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Tue May 26, 2015 at 05:45 PM PDT

It's flooding down in Texas

by DarkSyde

Whole Foods Market on Lamar being cleared of debris, silt and ruined groceries.....Credit: Jim C. Parker,  May 1981.  for 0529floodstories
Whole Foods Market on Lamar being cleared of debris, silt and ruined groceries after the Memorial Day flood in May 1981.
It was almost like the Memorial Day flood of 1981 all over again. Torrential rain on already saturated ground over the long three-day weekend brought on floods across the southwest, from Central Texas to Oklahoma:
The rain comes at the end of a long period of drought in Texas. Just four years ago, nearly all of the state was in extreme drought. Then-Gov. Rick Perry told Texans to “pray for rain.” He renewed the state of emergency in 2013. But after record-breaking rainfall this spring, no portion of Texas or Oklahoma was in extreme drought as of Thursday, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Going from one extreme to another is a hallmark of climate change. Scientists predict more droughts in the coming decades, as well as more intense rainstorms. In the midwest, the number of storms that drop more than three inches of rain have increased by 50 percent, according to an analysis from the Rocky Mountain Institute. Texas and Oklahoma both face intensifying drought and flooding, although politicians in both states have denied climate change.

No one weather event can be directly attributed to climate change. It's more like rolling dice, and lately we've been rolling a lot of snake-eyes.
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The Capitol Dome, pre-dawn, September 2014
It's fair to remember, when you hear that members of Congress are paid $174,000 a year, that many of them are paying to keep up a home in their district and a place to live in Washington, D.C., where the rent may not be at Manhattan or San Francisco levels, but is still quite high. Many of them are doing that, but not all. Recent election cycles have seen longtime senators get in trouble for living in the D.C. area and not keeping homes in the states they represent, but the reverse seems to be more common: House members who sleep in their offices.
The dozens of members who sleep in their offices are, in effect, spending their weekdays in 100 percent federally subsidized apartments.

They are not charged any rent. They receive no utility bills. They don’t pay for the daily cleaning services. Microwaves and refrigerators have been installed in most suites. There’s a half bathroom connected to each personal office, and the showers at the members’ gym open at 5:30 a.m.

In short, lawmakers who choose their offices as their crash pads are getting a valuable government freebie — worth 10 percent or more of their $174,000 annual salary.

Is it admirable fiscal responsibility, showing that they're not living in the lap of luxury and that they're not creatures of Washington but rather are at home in their districts? Or is it hypocrisy that these overwhelmingly Republican congressmen are living off the government beyond just their paychecks? Though it must be said that not paying taxes on a benefit is totally in line with their politics, and finding ways to benefit themselves while blocking policies that would help others better afford their rent is the Republican way. One thing it is either way, though, is potentially awkward for staff:
For many staffers, the situation isn’t so great. Sometimes arriving for work early and encountering the boss before he’s brushed his teeth is just awkward. Other times, it’s arguably a hostile work environment when you’re forced to confront the pajamas and mussed hair of some of the most important policymakers in the land.
Be right back, going to bleach that image out of my brain.
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The Supreme Court announced today that it will hear a case initiated by conservatives in Texas determining what "person" means for one-person, one-vote redistricting jurisprudence: all people, or just those who are eligible to vote?
The Justices’ move into the Texas Senate redistricting case comes fourteen years after Justice Clarence Thomas, in Chen v. City of Houston in May 2001, was the sole member of the Court who went on record in favor of sorting out “what measure of population should be used for determining whether the population is equally distributed among the districts.”

The usual choice considered by legislatures is to make districts more or less equal by dividing up shares of the state’s total population, or, as an alternative, to draw lines based upon some measure of the voting members of the population — such as the numbers actually registered to vote.

Two Texas voters, who wound up in state Senate districts where they say their votes will count less than the votes in another district even though each of those districts has about the same total number of people, argued that this contradicts the “one-person, one-vote” guarantee of voter equality. Their votes would have counted equally, they contended, if the legislature instead had used voting-age population as the measure.

The voters, Sue Evenwel, who lives in Titus County in Senate District 1, and Edward Pfenninger, who lives in Montgomery County in District 4, said their votes were diluted because of the disparity between the two measures as applied to those districts, where more of the people vote proportionally. Both districts are rural. Other, more urban districts have proportionally fewer registered voters, so the redistricting plan based on actual population is said to give those who do vote more weight — that is, fewer of them can control the outcome.

Why does this matter? Below the fold, some history.
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Bernie Sanders announcement
In a speech peppered with introductory "brothers and sisters," Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday made official his entry into the primary battle for the Democratic presidential nomination framed by the perfectly gorgeous sunny setting on Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont.

Although he was born and raised in Brooklyn, Burlington is where he has lived and worked for more than 40 years. The fact that Waterfront Park where he announced his campaign no longer qualifies as a rundown industrial eyesore is in great part thanks to Sanders's efforts during his four terms in the 1980s as Burlington's mayor. He knows what it means to be an underdog. He lost the first time he ran for office. But when he ran the last time for mayor, in 1987, he defeated a candidate endorsed by both the Democratic and Republican parties.

Long self-identified as a democratic socialist, which is what Europeans would call social democratic, Sanders's speech contained no surprises for those who have followed his career as mayor, Congressman and senator over the past 33 years.

There was no formal introduction Tuesday, just some brief remarks from a handful of avid supporters, including fellow Vermonter Bill McKibben, the author and environmental activist who co-founded and until recently was chief of 350.org. McKibben said of the people who have followed Sanders's standing up for rank-and-file Americans:

"They know [Bernie] always means what he says, and he always stands for what he believes."
Both Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry's ice cream fame were on hand. Greenfield said:
"For those of us who have been sitting on the sidelines, finally a candidate worth voting for."
You can read Sanders's speech below the fold.
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Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams speaks to the media as Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson looks on at a news conference following the not guilty verdict for Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo on manslaughter charges in Cleveland, Ohio, May 23, 2015. Brelo was found not guilty on Saturday in the shooting deaths of an unarmed black man and a woman after a high-speed car chase in 2012, one in a series of cases that have raised questions over police conduct and race relations in the U.S. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk - RTX1E9CZ
After the U.S. Department of Justice issued one of the most scathing reports ever written on a police department, the Cleveland Police just entered into a binding consent decree with the DOJ.

Calling it an "historic agreement that will transform the way the City of Cleveland will be policed for years and years to come" the Justice Department, which found that Cleveland police have engaged in outrageous patterns and practices of violence and discrimination, is  mandating new layers of oversight and innovation to overhaul how the department operates.

The 105-page decree, soon to be approved by a federal judge, has detailed provisions and policy changes. See the document in full below. We will offer a full analysis soon.

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Tue May 26, 2015 at 03:00 PM PDT

Cartoon: All lives matter*

by keefknight

Reposted from Comics by Barbara Morrill

Krazy sale at www.kchronicles.com!

Support ye olde gentleman cartoonist at Patreon!

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Crime scene photo of car after shot up by Officer Michael Brelo
Many unjust verdicts across the years have exposed just how protected police misconduct is under the law.

Four LAPD Police Officers were acquitted of their assault on Rodney King - in spite of overwhelming video evidence that they used excessive force.

Four NYPD officers were acquitted after firing 41 shots at Amadou Diallo on the doorstep of his home. He was an unarmed model citizen.

Three NYPD detectives were acquitted on all charges after firing 50 shots into the car of Sean Bell on his wedding day. Everyone in his car was unarmed and leaving a bachelor party.

Even President George W. Bush said the decision not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the choking death of Eric Garner was "hard to understand."

In a study commissioned by the Washington Post, it was determined that less than one percent of police officers who kill people on the job ever serve a day in jail—even when overwhelming evidence proves they acted unlawfully.

Perhaps no police shooting in the history of America, though, was more egregious and excessive than that of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams by the Cleveland Police Department in 2012. Both of them were completely unarmed and parked when Officer Michael Brelo jumped on the hood of the car and fired 34 shots into the windshield, reloaded his gun, then fired 15 more. An 88 additional shots were fired by his fellow officers surrounding the vehicle.

For years, police have claimed that Timothy and Malissa shot at them from the car, but after no guns were recovered, no bullet or bullet hole from the guns ever found, and their hands were completely free of any gun residue, it was concluded that that this mystery gunshot was likely just their car, a 1979 Chevy Malibu, backfiring. Some even dispute that this took place.

On Saturday, Officer Michael Brelo was found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter in this shooting massacre. Taking nearly one hour to explain his decision, the judge stated that the prosecutors were simply unable to disprove Brelo's claim that he "feared for his life" and that the state was unable to prove that the 49 bullets which came from Brelo's gun were the ones that actually caused their death.

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U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) (right) talks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington December 31, 2012. Taxes were on track to rise for many Americans this week unless U.S. lawmakers could cut a last-minute deal on Monday to avoid the
Oh, c'mon.
Senator Lindsey Graham, the first speaker Friday morning, appearing from Washington via video, spoke of losing his parents as a teenager, working in a pool hall and having to help raise his younger sister — and how it relates to his leadership style.

"Everything I learned about Iranians I learned working in the pool room," he said. "I met a lot of liars, and I know Iranians are liars."

Lindsey is running for president, apparently, and doing so because he just doesn't think any of the Rand Pauls or Ted Cruzii have the stuff of foreign policy greatness. Lindsey, however, knows that you can't trust scheming Iranians because as a teenager he worked on a pool hall.

It's going to be a damn shame if he doesn't make the debate cutoff.

Discuss
Screenshot of WXIA-TV's report on ALEC.
An Atlanta, Georgia television station has made national news with its fantastic investigative reporting on the conservative "corporate bill mill," ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. The station's Brendan Keefe followed Georgia state legislators to a resort hotel in Savannah last week, trying to find out what they were doing in closed door meetings where he, as a credentialed reporter, was not allowed. He had to go to a former member of ALEC to find out.
"It's really a corporate bill mill," said Sen. Nan Orrock, an Atlanta Democrat who has served in both houses of the Georgia General Assembly for years. "They're cranking out legislation, putting it into the hands of legislators who go back and file it."

Orrock would know. She was once a member of ALEC.

"The corporations that are there have equal standing with the legislators," Sen. Orrock said.

"You mean they can vote?" we asked.

"They absolutely can vote, and truth be told, they write the bills," she answered, referring to the lobbyists.

When trying to verify that with in-person reporting, Keefe was turned away and, in fact, "kicked out with the aid of off-duty police officers on orders from ALEC staff." But not before seeing Bethanne Cooley, Director of State Legislative Affairs for CTIA—the Wireless Association in the room—talking to Georgia Rep. Ben Harbin. Cooley is not a registered lobbyist in Georgia, but here she was working with that state's lawmakers. Under the auspices of ALEC, a non-profit educational 501(c)3, Cooley talking about or even actually writing legislation—which is what ALEC does—doesn't have to be reported as lobbying, and neither does the "scholarship" money they provide to legislators to travel to these meetings, or the food and drink and hotel costs that are covered. When the station tried an open records request to get receipts and reimbursement records for legislators' travel to ALEC-sponsored events, they were denied.

But the reporter was able to complete an extensive report on how ALEC operates, and where state legislators fit in. He used the example of Georgia's Asbestos Claims Priorities Act which "severely limits who can file asbestos claims against corporations in the state," as an industry-backed piece of legislation that was passed in 2007, and introduced by legislators who received thousands from ALEC that same year to go to meetings. He compared the ALEC-written suggested legislation, cooked up at a conference in Las Vegas that year, to what was introduced in Georgia and found much of it was copied word for word.

None of this is news to people who have been following ALEC closely over the years, but it is monumentally instructive for a local news organization to walk its viewers through the process and to show them how much of the governing in their state is done with voters left completely in the dark. It demonstrates starkly just how much control ALEC's corporate bosses have over what happens in state houses across the country.

Discuss
Laura Hayes (with microphone), of Fort Wayne, Indiana tells fellow protestors how the Affordable Care Act helped her with health costs, during a protest in front of the Supreme Court in Washington March 4, 2015. The U.S. Supreme Court will weigh a second
There's a new, deep dive in The New York Times into the four words in Obamacare that are jeopardizing health insurance subsidies to millions: "established by the state." Those four words, plaintiffs in the King v. Burwell say, were put there intentionally by the law's writers to coerce states into participating by creating their own exchanges. To succeed in their challenge to the law, they have to convince a majority of Supreme Court justices of that. The problem is that the the people most involved in writing that law have maintained since the lawsuit began that there's no way Congress meant to do that. The interviews and analysis in this Times story reinforce that.
The answer, from interviews with more than two dozen Democrats and Republicans involved in writing the law, is that the words were a product of shifting politics and a sloppy merging of different versions. Some described the words as “inadvertent,” “inartful” or “a drafting error.” But none supported the contention of the plaintiffs, who are from Virginia.

“I don’t ever recall any distinction between federal and state exchanges in terms of the availability of subsidies,” said Olympia J. Snowe, a former Republican senator from Maine who helped write the Finance Committee version of the bill.

“It was never part of our conversations at any point,” said Ms. Snowe, who voted against the final version of the Senate bill. “Why would we have wanted to deny people subsidies? It was not their fault if their state did not set up an exchange.” The four words, she said, were perhaps “inadvertent language,” adding, “I don’t know how else to explain it.”

This confirms interviews and analysis that we've seen since the lawsuit started gaining traction. The language was a result of hurried drafting, combining the legislation coming out of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Finance Committee. The Finance Committee foresaw the possibility that some states wouldn't set up their own exchanges, and authorized a federal exchange as a backup. Even Charles M. Clapton, a lawyer doing committee work for Republican Senator Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming says denying subsidies to anyone "was never discussed," and is "so contrary to the intent" of legislators. But in the combining of the bills the parallel tax code language that allows for the subsidies in the states wasn't mirrored for the federal exchange.

The court will issue its ruling at the end of June, and in all probability has already decided. The big unknown here is whether congressional intent will matter at all to the two likely swing votes on the panel—Chief Justice John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy. That and the prospect of taking insurance away from something like 8 million people.

Discuss
Pope Francis arrives to lead his Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican May 20, 2015. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
Pope Francis
You might've seen earlier Sen. Marco Rubio's latest nonsense:
“We are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech because today we’ve reached the point in our society where if you do not support same-sex marriage, you are labeled a homophobe and a hater,” Rubio said. “So what’s the next step after that? After they’re done going after individuals, the next step is to argue that the teachings of mainstream Christianity, the catechism of the Catholic Church, is hate speech. That’s a real and present danger.
Holy crap, are they going to come after the Catholic church? There might be truth to that.

There's the Koch-funded global climate change-deniers at the Heartland Institute:

The Holy Father is being misled by ‘experts’ at the United Nations who have proven unworthy of his trust. Humans are not causing a climate crisis on God’s Green Earth—in fact, they are fulfilling their Biblical duty to protect and use it for the benefit of humanity.
Then there's Rush Limbaugh:
Limbaugh, who is not Catholic, said that parts of the document were "pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope" and suggested that someone else had written the papal document for him. He also accused the pope of going "beyond Catholicism" and being "purely political".
The business community is quite the danger ...
Ken Langone, the billionaire founder of the Home Depot and a major Republican donor, warned Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York that if the pope kept up the drumbeat [on income inequality and the defects of capitalism], some wealthy Catholics might stop giving to church causes.
And look out, Catholics! Rubio and his pals are themselves a clear and present danger!
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Catholic, criticized Pope Francis on Wednesday after the pontiff played a key role in helping the United States and Cuba forge an agreement that resulted in the release of American Alan Gross from Cuba.
Fellow Catholic Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said he wished Francis would stand up for the Cuban people "rather than their oppressors."
Of course, criticizing the church is not "hate speech" nor a "clear and present danger." It wasn't when we criticized the last Pope, and it isn't today. But you know what IS a clear and present danger to conservatives? This: 94 percent of Republican Catholics view Pope Francis favorably. NINETY-FOUR!

Turns out that fighting global climate change, fighting income inequality, standing up for the poor, and fighting for a more tolerant society—in other words, being liberal—are universally popular things indeed. Even among the Republican faithful.

Discuss
  • Today's comic by Jen Sorensen is Pro-life, Boko Haram style:
    Cartoon by Jen Sorensen --  Pro-life, Boko Haram style
  • The future of the Democratic Party requires talking about climate change:
    Mainstream Democrats of all ideological shades—center-left pro–free trade moderates and lefty economic populists alike—care about climate change and weaning the world off fossil fuels. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found climate change was cited the third most often by Democrats as their top issue. Polls consistently show that majorities of American voters support climate action, and cost-benefit analyses tell us that reducing carbon pollution can save more money than it costs. As Chris Van Hollen demonstrates, you can be a pragmatist and a forthright progressive on climate change at the same time.
  • Some photos of sea creatures soaked in oil that will break your heart.
  • This year's graduates have lived in a country at war for more than half their lives:
    Using somewhat subjective definitions of "at war"—Korea counts but Kosovo doesn't in our analysis, for example—we endeavored to figure out how much of each person's life has been spent with America at war. We used whole years for both the age and the war, so the brief Gulf War is given a full year, and World War II includes 1941. These are estimates.

    But the beginning of the conflict in Afghanistan in (late) 2001 means that anyone born in the past 13 years has never known an America that isn't at war. Anyone born after 1984 has likely seen America at war for at least half of his or her life. And that's a lot of Americans. [...]

    But that state of war, we are told (I am too young to know better) feels different than America during World War II or, particularly for the college-aged, Vietnam. Moreso than those wars, war today is distant, fought on our behalf.

  • Australian lawmakers ponder dumping "tampon tax":
    After nearly 100,000 people signed a petition demanding to “remove the unfair tampon tax,” some Australian officials are considering a policy change to exempt sanitary products from the country’s 10 percent “Goods and Services” tax (GST).

    In a statement released on Tuesday, Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey said that he may ask state and territory governments to remove the “tampon tax,” after the Treasury calculates exactly how much it will cost to lift the GST on women’s sanitary pads and tampons. Other health-related products — like condoms, sunscreen, and nicotine patches — are already exempt from the 10 percent tax.

  • Notes from the weird war between KFC and Chick-fil-A.
    These are dark days for KFC's once-dominant chicken empire. After five years of crumbling sales, the extra crispy mega-chain, which in 2012 lost its throne as America's top chicken seller to Chick-fil-A, now makes less money than eateries half its size, like Applebee's and Panera Bread.
  • Oracle founder and billionaire Larry Ellison backing Marco Rubio:
    Ellison will hold a June 9 fundraiser for the Republican senator at his Woodside, California, estate that will feature a $2,700-per-person VIP reception and photo op with the candidate and a dinner for supporters who have raised more than $27,000 for Rubio's presidential campaign. It's not an official endorsement, but having the world's fifth-richest person in his corner would be a coup for Rubio, particularly as his fellow Floridian Jeb Bush gobbles up donations from the Sunshine State's wealthiest Republicans at a record pace. Ellison, 70, is worth an estimated $54 billion. (His income in 2013, when he was still Oracle's CEO, broke down to about $38,000 per hour.)
  • Bernie Sanders makes his presidential run official today. If you are in Burlington, Vermont, you can catch his speech live at the Waterfront Park. If not, you can follow it at Vermont Public Radio or see it here:
  • On today's encore Kagro in the Morning show, it's our 5/28/14 episode. Greg & Joan on Kinsley, Greenwald. Handicapping the handicappers. Diminished Iran threat. Boggs plays dumb. McConnell health care word salad. Bonkersghazi. Latest NYC overspending craze.


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