From Alternet. Published July 16, 2014. Written by Amanda Marcotte.
There’s been a lot of ink spilled about the increasing political polarization in America , which is at historically high levels. There are a lot of reasons for it, including changing demographics, women’s growing empowerment, the Internet, the economy and cable news. But religion and religious belief plays an important role as well. There’s no way around it: America is quickly becoming two nations, one ruled over by fundamentalist Christians and their supporters and one that is becoming all the more secular over time, looking more and more like western Europe in its relative indifference to religion. And caught in between are a group of liberal Christians that are culturally aligned with secularists and are increasingly and dismayingly seeing the concept of “faith” aligned with a narrow and conservative political worldview.
That this polarization is happening is hard to deny, even if it’s harder to measure that political polarization. The number of Americans who cite “none” when asked about a religious identity is rising rapidly, up to nearly 20% from 15% in 2007, with a third of people under 30 identifying with no religious faith. Two-thirds of the “nones” say they believe in God, suggesting that this is more of a cultural drift towards secularism than some kind of crisis of faith across the country.
But even this may underrepresent how secular our country really is getting, as many people who say they belong to a church don’t really go to church much, if at all. While Americans like to tell pollsters they go to church regularly, in-depth research shows they are lying and many of them blow it off, putting our actual church-going rates at roughly the same level of secular Western Europe.
Even when people identify with a label like “Catholic” or “Methodist”, that doesn’t mean they consider it an important part of their identity in the way that people used to. Take, for instance, the way that weddings have quietly changed in this country. It used to be that you had a wedding in a church, and only people who were eloping got married by someone other than a minister. Now, outside of very religious circles, it’s more common to see weddings on beaches or at country clubs, and very often officiated by friends of the couple rather than clergy. Indeed, state laws are slowly beginning to change to reflect this reality, allowing more flexibility for people to have the secular weddings they increasingly desire.
Published July 13, 2014 here. Written by Vyan.
Yeah, uh, ya think?
From ABC’s “This Week”
Kristol seemed to agree [with Eric Holder's withering assessment of Palin] during an ABC News panel discussion on Sunday.
“No responsible Republican official has called for impeachment,” he explained. “And one problem with it is, of course, is you just get Joe Biden as president. The Republican task is to elect a Republican Senate, and to elect a Republican president in 2016, not to create a phony issue that allows Democrats to make Republicans look extreme.”
Republican strategist Ann Navarro agreed that “nobody of responsibility, nobody in leadership, nobody of relevance has talked about impeachment … So, can we stick to talking about people who can actually make something happen say, and not just folks who want to make headlines say?”
My my my … so now we’re supposed to only be talking about what “Responsible” Republicans have to say, not what those outside leadership, with no relevance, and who only want to make headlines say or think?
Sniff! I think I smell a really mean, snarky, semi-literate facebook post about Kristol in Palin’s immediate future.
And just where exactly does all this put John Boehner and his Impeachment-Lite Plan to Sue the President? Will it appease the pitchforkers, or simply enrage them further as too little and too late?
Protected bike lanes help riders feel less exposed to danger, and are also appreciated by drivers and pedestrians, who know where to expect bicycles.
Published July 11, 2014 in Alternet. Written by Jay Walljasper.
You can see big changes happening across North America as communities from Fairbanks to St. Petersburg transform their streets into appealing places for people, not just cars and trucks.
“Over the past five years we’re seeing an infrastructure revolution, a rethinking of our streets to accommodate more users—busways, public plazas, space for pedestrians and, of course, bike lanes,” says David Vega-Barachowitz of the National Association of City Transportation Officials. “More protected bike lanes is one of the most important parts of this.”
Protected bike lanes separate people on bikes from rushing traffic with concrete curbs, plastic bollards or other means— and sometimes offer additional safety measures such as special bike traffic lights and painted crossings at intersections. Protected bike lanes help riders feel less exposed to danger, and are also appreciated by drivers and pedestrians, who know where to expect bicycles. Streets work better when everyone has a clearly defined space.read more…
Published July 1, 2014 by Campaign For America’s Future. Written by Emily Divito.
Here is the clearest, and scariest, implication of the Supreme Court’s Monday [i.e. June 30] ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc.: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — “Obamacare” — is fatally flawed. It is clear we now need a public, single-payer health care system — because the Supreme Court can no longer protect us.
The fact that Hobby Lobby Inc. actually had a legal standing to bring this case to court in order to contest providing comprehensive health care to their 18,000 employees should prove that a key feature of the Affordable Care Act is unsound: It relies too heavily on private entities to deliver a public good — health care.
Published on June 14, 2014 in The National Memo. Written by Cynthia Tucker.
Update by Gypsy Chief
This article was published June 14, 2014. Around that time Open Carry activists started taking long guns into Target stores. Gun safety groups such as Moms Demand Action pushed back threatening a boycott. On July 2 Target asked customers to leave their long guns home. Moms Demand Action started a petition thanking Target Stores for this policy change. I signed the petition and “liked” Target’s Facebook page.
In order to really get the essence of what Cynthia Tucker is saying in this article you could see Target’s Facebook page, various entries, from June 17 to July 4. To hear gun advocates tell it crooks are reading newspapers and planning where to go based on where there are ‘gun-free’ zones. Now that these ‘law abiding’ open carry types are not welcome everybody who shops at Target is now a ‘sitting duck’. Meanwhile, World Net Daily [far right loony fringe source] says that Target Stores are being robbed.
When I was growing up in the Cold War era, teachers instructed their pupils in the fine art of ducking under the desk as a shield against a strike from an atom bomb. That was a futile exercise, of course: A desktop provides no protection from the powerful destructive capacity of a nuclear weapon.
But it allowed teachers and their charges to pretend to have a defense against a frightening communist enemy whose might nearly equaled our own. It created a psychological barrier against helplessness.
These days, teachers train to protect their students from armed madmen who shoot up schools. They are taught to recognize not just the sound of gunfire in the hallway but also to hear the bone-chilling thump of an empty clip hitting the floor. They learn to hide their students; they memorize escape routes; they practice throwing ordinary classroom tools, like staplers, at an armed assailant.
As schools search for solutions, a manufacturer’s spokesman said sales of a product called the “Bodyguard Blanket,” a bulletproof covering that might offer a bit of protection from a school shooter, have been surprisingly strong. Why wouldn’t it sell quickly? Since the December 2012 Newtown massacre, there has been, on average, a similar incident every five weeks, according to CNN.
However, there’s a huge difference between the dangerous enemy we confronted in my youth and the current menace: Average citizens could defeat the lunacy now threatening our children. We are not helpless. Instead, for reasons that I simply cannot fathom, we are paralyzed by a crazed gun lobby.
It’s difficult to adequately describe our sense of defeatism in the face of the firearms fanatics. We don’t fight back when they insist on laws allowing guns in schools, in bars, in churches. We throw up our hands when they resist background checks. We shrug when another child is gunned down at school.
Oh, polls show our support for common-sense measures that would curb the death rate. After Newtown — when 20 small children and six adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School — 91 percent of Americans supported background checks for firearms purchases at gun shows and private sales. Yet the Senate could not manage to pass a bill that closed the “gun show loophole.”
It’s unlikely that any of the senators who voted against the measure will be called to account in the only way that matters — with defeat. While 41 Republicans (and five Democrats) voted against the bill, the GOP is expected to gain seats in November’s elections. What kind of message does that send to the gun fanatics?
Meanwhile, the gun lobby’s favorite arguments for its positions have been, well, gunned down. Gun advocates claim that widespread firearms ownership by responsible law-abiding citizens would help to stop the carnage. They insist that a would-be school shooter, for example, would be killed before he could hurt anyone if only teachers were armed.
Experience shows it rarely works that way. Earlier this month, anti-government extremists, husband-and-wife team Jerad and Amanda Miller, killed two police officers in Las Vegas, ambushing the officers as they ate lunch. The couple then went to a nearby Walmart, where they encountered an armed citizen, Joseph Wilcox, who spotted Jerad and tried to stop him. Wilcox, too, was shot dead.
Facts, however, don’t faze the National Rifle Association and its allies, who have long since descended into a lunacy that rivals parody. Consider this: Recently, gun fetishists in Texas have begun demonstrating their support for “open carry” laws by carrying their heavy-duty weapons into restaurants. They’ve posted pictures of themselves with their assault-style weapons — civilian versions of rifles such as the AK-47 — strapped to their backs as stunned diners look on.
The NRA posted an opinion piece on its website discouraging those antics: “It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates,” the writer said. Guess what? Within a few days, a backlash ensued from the gun cult, and the NRA disowned the commentary.
This is Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole madness. What does it say about the rest of us that we allow it to rule?
(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Posted by Gypsy Chief
Governor Sam Brownback (R) is “fighting for his life” against Democrat Paul Davis, according to SurveyUSA’s latest poll, released on Thursday. Davis leads Brownback by 6 points (47 percent to 41 percent), with a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent.
The poll shows that Davis has the support of 26 percent of Republicans, plus 89 percent of his Democratic base. Independents back Davis over Brownback by 19 points. Davis also leads among female voters by 14 points.
SurveyUSA notes that voters are primarily focused on education funding and taxes. Voters who prioritize education support Davis by 54 points, and those who prioritize tax rates favor Brownback by 16 percent. This reflects the divide over Brownback’s massive tax cuts, which drastically decreased funding for Kansas public education.
The Real Clear Politics poll average shows the two candidates essentially tied, with Brownback ahead by only 0.3 points.
Brownback still has five months to attempt to retain voters, but that’s a lot of time for Davis, the lesser-known candidate, to make his case to voters and to make the race a referendum against Brownback’s policies.
Rep. Cory Gardner, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Colorado, has been hammered with criticism over his support for Personhood measures, which would ban both abortions and most forms of birth control. The far-right lawmaker is still figuring out what to do about it.
Gardner supported a Personhood ballot measure in 2008, which Colorado voters strongly rejected. Ignoring the election results, Gardner supported another Personhood ballot measure in 2010, which was also soundly rejected. He then went to Congress where he threw his support to – you guessed it – another Personhood proposal.
Shortly after launching a statewide campaign, however, Gardner announced a partial flip-flop: he no longer supports Personhood in Colorado, though he still supports Personhood at the federal level (which, incidentally, would apply to Colorado).
The congressman, obviously hurt by the Democratic focus on the issue, is trying to convince voters he’s kinda sorta changed his mind on the issue, and yesterday, wrote a piece for the Denver Post in which he moved sharply to the left: he now supports consumer access to the pill without a prescription.
The least loved institution in America today is the U.S. Senate, and one of the reasons it is reviled is a zero-sum approach to women’s medical care. It’s time we changed that and adopt modern policies that make sense instead of using women’s medical issues as an election-year power play. One of the most rational ways for Washington to break this gridlock is to approve oral contraception for over-the-counter purchases by adults. […]
Getting the politics out of contraception will improve the lives of women all over the country. It’s time for a new generation of thinking in Washington – one that puts solving problems ahead of scoring political points.
Send this man a NARAL membership application form.
Yes, one of Congress’ most conservative members on the issue of reproductive rights, a long-time culture warrior who’s spent much of his career on the far-right side on the issue – in 2011, Gardner even tried to redefine “rape” in order limit federal funds for abortion coverage – is all of a sudden a liberal when it comes to access to the pill.
The chutzpah necessary to even try a move like this is simply breathtaking.
“This is really getting ridiculous,” said ProgressNow Colorado executive director Amy Runyon-Harms. “As a state legislator, Cory Gardner voted against the Birth Control Protection Act. Gardner even voted against a bill to allow pharmacists to prescribe emergency contraception. He voted to strip contraception funding from the state Medicaid program. He voted to defund Planned Parenthood, which serves women in rural Colorado. He opposed covering contraception as part of preventive health care without a co-pay. Today, he decided the best way to cover women’s health is to insult the intelligence of every voter in Colorado.”
Also note, as of this morning, Gardner is still a co-sponsor of the federal Personhood legislation.
Source: Steve Benen at The Maddow Blog.
Posted by Gypsy Chief
The Denver Post’s Kurtis Lee has been eagerly running down every conceivable angle on the lingering story of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s ill-fated attempt to appease Colorado county sheriffs at a meeting last week. Today, Lee reports on the response on MSNBC last night by former Senate President John Morse, who narrowly lost a recall election last year after the passage of gun safety legislation:
Former Democratic Senate President John Morse said the comments Gov. John Hickenlooper made recently about his support of gun-control laws from 2013 is “disrespecting the families of the victims that worked so hard to pass this legislation.”
Morse supported a wide-ranging package of Democratic gun-control measures that became law last year. His backing of those bills, which include limits on ammunition magazines and universal background checks on all firearms sales and transfers, led to his ouster in a recall election last September …
Morse, in an interview with MSNBC, said the gun-control laws “did not divide the state,” and cites polls that show a majority of Coloradans back the law that requires universal gun background checks.
There is perhaps no one out there more deservedly angry with Gov. Hickenlooper over his foolish backpedaling of the 2013 magazine limit law than Sen. Morse. Morse laid everything on the line to get these bills passed, and having lost his seat by the narrowest of margins in last year’s recalls, he can hold his head high–and obviously, Morse has a legacy interest in defending these laws. For John Morse, passing the 2013 gun safety bills was a goal worth the loss of his seat, and Hickenlooper’s thoughtless pandering to the sheriffs is a huge slap in the face.
Like we said yesterday about this story, the real potential for political damage to Hickenlooper is limited: by the time that has passed since passage of these bills, voter fatigue with the issue of gun control, and the weakness of any potential opponent who may emerge from next Tuesday’s GOP primary. But it definitely doesn’t help Democratic legislators who are defending their records with voters for Hickenlooper to undercut them like this, and to have done so just to have a more pleasant meeting with county sheriffs who will never support him is simply not justifiable.
Published May 30, 2014 by Bloomberg Businessweek. Written by Matthew Philips and Brad Wieners.
Radically revised jobs numbers (from tens of thousands to, say, 50). Misleading ad campaigns (“energy security” that translates to Canadian exports to China). Ass-covering bureaucrats at the U.S. State Department. A president who can’t seem to decide, yes or no, despite evidence that the project fails his own criteria for approval. The battle over the proposed fourth and final leg of the Keystone oil pipeline complex—the Keystone XL—long ago became something of a farce. But whereas much of the debate has been based on projections of one form or another (including this magazine’s analysis of the oil price point ($65 per barrel) at which the Keystone becomes a big old boondoggle, or the amount of carbon humans can add to the earth’s atmosphere before it’s “game over,” according to a NASA scientist)—that all seems a bit hypothetical compared with the news this week, news that had been hidden in plain sight, and only gained a wider audience on Tuesday, when Joan Lowy of the Associated Press published on it.
Last fall, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) checked up on the progress of the third, southern leg of the Keystone, the Gulf Coast Pipeline. This is the line that TransCanada (TRP) Chief Executive Officer Russ Girling called the “world’s safest pipeline” when it began moving crude in January, and the same one that President Obama flew to Cushing, Okla., to champion back in March 2012.
Well, the inspectors learned that TransCanada had been busy repairing defective construction—in particular, crap welding—and had even stopped construction for a day just to get on top of it. The regulator later sent two severe warning letters to the Calgary oil company and slapped two “special conditions” on top of the 57 already required of TransCanada for the proposed Keystone XL—right there in the State Department’s Jan. 31 Final Environmental Impact Statement that we and scores of others combed through and missed.
The first stipulates that if State approves the Keystone XL, TransCanada has to implement a quality management system for the entire construction process to “ensure that this pipeline is—from the beginning—built to the highest standards.” Second, and more notably, TransCanada must hire an independent, third-party inspection company to go behind it and double-check all its work: the welding, the trench-digging, the laying of pipe, etc. For a company as large as TransCanada, that is rare, pipeline analysts say. Something usually required of a company only after a catastrophe like the one in 2010 in Kalamazoo, Mich. It’s also a major practical challenge. Imagine Ford being required to hire a third party to inspect each and every one of its cars as it builds them. Oh, and the PHMSA gets the final OK on this chaperone.
Now, before anyone howls “here we go again” about regulators sticking it to business, consider the source (the PHMSA is hardly an activist agency), and consider a sample of what the PHMSA called TransCanada out on.
“From the start of welding,” the PHMSA wrote in a Sept. 26, 2013, letter (PDF), “TransCanada experienced a high weld rejection rate.” (That is, ultrasonic testing on the welds holding the pipes together determined they were not up to snuff.) “During the first week 26.8 percent of the welds required repairs, 32.0 percent the second week, 72.2 percent the third week, and 45.0 percent the fourth week. On September 25, 2012, TransCanada stopped the Spread 3 welding after 205 of the 425 welds, or 48.2 percent required repairs.”
Let that register.
During one week in September, 72 percent, or almost three-quarters, of the welds on the “safest pipeline in the world” required redoing. (TransCanada, for its part, says it has addressed the PHMSA’s concerns, and you can read its response in writing here [PDF].) Throughout the Keystone XL fight, TransCanada has maintained that the chance of a spill is remote, and that its pipelines are state-of-the-art. But the implications of TransCanada’s inferior welding on its Southern leg are precisely why the Keystone XL has met with such fierce resistance on the ground in Nebraska. It’s there the planned pipe will pass over the Ogallala aquifer, which irrigates much of the Great Plains, and directly and indirectly supports millions of American jobs—and that’s not counting all the drinking water.
David McColl, an analyst with Morningstar who covers TransCanada, notes that defects aren’t uncommon in large projects like these, but says it would’ve been preferable that TransCanada had found them rather than federal safety inspectors. “The pipeline industry, and especially TransCanada, is waging a multiyear battle right now, so given the current environment, they really have no choice but to go along,” McColl says of the PHMSA’s provisions in the Jan. 31 report. Does he consider these “special conditions” excessive? Requiring a company like TransCanada to hire a third-party inspection company “does seem a bit unusual,” he says.
Eric Lee, an oil and gas analyst at Citigroup, says these revelations only add to the sizable amount of skepticism that already exists around the Keystone XL. “Given everything else, this is just another straw of hay on the camel’s back,” he says. “I’m not sure if it’s the one that breaks it.”
Maybe not. And maybe the PHMSA’s special conditions will work as intended, and, if Keystone XL is ever built, it will be safer for them. But if there is one community that’s not surprised by Lowy’s scoop, it’s homeowners in Oklahoma and northern Texas who witnessed the shoddy work on the Gulf Coast Pipeline as it happened on their property. (The Army Corps of Engineers used imminent domain to clear the way for TransCanada.) In a largely overlooked November 2013 Public Citizen report (PDF), a TransCanada whistle-blower and several property owners recorded many of the same problems as did the PHMSA.
“We’ve known about these issues for two years,” says Jane Kleeb, the director of Bold Nebraska, a nonprofit formed by ranchers and others to prevent the Keystone XL. “Landowners called and told us about all these sections of pipe that kept having to be pulled out of the ground and replaced.” She says the problems did not require an engineer’s eye to detect: pipes in trenches that were too shallow; pipes laid over visible rocks pressing against the metal tubes; faulty welds that didn’t seal. Having seen what they saw of the construction process, “several landowners I’ve spoken to live in fear that a major spill could happen any day.”
UPDATE ON JUNE 4: In addition to correcting this post to establish that TransCanada, not government regulators, first identified faulty welds in its Gulf Coast Pipeline (now reflected in the text above), TransCanada contends that new conditions placed on its company prior to the construction of the proposed Keystone XL are not the “direct result” of repair work on the Gulf Coast line. “As PHMSA made clear in the Associated Press story, the two conditions reflect learnings from pipeline projects across our industry, not just the Keystone XL project,” writes TransCanada spokesman Davis Sheremata. “These conditions are being placed on similar projects across the United States.”
Posted by Gypsy Chief
Published on June 2, 2014 in Next to Nothing for Climate in Obama Plan. Written by Charles Komanoff.
The Environmental Protection Agency will unveil a draft proposal on Monday to cut carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, according to people briefed on the plan. The proposed rule amounts to one of the strongest actions ever taken by the United States government to fight climate change. (emphasis added)
Posted by Gypsy Chief