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11/10/2015

INSIGHT KANSAS: BROWNBACK AND HIS POLICIES ARE OUT OF TOUCH

Filed under: prairie musings, print news, Sam Brownback, GOP — Peg Britton @ 6:30 pm

INSIGHT KANSAS: Brownback and his policies are out of touch
NOVEMBER 5, 2015 BY HAYS POST 5 by H. Edward Flentje

The far-right Republicans who have commandeered the Kansas Republican Party and taken control of the executive and legislative branches of state government are strikingly out of touch with the vast majority of Kansans, including members of their own party, according to the recent annual survey conducted by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs, Fort Hays State University.

The survey indicates that this partisan faction has advanced policies over the past five years that are out of sync with the preferences of Kansans on a broad range of issues, such as block grants for schools, guns on college campuses, Medicaid expansion, same-sex marriage, immigration policy, and election fraud, among others.

However, these partisans are most dramatically insulated from Kansans’ views on what they claim as their signature achievement, their actions to eliminate the state income tax. According to the survey Kansans express opposition to this radical tax policy on a number of fronts.

For starters, 61 percent of survey respondents say that this tax policy has been a failure in terms of economic growth; 30 percent say it has been “a tremendous failure.” Only one in nine Republicans surveyed said that the tax policy has been a success.

Those surveyed also do not believe their tax burden has been reduced. When asked to consider sales, property, and state income taxes, 74 percent say their tax burden has increased. Only 5 percent say it has decreased. These respondents must be aware that income tax cuts have resulted in two rounds of hundred-million dollar state sales tax increases plus tax shifts onto property taxes totaling well into the hundreds of millions.

Nearly two thirds of those surveyed say taxes on top income earners should be increased, a preference in direct opposition to sales tax boosts advocated by Governor Sam Brownback and legislative leaders. The one tax that reaches those with higher incomes is the income tax. Sales taxes shift the tax burden from those with higher incomes onto those with lower incomes.

Over half of the Kansans surveyed also express support for exempting food from the state sales tax, an action that would soften the impact of sales tax increases on those with lower incomes. However, the dire condition of state finance caused by income tax cuts forestalled such proposals in the legislature.

Survey respondents expressed displeasure with the performance of Brownback who has championed the tax plan as his legacy. Dissatisfaction with the governor’s performance has ballooned to 69 percent, up from 31 percent during his first year in office. Over half of Republicans surveyed express dissatisfaction with Brownback.

Positive appraisal of Brownback has fallen every year since the tax cuts first passed in 2012, to the point that only 18 percent of the respondents in this year’s survey express satisfaction with his performance. A meager 30 percent of the Republicans surveyed expressed satisfaction with Brownback’s performance.

What is going on here? Kansas voters elected and reelected these right-wing lawmakers to office in 2010, 2012, and 2014. What explains this chasm between what Kansans say they want and the actions of their elected representative? Several factors are in play.

Interest group funding of thousands of campaign postcards attacking challengers aided these incumbent officeholders. The $17 million in undisclosed, outside money that flooded the 2014 U.S. senate race and demonized the opposition swayed uncertain voters. Some voters were more motivated by social issues such as abortion than state taxes. Primary elections and restrictions on election access also gave advantage to an energized minority. And too many eligible voters simply did not vote.

Only Kansas voters can bridge this gulf between the governed and those governing.

H. Edward Flentje is professor emeritus at Wichita State University.

8/23/2015

ROLLING STONE: MATT TAIBBI HIT THE ROAD WITH THE REPUBLICAN CIRCUS…INSIDE THE GOP CLOWN CAR…

Filed under: prairie musings, print news, GOP — Peg Britton @ 9:05 pm

Inside the GOP Clown Car

On the campaign trail in Iowa, Donald Trump’s antics have forced the other candidates to get crazy or go home

By Matt Taibbi August 12, 2015

Matt Taibbi hit the road with the Republican Party circus Illustration by Victor Juhasz

The thing is, when you actually think about it, it’s not funny. Given what’s at stake, it’s more like the opposite, like the first sign of the collapse of the United States as a global superpower. Twenty years from now, when we’re all living like prehistory hominids and hunting rats with sticks, we’ll probably look back at this moment as the beginning of the end.

In the meantime, though, the race for the Republican Party presidential nomination sure seems funny. The event known around the world as hashtagGOPClownCar is improbable, colossal, spectacular and shocking; epic, monumental, heinous and disgusting. It’s like watching 17 platypuses try to mount the queen of England. You can’t tear your eyes away from it.

It will go down someday as the greatest reality show ever conceived. The concept is ingenious. Take a combustible mix of the most depraved and filterless half-wits, scam artists and asylum Napoleons America has to offer, give them all piles of money and tell them to run for president. Add Donald Trump. And to give the whole thing a perverse gravitas, make the presidency really at stake.

It’s Western civilization’s very own car wreck. Even if you don’t want to watch it, you will. It’s that awesome of a spectacle.

But what does it mean? Or to put it another way, since we know it can’t mean anything good: Is this enough of a disaster that we shouldn’t laugh?

I went to Iowa to see for myself.

Rockwell City, Iowa, evening, July 30th. I’ve just rushed up from Des Moines to catch my first event on the Clown Car tour, a stump speech by TV personality Mike Huckabee, whom the Internet says was also once governor of Arkansas.

Traditionally, in these early stages of a presidential campaign, very little happens. Candidates treat their stump work like comedians practicing new material between the lunch and dinner hours. In the old days, they tiptoed their positions out before small audiences in little farm towns like this in an effort to see what minor policy tweaks might play better later on in the race, when the bullets start flying for real.

That’s what one normally expects. But 2016 is very different, as I found out in Rockwell City right away.

Two factors have combined to make this maybe the most unlikely political story of our times. The first is the campaign’s extraordinary number of entrants. As The Washington Post noted last fall, this is the first time in recent memory that there is no heir-apparent candidate (like a Bob Dole). For some reason, during the last years of the Obama presidency, the national Republican Party chose not to throw its weight behind anyone, leading a monstrous field of has-beens and never-weres to believe that they had a real shot at winning the nomination.

So throughout this spring and summer, a new Human Punchline seemingly jumped into the race every week. There were so many of these jokers, coming so fast, that news commentators quickly latched onto the image of a parade of clowns emerging from a political Volkswagen, giving birth to the “clown car” theme.

But the more important factor has been the astounding presence of Donald Trump as the front-runner. The orangutan-haired real estate magnate entered the race in mid-June and immediately blew up cable and Twitter by denouncing Mexicans as rapists and ripping 2008 nominee John McCain for having been captured in war.

Both moves would have been fatal to “serious” candidates in previous elections. But amid the strange Republican leadership void of 2016, the furor only gave Trump further saturation among the brainless nativists in his party and inexplicably vaulted him to front-runner status. The combination of Trump constantly spewing crazy quotes and the strategy actually working turned his campaign into a veritable media supernova, earning the Donald more coverage than all of the other candidates combined.

This led to a situation where the candidates have had to resort to increasingly bizarre tactics in order to win press attention. Add to this the curious dynamic of the first Republican debate, on August 6th, in which only the top 10 poll performers get on the main stage, and the incentive to say outlandish things in search of a poll bump quickly reached a fever pitch. So much for the cautious feeling-out period: For the candidates, it was toss grenades or die.

Back in the Rockwell City library, the small contingent of reporters covering the day’s third “Huckabee Huddle” was buzzing. A local TV guy was staring at his notes with a confused look on his face, like he couldn’t believe what he read. “Weirdest thing,” he said. “I was just in Jefferson, and Huckabee said something about invoking the 14th and 5th amendments to end abortion. I’m really not sure what he meant.”

This GOP race is a minute-to-minute contest for media heat and Internet hits, where positive and negative attention are almost equally valuable.

A moment later, Huckabee sauntered into the library for an ad-hoc presser, and was quickly asked what he meant. “Just what I said,” he quipped. “It is the job of the federal government to protect the citizens under the Constitution.”

He went on to explain that even the unborn were entitled to rights of “due process and equal protection.” The attendant reporters all glanced sideways at one another. The idea of using the 14th Amendment, designed to protect the rights of ex-slaves, as a tool to outlaw abortion in the 21st century clearly would have its own dark appeal to the Fox crowd. But it occurred to me that Huckabee might have had more in mind.

“Are we talking about sending the FBI or the National Guard to close abortion clinics?” I asked.

“We’ll see when I get to be president,” he answered.

Huckabee smiled. Perhaps alone among all the non-Trump candidates, Huckabee knows what kind of fight he’s in. This GOP race is not about policy or electability or even raising money. Instead, it’s about Nielsen ratings or trending. It’s a minute-to-minute contest for media heat and Internet hits, where positive and negative attention are almost equally valuable.

Huckabee launched his campaign on May 5th, running on a carefully crafted and somewhat unconventional Republican platform centered around economic populism, vowing to end “stagnant wages” and help people reach a “higher ground.”

But emphasizing economic populism is the kind of wonky policy nuance that doesn’t do much to earn notice in the Twitter age. After an early bump pushed him briefly up to fourth place, Huckabee began a steady slide in the polls as the unrestrained lunacy of Trump began seizing control of the race. By late July, Huckabee’s numbers had fallen, and he had to be worrying that he would land out of the top 10.

But then, on July 25th, Huckabee gave an interview to Breitbart News in which he shamelessly invoked Godwin’s Law, saying that Barack Obama’s deal with Iran “would take the Israelis and basically march them to the door of the oven.”

The quote hit the airwaves like a thunderclap. Virtually everyone in the English-speaking world with an IQ over nine shrieked in disgust. The Huckster’s “ovens” rant brought MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski to near-tears on air. Huckabee even prompted an Israeli transportation minister to exclaim, Dirty Dancing-style, “Nobody marches the Jews to ovens anymore.”

Even in Huckabee’s own party, he was denounced. Jeb Bush, anxious to cast himself as the non-crazy, Uncola Republican in a field of mental incompetents, called on everyone to “tone down the rhetoric.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, known as one of America’s most dickishly unscrupulous hate merchants, said, “You’re not hearing me use that sort of language.”

But far from being deterred by all of the negative attention, Huckabee shrewdly embraced it. Much like the Donald, Huckabee swallowed up the negative press energy like a Pac-Man and steamed ahead, and was soon climbing in the polls again.

Huckabee had stumbled into the truth that has been driving the support for the Trump campaign: That in this intensely media-driven race, inspiring genuine horror and disgust among the right people is worth a lot of votes in certain quarters, irrespective of how you go about it. If you’re making an MSNBC anchor cry or rendering a coastal media villain like Anderson Cooper nearly speechless (as Trump has done), you must be doing something right.

In Rockwell City, it seemed like Huckabee was consciously trying to repeat his “ovens” stunt. He smiled as the media in attendance filed out of the presser, surely knowing we would have the “we’ll see” quote up on social media within minutes.

At the event, he was glowingly introduced by Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King, who revved the crowd by bashing the Supreme Court ruling clearing the way for gay marriage. King had apparently been told on good authority by a lawyer friend that Obergefell v. Hodges meant that only one party in a marriage had to be a human being. “What that means,” he said, “is you can now marry my lawn mower.”

A reporter next to me leaned over. “King’s lawn mower is gay?”

I shrugged. In the modern Republican Party, making sense is a secondary consideration. Years of relentless propaganda combined with extreme frustration over the disastrous Bush years and two terms of a Kenyan Muslim terrorist president have cast the party’s right wing into a swirling suckhole of paranoia and conspiratorial craziness. There is nothing you can do to go too far, a fact proved, if not exactly understood, by the madman, Trump.

Huckabee’s speech tossed plenty of red meat into the grinder, explaining that America was divinely created by “providence of almighty God,” which is the only explanation for the extreme longevity of the Constitution. He stepped down to hearty applause, giving way to a performance by a group of Rockwell City Republican women, who sang what they called a “rap song.” There was no beat and each of the 10-odd singers was off from the next by a word or two:

People want the freedom

To make medical and personal choices!

And we want representatives

To listen to our voices!

Listening, I suddenly worried that the International Federation of Black People would detect this “rap” performance from afar and call in an air strike. Sneaking out the front door, I checked my phone to see how Huck’s abortion-clinic play was doing: He’d already set off a media shitstorm.

Within 24 hours, he was being denounced across the blogosphere, but he was soon riding up in the polls again, one of the few shoo-ins to get on the main stage of the August 6th debate.

It was astounding, watching the other entrants try to duplicate Huckabee’s feat. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was last seen on the national stage choking on his own face in an infamous 2011 debate performance, when he was unable to name the three federal agencies he himself had promised to do away with. He returned to the race this year basically the same gaffe-spewing yutz he was four years ago, only dressed in preposterous “smart” glasses, a deadly error in a fight with a natural schoolyard bully like Donald Trump.

“He put glasses on so people will think he’s smart,” Trump croaked. “And it just doesn’t work!”

Perry was so grateful to even be mentioned by Trump that he refocused his campaign apparatus on an epic response, apparently in an attempt to draw the Donald into a Drake/Meek Mill-style diss war. He tossed off a 3,000-word speech denouncing “Trumpism” as the modern incarnation of the Know-Nothing movement (one could almost hear Trump scoffing, “What the fuck is a Know-Nothing?”). He decried Trump himself as a “barking carnival act” and a “cancer” that the party should “excise” for its own sake — and, one supposes, for Rick Perry’s.

Trump, too busy being front-runner to notice Perry’s desperate volleys, basically blew the Texan off. A week later, Perry was in a tie for 10th place in the polls. Asked if his campaign was finished if he didn’t make the debate cut, Perry replied, in characteristically malaprop fashion, that making the debate was “not a one-shot pony.” He ended up missing his shot, or his pony, or whatever, and was squeezed out of the debate.

Many of the entrants tried nutty media stunts to re-inject energy into the race. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul attempted to revive his flagging libertarian-niche campaign by putting out a video. In it, the candidate appears dressed in shop goggles and jeans, curly hair flying, chain-sawing the tax code in half. He looks like Ryan Phillippe doing a Billy Mays ad.

Then there was South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the few candidates with a sense of humor about how much of a long shot he is. “I do bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, weddings, funerals – call me, I’ll come,” he cracked. Once in the race, though, Graham immediately trolled Trump by calling him a “jackass,” then briefly enjoyed some press limelight when the furious front-runner gave out Graham’s telephone number to the public.

Graham responded to the blessing of a Trump insult by putting out a video celebrating his Trump-victimhood. In it, the candidate chops up his cellphone Ginsu-style, mixes it in a blender in a foul-looking yellow liquid, and whacks it with a nine-iron, or maybe a wedge (note: the Graham camp says it was a nine).

All of this actually happened. Can we be that far from candidates putting out dueling cat videos?

In late July, in a cramped conference room of a Marriott in West Des Moines, Graham showed up to introduce himself to voters. In person, he’s an odd character, like an oversize ventriloquist’s dummy, with too-bright eyes and cheeks frozen in a half-grin.

He calls his event a “No Nukes for Iran” rally. Clearly gunning for a Cabinet post in Defense or Homeland Security, Graham is running almost a one-issue race, campaigning on being the candidate who most thinks Barack Obama’s Iran deal sucks.

Of course, all 17 of the Republican candidates think Obama’s Iran deal sucks, but Graham wants you to know he really thinks it sucks. Part of his stump speech is ripped straight from Team America: He thinks the Iran deal will result in “9/11 times a hundred.” Actually in Graham’s version, it’s 9/11 times a thousand.

“The only reason 3,000 of us died on 9/11 and not 3 million,” he said, “is they could not get the weapons.”

Graham would seem to be perfectly suited for this Twitter-driven race, because he has a reputation in Washington for being a master of the one-liner and a goofball with boundaries issues who not infrequently crosses lines in his humor. “Did you see Nancy Pelosi on the floor?” he reportedly once quipped. “Complete disgust. If you can get through the surgeries, it’s disgust.”

But in person, Graham is a dud. His nasal voice and dry presentation make Alan Greenspan seem like Marilyn Manson. Still, it doesn’t take too long for him to drift into rhetoric that in a normal political season would distinguish him as an unhinged lunatic, which is interesting because pundits usually call Graham one of the “sane” candidates.

First, he firmly promised to re-litigate the Iraq War. “I’m gonna send some soldiers back to Iraq,” he said. “If I’m president, we’re going back to Iraq.”

Promising concretely to restart a historically unpopular war is a solid Trump-era provocation, but Graham then took it a step further. He pledged to solve the Syria problem by channeling Lawrence of Arabia and leading an Arab army in an epic campaign to unseat the caliphate.

Graham, a politician who reportedly once said that “everything that starts with ‘al-’ in the Middle East is bad news,” insisted he was just the man to unite the Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians, Turks and other peoples in battle, and also get them to pay for the invasion (getting dirty foreigners to pay for our policies is another Trump innovation). “We’re going into Syria with the Arabs in the lead,” Graham said. “They will do most of the fighting, and they’re gonna pay for it because we paid for the last two.”

I looked around the room. No reaction whatsoever. An old man in the rear of the hall was picking a cuticle off his middle finger, but otherwise, nobody moved. There were reporters, but Graham’s hawkish bleatings don’t rate much in an America obsessed with Caitlyn and Rachel Dolezal and the Donald.

Instead, later that same day, news leaked out that a Trump political adviser, Sam Nunberg, had once referred to Al Sharpton’s daughter as a “n—–” on Facebook. This is news. It virtually obliterated all other campaign information.

Within a day, polls showed Trump surging like never before. One Reuters poll released on August 1st showed him scoring nearly 30 percent of the vote. The second-highest contender, Jeb Bush, was now nearly 20 points off the lead. When Trump completed the news cycle by giving Nunberg an Apprentice-style firing, his triumph was total.

If the clowns who engaged Trump mostly came out looking awful, the ones who didn’t engage him came out looking even worse, including several of the ostensible favorites.

Jeb Bush was supposedly the smarter Bush brother and also the presumptive front-runner in this race. But on July 4th, just a few weeks after entering the race, Trump basically ended the fight in one fell swoop with a single kick in the balls, retweeting that Bush has to like “Mexican illegals because of his wife.”

With a wife’s honor at stake, most self-respecting males would have immediately stalked Trump and belted him in the comb-over. But Bush stayed true to his effete Richie Rich rep and turtled. He said nothing and instead meekly had an aide put out a statement that Trump’s words were “inappropriate and not reflective of the Republican Party’s views.”

It was such a bad showing that the Beltway opinionators at Politico ran a story asking, “Is Jeb Bush turning into Michael Dukakis?” Game, set, match! Bush has been plunging in the polls ever since.

A similar fate befell Marco Rubio, the boy-wonder Republican. Rubio cruised through the early portion of the race, when voters were impressed by his sideswept, anal-retentive, Cuban-Alex-Keaton persona, rising as high as 14 percent in the polls. But then Trump entered the race and blasted the clearly less-than-completely-American Rubio for favoring a pro-immigration bill. “Weak on immigration” and “weak on jobs,” Trump scoffed. “Not the guy.”

He battered Rubio with tweet after tweet, one-liner after one-liner. Trump aides hit Rubio for having “zero credibility” and being a “typical politician” who favored a “dangerous amnesty bill.” Rubio meanwhile defended Mexicans in general after Trump’s “rapists” line, but has passed on engaging Trump’s personal attacks. As a result, Rubio’s support for a path to citizenship for the undocumented has stood out like a herpes sore, and he’s plummeted to five percent in the polls.

The only candidate to really escape Trump’s wrath has been Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and that’s because Cruz has spent the entire political season nuzzling Trump’s ankles, praising the Donald like a lovesick cellmate. The Texas senator, whose rhetorical schtick is big doses of Tea Party crazy (his best line was that Obama wanted to bring “expanded Medicaid” to ISIS) mixed with constant assurances that he’s the most Reagan-y of all the candidates, even reportedly had an hourlong “confab” with Trump. “Terrific,” he said of the meeting, calling Trump “one of a kind.”

The subterranean Cruz-Trump communiqués are a fantastic subplot to this absurdist campaign, hashtagClownCar’s very own Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact. It could mean the two plan to run together, or it could mean Cruz will plead for Trump’s votes if and when the party finds a way to beg, threaten or blackmail Donald out of the race. Whatever it means, it’s a microcosm of the campaign: simultaneously disgusting and entertaining.

It’s not surprising that Trump’s most serious competition will likely come from Wisconsin’s Walker, who is probably the only person in the race naturally meaner than Trump.

Gov. Scott Walker listens as Donald Trump responds at the first Republican debate. Scott Olson
A central-casting Charmless White Guy who looks like a vice principal or an overdressed traffic cop, Walker traced a performance arc in the past year that was actually a signal of what was to come with Trump. Back in February, when addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference, Walker answered a question of how he would deal with Islamic terrorists by saying, “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.”

Like Trump’s Mexican remarks, Walker’s gambit comparing American union workers to head-chopping Islamic terrorists seemed like a bridge too far even for many Republicans. He was criticized by the National Review and future opponent Perry, among others. But instead of plummeting in the polls, Walker, like Trump, gained ground.

The irony is that this was supposed to be the year when the Republicans opened the tent up, made a sincere play for the Hispanic vote, and perhaps softened up a bit on gays and other vermin. But then the lights went on in the race and voters flocked to a guy whose main policy plank was the construction of a giant Game of Thrones-style wall to keep rape-happy ethnics off our lawns. So much for inclusion!

Waterloo, Iowa, August 1st. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie showed up at Lincoln Park downtown to attend the Cedar Valley Irish fest, a multiday fair with street cuisine, tents full of hand-made crafts, live music and a 5K road race. In a state where a more typical event is a stale VFW hall buffet or a visit to the world’s largest truck stop (the I-80 meet-and-greet is a staple of Iowa campaigning), the Irish fest is a happening scene, featuring good food and sizable numbers of people under the age of 60.

Two years ago, Christie’s arrival at an event like this would have been a major political event. Back then, Christie was a national phenomenon, a favorite to be dubbed presumptive front-runner for 2016.

Christie’s the type of candidate political audiences have come to expect: Once every four years, commentators in New York and Washington will fall in love with some “crossover” politician who’s mean enough to be accepted by the right wing, but also knows a gay person or once read a French novel or something. In the pre-Trump era, we became conditioned to believe that this is what constituted an “exciting” politician.

Christie was to be that next crossover hit, the 2016 version of McCain. Washington’s high priest of Conventional Wisdom, Mark Halperin, even called him “magical,” and Time called him a guy who “loves his mother and gets it done.”

But two years later, Christie has been undone by “Bridgegate,” and the buzz is gone. When he showed up at Cedar Falls, there were just a few reporters to meet him. One of the Iowa press contingent explained to me that with the gigantic field, some of the lesser candidates are falling through the cracks. “We just don’t have enough bodies to cover the race,” the reporter said. “It’s never been like this.”

Christie and his wife, Mary Pat, made their way patiently through the crowd, shaking hands and talking football and other topics with a handful of attendees. It was old-school politics, the way elections used to be won in this country, but it was hard not to watch this painstaking one-person-at-a-time messaging and wonder how it competes in the social-media age.

Trump has perversely restored democracy to the process, turning the race into a pure high school popularity contest conducted in the media.

After the event, I asked Christie whether the huge field makes it difficult to get media attention. “Well, I’ve never had any trouble getting attention,” he said. “I just think it’s differentiating yourself. I think it plays to our strengths, because we’ve always worked really hard.”

Right, hard work: that old saw. Later in the day, back across the state in Rockwell City, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum played the same tune at the town’s “Corn Daze” festival. Dressed in jeans, a blue oxford and a face so pious that Christ would be proud to eat a burrito off it, Santorum rushed through a speech explaining that it is in fact he who is the hardest-working man in politics.

“I just want to let you know that we’ve gone to about 55 counties,” he said. “Last time, we went to 99. We’ll probably have 99 done here in the next few weeks.”

I asked how anyone can distinguish himself or herself in a field with so many entrants? “Win Iowa,” he answered curtly.

Right, but how? “What happens in August stays in August,” he said mysteriously, then vanished to his next event. He had, like, 11 events in three days, far more than most other candidates.

Santorum actually won the Iowa race four years ago with his overcaffeinated, kiss-the-most-babies approach. But watching both he and Christie put their chips on the shoe-leather approach to campaigning feels like watching a pair of Neanderthals scout for mammoth. In the Age of Trump, this stuff doesn’t play anymore.

Not that the old guard will go down without a fight. The much-anticipated inaugural Clown Debate in Cleveland was an ambush. Fox kicked off the festivities by twice whacking Trump, Buford Pusser-style, asking him to promise not to make a third-party run (he wouldn’t) and sandbagging him with questions about his history of calling women “fat pigs” (”Only Rosie O’Donnell,” Trump quipped). After the show, Fox had Republican pollster Frank Luntz organize a focus group that universally panned Trump’s performance. “A total setup,” one of Trump’s aides complained on Twitter.

Trump didn’t seem to care. Hell, he didn’t even prepare for the debate. “Trump doesn’t rehearse,” an aide told reporters. All he did was show up and do what he always does: hog everything in sight, including airtime. As hard as Fox tried to knock him out, the network couldn’t take its eyes off him. He ended up with almost two full minutes more airtime than the other “contestants,” as he hilariously called them on the Today show the morning after the debate. It’s the scorpion nature of television, come back to haunt the “reality-makers” at Fox: The cameras can’t resist a good show.

Politics used to be a simple, predictable con. Every four years, the money men in D.C. teamed up with party hacks to throw their weight behind whatever half-bright fraud of a candidate proved most adept at snowing the population into buying a warmed-over version of the same crappy policies they’ve always bought.

Pundits always complained that there wasn’t enough talk about issues during these races, but in reality, issues were still everything. Behind the scenes, where donors gave millions for concrete favors, there was always still plenty of policy. And skilled political pitchmen like Christie, who could deftly deliver on those back-room promises to crush labor and hand out transportation contracts or whatever while still acting like a man of the people, were highly valued commodities.

Not anymore. Trump has blown up even the backroom version of the issues-driven campaign. There are no secret donors that we know of. Trump himself appears to be the largest financial backer of the Trump campaign. A financial report disclosed that Trump lent his own campaign $1.8 million while raising just $100,000.

There’s no hidden platform behind the shallow facade. With Trump, the facade is the whole deal. If old-school policy hucksters like Christie can’t find a way to beat a media master like Trump at the ratings game, they will soon die out.

In a perverse way, Trump has restored a more pure democracy to this process. He’s taken the Beltway thinkfluencers out of the game and turned the presidency into a pure high-school-style popularity contest conducted entirely in the media. Everything we do is a consumer choice now, from picking our shoes to an online streaming platform to a presidential nominee.

The irony, of course, is that when America finally wrested control of the political process from the backroom oligarchs, the very first place where we spent our newfound freedom and power was on the campaign of the world’s most unapologetic asshole. It may not seem funny now, because it’s happening to us, but centuries from this moment, people will laugh in wonder.

America is ceasing to be a nation, and turning into a giant television show. And this Republican race is our first and most brutal casting call.

From The Archives Issue 1242: August 27, 2015
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MOST ABORTIONS ARE SPONTANEOUS….NEIL deGRASSE TYSON

Filed under: prairie musings, print news — Peg Britton @ 2:53 pm

“Most abortions are spontaneous and they happen naturally within the human body. Most women who have such an abortion never even know it because it happens in the first month. It’s very, very common. So in fact the biggest abortionist, if in fact god is responsible for what goes on in your body, is the, god.” Neil deGrasse Tyson

David Aeolus Smith with Jason Lightyear and 43 others
I saw an anti-abortion billboard this morning that said abortion is wrong because life begins at conception. It reminded me of this meme and I decided to provide some statistics to make the case that, if you believe this is true and that the Christian god is responsible for all life, your chosen deity is responsible for billions of natural abortions.

Estimates have placed the amount of humans who have ever lived around 100 billion. Anywhere between 10-20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. In fact, approximately 30-40% of all fertilized eggs miscarry, often before a woman even knows that she is pregnant. With just some simple math we can see that billions have been naturally aborted throughout human history. That’s being generous too, since our ancestors did not have access to modern medicine and had to deal with harsh conditions like diseases, infections, and malnutrition.

It gets better though! Let’s take a look at a few scriptures from the good book concerning “abortion.”

In Hosea 9:11-16, Hosea prays for God’s intervention. “Ephraim shall bring forth his children to the murderer. Give them, Lord: what wilt thou give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit: yea though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb.” Clearly Hosea desires that the people of Ephraim can no longer have children. God of course obeys by making all their unborn children miscarry. Terminating a pregnancy unnaturally is abortion, right?

In Numbers 5:11-21, there is a description of a bizarre, brutal, and abusive ritual to be performed on a wife suspected of adultery. “‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell.” Basically, if a husband suspects his wife of adultery, he should take her to the priest and have her drink a “bitter water.” The priest will cast a curse, that she will miscarry the child if she has been unfaithful, in the name of Yahweh. Inducing a miscarriage is abortion, right?

In Numbers 31:17, Moses gives the command, “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every women that hath known man by lying with him.” In other words, women that are with-child should be killed. Killing the mother of an unborn child is abortion, right?

In 2 Kings 15:16, God allows the pregnant women of Tappuah (aka Tiphsah) to be “ripped open”. The verse states, “At that time Menahem, starting out from Tirzah, attacked Tiphsah and everyone in the city and its vicinity, because they refused to open their gates. He sacked Tiphsah and ripped open all the pregnant women.” Something tells me that ripping open the bellies of pregnant women might just be categorized as abortion.

I have intentionally decided to not mention the passages on infanticide, the murdering of children, and the vast number of other examples of Yahweh not being as “pro-life” as Christians claim. Read your Bible.

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8/18/2015

WHY THE REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES ARE ATTACKING SOCIAL SECURITY BY PAUL KRUGMAN

Filed under: prairie musings, print news, GOP — Peg Britton @ 3:21 pm

MON AUG 17, 2015 AT 10:37 AM PDT
Krugman: Why All The Republican Candidates Are Attacking Social Security
byDartagnan

Historically speaking, politicians who have attacked Social Security (oft-described as the “Third Rail” in American politics) have not fared well with the American people. The program, originally designed to provide supplemental retirement security for all Americans, is actually a critical financial lifeline for millions. Many elderly people would either be pushed into squalid, poorly equipped nursing homes, forced to live with their children (assuming they have them) or cast out into the streets without the modest monthly income most paid taxes for all their lives to support and ensure. When George W. Bush began to push to “privatize” Social Security into accounts dependent on the stock market, his efforts were quickly squelched by Democrats and even some Republicans who responded to the public’s overwhelming disapproval of such measures. In retrospect this probably saved millions of older Americans from becoming destitute when the Bush economy crashed in 2007-2008, wiping out billions in stock values.

It seems, however, that the near-universal popularity of Social Security has failed to make much of an impression on nearly all of the current Republican candidates for President, who have publicly announced their intent to impose cuts in benefits, privatization, or other drastic reductions to a program that is neither “insolvent” nor in any financial peril: Thus, Jeb Bush says that the retirement age should be pushed back to “68 or 70”. Scott Walker has echoed that position. Marco Rubio wants both to raise the retirement age and to cut benefits for higher-income seniors. Rand Paul wants to raise the retirement age to 70 and means-test benefits. Ted Cruz wants to revive the Bush privatization plan.

Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, writing for the New York Times, thinks he knows why the new and prevailing Republican line is so completely contrary to what the vast majority of Americans want–it’s the simple fact that these GOP candidates do not represent the vast majority of Americans. In fact, they only represent a tiny, miniscule sliver of Americans, barely enough to fit into a skybox at a professional football game. That is the entirety of the American electorate to whom these candidates are beholden to. And that tiny group wants to get rid of Social Security: The answer, I’d suggest, is that it’s all about the big money. Wealthy individuals have long played a disproportionate role in politics, but we’ve never seen anything like what’s happening now: domination of campaign finance, especially on the Republican side, by a tiny group of immensely wealthy donors. Indeed, more than half the funds raised by Republican candidates through June came from just 130 families.

And while most Americans love Social Security, the wealthy don’t. Two years ago a pioneering study of the policy preferences of the very wealthy found many contrasts with the views of the general public; as you might expect, the rich are politically different from you and me. But nowhere are they as different as they are on the matter of Social Security. By a very wide margin, ordinary Americans want to see Social Security expanded. But by an even wider margin, Americans in the top 1 percent want to see it cut.

The study Dr. Krugman refers to was conducted by Northwestern University and is titled Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans. As far as academic studies go it’s fascinating stuff, a one-of-a kind window into the mind of the one percent highest wage earners in the country. One of the marked findings of the study was how active wealthy Americans are–vastly more active compared to the rest of the population. And these folks think they know what’s best for the rest of us, particularly with regard to Social Security: We have seen that our wealthy respondents—in sharp contrast to the general public—tilted toward cutting rather than expanding Social Security.The SESA survey did not explore precisely how such cuts would be made. But the proposals for doing so that have been put forward by various experts, politicians, and deficit-reduction commissions—raising the retirement age at which benefits can be received, slowing cost-of-living adjustments, and the like—mostly appear to be opposed by majorities of the general public.

But in reality the 130 or so families who are now effectively in charge of the Republican Party are not even the “1%”. They are a much tinier sliver, and it is they who are entirely calling the shots for these candidates. As the study notes, these people are far more conservative, overall, than even the top 1%:
Variation within this wealthy group suggests that the top one-tenth of 1 percent of wealthholders (people with $40 million or more in net worth) may tend to hold still more conservative views that are even more distinct from those of the general public.

As a result, the Republican candidates, beholden to these ultra-conservative Billionaire donors, must mold their policy positions to accommodate their desires. And this is how and why the Republican Party functions–not as a vehicle for the needs of their actual constituents–the folks who keep marching into the voting booth and pulling the “R” lever because they’ve been brainwashed by the NRA gun-industry lobby into believing Obama will take their guns away– but as a means for their donors to ultimately privatize–and profit off of–the vast amounts of money that go into the Social Security system through our payroll taxes. This despite the fact that 80% of Americans oppose raising the retirement age, which most see as a prelude to more and more cuts. It doesn’t matter to them, for example, that lifting the payroll cap of $118,500 would resolve Social Security’s funding issues in an instant. The fact is that the abolition or privatization of Social Security has been a longterm goal for decades by those who now control the Republican Party: In 1980, the platform of David Koch’s Libertarian Party called for “the repeal of the fraudulent, virtually bankrupt, and increasingly oppressive Social Security system.” Thirty-four years ago, that was an extreme view of a fringe party that had the support of 1 percent of the American people. Today, the mainstream view of the Republican Party is that “entitlement reform” is absolutely necessary.

It’s important to recognize that the desire to transform or eliminate Social Security at the behest of these Billionaires is not limited to these particular candidates. The Republican Congress and Senate are just as much under the control of the Kochs and their ilk. As a result a Republican in the White House would encounter little if any resistance to implementing these cuts from the very institution that would vote them into existence. Krugman concludes by describing the implications this has for the rest of us: What this means, in turn, is that the eventual Republican nominee … will be committed not just to a renewed attack on Social Security but to a broader plutocratic agenda. Whatever the rhetoric, the GOP is on track to nominate someone who has won over the big money by promising government by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent.

8/15/2015

A REMINDER TO THOSE WHO LIKE TO ISOLATE A QUOTE FROM THE BIBLE TO MAKE A POINT…FROM JAMES M. KAUFFMAN…

Filed under: prairie musings, print news, religion — Peg Britton @ 2:46 pm

It’s the middle of the night so I’ll shamelessly poach something I found at Naked Capitalism, it’s amusing.

Time for a change of pace. This came via e-mail from Marshall Auerback:

In her radio show, Dr. Laura Schlesinger (a popular conservative radio talk show host in the USA) said that homosexuality is an abomination according to the Bible Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance. The following response is an open letter to Dr. Laura, and was attributed to a James M. Kauffman, Ed. D.

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination… end of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.

Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighbouring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual unseemliness – Lev. 15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offence.

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev. 1:9. The problem is my neighbours. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2. clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?

Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev. 24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan,

James M. Kauffman, Ed. D.
Professor Emeritus Dept. of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education
University of Virginia

6/13/2015

BURDETT LOOMIS: LEGISLATURE, BROWNBACK HAVE FAILED THE STATE OF KANSAS

Filed under: political musings, print news, Sam Brownback, Kansas — Peg Britton @ 1:53 pm

Burdett Loomis: Legislature, Brownback have failed the state

BY BURDETT LOOMIS

The Kansas House of Representatives, and by extension the Legislature, and by further extension the GOP-controlled government of Kansas, imploded Wednesday.

After the Kansas Senate cobbled together (and I mean no disrespect to shoemakers) a mean-spirited tax bill to (barely) fill the state’s coffers, the House initially voted down that bill, 44-73, before heading into a death spiral in which support eroded as House leaders kept the vote open – first for two hours, then until Thursday morning, when it finally perished by a 20-95 vote.

In other words, the GOP leadership somehow thought it could arm-twist 20 votes or so to eke out a win on a speculative, regressive tax bill.

In a career as a legislative scholar, I’ve seen a host of tricks, but this may take the cake – all in a useless, losing cause. Seriously, what is the matter with these folks?

The Kansas GOP controls the House 97-28. Yet its leadership could not muster one-half of its overwhelming majority to support a bill that might have balanced the budget for the coming year. The best metaphor that the speaker of the House could come up with was: “This is the last train out of here.” Please. It was both hackneyed and untrue.

After 111 days in session, the House could only manage about half an hour of semi-serious debate. To put it as kindly as possible (as the metaphors keep popping up), the Republican leadership, along with Gov. Sam Brownback, went down in flames. Who, exactly, brings up a bill when it’s going to get a maximum of 44 votes, 19 shy of passage?

The Senate, to its relative credit, at least had 21 votes to pass a patched-together tax bill that its leaders knew would probably not win approval in the House. But, hey, they got to 21.

For much of this session, Topeka lawmakers – and I use that term loosely – have been in some state of altered reality when it’s come to the budget and taxes. On Wednesday evening into Thursday morning, they descended into “Lord of the Flies” territory.

No matter what happens in the remaining days of this session (I can’t believe I just wrote that), we need to be clear: This is what it looks like when a political institution fails.

Make that two institutions, given that the governor bears his full share of the responsibility, as he has backed unrealistic tax policies way past the point of seeing them flounder. Then, remarkably, he drew a line in the sand, saying he would veto any bill that reimposed any taxes on 338,000 Kansas pass-through entities.

Well, the Legislature and the governor will pull themselves together, so to speak. They’ll build some kind of budget, probably doing further harm to the citizens of the state. But make no mistake, on Wednesday evening the Kansas state government failed, big time.

More than 40 years ago, the Legislature won an award as the “most improved” body in the nation. My late friend and academic colleague Alan Rosenthal worked with the Legislature then, as it moved into the late-20th century. From Bob Bennett and Pete McGill and Pete Loux to hundreds of other serious-minded, responsible lawmakers, the Legislature continued to function in the messy but effective way that characterizes such bodies.

No more. On Wednesday night, the Legislature jumped the shark. One more metaphor for failure, and they just keep coming.

Burdett Loomis is a professor of political science at the University of Kansas.

5/16/2015

LETTER TO THE EDITOR…

Filed under: prairie musings, political musings, print news, Barack Obama — Peg Britton @ 3:38 pm

You Americans Have No Idea Just How Good You Have It With Obama
Many of us Canadians are confused by the U.S. midterm elections. Consider, right now in America, corporate profits are at record highs, the country’s adding 200,000 jobs per month, unemployment is below 6%, U.S. gross national product growth is the best of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. The dollar is at its strongest levels in years, the stock market is near record highs, gasoline prices are falling, there’s no inflation, interest rates are the lowest in 30 years, U.S. oil imports are declining, U.S. oil production is rapidly increasing, the deficit is rapidly declining, and the wealthy are still making astonishing amounts of money.

America is leading the world once again and respected internationally — in sharp contrast to the Bush years. Obama brought soldiers home from Iraq and killed Osama bin Laden.

So, Americans vote for the party that got you into the mess that Obama just dug you out of? This defies reason.

When you are done with Obama, could you send him our way?

Richard Brunt

Victoria, British Columbia

4/7/2015

LOSING MY RELIGION FOR EQUALITY….

Filed under: prairie musings, political musings, print news, religion — Peg Britton @ 6:32 am

Losing my religion for equality

The Age
July 15, 2009

By Jimmy Carter

Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.

I HAVE been a practicing Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices - as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy - and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphacize the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share.

The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place - and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence - than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as preeminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

Jimmy Carter was president of the United States from 1977 to 1981.

11/12/2014

BRITONS BELIEVE RELIGION DOES MORE HARM THAN GOOD…

Filed under: prairie musings, print news, religion — Peg Britton @ 12:51 pm

Huff post

By Jessica Elgot

More than half of Britons believe that religion does more harm than good, with less than a quarter believing faith is a force for good, the Huffington Post UK can reveal today.

Even 20% of British people who described themselves as being ‘very religious’ said religion was harmful to society, and a quarter of said atheists were more likely to be moral individuals than religious people.
The exclusive poll for the HuffPost UK reveals that just 8% of Britons describe themselves as very religious, with more than 60% saying they were not religious at all.

The eye-opening survey, that will reopen debate over the role and worth of religion to British society, found of the ‘non-religious’ people polled, more than 60% said they thought religion caused more problems than it solved.

The poll shows that more people believe being an atheist is more likely to make you a good person than being religious. In fact, one in eight Britons said atheists tend to be more moral, compared to just 6% who say atheists are less moral, challenging widely held beliefs that religion is one of the last remaining bastions of British morality.
________________________________________

10/1/2014

INSIDE THE KOCH BROTHERS’ TOXIC EMPIRE…. MUST READ….

Filed under: prairie musings, print news, Koch Brothers — Peg Britton @ 2:47 pm

Inside the Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire

Together, Charles and David Koch control one of the world’s largest fortunes, which they are using to buy up our political system. But what they don’t want you to know is how they made all that money

By Tim Dickinson | September 24, 2014

The enormity of the Koch fortune is no mystery. Brothers Charles and David are each worth more than $40 billion. The electoral influence of the Koch brothers is similarly well-chronicled. The Kochs are our homegrown oligarchs; they’ve cornered the market on Republican politics and are nakedly attempting to buy Congress and the White House. Their political network helped finance the Tea Party and powers today’s GOP. Koch-affiliated organizations raised some $400 million during the 2012 election, and aim to spend another $290 million to elect Republicans in this year’s midterms. So far in this cycle, Koch-backed entities have bought 44,000 political ads to boost Republican efforts to take back the Senate.
What is less clear is where all that money comes from. Koch Industries is headquartered in a squat, smoked-glass building that rises above the prairie on the outskirts of Wichita, Kansas. The building, like the brothers’ fiercely private firm, is literally and figuratively a black box. Koch touts only one top-line financial figure: $115 billion in annual revenue, as estimated by Forbes. By that metric, it is larger than IBM, Honda or Hewlett-Packard and is America’s second-largest private company after agribusiness colossus Cargill. The company’s stock response to inquiries from reporters: “We are privately held and don’t disclose this information.”

But Koch Industries is not entirely opaque. The company’s troubled legal history – including a trail of congressional investigations, Department of Justice consent decrees, civil lawsuits and felony convictions – augmented by internal company documents, leaked State Department cables, Freedom of Information disclosures and company whistle¬-blowers, combine to cast an unwelcome spotlight on the toxic empire whose profits finance the modern GOP.

Under the nearly five-decade reign of CEO Charles Koch, the company has paid out record civil and criminal environmental penalties. And in 1999, a jury handed down to Koch’s pipeline company what was then the largest wrongful-death judgment of its type in U.S. history, resulting from the explosion of a defective pipeline that incinerated a pair of Texas teenagers.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE IN ROLLING STONE HERE…

9/28/2014

BROWNBACK IS PLAYING POLITICS WITH RURAL SCHOOLS IN KANSAS…

Filed under: prairie musings, print news, Sam Brownback, Kansas — Peg Britton @ 7:41 am

brownie.png
KANSAS CITY STAR: Sam Brownback is playing politics with rural schools in Kansas

September 11, 2014

By Mary Sanchez
Kansas City Star

My mother attended a one-room schoolhouse in Kansas.

Her rural education is the type that Gov. Sam Brownback dredged into his re-election campaign with an opportunistic bit of rhetoric. Brownback is calling for the ouster of Leawood Republican John Vratil from a state committee looking into efficiencies of Kansas schools as districts try to weather funding cutbacks.

The claim is that Vratil, a former vice president of the state Senate, is gunning for consolidating rural schools. It’s a charge made by taking a 2011 comment Vratil made, extracting it from broader context and spinning.

It’s a contrived issue, intended as bait for rural votes, especially in western Kansas. Vratil was appointed to the committee by Democrat Paul Davis, who is running against Brownback. So by association, it’s a political jab at Davis.

Rural schools have long struggled with dwindling populations and budgets. They don’t need Brownback’s campaign to know it.

Mom’s stories of her childhood near Madison were classic, almost “Little House on the Prairie” to my ears. She walked country roads to school, sometimes trudging against the harsh Kansas wind and snow. Plenty of stories included the bull that always scared her, sometimes charging at flimsy fencing.

But guess what. That school is long gone, closed decades ago as fewer families farmed and more moved to towns closer to Emporia.

Times change. Populations shift. Tough calls about budgeting and buildings are not new. Consolidation at times is both inevitable and prudent. That’s partly why the committee that Vratil sits on, the K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission, was formed by the Legislature.

And Brownback is the cause of some of the recent belt-tightening by not replacing federal stimulus funding and by his tax policies.

All districts, in Wyandotte and Johnson counties as well as those farther west in the state, struggle to meet vastly diverse student needs with fewer dollars.

Besides, Brownback’s administration pushes innovative programs to draw younger, college-educated people to sparsely populated areas. So he acknowledges reality in one portion of his policymaking and then tries to ignore it for campaign spin.

The man who wants to remain governor of the entire state should be above such tactics. All Kansas children deserve a quality education, no matter their home address.

9/9/2014

BROWNBACK AND THE FAMILY…

Filed under: political musings, print news, Sam Brownback — Peg Britton @ 11:23 am

Brownback and The Family

by Bob Grover

The Emporia Gazette 9-8-2014

How can someone claim to follow Jesus yet not support programs that fight poverty and benefit the needy?

This is a question directed at Sam Brownback, and a possible answer is provided in Jeff Sharlet’s book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (Harper Perennial, 2008). Journalist Sharlet describes in detail the history, leadership and beliefs of this secret organization of which Brownback is a member.

Brownback was introduced to the Family (also called the Fellowship) while interning for Bob Dole the summer before his senior year at Kansas State University. Brownback stayed in touch with Family members and was invited to join when he was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1994. Understanding the mission of the Family provides a glimpse of Brownback’s beliefs that drive his behavior as governor.

The Family includes such current government leaders as Chuck Grassley (Iowa), James Inhofe and Tom Coburn (Oklahoma), Bill Nelson (Florida), and Mark Pryor (Arkansas). Other members include former senators Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Pete Domenici of New Mexico, along with former Kansas Representative Todd Tiahrt and Watergate participant Charles Colson.

The Family is the group behind the National Prayer Breakfast, initiated as the Presidential Prayer Breakfast during the first year of the Eisenhower administration in 1953. It has been described as “the most powerful group in Washington that nobody knows.”

Its membership roll is secret; it collects no official membership dues and issues no membership cards. Members are urged not to commit to paper any discussions or negotiations occurring in their work related to the Family.

Prayer groups, or “cells,” are the core group within the family. The cell is unknown to the public and has veto power over each member’s life. Each member promises to monitor the others for deviation from Jesus’ will. Brownback told author Sharlet “that the privacy of family cells makes them safe spaces for men of power … .” Power is a key to understanding this Family.

Within the cells men develop a covenant with each other, and therein lies the power. Their premise is that when two or three agree and act as one, they have power.

Jesus is at the center of the Family, but this is Jesus the leader, not the Savior. Jesus provides the Family a model for organization; with James, John, and Peter closest to him, he encircled himself with other disciples along with a larger contingent of followers. Jesus taught the fundamental principle of creating a social order — commitment. Jesus said that his followers had to put Him before other people, even father and mother, and put Him before oneself.

Surprisingly, the Family also claims Hitler, Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Bin Laden, Mao and even the Mafia as models that used covenants to gain and exercise power. The jarring contrast between Jesus and these other brutal leaders seems of little importance to the Family.

Another Family hero is King David of the Old Testament. David slept with Bathsheba, another man’s wife, and killed her husband; however, God favored David — he was chosen. The implication is that if you’re chosen, you are not to be judged.

The Family believes that God’s covenant with the Jews has been broken, and they consider their members the “new chosen” — chosen by God to be leaders.

Because they believe that they are God’s new chosen, the Family members are provided with what Sharlet calls “divine diplomatic immunity.” It’s like a blank check to do whatever they believe they are called to do.

What are they called to do? The long-term goal of the Family is a worldwide government under God. Douglas Coe, the Family’s leader since 1969, has said, “We work with power where we can, build new power where we can’t.” (p. 121)

Although members of the family may be members of a denomination (Brownback is Catholic), their belief system is different than the theology of mainstream Christians. The Family prefers to think of themselves as “followers of Jesus,” not Christians, and free of the trappings of religious denominations.

Unlike most followers of Jesus, the Family is interested almost entirely in Jesus as leader and the way he was able to generate a successful, worldwide social movement. They show little interest in following Jesus’ teachings to help the poor, feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

As a member of the Family, Brownback has adopted their values, and the Family ultimately is about power. Knowing about Brownback’s affiliation with the Family helps to explain his motives and actions as Kansas governor.

8/20/2014

COURTNEY TRAIN LETTER…

Filed under: political musings, print news, GOP — Peg Britton @ 11:29 am

kris-kobach.png

From The Salina Journal
Train letter 8-11-14
Friday, August 15, 2014 2:00 AM

Train letter 8-11-14

Name changes create more voting hoops

Kris Kobach’s new voting restrictions are imposing serious obstacles and should be a cause for great concern for women across the state.

I’d like to encourage my mom to vote in this election, but she has never registered and her current legal name does not appear on her proof of citizenship. It has changed as a result of marriage. My mom is not alone. Recent figures indicate that 34 percent of voting-age women lack proof of citizenship with their current legal name.

With new voting restrictions requiring proof of citizenship to register, women who’ve changed last names as a result of marriage have to provide supplemental documents along with their proof of citizenship. My mom is not in a financial position to provide these necessary documents. For my mother and the women of Kansas who lack proof of citizenship with their current names, there is a disproportionate burden imposed on exercising their right to vote.

This law is an infringement on the rights of all Kansans, especially women and the poor. If you value the right to vote, if you value gender equality, cast a vote against Kobach for my mom on Election Day. I know I will be.

– COURTNEY TRAIN, Salina

8/10/2014

EARN $$$ IN YOUR SPARE TIME AND BECOME A PROFESSIONAL SOCIOPATH…

Filed under: political musings, print news — Peg Britton @ 5:15 pm

Too good to pass by…
DAILY KOS
Fri Aug 08, 2014
Earn $$$ In Your Spare Time Become A Professional Sociopath

by LaFeminista

Do you like to spout your hatred to all and sundry?

Do you wear your bigotry as a badge of honor?

Do you feel persecuted?

Do you want to lash out for no reason at all?

Then you too can earn $$$$$$$$$

Join the Republican Party today and we will send you free of charge the following.

Rush Limbaugh’s “Hate speech for beginners”

Erick Erickson’s  “How to be a Christian Martyr”

Ted Cruz’s “How to say stupid shit without being embarrassed”

Sara Palin’s “Ignorance is bliss, a bigots guide”

Michelle Bachman’s “Woo, Woo, Woo, Tick Tock The Mouse Ran Around The Water Fountain” we haven’t worked out what it is about yet, but it’s a book.

Steve King’s “Neener Neener Mr President” a guide by one of the world’s foremost ignoramuses.

Louie Gohmert “A Guide To Nonsense As Fact” with a totally incomprehensible introduction by the author, the rest was written by mice on LSD running up and down a keyboard.

John Boehner’s “Patriotic Crying, Crocodile Tear Making In Public” Tissue Edition.

Mitch McConnell’s ” How to say one thing, then claim you said another” and any quoting from the book will be treated with denial by the author.

John McCain’s “Bombing the world, a tourist’s guide to the world’s hotspots”.

The Koch Brothers “We have lots of money, we own your ass” a guide to buying an election

Bill Kristol’s “How to get others killed for your ideas” coupled with his “How to be consistently wrong all the time” a guide for the advanced fool.

Alex Jones’ “They are coming to take me  away” advanced paranoia, not for the beginner.

Why continue to throw beer bottles at the TV when you too can become a professional screamer?

Send $100 today and we will send you copies of each of the above free of charge. If they do not arrive within two weeks please send another $100 to expedite the delivery.

KANSAS LOSING OUT BY NOT EXPANDING MEDICAID…

Filed under: political musings, print news, Kansas — Peg Britton @ 1:45 pm

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The Wichita Eagle Editorial Staff We Blog
Kansas losing out by not expanding Medicaid
July 29, 20145:59 a.m.

How much is Kansas losing out by not allowing a federal expansion of Medicaid? About $820 million over the next three years, according to a study by the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Kansas is also losing out on 3,800 new jobs over the three-year span. And up to 100,000 low-income Kansans are losing out on needed health insurance. Expansion also would save the state money by moving some adults the state now cares for, such as those with mental illnesses, onto Medicaid and by reducing other costs. But neither the financial nor moral arguments for expansion seem to matter to Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature.
By Phillip Brownlee

VOTER-IMPERSONATION FRAUD IS NEARLY NONEXISTENT…

Filed under: political musings, print news, Kansas — Peg Britton @ 1:36 pm

kris-kobach.png

Wichita Eagle Editorial Department Blog…
Aug. 10, 20146:02 a.m.

The purpose of voter ID requirements, such as the one in Kansas, to is prevent someone from showing up to vote and pretending to be someone else. But how often does that actually happen? Almost never. Justin Levitt of the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles documented every known allegation of voter-impersonation fraud nationwide since 2000. Out of more than 1 billion votes cast during that 14-year period, he found only 31 alleged cases of impersonation fraud. That’s less that 0.0000031 percent. What’s more, it’s unclear how many of the 31 cases were actual fraud; several may just be computer or data-entry mistakes. To stop this nonexistent problem, 34 states have passed voter ID laws, potentially disenfranchising thousands and thousands of voters.
By Phillip Brownlee

7/30/2014

COLYER TRIES TO FOOL KANSAS TWICE…

Filed under: prairie musings, print news, Sam Brownback, Kansas — Peg Britton @ 2:28 pm

Colyer tries to fool Kansans twice
July 29, 201412:03 p.m.

It’s hard to believe that Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer tried the same trick twice. On New Year’s Eve last year, the last day of the campaign finance reporting period, Colyer loaned the Brownback campaign $500,000 – the largest campaign loan in state history. Several days later, reporters asked Colyer and Gov. Sam Brownback about the loan, which looked suspiciously like it was aimed at inflating the campaign’s fundraising total to match the fundraising of the Democratic challenger, House Minority Leader Paul Davis. Colyer told the Lawrence Journal-World that the loan represented his commitment to making a better future for Kansas kids. Brownback told the Kansas City Star that the loan would allow him to take his message to voters this winter and spring. Neither of them disclosed that the campaign had already repaid Colyer for the loan, on Jan. 2. Now, Colyer has done it again. On July 23, a day before the latest reporting period ended, Colyer again loaned the campaign $500,000. And again, the campaign claimed that the loan was merely a sign of Colyer’s commitment to the campaign.
By Phillip Brownlee

A Wichita Eagle Editorial Blog…

6/21/2014

STAND UP TO THE BULLIES …

Filed under: prairie musings, print news — Peg Britton @ 9:23 am

by Robert Reich

I was always very short for my age, and when I was a kid relied on a few older boys to protect me from the bullies. One of my protectors was Mickey (Michael) Schwerner. Fifty years ago today, Mickey and two others, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, were in Mississippi to register black voters when they were brutally murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan, including the sheriff of Nashoba County. When I learned that the person who had protected me from childhood bullies was murdered by the real bullies of America, I began to understand the true meaning of social injustice. A decent society does not allow those with power and privilege to bully those without. Today’s bullying comes in many forms: Not just racists preventing minorities from voting but also CEOs taking huge salaries for themselves while cutting their workers’ wages, Wall Street bankers foreclosing on homeowners who got walloped when the Street’s bubble burst, multi-millionaires refusing to pay higher taxes to finance better schools for poor kids, monopolists raising prices to squeeze their customers, executives firing workers for trying to unionize, business lobbyists paying off members of Congress to vote against a higher minimum wage, and billionaires funding their own political machines to spew lies and undermine our democracy. The best way to honor the memories of Mickey, James, and Andrew is to stand up to the bullies.

6/9/2014

BROWNBACK EMBRACES FAKE TEACHERS…

Filed under: prairie musings, print news, Sam Brownback, Kansas — Peg Britton @ 9:58 am

Fake teachers
Hays Daily News
6/8/2014

Beginning July 1, school districts in Kansas that choose to can hire non-teachers to instruct students in specific subjects. We can’t imagine a more uneducated approach in dealing with this state’s children.

The result of legislation that ostensibly was addressing teacher shortages in areas such as science, math, technology, engineering and finance, all one needs is a bachelor’s degree in one of the subject matters and five years of work experience to be hired. To teach vocational education, an undergraduate diploma isn’t even required — merely an industry-recognized certificate.

The law displays great disdain for the noble profession known as teaching.

Having expertise in a subject matter does not necessarily translate to having any skill to convey that knowledge. It can be tough enough attempting to train fellow adult co-workers, let alone still-developing young minds.

Content knowledge is critical, but no more or less than the ability to educate. Teachers should know how to create coherent and focused lesson plans, and then be able to tailor their approach for varying learning styles.

“We teach kids first, content second,” Kansas National Education Association President Karen Godfrey is fond of saying.

KNEA understandably is against the new prerequisites the Kansas State Board of Education was forced to adopt because of the new law.

“Permitting Kansas classrooms to be open to people with five years of work experience in a particular field of science or math does not prepare them for the rigors of teaching,” the KNEA offered in a press release. “Many teachers dedicate their entire lives to expanding their own skill set and knowledge of the following core aspects of the teaching profession through master teacher programs, National Board Certification, and by seeking advanced degrees in the following foundational areas:

* Learning theory and age-appropriate instruction;

* Classroom management techniques and strategies;

* Teaching culturally diverse populations;

* Teaching students with special needs, learning disabilities and giftedness;

* Effective classroom discipline;

* Differentiated instruction and curriculum development; (and)

* Bullying and school security.”

Effective teachers have fundamental understandings of psychology, pedagogy, methods, assessment, management, and on and on.

Does working in private industry prepare anybody adequately for the rigors of teaching? We would say not.

Yet Gov. Sam Brownback, who signed the bill into law, enthusiastically believes it does. Or that it doesn’t matter.

He told the Garden City Telegram he is particularly excited about the alternate teacher certification, which “allows high schools to hire people for teachers like colleges do. They get a subject expertise person and then hire them to teach say, journalism, at the community college. You cannot do that at high school, but now you will be able to do so in the STEM area — science, technology and certified technical education.”

That the governor and legislators don’t appear to recognize the difference between a 15-year-old’s learning capacity and a 19-year-old’s is not surprising. Wording for the law came from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group representing business interests that provides “model legislation” to all 50 states.

As only local school districts have the authority to hire teachers, we would hope none take advantage of the new law. Kansas needs to be smart enough to problem-solve STEM teacher shortages in a manner that is not detrimental to students.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

4/27/2014

FBI INVESTIGATING INFLUENCE-PEDDLING BY BROWNBACK CONFIDANTS…

Filed under: prairie musings, print news, Sam Brownback — Peg Britton @ 1:34 pm

The Buzz
FBI investigating influence-peddling by Brownback confidants
April 27
By STEVE KRASKE
The Kansas City Star

The Topeka Capital Journal reported Sunday that the FBI has spent months investigating influence peddling within the Brownback administration involving some of the governor’s top advisers.

The report said agents are especially interested in “behind-the-scenes financial arrangements related to Brownback’s privatization of the state’s $3 billion Medicaid program.”

The inquiry focuses on a group called Parallel Strategies, a consulting and lobbying outfit founded by David Kensinger, a former chief-of-staff to Brownback who has overseen much of the strategy involving the Kansas Republican Party’s recent success and dominance of state politics.

Kensinger was the governor’s chief of staff as the administration worked to privatize KanCare, which provides Medicaid services to poor and disabled Kansans.

Kensinger quit two months before contracts were signed with three companies: AmeriGroup Kansas, United Healthcare of the Midwest and Sunflower State Health Plan, a subsidiary of Centene, the Cap-Journal said.

One specific area of interest: Did Brownback representatives urge companies or organizations to hire specific lobbying firms? And were individuals who refused to cooperate targeted for political or financial punishment?

The probe’s outcome could have an enormous impact on Brownback’s 2014 re-election campaign and on Republicans in general. Brownback has reshaped the Kansas GOP in his own image.

Democrat Paul Davis, the House minority leader, is challenging Brownback for a second term.

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