The unmitigated gall of these people

16 Jan 2015 06:11 pm
Posted by: Donna

Governor Ducey’s team decided to take a Friday news dump on Arizona by releasing his proposed budget. One of the items people noticed right away was the $75 million cut to universities. Which is weird since didn’t we spend the whole 2014 general election being told how we shouldn’t vote for that dastardly Fred DuVal because he was entirely to blame for college tuition increases while he was on the Arizona Board of Regents? Remember ad after ad featuring stock photos of fresh-faced concerned-looking young people and the ominous voiceover darkly warning of more increases – that would break middle class families! – if DuVal got near the Capitol? Candidate Ducey promised several times to “put more money in the classroom”.


If you want to know how quickly they’ve dropped even the pretense of caring about struggling college students, take a look at this comment to the AZ Republic report on the proposed university cuts by a Kevin Calabrese, who appears to be some kind of Young Republican operative and Nathan Sproul flunkie.

Assuming that each of the three universities will have $25,000,000 less in funding, a tuition increase of around $150 per student would make up the difference.

It’s like September and October of 2014 never happened! I’m constantly astonished at their ability to lie and to bait and switch so flagrantly and seamlessly. It’s remarkable, really.

“Civics” means never asking the government you support with your taxes for anything

15 Jan 2015 01:58 pm
Posted by: Donna

AZ Governor Doug Ducey announced, at his State of the State speech on Tuesday, that he would push for a new, high-stakes statewide civics test in the public schools to counter a “96 percent” failure of students on the current civics tests. It turns out that his numbers might have been a bit off:

The survey Ducey relied upon was done for the Goldwater Institute and is widely cited by groups promoting civics education.

But Goldwater spokeswoman Starlee Coleman told The Associated Press Wednesday the institute withdrew the survey results in 2009 after a company that conducted the survey for Goldwater failed to show its basic research met Goldwater’s standards. Another survey done for an Oklahoma group showing similar dismal testing results also has been discredited.

Oops. The Ducey administration remains undeterred, however, with spokesman Daniel Scarpinato averring that if even “one Arizona child doesn’t know the answer to these basic American civics questions, including the name of our country’s first president”, that Arizona must forge ahead with this newer test, one that will somehow possess super-duper testing prowess that current tests lack. I don’t know, maybe it will ask who the first President was and how many branches the US government has with more patriotic vigor!

My guess is that the Sonoran Alliance (preeminent AZ right wing blog) tweet at the top of this post better explains what they’re after in this crusade. The Scottsdale-based Joe Foss Institute is mentioned in the AP article I linked and it appears the Institute may have right wing leanings:

To review, one board member is a member of the Goldwater Institute, a known advocate for school choice, another one is connected to the NRA, and the chairman for one of their star-spangled affairs also happens to be funding the insane Rick Santorum, who said this about education on the campaign trail Saturday:

In the nation’s past, he said, “Most presidents home-schooled their children in the White House.… Parents educated their children because it was their responsibility.

“Yes, the government can help, but the idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools, is anachronistic.”

(Aside from schools for the children of military personnel, the federal government does not actually operate schools. Most U.S. schools are supported primarily by state or local funding, or a combination of the two.)

Santorum said the public education system was an artifact of the Industrial Revolution, “when people came off the farms where they did home school or had a little neighborhood school, and into these big factories … called public schools.”

It is possible that the Joe Foss Institute and Governor Ducey’s administration simply want to make schoolchildren better able to recite the names of Presidents and the functions of government entities on command. But what is the real importance of that? How does that make someone a more valuable citizen? I say this as someone who could easily name many Presidents and all the current SCOTUS members if Jay Leno (Joe Foss Institute Lifetime Achievement Honoree and Featured Entertainment!), stopped me on the street in his “Jaywalking” sketch back when he had a late night show. So what? I have nothing on the average ER nurse or school janitor – who might be too busy doing his or her demanding job to have memorized important “civics” lessons – in terms of what I do to better people’s lives, and neither does anyone at the Goldwater Institute.

A truly useful civics education would inculcate a sense into students that the government they help pay for through taxation exists to serve the people who maintain that government’s existence and the importance of being an informed and involved citizen. But the right wing version of “civics” seems to be entirely different. It appears the goal is to indoctrinate students to see themselves as atomized individuals with no connection to a larger community. Students may learn the Tea Party credo that the Founding Fathers did not intend them to expect anything for themselves or their neighbors in return for the taxes they pay – those are strictly for military and police to protect rich people’s money and property – and that people who do need help are losers. Imagine what all that, along with the endless recitation of dry facts and figures for the high-stakes test, could do to a student’s enthusiasm for actual participation in democracy. It’s telling that Governor Ducey and his counterparts don’t mention low voter turnout as a civics education problem.

And if recent history is any guide, what conservative activists are doing with science and sex education – teaching outright lies and harmful stereotypes to children – should make people very leery of Ducey’s plan to change civics instruction.

Mr. Anti-Choice Goes to Washington

14 Jan 2015 02:43 pm
Posted by: Donna

Crossposted from Blog for Arizona

Hello, ladies…

Anti-choicers – who ought never be thought of as less-than-assiduous in their quest to rid America of the scourge of ladies refusing pregnancy – are really going to town these days!

Per the inimitable Sally Kohn:

“Serious adults are in charge here,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) added for good measure, “and we intend to make progress.”

And then they introduced no fewer than five restrictions on abortion on the first day of the new Republican-controlled Congress. Because, you know, priorities.

Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) reintroduced a ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a bill the Republican House had already passed in 2013. And in the Senate, David Vitter (R-La.)—always a jarring champion for such moral crusades given the scandalous and, uh, detailed revelations that he frequented a DC prostitution ring—introduced four bills restricting reproductive rights. One would bar Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds for family planning work—even though abortions make up only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s vital health services work, and Planned Parenthood is already barred from using federal dollars for abortions.

Another one of Vitter’s bills would require all abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital—which especially hurts rural abortion providers that aren’t located hear hospitals. The mortality rate from colonoscopies (which do not require hospital admitting privileges) is 40 times higher than for abortions, but anyway. Vitter also has a bill would allow hospitals, doctors and nurses to refuse to participate in abortion-related care even in cases of an emergency—which makes that “admitting privileges” bill entirely disingenuous. And Vitter would also ban “sex-selective abortion,” which is purely a fictional boogieman invented by anti-abortion opponents.

If you’ll recall, the entire last midterm election was dedicated to the proposition that the “so-called War on Women” is over. The only attention the Serious People felt that repro rights warranted was the derisive jibe at “Mark Uterus”. Lulz! But it turns out that anti-choicers, well, gotta anti-choice. And who could have predicted that? Oh yeah, we hysterical, overwrought pro-choicers did!

And now come the attacks on birth control access, with renewed vigor!

March for Life Education and Defense Fund, the nonprofit that organizes the annual protest, identified oral birth control as a form of abortion in a lawsuit filed in July. With the suit, which is ongoing, March for Life is fighting for an exemption from the Affordable Care Act mandate that all private employers provide contraception coverage.

March for Life argues that covering drugs or medical devices that cause abortions would violate its founding principles. And it places hormonal birth control, which includes things like oral contraception and vaginal rings, squarely within that category. In its lawsuit, the group refers to these as “abortifacients,” a characterization with which most physicians strongly disagree.

Polls consistently find that a majority of Americans who oppose abortion have no moral objections to birth control. Most of those planning to attend the march probably have no idea that March for Life views birth control as immoral: March for Life doesn’t advertise its opinions on birth control in its promotional material for the protest, and the group’s website simply bills the march as a mass demonstration against “legalized abortion on demand.”

The group’s lawsuit seems to have been inspired by the Supreme Court’s June 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. In that case, Hobby Lobby’s owners sued to avoid covering intrauterine devices and emergency contraception pills. A 5-4 conservative majority on the high court ruled in favor of the craft chain’s owners, saying that certain privately owned businesses don’t have to cover emergency contraceptives if the owners object on religious grounds.

Wait a sec, what happened to the midterm “We’re all about selling birth control over the counter!” dealio? Yeah, that went away the second they took over Congress. Now the Right is firmly back in “the Pill kills babies!” territory. We pro-choicers were prescient about that too.

The GOP sweep of Congress and state legislatures plus the onset of the 2016 Presidential election have created the perfect conditions for what promises to be a torrent of purse-lipped God-botherers annoying everyone else with their creepy sex obsessions in 2015. Perennial GOP Presidential candidate and professional grifter Mike Huckabee has already gotten in on the act:

“Beyoncé is incredibly talented – gifted, in fact,” Huckabee writes in the book, which hits stores until Jan. 20. “She has an exceptional set of pipes and can actually sing. She is a terrific dancer – without the explicit moves best left for the privacy of her bedroom. Jay Z is a very shrewd businessman, but I wonder: Does it occur to him that he is arguably crossing the line from husband to pimp by exploiting his wife as a sex object?”

Christ, he’s gross. And racist. But his commentary really boils the anti-choice movement down to its essence: a bunch of bitter prudes spending waaaaay too much time angrily imagining what attractive young people might be doing with their clothes off. Unfortunately, America gave people like that the keys to the country two months ago.

Why isn’t this the top story everywhere right now?

13 Jan 2015 06:30 am
Posted by: Donna

Last week a group of French cartoonists were murdered by terrorists. And it was a horrific thing. Truly. Two days later, terrorists attacked a Jewish market in Paris. Awful.

But at the same time, in Nigeria, Boko Haram slaughtered at least 2000 people (survivors have stopped counting).

District head Baba Abba Hassan said most victims are children, women and elderly people who could not run fast enough when insurgents drove into Baga, firing rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on town residents.

“The human carnage perpetrated by Boko Haram terrorists in Baga was enormous,” Muhammad Abba Gava, a spokesman for poorly armed civilians in a defence group that fights Boko Haram, told the Associated Press.

He said the civilian fighters gave up on trying to count all the bodies. “No one could attend to the corpses and even the seriously injured ones who may have died by now,” Gava said.

An Amnesty International statement said there are reports the town was razed and as many as 2,000 people killed.

If true, “this marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram’s ongoing onslaught,” said Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International.

The UK Guardian, which I have quoted thus far, tries to explain the lack of coverage:

“I am Charlie, but I am Baga too,” wrote Simon Allison for the Daily Maverick, a partner on the Guardian Africa network. “There are massacres and there are massacres” he said, arguing that “it may be the 21st century, but African lives are still deemed less newsworthy – and, by implication, less valuable – than western lives”.

Allison recognises the challenges in reporting – “the nearest journalists are hundreds of kilometres away” – but also points to the significance of the attack: taking control of Baga, “Boko Haram effectively controls Borno state in its entirety. These aren’t just terrorists: they are becoming a de facto state.” Even more reason for the world to take notice.

But the blame does not just lie with western media; there was little African coverage either, said Allison. No leaders were condemning the attacks, nor did any talk of a solidarity movement, he said, adding that “our outrage and solidarity over the Paris massacre is also a symbol of how we as Africans neglect Africa’s own tragedies, and prioritise western lives over our own.”

Christ, if that isn’t the most horrific thing ever. White people, let’s get our shit together and recognize that black people’s lives mean as much as ours. If we were at that point, this massacre in Nigeria would be at the top of the news cycle, since a whole lot of people died last week from radical religious violence who weren’t in France.

Doug MacEachern is being icky again

09 Jan 2015 12:46 pm
Posted by: Donna

Seriously, just eww

So the other day I hauled out a Costco-sized jug of brain bleach and proceeded to read this Doug MacEachern column.

In terms of fundraising tactics, there is not a wit [sic] of difference between the National Rifle Association and, say, America’s premier abortion industry complex, Planned Parenthood.

Now, MacEachern would like everyone to think he’s a world-weary scribe, merely pursuing objective truth on the subject of abortion. He recently sniffed that people shouldn’t describe him as “anti-choice” since he hasn’t stated his position on abortion. However (and protip to Doug), using the phrase “America’s premier abortion industry complex” about Planned Parenthood without even sparing, say, a concomitant “America’s top gun shilling edifice” about the NRA, kind of gives his game away.

I pointed this out to a liberal political-activist friend who had tweeted some charts depicting abortion rights as under siege, especially in certain states deemed “extremely hostile” to abortion rights.

With its alarming “extremely hostile” language and its fire-orange graphics, Guttmacher, simply, is doing what big, constitutionally protected, single-issue advocacy groups do, which is to maintain a sense of dread among supporters that the barbarians are at the gates and only big contributions from people like you will fend them off.

Nothing against the folks at Guttmacher, mind you. As numbers-crunchers working on behalf of big special-interest groups go, they are known to be pretty accurate, usually. But that doesn’t mean Guttmacher’s propaganda shop can’t over-hype those numbers to ply the emotions of potential contributors to the (ahem) mother-ship, Planned Parenthood.

This may be MacEachern’s (ahem) way of reminding you that Planned Parenthood is an organization dedicated to getting women out of their obligation to be mothers. He’s also trying to affect a rakishly humorous tone about all this so as to, again, drive home the point that Doug MacEachern is NOT the anti-choice fuddy duddy he’s been made out to be. This is an endeavor he fails miserably at since Doug MacEarchern does, in fact, come off as every bit of a cranky old fussypants anti-choicer.

As a threat to an American woman’s right to have an abortion at pretty nearly any stage in gestation (and, perhaps, beyond), the raw total of pro-life laws passed by presumably conservative legislatures means a lot less than Guttmacher wants you to believe it means.

MacEachern, as a columnist for the paper of record for Greater Phoenix, should try a newfangled profession called journalism some time. Abortion has never been legal “at pretty nearly every stage in gestation”, let alone “perhaps, beyond”. But he won’t be bothered with that since he’d prefer simply to distrust women with their own reproduction a priori. That’s much easier and it allows him to keep writing these pathetic excuses for op-eds.

Abortion, need we observe, is a constitutionally protected act, and every single one of those 231 restrictions can be expected to have to pass through a legal strainer that, despite protestations of activists, does not allow much pro-life wiggle room. Some of those 231 laws get struck down by courts. Some are so marginally effective that they scarcely register a statistically meaningful blip on the abortion-rights radar screen. Allowing states to perform unannounced investigations of abortion centers for health-code violations is a threat to abortion rights only if you’re cool with this guy’s shop-keeping practices.

Translation: Doug MacEachern will never need an abortion and is completely uninterested in learning how these hundreds of new restrictions actually impact women seeking abortion care. That would get in the way of him grousing about kids these days and lazily repeating right wing talking points. Of course he linked to a story about Kermit Gosnell, who has become the ghoul invoked to shut down discussion over abortion hurdles passed under the guise of “safety”. “What, you don’t think women should have to swim through an alligator-infested moat to get to the abortion clinic? Why, you must be a fan of Kermit Gosnell!!” It’s so tedious. And it’s not a stretch to describe what women trying to enter abortion clinics often encounter as hostility, to use the term that MacEachern mocks derisively.

MacEachern gets back to the NRA by making the risible false equivalence argument that since guns are so plentiful, despite the non-stop bleating of the NRA about oppressive gun regulations, that the same must be true about abortion.

…The NRA has argued since former Arizona Attorney General Bob Corbin was president that the U.S. is swimming in gun-restricting laws. Charlton Heston, as NRA president, did too.

The claim has more than a few holes in it, not the least of which is that if law-abiding Americans were so suffocated by gun laws, there wouldn’t be quite so many of them, now would there? Corbin himself argued against new gun restrictions all the time as Arizona AG using that stat, which, really, is just as meaningless as Guttmacher’s 231 new anti-abortion laws. Maybe there are laws out there that seriously and unconstitutionally limit a citizen’s right to bear arms, but the sum total of laws only very rarely has bearing on that right.

Again, Doug isn’t bothered with such trifles as “research” or “journalism” or else he’d know that it’s a helluva lot easier to get a gun than an abortion in places like Texas and Arizona. Plus, most of the women affected by the new laws that are closing clinics all over the place (and driving the overall cost of abortion so high that the black market may seem to be a better option) are poor women. As I’ve noted in a previous post, the women in Doug MacEachern’s family will most likely be able to get safe abortion care no matter what, allowing Doug to confidently taunt the women who will be harmed by anti-choice laws and the pro-choice people seeking to undo the harm.

Also, too, he’s creepy as all hell about it, hence the brain bleach.

Stop thinking it can’t happen here!

08 Jan 2015 06:00 am
Posted by: Donna

This started out as a comment on someone’s Facebook post on the relationship between Islam and terrorism in the aftermath of the Paris attacks on Wednesday, but it got so long I decided to make it into a blog post.

A common argument that Islam is “different” from the other Abrahamic faiths is due to it being hundreds, if not thousands of years younger than most Jewish and Christian sects. The claim is that Muslims are going though the growing pains that Jews and Christians went through much earlier, and this explains why there is more more violence from radical Muslims today.

Obviously the chronology is right but I’m skeptical on the growing pains theory nonetheless. The reason is that several of the countries experiencing the worst religious repression and violence under Islam were, until very recently, thriving, progressive, secular countries. What changed? A variety of things, including wars and meddling into their affairs by powerful countries (ie US), which created the perfect storm for the reactionary authoritarians that exist in every group to seize the opportunity to force their rules on everyone else. It never takes the majority of the public to support a theocratic takeover, though that’s certainly helpful. It only takes a small band of committed zealots to strike fear into people through chaos and violence, or to promise them stability, or both.

This is why people who think it can’t happen here in US are deluding themselves. I can promise you, from nearly three decades of pro-choice activism, that there is a not insignificant number of Americans who are itching to impose a Christian version of Sharia law on America. They have a strong case of Jihad Envy, as is often joked wryly on the internet. And no, sorry, these authoritarians are not generally amenable to liberal arguments about how Jesus preached love and tolerance. They have their own Christ – a muscular, supply-side, neo-con Jesus. Author Jeff Sharlet, who wrote the book The Family, among other pertinent things about the American Religious Right, really opened my eyes to this.

A good model for what America could feasibly resemble under a radical theocracy is Saudi Arabia. It was never what you would call a liberal country from its inception, but in the mid-20th century Saudi Arabia was a arguably more secular than it is now and women had more freedom. A confluence of geopolitical and domestic forces converged to make it into the very strict theocracy that it is now. This has not prevented the resource-rich country from amassing wealth and enjoying many of the advances of technology (the people at the top, at least). They are not mired in the 6th century*, as they are so often described. Saudis are ruled by 21st century theocrats. The internet and robotics and the most cutting edge extraction equipment and weaponry can co-exist with total female subjugation and public beheadings, as well as fatwas and similar forms of not necessarily state-sanctioned religious-based terrorism. On that last point I assert that “stateless” terrorism does not form in a vacuum. I believe that states succumbing, by varying degrees, to religious governance can be, and often is, a precondition to it**. It’s no accident that several of the 9-11 hijackers were Saudis.

My point is that there is nothing so exceptional about America, or Judeo-Christianity, that protects this country from becoming a theocracy. It’s not about the age of the religions or special triggering phrases in the Koran that aren’t in the Old or New Testaments. If you don’t realize that there are some powerful people in the United States doing their utmost to make this country into a theocracy – the kind that will spawn legions of angry young people willing to commit violence and give up their own lives in the name of The One True Faith – then you haven’t been paying attention. Start with Jeff Sharlet. I’m not suggesting it is inevitable by any means but it can happen here. We are not special and need to get out of denial about that.

*Which makes Islam a mere few centuries younger than Christianity, throwing more doubt on the “young religion” theory.

**It’s not like that kind of thing never happens in America as it is, thanks in part to laws legitimizing hatred toward abortion providers and patients. Same goes for anti-LGBT violence.

So many people with much disposable income want to spend it on behalf of white supremacists

07 Jan 2015 06:00 am
Posted by: Donna

Remember how we’ve been told, lo these many years, that the reason for all the “extremism” in Congress and in state governments is that unwashed yokels wrested democracy from the capable hands of Serious Business People™ and were somehow able to put their petty culture war concerns ahead of The Very Important Things That Serious Business People™ Care About. Thus we are told we must eliminate public campaign financing (at least from states, e.g. Arizona, whose benighted voters are deemed unable to handle it by NYT columnists). We are told that primary elections must be changed because the conventional wisdom (which is never wrong) holds that yokels voting in closed primaries are ruining everything. Above all, we simply must impress upon these truculent yokels the need for civility in our public discourse! These things, surely, will lead to a glorious era of temperance where country club Republicans politely sip tea with centrist Democrats!

Sure they will.

Interestingly, there is a state that has no public financing of campaigns whatsoever and a jungle primary that has been in place since 1976. That state is Louisiana, which has been the locus of a bit of a kerfluffle lately.

Yes, Louisiana is home to David Duke, the KKK leader who won one of two spots in the 1991 primary election that year (Jungle Primary FTW!). But Duke continues to be important this year, due to Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Obvs) having to explain why he spoke at a Duke white supremacist event in 2002. Duke has threatened to expose other politician who he says have ties to him if Scalise is ousted from leadership. Even more disturbing is the revelation that donors to Duke’s organization have also donated to dozens of politicians from the major parties (vast majority Republican, natch).

The obvious conclusion to draw from Louisiana’s failure to become a centrist utopia despite having the primary system preferred by Serious People and no public campaign financing is that they must be home to a powerful breed of uber-yokels (with extra-strength racism!) who are able to overcome those hurdles. How else to explain why a KKK Grand Wizard could arise to such political prominence there? It’s a mystery!

Reporter Andrea Dubé drilled down into the actual money that David Duke has been able to raise and give to (mostly) Republican candidates.

At least two politicians have paid big money for David Duke’s list of supporters: two-term Louisiana Governor Murphy J. “Mike” Foster, Jr. paid $150,000, and former Louisiana state legislator (and current president of the Family Research Council) Tony Perkins paid $82,500. Both Foster and Perkins were caught trying to cover up their purchases. Other politicians have most certainly used Duke’s lists – they have just gotten better at hiding it.

Reviewing the finance reports from Duke’s last campaign for federal office in 2000, I found at least 58 politicians who have received money from donors who also gave to David Duke. This list is by no means exhaustive, in fact it only includes the data from 17 of Duke’s contributors. Duke has raised millions of dollars from national political donors, and most of this money isn’t accounted for in public records.

So what does it mean? It certainly doesn’t mean that these politicians are all white supremacists. It does mean, however, that they’ve accepted money from supporters who have financially backed a very prominent white supremacist.

It is tempting to shrug off David Duke as a radical figure who is out of touch with mainstream values. Most of these politicians probably will. Duke’s overt racism makes even the most conservative politicians nervous, and they will bend over backwards in their attempts to distance themselves from him. But the ugly secret? They are benefiting – directly and in the form of large sums of money – from Duke’s sinister world.

Below is the list of politicians who have accepted money from David Duke supporters. As you’ll see, it includes John McCain, Rand Paul, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Steve King and David Vitter among many others.

Not unwashed Clean Elections primary candidates getting $5 contributions from yokels. These are frequent contributors giving sums ranging from the hundreds to the thousands of dollars to both David Duke and several (mostly) Republican politicians, many of whom are now considered to epitomize the so-called GOP establishment.

And Steve Scalise remains the GOP Majority Whip of the US House of Representatives as of this writing because “David Duke without the baggage” is the new moderate Republican. Very Serious People™, you might want to sit down for this, but it’s looking increasingly improbable that the genteel tea sipping is going to ensue anytime soon and your face-saving narratives for our current political dysfunction (Clean Elections! The closed primaries! Uncivil rhetoric on both sides!) are dissolving.