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Progressive State Blogs
This week in progressive state blogs is designed specifically to focus attention on the writing and analysis of people focused on their home turf. Let me know via comments or Kosmail if you have a favorite state- or city-based blog you think I should be watching. Inclusion of a diary does not necessarily indicate my agreement or endorsement of its contents.

At Capital & Main of California, Steven Mikulan writes—Is Voter Turnoff Inviting a Progressive Rollback?

state blogs. Capital & Main, a California blog
It’s become an unsettling fact of political life that as election turnouts dwindle, campaign spending skyrockets. Los Angeles’ recently concluded school board races, which drew a paltry 7.6 percent of potential voters, underscored this point. Ref Rodriguez, who unseated the District 5 incumbent, received most of the $2.2 million contributed by political action committees (PACs) controlled by the California Charter Schools Association Advocates. Rodriguez has co-created several charter schools and his backers, unsurprisingly, came from that community. Among the familiar local names of extreme wealth and influence were Eli Broad, Richard Riordan and William Bloomfield. Equally familiar to followers of school privatization were more distant funders such as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Walmart heir Jim Walton, Laurene Powell Jobs, the Gap Inc.’s Fisher family members and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Rounding out Rodriguez’s cascade of thousand-dollar checks were names associated with high-powered investment firms, various charter schools and charter-advocacy groups, such as Parent Revolution and StudentsFirst. Even among this varied and far-flung group, two names stuck out: Amplify Learning president Larry Berger of New York, and New Majority California, which calls itself the state’s largest Republican PAC.

Amplify Learning is probably the easier of the pair to figure out. It’s Rupert Murdoch’s education information division, headed by Joel Klein and built on the foundation of Berger’s old Wireless Generation company, which Murdoch’s News Corporation purchased in 2010. The friendlier the nation’s second-largest school system’s board of education is toward charter schools, the more likely Amplify is to land lucrative contracts with the Los Angeles Unified School District. New Majority California, on the other hand, is a political money funnel for corporate interests.

More excerpts from progressive state blogs can be found below the fold.
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Reposted from Daily Kos Labor by Laura Clawson
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson
Former All-Star NBA point guard Kevin Johnson is now the mayor of Sacramento, California—and the destroyer of the 40-year-old National Conference of Black Mayors. At Deadspin, Dave McKenna details how Johnson first tried to take over the group, and then, when that failed, went to war against it while starting his own black mayors group, the African American Mayors Association. So why am I writing about this as a labor issue? Because Johnson, who is married to corporate education reform star Michelle Rhee, was trying to use the NCBM to promote charter schools:
[East Orange, New Jersey, Mayor Robert] Bowser says that Johnson, before his coup, had proposed a resolution saying NCBM endorsed the charter-school movement.

“We took a vote and said, ‘Hell no!’ to his resolution,” Bowser says. “The black mayors are not buying the charter schools, period.”

During his takeover attempt of the NCBM, Johnson also tried to turn a civil rights event, the commemoration of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, into a charter-boosting event.
Then there’s Ballard Spahr. During the takeover, Valarie J. Allen, a partner in Ballard Spahr’s Philadelphia offices, sent a missive to the NCBM’s general counsel, Sue Winchester, threatening to report her to “the California Bar” if she didn’t comply with Johnson’s dictates. It turns out that Allen’s prime role with the firm is to run its charter school portfolio. And that’s a big job. “In the past 10 years, Ballard Spahr has helped more than 60 charter schools ... secure more than $676 million in tax-exempt bond funding,” reads the sales pitch Allen makes to charter schools operators on the firm’s website. Allen goes on to boast that Ballard Spahr handles “more than 10 percent” of all charter-school financing nationwide.
Surprise, surprise, Johnson's new African American Mayors Association is holding a charter-dominated education panel at its convention this year.

Continue reading below the fold for more of the week's labor and education news.

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Author Phyllis Schlafly addresses the Faith and Freedom Coalition Road to Majority Conference in Washington, June 14, 2013. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS RELIGION HEADSHOT) - RTX10NT9
Phyllis Schlafly has always been a racist, right-wing jackass, but at least she's honest about it. In a radio address for the Eagle Forum earlier this month, Schlafly let loose her hate for the browns. She wasn't the least bit shy about it either.
One of the biggest political issues in America today is Obama’s plan to give illegal amnesty to 5 million South Americans. Obama is already admitting tens of thousands of aliens from South America and trying to justify it by repeating the line that "we are a nation of immigrants." The problem is that the immigrants coming into our country today are not the same sort as the immigrants who contributed so much to building our great country. The immigrants who came to America in the 1920s and ‘30s were different – with very different motives.

Today, May 11, is the birthday of one of our most famous immigrants. Born the son of a rabbi, he emigrated with his family from Russia to New York. Falling in love with America, he served as a sergeant during World War I. After taking up a career in music, he wrote some of our all-time popular songs, such as "White Christmas" and "God Bless America." He gave the royalties from those two songs to the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts. His name was Irving Berlin. In 1945, President Harry Truman awarded him the Army’s Medal of Merit. In 1955 he received the Congressional Gold Medal from President Eisenhower, and in 1977 he received the Freedom Medal from President Ford. Irving Berlin’s devotion to America was so eloquently expressed in the song that all Americans so frequently sing today: “God Bless America, Land that I love, Stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with the light from above. From the Mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam, God bless America – my home sweet home.”

It’s quite true that America was built by hard working people from all over the world who sought a place of freedom where they could succeed if they had a dream, worked hard, and no tyrannical king or dictator could keep them down. But the illegal immigrants today are not the same as those who built this country. They don’t want to leave their homes and become Americans, accepting all that comes along with it. Many of them just want to reap the rewards of our free nation without accepting American culture, the English language, and the rule of law.

Please join me below the fold.
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As the Republicans and their propagandists at Fox "News" would have it, the release of Hillary Clinton's State Department emails is bound to reveal that she conspired to cover-up the truth about the murderous 2012 terrorist attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. According to this consistently debunked example of boilerplate right-wing lunacy, the Obama administration in general, and Clinton in particular, deliberately promoted a false story attributing the attack to a spontaneous mass demonstration over an offensive YouTube video, because they didn't want it known that the attack was premeditated, and that the administration should have prevented it but was asleep at the wheel. Well, if Republicans are experts at anything, it's at being asleep at the wheel despite clear warnings of an impending terrorist attack, but what they don't want anyone to remember about their own party's recent history of catastrophic failure is not paralleled by the Democrats. And Hillary Clinton's just released emails make that clear:
One of the most intriguing of the released emails, however, suggests that Clinton and the State Department might not have been kept fully informed on what was known to other government agencies, particularly the CIA, about the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, when armed men stormed the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi and set the main building on fire.
Which is what the administration has been saying all along. The administration has repeatedly explained that its initial claim that the Benghazi attack was a spontaneous mass reaction was mistaken, but it was made in good faith according to the best available evidence it had at the time.
The initial description of the events as a demonstration that had turned violent had been widely discredited within two weeks. But Clinton still seemed surprised on Oct. 19 when she wrote her chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, asking about a news report she’d heard that morning on National Public Radio.

“I just heard on npr a report about the CIA station chief in Tripoli sending a cable on 9/12 saying there was no demo, etc. Do you know about this?” Clinton wrote at 6:57 a.m. Mills also seemed surprised. “Have not seen – will see if we can get,” she responded 28 minutes later.

A CIA spokesman said Friday he was unable to comment on whether Clinton had been informed of the station chief’s email.

In other words, Clinton and Mills were actually initially out of the loop on the real nature of the Benghazi attack. The administration's initial understanding of what had triggered the attack wasn't fully informed. There was, in fact, no cover-up, rather the administration was trying to report the information it had on hand. The administration's information initially was incomplete, and as more facts became known, the story inevitably evolved. The administration wasn't lying, it was reporting what it knew as it knew it. Not that such facts will in any way dissuade the Republicans and their propagandists at Fox "News" from continuing to project their own inveterate dishonesty onto others.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor in Maryland  February 26, 2015.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR4RBW7
He's feelin' it.
Wow, I so did not need to know that a "Christian rap group" has devoted one of its recent "songs" to supporting Ted Cruz:
Published Wednesday, “Set it on Fire” rhymes in support of a Reagan-style revolution led by the junior Texas senator.

“When power is concentrated centrally and federally/ it creates dependency that’s medically like leprosy.”

Please stop. And technically leprosy would be like things falling off the government, not—
“Collectivism, everyone’s a victim like the reds do,” the song goes. “And for our next president, we’re all in for Ted Cruz.”
Why are you not stopping. What kind of Christians are you?
“Just as many churches in Germany sang louder on Sunday mornings to drown out the sounds of wailing Jews in boxcars on the way to the concentration camps,” the group’s website’s “About” page says, “the majority of pulpits and pews in the American churches have been willfully ignoring the stench of blatant evil rising in this once godly nation.”
Ah. That kind.

Well, there you have it. Ted Cruz has clearly sown up the "people who like Christian rap and comparing things to Hitler" demographic.

Oh, right—no doubt some of you want the link to the song. Yeah, um, no. I don't want that on my conscience. The Politico link above has it, if you have only a few weeks to live and want to just end everything right the hell now.

Also, Ted Cruz couldn't "revolution" himself out of a paper bag, so unless your "revolution" consists of pointless grandstanding and shutdowns of the government for no achievable purpose—which it might—you might want to look for a revolutionary leader whose record of accomplishment consists of something more substantial than demanding everyone else in his party repeatedly shoot themselves in the feet.

Red earred slider
Red-Earred Slider. See Lenny Flank's photo diary.
Many environmentally related posts appearing at Daily Kos each week don't attract the attention they deserve. To help get more eyeballs, Spotlight on Green News & Views (previously known as the Green Diary Rescue) normally appears twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The most recent Saturday Spotlight can be seen here. More than 22,700 environmentally oriented diaries have been rescued for inclusion in this weekly collection since 2006. Inclusion of a diary in the Spotlight does not necessarily indicate my agreement with or endorsement of it.
Texas & Alaska Floods: El Nino & Hot Oceans Start a Year of Hellish Weather. It Will Get Worse.—by FishOutofWater: "Global CO2 levels have rapidly risen above 400ppm causing a large imbalance between incoming and outgoing radiation levels. Almost all of the difference between incoming and outgoing amounts of energy has gone into heating the oceans. The warm subtropical waters of the global oceans expanded, the Indian ocean warmed and a large, deep pool of hot water grew around the Philippines. But then three
supertyphoons rocked the Pacific in late fall 2013. Typhoon Haiyan, with had the strongest winds ever recorded at landfall, 'broke the dam' created by years of stronger than normal tropical convection and strong trade winds that held an enormous body of hot water close to the Philippines. A first surge of hot water moved across the Pacific in spring 2014, lowering the height of the seas around the Philippines but stronger than normal trade winds kept blowing in the south Pacific holding huge amounts of excess heat near Indonesia. Then supercyclone Pam and the strongest convective burst ever recorded near Indonesia and Australia, sent a massive wave of hot water towards the Americas. Now a super El Niño is developing. [...] This is just the beginning of the hurricane season in the eastern and central Pacific but hot water already covers a huge area from the tropics south of Hawaii to the huge warm pool off of the southwest coast of Mexico. A tropical disturbance is now in the process of organizing. I was stunned to find that the model of potential tropical cyclone intensity is off scale, The potential intensity, which will not be reached for this disturbance, is lower than the lowest pressure in history. While this disturbance will likely not have enough time over warm water to become a major hurricane, conditions will be more favorable later in the season for extremely intense hurricanes to develop. Warmer than normal water extends across the tropical north Pacific. Conditions are potentially developing for this to become the most intense Pacific tropical cyclone season on record."

You can find more excerpts from green diaries below the orange spill.

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U.S. presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talks to reporters with a Secret Service agent looking on (L) in an auto shop as she campaigns for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination at Kirkwood Community College in Monti
Okay, okay, it's in Politico's gossip column, but nonetheless, it is 2015 and once again we are looking at a political publication focusing on what clothes women in politics wear like it's newsworthy. In this case, we get an interview with Nina McLemore, who makes expensive women's professional clothing worn by Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and others. Surprise! McLemore thinks we should be talking more about what women wear, not because she stands to profit from it but because it's important.
As McLemore says, “People often harp on the whole concept of ‘we shouldn’t be talking about what a female candidate is wearing,’ but we should. It’s a very important topic, in fact. I don’t think a lot of people, women in particular, realize how strong the power of how we look really is.”
Women don't realize how important looks are? Uhhh ... how do we explain the vast industries dedicated to women's appearance, then? Seems like if there's one thing that gets drummed into women at an early age, it's that looks are important.

I think it's generally understood that appearance matters for politicians, and for the women in particular, but many of us get that that's a bad thing, because it's yet another way to trivialize women. You know, somehow when we talk about appearance, it's the women and their pantsuits, not the darker side of dadbod as demonstrated by Ted Cruz, or whatever that mess on Rand Paul's head is; someone get that man to Devacurl, stat.

Then again, McLemore seems to need no help trivializing women:

“TV is where charisma and attractiveness count for more than substance,” says McLemore, with all the seriousness of a political consultant. “I personally think it’s hard for women to have charisma, where some men have it in spades. We can’t change the fact that we’re women, but we can put forth our best image for the result we want.”
There are interesting observations to be made about how, in our culture, charisma tends to be defined in terms of attributes more commonly held by men. These are not them. FFS, "we can't change the fact that we're women, but ... " we sure can try to fit into the male professional mold by wearing a pantsuit! And then parlay that into media coverage trivializing women in politics! Sweet!
People at an immigration rally with signs saying
Republicans say that before Congress can possibly think about passing immigration reform with a path to citizenship, the United States needs to secure the borders and perhaps even build a dang fence. To hear them talk, you would think that the borders were being flooded, but reality is that:
As the Department of Homeland Security continues to pour money into border security, evidence is emerging that illegal immigration flows have fallen to their lowest level in at least two decades. The nation’s population of illegal immigrants, which more than tripled, to 12.2 million, between 1990 and 2007, has dropped by about 1 million, according to demographers at the Pew Research Center.

A key — but largely overlooked — sign of these ebbing flows is the changing makeup of the undocumented population. Until recent years, illegal immigrants tended to be young men streaming across the Southern border in pursuit of work. But demographic data show that the typical illegal immigrant now is much more likely someone who is 35 or older and has lived in the United States for a decade or more.

Beefed-up border security isn't the only explanation for that—when the U.S. economy cratered, fewer people thought it was a great place to come to find economic opportunity, and demographic changes in Mexico could also account for part of the drop. But whatever the explanation, the drop in undocumented immigrants coming in, and the fact that many of those who are here have been here long enough to become embedded in their communities, means that the Republican emphasis on border security is not just inhumane but outdated. While it's not the only outdated position Republicans like to promote, at some point the general public starts to notice these things and national political debates shift with or without Republicans.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) holds a news conference after he announced his candidacy for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, on Capitol Hill in Washington April 30, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst  - RTX1B06L
Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT)
It's kind of hilarious watching the media try to wrap its collective head around the idea that of Hillary Clinton's two Democratic primary challengers, the one who's getting more traction is Sen. Bernie Sanders, not former Gov. Martin O'Malley. As Politico's Annie Karni describes the contrast:
One candidate is 73, with a shock of wispy white hair and a famously rumpled demeanor that makes him look more like a mad scientist than a politician.

The other is central casting’s image of a presidential candidate: square-jawed, athletic-looking and 52 years old — the ideal age that Fortune 500 companies look for in a CEO and that voters find appealing in a president.

But ... but ... his hair!

Karni quotes the usual assortment of anonymous "strategists," "insider" sources "with ties to the Clinton world," and one-time (but they're not saying when) Bill Clinton advisers to make the point that Hillary Clinton's campaign is more worried about Sanders than O'Malley. Like so:

Insiders familiar with the Clinton campaign’s thinking described it as “frightened” of Sanders — not that he would win the nomination, but that he could damage her with the activist base by challenging her on core progressive positions in debates and make her look like a centrist or corporatist. The source described the campaign as “pleased,” at least, that O’Malley and Sanders will split the anti-Clinton vote. A Clinton spokesman declined to comment.
It shouldn't really be breaking news that the guy polling at 15 percent in the Iowa caucus is more threatening than the guy polling at 1.8 percent, but such is the power of media assumptions about what a presidential candidate looks like, I guess.
Demonstrators stage a protest near the U.S. Supreme Court building, on the anniversary of the Citizens United decision, in Washington, January 20, 2012. Under the banner 'Occupy the Courts,' organizers expect thousands of people to rally on Friday at 150

Politico lifts the curtain on one big player in the Republicans' dark money game in this long profile of Ohio lawyer David Langdon. It also demonstrates the devil's bargain the GOP has made with the Christian right. Here's a little bit about Langdon, who runs what's basically a dark money laundering business out of a nondescript law office in West Chester, Ohio.
Langdon is a critical behind-the-scenes player among the small army of lawyers working to keep secret the origins of millions of dollars coursing through the American political system. Thanks to his work, this unremarkable suburb is a home base for nonprofits and super PACs that pour millions of dollars into elections.

Langdon is also an unswerving legal warrior for conservative, often Christian, nonprofit organizations that together spend millions more to influence public policy and wield great influence among evangelical voters.

Since the 2010 election cycle, at least 11 groups connected to Langdon or his firm have collectively spent at least $22 million on federal and state elections and ballot initiatives around the country, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of records.[…]

Langdon was a lead author of a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, which Ohio voters passed in 2004. The U.S. Supreme Court last month heard arguments on whether the Ohio ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional.

He has donated thousands of work hours to Alliance Defending Freedom, which describes itself as a nonprofit Christian legal ministry and specializes in religious freedom cases.

In addition to that, he's helping the tea party sue the IRS and represented the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List in a free speech case before the Supreme Court. His past actions include having "acted as a defense lawyer for abortion clinic protesters, filed a brief in another case on behalf of the Christian Coalition of Ohio and represented groups opposing a lesbian couple's efforts to share equal custody of their children." Given all that, and the fact that he's in Ohio, it's not surprising that he also was instrumental in helping then-Secretary of State Ken Blackwell implement and defend voter suppression efforts.

His current activities, though, are pretty shadowy, revolving around the ever-evolving network of Super PACs that form and dissolve and transfer money back and forth in order to make it nearly impossible to track where any of the money originally came from. That's, of course, by design and "appears pretty clearly to be geared toward opaqueness," said Robert Maguire, an investigator for the Center for Responsive Politics.

The problem for the GOP with relying on a guy like Langdon is that a guy like Langdon wants candidates who will adhere to his kind of hardcore conservative social policies. And that is driving them into a demographic ditch.

President Obama used this week's video address to ask the Senate to quickly pass the USA Freedom Act, a revised but still controversial renewal of some of the now-expiring provisions of the Patriot Act.
Today, when investigating terrorist networks, our national security professionals can seek a court order to obtain certain business records.  Our law enforcement professionals can seek a roving wiretap to keep up with terrorists when they switch cell phones.  We can seek a wiretap on so-called lone wolves—suspected terrorists who may not be directly tied to a terrorist group.  These tools are not controversial.  Since 9/11, they have been renewed numerous times.  FBI Director James Comey says they are “essential” and that losing them would “severely” impact terrorism investigations.  But if Congress doesn’t act by tomorrow at midnight, these tools go away as well.

The USA Freedom Act also accomplishes something I called for a year and a half ago: it ends the bulk metadata program—the bulk collection of phone records—as it currently exists and puts in place new reforms.  The government will no longer hold these records; telephone providers will.  The Act also includes other changes to our surveillance laws—including more transparency—to help build confidence among the American people that your privacy and civil liberties are being protected.  But if Congress doesn’t act by midnight tomorrow, these reforms will be in jeopardy, too.

To read the transcript in full, check below the fold or visit the White House website.
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Images of Pluto returned by New Horizons. Click image for background on mission
This week more images of Pluto were released by the New Horizons team showing what appear to be polar caps. We'll know more soon!
As you can see, surface features are getting easier to discern (note that a different part of Pluto was seen by the probe on each day, so you're seeing different features). It’s not just light and dark patches, but they have some shape to them as well. It actually reminds me a bit of seeing Mars through a small ‘scope. Note that on the May 10 image there appears to be a dark chunk taken out of Pluto’s side; that’s an illusion due to that spot being particularly dark; it blends in with the blackness of space and fools your eye into thinking Pluto’s missing a piece.
  • Climate change could strip the Himalayas of ice and snow.
  • If only robots could heal themselves ...
    Scientists claimed that they have invented a robot which is able to recover itself when damaged. This is an ideal creation in a world of machines that impersonate the incredible adaptive powers of both humans and animals. ... Jean-Baptiste Mouret of the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris said “The idea is to have robots that can survive in hostile environments such as a Fukushima-type nuclear disaster.”
  • A new study finds, in my view anyway, that dinos might have made great deep space astronauts: they were warm-blooded enough to sprint like a cheetah, but they could also rest like a turtle, and possibly even hibernate or close to it.
  • Move over A. afarensis also known as Lucy. Paleo-anthropologists have found another possible human ancestor which lived at about the same time and place as the most famous human fossil ever uncovered:
    Anthropologist Yohannes Haile-Selassie and his team have named the new species Australopithecus deyiremeda. They found fossilized upper and lower jaw fossils at a paleontological dig site in the Afar region of central Ethiopia in 2011, and after four years of study, they’ve published their findings in the journal Nature.
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