Tea Party amok in NC

The embarrassments from the North Carolina legislature just keep coming.  Any semi-intelligent person ought to be embarrassed to have voted for or support these bozos.  Now we’ve got a state senator who thinks we need to require that HS students learn the value of the Gold Standard.  Seriously.  And if the damn High Schools can’t get this right, maybe they need to add a class!

— The state Senate will vote Wednesday on whether to add the gold standard and other conservative principles to the state’s high school curriculum.

Senate Bill 562, sponsored by Sen. David Curtis, R-Lincoln, builds on a law passed in 2011 requiring the addition of a “Founding Principles” curriculum to the state’s history standards.

The curriculum, a model bill from conservative free-market think tank American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, requires students to receive education on the nation’s “Founding Philosophy and Principles” as found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers.

“We have some concerns about how DPI implemented the course,” Curtis told the Senate Education Committee Tuesday, referring to the state Department of Public Instruction.

He said his bill “adds a few more principles, but it mainly instructs DPI to make sure every student takes the founding principles course before they graduate.

“If this is not implemented properly, we may have to add another course,” he added.

The five principles to be added to the curriculum are as follows:

  • “Constitutional limitations on government power to tax and spend and prompt payment of public debt”
  • “Money with intrinsic value”
  • “Strong defense and supremacy of civil authority over military”
  • “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none”
  • “Eternal vigilance by ‘We the People”’

“Money with intrinsic value – is that in the Federalist Papers?” asked Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake.

“Yes, it is,” Curtis replied, with agreement from Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph.

In fact, it is not. A search of all 85 letters that make up the Federalist Papers turns up no mention of money with intrinsic value. It is, however, taken verbatim from the ALEC model bill. [emphasis mine]

Ouch, the stupid!!  (Nice Planet Money piece on the Gold Standard– though all you really need to know is that Glenn Beck loves it).  Not to mention the absurdity of trying to micro-manage the high school History curriculum.  All  decent classes on American Government and early American history cover, “Founding Philosophy and Principles” as found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers.”  What they don’t do is cover right-wing talking points.  Ugh.

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Marriage has already been redifined

First, I read Mark Joseph Stern’s take on yesterday’s Supreme Court arguments:

Many court watchers, myself included, speculated that Chief Justice John Robertsmight swing in favor of marriage equality this time around, in large part to avoid a seemingly partisan 5–4 split. But Roberts didn’t appear to be playing the role of swing vote on Tuesday morning. When Bonauto said gay couples hoped to “join” the institution of marriage, Roberts suggested that they were instead looking to “redefine” it [emphasis mine], since marriage was defined as one man, one woman throughout history.

And then Dahlia Lithwick’s excellent summary of oral arguments and Justice Kennedy’s fixation on dignity:

So there is a rather extraordinary moment Tuesday morning, as the Supreme Court hears historic arguments in the marriage equality cases grouped under Obergefell v. Hodges, when Kennedy finds himself in an argument with John Bursch, Michigan’s special assistant attorney general, about whether marriage is a dignity-conferring enterprise, or not. Bursch, defending his state’s ban on same-sex marriage, is explaining that the purpose of marriage is not to confer dignity but to keep parents bonded to their biological children…

Bursch explains that if marriage is expanded to include same-sex couples, the whole purpose of the institution will change. According to him, that view of marriage is “keeping the couple bound to that child forever,” whereas the new purpose (once gay couples are allowed to wed) will be about “their emotional commitment to each other.” [emphasis mine]

Hello!  That’s already happened!  Raise your hand if you think modern marriage is not substantially about the emotional commitment to each other of two people.  More Dahlia:

It is so strange to contemplate that ours is the sort of hyper-puritanical society that can’t acknowledge that the reason people marry is some combination of procreative purpose, emotional connection, and sex. That thankfully we needn’t pick just one. But oral argument proceeds like a Save the Children video, in which one must choose a single, lofty reason for marriage, close your eyes, and think of the queen.

All this reminds me of a great essay from Stephanie Coontz a few years back (that I continue to assign to my classes) that very much makes the point that while the name “marriage” has remained the same, the institution itself has undergone massive change:

Marriage has already been radically transformed – in a way that makes gay marriage not only inevitable, as Vice President Biden described it in an interview late last year, but also quite logical.

We are near the end of a two-stage revolution in the social understanding and legal definition of marriage. This revolution has overturned the most traditional functions of the institution: to reinforce differences in wealth and power and to establish distinct and unequal roles for men and women under the law.

For millennia, marriage was about property and power rather than love. Parents arranged their children’s unions to expand the family labor force, gain well-connected in-laws and seal business deals. Sometimes, to consolidate inheritances, parents prevented their younger children from marrying at all. For many people, marriage was an unavoidable duty. For others, it was a privilege, not a right. Often, servants, slaves and paupers were forbidden to wed.

But a little more than two centuries ago, people began to believe that they had a right to choose their partners on the basis of love rather than having their marriages arranged to suit the interests of parents or the state.

Love, not money, became the main reason for getting married, and more liberal divorce laws logically followed…

But huge as the repercussions of the love revolution were, they did not make same-sex marriage inevitable, because marriage continued to be based on differing roles and rights for husbands and wives: Wives were legally dependent on their husbands and performed specific wifely duties. This was part of what marriage cemented in society, and the reason marriage was between men and women. Only when distinct gender roles ceased to be the organizing principle of marriage – in just the past 40 years – did we start down the road to legalizing unions between two men or two women…

People now decide for themselves who and when – and whether – to marry. When they do wed, they decide for themselves whether to have children and how to divide household tasks. If they cannot agree, they are free to leave the marriage.

If gay marriage is legally recognized in this country, it will have little impact on the institution of marriage. In fact, the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage – an indication that it’s not just the president’s views that are “evolving” – is a symptom, rather than a cause, of the profound revolutions in marriage that have already taken place.

So, yes, marriage has historically been between a woman and a man, but that does not change the fact that it is complete ahistorical ignorance to suggest the institution has not undergone massive change.  Whatever the court ultimately decides in this case, to argue that marriage, as our society currently understands and practices it, is based largely on procreation and discrete gender roles is simply at odds with what marriage has become in the modern world.

Photo of the day

From Telegraph’s animal photos of the week:

A egret stays on the tree in a forest during the sunset in China

An egret stands in a tree at sunset in ChinaPicture: Alamy

Chart of the day: the non-rise of political independents

Seth Masket makes a nice counter-point in response to a piece about the “rise of independent voters.”  Well, actually, not so much:

Rather, the percent of Americans who describe themselves as independent is on the rise. The percent of voters who do so is not. Here’s some evidence from the American National Election Studies from 1952 to 2012, charting the percent of Americans who describe themselves as independent:

If you separate those who voted in the most recent election from those who did not, you see two very different trends. Non-voters increasingly are calling themselves independent, while the percent of voters who call themselves independent has been flat for four decades.

It presumably has some importance that this is happening, but as for significant political implications, the fact that this movement is restricted to non-voters means there’s no reason to expect political parties to respond.

Pope Francis versus climate change

The Pope Francis awesomeness continues.  Now he is looking to take the environmental stewardship aspect of Catholic social teaching seriously and use his position to fight against climate change.  Go Francis!  Favorite part?  Conservatives are freaking out!  How dare Pope Francis rely on “science” and concern for how climate change affects the world’s poor?  Doesn’t he know that institutes sponsored by the Koch brothers have determined human-caused climate change to be a liberal hoax?

Washington — Since his first homily in 2013,Pope Francis has preached about the need to protect the earth and all of creation as part of a broad message on the environment. It has caused little controversy so far.

But now, as Francis prepares to deliver what is likely to be a highly influential encyclical this summer on environmental degradation and the effects of human-caused climate change on the poor, he is alarming some conservatives in the United States who are loath to see the Catholic Church reposition itself as a mighty voice in a cause they do not believe in.

As part of the effort for the encyclical, topVatican officials will hold a summit meeting Tuesday to build momentum for a campaign by Francis to urge world leaders to enact a sweeping United Nations climate change accord in Paris in December. The accord would for the first time commit every nation to enact tough new laws to cut the emissions that cause global warming…

In the United States, the encyclical will be accompanied by a 12-week campaign, now being prepared by a committee of Catholic bishops, to raise the issue of climate change and environmental stewardship in sermons, homilies, news media interviews and letters to newspaper editors, said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant in Washington.

But the effort is already angering a number of American conservatives, among them members of the Heartland Institute, a libertarian group partly funded by the Charles G. Koch Foundation, run by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, who oppose climate policy.

“The Holy Father is being misled by ‘experts’ at the United Nations who have proven unworthy of his trust,” Joseph Bast, the president of the Heartland Institute, said in an interview. “Though Pope Francis’ heart is surely in the right place, he would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations’ unscientific agenda on the climate.”

Oh, those so-called “experts”!  Damn them and their “science”!  Clearly, we should ignore the overwhelming majority of climate scientists and put our trusts in political flacks who ultimately make money off of fossil fuels.  Silly Pope.

Honestly, I really don’t think this will have much impact in the alternate reality that is Republican politics, but it would be nice if it could make some squirm just a little bit:

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, invited the pope to speak to Congress, but some Catholics say that Mr. Boehner should prepare for uncomfortable moments. Mr. Boehner, who is Catholic, has often criticized the Obama administration for what he calls its “job killing” environmental agenda.

“I think Boehner was out of his mind to invite the pope to speak to Congress,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, an analyst at the National Catholic Reporter. “Can you imagine what the Republicans will do when he says, ‘You’ve got to do something about global warming?’”

In addition, a number of Catholics — including Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie and Rick Santorum — are gearing up to compete for the Republican presidential nomination, and most of them question the science of human-caused climate change.

Several conservative Catholic intellectuals who expect the pope’s message to bolster the vast majority of scientists who hold that climate change is induced by human activity, including Robert P. George of Princeton University, have published articles reminding Catholics that papal pronouncements on science are not necessarily sound or binding.

It really is kind of amazing (and wonderful) that the contemporary Catholic church could actually produce a leader who is so focused on making a positive difference in the world based– especially for the poor– rather than fighting, narrow, small ideological battles over a right-wing social agenda.

Baltimore

Of all the people to have insightful comments on the situation in Baltimore, I was not expecting the COO of the Orioles, John Angelos, who has his job by virtue of being the son of the owner (though, to his credit, I learned he’s a Duke graduate).  Well, whatever his background, this is great stuff:

Brett, speaking only for myself, I agree with your point that the principle of peaceful, non-violent protest and the observance of the rule of law is of utmost importance in any society. MLK, Gandhi, Mandela and all great opposition leaders throughout history have always preached this precept. Further, it is critical that in any democracy, investigation must be completed and due process must be honored before any government or police members are judged responsible.

That said, my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.

The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance, and other abuses of the Bill of Rights by government pay the true price, and ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importances of any kids’ game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards. We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the U.S., and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights, and this makes inconvenience at a ballgame irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.

More junk forensic “science”

Nice piece by Dahlia Lithwick last week on how the “science” of hair matching is pretty much bunk and the FBI has been systematically representing it in court for decades:

The Washington Post published a story so horrifying this weekend that it would stop your breath: “The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.” …

“Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far.” [emphasis mine] The shameful, horrifying errors were uncovered in a massive, three-year review by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Innocence Project…

Chillingly, as the Post continues, “the cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death.” Of these defendants, 14 have already been executed or died in prison.

The massive review raises questions about the veracity of not just expert hair testimony, but also the bite-mark and other forensic testimony offered as objective, scientific evidence to jurors who, not unreasonably, believed that scientists in white coats knew what they were talking about. As Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, put it, “The FBI’s three-decade use of microscopic hair analysis to incriminate defendants was a complete disaster.”

I will take issue with that “raises questions” in the previous paragraph.  There’s not questions, we actually are quite sure that bite mark analysis is complete bunk and as much science as astrology.  Lithwick concludes:

Since prison-crowding and justice reform are widely touted as issues that unite the left and the right in this country, going back and retesting the evidence of those who may well have been wrongly imprisoned should be a national priority. So far it isn’t, perhaps because the scope of the enterprise is so daunting. Or perhaps because nobody really cares all that much about people who’ve been sitting in jail for years and years. Says Garrett: “These victims may remain unrecognized and in prison—if they still live—and the same unscientific testimony continues to be delivered without limitation. … But hey, these are just criminal cases right?”

Yep.  Lord knows how many people are rotting away in prison for fake “science” that we’ve known for years isn’t actually science, but prosecutors have been pretending (and judges have been going along) actually is for years.  You’d like to think that now that we know how bad the scope of the problem is, we can make some progress.  Alas, it seems the scope of the problem may be scaring off people from taking it on.  Until then, just more innocent people in jail.

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