Trump won — So did marijuana, gun control and minimum wage


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❝ …Not all is doom and gloom. While Democrats lost big, liberals won some of the big initiatives that were on statewide ballots. It wasn’t a total sweep — several states, for example, affirmed the death penalty — but there were gains on some issues, including marijuana legalization, minimum wage, and gun control.

The full results paint a much more mixed picture than the top-ballot results suggest: The Democratic Party got clobbered, but some of the major policies Democrats support also won big.

1) Democrats mostly — but not entirely — lost in the state races

Four houses in 3 states – including here in New Mexico went the other way. And liberal control of our state Senate expanded. Not an accident. Hard work since the racist danger of tea party Confederates became obvious – has paid off.

2) Three — and maybe four — states legalized marijuana

❝ Voters in California, Massachusetts, and Nevada opted to fully legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. They join Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state, and the District of Columbia in legalizing pot.

Legalization was also on the ballot in Maine, but the race is too close to call…

Voters in Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota also opted to legalize medical marijuana. And voters in Montana voted to ease their state’s rules on medical marijuana. No state voted against allowing pot for medicinal purposes.

3) Four states approved a higher minimum wage

❝ Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington state all considered raising their minimum wages to $12 an hour. And the proposal won in all four of these states.

4) Three states passed new gun control measures

❝ California, Nevada, and Washington state all approved new restrictions on guns, while Maine narrowly rejected more gun control measures.

Progressive and Liberal policy ideas had a better night than the Democrat establishment. Many local ballot initiatives succeeded in moving the quality of life forward in states and cities around the country.

Guess what? The kind of activism that produced those victories need to continue and multiply if we’re going to maintain any semblance of sanity. Get ready for the mid-term election in 2018. Prepare yourself for the redistricting fight beginning in 2020. Time to sort out one of the major avenues of backwards political thought in Western Democracies.

2016 Travel Photographer of the year — Anthony Lau


Click to enlargeAnthony Lau

Winter Horseman

This photograph of a team of horses charging through the snow and morning mist, with a mysterious horseman raising his whip behind them, has earned Hong Kong amateur photographer Anthony Lau the title of National Geographic’s travel photographer of the year.

The photograph was shot while Inner Mongolia’s temperatures in December 2015 reached between -20 to -30 degrees Celsius, says Lau…The shot was taken during his second photography tour to the Saihanba National Forest Park, three years after his first visit to the natural reserve located between the border of China’s Inner Mongolia province and Hebei province…

I only had about 10 minutes to take the best shot during the morning magic hours,” he adds. “Right before the mist disappears as soon as the sun is out.” Lau won the grand prize of the contest, placing first in the people category.

Bravo!

Solar energy ready to be US leading new power source

New statistics just released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration suggest that in the coming year, the booming solar sector will add more new electricity-generating capacity than any other — including natural gas and wind.

EIA reports that planned installations for 2016 include 9.5 gigawatts of utility-scale solar — followed by 8 gigawatts (or 8 billion watts) of natural gas and 6.8 gigawatts of wind. This suggests solar could truly blow out the competition, because the EIA numbers are only for large or utility-scale solar arrays or farms and do not include fast-growing rooftop solar, which will also surely add several additional gigawatts of capacity in 2016.

In other words, U.S. solar seems poised for not just a record year but perhaps a blowout year. Last year, in contrast, solar set a new record with 7.3 gigawatts of total new photovoltaic capacity across residential, commercial, and utility scale installations.

“If actual additions ultimately reflect these plans, 2016 will be the first year in which utility-scale solar additions exceed additions from any other single energy source,” says EIA…

In the grand scheme, the tax credits for solar, as well as an extension of the production tax credit for wind, could serve as a kind of “bridge” into an era in which the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan is operating — or at least, so the current administration hopes. Granted, that depends on whether that plan survives its current legal challenges.

The article has a lot of blather about taxes and tax credits as subsidies. The reality is that no significant change or addition to electric power generation in most countries depends to some extent on subsidies. What upsets conservatives – especially Republicans – is that fossil-brained old coal money is losing out – and even worse, private solar, home-based solar, gives support directly to comsumers instead of corporate moneybags.

A mortal sin in the minds of 19th Century ideologues.

The Koch Bros plan to run Republican elections with rightwing geeks


The ghosts in the machine

The Koch brothers and their allies are pumping tens of millions of dollars into a data company that’s developing detailed, state-of-the-art profiles of 250 million Americans, giving the brothers’ political operation all the earmarks of a national party.

The move comes as mainstream Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, are trying to reclaim control of the conservative movement from outside groups. The Kochs, however, are continuing to amass all of the campaign tools the Republican National Committee and other party arms use to elect a president.

The Koch network also has developed in-house expertise in polling, message-testing, fact-checking, advertising, media buying, dial groups and donor maintenance. Add mastery of election law, a corporate-minded aggressiveness and years of patient experimentation — plus seemingly limitless cash — and the Koch operation actually exceeds the RNC’s data operation in many important respects.

Billed as the biggest non-party agitprop brigade in the United States, the Koch Bros have decided decades of brainwashing about the glorious two-party system requires them – easily enough – to take over the Republican Party.

The least-known vehicle for the Kochs is a for-profit company known as i360, started by a former adviser to John McCain’s presidential campaign after McCain lost to Barack Obama in 2008. Subsequently, it merged with a Koch-funded data nonprofit. The Koch-affiliated Freedom Partners, formed in late 2011, eventually became an investor, officials confirmed to POLITICO.

Spending more than $50 million in cash over the past four years, i360 links voter information with consumer data purchased from credit bureaus and other vendors. Information from social networks is blended in, along with any interaction the voter may have had with affiliated campaigns and advocacy groups. Then come estimated income, recent addresses, how often a person has voted, and even the brand of car they drive. Another i360 service slices and dices information about TV viewing to help campaigns target ads more precisely and cost efficiently.

GOP campaigns can get less-expensive data through the RNC, but happily pay i360 for its superior profiles. Midterm clients included several of the GOP’s marquee Senate and gubernatorial victors, including Sens.-elect Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Joni Ernst of Iowa, and Gov.-elect Larry Hogan in Maryland…

Palmer said i360 embeds experiments “into absolutely everything that we do.” In Colorado, for instance, Americans for Prosperity — the most muscular part of the Koch network — worked with i360 to isolate 297,000 voters who were not likely to vote in 2014, but were likely to oppose the policies of Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, who wound up being defeated by GOP Rep. Cory Gardner.

Among the 297,000 voters, some got no contact at all from AFP. About 60,000 voters were broken into six “treatment groups”: One group got a knock on the door, plus a volunteer phone call and a mail piece. Another got door plus mail. Another got door only, and so forth. Within those groups, the messages varied. Now, as part of its midterm after-action review, i360 is figuring out which approach was most efficient in turning out a reluctant voter.

RTFA for all the delightful details. You, too, will be a datapoint if the Koch Bros think they can find an issue or two to twist your “independent” choice for elective office over these next two years.

After decades of brainwashing that advertising is really helping you find what you need for a better life, the Koch Bros and the Republican Party may just convince Americans that being a lemming in a cute little white suit is better than all those other sizes, shapes and colors. Or thinking for yourself.

Some day in the not-to-distant future we might look back at this Koch Bros venture and reflect that history’s next Joseph Goebbels turned out to be a Geek.

Thanks, Mike

Hillary offers her public stance on marriage equality

Overdue? You betcha. American politicians always make very political decisions.

I can tell you from personal experience that Hillary has supported equal civil rights for all Americans through all of her adult career in law – and in politics. But, the latter quality was lived as a Democratic politician – earlier times were only bounded by her views on constitutional law.

Now that it seems likely she’ll be campaigning for the presidency in 2016, it’s central to that task that she rely on the progressive wing of the Democrat Party – and progressives and independents outside that party. Just as did Barack Obama. Would she be as conservative a president as Obama? On foreign policy – probably yes. I don’t hold out a lot of hope for a major swing of the mainstream of Democrats into serious work for peace. On domestic policy – probably no. I think she understands the needs of working folks, is less divorced from the roots of American labor than Obama or the hierarchy of the Democrat power structure.

These are trends that differentiate Democratic politicians from Republicans. They ain’t earthshaking differences; but, especially on questions of equal opportunity and civil rights – they make all the difference in the world.

America’s hope against hope


Illustration by Matt Wuerker

After a hard-fought election campaign, costing well in excess of $2 billion, it seems to many observers that not much has changed in American politics: Barack Obama is still President, the Republicans still control the House of Representatives, and the Democrats still have a majority in the Senate. With America facing a “fiscal cliff” – automatic tax increases and spending cuts at the start of 2013 that will most likely drive the economy into recession unless bipartisan agreement on an alternative fiscal path is reached – could there be anything worse than continued political gridlock?

In fact, the election had several salutary effects – beyond showing that unbridled corporate spending could not buy an election, and that demographic changes in the United States may doom Republican extremism. The Republicans’ explicit campaign of disenfranchisement in some states – like Pennsylvania, where they tried to make it more difficult for African-Americans and Latinos to register to vote – backfired: those whose rights were threatened were motivated to turn out and exercise them. In Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor and tireless warrior for reforms to protect ordinary citizens from banks’ abusive practices, won a seat in the Senate…

The Republicans should not have been caught off-guard by Americans’ interest in issues like disenfranchisement and gender equality. While these issues strike at the core of a country’s values – of what we mean by democracy and limits on government intrusion into individuals’ lives – they are also economic issues. As I explain in my book The Price of Inequality, much of the rise in US economic inequality is attributable to a government in which the rich have disproportionate influence – and use that influence to entrench themselves. Obviously, issues like reproductive rights and gay marriage have large economic consequences as well…

…Here is what Americans should hope for: a strong “jobs” bill – based on investments in education, health care, technology, and infrastructure – that would stimulate the economy, restore growth, reduce unemployment, and generate tax revenues far in excess of its costs, thus improving the country’s fiscal position. They might also hope for a housing program that finally addresses America’s foreclosure crisis…

America – and the world – would also benefit from a US energy policy that reduces reliance on imports not just by increasing domestic production, but also by cutting consumption, and that recognizes the risks posed by global warming. Moreover, America’s science and technology policy must reflect an understanding that long-term increases in living standards depend upon productivity growth, which reflects technological progress that assumes a solid foundation of basic research…

Americans should hope for all of this, though I am not sanguine that they will get much of it.& More likely, America will muddle through – here another little program for struggling students and homeowners, there the end of the Bush tax cuts for millionaires, but no wholesale tax reform, serious cutbacks in defense spending, or significant progress on global warming.

With the euro crisis likely to continue unabated, America’s continuing malaise does not bode well for global growth. Even worse, in the absence of strong American leadership, longstanding global problems – from climate change to urgently needed reforms of the international monetary system – will continue to fester. Nonetheless, we should be grateful: it is better to be standing still than it is to be heading in the wrong direction.

Optimist that I am – still as cynical as Joe Stiglitz the author of this piece – we have 2014 and 2016 to look forward to. Americans may just be bright enough, confident enough, to push the House back to solid enough Democrat control at the mid-term to enable progressive legislation to be funded. I expect no miracles from our voters or elected officials – but, I think we’ll have the market on our side.

At this moment, I’m confident in Hillary running in 2016 – and her added experience in foreign policy [as tawdry as that has continued to be] better equips her for the battles for the presidency.

Should be fun. We may get a little further along the road to solvency and modernity.

Chicago won’t host the Olympics – Is the TSA to blame?


Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Did Chicago lose the chance to host the 2016 Olympics because of airport security issues?

Among the toughest questions posed to the Chicago bid team this week in Copenhagen was one that raised the issue of what kind of welcome foreigners would get from airport officials when they arrived in this country to attend the Games. Syed Shahid Ali, an I.O.C. member from Pakistan, in the question-and-answer session following Chicago’s official presentation, pointed out that entering the United States can be “a rather harrowing experience.”

That’s putting it politely.

Mr. Obama’s assurances may have not been enough to assuage critics like Mr. Ali. A few hours later the Games went to Rio de Janiero.

The exchange underscores what tourism officials here have been saying for years about the sometimes rigorous entry process for foreigners, which they see as a deterrent to tourism. Once the news came out that Chicago lost its Olympic bid, the U.S. Travel Association didn’t miss an opportunity to point that out, sending out a critical press release within hours.

“It’s clear the United States still has a lot of work to do to restore its place as a premier travel destination,” Roger Dow, U.S. Travel’s president, said in the statement released today. “When IOC members are commenting to our President that foreign visitors find traveling to the United States a ‘pretty harrowing experience,’ we need to take seriously the challenge of reforming our entry process to ensure there is a welcome mat to our friends around the world, even as we ensure a secure system.”

The blogosphere is filled daily with predictable examples of innocent people being harassed at some port of entry. Yet, GAO inspectors move imitation bombs through our airports whenever they feel like it.

The disaster called TSA runs the gamut from underpaid, underqualified and incompetent to poorly trained. They are there to satisfy a paranoia which has lasted among politicians much longer than the populace in general. Real security systems needn’t be run like the Toonerville Trolley.

Thanks, Uncle Dave