"What does not change / is the will to change"
--Charles Olson, "The Kingfishers"

Friday, August 29, 2014

Fear-mongering in the name of xenophobia

I received this email today from an anti-immigrant group:

According to Judicial Watch, the Feds are warning of an imminent terrorist attack from ISIL affiliated groups operating out of Ciudad Juarez in Mexico.

The article states, "Agents across a number of Homeland Security, Justice and Defense agencies have all been placed on alert and instructed to aggressively work all possible leads and sources concerning this imminent terrorist threat."

The article goes on to say, "These new revelations are bound to impact the current debate about the border crisis and immigration policy."

No kidding!

Click this link to read the whole story.
I know this is supposed to scare us , but it is a pretty typical bit of fear-mongering designed to gun up the outrage machine and generate fundraising for right-wing groups. So , scary it isn't -- unless the prospect that there are thousands who are quite ready to believe this nonsense. That's what I find scary.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

I thought he was New Jersey's governor

Gov. Chris Christie was in Arkansas yesterday, "stumping for a GOP gubernatorial hopeful" -- which apparently means he doesn't have to answer questions about his day job.

As Matt Arco reports for NJ.com, the governor refused to answer questions "about whether he intends to nominate his chief of staff as the state’s next attorney general":

“I’m not answering questions about that,” he responded when asked about bumping his chief of staff, Kevin O’Dowd, over to the state’s Office of the Attorney General.

“I can’t believe you traveled all the way to Little Rock to ask me questions about New Jersey politics,” he said. “You can ask me New Jersey political questions anytime you want.”
Except that's not really true. As Arco points out,
Christie has spent all or part of more than 70 days out of state since being sworn into his second term in January. The bulk of the trips have been for the RGA.
That's about a third of his time so far this year. More significantly, as Arco writes,
Christie has had five in-state press conferences since April, but he’s held 17 around the country during that same period.This doesn't leave a lot of access for New Jersey reporters writing on New Jersey issues -- if state politics are going to be off limits when he is out of state.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

History is agnostic

Ross Douthat, with whom I rarely agree, has an important column today in The New York Times. In it, he makes the point that the Obama administration's attempts to paint ISIS as being on the "wrong side of history" is based on a flawed view of history as in some way being pre-ordained.

Douthat writes that "liberalism’s current dominance is contingent rather than necessary," and that "its past victories have often been rather near-run things."

The arc of history, another favored Obama phrase, has at times bent toward pogroms and chattel slavery, totalitarianism and genocide, nuclear annihilation. (For the Middle East’s persecuted Christians and Yazidis, it bends toward annihilation even now.) The ideals of democracy and human rights are ascendant in our age, but their advance still depends on agency, strategy and self-sacrifice, no matter what date the calendar displays.
Essentially what he is saying is that it is dangerous to assume that good will always win out. History is agnostic -- not in a religious sense, but in a logical sense. What is coming cannot be known or assumed, so we must constantly work to create the kind of world in which many of us wish to live.

Chris Hedges has written about this, as well -- his book The World as It Is is a collection of his columns that, when taken together, question what the book's subtitle calls "the myth of human progress." In a more recent piece, he describes American elites as believing "naively in the notion of linear progress and in assured national dominance."

Both men are making an important claim -- that we must, if we are to actually move forward (and they have very different visions of what moving forward means), we must relinquish the false narrative of agency-less progress. The arc of history is not predetermined. It is not even an arc. Groups like ISIS are not leftovers from another time. They are, as Douthat says, a reaction on some level to the world as a it is. Same goes for the reactionaries here in the United States who oppose marriage equality or abortion. They are reacting to things as they are -- out of fear, out of tradition, or what have you.

Change is inevitable -- is the only thing that is inevitable -- but the shape that change will take is not. The narratives we live by today -- that the market is inviolable, that democracy must win out -- are not set In stone. They are written and rewritten daily by the participants, by us. To assume that the history's arc will inevitably bend toward our goals, that there is an inevitable place history is taking us, is the best way to ensure that we never get where we want to go.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Christie vetoes SNAP extension bill

Gov. Chris Christie vetoed legislation today that would have used an expansion of federal heating aid to prevent cuts in federal food assistance to about 159,000 New Jersey families.

The bill -- A2956/S1893 -- was a response to changes in federal rules adopted earlier this year with the passage of the federal farm bill. The new rules altered eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the largest federal nutrition program.

As I reported in July for NJ Spotlight, the farm bill eliminated a utility allowance claimed by low-income renters who do not pay their own utility bills. In New Jersey, they had been given a minimal amount of utility aid under the federal Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program, which allowed them to claim a utility deduction against their income for qualification purposes. The change, which went into effect July 1, affects about a third of all families on SNAP in New Jersey and is expected to average about $90 a month.

Emergency food agencies told me in July the cuts would strain already stressed agencies and were hoping for passage of the bill or an administrative fix.

In his veto statement, Christie said he is committed to aiding the state' slow-income residents but that the legislation was contrary to federal law and likely unenforceable. He vetoed budget language in June that would have done the same thing as A2956.

The bill and the budget provision, as I wrote in July, would have increased LIHEAP stipends to a minimum of
$21 annually so that they could qualify for the energy allowance under SNAP. The resolution was not attached to specific spending, but called for the expanded LIHEAP program to be paid for through unspent federal and state utility aid. LIHEAP funding is given to states as a block grant and states administer the grants and set parameters for distribution. Many states have been making nominal payments to people living in rental facilities whose rents cover their utility costs.

A companion bill (A-2956/S-1893] passed both houses of the Legislature and awaits action by the governor. It passed 36-1 in the Senate and 60-13 in the Assembly and was sponsored by Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) and Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) in the upper chamber and Gabriela Mosquera (D-Gloucester), Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson), Gary Schaer (D-Bergen), Mila Jasey (D-Essex), and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) in the lower.
Turner responded to the veto in a press release by calling it shortsighted.
This bill is critical given that New Jersey’s low-income families are already struggling to pay for the bare essentials, like heat and food. A $90 per month reduction in nutrition benefits is a devastating loss for low-income households, especially since the cost of food and utilities have skyrocketed. Struggling working families and senior citizens will be forced to choose whether to heat or eat.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Rape is never the woman's fault

I wanted to share the debate I had today on Facebook regarding an ad that has caused some controversy in England. The ad, as my comments make clear, attempts to warn about the dangers over binge- drinking but ends up blaming women who get raped after drinking for being victimized. It is troubling that we still assume that it is the woman's responsibility to avoid being raped -- something I thought we were past.

Send me an e-mail.