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Pope Francis (R) and US President Barack Obama laugh as they exchange gifts during a private audience on March 27, 2014 at the Vatican.

This Week in God, 5.2.15

05/02/15 08:33AM

First up from the God Machine this week is an unexpected voice in the pay-equity debate, where proponents are always glad to pick up high-profile allies, though few expected Pope Francis to endorse the principle with fervor.
Pope Francis on Wednesday made an impassioned plea for an end to the salary gap between men and women, calling it "a scandal" that Christians should decisively reject.
 
"Why is it taken for granted that women must earn less than men? No! They have the same rights. The discrepancy is a pure scandal," he told tens of thousands of people at his general audience in St. Peter's Square.
 
Raising his voice for emphasis as he made some of his most forceful remarks on the subject to date, he said Christians should "decisively support the right to equal pay for equal work."
Francis added that Christians should "become more demanding" for that "radical equality."
 
Note, in the U.S. political debate over pay equity, the argument is less about the outcome and more about the means to produce that outcome. In Congress, for example, Republican lawmakers publicly insist they're strongly support equal pay for equal work -- they just oppose legislative remedies to help guarantee equitable results. To this extent, the pope's declaration is an important contribution to the debate, but its impact is limited -- it's not an endorsement of a specific proposal.
 
That said, for President Obama and congressional Democrats, the pope's endorsement of the underlying principle is welcome. Indeed, it's the latest issue on which Francis is breaking with American conservatives, following the pope's very public -- and quite progressive -- remarks of late on the climate crisis, Iran nuclear talks, and support for a new U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba.
 
The Hill reported earlier this year that the pope "is increasingly driving a wedge between conservatives and the Catholic Church." His spirited opposition to the income gap between men and women may very well drive that wedge even deeper.
 
With Francis headed for the United States in the fall, including a speech to a joint session of Congress at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), it's a dynamic worth watching.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
Elijah Cummings: 'I am proud of Baltimore'

Elijah Cummings: 'I am proud of Baltimore'

05/01/15 09:36PM

Congressman Elijah Cummings talks about what role Congress can play in bringing change to improve the lives of people in Baltimore, mentioning specifically the damaging effects of austerity measures enacted after the 2008 economic crash. watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 5.1.15

05/01/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Baltimore: "Hundreds of people spilled into the streets of a riot-torn neighborhood in Baltimore on Friday after the city's chief prosecutor announced criminal charges against six police officers in the death of Freddie Gray."
 
* The former Chris Christie aide who wrote the "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" email now wants everyone to know how innocent she is.
 
* The death toll in Nepal has reportedly surpassed 6,000.
 
* Nigeria: "Nigeria's military on Thursday vowed to free more hostages from Boko Haram after nearly 500 were released from atrocious conditions this week in the group's Sambisa Forest stronghold."
 
* This may be a very big deal: "[Tesla Motors] announced that it is offering a home battery product, which people can use to store energy from their solar panels or to backstop their homes against blackouts, and also larger scale versions that could perform similar roles for companies or even parts of the grid."
 
* A start: "Instances of sexual assault among U.S. service members have fallen over the past year, a new report suggested on Friday, but Pentagon officials said more work remains to be done on preventing retaliation against those who report abuse."
 
* Important safety rules: "The Obama administration imposed tougher safety regulations Friday for trains carrying crude oil, responding to growing alarm about a series of fiery derailments that killed dozens of people in a small Canadian town and have rattled U.S. communities from North Dakota to Alabama to Virginia."
 
* $10.10 is so last year: "Top Democrats laid down their minimum-wage marker on Capitol Hill on Thursday, setting up their party's middle-class-focused economic message heading into the 2016 elections campaigns. Their pitch: '$12 by '20' -- a $12 per hour federal minimum wage by 2020, which they say will give a pay raise to nearly 38 million Americans."
A registered nurse in New York, demonstrates putting on personal protective equipment (PPE) during an Ebola educational session for healthcare workers in New York, Oct. 21, 2014. (Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)

Ebola travel ban wasn't necessary after all

05/01/15 04:58PM

A Senate panel held a hearing with officials from the National Institutes of Health this week, and nearly two hours into the discussion, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) noticed something interesting: no one had mentioned Ebola at all.
 
It was just last fall when much of the political world was experiencing a election-season breakdown over the virus, and now, even in discussions with NIH officials, it's relegated to an afterthought.
 
Sam Stein's report added that it's a good thing the Washington Democrat broached the subject, because "the news that the NIH had to share was decidedly positive."
"From a public health standpoint, the number of cases in West Africa has diminished dramatically," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "There hasn't been a case in Liberia in almost 40 days, which means that the country of Liberia very likely will be declared Ebola-free very soon." [...]
 
Researchers running trials on vaccines, Fauci said, were seeing promising results: The vaccine was proving safe, and the outcomes were similar to those of earlier monkey trials. But because cases of Ebola were on the decline, he added, "it might be difficult to actually prove on an incident basis that the vaccine does actually work."
Fauci acknowledged there are challenges elsewhere, most notably in Guinea, but it's easy to feel encouraged about the progress and the efficacy of the U.S. response.
 
It was just last October when Republican pundits, including Peggy Noonan, said that if the Obama administration failed to impose a travel ban, she was "certain" that Ebola cases in the United States would grow. That same week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) announced plans to introduce legislation imposing such a policy, banning U.S. visas for nationals from Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.
 
President Obama ignored Rubio and Noonan, choosing instead to listen to actual experts. In retrospect, that was apparently a good idea.
A view of the state capitol on March 6, 2015 in Montgomery, Ala. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

There's still a 'Confederate Memorial Day'?

05/01/15 04:31PM

Back in January, it was unsettling to learn that on the same day the nation honors Martin Luther King Jr., three states -- Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi -- also celebrate a statewide holiday honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's birthday.
 
When Arkansas lawmakers considered a proposal soon after to end the Lee commemoration, the Republican-led legislature rejected the recommendations, citing the importance of "Southern heritage."
 
This week, it was equally interesting to learn that Confederate Memorial Day still exists in parts of the deep South.
One city block and 150 years from the first White House of the Confederacy, descendants of Confederate soldiers gathered outside the Alabama Capitol on Monday to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day.
 
In Montgomery, the first official capital of the Confederacy, nearly 100 convened for the commemoration.
One of the organizers told the local Sun Herald that in the years since the Civil War, "the why and for what Confederate soldiers fell has undergone a dramatic change in this country at the feet of the new unholy trinity of political correctness, multiculturalism and diversity."
 
The same report added that Alabama isn't alone: Mississippi and Georgia also recognize Confederate Memorial Day.
 
In fact, all three states recognize Confederate Memorial Day as an official state holiday, in which state offices are closed.
Mortgage Bankers Hold Nat'l Conference in S.F

Karl Rove's alarming mental block

05/01/15 04:08PM

Without any hint of irony, Karl Rove, still a prominent figure in American media, devotes his latest Wall Street Journal column to complaining about President Obama leaving behind "messes" for his successor to clean up in 2017.
 
Even at face value, Rove's missive is hard to take seriously. Economic growth has improved under Obama, but Rove complains the growth has been too slow. Job growth has soared under Obama, but Rove complains it's not enough. The deficit has shrunk under Obama, but Rove complains about the size of the debt. Medicare's finances are on far stronger footing thanks to Obama, but Rove complains about "squandered" opportunities at "reforms."
 
How, oh how, Rove wonders, will Republicans "clean up the mess Mr. Obama will leave."
 
Rove's column makes no reference -- literally, not one -- to the fact that his old boss left the biggest mess in modern American history for President Obama to clean up. Jon Chait wonders if the poor GOP strategist is suffering from some kind of "post-traumatic shock" stemming from his failures in the Bush/Cheney White House.
[Rove is] the victim of a severe psychological trauma that has rendered him unable to recollect anything that transpired between January 2001 and 2009, when he masterminded one of the most disastrous presidencies in American history, an ordeal that is the possible source of his trauma. Thus, Rove wanders the Earth in a haze, experiencing hazy flashbacks to a history he cannot recall and expressing his anguish in the form of op-ed columns.
Quite right. The delicious irony of Rove's complaints -- the detail that makes him a truly great performance artist, blind to his own genius -- is that each of his complaints focus on an area of economic policy that George W. Bush made considerably worse (and Obama has made better).
 
In other words, the strategist's entire column, when considered in context, is one of the more amusing possible rebukes of the Obama presidency: Karl Rove isn't satisfied with the speed with which Obama has improved upon Bush's failures.
 
But Chait's response, though compelling, overlooks a key detail: Rove's breathtaking failures of self-awareness are part of a chronic condition that's become quite alarming.
Senate Chairman Of Transportation Committee Calls For Investigation Into George Washington Bridge Lane Closures

'A lot more will come out'

05/01/15 03:10PM

We talked earlier about Gov. Chris Christie's (R) longtime ally, David Wildstein, pleading guilty this morning to two counts of conspiracy, stemming from his role in the "Bridgegate" scandal. Wildstein's court appearance shed considerable light on the controversy, including the fact that Team Christie crippled Fort Lee on purpose -- deliberately choosing the first day of school -- to punish a local mayor for failing to endorse the governor's re-election campaign.
 
Soon after Wildstein's court appearance, however, another shoe fell when his co-conspirators from Team Christie were indicted on federal criminal charges.
At the federal court [in Newark], David Wildstein acknowledged conspiring with Bill Baroni, Christie's then-top Port Authority appointee, and Bridget Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. [...]
 
At a press conference, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said Baroni and Kelly were charged by a federal grand jury in a nine-count indictment unsealed Friday. Fishman said Wildstein and Baroni executed a political "vendetta" against Sokolich. Among other charges, they are each accused of conspiring to misuse -- and actually misusing -- property of an organization receiving federal benefits, conspiring to commit wire fraud, conspiring to injure and oppress certain individuals' civil rights.
Their arraignment is scheduled for Monday morning.
 
And then, of course, there's still the matter of Christie himself.

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