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Even Wisconsin's Republicans Are Getting Tired of Scott Walker

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 5:04 PM EDT

Our story so far in America's laboratories of democracy: Over the past few years, Republican governors have been eagerly implementing big tax cuts, insisting that they will supercharge their states' economies and increase revenue instead of reducing it. Kansas was the poster child for this experiment, and it failed miserably. Louisiana has been a disaster too. Now comes Wisconsin, where fellow Republicans are getting a little tired of Governor Scott Walker's denial of reality:

Leaders of Mr. Walker’s party, which controls the Legislature, are balking at his demands for the state’s budget. Critics say the governor’s spending blueprint is aimed more at appealing to conservatives in early-voting states like Iowa than doing what is best for Wisconsin.

Lawmakers are stymied over how to pay for road and bridge repairs without raising taxes or fees, which Mr. Walker has ruled out. The governor’s fellow Republicans rejected his proposal to borrow $1.3 billion for the roadwork, arguing that adding to the state’s debt is irresponsible.

Oh man. Been there, done that. This was also Arnold Schwarzenegger's solution to a budget hole created by his own tax cuts, and it didn't work out so well. It turns out that spending is spending, whether you pay for it now or later.

As in so many other states, even Republican legislators are starting to glom onto the fact that if you cut taxes, you're pretty likely to create a big budget hole. Unfortunately for them, they're learning that there's only so far you can go in crapping on the poor to close the hole.1 At some point, you have to start cutting back on stuff you approve of too, like roads and bridges. But Walker doesn't care. He's got a presidential run coming up, and he wants to be able to say he didn't raise taxes. If that means playing "let's pretend" and borrowing the money instead, he's OK with that.

On the bright side, at least it's better than the childishness that Bobby Jindal came up with. And borrowing costs are low right now. So I guess things could be worse.

1Though in Wisconsin's case, Walker's signature move for crapping on the poor has been to refuse Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. This will cost Wisconsin $345 million over the next two years, making their budget hole even worse. That's how much Walker wants to crap on the poor.

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Norway's Women's Soccer Team Just Obliterated Sexist Stereotypes in Sports

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 3:22 PM EDT

The Norwegian women's soccer team may have lost in spectacular fashion to England on Monday. But the team's contribution to this year's FIFA Women's World Cup will go on, in the form of this hilarious attack on sexism in sport, above.

In a four-minute mockumentary aired on Norwegian television in the lead-up to the team's match against England, the players make fun of sexist stereotypes in women's soccer. "We're shit, we suck. Plain and simple," admits captain Trine Ronning. In emails to FIFA, the players offer suggestions for making the women's game less boring. For instance, they could play on smaller fields or use a smaller, lighter ball. Or FIFA could allow goalkeepers to swat incoming goals away with collapsible light reflectors. 

Oh, and what was (potentially) outgoing FIFA president Sepp Blatter's comical response to the suggestions, according to the segment? "HAHAHA these suggestions made my day. LOL."

h/t The Guardian

Watch the First Black Woman Who Served in the US Senate Go Off on the Confederate Flag

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 3:14 PM EDT

With South Carolina poised to remove the flag from its statehouse, and with momentum growing toward the removal of the Confederate emblem from state flags in Mississippi, Alabama and Virginia, the symbol's enduring official status in the American South may finally be winding down. The current backlash against the rebel flag, sparked by the massacre of nine people inside a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, is the latest round in a fierce long-running debate.

On July 22, 1993, an impassioned Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois—the first African-American woman to serve in the US Senate and its sole black member at the time—took the floor to rebuke conservative legislators including the late Jesse Helms, who were backing an amendment to secure the Confederate flag as the official design for the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Moseley-Braun said: "The issue is whether Americans such as myself who believe in the promise of this country, who feel strongly and who are patriots in this country, will have to suffer the indignity of being reminded time and time again that at one time in this country's history we were human chattel. We were property. We could be traded, bought, and sold."

She added with regard to the amendment: "On this issue there can be no consensus. It is an outrage. It is an insult."

Waiters Now Have Yet Another Gripe to Contend With

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 2:03 PM EDT

Roberto Ferdman writes today about the "most annoying restaurant trend happening today." But when I got around to reading it, I was a little surprised by how it ended:

Without my permission, restaurants have abandoned, or simply overlooked, a classic tenet of service etiquette....Rather than clear plates once everyone at the table has finished the meal, which has long been the custom, servers instead hover over diners, fingers twitching, until the very instant someone puts down a fork. Like vultures, they then promptly snatch up the silverware — along with everything else in front of the customer. If you're lucky, they might ask permission before stealing your plate.

....It's possible that there's an economic impetus behind it. "The price of land is going up, which pushes up the value of each table," said [Tyler] Cowen. "That makes moving people along more important."

....But maybe waiters are clearing individual plates because they believe that's what customers want. I have heard as much from servers and restaurateurs.

No excuse, however, should suffice. Publicly, restaurants might argue that they are trying to avoid clutter; privately, they might encourage waiters to speed tables along; but what it amounts to is an uncomfortable dining experience.

Wait. What? "No excuse should suffice"? If Ferdman dislikes this trend, that's fine. But if, in fact, most diners prefer having their places cleared when they've finished eating, that sure seems like a more than sufficient reason for this classic tenet of service etiquette to hit the bricks. It's not as if it came down on a tablet from Mount Sinai, after all. Surely the most basic tenet of service etiquette is to make customers as comfortable and satisfied as possible. If, in the 21st century, it turns out that this requires waiters to remove place settings quickly, then that's what they should do, even if a small minority dislikes it.

Now personally, I think the most annoying restaurant trend happening today is that all the restaurants I like have gone out of business. It's eerie as hell. Almost literally, every restaurant that Marian and I used to eat at regularly has closed, to be replaced by some horrible trendy chain outlet. Our favorite Chinese place is gone. And our favorite Mexican place. Our favorite pizza place. Our favorite Italian place. Our second-favorite pizza place. And probably a few others I've forgotten about. There are basically only two of our favorites left, and they don't seem like they're about to go out of business, but who knows?

It's my own fault, of course, for living in Irvine, where the Irvine Company owns all the land and basically prices out of business anything except profitable chain stores. It's surely no coincidence that of the two restaurants still standing, one is outside Irvine and the other is about a hundred yards from the city limit. I made my bed, now I have to lie in it.

POSTSCRIPT: Back on the original topic, Ferdman's piece has gotten me curious about something. I don't go to a lot of high-end restaurants, but I do go to a few now and again. And unless my memory is playing tricks on me (always a possibility), it's always been the custom to remove plates when diners are finished, not all at once when everyone is finished. Is this a Southern California thing? Is it a matter of how high-end the restaurant is? I eat at expensive places on occasion, but virtually never at the kind of truly pricey places where you have to wait a month for a reservation. Help me out here. Why is it that removing place settings individually strikes me as normal, not a crime against proper etiquette?

Rand Paul Super-PAC Slams "Bailout Bu$h" in Bizarre Web Ad

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 1:05 PM EDT

Here come the crazed attack ads. More than seven months out from the first votes in the 2016 presidential primaries, America's Liberty, a super-PAC backing Sen. Rand Paul's bid for the Republican nomination, has put out an online ad attacking Jeb "Bailout" Bush. It is…strange.

The video, which had more than 10,000 views as of Tuesday afternoon, is framed as an infomercial, with an exuberant, wild-bearded speaker named Max Power (perhaps borrowed from Homer Simpson, who took the same name from a hair dryer) serving as the pitchman. The ad offers a Bailout Bu$h action figure—which sadly does not actually seem to be for sale, probably because it appears to be a different action figure with an image of Bush's face pasted on—as Power shouts about how Jeb worked for Lehman Brothers right before the crash and supported the Troubled Asset Relief Program. "This offer guarantees a presidential candidate cannot win a single primary state, let alone the general election," a voice-over says at the end of the ad as Power bathes in a tub of money.

Per the Washington Times, America's Liberty is spending in the five figures to run the ad online in early primary states, though it is also clearly running in DC, since I encountered it when it popped up before a music video on YouTube.

America's Liberty has close connections to the Paul camp. The super-PAC's founder and president is John Tate, who worked as Ron Paul's presidential campaign manager in 2012 and currently also serves as president of Campaign for Liberty, a longtime Ron Paul organization.

Watch the ad:

This One Tweet About the Confederate Flag Shows Why Everything Is Awful

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 12:47 PM EDT

Update 2:42pm ET, Tuesday, June 23, 2015: Amazon says it is pulling Confederate merchandise, too. 

 

Walmart and Sears and a bunch of other retailers are doing the wise thing and dropping Confederate flag merchandise from their stores. So, what's a Confederate (I just vomited in my mouth a little) to do? Well…

It's officially the number 1 flag on Amazon.

 

(via Pat Caldwell)

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Fast Track Passes. TPP Now Nearly Certain to Pass Too.

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 12:27 PM EDT

Well, it looks like the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty is in business. The standalone fast-track bill just passed the Senate by a hair, 60-37. Several Republicans defected and voted no even though they had voted yes the first time around, but only one Democrat defected. So now it goes to President Obama's desk, where he'll sign it.

Next up is a standalone Trade Adjustment bill, which Democrats killed the first time around because it was linked to fast track, which meant that voting no killed fast track. This time around, however, Democrats will presumably go ahead and vote for it since voting no will no longer stop fast track. Mitch McConnell and John Boehner have both promised to bring it up for a vote and to do their best to whip enough Republican votes for it to pass. If it doesn't, Democrats will be furious at having been conned, and might take this out by voting no on TPP itself when it comes to the floor. This gives Boehner and McConnell plenty of motivation to get it passed, and I think they will.

This still doesn't guarantee that TPP itself will have smooth sailing. However, it takes only a simple majority to pass, so there would have to be quite a few defections to kill it. Still, there's time. Once the full text finally becomes public, I expect a full-court press from anti-TPP forces in both parties. I'd give it a 90 percent chance of passage at this point, but there's still a glimmer of hope for opponents.

Three Things I Don't Care About

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 12:09 PM EDT

There are lots of topics I don't write about (or write very little about), and normally nobody notices. Or, if they do, they don't know why I haven't written about any particular one of them. Maybe it's just uninteresting to me. Maybe I've gotten temporarily bored by it. Maybe I don't know enough about it. Maybe I can't think of anything interesting to say that hasn't already been said. Could be lots of reasons.

That said, here are three things I haven't written about, and probably won't:

Should we call Dylann Roof a terrorist? In the dim past, back when we used to blog earnestly about such things, I always argued that this was a silly distraction. You can call members of Al-Qaeda terrorists or extremists or militants or whatever. For Republicans, this eventually became some kind of weird litmus test designed to show that Democrats were appeasers, and it was ridiculous. Ditto today, coming from the Democratic side. Call Roof a terrorist if you want, or call him a madman or a racist psychopath. I don't care.

The pope on climate change. I'm not Catholic. I'm not even Christian. Pope Francis seems like a relatively good guy as popes go, but I don't care what he thinks about much of anything. I'm certainly not going to opportunistically start now just because he happens to be saying something I agree with.

Donald Trump. Oh please.

That's it. We'll soon be back to our regularly scheduled program of stuff I do write about.

IMPORTANT NOTE! I almost forget to add a caveat that's critical in the blogosphere: this is just me. Everyone else should feel free to write about all these things. This post should not be taken as a personal condemnation of anyone who chooses to do so. First Amendment. De gustibus. Etc.

How a Mediocre Football Team Helped Mississippi Evolve on the Confederate Flag

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 11:47 AM EDT
In 2010, the University of Mississippi replaced its old Colonel Reb mascot with a black bear. The Care Bear above didn't make the cut.

On to Mississippi. Just hours after South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley asked the state legislature to pass a law removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol on Monday, Mississippi's Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn issued a call for his state to follow suit. The Confederate battle flag is embedded in the upper left corner of the official state flag, but "as a Christian," Gunn wrote on Facebook, "I believe our state's flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed." Henry Barbour, the nephew of former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and a well-connected politico himself, echoed Gunn's call.

How did white conservatives in Mississippi—the deepest of the Deep South—get to this point, not long after Haley Barbour, as governor, kept a Confederate flag signed by Jefferson Davis in his office? It helps that the state has gone through a process like this one before.

For decades, the University of Mississippi's identity was intertwined with that of its football team, the Rebels. In 1962, Democratic Gov. Ross Barnett waved the Confederate flag in the bleachers in support of the school's all-white team the night before a white mob attacked National Guardsmen assigned to protect the school's first black student, James Meredith. The team's mascot, Colonel Reb, wore a Confederate uniform and rode a horse called Traveler—the same name as the steed owned by Robert E. Lee. Over time, the mascot evolved into a less militant figure, a Colonel Sanders-esque old white man with a red suit and a cane, but the antebellum (or just bellum) nostalgia was evident. At games, students waved Confederate flags. They called the place "Ole Miss."

But the team was also—to use what I think is the appropriate term—a lost cause. It was losing out on top-flight talent, and its leaders had an inkling why. In his 2013 memoir, the school's former chancellor, Robert Khyat, recalled the pivotal moment, in the locker room after a shutout loss to the team's archrival, Mississippi State. When Khyat walked in, the Rebels' head coach told him, "We can't recruit against the Confederate flag."

The team stopped flying the flag at games in 1997. A few years later, again citing the impossibility of recruiting African Americans to the program, along with broader concerns about rebranding, it jettisoned Colonel Reb.

Colonel Reb and his die-hard supporters have not gone away quietly. An unsanctioned zombie Colonel Reb mascot continued to haunt campus on game days until 2009. A state legislator tried unsuccessfully to pass a bill restoring Colonel Reb. Last November, a state tea party leader launched a signature drive for a ballot initiative in the 2016 election that would bring back Colonel Reb once and for all. The old mascot has a small army of devoted fans who believe its absence is a direct assault on their heritage. It's a lot like the Confederate flag.

Other aspects of the school's makeover have faced a backlash. A new statue of Meredith on campus was vandalized in 2014. A white student placed a noose around the statue's neck, attached to an old Georgia flag that included the Confederate symbol. (In March, the alleged perpetrator was charged with federal civil rights crimes.)

But the school is moving on. In 2010, after a seven-year spell without a mascot, it asked students to submit their own ideas for a new one. A group of students, real-life American heroes, launched a grassroots campaign to make Admiral Ackbar, the meme-friendly squid commander from Star Wars, the new face of Ole Miss:

Ultimately, the school went with a black bear (inspired by a William Faulkner short story), who wears slacks, a blazer, and a Panama hat. It also began phase three of its image rehabilitation campaign, scaling back the usage of the nickname Ole Miss.

Momentum notwithstanding, the campaign to change the Mississippi flag is still in the germination phase. But if the state government wants to follow its flagship university's lead, we can think of a certain alien admiral who'd look great on a flag.

Scott Walker: Too Sincere For Wall Street?

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 11:23 AM EDT

I've mentioned before that Republicans often get a pass from reporters when they endorse militantly conservative positions in stemwinding speeches. It's because no one truly takes them seriously. It seems more like a sign of tribal affiliation than a genuine commitment to doing anything.

Today, however, Matt Yglesias points me to a Washington Post story about Scott Walker's fundraising, which shows that he might have the opposite problem among some rich donors:

The same-sex marriage issue has caused Walker problems among some donor groups, however, particularly Republicans in New York. “Sometimes you can say something and people think you don’t mean it, and sometimes you can say something and people think you mean it,” said one Republican who has seen this tension play out. “When Barack Obama said he’s against gay marriage in 2008, people didn’t think he meant it. But when Scott says it, people think he means it. This is a very big stumbling block for him on Wall Street.”

I didn't realize that same-sex marriage was such a hot button among the Wall Street set, but live and learn. Nor did I realize the Wall Street set was credulous enough to think that even if Walker is a true believer, he has the slightest chance of getting a constitutional amendment passed. The latter, however, would go a long way toward explaining a few things. I've always heard that bankers were really naive about politics, and maybe it's actually true. I guess they're too busy figuring out socially damaging ways to make money to be bothered learning.