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Chicago Air Stinks

Do the natives not smell the pollution? They may not be able to see it from the ground, but Chicago is thick with smog. The skies are brown here.

Chicago smog

Put the issue of climate change aside for a second. This pollution is deadly serious – literally. People die from this.

How can Congress continue to coddle fossil fuels companies when the skies of our cities are in this condition?

The Pros and Cons of Lindsey Graham For President

Lindsey Graham declared today that he will announce on June 1 whether he is running for President or not… and then took all the drama out of the announcement by going ahead and saying that yes, he is going to run for President. So Lindsey Graham may not be the most politically adept member of the U.S. Senate, but he can count on being re-elected to the Senate over and over again because he’s a Republican from South Carolina, and people in South Carolina don’t send Democrats to the Senate.

Can Lindsey Graham extend his popularity among the right wing Republicans in South Carolina to win enough support to become President for the entire United States? Let’s take a look at the record of Lindsey Graham in the U.S. Senate to uncover his potential.

lindsey grahamPros

– In the 113th Congress, Lindsey Graham supported legislation from Senator Jon Tester that would have required electronic, rather than paper, submissions of campaign finance reports, enabling more rapid reporting of big money connections by the FEC to the public.

Cons

– Lindsey Graham voted in favor of George W. Bush’s plan to rush into war in Iraq in 2002, creating a disaster of a war and leading the forgotten war in Afghanistan to become the longest war in American history.

– Lindsey Graham voted to double the interest rate on student loans, at a moment in history when college graduates are having a more difficult time getting work in their fields that pays enough to allow them to make student loan payments.

– Over and over, Lindsey Graham has voted against taking action to deal with the growing problem of climate change

– In 2011, Lindsey Graham voted in favor of Defense authorization legislation that made it legal for the President of the United States to order the imprisonment of Americans for indefinite periods of time – without any criminal charge.

– Lindsey Graham has consistently voted to deny equal rights of marriage to heterosexual and homosexual couples

– When Lindsey Graham voted to reduce taxes on the huge inheritances of trust fund babies, he complained that Democrats were trying to “pick on” millionaires and billionaires

– Lindsey Graham voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act even after it was made clear that the law was being used to spy against Americans who weren’t suspected of any crime. Graham also voted to confirm Michael Hayden as head of the CIA. Hayden had led the implementation. of George W. Bush’s unconstitutional program to conduct mass surveillance against law-abiding Americans.

– Lindsey Graham voted to approve of the appointment of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General, although Gonzales was the author of legal memos approving the use of torture by U.S. federal agents.

Can Lindsey Graham take a right wing extremist record like this and gain the support of the majority of the American people? Gosh, I hope not. He’ll carry South Carolina though, for sure.

“No Global Warming”? April 2015 was the 3rd warmest April on Record for Planet Earth

Marc Morano of the Exxon-funded and Chevron-funded website Climate Depot declared in April 2015 that “There is no global warming crisis! … now going on almost two decades of no global warming.” Echoing the same theme, Nancy J. Thorner of Lake Bluff, Illinois wrote a letter to the editor of the Madison-St. Clair Record complaining that schools are teaching children that global warming is real when really, she claims, “there has been no global warming for 18 full years.” Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer is running for Governor of Kentucky on a platform of denying the existence of global warming, while taking campaign money from coal and oil operators (example | example | example | example | example | example). In an April 2015 debate, Comer declared flatly that “We’ve had a very severe winter this year with 12-inch snows, so there is no global warming.”

Let’s set aside Comer’s confusion between local weather and global temperature for a moment and ask what temperatures were doing in April 2015, while these three individuals were airing the “no global warming message.” Over the weekend, new data released by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies indicate that across the globe, April 2015 was the 3rd warmest April in the 135-year NASA record.  The following are the ten warmest Aprils for the globe in that record:

#1: 2010
#2: 2014
#3: 2015
#3: 2007 (tied)
#5: 2005
#6: 1998
#7: 2012
#8: 2011
#9: 2000
#10: 2004

And here are the ten coolest Aprils for the globe in that record:

#1: 1913
#2: 1911
#3: 1904
#4: 1910
#5: 1917
#6: 1907
#7: 1894
#8: 1918
#9: 1908
#10: 1913

Looks like a pattern, doesn’t it?  Just in case you think I’m picking extremes to prove my point, let’s look at all the global temperature levels for the month of April across all the years in the NASA dataset:

NASA GISS Global Temperature DData for the month of April, 1880 to 2015

If you’ve been funded by the coal and oil industries, this pattern is called “no global warming.”  What do you call it?

Diversity In Religion Distinguishes Non-Republican States From Republican States

The big news in American culture this last week was the release of a report on America’s religious landscape by the Pew Research Center. The study shows that the number of Americans who identify themselves as Christian is shrinking in all 50 states. The United States is becoming a more diverse nation in terms of attitudes about religion, with large numbers of Americans embracing alternatives to Christianity, religious and non-religious.

Of course, not every place in the USA is equally diverse. While some places are on the verge of genuine pluralism, others, especially in the South, remain dominated by Christianity.

The impact of these differences can be seen in American political life. Looking at the state-by-state results from the Pew study, a clear pattern emerges. Those states that have low religious diversity tend to elect more Republicans to Congress. As the chart below shows, states that have two Republican U.S. senators have, on average, 10 percent fewer non-Christian residents than states that have two Democratic U.S. Senators.

average religious diversity and us senate

The scatter plot below shows the details behind these averages. Each blue circle represents one state. Though there is some overlap, the general tend is clear. States that elect Republicans to the U.S. Senate tend to have smaller populations of non-Christian residents, relative to their size – though even in those states, diversity is increasing.

scatter plot of religious diversity and politics in the united states

Legislation By Bernie Sanders Shows GOP Congress Is Managerially Incompetent

Even though Bernard Sanders is running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, he remains a United States senator in the meantime, and he’s working hard at it. This month, he has sponsored or co-sponsored six bills in the Senate. One of those bills Sanders wrote and introduced himself.

S. 1206 – “A bill to address the concept of “Too Big To Fail” with respect to certain financial entities”, was introduced to the Senate on Wednesday. No, not Wednesday last week, but Wednesday on the week before that.

us congress in redI take special note of the date of the introduction of S. 1206 because it shows what has become of the Republican promise to run the United States Congress more effectively that the Democrats had.

For a moment, let’s put ideology aside and focus in on the simple management of the U.S. Congress. If a political party can’t manage the daily operations of Congress, they’re going to have trouble effectively implementing any political agenda.

What we see with S. 1206 is that the GOP can’t handle the most basic managerial tasks of Congress. It’s been one and a half weeks since Sanders introduced S. 1206, and still there is no officially-available copy of the bill for the public to read online at Congress.gov. That’s because the bill hasn’t yet been printed on paper, and the Library of Congress has a policy of not releasing the text of any bills electronically before they have been printed on paper.

In the past, it’s taken two to three days for the text of a bill to be made available. In this post-Kinkos era, a 10-day-and-counting print job for a document that consists of nothing more than words is absurd.

And now, back to the ideology. The delay in the case of S. 1206 is particularly important, because the bill is a direct challenge to the power that big banks hold over our country’s political system.

Since these banks brought the United States to the brink of calamity in 2007 and 2008, they have grown even larger and more powerful. Sanders explains, “I fear very much that the financial system is even more fragile than many people may perceive. This huge issue cannot be swept under the rug. It has got to be addressed. During the financial crisis of 2008, the American people were told that they needed to bailout huge financial institutions because those institutions were “too big to fail.” Yet, today, three out of the four financial institutions in this country (JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo) are 80 percent larger today than they were on September 30, 2007, a year before the taxpayers of this country bailed them out.

These giant banks have received massive amounts of government assistance in the form of favorable legislation and even direct payments of taxpayer money, because they are deemed “too big to fail”. They are so massive that the collapse of any one of them would bring economic disaster, we’re told. So, the government props them up. The banks then find money in their reserves to make big payments to prop up the political campaigns of politicians who support government assistance to banks. As Sanders puts it, “The fact of the matter is that Congress does not regulate Wall Street; Wall Street regulates Congress.”

Bernie Sanders aims to take on this cozy and corrupt arrangement with S. 1206. As its title suggests, the legislation would require the breakup of banks that are deemed to be so large that they cannot be allowed to fail.

Sanders writes, “No single financial institution should be so large that its failure would cause catastrophic risk to millions of Americans or to our nation’s economic well-being. No single financial institution should have holdings so extensive that its failure would send the world economy into crisis. If an institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist and that is the bottom line.

And, let’s be clear: the reason we are here today is not just because of the danger these institutions pose to taxpayers.
The enormous concentration of ownership within the financial sector is hurting the middle class and damaging the economy by limiting choices and raising prices for consumers and small businesses.

Today, just six huge financial institutions have assets of nearly $10 trillion which is equal to nearly 60 percent of GDP. These huge banks handle more than two-thirds of all credit card purchases, write over 35 percent of the mortgages, and control nearly half of all bank deposits in this country. If the American people are wondering why tens of millions of Americans are being charged interest rates of more than 20 percent on their credit cards, while big banks can receive virtually zero interest loans from the Federal Reserve, the lack of competition in the banking industry is a major reason for that.

If Teddy Roosevelt were alive today, do you know what he would say? He would say break ‘em up.”

In the United States Senate, Senator Sanders has written a strong bill to break up the banks that have created an unjust and anemic economy, and corrupted our democratic government. Yet, so ineffective is the Republican leadership of the legislative branch that the American people can’t even read the Sanders legislation.

I don’t know enough to say that there’s a conspiracy by the Republicans to shut American voters out of the legislative process. What I can say is that, for the politicians who are taking payments from banks like JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo, the situation is quite convenient.

Bernie Sanders vs. Hillary Clinton on the Patriot Act (2001)

In the 2016 Democratic Party presidential primary, some comparisons are simple. If you’ve been paying any attention at all over the last fourteen years, you know that the USA PATRIOT ACT has been a vehicle to vastly expand the surveillance powers of the federal government, breaching a variety of constitutional limits.

On October 25 2001, as a member of the U.S. Senate, Hillary Clinton voted FOR the USA PATRIOT ACT.

On October 24 2001, as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Bernie Sanders voted AGAINST the USA PATRIOT ACT.

When it mattered most, in a situation of intense political pressure, Hillary Clinton made the wrong move. Bernie Sanders made the right move. If this issue matters to you, remember. If this issue matters to someone you know, help them remember.

PATRIOT ACT: Hillary Clinton Voted Yes, Bernie Sanders Voted No (Vote Bernie Sanders for President bumper sticker)

5 Reasons Bernie Sanders Opposed The Iraq War In 2002, And How History Judged His Decision

In 2002, as Congress was preparing to vote on a resolution approving George W. Bush’s plan for a rushed invasion of Iraq, Bernard Sanders gave a speech containing 5 reasons for his opposition to the war. Here’s what he said, and how history has judged his assertions.

“In the brief time I have, let me give five reasons why I am opposed to giving the President a blank check to launch a unilateral invasion and occupation of Iraq and why I will vote against this resolution. One, I have not heard any estimates of how many young American men and women might die in such a war or how many tens of thousands of women and children in Iraq might also be killed. As a caring Nation, we should do everything we can to prevent the horrible suffering that a war will cause. War must be the last recourse in international relations, not the first.”

Bernie Sanders for PresidentHistory says: Thousands of young American men and women were killed in the Iraq more, and many more came home physically maimed and psychologically warped by the experience. Bernie Sanders underestimated the number of Iraqis who would die as a result of the war, however. It wasn’t tens of thousands. The estimates of civilian deaths in Iraq range from 138,000 to in the millions. Iraqis continue to be killed in the bloody aftermath of George W. Bush’s invasion to this day.

“Second, I am deeply concerned about the precedent that a unilateral invasion of Iraq could establish in terms of international law and the role of the United Nations. If President Bush believes that the U.S. can go to war at any time against any nation, what moral or legal objection could our government raise if another country chose to do the same thing?”

History says: Part of Russia’s justification for its invasion of the Ukraine has been the invasion of Iraq by the United States. Vladimir Putin calls Americans hypocrites for supporting their own government’s war while opposing his.

“Third, the United States is now involved in a very difficult war against international terrorism as we learned tragically on September 11. We are opposed by Osama bin Laden and religious fanatics who are prepared to engage in a kind of warfare that we have never experienced before. I agree with Brent Scowcroft, Republican former National Security Advisor for President George Bush, Sr., who stated, ‘An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken.'”

History says: Because of all the money, soldiers and military equipment that were redirected from the war in Afghanistan to the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan quickly fell into disarray, and became the longest overseas war in American history.

“Fourth, at a time when this country has a $6 trillion national debt and a growing deficit, we should be clear that a war and a long-term American occupation ofIraq could be extremely expensive.”

History says: The cost of the Iraq War through the end of 2014 was $4.4 trillion.

“Fifth, I am concerned about the problems of so-called unintended consequences. Who will govern Iraq when Saddam Hussein is removed and what role will the U.S. play in ensuing a civil war that could develop in that country? Will moderate governments in the region who have large Islamic fundamentalist populations be overthrown and replaced by extremists? Will the bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority be exacerbated? And these are just a few of the questions that remain unanswered.”

History says: Nouri al-Maliki, installed as Prime Minister of Iraq under the American military occupation, turned out to be such a divisive leader that Iraq has fallen into civil war. Extremists who trained as insurgents against the United States are now tearing Iraq apart, and are fighting to extend their power elsewhere in the Middle East as well, under the name of The Islamic State. They’re slaughtering civilians, destroying ancient artifacts, forcing religious conversions, and sending out videos of decapitations of journalists. How’s that for the Arab Spring George W. Bush promised us?

Bernie Sanders is now running for President of the United States. His predictions about the Iraq War turned out to be quite accurate, demonstrating the kind of insight into foreign policy that we need badly in the White House. If you want a more peaceful world, please give the Sanders for President campaign your support.

What Journalists Are Getting Wrong About Jeb Bush And The Decision To Invade Iraq

This week, Americans have watched Jeb Bush careen wildly through a series of answers to a simple question: If he had been President in 2003, knowing what we know now, would he have invaded Iraq.

First, Jeb Bush said proudly that yes, he would invade Iraq all over again, just like his brother George W. did. Then, he said he didn’t really know if he would. Then, he said that the question was irrelevant. Then, he said that he wouldn’t engage in hypotheticals, and that journalists ought to be ashamed of themselves for insulting American soldiers by asking questions about the Iraq War.

jeb bush kissy faceFinally, yesterday, Jeb Bush arrived at the following answer to the question: “If we’re all supposed to answer hypothetical questions, knowing what we know now, what would you have done,” he said, “I would have not engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq.”

This is supposed to be his final answer, the one that the entire nation can get behind. The Jeb Bush for President campaign-that-is-not-officially-yet-a-campaign has calculated that Americans will all shrug, and say, “Oh, okay. Well, we all know now the Iraq War was a disaster, but who could have predicted that things would have gone so badly?”

What this response to Jeb Bush’s newest version of his ever-shifting foreign policy pose is missing, and what American journalists seem to be missing as well, is the acknowledgement that presidents of the United States do not make decisions about past wars based on information they gather after the wars are complete. They make decisions about whether to make war in the present, based on a combination of present knowledge and hypothetical futures.

We all already knew what Jeb Bush’s position on the Iraq War was. He made it back in 2003.

Jeb Bush was 100 percent in favor of the sloppy invasion of Iraq. That’s all we really need to know.

If Jeb Bush had been in the Oval Office in 2003, he would have made the same stupid mistake that his brother made. If he wins the presidential election in 2016, he will be likely to make similar stupid decisions, and bring our country into further troubles.

Jeb Bush didn’t just mildly and meekly acquiesce to the apparent inevitability of war against Iraq. He loudly and proudly applauded it. He urged the country to get behind the rushed invasion plan.

Many Americans didn’t do what Jeb Bush did. The debate shouldn’t be about what anyone would have done, given what we know now. It should be about what politicians did, given what they knew in 2003. There were many Americans who spoke up loudly in opposition to the war. There was a long debate in Congress. There were protests in the streets. So, it’s not as if people can only see now that the invasion of Iraq was an idiotic idea. Many people had the wisdom to perceive the problems with the war as it was being planed.

Jeb Bush did not display that wisdom.

It’s not just a problem with Jeb Bush, of course. All of the Republican presidential candidates – with the possible exception of Rand Paul – supported the invasion of Iraq in 2002. They were cheerleaders for the idiotic war, and they continued to defend it vigorously long after the war was shown to be based on falsehoods. They made the same mistake that George W. Bush made, and would make similar mistakes in the future, if elected President in 2016.

To be fair, it’s a problem for Hillary Clinton, too. I was a constituent of Clinton when she was a United States Senator. Like many fellow New Yorkers, I sent messages to her office pleading for a vote against the resolution approving war against Iraq.

Hillary Clinton didn’t listen. She made the same stupid mistake that Jeb Bush made – and for ten years, she didn’t even admit that it was a mistake. Clinton marched our nation off to war, in lock step with the Bushes.

Jeb Bush doesn’t come out of this week looking like a competent leader. Neither does Clinton.

For our next President, we need a leader who, in 2003, given what was known then, was brave enough to say no to war.

We need more presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein, both of whom were strong opponents of the Iraq War from the start.

As American Religious “Nones” increase in Numbers, Here’s Why it Matters…

According to the 2014 Pew Religious Landscape Survey, the share of Americans who identify themselves as “atheist,” “agnostic,” or “nothing in particular” has jumped from 16.1% to 22.8% in the last seven years.

The increasing share of religious “Nones” matters because lack of religion is a basis for discrimination in this country. Michael Wallace, Bradley R. E. Wright and Allen Hyde of the University of Connecticut published the results of a field experiment last year, for which they sent out thousands of fictional job applications to employers in the American South. These applications were paired up so that employers were sent fictional applications of comparable quality, varying only in the name of a religious [or atheist] extracurricular club to which the applicant belonged. This club membership signaled the fictional applicant’s religion. For a control group, some fictional applications made mention of no religious or irreligious club affiliation.

The results of the experiment: Southern employers made a phone call or sent an e-mail message in response to 18.2% of job applications that didn’t mention religious or irreligious club affiliation. If an application mentioned membership in an Evangelical Christian club, employers responded at a rate that wasn’t statistically significantly different from that. But if an application of the same quality mentioned membership in an atheist club, employers only called back 12.0% of the time, a margin of discrimination that is both substantively and statistically significant.

According to Pew’s Religious Landscape Surveys, the share of people in the American South who are religious “nones” climbed from 13% in 2007 to 19% in 2014. As religious “nones” continue to grow in numbers in the American South, will they continue to encounter the discrimination that Michael Wallace and his colleagues documented? Or will this growth in numbers finally lead to greater acceptance?

John Bolton Is Too Many Kinds Of Crazy To Be President

Republican retired ambassador John Bolton teetered on the edge of announcing a presidential campaign today, and then backed away from the edge, swaying erratically.

john bolton is crazyBolton’s decision not to run for President is a good thing for our country, but it means the loss of a great deal of entertainment. Bolton would not have been the only Republican extremist to run for President in 2016, but he might have been the most bizarre one. He has a frumpy grumpy kind of right wing outrage that makes him fun to watch, and he’s fond of making categorical statements that are thoroughly unanchored to reality.

For instance, Bolton recently declared that Hillary Clinton “doesn’t have any problem getting to the left of Elizabeth Warren.”

Hillary Clinton to the left of Elizabeth Warren?

As a United States senator, Elizabeth Warren has been an opponent of government surveillance. Hillary Clinton was part of the Obama Administration that perpetrated it.

Elizabeth Warren opposes fracking. Hillary Clinton supports it.

Elizabeth Warren speaks out strongly in opposition to global warming. Hillary Clinton is mostly silent on the subject.

Elizabeth Warren has been an outspoken critic of Walmart’s systematic economic exploitation of poverty here in the United States and around the world. Hillary Clinton was on Walmart’s board of directors.

Elizabeth Warren opposed bankruptcy restrictions that force people to keep repaying enormous college loans even when they have lost their jobs and everything they own. Hillary Clinton voted for them.

Elizabeth Warren is a critic of free trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership. Hillary Clinton supports them.

Elizabeth Warren opposed George W. Bush’s rush to invade Iraq in 2003. Hillary Clinton voted in favor of it.

No, Hillary Clinton is not to the left of Elizabeth Warren. In fact, Hillary Clinton is to the right of most Democrats. John Bolton and his supporters are off so far over on the right wing of American politics, however, that everything on this side of Rush Limbaugh looks Communist to them.

Bill To Somewhat Diminish NSA Spying Passed By U.S. House. Is This Good News?

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the USA Freedom Act, a bill that somewhat restricts electronic spying by the National Security Agency against the American people. The vote was unusually strong 338 in favor, and 88 opposed.

All amendments from the floor were blocked.

The character of that vote should give us pause. Republicans who have vigorously defended spying by the NSA actually voted for this bill. Why?

nsa big brotherJust last week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that the NSA surveillance program is illegal, allowing a lawsuit to go forward that could eventually shut down the program altogether. The passage of the USA Freedom Act might thus be seen as a move to defend the NSA spying program, rather than to meaningfully restrict it.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has expressed strong reservations that the USA Freedom Act may actually allow the federal government to use the NSA program to continue spying on the activities of people in the United States without reasonable belief that the people being spied upon are involved in any criminal activity at all. Furthermore, the USA Freedom Act requires corporations to store data about people’s activities. That data may be accessed without adequate supervision by government agents through purposefully engineered backdoors that are not closed by the USA Freedom Act. What’s more, the mandate of bigger corporate databanks keeping more information about us will encourage expanded corporate surveillance of us, and make us even more vulnerable to hackers.

The U.S. Senate has not yet voted on its equivalent bill, S. 1123, and so there is still an opportunity for senators to improve the legislation, but they will have to negotiate with the House to send a final version to the White House, even if this opportunity is seized.

Given that the history of the NSA surveillance program is thick with deception and coverups, we would do well to regard the passage of the USA Freedom Act, and other proposed reforms, with skepticism. It may be that the passage of the USA Freedom Act leads to a shrinkage of electronic surveillance against people in the United States. On the other hand, it may, like the prohibition of Total Information Awareness by Congress a decade ago, only serve as a cover for continued massive unconstitutional seizure of the most personal details from our private accounts.