Thursday Morning Open Thread

Thought for the day, from E.J. Dionne in the Washington Post:

You do not get to choose your parents or where you are born, and no government program can guarantee that you’ll benefit from acts of kindness and generosity that you do nothing to earn.

These thoughts were inspired by the death on Monday of one of the best human beings I will ever know. Bert Yaffe, 93, was a businessman and a decorated Marine combat veteran — he was a tank commander in Guam, Bougainville and Iwo Jima — who carried shrapnel in his body to his last day. He was also a citizen-politician who ran for Congress in 1970 because, having fought proudly in a war he considered absolutely necessary, he came to oppose a war in Vietnam that he saw as a terrible mistake…

He had been the local organizer for Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 ­anti-war campaign and was a prime force behind what became the 1969 Vietnam Moratorium protests. We met when I interviewed him for a high school project on the reform movement in the Democratic Party, and it happened almost instantly: He decided to take me on as an extra son — and, bless them, his own children, Eric, Cheryl and Rob, welcomed me as part of the family…

Faced in the early 1970s with a highly personal feud among some of our political friends, he sought to mediate rather than take sides.

“The rule is: Make no gratuitous enemies,” he said. “The key word is ‘gratuitous.’ ”

If you stand for something, you will always make enemies. That is part of the price of being principled. What you should avoid are entirely unnecessary fights that advance no cause but create bitter feelings. I’ll always think of it as a singularly important piece of political wisdom…



Hyped Error Loop

The cursory math on Elon Musk’s overhyped Hyperloop project doesn’t even begin to add up.  Whatever Howard Stark fantasies the guy is entertaining, he needs to go back to the drawing board.

Musk’s proposal won’t actually get riders to the downtowns of Los Angeles or San Francisco. It can only carry around 10% of the capacity of the California High-Speed Rail. Additionally, it will bypass other population centers, like Bakersfield, Fresno, and San Jose.

Building a truly workable Hyperloop, if it’s feasible at all, will be significantly more expensive than Musk claims. It might even be more expensive than the California HSR project. And Musk’s proposal leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

How did he come to his construction cost estimate in the first place? Musk argues that the Hyperloop is cheaper than HSR because it’s elevated, saving on the cost of building at grade and reducing local opposition. But bridges are far more expensive than building tracks at grade. And just because the footprint is limited to a big pylon every 100 feet doesn’t mean that the environmental impact analysis process will be any easier or that the public will be any more receptive.

Other issues, like seismic stability, are simply glossed over. He claims that by elevating the Hyperloop tracks, they will be more stable than ground-running HSR. Clearly he’s unfamiliar with the Cypress Street Viaduct. That’s one reason that the California High-Speed Rail Authority insists on crossing all faults at grade.

Musk also claims that his giant steel tube will be okay with the only expansion joints at the Los Angeles and San Francisco ends. They’ll just be really big. That’s a significant engineering issue that cannot simply be ignored, at least not if Musk is in any way serious about this proposal.

He’s not.  If he was, he would have immediately thought of the most obvious cost overrun source:  the cost of the land to build the tube pylons on.

Consider some of the major factors for why California’s $68 billion high-speed rail system has gone over budget. In many cases, local communities have demanded extra viaducts and tunnels added to the project that weren’t strictly necessary. Other towns, meanwhile, have insisted they not be bypassed even in cases where it would be cheaper to do so. Would the Hyperloop be immune from these sorts of political pressures and tweaks?

What’s more, California’s high-speed rail project has had to grapple with the high costs of acquiring more than 1,100 parcels of land, often from farmers resistant to sell. The Hyperloop would try to minimize this problem by propping the whole system up on pylons, shrinking its footprint, but it can’t escape the land problem entirely. As Alexis Madrigal points out, Musk’s proposal seems to assume it’s possible to buy up tens of thousands of acres in California for a mere $1 billion. That’s awfully optimistic.

I hear Hyperloop, I think “Springfield monorail“.



Late Night Open Thread: Retail Politics

Via Dave Weigel, Hooter’s restaurants in San Diego have announced they won’t serve Handsy Bob Filner, because of their vast respect for women. Click link for photo (and a twist!)

Less cheerful, Sheila Weller at the Washington Post:

National gun rights people named Friday, Aug. 9, “Starbucks Appreciation Day.” They did so not because they are latte-with-soy-milk aficionados or avid collectors of the vintage confessional soft rock music and the questing-internationalist and healing-oriented books the coffee chain used to feature at its point of purchase. Rather, they did so because Starbucks – unlike, for example, Peet’s Coffee, Ikea, and California Pizza Kitchen — refuses to ban guns in its venues, preferring to hew to local policy. If a state or jurisdiction allows weapons, concealed or otherwise, to be carried into retail stores, the Starbucks franchises in that state will allow that, too.

Even those of you who didn’t get wind of this fleetingly covered news story can guess the “Grandma, what sharp teeth you have …” hidden agenda – or, at the very least, sneaky opportunity — that “Starbucks Appreciation Day” was about. It was a chance for gun activists to come not just to any Starbucks but to the Newtown Starbucks, a mile and a half from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 people – the large majority very young children – were gunned to death eight months earlier….

To its credit, the Newtown Starbucks closed four hours early on Friday, so the gun activists couldn’t enter and make a scene. (The gun activists pronounced themselves angry at Starbucks for doing so.)…



This Should Be Interesting: Sidestepping Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

Charlie Savage, in the NYTimes:

In a major shift in criminal justice policy, the Obama administration will move on Monday to ease overcrowding in federal prisons by ordering prosecutors to omit listing quantities of illegal substances in indictments for low-level drug cases, sidestepping federal laws that impose strict mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., in a speech at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco on Monday, is expected to announce the new policy as one of several steps intended to curb soaring taxpayer spending on prisons and help correct what he regards as unfairness in the justice system, according to his prepared remarks….

Mr. Holder will also introduce a related set of Justice Department policies that would leave more crimes to state courts to handle, increase the use of drug-treatment programs as alternatives to incarceration, and expand a program of “compassionate release” for “elderly inmates who did not commit violent crimes and have served significant portions of their sentences.”….

Under a policy memorandum being sent to all United States attorney offices on Monday, according to an administration official, prosecutors will be told that they may not write the specific quantity of drugs when drafting indictments for drug defendants who meet the following four criteria: their conduct did not involve violence, the use of a weapon or sales to minors; they are not leaders of a criminal organization; they have no significant ties to large-scale gangs or cartels; and they have no significant criminal history…

“While the federal prison system has continued to slowly expand, significant state-level reductions have led to three consecutive years of decline in America’s overall prison population — including, in 2012, the largest drop ever experienced in a single year,” Mr. Holder’s speech says. “Clearly, these strategies can work. They’ve attracted overwhelming, bipartisan support in ‘red states’ as well as ‘blue states.’ And it’s past time for others to take notice.”…

Mr. Holder’s speech marches through a litany of statistics about incarceration in the United States. The American population has grown by about a third since 1980, he said, but its prison rate has increased nearly 800 percent. At the federal level, more than 219,000 inmates are currently behind bars — nearly half for drug-related crimes — and the prisons are operating at nearly 40 percent above their official capacity.



Thursday Evening Open Thread: “The Monument Men”

Via Slate:

The movie is based on Robert Edsel’s book of the same name about the efforts of seven of the so-called “Monuments Men” (formally, the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program), an Allied force of about 400 men and women tasked with locating and protecting cultural treasures threatened by the Nazi regime. In short, these Ivy League art professors, museum curators, and art historians, often without formal supervision, braved the trenches of World War II to ensure the survival of Europe’s cultural history. After learning about this, George Clooney had the same thought any sane person would: Sounds like a movie….

Clooney and Goodman and Damon and Blanchett? Not a big fan of war movies, but I may have to pay for this one. Might even read the book, while we’re waiting.

What’s on the agenda for the evening, in entertainment options or otherwise?



Moral Mondays continue

We’ve been looking at Moral Mondays but Betsy in the comments on yesterday’s post tells me (in so many words! politely!) that I got it all wrong, so here’s what they’re actually doing now that the legislative session has ended. Here’s Betsy:

Great question! answer, no. Altho the legislature has concluded the session and gone home, the protests will continue, taking it to the road and to the districts of the state where the damage came from or is being done. Tomorrow’s Moral Monday is in Asheville.

This week’s Moral Monday protest in Raleigh, N.C. was the 13th and last of this year’s legislative session, which ended last week. It was also the biggest protest yet against the ultraconservative agenda of the Republican-controlled legislature, drawing as many as 10,000 people to the state capital’s downtown streets. Many of the participants were red-clad public schoolteachers and their supporters upset over education cuts and voucher schemes.
Though the legislature has adjourned, the anger that fueled the NAACP-led demonstrations and resulted in the arrests of over 900 people for nonviolent civil disobedience since late April continues to grow — and organizers are drawing on it to take the protests to communities across the state.
“Don’t make no mistake, North Carolina,” N.C. NAACP President Rev. William Barber said in a fiery speech delivered to Monday’s crowd. “This is no momentary hyperventilation, or momentary protest. This is a movement.”
The first action planned outside Raleigh will take place in Asheville on Aug. 5 and is being billed as Mountain Moral Monday, with Rev. Barber as a featured speaker. Organizers are not planning any civil disobedience but say they want to let Western North Carolina residents add their voices to the protests.
“This event will give people in our part of the state a chance to stand up for justice, democracy and moderation,” said Mountain Moral Monday spokesperson Valerie Hoh.
Asheville found itself a target of conservative lawmakers this year. Early in the session, Republicans introduced a bill amending the state’s indecent exposure law to expand the definition of “private parts” to include “the nipple, or any portion of the areola, or the female breast.” The bill — a response to topless rallies promoting women’s equality held in Asheville — did not pass.
But North Carolina lawmakers were successful in passing a bill that takes control of the municipal water system away from Asheville and hands it over to a state-chartered regional authority without compensating the city for the loss. The measure, which opponents say is theft by the state and would harm regional economic development efforts, is the subject of a lawsuit set to begin next month. Save Our Water WNC, a group opposed to the takeover, is among the organizers of Mountain Moral Monday.
There is also a Moral Monday protest planned for Charlotte on Aug. 19, and organizers are expected to announce actions in other communities across the state soon.

The protesters were targeted and smeared by Art Pope, who is a huge conservative donor and rich person but also a state employee. That’s right. A state actor is directly targeting individual, ordinary North Carolinians who oppose his policies. I’m still waiting for the free speech enthusiasts in media to muster up some outrage over this. Outrage over state actors engaging in attempts at speech suppression or “chilling” political speech seems to be content-based. It’s okay because this is liberal political speech that is being targeted?

The John W. Pope Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank based in Raleigh, N.C., has launched a database targeting people who’ve been arrested as part of the Moral Monday nonviolent protests at the state legislature.
The Civitas Institute was founded by conservative mega-donor and discount-retail mogul Art Pope, now the North Carolina budget director under Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, and it was named for Pope’s father. The nonprofit gets about 94 percent of its funding from the family foundation Pope chairs. That raises questions about the ethics of a public official who’s been a target of the protests being involved in an apparent effort to target the protesters for harassment — or worse.

The effort to intimidate the protesters was a big flop, because of course the Civitas Institute (Art Pope) couldn’t resist making shit up. The charge was that the protestors were “outside agitators” but they weren’t and aren’t. When the protesters were arrested, of course the arrest records included their (North Carolina) addresses, which the brilliant, highly paid think tank consultants at the Art Pope’s lobby shop apparently didn’t anticipate.

Thanks to both Summer and Betsy for letting us know.



Indivisible

Commenter Summer sent me a wonderful (short) video of the Moral Monday protests. Mistermix tells me I can’t embed it, so you’ll have to follow the link to watch but it’s worth it.

Thousands marched from Halifax Mall to Fayetteville Street to hear a fiery speech delivered by N.C. NAACP President William Barber II during the final Moral Monday demonstration of the N.C. legislative session. See a highlight video by N&O staff photojournalist Travis Long who covered the majority of Moral Monday and related demonstrations for the The News & Observer.

In the video, Barber speaks about how social issues have been used as a a wedge to divide us on economic issues. He had his own struggle with this, and in my view it’s one of the big victories of the Moral Monday protests – the fact that they was able to mobilize such a diverse coalition. In the video you’ll see religious folks joining with advocates for marriage equality, public education, women’s rights, voting rights, and health care.

Rev. Dr. William Barber is the president of the NAACP’s North Carolina chapter, and the pastor of the 120-year-old Greenleaf Christian Church Disciples of Christ in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Barber also serves as an adjunct professor in the Masters of Divinity program at North Carolina Central University.
Barber first attracted national attention in April 2012, when he joined other black clergy in North Carolina in opposing that state’s Amendment One, which would bar same-sex marriage, along with civil unions and domestic partnerships in the state.