Friday, May 22, 2015

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Reading

Not In Service — Gillian B. White in The Atlantic on how our public transportation system advances inequality.

Transportation is about more than just moving people from point A to point B. It’s also a system that can either limit or expand the opportunities available to people based on where they live. In many cities, the areas with the shoddiest access to public transit are the most impoverished—and the lack of investment leaves many Americans without easy access to jobs, goods, and services.

To be certain, the aging and inadequate transportation infrastructure is an issue for Americans up and down the economic ladder. Throughout the country highways are crumbling, bridges are in need of repair, and railways remain inadequate. Improvement to public transportation—buses, trains, and safer routes for bicycles—is something that just about everyone who lives in a major metropolitan area has on their wish list. But there’s a difference between preference and necessity: “Public transportation is desired by many but is even more important for lower-income people who can’t afford cars,” says Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard University and author of a new book Move: Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead.

“Without really good public transportation, it’s very difficult to deal with inequality,” Kanter said. Access to just about everything associated with upward mobility and economic progress—jobs, quality food, and goods (at reasonable prices), healthcare, and schooling— relies on the ability to get around in an efficient way, and for an affordable price. A recent study from Harvard found that geographic mobility was indeed linked to economic mobility, and a 2014 study from NYU found a link between poor public-transit access and higher rates of unemployment and decreased income in New York City.

Access to good transit is not merely a question of a system’s geographic reach but also the cost to ride—and the latter is becoming an issue more and more. In the past five years many metro areas including New York, Portland, and St. Louis have seen fare hikes that place additional strain on low-income households. Recent additions to public transportation options, like bike share, should—in theory—make getting around easier and cheaper. But as it’s widely been noted, these programs tend to place their kiosks, at least at first, in more affluent neighborhoods. They also require credit cards for rental, which leaves out poorer populations who tend to not have access to such financial instruments. A recent survey of bike share users in Washington D.C., for example, found that ridership wasn’t particularly reflective of the city’s population: The city has a population that is about 50 percent black but the study found that bike-share ridership was made of up of mostly young, white males, and more than 50 percent of those using the region’s bike share system had incomes of $100,000 or more.

That leaves most low-income households to rely on older transportation methods—and therein lies the problem…

Did George W. Bush Create ISIS? — Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker digs into the quagmire.

The exchange started like this: at the end of Jeb Bush’s town-hall meeting in Reno, Nevada, on Wednesday, a college student named Ivy Ziedrich stood up and said that she had heard Bush blame the growth of ISIS on President Obama, in particular on his decision to withdraw American troops from Iraq in 2011. The origins of ISIS, Ziedrich said, lay in the decision by Bush’s brother, in 2003, to disband the Iraqi Army following the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s government.

“It was when thirty thousand individuals who were part of the Iraqi military were forced out—they had no employment, they had no income, and they were left with access to all of the same arms and weapons.… Your brother created ISIS,’’ she said.

“All right,” Bush said. “Is that a question?”

“You don’t need to be pedantic to me, sir,” she said.

“Pedantic? Wow,” Bush said.

Ziedrich finally came forth with her query: “Why are you saying that ISIS was created by us not having a presence in the Middle East when it’s pointless wars, where we send young American men to die for the idea of American exceptionalism? Why are you spouting nationalist rhetoric to get us involved in more wars?”

Jeb replied by repeating his earlier criticism of President Obama: that Iraq had been stable until American troops had departed. “When we left Iraq, security had been arranged,” Bush said. The removal of American troops had created a security vacuum that ISIS exploited. “The result was the opposite occurred. Immediately, that void was filled.”

“Your brother created ISIS” is the kind of sound bite that grabs our attention, because it’s obviously false yet oddly rings true. Bush didn’t like it: he offered a retort and then left the stage. Meanwhile, Ziedrich had started a conversation that rippled across Twitter, Facebook, and any number of American dinner tables. Who is actually right?

Here is what happened: In 2003, the U.S. military, on orders of President Bush, invaded Iraq, and nineteen days later threw out Saddam’s government. A few days after that, President Bush or someone in his Administration decreed the dissolution of the Iraqi Army. This decision didn’t throw “thirty thousand individuals” out of a job, as Ziedrich said—the number was closer to ten times that. Overnight, at least two hundred and fifty thousand Iraqi men—armed, angry, and with military training—were suddenly humiliated and out of work.

This was probably the single most catastrophic decision of the American venture in Iraq. In a stroke, the Administration helped enable the creation of the Iraqi insurgency. Bush Administration officials involved in the decision—like Paul Bremer and Walter Slocombe—argued that they were effectively ratifying the reality that the Iraqi Army had already disintegrated.

This was manifestly not true. I talked to American military commanders who told me that leaders of entire Iraqi divisions (a division has roughly ten thousand troops) had come to them for instructions and expressed a willingness to coöperate. In fact, many American commanders argued vehemently at the time that the Iraqi military should be kept intact—that disbanding it would turn too many angry young men against the United States. But the Bush White House went ahead.

Many of those suddenly unemployed Iraqi soldiers took up arms against the United States. We’ll never know for sure how many Iraqis would have stayed in the Iraqi Army—and stayed peaceful—had it remained intact. But the evidence is overwhelming that former Iraqi soldiers formed the foundation of the insurgency.

On this point, although she understated the numbers, Ziedrich was exactly right. But how did the dissolution of the Iraqi Army lead to the creation of ISIS?

During the course of the war, Al Qaeda in Iraq grew to be the most powerful wing of the insurgency, as well as the most violent and the most psychotic. They drove truck bombs into mosques and weddings and beheaded their prisoners. But, by the time the last American soldiers had departed, in 2011, the Islamic State of Iraq, as it was then calling itself, was in a state of near-total defeat. The combination of the Iraqi-led “awakening,” along with persistent American pressure, had decimated the group and pushed them into a handful of enclaves.

Indeed, by 2011 the situation in Iraq—as former Governor Bush said—was relatively stable. “Relatively” is the key word here. Iraq was still a violent place, but nowhere near as violent as it had been. The Iraqi government was being run by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a fervent Al Qaeda foe and ostensible American ally.

But, as the last Americans left Iraq, there came the great uprising in Syria that pitted the country’s vast Sunni majority against the ruthless regime of Bashar al-Assad. Syria quickly dissolved into anarchy. Desperate and seeing an opportunity, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, dispatched a handful of soldiers to Syria, where, in a matter of months, they had gathered an army of followers and had begun attacking the Assad regime. Suddenly, Baghdadi’s group—which had been staggering toward the grave only months before—was regaining strength. In 2013, the I.S.I. became the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria. ISIS was born…

The First Lawful Same-Sex Marriage in America — Erick Eckholm in The New York Times finds the couple that did it in 1971.

MINNEAPOLIS — Long before the fight over same-sex marriage began in earnest, long before gay couples began lining up for marriage licenses, Jack Baker and Michael McConnell decided to wed.

The year was 1967. Homosexuality was still classified as a disorder, sodomy was illegal in nearly every state, and most gay men and lesbians lived in fearful secrecy.

But from the age of 14, eyeing young men in his father’s barbershop, Mr. McConnell dreamed of living “happily ever after” with a partner.

So when Mr. Baker proposed moving in together, Mr. McConnell challenged him. “If we’re going to do this,” he replied, “you have to find a way for us to get married.”

Mr. Baker remembers his initial reaction: “I had never heard of such a thing.”

He enrolled in law school to try to make it happen.

In 1970, in Minneapolis, Mr. Baker and Mr. McConnell became the first same-sex couple known to apply for a marriage license. Turned down by Hennepin County, they fought to the United States Supreme Court, where they lost their case in a one-sentence dismissal that has reverberated in federal courts and played an indirect role in pushing same-sex marriage to the high court this year.

The couple, though, did not give up. With some sleight of hand involving a legal change to a gender-neutral name, they obtained a marriage license in another county, and in 1971, in white bell-bottom pantsuits and macramé headbands, they exchanged vows before a Methodist pastor and a dozen guests in a friend’s apartment. Their three-tiered wedding cake was topped by two plastic grooms, which a friend supplied by splitting two bride-and-groom figurines.

Ever since, they have maintained that theirs was the country’s first lawful same-sex wedding. The state and federal governments have yet to grant recognition, but the pastor, Roger W. Lynn, 76, calls theirs “one of my more successful marriages.”

“They are still happily married, and they love each other,” Mr. Lynn said.

The couple, now in their early 70s, spoke this month in a rare interview in the house they share here, nearly half a century after they joined their lives and earned a place in the history of gay rights, helping to make Minnesota an early center of gay activism.

Mr. Baker said he was proud that the Supreme Court this year heard the very same constitutional arguments of equal protection and due process that he had identified as a law student in 1970.

In 2013, when the Minnesota Legislature authorized same-sex marriage and a state senator announced, “Today, love wins,” Mr. McConnell watched, enthralled, from the gallery. But the couple did not join the rush for an undisputed license.

“No,” Mr. Baker said, pounding an oak table in their living room. “To reapply now becomes an admission that what we did was not legal, and I will never admit that.”

Doonesbury — Sign me up.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Short Takes

The Tigers walloped the Cardinals 10-4 behind Miggy’s HR’s.

Amtrak train may have been struck by something before it crashed.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is sentenced to death for the Boston Marathon bombing.

Eight bodies recovered from site of crashed Marine helicopter in Nepal.

F.A.O. Schwarz to close its store on Fifth Avenue.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Paging Madame Defarge

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the richest man in Congress (and that’s saying something) on how lucky our poor people are:

Asked by CNNMoney whether he feels personally responsible to address income inequality in the United States, the Republican Congressman from California said “absolutely.” But he noted that America is the richest country on earth and implied that those in poverty here are better off than the poor in other nations.

“If you go to India or you go to any number of other Third World countries, you have two problems: You have greater inequality of income and wealth. You also have less opportunity for people to rise from the have not to the have,” said Issa.

Hear that, poors? You are the envy of the world.

Steve Benen:

Now, even if Issa weren’t hyper-wealthy, it’s generally not a good idea for politicians to vote to slash public investments, cut taxes on the wealthy, and then lecture the poor on how their station in life could be worse. Issa is supposed to be a congressman, not a Dickensian villain.

Good news, Mr. Issa: you’ve just won a seat in first class in Tumbrel #1.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Short Takes

Officials send reinforcements to Baltimore.

The death toll in Nepal passed 5,000.

Iranian forces seized a ship flagged to the Marshall Islands and boarded it off the coast of Iran.

Tyson Foods will end using antibiotics on their chicken.

The NFL will give up its tax-exempt status.

The Tigers lost to the Twins 3-2.

Friday, April 24, 2015

I’m Shocked, Shocked

Capt RenaultI’m not mollified by the Clinton campaign denials that there is no quo to go with the quid that the Clinton Foundation got from dubious donors.  Even if everything is on the up and up, it’s still has the appearance of impropriety, and what is America all about if not appearances?

Neither am I impressed with the “both sides do it” mantra which seems to be keeping all but the most spittle-flecked of the Clinton haters from speaking up too loudly.  After all, the most the GOP can do is scoff at the allegation that the Clintons used a foundation to collect favor-seeking donations from interested parties, both foreign and domestic.  Foundations are so 1990’s.  The big money comes from tacky rich people like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers.  After Citizens United, why bother using a foundation as a shield?  You can go out there and sell yourself without all the paperwork.

You would have to be hopelessly naive to think that people who give money to a candidate or a candidate’s PAC or a candidate’s family’s foundation was doing it out of patriotism.  The bottom line, so to speak, for every campaign since the dawn of time and elections has been “What’s in it for me?”

So whether it’s Marco Rubio sucking up to some wizened denizen of casinos in Macau or Russians paying Bill Clinton half a million bucks to talk, the amount of money is less important than the fact that we consider it to be newsworthy or concerned that it might be “corrupting the electoral process.”  Quick, summon Captain Renault.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Backseat Driver

It must be something pathological: Republicans can’t say anything nice about anything Barack Obama did even if it has proven to be wildly successful.

Today’s example: Marco Rubio and the auto industry bailout.

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said Friday that the $85 billion auto bailout was not the “right way” to handle the troubled sector in 2008 and 2009.

At an appearance in Manchester, New Hampshire, the Florida senator said the rescue of General Motors Co. and then Chrysler Group LLC was not the right position for the federal government to take. “I don’t think that was the right way to handle it, but certainly our auto industry is important. Again, it was a problematic approach that the federal government took to doing it….”

And what would he have done?  Well, he doesn’t say, although he restrained himself from echoing Mitt Romney and let Detroit go bankrupt, but neither does he say what would have been the “right way” to save a vital industry and several million jobs.

Would it kill his political career to say just once that a government policy worked?  One could only hope.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Nice Work If You Can Get It

They say that money can’t buy happiness.  Here’s a company that is testing that theory.

The idea began percolating, said Dan Price, the founder of Gravity Payments, after he read an article on happiness. It showed that, for people who earn less than about $70,000, extra money makes a big difference in their lives.

His idea bubbled into reality on Monday afternoon, when Mr. Price surprised his 120-person staff by announcing that he planned over the next three years to raise the salary of even the lowest-paid clerk, customer service representative and salesman to a minimum of $70,000.

“Is anyone else freaking out right now?” Mr. Price asked after the clapping and whooping died down into a few moments of stunned silence. “I’m kind of freaking out.”

I could use that kind of freak-out.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sunday Reading

Punching DownwardDoonesbury creator Garry Trudeau on free speech, satire, and the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo.

I, and most of my colleagues, have spent a lot of time discussing red lines since the tragedy in Paris. As you know, the Muhammad cartoon controversy began eight years ago in Denmark, as a protest against “self-censorship,” one editor’s call to arms against what she felt was a suffocating political correctness. The idea behind the original drawings was not to entertain or to enlighten or to challenge authority—her charge to the cartoonists was specifically to provoke, and in that they were exceedingly successful. Not only was one cartoonist gunned down, but riots erupted around the world, resulting in the deaths of scores. No one could say toward what positive social end, yet free speech absolutists were unchastened. Using judgment and common sense in expressing oneself were denounced as antithetical to freedom of speech.

And now we are adrift in an even wider sea of pain. Ironically, Charlie Hebdo, which always maintained it was attacking Islamic fanatics, not the general population, has succeeded in provoking many Muslims throughout France to make common cause with its most violent outliers. This is a bitter harvest.

Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean.

By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died. Meanwhile, the French government kept busy rounding up and arresting over 100 Muslims who had foolishly used their freedom of speech to express their support of the attacks.

The White House took a lot of hits for not sending a high-level representative to the pro-Charlie solidarity march, but that oversight is now starting to look smart. The French tradition of free expression is too full of contradictions to fully embrace. Even Charlie Hebdo once fired a writer for not retracting an anti-Semitic column. Apparently he crossed some red line that was in place for one minority but not another.

What free speech absolutists have failed to acknowledge is that because one has the right to offend a group does not mean that one must. Or that that group gives up the right to be outraged. They’re allowed to feel pain. Freedom should always be discussed within the context of responsibility. At some point free expression absolutism becomes childish and unserious. It becomes its own kind of fanaticism.

As Seen on TV — Charlie Pierce on what happened in South Carolina.

No video, no crime.

That’s the simple truth of it. That’s all you know and all ye needs to know about the cold-blooded slaying of Walter Scott by Officer Michael Slager in North Charleston, South Carolina. No video, and Slager drops his Taser by Scott’s body and probably gets away with what he did. No video, and Scott goes down as just another of the many semi-hoodlums that are occupational hazards to our brave men in blue. No video, and Slager’s doing three nights a week on Hannity’s show by next Monday. No video, and Slager’s half-a-hero, while Scott remains dead.

But there is a video and Slager is shown both killing Scott, and appearing to try to cover it up in that most ancient of cop ways — with a drop piece. He is seen handcuffing a dying man. So let us not have any explanation containing the phrase “isolated incident.” Let us have no talk of “split-second decisions” or the “heat of the moment.” What we see in the video is Slager’s almost instantaneous response to what he’s done. Drop a weapon. Concoct a story. Rely on your brother officers and ginned-up public opinion to mount your defense. Rely on the fact that you’re a white man with a badge and the person you killed was clearly neither one. In everything we see on the video, Michael Slager was following…procedure.

There is a video, so Michael Slager will face murder charges in this case, and that is as it should be, but the systemic problem goes merrily on.

North Charleston is South Carolina’s third-largest city, with a population of about 100,000. African-Americans make up about 47 percent of residents, and whites account for about 37 percent. The Police Department is about 80 percent white, according to data collected by the Justice Department in 2007, the most recent period available.

The country has to decide what the function of its police forces actually is. Is it their function to protect and to serve all citizens, or is it to respond with overwhelming deadly force to placate the fears that one sector of the population nurses toward The Other? Are our police custodians of ordered liberty or some sort of Praetorian Guard of established privilege? I’m sympathetic enough to the average officer to believe that many of them want to be the former, but are trained too thoroughly in the techniques of the latter. I hope the villain of this piece doesn’t turn out to be the guy who took the video, but I’m not sure that won’t be the case. There shouldn’t have to be video, is what I’m saying.

In extremely related news, the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri turned out in admirable numbers to begin to change the essential nature of their city government yesterday. For all the noise and bother, this is how you do it, one phone call at a time, one more door on which to knock. This is how the culture changes. This is how we get our police back.

The Spending Begins — Andy Borowitz on the unconscionable waste of money yet to come.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—The two major political parties’ unconscionable waste of money officially commences this weekend, as Democrats and Republicans will soon begin spending an estimated five billion dollars of their corporate puppet masters’ assets in an unquenchable pursuit of power.

The billions, which could be spent rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, improving schools, or reducing the scourge of malaria in Africa, will instead be squandered in a heinous free-for-all of slander and personal destruction, alienating voters as never before.

The media will inevitably focus on the personalities of the bloated roster of narcissists lusting after the White House, but scant attention will be paid to the Wall Street bankers, industrial polluters, and casino magnates whose grip on American democracy will remain vise-like.

While attention this weekend turns to the Democrats, the Republicans remain quietly confident about their chances of purchasing the nation’s highest office. In the words of one top operative, “Our billionaires can beat their billionaires.”

Doonesbury — Sure-fire investment.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Nanny State

Conservatives are always going on about how they want Americans to have less government and more freedom, get away from regulations and not have unfeeling state agencies and bureaucrats micromanage our lives.

Well, that sounds good, doesn’t it?  We all want to enjoy the great life, right?  So when Kansas decided to update their rules for people receiving government assistance through a program called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), it was clear that they would trust their fellow citizens to do right by it.  Heh.

If House Bill 2258 is signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback (R) this week, Kansas families receiving government assistance will no longer be able to use those funds to visit swimming pools, see movies, go gambling or get tattoos on the state’s dime.

Those are just a few of the restrictions contained within the measure that promises to tighten regulations on how poor families spend their government aid.

State Sen. Michael O’Donnell, a Wichita Republican who has advocated for the bill, said the legislation is designed to pressure those receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to spend “more responsibly.”

“We’re trying to make sure those benefits are used the way they were intended,” O’Donnell, vice chair of the state senate’s standing committee on public health and welfare, told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “This is about prosperity. This is about having a great life.”

The bill also limits people to withdrawing $25 per day from ATM’s, which means if there’s any kind of emergency that might cost more, they are out of luck.

So I guess the lesson here is that if you’re well-off and don’t need any help in getting through a rough patch in life, you deserve all the limited government and more freedom that you can handle.  But if you’re poor and need help, you’re obviously incapable of being treated as an adult, and remember, it’s the Democrats who are the proponents of the nanny states.  Got it?

HT to Melissa.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Bought and Paid For

Of course the Republicans support Israel and would do anything to protect our ally.

As the proposed agreement over Iran’s nuclear program is debated in coming weeks, President Obama will make his case to a Congress controlled by Republicans who are more fervently pro-Israel than ever, partly a result of ideology, but also a product of a surge in donations and campaign spending on their behalf by a small group of wealthy donors.

One of the surprisingly high-profile critics is Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who burst to prominence with a letter signed by 46 Republican colleagues to leaders of Iran warning against a deal. Mr. Cotton, echoing criticism by Israeli leaders, swiftly denounced the framework reached on Thursday as “a list of dangerous U.S. concessions that will put Iran on the path to nuclear weapons” — words, his colleagues say, that expressed his deep concern about Iran’s threat to Israel’s security.

But it is also true that Mr. Cotton and other Republicans benefited from millions in campaign spending in 2014 by several pro-Israel Republican billionaires and other influential American donors who helped them topple Democratic opponents.

As long as the checks clear.

It’s The American Way

The owners of the pizza place in Indiana that got all the attention last week for saying they’d refuse to cater a gay wedding because Jesus have parlayed that into nearly $900,000 in donations from like-minded people.

So the lesson is that if you broadcast to America that you’re a religious bigot and when you get the appropriate backlash, you rake in a fortune and retire, resting assured that that’s what Jesus would do.

There’s a business model for the ages.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Short Takes

Iran nuclear talks extended.

California imposes strict water use restrictions.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) indicted on corruption charges.

Atlanta educators found guilty in test cheating scandal.

McDonald’s raising pay for employees at corporate-owned restaurants.

R.I.P. Cynthia Lennon, first wife of John Lennon.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

ISIS Money Trail

While the U.S. and Iran try to work out a deal on nuclear weapons, their common enemy ISIS is building up its war chest.

Islamic State (ISIS) leader Bin Hebdo Muhammad announced today they have acquired $15.6 billion in a Series C funding round through Haliburton VC and Academi, formerly Blackwater Corp.

“We are ecstatic about this new round of funding,” said Muhammad. “As we begin to blossom into a bigger enterprise, our partnerships with these fine companies will add tremendous value and knowledge with waging war not only physically but politically.”

ISIS had been seeking the large amount of money to help acquire more users. “Our user acquisition cost is very high. We gotta move them from Europe to the middle east, undetected, and with modest comfort,” said Muhammad. “Not only do we need to acquire new users but we need to satisfy our current base. These millennials want all sorts of things.”

Social media has been crucial to the growth of ISIS and will continue to grow it’s social media arm with some of the funds.

Academi CEO Erik Prince told the London Financial Times, “It just made sense for us. The middle east is the war that keeps on giving. They grow, we can grow. Our Ten year projection is outstanding for our investors.”

The $15.6 billion raise values ISIS at $80 billion, roughly twice of car sharing service Uber.

So how long before they come up with an IPO?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday Reading

Shut Up, John Bolton — Peter Beinart in The Atlantic on the warmonger’s reckless case for war with Iran.

According to a 2013 study by the Costs of War Project at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost the United States more than $4 trillion. Over the coming decades, that number will likely rise by trillions more. If you include America’s military operations in Pakistan, these wars have taken the lives of roughly 300,000 people. And almost 15 years later, both Iraq and Afghanistan are virtually failed states.

This does not mean The New York Times should never publish op-eds proposing new wars. Although always tragic, war can sometimes be less horrible than the alternative. And it does not mean The New York Times should never publish op-eds by people who have supported disastrous wars. Even commentators who have made huge errors in the past may still contribute useful arguments in the present. At least I hope so, given that I supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq myself.

But what The New York Times should not do is let people who have supported disastrous wars in the past propose new wars casually. If you want to advocate for a new war in the most prestigious newspaper in the United States, you should have to grapple, at least briefly, with the potential dangers. Given the costs, both financial and human, of America’s post-9/11 conflicts, that’s not too much to ask.

Which brings me to John Bolton’s Thursday New York Times op-ed, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” Bolton was both a booster, and a minor architect, of the war in Iraq. As George W. Bush’s undersecretary of state in late 2002, he told the BBC that, “We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq.” He added that, “the Iraqi people would be unique in history if they didn’t welcome the overthrow of this dictatorial regime,” and that although building a democracy would prove a “difficult task,” the people of Iraq “are fully competent to do it.” So competent, in fact, that “the American role [in post-war Iraq] actually will be fairly minimal.”

That’s what Bolton said publicly. Privately, according to a 2005 report by the Democratic staff of the House Judiciary Committee, he distributed classified information about Joe Wilson in an attempt to smear the former ambassador, who was then questioning President Bush’s claim that Iraq had tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. Bolton also played a key role in forcing out Jose Bustani, director of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, because he feared Bustani’s inspectors in Iraq would undermine the case for war. It was behavior like this that led Washington Post columnist David Ignatius to observe that Bolton “epitomizes the politicization of intelligence that helped produce the fiasco over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.”

Should this disqualify Bolton from penning a New York Times op-ed urging America to bomb Iran? No. But it should have disqualified him from penning the op-ed he published on Thursday.

Replacing Andrew Jackson — Jaime Fuller in New York magazine in getting a woman on the $20 bill.

On paper, it doesn’t look like it would be difficult to change the faces that greet us on dollar bills whenever we pull out our wallets. The Treasury Secretary has unilateral authority to banish Franklin from the $100 or Lincoln from the five spot whenever he wants; Congress also has the power to change the portraits used on U.S. currency. The possibilities for new monetary muses are nearly limitless — the only requirement is that they be dead, just like the luminaries chosen for stamps. There’s also an expectation that the portraits will be familiar faces from history.

However, the process must be harder than it looks, because the Treasury hasn’t retired a portrait since 1929, when Andrew Jackson replaced Grover Cleveland — which has everyone wondering what will happen with a new campaign to get a woman on the $20.

Plenty of people have tried to change a portrait. Most of these attempts involved Ronald Reagan. In 2004, Grover Norquist tried to boot Alexander Hamilton from the $10 and replace him with the conservative icon; Senator Mitch McConnell thought the idea was a great one. “Hamilton was a nice guy and everything, but he wasn’t president,” Norquist told USA Today. At the same time, a few House Republicans were trying to get Reagan put on the $20. Six years after those efforts failed, Representative Patrick McHenry sponsored legislation to get Reagan on the $50.

“There’s an inherent conservatism when it comes to money here,” notes Matthew Wittmann, assistant curator of American coins and currency at the American Numismatic Society.

A new group has decided to try a different tack by advancing a new portrait that is not Ronald Reagan. Women on 20s has started a campaign to get a woman on money that Americans use (unlike $1 coins) — something that even President Obama has said is a “pretty good idea.” They’ve even picked the perfect guy to kick off currency — Andrew Jackson, once best known for military prowess, and now remembered for causing the Trail of Tears.

“Andrew Jackson folks would complain,” says Daniel Feller, an expert on our seventh president at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, “but there aren’t many Andrew Jackson folks left. I don’t know who in government would be against it.”

However, the problem was never going to be complaints about keeping Jackson on the $20; it was always going to be about narrowing the entire universe of eligible women to put on the bill to one in a town where agreeing is often a laughable dream, and everyone has different reasons for wanting to try something new with currency — or keep it the same.

When the Treasury thinks about redesigning money, it isn’t about the politics. The department — along with the Federal Reserve, the Secret Service, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing — is always thinking about how to best stop people from counterfeiting it. (Everyone forgets, but the Secret Service was created to protect money, not the president.) That’s why dollar bills have slowly morphed over time, with stripes and nearly unnoticed whizbangs continually cluttering the currency, and the important men in them shifting in their invisible seats and switching up their stare. A Treasury official, who stressed the department’s aim to prevent unauthorized production of money, was unable to talk about any specific campaigns to change currency design “or about anything political.”

Making Stupid Official — Andy Borowitz on the new law in Indiana.

INDIANAPOLIS (The Borowitz Report)—In a history-making decision, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana has signed into law a bill that officially recognizes stupidity as a religion.

Pence said that he hoped the law would protect millions of state residents “who, like me, have been practicing this religion passionately for years.”

The bill would grant politicians like Pence the right to observe their faith freely, even if their practice of stupidity costs the state billions of dollars.

While Pence’s action drew the praise of stupid people across America, former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer was not among them. “Even I wasn’t dumb enough to sign a bill like that,” she said.

Doonesbury — Without notice.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Poor Babies

What does it take to buy a decent election these days?

At this point in the 2012 presidential race, Terry Neese was in hot demand.

“Gosh, I was hearing from everyone and meeting with everyone,” said Neese, an Oklahoma City entrepreneur and former “Ranger” for President George W. Bush who raised more than $1 million for his reelection.

This year, no potential White House contender has called — not even Bush’s brother, Jeb. As of early Wednesday, the only contacts she had received were e-mails from staffers for two other likely candidates; both went to her spam folder.

“They are only going to people who are multi-multimillionaires and billionaires and raising big money first,” said Neese, who founded a successful employment agency. “Most of the people I talk to are kind of rolling their eyes and saying, ‘You know, we just don’t count anymore.’ ”

It’s the lament of the rich who are not quite rich enough for 2016.

Bundlers who used to carry platinum status have been downgraded, forced to temporarily watch the money race from the sidelines. They’ve been eclipsed by the uber-wealthy, who can dash off a seven-figure check to a super PAC without blinking. Who needs a bundler when you have a billionaire?

Many fundraisers, once treated like royalty because of their extensive donor networks, are left pining for their lost prestige. Can they still have impact in a world where Jeb Bush asks big donors to please not give more than $1 million to his super PAC right now? Will they ever be in the inner circle again?

“A couple presidential elections ago, somebody who had raised, say, $100,000 for a candidate was viewed as a fairly valuable asset,” said Washington lobbyist Kenneth Kies. “Today, that looks like peanuts. People like me are probably looking around saying, ‘How can I do anything that even registers on the Richter scale?’ ”

Gee, you mean that you’ll just have to do like the rest of the 99.9% of the country?  What are we coming to?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Short Takes

ISIS is being beaten back from Tikrit by Iraqi forces.

The Israel election is next week and getting close between the rivals.

The University of Oklahoma expelled two students connected with the SAE racist video.

President Obama signed the “Student Aid Bill of Rights” law.

Stocks fall on strong dollar worries.

Gun ownership is down in America.