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Cuba inertia is not forever

by Eric Ferguson on December 17, 2014 · 0 comments

The thing about inertia is that it isn’t indefinite. It lasts only until acted upon. So sanctions on Cuba have been sustained by inertia, but now have encountered a countervailing force, a realistic president. C-SPAN has President Obama’s statement. Of course, some find it more fun to switch off C-SPAN and watch the nonsense flow on Fox News, where the first reaction when the president was done speaking was that Cuba once pointed missiles at us. Yes, in October 1962. I guess the Cuban Missile Crisis hasn’t ended in some heads. Oh yes, the supported an invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles the year before, but Fox left that out.
I was amazed when one of that Fox talking heads — I didn’t catch the name, someone on Outnumbered — said she had brought up Cuba’s human rights abuses. Well, maybe some Cubans thought the victims deserved it, like conservatives have responded to the report on the CIA’s use of torture. They did mention a bunch of Cuban political prisoners were released, breezed over like it was nothing. Hey Fox, that’s not nothing. Obama just got 50 political prisoners sprung from jail.
A thought that struck me as the president was speaking, once I gathered the gist and realized this was a big deal in policy terms, was that’s really good, but again, why couldn’t he have announced this BEFORE the election!?!?! Listening further, it seems likely nothing could be announced until the prisoner exchanges were worked out, and presumably Cuba didn’t care about getting it done in time to give Obama a win before the US election. In case someone is thinking the Democrats have just lost Florida for a long time to come, yes, Cuba policy has been controlled by Florida Cubans who are pretty one-issue about removing the Castro regime. However, as Kos points out, younger Cubans actually support normalization. So no matter how much calcified conservatives may howl, there is little political risk to Obama’s actions. Yes, congressional Republicans will scream, but how much were they going to seek common ground on anything anyway? Getting to watch them try to scare the public about communist missiles from 50 years ago will be a nice sidelight to bringing rationality to a piece of foreign policy.


CANNAB~1As you must have seen somewhere, a number of marijuana initiatives passed, including legalization for non-medical use in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C.

When historians look back at the movement to end the war on drugs, they might very well point to the 2014 election as the moment when it all got real.
With marijuana legalization measures passing in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., and with groundbreaking criminal justice reforms passing in California and New Jersey, there’s no longer any denying that drug policy reform is a mainstream — and quite urgent — political demand.
(Drug Policy Alliance)

(Though wingnuts in the U.S. Congress have of course intervened in DC, and it’s unclear what the practical outcome will be.) Moreover, as part of the recent budget deal, the feds are now prohibited from interfering with medical marijuana programs in states that have, or will implement, them.

In Colorado, the results of legalization can be summed up in one word: SUCCESS. And in Minnesota:


State officials on (December 1) announced the two companies that will grow, process and sell medical cannabis to Minnesotans next year under the state’s new law.
LeafLine Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions were chosen from among 12 applicants. They’ll distribute the medication through eight sites across the state, the Minnesota Health Department said.
State officials hope to have the products ready for sale by July. Minnesota Medical Solutions said its cannabis greenhouse in Otsego will be up and running this week.
Lawmakers passed the strictest medical marijuana law in the country earlier this year. It prohibits smoking of the drug and requires instead that it be manufactured in pill or oil form.
Medical marijuana will only be available to patients suffering from about 10 conditions including ALS and cancer.

Yes, the most restrictive law in the country, and even getting that was only slightly less difficult than, for example, getting a typical Tea Partier to understand that he’s just being the rich man’s exploited dupe. And as things stand, many medical users will have to go an unconscionably long way to make legal purchases. Meanwhile, Alaska – Alaska – an electorally red state despite its total dependence on federal $ originally generated in blue states like MN, has seen the light, as in that pleasing orange glow when one’s favorite pot pipe is in use.

Like any reasonable and fundamentally intelligent person, Gov. Dayton has shown himself open to changing his mind, when impelled by valid evidence and argument. Remember that he didn’t even much want to hear about medical marijuana, originally. There’s no reason not to keep pushing for better policy.


The December edition of Democratic Visions had its cableTV premier in the southwest suburbs this past Sunday.  My wife commented that host Tim O’Brien and guest State Senator John Hoffman (DFL, Champlin) were far more interesting than what she had been watching on ABC – Barbara Walters’ annual, celebrity pondering special spotlighting her choices of the year’s most fascinating people.   Indeed, the former Anoka-Hennepin School District Board member, first term Minnesota State Senator and suburban dad was more interesting than Baba Wawa’s picks that included Taylor Swift, Chelsea Handler, Oprah Winfrey, Scarlett Johansson, George R.R. Martin and David Koch.  Yes THE David Koch.


The new edition of Democratic Visions also concerns itself with California’s upcoming ban on plastic bags and my reluctance to hang around DFL politicians and worker bees who seem in constant need of giving and receiving hugs and back pats.   I’m Scandinavian-Lutheran and have gone through life fully satisfied with a handshake.   Humorist Jon Spade, as my clinically depressed, motivational coach (and a public speaker) attempts to help me.


After looking at our lefty volunteer-driven, 29-minute long, indulgence, do yourself a favor and read  The Unforgiven Sins of Bill Maher,  by Invenium Viam.  The essay is posted here on MPP.   I place Mr. Maher in league with the late, great Christopher Hitchens.  Invenium Viam (who ever she/he is) is also a damn fine, if more polite, scribe.


Democratic Visions Cable TV Schedule

Minneapolis – MTN Channel 16 – Sundays at 8:30 p.m., Mondays 3:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. Program is streamed at the MTN website during cable casts.

Minnetonka, Hopkins, Edina, Eden Prairie and Richfield – Comcast Channel 15 –  Mondays at 10:00 p.m., Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m and Sundays at 9 p.m.,

Bloomington – BCAT Cable Channel 16 – Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m.; Fridays at 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m.

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Lima climate talks were a dud

by Dan Burns on December 16, 2014 · 1 comment

Amargosa_desertEven many serious environmentalists were happy with the recent U.S.-China emissions agreement. (Though some beg to differ.) So there was hopefulness, going into the recent round of world climate talks. Which turned out to be pretty much of a fizzle.


After two weeks huddled in sweaty, sweltering tents (yes, many a “greenhouse effect” joke was made), the various negotiating blocs found themselves unable to agree on a handful of major issues. So in overtime sessions over the weekend, the stickiest of the sticking points were stripped out from one draft text after the next, until very little remained.
Green groups and citizens from vulnerable, developing nations bemoaned the lack of commitment and urgency.
“The text went from weak to weaker to weakest, and it’s very weak indeed,” said Samantha Smith, WWF’s chief of climate policy.
“Make no mistake: Lima delivered a pathetically weak outcome, because developed countries like the U.S. are failing to meet their obligations,” said Brandon Wu, a senior policy analyst at ActionAid USA. “A tiny bit of progress does not make up for decades of inaction on both emissions cuts and providing finance for poor countries.”
Others complained that the U.N. process lags woefully behind public momentum for ambitious climate policy. “There is still a vast and growing gulf between the approach of some climate negotiators and the public demand for action,” said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International.

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Anti-choice zealots fire up for more

by Dan Burns on December 14, 2014 · 1 comment

prochoiceIt won’t be long.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Republicans plan to reignite debate over the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which passed in the House in 2013. Contrary to the argument put forth by proponents of the ban, the “science” underpinning the measure — that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks gestation — has been debunked. But that’s not expected to stop Republicans from pushing a bill that might finally have a chance in the Senate.

Fanatics in Ohio already tried to get a six-week ban. It didn’t get through the state legislature. But they’ll try again, there and in a lot of other places.

An appeals court struck down an Arizona law that tried to, for all practical purposes, ban medication-induced abortion. We’ll probably find out this week, if the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to take up the case. (Update: SCOTUS has declined to hear the case.)

Here is a useful discussion about maybe trying to add some different emphasis to the mix.

We need to see abortion as an urgent practical decision that is just as moral as the decision to have a child—indeed, sometimes more moral. Pro-choicers often say no one is “pro-abortion,” but what is so virtuous about adding another child to the ones you’re already overwhelmed by? Why do we make young women feel guilty for wanting to feel ready for motherhood before they have a baby? Isn’t it a good thing that women think carefully about what it means to bring a child into this world—what, for example, it means to the children she already has? We tend to think of abortion as anti-child and anti-motherhood. In media iconography, it’s the fetus versus the coat hanger: that is, abortion kills an “unborn baby,” but banning it makes women injure themselves. Actually, abortion is part of being a mother and of caring for children, because part of caring for children is knowing when it’s not a good idea to bring them into the world.

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Kline’s buddies should pay to fix pension funds

by Dan Burns on December 12, 2014 · 2 comments

271_19344293946_1831_nRep. John Kline (R-MN) may be getting more backlash than he anticipated, for his key role in advancing a plan that would drive retirees into poverty. The Kline-Miller plan has never been introduced into the House or Senate on its own; this is a despicable effort to sneak it into law as part of a must-pass budget bill. (As of 630 this morning, it’s still in the bill, as far as I could determine.)

Problems with pension funds are primarily due to the foul machinations of Big Finance, who have been essentially stealing them.

No one disputes that there’s a retirement crisis, but the crisis was no demographic accident. It was manufactured by an alliance of two groups: top executives and their facilitators in the retirement industry – benefits consultants, insurance companies, and banks – all of whom played a huge and hidden role in the death spiral of American pensions and benefits.
Yet, unlike the banking industry, which was rightly blamed for the subprime mortgage crisis, the masterminds responsible for the retirement crisis have walked away blame-free. And, unlike the pension raiders of the 1980s, who killed pensions to extract the surplus assets, they face no censure. If anything they are viewed as beleaguered captains valiantly trying to keep their overloaded ships from being sunk in a perfect storm. In reality, they’re the silent pirates who looted the ships and left them to sink, along with the retirees, as they sailed away safely in their lifeboats.

This article, from Rolling Stone, details how the same is being done to pensions for public-sector workers.

So, how about making the crooks pay to fix the ones that are in trouble? Better yet, Big Finance could do it voluntarily, and get a good start on trying to repair its public image. But it won’t; arms will have to be twisted, and John Kline is not a politician with the integrity and decency to try to make that happen.


The Myth and Reality of the Warrior Cop

by Invenium Viam on December 10, 2014 · 1 comment

Donatello, Raphael, Leonardo,

Extreme Make-over of NYC Police as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

“Of course I’m dangerous. I’m police. I can do terrible things to people with impunity.” Rusty Cohle, True Detective


Most people would agree that law enforcement is a dangerous profession. But how dangerous is it really?


Is it as dangerous as entertainment media depicts, given the endless river of film and television dramas that show police officers engaging in extended firefights with street thugs, bank robbers, drug smugglers, outlaw bikers, mid-east terrorists, and other wanton evil-doers? Is it true that police officers are frequently gunned-down by steely-eyed, hardened criminals armed with the latest fully automatic assault rifles and several hundred rounds of body-armor-piercing ammunition? Are squad cars routinely riddled with bullets while feckless rookie cops cringe behind them struggling desperately to make themselves small? Do the streets of American cities really run red?


Of course not. But if the American daily diet of violent police drama were any measure of reality, the average life expectancy of an ordinary patrolman on the street would lie somewhere between that of a mayfly and the common gerbil.


So, if you had to guess the number of police actually killed by gunfire nationwide last year, what would you guess? Several hundred? Several thousand?


How about thirty-two? Would you guess thirty-two? Put another way, about as many police actually died from gunfire last year as were mowed-down by a handful of Southie homeboys in scally caps in the movie The Town, or by a crew from the Brotherhood of Eurosophisto Badasses, Local 19, in any of way too many Die Hard movies that the L.A studios keep cranking out. At least Bruce Willis is still turning out big-balls pictures and making honest money, so it’s not all bad.


As is frequently the case, however, the facts paint a picture entirely different from what most people think they know.


In 2013, the number of police officers nationwide who were killed by gunfire was, in fact, just 32.[1] The FBI puts the number at 27, but includes only those fatalities resulting from “felonious action,” which could include a copyright violation in the state of Michigan (car country) or knowingly selling a spavined horse in Wyoming (cow country).[2]  Of the 32, two were killed by accidental fire, which means they were killed by a misfired or mishandled weapon, or were killed inadvertently by a fellow officer or by other “friendly fire” (an oxymoron I’ve always detested). While that number constitutes a significant portion (30.5%) of the total number of all 105 line-of-duty deaths among all U.S. police officers in 2013, it is also true that a police officer was more than twice as likely to be killed by causes other than gunfire that year, including a range of non-hostile and accidental causes such as heart attacks (10), falls (4), and electrocution (1).


It’s notable that cops in television dramas and movies are frequently shown shot to death but almost never shown keeling over with a massive heart attack while chasing a rail-thin teenager through the dark alleys of South Central, or being electrocuted by downed power lines after a storm, or being struck on a busy highway by an inattentive rubbernecker who fails to yield the lane at the scene of a multi-car accident on a foggy morning commute. But those causes, too, are how police officers frequently die in the line of duty.


It’s also notable that if you combine police fatalities in 2013 caused by automobile accidents (25), being struck by a vehicle (8), and vehicle pursuits (4) — while excluding “felonious action” vehicle deaths such as vehicular assault (5)  — more police officers were accidentally killed by cars in the line-of-duty than were killed by guns.


Let me be clear: it is not my purpose here to minimize or denigrate the service of police officers who die violent deaths at the hands of criminals, or who die in the line-of-duty by any cause including accidents. Any death of a police officer in the line-of-duty for any reason is tragic. Nor is it my intent, in any way, to minimize the loss to their communities, to their brother and sister officers, or to their friends and family, when a police officer falls or is struck down. Any police officer who makes the ultimate sacrifice in service to his or her community is a hero in my eyes.


However, I do want to examine how common cultural perceptions influence both the organizational culture within a police department and public policies relating to it. Both local authorities and police departments can and do misunderstand the role of police in a democracy, often it seems by misapprehending how much real danger policing actually entails. Those erroneous ideas and beliefs serve to perpetuate a number of myths that lead to the creation and maintenance of a warrior culture within some police departments — including a culture of habitual institutional violence and a siege mentality — that ultimately undermines community support for police officers in performing their duties, which further endangers their lives and makes their jobs more difficult,  and thereby does a grievous disservice to the communities they serve.

More Below the Fold

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Minnesota pipelines face opposition, delay

by Dan Burns on December 10, 2014 · 0 comments

1098432_644541492223499_1490753966_nThere’s a lot of steel pipe laying around in northern Minnesota. It can sit there indefinitely, someday rusting away into hematite deposits, as far as I’m concerned.

The pipe field is not for a new Walmart. It’s a staging area for an Enbridge pipeline project. The Canadian company’s Sandpiper pipeline is designed to run 610 miles through Minnesota and North Dakota to transport oil.
Last month, long sections of pipe started rolling in by the semi load. The pipes look a bit like culverts, but longer and made of much thicker steel. For a while, semi trucks hauling three or four pipes were a common sight along highways 200 and 71.
The pipe is ready, but the project is not. Enbridge is still in the permitting process with the state and in September the project was delayed another year as regulators consider alternate routes for the new pipeline.

Righteous efforts are being made to deal with corporate vileness.

The Sierra Club, the White Earth Nation and several other groups filed a federal lawsuit (Nov. 6) against the U.S. State Department. The suit alleges that the department approved an Enbridge plan to construct and operate a crude oil pipeline that crosses the U.S.-Canada border without first reviewing the environmental impacts of the project as required by federal law.
Such a review would include an assessment of whether the project would increase greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change.
The groups said the case shows President Obama’s administration is contradicting itself on policies involving Alberta’s oil sands crude, which critics say produces more emissions than conventional crude. While the president has said his administration won’t approve a permit for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline if it increases emissions, the State Department already is allowing Calgary-based Enbridge to pump more oil into the country, the advocates said.



kline3One of my interests is world religion, myth, and folklore. There are examples of mythological beings with second faces on the backs of their heads. What with always looking backward, perhaps they were inspired by the John Klines of their time.

Two key House Republicans on employment issues have asked the Labor Department to withdraw its new rule protecting LGBT employees of federal contractors from discrimination.
House Education and Workforce Committee Chair John Kline, a Republican from Minnesota, and Rep. Tim Walberg, the Republican chair of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, made the request for a 60-day public comment period for the rule in a letter to the head of the office responsible for enforcing it…
After laying out their argument, they write, “We therefore urge OFCCP to withdraw its final regulation submitted to [Office of Management and Budget] … so the process for implementing [Obama’s executive order] can be done with the transparency and public participation typically afforded under the APA.” They ask for a response from Shiu “no later than December 17, 2014.”

While there are many things equally preposterous, literally nothing is more preposterous than Rep. John Kline complaining about an alleged lack of public input into government decision-making.
Oh, and this, too:

As lawmakers pressed Monday to finalize the legislative language of a must-pass omnibus spending bill, labor unions and retiree groups were mobilizing to defeat what they are characterizing as a lame-duck sneak attack on the pensions of some already-retired workers.
At issue is an effort led by Reps. John Kline and George Miller, the top Republican and Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, to bring reforms to troubled multiemployer pensions. The exact language of the proposal had not yet been announced, and it was not clear whether House leaders had in fact decided whether it would be attached to the spending bill.
But the lawmakers and staffers were working on such a proposal through the weekend. And it was widely expected on Monday that it would give multiemployer plan trustees the ability to cut benefits of already-retired workers or widows to help shore up some of the plans.
(National Journal)

Comments below fold.


greedSame disaster in the making. Way too many people don’t ever learn.

Shouldn’t it be a trade violation to threaten to move someone’s job to another country? Shouldn’t we negotiate trade agreements that increase people’s wages on both sides of a trade border? These are the kinds of agreements we would make if We the People were negotiating trade agreements with representatives of the working people in other countries. Unfortunately that is not the kind of trade agreements that our current trade negotiation process produces.
The secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations resumed this week, this time in Washington. TPP is a massive agreement that sets up new rules for over 40 percent of the global economy. It will have profound effects on our jobs, our standard of living now and in the future and our ability to make a living as a country. Oddly, though, as of Monday morning you have to read about it in Japan Times because few-to-no U.S. media outlets are covering it.
(Campaign For America’s Future)

And people still take U.S. corporate media seriously, as something other than plutocratic propaganda?
With impending majorities in both chambers, GOPers in DC have indicated that they will prioritize passage of awful trade deals like the TPP. President Obama is inexplicably on board, unless we can change his mind.

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