to apologize.
"[Obama] should apologize to the Norwegian people, not just the politicians, because you do not just send someone out who has no idea. You do not treat countries that way."
It appeared as if Tsunis was simply bluffing his way through the hearing without a clue of Norway or its political system. 

Senator McCain who quizzed Tsunis was clearly disgusted by the candidate's answers. He supplied the punchline by concluding his questioning with a classic McCain sneer, saying "I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group on nominees." 
(The other nominees under scrutiny had all of the finesse of university students at the first oral exam.)
Just listen:


Painful, isn't it? News organizations were quick to point out that Tsunis' appointment probably had very much to do with his past role campaign contributor for Obama. MSNBC noted:
Tsunis donated $50,000 to John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008, before switching sides and donating $988,550 for Obama’s 2012 campaign, according figure from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Gender Gap: Why Women Voters will Reject the GOP in the Midterm Elections

by Nomad

In red states like Kentucky, women voters may just turn these states to blue in the upcoming election.  If that state is any to go by, Republicans are going to be in big trouble. And when it comes with women voters, the party has nobody to blame but itself.

According to an article in the LA Progressive, a recent non-partisan poll shows that Democratic candidate Alison Grimes has a four-point advantage over Mitch McConnell, the senate minority leader and long time incumbent. While four points may not make Grimes a sure thing, the poll also reveals something that must be even more disturbing for Republican strategists. Grimes has a 12 point lead among women surveyed. That's right, a full twelve points.
And women- as a voting block- make up a full 53 percent of all registered voters in Kentucky. 
The bottom line is: Losing women voters means losing an election.
That doesnt guarantee Grimes an easy victory, of course. Naturally, she has done her best to highlight McConnell's poor record on issues women care about.
Said a Grimes spokesperson Charly Norton,
“McConnell’s votes against the Lilly Ledbetter Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, and the Violence Against Women Act appear to be a serious drag on his ability to win over Kentucky women. Unless McConnell explains why he has voted against women’s interests time and time again, he will fail to gain an ounce more of support.”
States like Missouri and Indiana have also shown that Republican candidates have lost women voters by a wide margin. 
It's hard not to see that when it comes to women voters, the Republican Party is still in disarray. They may know what the problem is but is it possible that the Republican Party cannot change? Is its attitudes toward women, toward gays and lesbians, toward the poor actually the cold heart of the GOP?  

Monday, February 24, 2014

Arizona Legislature Rejects Common Core Initiative for Tea Party Agenda

by Nomad

In a victory for the Arizona's Tea Party, the legislature has rejected the Common Core Standards Initiative. 
This nationwide program would have guaranteed that Arizona's high school students would be able to compete academically with students from any other state. Business leaders are warning that this decision would put students in the state at a disadvantage when seeking employment.

The Arizona legislature is, with argument, quickly becoming the nation's laughing stock. Only a week after approving of a bill to allow shop owners to discriminate against gay citizens under the name of religious freedom, lawmakers there have voted along party lines to drop out of the Common Core standards. Republicans voted 6-3 to bar Arizona from participating in the program.

The Common Core Initiative is a attempt to create a national educational standard, designed to prepare students with the information and skills they need to compete in the global economy. The initiative is sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and has been adopted by 45 states. Arizona approved of the changes four years ago.

Specifically, Common Core targets what K-12 students should know in English language arts and mathematics at the end of each grade. While educators and business leaders hailed the program as a step forward, Arizona lawmakers want none of it.

Oklahoma Lawmakers Find Money for Capitol Renovation but Not for Programs for Poor

by Nomad

When it comes to social programs for the needy, the Oklahoma lawmakers are all about cutting programs for the poor and lowering taxes. However, strangely, they have still managed to find enough money to refurbish and repair the ostentatious Capitol building. 

Journalist Dylan Goforth, writing for TulsaWorld, reports how lawmakers in Oklahoma are faced with a delicate situation: how to justify the renovation of the Capitol building while making deep cuts to programs for the poor. 
Already renovations to three floors on the Senate side totaled $3.3 million. That's just the beginning.
The entire project has drawn some criticism. The two sides received a total of $7 million at a time when numerous state agencies were requesting money.
Seven of two-story drapes, each costing over $2500, and shutters, costing $2000 each, totaled to more than $30,000. That's just the window treatments, mind you. Add to this two large screen television, two credenzas from which the televisions rise, a projector and a video screen. The article lists other expenses such as a full kitchen, complete with dishwasher, ice machine, refrigerator and new cabinets, cost $14,542. 
It all adds up quickly and that just the beginning. 

Lawmakers complain about the sewage that's seeping and mold that's stenching and the toilets that (someday soon) will not flush. While they all might agree that the Capitol building  is in a dreadful state, it looks pretty snazzy from the "before" photos. Not true, say staffers.
Electrical wiring in the building is so bad that there are sections where plainly visible cables are knotted together in a jumble. Some of the wiring remains from the building's early-20th-century days, staffers said.
It might lead you to think that nothing has been done since the ornate building of the pink and gray granite and white limestone was completed in 1917. 
That's not the case. 
In fact, work was done in 1998. But not renovation. In that year, the legislature funded the construction of a grandiose dome crowned with a 22-foot-tall bronze sculpture called The Guardian. The cost? $20.8 million. That dome was completed on November 16, 2002. Instead of a swanky dome, the $20 million could have easily paid for all of the cost for today's work.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Blind Man, Acquitted for Murder by Stand Your Ground Law, Demands Guns Back

by Nomad

Sometimes you hear some thing on the news that makes you think the world has gone nuts. Here's a story I saw from Nebraska news.

A judge at the Seminole County Courthouse in Nebraska ruled that, despite his reservations, the law was the law. After the acquittal of John Rogers in a deadly shooting, Rogers sued the court for the return of his weapon. Rogers, it should be mentioned, is legally blind

The weapons were confiscated by police after Rogers was arrested in the shooting death of 34-year old James Dewitt in March 2012. 

The judge saıd that in the end, it was the law and that justice was done.


Abigail Adams' Words of Warning about Respecting Women's Rights

by Nomad


Abigail Adams Women's Rights

I long to hear that you have declared independency. And in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors... If particular and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.
From a letter written in 1774 by Abigail Adams, wife of one president and mother of another to her husband. 


Friday, February 21, 2014

The Promise of Meta-materials: A Glimpse at the Future under Construction?

by Nomad

If one professor's vision is correct, then the future may hardly be recognizable. The development of meta-materials has been evolving more quickly that anybody could have expected.  
One thing is certain. The technology will give rise to completely new materials with extraordinary properties and  will change the nature of construction. 
And it's just around the corner.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum,  Dr. Julia R. Greer,  a professor of Materials Science and Mechanics at California Institute of Technology, spoke about very small things which will soon make very big changes to our world.

In her fast-paced lecture, Greer explained how, by using a combination of techniques, scientists of the near future will be able to create new materials- meta-materials- with mind-bending properties. Building materials, for example, which can be strong or stronger than steel and yet weigh one million times lighter. That's not a random number pulled out of a hat.

"Imagine a world where the next generation of planes are just as powerful and just as efficient but weigh as little as a toy airplane? Imagine a world where the total amount of material used to construct a bridge the size of the Golden Gate is small enough to hold in the palm of your hand? We believe we have found a way to bring that world closer to reality."
So how is it possible? In Greer's lecture, she explains the process in detail. The fabrication technique is actually a synthesis of technologies, namely, architectural design, material science and nanotechnology, all working an incredibly small scale. It's like playing God with a molecular-sized 3D printer.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Controversial Arizona Bill Protects Homophobic Discrimination as Religious Right

Religion Crossby Nomad



New draft legislation in Arizona would give citizens the right to refuse service to gay customers based on their own religious beliefs. 

According to the sponsors, those with sincere religious beliefs are being denied their rights. Is discrimination based on religious values a constitutionally-protected form of free speech?

Arizona State Senators have voted to allow businesses to refuse service to gay citizens based on the owners’ “sincerely held” religious beliefs. An article in Arizona Daliy Star reports that the vote on SB 1062 was 17-13 with the Republican majority carrying the majority. No Democrats voted for the bill.

One of the sponsors of the bill, Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler explained:
“This bill is not about discrimination It’s about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith.”
The bill approves of the right to refuse service based on religious beliefs, but fell short of requiring a business to post signs stating the fact. Critics of the bill sought to include this provision. As Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix stated:
“If there is an organization or a business out there that wants to use the defense of religious freedom, I believe that consumers have a right to know.”
The GOP rejected its inclusion. Perhaps that would have been too obvious. Like segregated drinking fountains.The Republicans would prefer a more discreet form of discrimination.
Gallardo  told reporters:
“We all have the right to our religious beliefs. But I do not agree that we have the right to discriminate because of our religious beliefs. I do not believe we have to throw our religious beliefs to others that don’t share our same beliefs.”
Supporters of the legislation are turning the tables on that idea, suggesting that by forcing business to serve homosexuals, it is they who are being discriminated against. Yarbrough said SB 1062 is “aimed at preventing the rising attempts at discriminating against folks because they are sincere."

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Outback Outrage: How Rupert Murdoch's News Corp Helped Destroy Australian Budget

by Nomad

Through a special tax arrangement with the Australian government,  Rupert Murdoch's New Corporation- parent company of Fox News- became  the largest single factor in the shortfalls in the Australian budget.

The Australian Financial Review is reporting a story which will probably never appear on Fox News.
The single largest factor in the underlying deterioration of the federal budget announced by Treasurer Joe Hockey in December was a cash payout of almost $900 million to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.
Despite Fox News and News Corp newspaper's near-constant drumbeat against government spending, it came right down to it, News Corp was just another corporation expecting special treatment. Documents last week revealed the company claimed a massive tax deduction- one of the largest cash payments- from the Australian Tax Office

When the Australian budget went south, it was not due to wild spending on foolish projects or due to the military appropriations but, if these reports are true, one main factor was a record-breaking tax deduction that the Tax Office allowed the media giant. 

The Guardian fills us in with other particulars:
The payment by a “foreign tax authority” was revealed in accounts published by News Corporation in the US earlier this month and related to a $2bn claim by News Corp for historic losses on currency transactions by its Australian subsidiaries.
The payment was estimated to be worth $600m to News Corp but the final figure grew to $882m after interest charges.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Way Forward: Corporate Culture or Employee-Owned Business?

by Nomad

Isn't  there any better alternative to the classic corporate business model? With union membership in free-fall, where can the America worker turn to find a decent standard of living, job satisfaction and a more equal voice in the capitalist system? Could the Employee-owned business model be an answer? 

Everybody- except perhaps the 1%- would probably agree that the Capitalist structure is in need of an overhaul or at least a serious reconsideration. Unions- which have in the past provided a bulwark against corporate exploitation of labor and yet, a political power, a return of a influential organized labor  movement seems fairly unlikely. We all owe a lot to the existence of the unions. As The Nation pointed out:
Capitalism was “civilized” thanks to the unrelenting pressure of gritty working-class movements and the ever-present threat of strikes and even revolutions.
However, that may all be in the past.  That system has broken down. 

As the New York Times noted last year,  the long decline in the number of American workers belonging to labor unions accelerated sharply last year, sending the unionization rate to its lowest level in close to a century. States like Wisconsin, Indiana and others, with the help of corporate-funded ALEC enacted new laws that rolled back the power of unions. 
While it may be a bit soon to announce the deaths of labor union movement altogether, some would say this decline might be passed the point of no return. But there are reasons why of the unions haven't magically dissolved. If anything the original reasons for unions- low pay, poor working conditions, profits above all other considerations- are nearly as bad as the time before the rise of unions.

What then are the alternatives to union labor- besides throwing up one hands and leaving it to overpaid CEOs? Progressives often seem paralyzed. and Conservatives appear intend on pacifying the outrage of an imbalanced system where economic inequality and entitlements for the upper crust is the norm.

One possibility is a completely different model based not on union-company confrontation but on a model of participation between workers and the company. No, not a Kumbaya moment by the campfire with workers and management and owners all holding hands. 
I am speaking of employee-owned business model.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Long Russian Winter of Vladimir Putin

by Nomad

Russian President Vladimir Putin may not be as popular as he once was. Of late his policies both internationally and domestically have raised more than a few eyebrows. 
While it may not be a return to the days of the Cold War,  many in the West might be thinking the present chill in relations seems much more like an awfully long Russian winter.

Putin's PR Problem
 recent Gallup poll suggests that a majority of Americans now take a negative view of Russia, more so that any time in the last two decades.
Only 34 percent of poll respondents have a favorable view of Russia, while 60 percent have an unfavorable view. This is quite a swing since 2012 when only 44 percent had an unfavorable view in 2012.
As we shall see, analysts have a barrel-full of reasons to explain this decline. Russia's handling of Greenpeace and Pussy Riot activists, anti-gay laws and the whole Edward Snowden affair  may all have played a role in the Russian public relations problem. 
Since politics in the former Soviet nation is too often a one-man arrangement, it's no great surprise that this dislike seems to be focused on  Russia's leader.

The poll also found that the 61-year-old Russian president, Vladimir Putin has also become an unpopular figure among Americans with a steady rise in unpopularity since 2002, starting at 18 percent to the present figure of a whopping 63 percent this year. 

Interestingly, Americans aren't alone in their view of Putin. Europe too might be a little less than pleased.
In particular, European leaders are growing concerned. Russian policy in Ukraine has created a serious rift with Europe, the tone of which we haven't seen since the days of the Cold War. When Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s ambassador to the EU, warned European leaders not to 'test Putin’s patience' it was hard to ignore that things had sunk pretty low.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Unfair Use: How Copyright Violation Claims are Used to Suppress Intelligent Debate

by Nomad

Online hosting sites like YouTube and others routinely chose to ignore the fair use provisions of of the copyright laws at the cost of online free speech.
When does one man's education and debunking through science become another man's propaganda?

Deconstructing the House of Numbers
The website TechDirt has an interesting article that caught my eye. Here's the story.
When a 2009 documentary called House of Numbers made the claim that HIV and the AIDS epidemic was part of a conspiracy theory, it - not unexpectedly- became the center of some fierce controversy. Supporters of the film said it provided "a number of challenging and disturbing thoughts" but the New York Times described the documentary as "a weaselly support pamphlet for AIDS denialists." The Portland Oregonian criticized its makers for "not being entirely honest with viewers," and the Wall Street Journal just wrote the whole film off with the words: "this season's fashion in conspiracy theories."

Conspiracy theories come in all varieties, from the absolutely nutty to the quite plausible. Some are based on opinion, some on facts and some on misrepresentations and lies. 

In fact this theory has been floating around for quite a long time but unfortunately, to some of the less discerning minds, it could sound plausible. So, even if the film's premise was 99 % irrefutable, the message of the film would still be more than a little irresponsible based only on that 1% of doubt. After all, believing in this particular conspiracy theory could have some serious consequences.

And the nature of the Internet makes things still worse. Once this kind of material gets online it can take on a life of its own. Such ideas can spread quickly on the Internet, and after being completely destroyed, it may re-surface over and over, "reinfecting" new victims.  

In this age of nearly unlimited speech, it is something most of us have reluctantly had to put up with. After all, the possible harm can only be mitigated by more free speech and science, right? 

It was for that reason, famous scientific debunker Myles Powers decided to put out a series of videos showing both why the claims in House of Numbers are rubbish and how the producers of the film had manipulated the evidence. Naturally in order to properly debunk the material in the film, he used excerpts of it. And why not? What other way can it be done?
However, producers (or those featured in the film) quickly filed claims of copyright violation against Powers and his videos. As soon as it received the copyright violation claims, YouTube immediately took down the debunking videos.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Jefferson's Words to the 99%: You Were Not Born With a Saddle on your Back

by Nomad



ALL eyes are opened or opening to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.
Thomas Jefferson

Friday, February 14, 2014

Fox News Outrage About Shoddy Reporting: Ray Nagin was a Democrat

by Nomad


Whenever you have Fox News condemning other news channels for inaccurate reporting, it's worth a little attention. Coverage of former mayor Ray Nagin, they say, was grossly inaccurate because they failed to point out he was a Democrat. But how could so many upstanding journalists have simply forgotten Nagin's party affiliation? Here's why.


As you might have heard, former New Orleans mayor during the Katrina fiasco Ray Nagin has run into a bit of trouble with a capital "T" He has been found guilty guilty of 20 of the 21 counts of federal corruption charges after a two-week trial. Nagin, according to the verdict, took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and other favors from businessmen looking for a break from his administration.
And this wasn't small potatoes.
A January 2013 indictment detailed more than $200,000 in bribes to the mayor, and his family members allegedly received a vacation in Hawaii; first-class airfare to Jamaica; private jet travel and a limousine for New York City; and cellular phone service. In exchange, businesses that coughed up for Nagin and his family won more than $5 million in city contracts, according to the .. indictment.
That wasn't the story that outraged Fox Nation. It was the reporting of the story. 
CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News and ABC World News broadcasts gave brief mention to the conviction of former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin Wednesday on 20 federal counts, including bribery and conspiracy, but all three omitted the fact that he was a Democrat.
In fact, journalists repeatedly called Nagin a "Republican." Fox News points out:
The mainstream-media has made a point of pointing out a 'Republican' party affiliation in various past scandals...
Let us skip over the rather hard to ignore fact that on any given day, Fox News does exactly what they are now castigating other news channels. Even given the shoddy state of journalism today, how could this mistake had been made? 

Academic Studies about Right-Wing and Tea Party Voters Reach Interesting Conclusions

by Nomad

Several   academic research studies about the minds of right-wing supporters, the power of fear to warp our thinking and the intelligence of the Tea Party offer some surprising insights to the present state of US politics. 

If accurate, the studies also provide some depressing news about the possibility that the great divide between left and right can ever be bridged.

Canadian Study: Are Right Wingers Naturally Less Intelligent?
newspaper article in the UK Daily Mail, has information, which might- or might not surprise you:
Right-wingers tend to be less intelligent than left-wingers, and people with low childhood intelligence tend to grow up to have racist and anti-gay views, says a controversial new study.
According to Canadian academics, conservative politics work almost as a 'gateway' into prejudice against others. The Canadian study reviewed large studies from the UK which made a comparison between childhood intelligence and political views in adulthood across more than 15,000 people.
Their conclusion? People with low intelligence gravitate towards right-wing views because these views make them feel safe. In addition to that, children with low intelligence tend to grow up to be prejudiced.

Both educational level and social status seem to play no role in whether a person is prejudiced or racist. It is, they insist, related to innate intelligence, rather than acquired knowledge.
The study, published in Psychological Science, claims that right-wing ideology forms a 'pathway' for people with low reasoning ability to become prejudiced against groups such as other races and gay people.
There are good reasons for this. Cognitive ability-that is, the ability to think - allows us to form impressions of other people and to be open-minded, say the researchers.
'Individuals with lower cognitive abilities may gravitate towards more socially conservative right-wing ideologies that maintain the status quo. The status quo is a more friendly environment to those with less cognitive abilities. 'It provides a sense of order.'
Those right-wing ideologies are all about order, not diversity. Such ideologies generally stress hierarchy and resistance to change, attitudes that can contribute to prejudice, said lead researcher Gordon Hodson, a psychologist at Brock University in Ontario.   

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Uncovered Evidence That Proves Abraham Lincoln was a RINO

by Nomad

On the 205th birthday of the 16th president of the United States, I wanted to look back at the man. Abraham Lincoln is, for many reasons, an iconic figure in American history. One thing is clear from the evidence found in the long-forgotten history books: Abraham Lincoln was a Republican in name only. 


By the magic of the Internet, one can find many archival books online about Abe Lincoln. For an amateur historian, it's like exploring the national attic. Most of the free ones have been written over a century ago and are filled with fascinating anecdotes about the man and his character. 

Many stories about the man have been lost over time. The tales for the most part ring with authenticity- being recorded so much closer to the events. Others are more of the "legend" variety. Here are a few lesser known stories and quotes and like the startling portrait above, they bring new life, a human quality to the man who has become something of a dry myth.

The Honesty of Abe
His famous nickname "Honest Abe" was given to Lincoln long before he ever became president or even before he ever thought of entering politics. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hollywood's Child Star, Shirley Temple Black Dead at 85

by Nomad


The BBC is reporting the death of one of Hollywood's most famous child stars:
Shirley Temple, who has died aged 85, was that rare example of a Hollywood child star who, when the cameras stopped rolling, carved out a new career.
With her ringlets, dimples and precocious talent, America's "Little Princess", charmed audiences during the 1930s Depression.
Here's one of her signature tunes: Animal Crackers


Tenn. School Features Drag Show to Pay for Field Trip to Washington

by Nomad

Heartland America may not be quite a narrow-minded and straight-laced as conservatives and the Religious Right would have us believe. Especially when it comes to a good cause. Here's an example from rural Tennessee.

Next Saturday Coker Creek Elementary School in Tellico Plains, Tennessee will be hosting a rather unconventional fundraiser. It will include familiar names in the community. The hope is to raise $1000 in order to send 27 of the school's sixth, seventh and eighth graders on a trip to the nation's capital next May. 
The event is called a "Womanless Beauty Contest." In other words, a drag show, ala RuPaul.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Gov. Rick Perry, Obamacare and The Morality of Rejecting Medicaid Expansion

by Nomad

Texas Governor Rick Perry's decision not to expand Medicaid, a provision of Obamacare that each state can accept or reject, will have serious consequences for the uninsured and the poor of that state. 

Here's a moral question for you:
Suppose you found that you possessed the power to save the lives of three thousand strangers, without doing anything except changing your mind, would you do it? Would you do it even if it required you to reverse a strong personal viewpoint or a core philosophy? Could any one of your personal beliefs really be so strong that you would allow the deaths of thousands and the suffering of many more? 

Those are the questions that the citizens of Texas should be asking their governor, Rick Perry.

The Cost of Perry's Resistance
In a recent article for the Dallas Observer, Eric Nicholson points out:
Governor Rick Perry's decision to opt out of Obamacare's Medicaid expansion has been well-documented. Billions in federal funds are off the table. More than a million poor adults won't have access to health coverage. Texas businesses will wind up paying an estimated $400 million in tax penalties.
Useful numbers, but none really captures the human toll of Perry's decision. A better figure for that purpose is 3,035, as in the number of people who will die as a result of Texas' refusal to expand Medicaid.
Nicholson cites a study by researchers at Harvard Medical School and CUNY School of Public Health. Admittedly this is a worst case scenario but even the best case scenario puts the number of people who will die at 1,840. That's not all.
Even for those who don't die, the outcome won't be good. The researchers predict that 184,192 Texans suffering from depression will go undiagnosed, 109,307 diabetics won't get medication, 40,562 women won't get mammograms and 62,610 uninsured individuals will have catastrophic medical expenditures.
Critics of the study say the study cannot be taken to prove a causal relationship between Medicaid expansion and lower mortality rates.

When the ACA was passed back in 2010, a requirement in the law required states to expand Medicaid for all households whose incomes fell below a certain level. A fairly generous level too. However in June 2012, the Supreme Court decided that states should be given an option to decide whether they wish to expand the Medicaid rolls. It could not be forced on the states by the federal government.

The Lone Star legislators in their wisdom then decided that expanding Medicaid was in the the great state of Texas was simply not going to happen. No way, Jose.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

OSHA, Condoms and The Porn Industry: A Matter of Worker Safety?

by Nomad

A San Francisco porn company has been hit with a fine of nearly $80,000 for maintaining dangerous workplace conditions, among them allowing performers to have sex on camera without using condoms.
Kink.com spokesperson Michael Stabile said that performers themselves preferred not to use condoms. In reality, Stabile told reporters, the fine was simply an attempt to close down the porn industry by Cal/OSHA, a Division of Occupational Safety and Health agency.

The inspection was prompted by a formal complaint filed by AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a Los Angeles advocacy group, after two Kink performers - Cameron Bay and her then-boyfriend Rod Daily - tested HIV-positive last year.
In September, California lawmakers voted down a bill that would have required that porn actors use condoms.

These rules have been primarily aimed to healthcare workers. However, they can also apply to lifeguards, police, firefighters and members of medical emergency teams workers in dental offices, prisons, medical laboratories, mortuaries, schools, home health care operations. In fact, wherever there is a possibility of exposure, the employer has a duty to protect his employee.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Bread and Roses Strike of 1912 : The History and the Song

by Nomad

The story of the Lawrence Mill Strike of 1912 has - like most of the history of the labor movement- received very little coverage in the mainstream media. It's a shame because the events and the workers who struggled (and some of whom died) deserve our admiration.  
With that in mind, I offer this summary of the events that occurred over one hundred years ago in in the mill town of Lawrence, Massachusetts.

History always provides both interesting parallels and contrasts to our own age. Before we look back, therefore, let's take a quick examination at our own times as a kind of reference.

Our Gilded Age
Today worker wages have remained stagnant since the 1980s. while hourly productivity has risen to all time high levels. The reason generally cited to justify this effect is the increased competition from third world manufacturing with low-income workers in countries such as China and India. As CNN reported back in 2011,
Incomes for 90% of Americans have been stuck in neutral, and it's not just because of the Great Recession. Middle-class incomes have been stagnant for at least a generation, while the wealthiest tier has surged ahead at lighting speed... Meanwhile, the richest 1% of Americans -- those making $380,000 or more -- have seen their incomes grow 33% over the last 20 years, leaving average Americans in the dust.
For corporations and the super wealthy, this has meant boom times-even during the recession. The rich have gotten richer, but a whole lot richer. The working class however has seen a steady deterioration in their standard of living. The trickle-down hasn't trickled. According to Harvard magazine:
The United States is becoming even more unequal as income becomes more concentrated among the most affluent Americans. Income inequality has been rising since the late 1970s, and now rests at a level not seen since the Gilded Ageroughly 1870 to 1900, a period in U.S. history defined by the contrast between the excesses of the super-rich and the squalor of the poor.
And same CNN article cited above gives us one reason for the problem:
One major pull on the working man was the decline of unions and other labor protections, said Bill Rodgers, a former chief economist for the Labor Department, now a professor at Rutgers University.

Because of deals struck through collective bargaining, union workers have traditionally earned 15% to 20% more than their non-union counterparts, Rodgers said.

But union membership has declined rapidly over the past 30 years. In 1983, union workers made up about 20% of the workforce. In 2010, they represented less than 12%.

"The erosion of collective bargaining is a key factor to explain why low-wage workers and middle income workers have seen their wages not stay up with inflation," Rodgers said.

Without collective bargaining pushing up wages, especially for blue-collar work -- average incomes have stagnated.
One hundred years ago, the textile mills in New England -which was the starting point for the industrial revolution in the US were in a similar position.  The strength of labor unions- to bring about better social conditions for workers was still in its infancy. The labor action in Lawrence was to be a major test of might against might.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Obama and EO 13036: New Tea Party Hysteria over Emergency Preparedness

by Nomad

When President Obama announced in no uncertain terms that he would use his executive powers to get around Congressional obstructionism, some on the Right appeared outraged. It's no surprise then they would dig up something from the past to launch yet another call for impeachment. In this post, we explore Executive Order 13036, the Tea Party meme and the source of this quackery.

As we have all come to realize, Republican hysteria seems to know no limit. The latest drum-beat which has the Tea Party radicals dancing frenetically to is now the word "outlaw. It sounds like this: Obama is an outlaw isn't he? And what an outlaw he is? What law has that outlawing outlaw Obama outed today? Impeach that outlaw.
Outlaw? Outlaw.
Quacking ducks make about as much sense. 

I saw this very black and very sinister-looking poster in the twitter-sphere. (I added the "Busted" so it couldn't be recycled.) The memes warned that the president has signed this here executive order- practically a royal decree- giving him the right to take, not just my hope, my dignity, my reason for living but... all my things. "Everything you own" can now be taken away. 

The text- and for a meme asks a lot of reading from its audience- states:
Under Executive Order 13036 everything you own can be taken away under the guise of national security. This order rips our Constitution to shreds. One person has all this power? Are we really living as free people or are we living under a dictatorship? Was it not more than seventy years ago that an ugly short mustache man did the same thing in Europe? I leave you one burning question: What is the real purpose of this Executive Order?
That's right, this outlaw president is planning to violate the Constitution in order to get your household appliances, your flat screen TVs and most importantly, your guns.
The accompanying tweet advised me to Google Executive Order 13036. So, being a curious fellow with a lot of free time, I did as instructed and googled. 

But I somehow doubt many Right-wingers bothered to do so. If they had devoted as little as 2 minutes of independent research- instead of simply joining in with tweet-chanting "Impeach Obama"- they might have realized how they had been- once again- hoaxed by Tea Party fear-mongering.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Betty Friedan: True Personhood Means Self-Control Over One's Body

by Nomad

Today marks the anniversary of the death of one of the leaders of the feminism movement, Betty Friedan. 

On this date, eight years ago, Betty Friedan died. It was also her 85th birthday. The name may not be familiar to many young women today. That's a shame. 

Friedan's Legacy
Her 1963 book,  The Feminine Mystique, is considered to be the catalyst for the American feminism movement of that decade. It remains one of the most powerful works of popular non-fiction written in America. 
In 1966, Friedan founded and was elected the first president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), which aimed to bring women "into the mainstream of American society now [in] fully equal partnership with men." 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Half-Baked News: Big Government Crushes Little Girl's Cup-Cake Dreams

News Media Propagandaby Nomad

How did a small human interest news story about a little girl's cupcake making business suddenly become an "unbelievable" story of government overreach and oppressive regulations? We examine how local media contribute to the right-wing propaganda machine.
When it comes to the art of the spin, the way a simple news story can be manipulated is truly impressive. It is interesting to see how, instead of explaining the legitimate reasons- which can be a little tiresome and taxing on viewers- local news has become excellent at twisting a story to fit into a pre-decided mold.

Take the recent case of the little cupcake maker. When Belleville News-Democrat threw a spotlight on 11- year-old Chloe Stirling from Troy, Illinois and her cup-cake making business, it was originally one of those quaintly positive human interest pieces that local news does ad nasueum. A dedicated self-starter, amazement to her mother, hard working (and photogenic) little girl with a vision. That sort of thing.
However, when the local health department watched the broadcast, they saw something very different. They saw a businessperson operating without any of the required health permits. Officials called the Stirling residence and promptly put Chloe out of business.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

New Rules on Textbooks: The Age of Reason Approved by Texas Board of Education

by Nomad

A recent decision by the Texas Board of Education will attempt to roll back the effect of religious and political groups' influence over public school textbooks. 
Despite this good news, the question remains whether the experts which the board will consult for accuracy can actually be trusted. 
Here's another sign that what was once blood red can just as easily become sky blue. AP is reporting news that civil libertarians will see as a victory of science and established facts over religious dogma and the influence of politics.
The Texas Board of Education imposed tighter rules Friday on the citizen review panels that scrutinize proposed textbooks, potentially softening fights over evolution, religion's role in U.S. history and other ideological matters that have long seeped into what students learn in school.
How The Minority Used its Majority
This issue has been brewing for awhile. One reason for this is that Texas is the nation's largest state with more more than 5 million public school students. Also, it is because many of the textbooks printed there are accepted in other states as well. Thus all it takes is for a few activists with a religious or political agenda to have a vast influence over what is being taught to our children.
The 15-member education board approves textbooks for school districts to use, but objections raised by reviewers can influence its decisions. The volunteer review panels are often dominated by social conservatives who want more skepticism about evolution included in science textbooks, arguing that a higher power helped create the universe.
The article pointed out that social conservatives used their majority on the board to affect these changes to the textbook selection process. 
The board also had long been controlled by social conservatives before election defeats weakened their voting bloc in recent years — but not before its culture war clashes drew national headlines. 
It was clear that certain issues were on the hit list.
Those members pushed for de-emphasizing climate change in science classes, and requiring social studies students to learn about the Christian values of America's founding fathers and evaluate whether the United Nations undermined U.S. sovereignty.
In an effort to reverse the influence of narrow interest groups, the new rules mandated that teachers or professors be given priority for serving on the textbook review panels for subjects in their areas of expertise. Furthermore, the rules enable the board to appoint outside experts to check objections raised by review panels and ensure they are based on fact, not ideology.
"It won't eliminate politics, but it will make it where it's a more informed process," said Thomas Ratliff, a Republican board member who pushed for the changes, which he said "force us to find qualified people, leave them alone, and let them do their jobs."
The new rules were unanimously approved.

Two Free Posters: Why 2014 won't be 2010 and Tea Party Clowns

by Nomad

Here's are two posters you might enjoy.


Please be sure to repost it, tweet it and pin it. Thanks!
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