Obvious comparisons to Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” video aside, Janelle Monae’s video for “Cold War” strikes a jarring contrast. The song’s driving beat coupled with a close-up of Monae–alone, singing, struggling not to cry–is a notable departure from her two-toned tuxwear and James Brown-like spasm dancing. I love her character–but seeing the singer behind it is cool, too.
This afternoon I went with a friend and her mother to Plimoth Plantation, the museum and living history site that focuses jointly on the native Wampanoag people and the settlers from the Mayflower and following ships who founded the Plymouth colony. My friend and I are both into history and have done a fair amount of reading in the area – I read Philbrick’s Mayflower, for one – and we were both the type of kid to pay rapt attention in school, anyway. But we found as we went through the exhibits that almost all of our knowledge and reference points could be traced to historical fiction written for children and teens. Patricia Clapp’s Constance – now, sadly, out of print – is the story of a teen girl who sailed on the Mayflower with her family, and we found ourselves talking about it constantly as we walked through the reproduction village. For colonial information not specific to Plymouth, we referenced The Witch of Blackbird Pond and American Girl’s Felicity series far more often than any of the non-fiction we’d read in school or for fun.
I doubt my friend and I are alone in this, and it makes me wonder why schools don’t integrate history and literature classes as a matter of course. (I know some do, of course.) There can be factual issues, of course – some historical novels are far more accurate than others, and fact-checking is necessary when it matters whether a detail is actually true. But kids, and adults, remember characters and stories more easily than names and dates, and even when the names and dates are important to know, story can provide a vital entry point.
And really, if you ever come across Constance at a library or used book store, you should read it. I’m going to go back and reread it myself, now that I’ve seen the setting. The novel informed my visit to the place, which, in turn, will make my reading experience all the richer.
On Wednesday, Vaughn Walker, chief judge of the Federal District Court in San Francisco, issued a landmark ruling declaring the state’s ban on marriage equality unconstitutional and without any “rational basis.” His opinion was widely praised by legal scholars, with Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick writing that “nobody can fairly accuse Judge Walker of putting together an insubstantial or unsubstantiated opinion today.”
The right wing is trying nevertheless, as they have in other states where judges ruled that denying same-sex couples marriage rights is unconstitutional. They have called for impeaching the judges, launched political campaigns to oust them, and perhaps most disturbingly, perpetrated nasty whisper campaigns about their personal lives:
– Impeachment: The right wing is already calling for the impeachment of Walker, whose main crime seems to be issuing a decision with which it disagrees. The American Family Association (AFA) sent out one of its many action alerts yesterday, saying that Walker “frustrated the express will of seven million Californians.” Margaret Marshall, chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, said that after her decision legalizing marriage equality, opponents “hired a small plane to fly for weeks over Boston” — including over her apartment building — trailing a banner reading, “Impeach Margaret Marshall.”
– Political Campaigns: Last year, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled that marriage equality is legal. Scholars said that while the decision was “politically divisive,” it was “legally sound.” Critics, however, have launched Common Sense PAC, an effort to vote three of the justices who are up for a “retention vote” in November out of office. Common Sense PAC has “spent $2,272, and had $1,392 on hand as of July 15,” and it is erecting black plywood signs that are “designed to look like a ballot, with red check marks in the “No” column for each justice.”
– Personal Attacks: The right wing is currently engaged in a vicious smear campaign to dismiss Walker’s opinion by arguing that he is gay. AFA wrote its supporters that Walker is an “open homosexual, and should have recused himself from this case due to his obvious conflict of interest.” MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan said Walker must be gay because it was “unnatural” for an “older white guy” to support marriage equality. The right wing similarly went after Marshall in 2004, saying that she allegedly “colluded with homosexuals.”
These attacks are nothing more than sour grapes and grasping for straws. As NPR’s Karen Grigsby Bates has pointed out, conservatives had no problems with Walker’s sexuality when it was first announced that he would be the judge. Supporters of Prop. 8 “did not ask that he be recused from it. They didn’t think that he’d have a conflict in overseeing it,” she said. President George H.W. Bush also nominated Walker, who was opposed by many Democrats for being perceived as anti-gay.
Conservative groups argue that repealing the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy would silence military chaplains and undermine their constitutionally-guaranteed right to freedom of religion. “If chaplains are forced to council same sex couples or are limited in the moral teachings that they can present, you can look for Orthodox Christian chaplains to exit the military, leaving an insurmountable void in the fostering of an environment that ensures that the man and women who wear the uniform are in their best mental, emotional and spiritual condition necessary to defend the nation and the ideals that they represent,” the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins explained back in April.
But in a recent Letter to the Editor published in USA Today, Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson — the first openly gay priest elected bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion — argues that this argument “raises needless fears based on a flawed understanding of the policies that govern the military chaplaincy“:
These policies are designed to preserve and protect the free exercise of religion in the military and would remain in effect after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT).
No Roman Catholic, fundamentalist Christian or Orthodox Jewish chaplain would have to change her or his beliefs about homosexuality. If any gay or lesbian servicemembers went to one of these chaplains, they would still receive the counseling against homosexuality they have always received. What they wouldn’t receive is a discharge from their military service for being gay and speaking about it.
Presumably, these same chaplains have counseled soldiers against getting an abortion, even though it is perfectly legal to do so. Speaking against homosexuality is what gay and lesbian soldiers have come to expect from these brands of religious leaders. Within each chaplain’s congregation, he or she will continue to be free to preach according to the tenets of his or her own faith. That will not change.
In other words, file this claim under “still can’t come up with an explanation of how same-sex marriage negatively affects straight people.” During the Prop 8 trial, “proponents in their trial brief promised to ‘demonstrate that redefining marriage to encompass same-sex relationships’ would effect some twenty-three specific harmful consequences,” but provided “no credible evidence to support any of the claimed adverse effects proponents promised to demonstrate.” When asked to identify the evidence at trial that supported this contention during closing arguments, “proponents’ counsel replied, ‘”you don’t have to have evidence of this point.’”
The lack of evidence about harm prompted Judge Walker to conclude, “Because the evidence shows same-sex marriage has and will have no adverse effects on society or the institution of marriage, California has no interest in waiting and no practical need to wait to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Proposition 8 is thus not rationally related to proponents’ purported interests in proceeding with caution when implementing social change.”
Robinson took one other swipe at the Chaplains who are complaining about ending DADT, “If chaplains can operate effectively in a war zone, surely they can withstand some subtle pressure to accept all soldiers as the children of God they were created to be,” he wrote.
There’s nothing to do:
— Why Peter Diamond matters.
— Why deficit hawks should love the Affordable Care Act.
— Deficit hawks don’t love the Affordable Care Act because “deficit hawks” are generally just orthodox conservatives playing pretend.
— Orthodox conservative Paul Ryan is only pretending to have a plan to balance the budget.
— Anthony Weiner’s curious stance on religious freedom.
Going to see Arcade Fire play tonight. Here’s “Suburban War”.
Earlier this week, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) admitted what many of his Republican colleagues will not: that extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans will “dig the hole deeper” when it comes to the deficit. But that hasn’t changed Cantor’s desire to spend $830 billion to extend the cuts anyway. But if the tax cuts were actually extended, how would Cantor go about reducing the deficit? Today, Robert Barbera, chief economist of Mount Lucas Management — who seems sympathetic to extending all of the Bush tax cuts himself — asked Cantor three times what he would do to get the long-term budget deficit under control if the cuts were extended. “Excuse me, do you have any proposals about out-year cuts in entitlement expenditures?” he asked. The results were predictable:
CANTOR: First of all, let’s just talk about these so-called tax cuts. If you look at the entrepreneurs and small and large businesses out there, nobody’s getting a tax cut. One of two things is going to happen in January. Taxes go up or they stay the same.
BARBERA: No, no, no, I agree. I want my taxes to stay the same. I agree with you. I’m just saying if the contention is that we have a large expenditure problem, can’t you attach to this, and end the debate, some cuts in out-year entitlement spending? You’re saying we need to cut spending, so let’s cut spending.
CANTOR: Absolutely, listen, we’ve got spending to cut in the short-term, and what we’ve got is a huge problem in the long-term, where we’ve got to get serious about it. You’re absolutely right.
BARBERA: We could get serious about it now. In other words, there’s nothing preventing you from saying ‘I would propose that we cut, ten years out, expenditures on Social Security by blank.’ You could do that today. You could put out a press release.
Cantor finally came to the eloquent conclusion that we need a “commitment to long-term address these situations.” As the Wonk Room explains further, the GOP’s collective inability to name any solutions for the deficit shows that they’re fundamentally disinterested in serious budgeting. Of course, considering that Cantor’s “big idea” for job creation is “to get, to get, to produce an environment where we can have job creation again,” his performance really isn’t surprising.
The Los Angeles Times’ Noam Levey has an interesting article this morning examining just how powerless some state regulators are when it comes to controlling out of control health insurance premiums. Under the new health care law, these regulators are tasked with reviewing premiums and denying “unreasonable” increase, but as Levey discovered, in some states, insurers have effectively neutered their effectiveness:
Since 2003, insurance companies and HMO’s have given more than $42 million in state-level campaign contributions, often targeting lawmakers who sit on the committees that decide how much power regulators will have, according to campaign finance data analyzed by the Tribune Washington Bureau and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
In some of the nation’s largest states, those same lawmakers have effectively blocked legislative efforts to control the industry.
Now, consumer advocates and administration officials are urgently trying to spark new state efforts because the new healthcare law only gives the federal government limited power to regulate premiums, traditionally a state responsibility. The Obama administration plans to announce a series of $1 million grants next week to help states increase their oversight.
The health law makes $250,000,000 in grants available to states to review premium increases between 2010 and 2014. To qualify for a grant, a state must provide the Secretary with “trends in premium increases in health insurance coverage in premium rating areas in the State” and “make recommendations, as appropriate, to the State Exchange about whether particular health insurance issuers should be excluded from the Exchange based on a pattern or practice of excessive or unjustified premium increases.”
The first round of rate review grants did not require states to adopt a strict prior review process that would have given regulators the authority to deny “unreasonable” increases, and one would think that this will change with subsequent waves of grant dollars. Unfortunately, some states like California — a state that has passed legislation implementing large portions of the law — are already falling short of expectations, prompting the group Consumer Watchdog to ask HHS Secretary Sebelius to reject the state’s application. “We ask this not to deprive the state of needed funds, but to prevent the funds from being used for a purpose that is near-opposite the intent of the law,” the group wrote.” “In effect, the state would use the HHS grant money to hire actuaries who may be able to look at insurance rates but will be prevented by law from regulating them. The governor’s legislative proposal, referenced in the grant application, explicitly states that when an insurance rate is found to be both unreasonable and unjustified, or plain inaccurate, the most that regulators may do is to publish that information online.”
Currently, 23 states do not review and approve premium changes in the individual market and 5 of those 23 have no rate regulations at all. HHS will need to establish clear standards for giving out grant dollars and Levey’s article about the existing status quo only reiterates the importance of adequate rate review.
I’m not sure I grasp the logic here:
“What you don’t need to have is an eight-month battle for who the director or the head or chairperson of this new consumer financial protection bureau will be,” Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat and chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Conversations with Judy Woodruff,” to be broadcast today.
Considering Mitch McConnell’s apparent reluctance to allow anyone to be confirmed to anything, I don’t see any particular reason to believe Michael Barr or anyone else will have a smooth confirmation process. And under the circumstances, isn’t an eight-month battle over the confirmation of a charismatic consumer champion exactly what you need? Realistically, the macroeconomic trends portend doom one way or the other, but that seems like about the best political fight you can imagine.
A cynical colleague suggested that Dodd is just looking to set himself up as a bank lobbyist. But my cynical colleagues aren’t cynical enough! Putting Warren in office will massively increase the market for bank lobbyists since you can tell people that the CFPB is going to come up with all kinds of nutty ideas that more “reasonable” members of the administration will be willing to overrule if you hire the right former Senator to make the case.
Reminder to critics who think a mosque is offensive to the legacy of 9/11: There’s already one at the Pentagon.
In opposing the planned Islamic community center two blocks from Ground Zero in New York City, conservative stalwarts have picked up on right-wing extremists’ paranoid hysteria over the initiative. In an interview with RealClearPolitics today, Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) joined Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Liz Cheney, and many others in attacking the plan as an “inappropriate” affront to 9/11 victims. Deeming the site “hallowed” and “sacred ground,” he asserted that “we shouldn’t have images or activities that degrade or disrespect [the site] in anyway.” But, as Salon’s Justin Elliott points out, Pawlenty and company are “strangely silent” over the fact that “Muslims have been praying inside the Pentagon since Sept. 11″:
Yes, Muslims have infiltrated the Pentagon for their nefarious, prayerful purposes — daring to practice their religion inside the building where 184 people died on Sept. 11, 2001. They haven’t even had the sensitivity to move two blocks, let alone a mile, away from that sacred site.
In noting the Pentagon’s Ramadan celebrations and a Qur’an reading at a 9/11 memorial service one month after the attack, Elliott points out that “no one has ever heard about Muslims praying at the Pentagon — let alone cared.” “It’s almost as if the entire ‘ground zero mosque’ controversy was whipped up out of nothing by a right-wing tabloid and politicians in search of a wedge issue,” he said. (HT: Daily Kos)
Also sent back to the White House due to inaction was the nomination of MIT professor Peter Diamond to the Federal Reserve Board. But unlike the judge Whitehouse is concerned with, Republicans were around to hear a request dispensing with the kick-back. They simply objected to it:
Under Senate rules, all nominations that aren’t completed before a lengthy recess go back to the White House and have to be resubmitted unless the Senate unanimously agrees to hold onto them and act later, Stewart said. Routinely, the Senate does agree to retain the nominations. If a single senator objects, the name goes back to the president’s office. In Diamond’s case, at least one senator did that. [Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) spokesman Don] Stewart said he didn’t know the identity of the lawmakers.
Whitehouse said that the re-submission rule “adds nothing to the process other than…deliberate and unnecessary hassle.” And in the case of Diamond, it leads to the Federal Reserve remaining shorthanded at a critical time for the economy. “It’s very hard for the Federal Reserve to operate with only five people,” said former Fed Governor H. Robert Heller. “To have the Fed at full strength with seven persons there is very important.”
As David Dayen put it, it sure seems like Republicans are “just obstructing for sport now.” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) has expressed concern that Diamond was not qualified for the position, but as Matt Yglesias pointed out, his PhD in economics means he “would clearly raise the level of macroeconomic expertise on a board that’s currently dominated by bankers and bank regulators.”
This is just part and parcel of an unprecedented effort by Republicans to slow down, stall, and delay the Senate, thereby denying the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats the opportunity to claim any accomplishments. The Fed currently is contemplating, though hasn’t undertaken, more steps to boost employment amidst the sluggish recovery. Diamond, as well as Obama’s two other Fed nominees, would likely be in the camp that wants to take such steps.