The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Syria and have therefore raised their security level from “Miffed” to “Peeved.” Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to “Irritated” or even “A Bit Cross.” The English have not been “A Bit Cross” since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorised from “Tiresome” to “A Bloody Nuisance.” The last time the British issued a “Bloody Nuisance” warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.

The Scots have raised their threat level from “Pissed Off” to “Let’s get the Bastards.” They don’t have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

– The indefatigable John Cleese[*], who is, in his words, “a British writer, actor, and tall person.” To read more about the current Terror Alert Levels of various countries, you can find the rest of Cleese’s notice here.

*As soon as I put this up I discovered that this was probably not written by Cleese, but by someone attempting to imitate his style of comedy and satire (at least according to Snopes.com). Still pretty funny.

Ideas

At the age of 19, when I was a college freshman, motivated by the promise of some quick cash and adventure, I embarked on a Hunter S. Thompson–esque road trip. I got in my rusted-out Impala and drove from Berkeley to San Diego with a few kilos of marijuana in the trunk. It was an uneventful drive south. I delivered the weed to a friend of a friend, slept on his couch and headed home.

On the way home, however, I was stopped by a highway-patrol officer outside the city of Salinas. The officer called for backup and more police arrived. They thoroughly searched the car, even looking under the spare tire and unscrewing a flashlight. They found nothing, because there was nothing to be found. I look back with abject horror at how much my life since then would have been different if I’d been stopped on my way…

View original post 952 more words

In this past 2012 election, we North Carolina voters finished giving the entire state government to Republicans – and not the moderate, “business-minded” Republicans North Carolinians are accustomed to, but the same far-right social conservatives who are plaguing the rest of the country – as we had begun to do in the Tea Party wave of 2010, shepherded along as we were by the massive amounts of money from conservative leader and corrupting influence Art Pope (a subject I have written about previously here, among other places). Apparently aware that their extremely conservative proposals are likely to precipitate an imminent backlash from historically moderate and increasingly young and progressive NC voters, Republicans in the statehouse have tried to cram in as many bedrock-conservative agenda items as possible as quickly as possible, and in so doing destroy some of the best things about North Carolina.

From an expansive and enlightening article from Chris Kromm and Sue Sturgis, writing for The American Prospect:

Recognizing that this conservative moment might not last long, Republican legislators are moving swiftly. Despite the headlines, the most notorious bills—like the resolution to establish a state religion or the measure to outlaw public nipple displays—have been nonstarters. But the core of Pope’s agenda is going ahead. Every lawmaker in North Carolina knows that agenda: Scale back taxes, especially for businesses and the wealthy; slice away at the social safety net; and reverse the state’s focus on public schools as an engine for social and economic progress.

In February, lawmakers decreased maximum weekly unemployment benefits from $535 to $350 and shortened the period in which workers can receive them—an especially harsh measure given that unemployment in North Carolina is the nation’s fifth highest at 9.2 percent. North Carolina is one of 15 states that refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, a move that would have covered about 500,000 uninsured North Carolinians with the federal government picking up the tab. Now Governor McCrory is pushing to privatize management of the state Medicaid program, which would funnel North Carolina tax dollars to out-of-state managed-care companies while raising costs and reducing access to care.

Taxes became more regressive when lawmakers voted to end the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, which was claimed in 2011 by more than 900,000 low-income, working North Carolinians. Senate Republicans are now considering a bill to cut the state’s corporate income tax from the highest to the lowest in the Southeast, which would be low indeed. It could have been worse. An earlier Senate plan, promoted by Pope’s Civitas Institute, would have abolished corporate and personal income taxes altogether, replacing them with a higher sales tax—the most regressive form of taxation. Even Pope shot down that idea, saying sales-tax increases would “hurt the economy.” (They would definitely have affected sales in his retail chain.)

Republicans have also set their sights on gutting environmental laws, proposing to repeal the state’s renewable-energy standard, speed the way for fracking, and allow offshore drilling for oil and gas. The party is also taking aim at the historic centerpiece of North Carolina progressivism: public education, which has long been a target of Pope’s network. Last session, cuts to schools eliminated more than 4,300 teaching jobs. This time, one Republican bill would shift $90 million of public-school funding to private schools through vouchers. Another would eliminate teacher tenure. A proposal to shutter at least one UNC campus is on hold, following a public outcry.

We gave them the state, and this is what they are doing with it. Perhaps the most tragic effort is what they are trying to do to North Carolina’s exemplary voting procedures, which had “become a national model for clean elections and expanded turnout, thanks to reforms like early voting, same-day registration, and public financing of some races.” Because of the advantage the expanded turnout gave to Democrats in 2008, Bill Cook of the state senate – under the influence of Art Pope – has proposed the following:

So the senator introduced a strict measure to require government–issued photo ID at the polls, slash the number of early-voting days, eliminate same-day registration during early voting, and delay by five years the time it takes for former felons to regain their voting rights. None of these proposals is original; they’re the same voter-suppression measures floated in recent years by Republican legislators from Wisconsin to Georgia. But then Cook got creative. He co-sponsored Senate Bills 666 and 667, both of which would ban parents from claiming their college children as dependents on their state taxes if those children vote on campus (as most students do). Then he filed Senate Bill 668, prohibiting the “mentally incompetent” from voting. Why? Because, as Cook told The Charlotte Observer, he had once seen such a person be “manipulated” at the polls.

If you live in North Carolina you should definitely read the entire article.

Measuring American Legislatures

America’s state legislatures are polarized–just like Congress–between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. That polarization creates gridlock, when it’s difficult to get legislation passed and policy problems addressed.

But just how polarized are they? We haven’t been able to tell in the past, because we haven’t been able to determine just how liberal or conservative state legislators are in all 50 states. One major reason why is that each state in its own way is rather unique. Massachusetts Republicans aren’t the same as Texas Republicans; the same is true for each state’s Democrats. Nor do they vote on the same things. These immutable differences mean that measuring  ideology–and levels of polarization–in state legislatures is much more difficult than that for Congress.

Nolan McCarty (Princeton University) and I wrote an academic paper in 2011 that explained our method for overcoming this problem. We have been working diligently since then to update our data…

View original post 313 more words

An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty banished, war eliminated.”

– A quote from American Atheists founder Madalyn Murray O’Hair, soon to be gracing the surface of the country’s first public atheist monument, which is about to be erected in the small community of Starke, Florida, in reaction to a longstanding controversy regarding a Ten Commandments monument that was set up outside the Bradford County Courthouse in Starke last year. The organization American Atheists sued to have the Ten Commandments removed, and and the atheist monument is being erected as part of a settlement.

Though dueling monuments isn’t exactly the least ridiculous result that could have come of this, I agree with Ken Loukinen, the director of regional operations for American Atheists, that, “We’d rather there be no monuments at all, but if they are allowed to have the Ten Commandments, we will have our own.” It is a small step forward. A threshold has been breached, a barrier has been broken, a modicum of progress has been made toward a just and balanced society where state is actually free of church. Though I’m certainly not anti-religion, personally, separation of church and state – complete separation – is one of the most important issues facing us today, and, well, separation is getting its ass kicked.

2_photo

This is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a while.

From the website PolicyMic.com (and I give enormous credit to whoever did the legwork in going through all of these):

One of the things that members of Congress do the worst is make graphs. You may have come across these graphs during a nightly-news segment. Some person in a suit is standing next to a graph on an easel like it’s their third grade science fair project, because even though we now live in the 21st century, we still can’t seem to advance beyond poster board. 

Thanks to the best C-SPAN employee ever, we can now present you with a compilation of the worst charts ever produced. A Tumblr called “Floor Charts” was created by Bill Gray. Gray has over 800 posts on his Tumblr of the worst pieces of visual representation this country has ever seen. From some of the worst graphic design ever recorded, to just being plain old unreadable, these posters have been a mainstay on the Congressional floor for decades. They will amaze and astound you in their terribleness.

3. “Make it” in Clip-Art.

1_image-large

4. “We repurposed a group project from 7th grade.”

1_image-large-1

7. “Let me explain this to you in terms you will understand.”

1_image-large-2

 

There are twenty-nine more. To see the rest, go here.

…and if you happen to be Michael Fletcher, writing for the Washington Post, you can’t please anybody. Depending on who you’re reading, Fletcher’s recent post on the newfound GOP majority’s agenda in the North Carolina statehouse is either “shoddy journalism, as likely to obscure as to inform people about the true state of affairs in North Carolina, serving among other things to paper over the excesses of a broadly unpopular agenda,” or it “paint[s] North Carolina as politically extreme” and furthers “the narrative that the liberal media loved to further last year during campaign season to alarm Democratic voters and bash Republicans as racists.”

The first characterization of Fletcher’s post comes from Jonathan Weiler, writing for the Huffington Post, who argues – vehemently – that the post is a travesty that bolsters Republican positions without articulating their true consequences, and belittles Democratic concerns:

The Washington Post this weekend offered a particularly dismaying entry in this regard in an article on the extraordinary developments in North Carolina. The article does note that since Pat McCrory took over the governor’s mansion in January, the state GOP has pushed North Carolina “hard to the right.” The ongoing legislative session in Raleigh has been a master class in venality, spite and contempt, resulting in, among many other things, the rejection of Medicaid expansion — thus denying half a million North Carolinians health insurance; extreme attacks on voting rights; proposals that would result in an historic shift in the tax burden away from the wealthy and toward the middle class and the poor; massive cuts in education to the university system, K-12 education and pre-K; and efforts to gut environmental regulations.

Author Michael Fletcher noted some of these proposed cuts, but repeatedly gave Republicans a platform to justify their proposals, while providing none for their Democratic opponents in state government nor offering any independent scrutiny of their claims.

The latter characterization of Fletcher’s post comes from Jeffrey Meyer, writing for the conservative, media-criticizing site NewsBusters, who argues that the post is a liberal diatribe, skewing the facts in favor of furthering a national liberal agenda, and unfairly criticizing the North Carolina GOP:

The May 26 edition of The Washington Post chose not to describe this as local politics in the Tar Heel State catching up with its federal voting patterns but rather an example of a “hard turn to the right.”

In a 25-paragraph front page article, author Michael Fletcher lamented the state’s changing political dynamic, highlighting the “dozens of liberal demonstrators” who are “subjecting themselves to arrest each Monday at the state legislature” before going into details of how the North Carolina GOP capitalized on the state’s poor economy during Democratic stewardship to capture the legislature and governorship.

After devoting several paragraphs to the legislative ambitions of the newly-minted GOP legislature, Fletcher then returned to hyping opposition to GOP control, including quotes from the liberal group the Advancement Project, which objects to new laws requiring a photo ID to vote.

The Post’s decision to label North Carolina as shifting hard to the right is likely language that was not used to describe states like Maryland who have seen strong shifts to the Left in recent years. Instead, the Post has chosen to paint North Carolina as politically extreme, with liberal groups such as the NAACP using, “some of the tactics of the civil rights movement” to oppose GOP policies in the state.

The dynamic juxtaposition of these two perspectives criticizing the same post for furthering for two diametrically opposed viewpoints was too rhetorically stimulating to pass up. As Matt Alby said, ‘I think it takes a special kind of rhetorical talent to draw an admonition from both of those groups at the same time.” It’s also a pretty good example of the enigmatic media manipulation tactic known as “spin,” and one can’t help but view the takeaway lesson of this as being the cynical reality that content and substance are secondary to agenda, at least for these two institutions. That, and the fact that the political situation in North Carolina is scalding hot to touch on the national stage, with both sides ready to pounce. If Pat McCrory had made the statement ‘I don’t like waffles,’ there would have been accusations of political connotations to it. What is getting lost a little bit here is the increasingly dire situation here in North Carolina, particularly for the poor, the facts of which are not really being argued. The point, of course, has been missed by the national media organizations.

The Insomnograph

Dispatches from the Pit

John Hively's Blog: News and Analysis of the War Against the Middle Class

By The World's Most Accurate Economic Forecaster Since 1989.

Digestible Politics

Politics Made Easy!

The PEEL Literary Arts Magazine

your voice. your vision.

the first casualty.

irregular digressions into politics, media, and tech

The Secular Jurist

Social commentary from a perspective of moral secularism

TED Blog

The TED Blog shares interesting news about TED, TED Talks video, the TED Prize and more.

Regaining the Center

Commentary on the Politics of Division

gunsdrugsandinsanity

Ending government prohibition on guns and drugs.

The Political Equation

The intersection of data and intuition