Green Room

Thought of the day

Mar 3, 2014, 9:07am |

Don’t fret about Russian expansionism. Celebrity awards shows are the great equalizer.

Sunday reflection: Matthew 6:24–34

Mar 2, 2014, 10:01am |

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular Green Room feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection only represents my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. For previous entries, click here.

Today’s gospel reading is Matthew 6:24–34:

Jesus said to his disciples:

“No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”

Yesterday, my wife mutinied over the never-ending loads of laundry we do in this house. Especially during the winter, when we layer up for the cold, we seem to fill the laundry basket more often for two people in a house than an entire family might in a week. But the mutiny was about more than just the amount of laundry — she also gets tired of trying to fight for space to put the clean laundry away. My closet rack is so full that it’s almost impossible at times to get more shirts hung up on it. It’s not that I buy a lot of clothes, but that I refuse to get rid of old shirts and pants, even when they might help others.

I read this passage yesterday after surrendering a bit and moving some older clothes to the basement, either for donation or discarding (some of them I’d only allow myself to wear). Why do I keep old stained shirts that shouldn’t be seen in polite company, or even around the house? Why do I keep t-shirts so long that the sleeves nearly fall off? Why, as Jesus puts it here, am I so concerned about clothes that I hoard them beyond all need?

It could be that I’m just too lazy to clean a closet, and my wife will probably endorse that diagnosis. On the other hand, it could be the impulse to hoard — to worry so much about the future that we surround ourselves with material goods in order to stop worrying about it. People do this with food, clothing, money, and jewelry, buying and storing far more than they need or could use in a month or more.

In short, we don’t put our trust in God, but in mammon – the material wealth that we think brings security. And we do that because, far too often, we become so distracted with the future that we neglect the present.

The Old Testament reading today from Isaiah 49:14-15 reassures us of God’s love. “Can a mother forget her infant,” the prophet asks, “be without tenderness for the child of her womb?” But “even should she forget,” Isaiah tells Israel, God “will never forget you.” And yet we do not put our trust in that love.

Does this mean we should only have one change of clothes and bare cupboards in our homes? Of course not. There is nothing wrong with having enough clothing and a store of food for our families. The problems begin when we begin to fret over not having so much that we don’t need to fret — of looking in a full closet and saying, “I haven’t got a thing to wear,” because we’re worried about what people might think about what we do have. Or of looking in a full fridge and complaining that there’s nothing to eat. As my example shows, that anxiety over the future and the need to fill closets full of clothing to serve one person eventually creates its own problems. We run out of space to store all of our possessions, and then what? We look to acquire more space rather than reduce our own anxieties and rely on God, and then to fill that space with more material possessions, and so on.

“Tomorrow will take care of itself,” Jesus says, and perhaps that’s even more counter-intuitive now than it was in the disciples’ day. We spend our whole lives looking far beyond the present — can I get into the right school? Will this job move me up into a higher social circle? Living “in the now” has a vaguely counter-cultural ring to it these days, and it might have at that time, too. Yet it is absolutely necessary in order to let go of those anxieties, turn our trust and love to God, and extend our hands to our less-fortunate neighbors. It’s the only way to put material possessions in their proper perspective as tools for us to live our lives, rather than traps and idols we end up serving instead of God.

The adage “You cannot serve God and mammon” is usually interpreted as a warning against excessive avarice, but notice that Jesus doesn’t address greed or the wealthy once in this teaching. This is a trap into which all can fall, and usually do. Jesus exhorts his disciples to avoid anxiety rather than greed, which itself isn’t a sin but leads to sinfulness in the manner Jesus describes. At some point, the focus on the potential evils of the future drives us to hoard and jealously guard material goods. We become less concerned about loving and trusting God, and the acquisition and retention of material goods displaces God at the center of our hearts — the heart being the intersection of the will and the intellect, the place of decision-making. As that happens, we become more and more sinful, turning our backs on our neighbors and placing ourselves above God.

Once again, we have here a message of formation of the heart rather than an emphasis on adherence to the letter of the law, as Jesus does throughout the Beatitudes. By removing anxiety about the future, Jesus teaches, we will form our hearts in gladness and joy of God’s love — and the law will be written ever more strongly in our hearts. It’s a call to simplicity, and a great lesson as the season of Lent approaches.

Putin: We retain the right to protect Russians in Ukraine

Mar 1, 2014, 6:26pm |

Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama had a contentious phone call today, after Putin got retroactive approval for his military invasion of Crimea — and perhaps beyond. That seems to be the point of Putin’s readout of the phone call, anyway (emphasis mine):

Vladimir Putin had a telephone conversation with President of the United States Barack Obama on the American side’s initiative.

The two presidents discussed in detail various aspects of the extraordinary situation in Ukraine.

In reply to Mr Obama’s concern over the possibility of the use of Russian armed forces on the territory of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin drew his attention to the provocative and criminal actions on the part of ultranationalists who are in fact being supported by the current authorities in Kiev.

The Russian President spoke of a real threat to the lives and health of Russian citizens and the many compatriots who are currently on Ukrainian territory. Vladimir Putin stressed that in case of any further spread of violence to Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas.

That was the pretext that was entirely predictable from the start of this crisis. And it’s the pretext that will have tanks rolling across that border soon, unless we start providing more disincentives than we’ve done so far. One might be the immediate restoral of the missile-shield program and some ground-breaking events in Poland and the Czech Republic, but don’t expect either nation to trust us to stick to it a second time.

US intel community: Hey, everyone was surprised by Russian invasion

Mar 1, 2014, 2:44pm |

No kidding. Eli Lake reported on Thursday that American intelligence rejected the threat of a Russian invasion despite all of the mobilization going on across the border from Ukraine, only to have Russian force seize Crimea the next day. Now the same sources tell the indispensable Lake that they’re still surprised at the aggression, although they’re distinguishing between an invasion and an invasion-invasion:

U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence on the fast moving situation in Ukraine tell The Daily Beast that analytic products from the intelligence community this week did not discount the prospect of Russian provocations and even light incursions in the Russian majority province of Crimea, the home of Russia’s fleet in the Black Sea.

Nonetheless, until Friday, no one anticipated a Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory.”Nobody thought Putin was going to invade last night,” one Senate aide who works closely on the Ukraine crisis. “He has the G8 summit in Sochi coming up, no one really saw this kind of thing coming.” This source also stressed that events are still moving quickly on the ground. “There is still a question about whether this is Russian troops coming across the border or Russian troops moving around the installations in Crimea.”

I doubt the Ukrainians are making those distinctions. Now that the invasion is under way, though, US intel says it’s a textbook operation. Plus, the Obama administration is making it easy for Putin to act:

“Putin’s aim is to show that he is in the catbird seat, and there is nothing we can do about it,” this former officer said. “He’s like a kid with a can of gasoline and a book of matches, and he laughs as Obama tries to deliver lectures on how fire is dangerous. Indeed, Putin throws banana peels on the ground, and Obama manages to slip on every one of them. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Be sure to read it all. And I’d like to clarify one point about Eli’s earlier report: it was the intel community that got this call embarrassingly wrong, not Eli. His reporting is as solid as ever. That’s something to keep in mind when we use the earlier report in other analyses.

Dem investigator: Hey, maybe Christie should resign

Feb 28, 2014, 4:36pm |

Uh oh, have New Jersey Democrats unearthed new evidence implicating Chris Christie in the ‘Bridgegate’ controversy?  Nope, this woman simply got caught up in the moment — which tends to happen on MSNBC:

Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, a 12th District congressional candidate and a member of the committee investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal, tonight called on the governor to consider resigning over his staff’s role in the controversy. Watson Coleman was discussing newly released text messages between former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official David Wildstein and Bridget Kelly, former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Chris Christie, in which the pair disparage a rabbi and jokingly discuss creating traffic problems outside his house. ”And this really is what they’re all about, transactional deals, dismissiveness, remarks that are totally, totally unacceptable in a civilized society,” Watson Coleman said during an appearance on MSNBC. “And you know what? The governor needs to think about resigning, and he needs to take all his friends with him because this is sickening.”

Remember, Ms. Coleman is a member of the supposedly impartial panel investigating this matter.  What she describes as “sickening” are newly-released (and months old) juvenile text messages exchanged between…two aides who Christie fired nearly two months ago.  The Star-Ledger report goes on:

Coleman is the first member of the committee to call for the governor’s resignation. Earlier this year, Assemblyman John Wisniewski openly discussed the possible impeachment of the governor during an MSNBC appearance, but later walked back the comments and acknowledged that no evidence as of yet points to the governor’s direct involvement.

Oh, that’s right.  They have no evidence.  And by the way, Coleman has an added incentive to make attention-grabbing statements these days: She’s trying to win a Democratic Congressional primary.  By saying what she said, she generated an ugly-looking headline for Christie based on nothing, and got her own name in the paper.  A  two-fer.  I’m confident she’s carrying out her investigative duties with the highest degree of integrity.  In spite of a bruising few months, Christie’s (significantly diminished) job approval rating is still above water, with a majority of New Jerseyans giving his performance a thumbs-up.

NRSC ad asks: Are all of these liars, Senator Reid?

Feb 28, 2014, 1:31pm |

Guy Benson got a nice scoop at our sister site on a new ad from the National Republican Senatorial Committee highlighting Harry Reid’s attack on people who “dare to complain about ObamaCare.” Consider this just the first salvo in the breach opened by Reid, as I described earlier today:

Be sure to read Guy’s piece again, because it’s going to establish a baseline on what should be a torrent of rebuttals. The NRSC needs to cut this down to a 60-second spot and start putting it on the air in places like Arkansas, North Carolina, and Louisiana, but also Minnesota and New Hampshire. It should run in every Senate race no matter how safe the incumbent Democrat might be.

IRS referring to individual mandate tax as ‘shared responsibility payment’

Feb 28, 2014, 11:46am |

Americans for Tax Reform catches the Obama administration’s latest addition to the newspeak lexicon:

In “Four Tax Facts about the Health Care Law for Individuals” the agency writes: Your 2014 tax return will ask if you had insurance coverage or qualified for an exemption.  If not, you may owe a shared responsibility payment when you file in 2015. In “The Individual Shared Responsibility Payment- An Overview” the agency warns Americans they must prove they were covered each and every month of the year: For any month in 2014 that you or any of your dependents don’t maintain coverage and don’t qualify for an exemption, you will need to make an individual shared responsibility payment with your 2014 tax return filed in 2015.

Nope, it’s a tax — which, you’ll recall, is the only way this boondoggle squeaked past constitutional scrutiny.  It’s a tax that overwhelmingly impacts the middle class.  And it’s a tax that’s highly unpopular:

I’ll leave you with this:

Workout video of the day

Feb 28, 2014, 8:02am |

2016 has never seemed farther away.

Houston to Uber: Stop asking citizens to contact city officials

Feb 27, 2014, 1:41pm |

Regardless of the legitimacy or lack thereof of Uber’s issues with the city of Houston, it’s difficult to think of a more clueless way for the city attorney to respond than with a cease-and-desist order … because too many people are contacting city officials through e-mail accounts used for official city business.  Uber delightedly posted the demand on its website:

From: Feldman, David M. – LGL

Sent: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 8:46 AM
To: Miller, Robert
Subject: Uber Cease and Desist

Robert – Please consider this as a formal demand that your client, Uber, cease and desist from transmitting or aiding in the transmission of form e-mails to City officials regarding the adoption of an ordinance to accommodate their enterprise. Despite my informal request to you by telephone on Monday, the excessive number of e-mails has gone unabated, to the point that it has become harassing in nature and arguably unlawful. Failure to cease and desist will be met with appropriate action by the City.

David M. Feldman
City Attorney
City of Houston

Which Houston office-holders specifically are tired of hearing from their constituents? Mayor Annise Parker, who’s been in city government for almost half of her adult life? Someone had to tell Feldman to send this tone-deaf demand to Uber, after all. Houstonians might be interested to know which of their politicians are far too busy to deal with voter feedback.

Here’s a thought: why not just change all of the e-mail addresses, or hide them from the public? Congress does that, forcing constituents to communicate through its website. Making that change might create a political kerfuffle, but it’s a lot smarter than sending cease-and-desist demands to people with business before the city government.

Nutritional labels get a facelift; media very, very impressed

Feb 27, 2014, 12:37pm |

Politico says, “FLOTUS goes big on food label changes“:

The Obama administration has unveiled the most sweeping update to nutrition labeling on food packages in more than two decades — and Americans are in for a reality check about how many calories and how much sugar they are consuming.

What’s considered a serving size would get larger, the type used to display calories would get bolder and added sugars would have to be listed on about 700,000 consumer products — from cereal to energy drinks — in a proposal released Thursday morning by the Food and Drug Administration.

CBS says that labels are “finally undergoing a makeover,” and that it’s really sciencey:

Nutrition fact labels are finally undergoing a makeover. The Food and Drug Administration has proposed new changes to labels on food packaging that are aimed at making them easier to understand — the first major update since about 1994.

Under the changes, serving sizes will be made easier to understand, calories will be featured more prominently and for the first time, added sugars will be included.

The label updates aim to incorporate the new science that has since come out on how eating foods might raise risk for obesity and chronic disease, according to the FDA. For example, old labels focused more on fats, but calorie consumption is what really drives weight gain and obesity, researchers have since determined.

“Our guiding principle here is very simple: that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf, and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. “So this is a big deal, and it’s going to make a big difference for families all across this country.”

Er, sure. Want to see the makeover? CBS has the side-by-side comparison:

nutritional-labels

It’s not the Titanic, but it’s really just rearranging deck chairs. It’s not providing any new information except “added sugars,” which isn’t all that different nutritionally from overall sugars. It leaves out the RDA information, at least for the moment. This is the least-caloric nothingburger one can imagine, and yet this is all over the news today.

By the way, has anyone ever checked to see whether having this information — as good as it is, and I do use it myself — actually has an impact on obesity? Because it certainly doesn’t with calorie counts on restaurant menus.

Harry Reid: Liar

Feb 27, 2014, 12:27pm |

Allahpundit described my reaction to Harry Reid’s latest broadsides against truth and decency rather accurately, writing that I was “virtually shaking with rage and disbelief that this tool could say this with a straight face.”  I eventually channeled that anger — and it was genuine anger — into a rapid fire Twitter fact-check of the US Senate’s dishonorable leader.  Reid asserted that “all of” the personal accounts from people who have been harmed by Obamacare “are untrue.”  In short, this known liar unironically and casually smeared millions of Americans, including a number of cancer patients, as liars for daring to notice that Democrats’ unpopular healthcare law was actively hurting them.  With a tip of the hat to our Twitchy cousins for compiling these tweets into a single post, here is a small slice of what the second most powerful Democrat in America sneers at as “untrue” fabrications of the Koch brothers.  Cancer patients whose plans they liked and depended on were canceled under Obamacare, violating the president’s promise and throwing their lives into turmoil:

Those are in addition to the Michigan woman whose story Reid called “absolutely false” in yet another cretinous, mean-spirited lie. Are these sick children, AIDS patients and disabled families doing the Koch’s bidding, too?

Now let’s hear from some decidedly not “rich” Americans whose healthcare costs are spiking thanks to Democrats’ big “affordable” experiment:

And finally, for good measure, let’s review some of the emotional — and actually inaccurate — “success” and sob stories that Democrats have trotted out to try to manipulate public opinion on Obamacare:

Obama wrongly embellishing the details of his own mother’s death is the perfect note on which to end. Conservatives’ anecdotes are fortified by statistics and evidence, too — even though the existence of any negative experiences should theoretically be enough to expose the Left’s mendacious “no trade-offs, no losers, no downsides” sales pitch for their disastrous law. Oh, and the worst betrayals are yet to come for millions of victims-in-waiting. Or as Reid might call them, future liars.

US diplomats tell Obama: Appoint ambassadors who know something

Feb 26, 2014, 6:06pm |

As Olivier Knox reported yesterday, the American Foreign Service Association didn’t put it quite so bluntly, but they’re not terribly pleased with the ominously incompetent direction the White House is taking.  Their six-page report may be couched in diplo-speak, but it’s not difficult to read between the lines here:

AFSA recommends the following guidelines be applied to all COM nominees, career (regardless of agency) and non-career, in a fair and impartial manner. We have, therefore, developed the four general guidelines described below to be used in the assessment of all future COM nominees.

  • Leadership, Character and Proven Interpersonal Skills: The nominee has demonstrated the interpersonal skills necessary to represent the United States, including utmost integrity, honesty, moral courage, fairness, empathy, an appropriate measure of humility, awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses, overall judgment and decisiveness, and the ability to inspire, as well as a proven ability to be effective in taking on new challenges. A demonstrated understanding and mastery of working in a complex environment where the objectives of multiple and sometimes competing organizations must be balanced, and a demonstrated ability to prioritize wisely, especially concerning issues of one’s staff and facilities. A key skill is the ability to listen in order to better understand the host country’s perspectives, as well as the mission staff ’s views and concerns. These skills can be demonstrated through leadership and management of government organizations, private sector companies, or non-governmental and private volunteer organizations.
  • Understanding of High Level Policy and Operations, and of Key U.S. Interests and Values in the Country or Organization of Prospective Assignment: The nominee possesses the knowledge and capacity to lead the operations of a diplomatic mission effectively; to participate constructively in the formulation of policy and implement policy in a creative manner that yields positive results where possible; and to communicate persuasively with government stakeholders (White House, State Department, other executive agencies and Congress), host nation officials, political leaders and civil society. He or she demonstrates the capacity to negotiate, and has the proven ability to take on various challenges, including working with U.S. and foreign business communities and other nongovernmental interests, and providing services to U.S. citizens.
  • Management: The nominee has relevant management experience. He or she possesses a commitment to team building, innovation, problem-solving, strategic planning, mentoring and career development. He or she also possesses experience in setting goals and visions, managing change, and allocating resources. He or she has the capacity to work well with a deputy and other members of a team, and to delegate effectively.
  • Understanding of Host Country and International Affairs, Ability to Promote and Advance U.S. Interests: The nominee has experience in or with the host country or other suitable international experience, and has knowledge of the host country culture and language or of other foreign cultures or languages. He or she has the ability to manage relations between the U.S. and the country or organization of assignment in order to advance U.S. interests, including the interests of U.S. commercial firms as well as individual U.S. citizens and nationals. The nominee skillfully interacts with different audiences – both public and private.

Note some of the language in this missive in terms of recent appointments: “The nominee has experience in or with the host country or other suitable international experience…” “Understanding of host country …” “Understanding of high-level policy and operations …” In other words, the appointees have to prepare well to represent the US to host countries, and not just act like rich-but-clueless tourists with an outdated book of helpful phrases. Unfortunately, we’ve seen nothing but the latter in recent appointments.

To do that, though, the President has to take these appointments seriously — and as Olivier notes, that’s probably the big hurdle:

The Southern California finance co-chairwoman of Obama’s 2008 campaign, Nicole Avant, went missing from the embassy in the Bahamas for 276 days between September 2009 and November 2011, according to a January 2012 State Department inspector general’s report. Her absences included 102 “personal leave” days, and 77 business travel days to the United States, just 23 of those on official orders.

At an April 2011 Democratic National Committee fundraiser, Obama gave Avant a shout-out.

“And our ambassador to the Bahamas, Nicole Avant, is in the house,” he said, to laughter from the crowd. “It’s a nice gig, isn’t it?”

A nice gig? If you can get it.

If you can write a check with at least four zeroes ahead of the decimal point, you probably can get it.

Brutal: Obama vs. reality on Obamacare costs for small businesses

Feb 26, 2014, 11:33am |

Via the Libre Initiative, here’s America’s Liar of the Year (not my words!) doing his thing in October of 2009. In a speech peddling Obamacare to small business advocates, the president warmed up with his shattered “keep your plan” vow before enthusiastically touting the glorious ‘affordability’ that awaited exchange participants:

What we will do is make the coverage that you’re currently providing more affordable…You’ll be able to get better deals than you could have ever received on your own.  In fact, small businesses that choose one of the plans in this exchange could save 25 percent on their premiums by 2016.”

The operation of said magical exchange, by the way, was just delayed for the second time, for another full year — with many small businesses being offered a single “option.” And now, 2014′s reality check, via — er – the Obama administration:

Nearly two-thirds of small businesses that currently offer health insurance to their workers will pay more for coverage as a result of new rules in the health care law, as will millions of small-business employees and their family members, according to new estimates released by the Obama administration…”We are estimating that 65 percent of the small firms are expected to experience increases in their premium rates while the remaining 35 percent are anticipated to have rate reductions,” CMS’ Office of the Actuary wrote in a new report.

These looming rate increases will compel many employers in the small group market (whose businesses fall below the employee thresholds established in the again-postponed employer mandate) to simply drop coverage for their workers.  Experts — including those within the administration — have projected that tens of millions of American workers will ultimately lose their existing employer-based coverage due to Obamacare.  Those employees will be shuffled into the individual market, where many will choose between paying significantly more for health insurance and forking over mandate-tax penalty payments to the IRS for the privilege of being uninsured.  You’ll recall that White House officials have repeatedly assured consumers within the employer-based market that the recent furor over canceled plans “doesn’t apply” to them.  ”They don’t have to worry about, or do, or change anything,” Jay Carney told reporters in late October. According to the administration’s own numbers, that’s not even close to being accurate. This crew simply lies about Obamacare.  Period.

Picture Government ad of the day

Feb 26, 2014, 11:24am |

Your tax dollars at work, from HHS.gov’s official Twitter account:

Much embarrass. So incompetence. Very paternalism.

Update: Dylan Byers at Politico predicts “backfire”:

Twitter memes are for Twitter, not for $2 trillion government programs that force you to participate anyway.

California paroling record number of lifers under Jerry Brown

Feb 25, 2014, 1:34pm |

Opponents of the death penalty — myself among them — argue that life sentences are enough to keep society safe. What happens when life sentences … aren’t? The Associated Press reports that paroles of lifers in California have skyrocketed under Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration:

Since Gov. Jerry Brown assumed office in January 2011, a record number of inmates with life sentences are winning parole. Brown has allowed the release of nearly 1,400 lifers, while going along with the parole board about 82 percent of the time.

Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, authorized the release of 557 lifers during his six-year term, sustaining the board at a 27 percent clip. Before that, Gov. Gray Davis over 3 years approved the release of two.

This dramatic shift in releases under Brown comes as the state grapples with court orders to ease a decades-long prison crowding crisis that has seen triple bunking, prison gyms turned into dormitories and inmates shipped out of state.

Crime victims and their advocates have said the releases are an injustice to the victims and that the parolees could pose a danger to the public. More than 80 percent of lifers are in prison for murder, while the remaining are mostly rapists and kidnappers.

“This is playing Russian roulette with public safety,” said Christine Ward, executive director of the Crime Victims Action Alliance. “This is a change of philosophy that can be dangerous.”

It’s important to note that these life sentences are not the “life without parole” variety, but the kind that started off eligible for parole at some point in the future. The only way to undo the LWOP sentences would be executive acts of clemency.  That, at least thus far, doesn’t seem to be Brown’s direction.

In fact, Brown defends these approvals by saying the court has forced his hand on prison overcrowding. He’s blocked 100 paroles thus far, but can’t issue vetoes at the same rate and expect to comply with judicial orders to lower prison populations. Assuming that doesn’t do the trick, and California doesn’t add prison space, how long before judges start looking at LWOP cases? Or for that matter, California’s death-row roster, most of whom wait decades before facing the executioner?

California needs to make some tough decisions on incarceration, sentencing, and investment in prisons. This is just another symptom of the state’s governing class kicking those decisions down the road for far too long.

Poll: ‘Impeach Obama’ Larouchie leads Texas Democrats’ Senate primary

Feb 25, 2014, 11:27am |

This poll made the rounds yesterday because of its top line result in Texas’ gubernatorial race.  In case you missed it, Republican Greg Abbott leads late-term abortion champion Wendy Davis by double digits, with the Democrat attracting the support of just 36 percent of likely voters.  But there’s another data point buried deep within the Texas Tribune/UT survey that is highly embarrassing for Democrats:

Meet Kesha Rogers, Democratic frontrunner:

As an acolyte of perennial presidential fringe candidate Lyndon LaRouche, she believes the U.S. economy is secretly controlled by a cabal of London financial institutions. She’s paraded around Houston with a giant picture of Obama sporting a Hitler mustache and compared the Affordable Care Act to 1930s-era Nazi eugenics policies…She also advocates increased NASA funding so America can use missiles to defend against asteroids, and to colonize Mars.

There’s more.  Feast your eyes on an online ad (?) performed and edited by her campaign.  It blends a familiar, whistle-along tune from Mary Poppins with a dash of lighthearted…Hitler comparisons:

To repeat, this woman leads her party’s Senate field by eight points.  If the primaries were held tomorrow, Wendy Davis and Kesha Rogers would sit atop Texas Democrats’ ticket heading into November.  Turn Texas Blue — Because Texans deserve serious, non-insane leadership, or something!

Unfortunate photo of the day

Feb 25, 2014, 10:55am |

C’mon.

Piers Morgan staffers happy for cancellation?

Feb 25, 2014, 8:15am |

This sounds highly counter-intuitive, especially in this economy, but that’s what the New York Daily News claims:

Staffers at “Piers Morgan Tonight” are actually relieved that CNN has canceled the show, sources tell Confidenti@l.

“He was always such an a—— to people working for him,” one insider says of the bombastic Brit. Morgan’s last show is likely to be this week, but no specific date has been set. We hear it was low ratings and a bad attitude that killed it, and the decision was made by network boss Jeff Zucker. “The makeup girls suffered the worst — he was rude and belligerent,” says our source. “The general feeling is Morgan didn’t show any respect to anyone working under him — the people who were trying to make him look good.”

Normally I’d be tempted to shrug at this as sour grapes from perhaps one or two people who’d gotten crossways with the boss. With Morgan, though, his disdain for people shone brightly through most of his interviews; numerous analysts noticed it, and more than a couple thought it might have led to the failure of the show in retaining guests over its three-year run. If it’s true, it’s not the first firing in cable news in the last few months to get a thumbs-up from the crew.

Presumably, all of these people will stay on staff for the next 9 PM show on CNN. Or maybe it’s better for them regardless. (via Mediaite)

Still One Growth Sector for Unions in South: Government

Feb 24, 2014, 5:14pm |

The world’s media outlets were virtually unanimous in their assessments of the failed attempt of the United Auto Workers to unionize employees at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Reuters called it “a stinging defeat” for a years-long campaign “which had been seen as organized labor’s best chance to expand in the U.S. South.”

It was a stinging defeat all right, but organized labor’s best chance to expand in the U.S. South is actually the only place it has expanded anywhere for the past 50 years: government.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics produces a much-cited annual report on union membership based on the Current Population Survey, but it takes Barry Hirsch of Georgia State University and David Macpherson of Trinity University to present the disaggregated data on their web site unionstats.com. I am chagrined to admit I did not know the site existed until tipped by Stan Greer of the National Institute for Labor Relations Research. It is a treasure trove of information that I will be culling for weeks, but I will start with a comparison of the membership numbers for public employee unions (PEUs) in each of the 50 states and DC in 2013 and 2008.

I have posted a simple table on the EIA web site. Examining statistics for public employee unions alone yields interesting results. Cumulatively, PEUs lost 8 percent of their members in the last five years. Thirty-six states suffered losses.

PEUs in 14 states and DC experienced growth in the aftermath of the recession. Seven of them grew by 15 percent or more. Six of the seven high-growth areas are in Southern states.

The list is headed by Georgia, where government unions grew by more 36 percent between 2008 and 2013. Virginia followed with 31.9% PEU growth. And though Tennessee is now seen as an anti-union enclave because of the UAW vote, government unions grew 27.4% there in the past five years. Kentucky (22.1%), Oklahoma (19.8%) and Texas (15%) round out the list. In the North, only Vermont (16.7%) was able to crack this group.

To be sure, the South still is not uniformly friendly to public sector unions. The largest declines in government union membership occurred in Mississippi (-53%) and Arkansas (-42.5%).

But if unions want to stave off total disintegration, they would do well to concentrate their efforts on the one sector of the U.S. economy that operates without market competition or ordinary limits on workforce growth. That is as true in the South as it was in the Northeast and Midwest.

Report: ‘Rampant corruption’ in Booker’s Newark

Feb 24, 2014, 3:56pm |

Hey look, a genuine, brewing scandal in New Jersey:

While Newark was laying off police officers and begging for state bailouts, one of its most important contractors was siphoning off millions of city dollars in illegal payments, sweetheart deals, and risky stock ventures right under the noses of city leaders, according to a report released today by the state comptroller’s office. Until a judge appointed trustees to dissolve the agency last year, the Newark Watershed Conservation Development Corporation managed the city’s 35,000 acres of reservoirs and treated water for more than 500,000 customers in northern New Jersey. Between 2008 and 2011, the state comptroller alleges that agency leaders and insiders absconded with millions of public dollars. ”This report documents an egregious and yet preventable abuse of public funds that was allowed to continue unfettered for years because of poor oversight,” said comptroller chief of staff Melissa Liebermann in a statement issued today with the 45-page report.

The former official who lined her pockets with taxpayers’ money says she acted at the direction of Mayor (and now US Senator) Cory Booker’s administration:

Linda Watkins-Brashear, the agency’s director and a political ally of former Newark mayor, now Sen. Cory Booker, wrote unreported checks to herself to the tune of $200,000, was awarded $700,000 in two severance packages, gave more than $1 million in contracts to her friends and ex-husband, and lost $500,000 in dubious stock ventures, the report states. When asked about the transactions by the state comptroller, Watkins-Brashear invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate herself, the report said. Through her attorneys, Watkins-Brashear said the report wrongly laid blame at her feet and said she acted at all times with the knowledge and approval of then Mayor Cory Booker’s administration. ”The report provides the public with an inaccurate depiction of how the NWCDC operated, the propriety of the transactions at issue, and how some of the perceived problems came to pass,” attorney Michael Baldassare said in a statement. “Ms. Watkins-Brashear acted as she was directed, believed at all times that her actions were appropriate and duly authorized, and faithfully discharged her obligations for over 32 years.”

Team Booker has some explaining to do:

Since the 1970′s, the NWCDC was a steward of the city’s watershed land in Passaic, Morris and Sussex counties. By the 1990′s, the city was also contracting the agency to run Newark’s purification plant in Pequannock. Shortly after Booker took over, every aspect of the city’s water infrastructure was managed by the NWCDC through contracts and consultants. Despite investigations by the Newark Water Group, a watchdog collective of resident activists, as well as a series of financial misdeeds reported in The Star-Ledger, the Booker administration continued to fund no-bid contracts to the agency at the rate of roughly $10 million a year. The city was the agency’s only customer, meaning all of its funding came from public dollars.

The Star-Ledger reports that corruption and graft within the NWCDC system was an open secret among many in Newark’s political class.  Phil Kerpen connects some dots that lead awfully close to Booker’s doorstep:  As Mayor, Booker appointed his former law partner and campaign treasurer as the Watershed’s chief counsel.  The agency then proceeded to pay his law firm approximately $1 million over the next five years, roughly 40 percent of which may have been unauthorized.  And yes, this was the same law firm that was simultaneously paying out nearly $700,000 in severance compensation to Booker himself (click through for an explanation of Booker’s conflicting claims about the nature those pay-outs).  Meanwhile, city government cronies were living high on the hog while residents and core services suffered.  Thanks, taxpayers:

In 2010, the same year Newark laid off more than 160 police officers and about 800 other employees, Watkins-Brashear treated herself and 20 guests to a $1,400 feast in Atlantic City during the annual League of Municipalities conference, the report states. Watkins-Brashear and her guests dined that night on lobster, king crab and filet mignon, washed down with martinis, cognac and wine, according to the comptroller’s findings.

Will the national media run with this story, considering that it appears to entangle a rising star politician from New Jersey?  Weeks of relentless and often sloppy coverage of ‘Bridgegate’ have driven Chris Christie’s numbers down from lofty highs, even as zero evidence has yet emerged that Christie was involved in the scandal.  Will Booker get the same treatment?