Federal spending down 40 percent in ‘red’ states under Obama

A new analysis of how the Obama administration has exercised its discretion in carrying out congressional earmark spending finds that the White House has invested federal dollars in states where Democratic support is strongest, while dramatically reducing the amount funneled to traditionally conservative states where Democrats languish at the polls.

A Reuters analysis, released Wednesday, drew a line between the president’s application of congressional spending measures and the political climate in the states where the money has — or hasn’t — been spent.

“As Washington has tightened its belt in recent years, the budget cuts have sliced most deeply in states where President Obama is unpopular,” Reuters reported:

Between the 2009 and 2013 fiscal years, funding for a wide swath of discretionary grant programs, from Head Start preschool education to anti drug initiatives, fell by an average of 40 percent in Republican-leaning states like Texas and Mississippi.

By contrast, funding to Democratic-leaning states such as California and politically competitive swing states like Ohio dropped by 25 percent.

Reuters’ methodology was to divide the U.S. states into three groups: “red” states, where Obama received less than 45 percent of the popular vote in the 2012 presidential election; “purple” states, where he received between 45 percent and 55 percent; and solidly “blue” states, where he received more than 55 percent.

“Red, purple and blue states have all shouldered steep spending cuts after a 2011 budget deal, the analysis found. But those cuts have not been doled out evenly,” Reuters states.

The Brookings Institution’s John Hudak, who contributed to the analysis, said the analysis reveals that that the White House is willfully playing politics with public funds.

“In the context of the Obama administration, swing states and blue states are doing better than red states… I would suggest these numbers would tell us there is politicization going on,” said Hudak.

This public school has made it impossible for kids to receive anything less than 50 percent credit — even if they do nothing

Ignored your assignment? Didn’t even bother to write the instructions down? Cool! Here’s 50 points.

That’s the new policy at the William J. Christian K-8 school, a public school in Birmingham, Alabama, where principal Nichole Davis is attempting to address chronic low student performance by offering half credit, even when students don’t lift a finger to do any work.

A group of teachers at the school approached the Alabama Media Group with concerns that the policy, enacted last November, is exacerbating behavioral problems and sending students the message that they’re not accountable for their performance.

“The policy, which is not a district-wide policy, was implemented after a parent questioned her child’s low score on a progress report,” Al.com reported Thursday. “Some students who are aware of the policy aren’t doing classwork and projects, and just taking 50s.”

Lest you think there must be more to the story — some mitigating factor that might make more sense of such a policy — an opinion piece by Al.com’s Edward T. Bowser clarifies:

In November, the school instituted a “no zero policy” — if a student doesn’t turn in an assignment, they now will receive a score of 50 instead of the traditional zero.

This policy doesn’t apply to students who answer every question on a test incorrectly. W.J. Christian teachers say, in those very rare cases, something clearly went wrong in the instruction process and they will work with those students one-on-one. This new policy refers specifically to students who neglect or refuse to turn in homework, class assignments or projects.

Essentially, even if a student does absolutely nothing, that student will get something in return.

That’s not the type of life lessons we should be teaching our kids.

The policy, which hasn’t been implemented at any other school in the Birmingham City Schools system, indeed leaves students with a failing grade if they don’t do their assignments. But it also doubles their chances of climbing out of a points-based academic hole in which they negligently place themselves.

Thus, because it literally adds points to a student’s grade, the policy is creating grade inflation, according to some of the teachers who’ve complained.

“One teacher admitted that due to this new grading policy, the grades of three of her students were inflated — two went from Fs to Cs, the other from and F to a D,” wrote Bowser. “Teachers have also credited the policy for rising behavioral issues in classrooms.

“Why would a student bother listening to their teachers — let alone turning in assignments — when they automatically get a 50 for just showing up?”

Battle lines emerging in conservative push to take McCain’s Senate seat

As 2014 wound to a close, the campaign machine behind Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) began showing signs of aggression toward the Tea Party conservative momentum that has made the five-term Senator extremely unpopular among base voters in his home state.

Now, the push to oust McCain by electing a conservative in the GOP primary is beginning to take form. If early reports are any indication, it appears the base is looking to get its ducks in a row well ahead of the primary season. The idea is to get Republicans organized behind a single challenger, in order to avoid the multi-candidate scenario that ensured a primary win last year for one of McCain’s favorite fellow moderates, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), despite conservatives’ strong antipathy for his moderate record.

According to The Hill, two Tea Party conservative congressmen from Arizona are interested in challenging McCain — but, the paper notes, “they won’t both get in the race.”

From The Hill:

Arizona GOP Reps. Matt Salmon and David Schweikert, who are “best friends” on Capitol Hill, have spent recent weeks mulling over the possibility with family members, analyzing polling and keeping tabs on McCain, as he makes moves toward running for a sixth Senate term.

But if one decides to take a shot against the state’s entrenched senior senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee, the other won’t.

If the will of conservative voters stands up throughout the vetting process, it’s a sound strategy on paper. Both Salmon and Schweikert defeated GOP candidates in their elections who’d been endorsed by McCain. In a recent straw poll taken among Republicans in Maricopa County — McCain’s home turf — Salmon “bested McCain by a 2-1 ratio,” The Hill observes.

McCain reportedly initiated a “purge” of conservatives from positions of local leadership within the Arizona GOP power structure late last year, following months of awful publicity that saw repeated gestures of shaming and repudiation from members of the state GOP.

One-third of disability recipients cite mental disorder as reason for not working

A new breakdown of data from the Social Security Administration (SSA) reveals that more than one-third of federal disability recipients rely on diagnoses of mental disorders to qualify for the benefit.

For the year ending in December 2013, 3,599,417 disability recipients cited mental disorders as the reason they aren’t able to work — out of a total of 10,228,364 disability beneficiaries. That works out to 35.19 percent.

An analysis of the data by CNS News revealed other interesting demographic trends. People living in northeastern states had the highest proportion of mental disorder claims, while people living in the South had the lowest.

“In Washington, D.C., according to the report, 42.9 percent of disabled beneficiaries as of December 2013 had been diagnosed with a mental disorder,” CNS observed. “Massachusetts and New Hampshire led the nation in this metric with 49.9 percent of disabled beneficiaries diagnosed with a mental disorder.

“At the bottom of the list were Alabama (28.8 percent diagnosed with a mental disorder); Georgia (29.1 percent), South Carolina (29.7 percent), and Arkansas and Louisiana (30.2 percent each).”

“Mood disorders” occupied the most-often cited diagnosis. “To be determined to be suffering a disabling mood disorder, a person must exhibit a combination of factors, including such things as ‘appetite disturbance with change in weight; or sleep disturbance; or psychomotor agitation or retardation; or decreased energy; or feelings of guilt or worthlessness; or difficulty concentrating or thinking; or thoughts of suicide; or hallucinations, delusions, or paranoid thinking,'” CNS reported.

Over the course of the most recent 10-year period for which there is complete reporting data, the number of people receiving disability benefits has nearly doubled. There were approximately 6.8 million Americans on disability in 2003, compared with 10,228,364 in 2013.

Mental disorders are the No. 1 diagnosis for people on disability, followed distantly by “musculoskeletal system and connective tissue” injury, which accounts for 27 percent of all disability claims in 2013.

The guy behind Fark.com announces his real, anti-establishment candidacy for Kentucky governor’s seat

Assuring his online followers that he’s “going to win by not playing their game,” Drew Curtis — the man behind offbeat news aggregating website Fark.com — has announced he’ll run for governor of Kentucky, an office that’s up for grabs this November.

Curtis wrote directly to Fark regulars to make his announcement, explaining that he wants to demonstrate that people can overcome their frustration with a broken, money-controlled two-party system — if only more people would stop complaining and start doing.

That’s a terribly optimistic belief, one Curtis appears to understand may prove naïve. But “[i]f one million people can call the FCC and back Net Neutrality, surely I have a chance,” he wrote Monday. “The best part is, win or lose, I’m going to help produce the blueprint to allow other people to run for office and win without party support.”

Here’s the relevant portion of the piece:

Why I’m doing this

A friend of mine inspired me to take the shot. After having deeply negative interactions with a local elected official, and finding out she wasn’t alone in that experience, she decided that the only solution was to run for office. She had no political aspirations, no prior experience, and no idea how to even pull it off. But someone had to step up and do something about it, and she did. And this past November, she won the election.

It was incredibly inspiring. Rather than just accept that ineffective government is a way of life, she actually did something about it.

I never wanted to run for office. Like most of us I have a pretty strong dislike for the political process. Just getting elected is an insanely complicated and difficult. Why would anyone want to put themselves through that?

I don’t remember who it was or when it happened, but about a year ago I was complaining about the lack of good candidates one night when a friend challenged me. People who are capable of running for office and winning have no right to complain about the system when they have the ability to change it. If I sit back and do nothing, I’m at least partially complicit.

Like many of us I’m deeply disturbed by what’s happening in politics today. Thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, the amount of influence money in politics has increased exponentially. It’s a windfall for the two political parties, but the effect on government has been catastrophic. Politicians won’t make any decisions based in research and logic. If elected officials make decisions that go against their campaign donors they risk being blacklisted by their own party – and their entire political future.

Take the issue of Right to Work. A democrat could never pass it, and a republican could never veto it. Neither would ever look into the data to try to figure out if this law was even a good idea. Worse, neither would ever look into the unintended consequences of their actions.

Money is the only criteria for legislation these days.   In the last Federal Spending Bill, not only did someone insert a regulation-defeating amendment written by Citibank, but they also increased the amount of money one individual can donate to a political party in a given year to $324,000 – a 10x increase.

The only way to fix this is from within. So I’m taking my shot. I’m running for Governor because if I get elected, the vicious cycle of influence money in politics grinds to a halt. Corporations are remarkably predictable – they won’t spend money on politics unless it has a chance of creating a beneficial return. Why would any corporation spend money on legislation in a state where they can’t buy the Governor? The game would be completely disrupted.

So that’s what this is about – trying something new. And proving that normal people can run for elected office and win. If one million people can call the FCC and back Net Neutrality, surely I have a chance. The best part is, win or lose, I’m going to help produce the blueprint to allow other people to run for office and win without party support.

I’m not starting a movement, I’m catching a wave. In 2014 a number of people in a number of states tried something similar. There weren’t many successes, but there were a lot of close races – enough to make me think this is part of a greater pattern. Good people who have never contemplated politics are jumping into races. And I’m hoping we’ll see a lot more people take an Independent shot in 2016.

The Kentucky Governor election is this year, 2015. It gives me a full year to try out all new strategies.

Here’s the first new strategy: I’m going to win by not playing their game.

I am not a politician.

One thing that people have been asking is where I stand on “the issues”. I’m still working up a response to that, mainly because I think it’s the wrong question. Political parties use “the issues” as weapons of mass distraction. If any of the really difficult political questions were solvable we’d have done it already. Besides, I’ll be an unaligned Governor with no ability to submit legislation. And Kentucky’s Legislature is currently split, which I think is a great thing.

I really want people to think in terms of solutions. For example, someone asked me where I stood on the issue of equal pay for women. Who would be against that? However the problem there is what’s the mechanism? What law could we pass that would solve that problem? I would much rather people provide me with solutions – preferably ones that have worked in other states.

I don’t have “beliefs” on issues of economics. I’m more or less agnostic on social issues. And I’m far more excited about retooling the executive branch to better interface with customers than anything else. The boring stuff is the most important stuff. It doesn’t grab headlines but it’s the part of being Governor I really want to sink my teeth into.

The only fringe idea I have is that Government could work better.

As you can see, there’s a lot of idealism and hopefulness in Curtis’ tone, and his belief that an unaffiliated governor can thwart the moneyed interests that drive legislative matters is, well, a happy belief.

But for his sake, here’s hoping that Curtis understands how unpleasant his life in the governor’s mansion could be, should he win and live up to his incorruptible ideals. Corruptible people can be bought — it’s how the process of lawmaking works.

As for the truly incorruptible? They tend to die in accidents.

Social justice takes on the Western academic canon

A group of Berkeley students who share a preoccupation for social justice and all things inclusive is taking aim at a university course offering that, as its very name suggests, features the philosophical work of dead white guys — but no one else.

Calling on their fellow students to, yes, “occupy the syllabus,” Berkeley students Rodrigo Kazuo and Meg Perret co-authored a letter published last week in The Daily Californian, Berkeley’s independent and student-driven newspaper. In it, they bemoan the lack of heterogeneity they received in their “experience last semester as students in an upper-division course on classical social theory.”

This call to action was instigated by our experience last semester as students in an upper-division course on classical social theory. Grades were based primarily on multiple-choice quizzes on assigned readings. The course syllabus employed a standardized canon of theory that began with Plato and Aristotle, then jumped to modern philosophers: Hobbes, Locke, Hegel, Marx, Weber and Foucault, all of whom are white men. The syllabus did not include a single woman or person of color.

Side note: an upper-division course on classical theory in which multiple-choice quizzes primarily determined the grades? These students don’t know how good they’ve got it.

We have major concerns about social theory courses in which white men are the only authors assigned. These courses pretend that a minuscule fraction of humanity — economically privileged white males from five imperial countries (England, France, Germany, Italy and the United States) — are the only people to produce valid knowledge about the world. This is absurd. The white male syllabus excludes all knowledge produced outside this standardized canon, silencing the perspectives of the other 99 percent of humanity.

The white male canon is not sufficient for theorizing the lives of marginalized people. None of the thinkers we studied in this course had a robust analysis of gender or racial oppression. They did not even engage with the enduring legacies of European colonial expansion, the enslavement of black people and the genocide of indigenous people in the Americas. Mentions of race and gender in the white male canon are at best incomplete and at worst racist and sexist.

It goes on in this way at length, with particular criticism reserved for the professor, whose in-class discussions somehow failed to drag race and gender into every exchange. “The professor even failed to mention the Ferguson events, even though he lectured about prisons, normalizing discourse and the carceral archipelago in Foucault’s ‘Discipline and Punish’ the day after the grand jury decision on the murder of Michael Brown.”

Horrible. Their solution, of course, is trite: “We must dismantle the tyranny of the white male syllabus. We must demand the inclusion of women, people of color and LGBTQ* authors on our curricula.”

Nowhere do the writers mention that there are humanities classes and even entire professorial careers at Berkeley and other esteemed public universities in California devoted to nothing but “LGBTQ* authors” and social justice platforms.

The authors do ask one salient question, though it’s open to a broader interpretation than they might intend: “Is it really worth it to accumulate debt for such an epistemically poor education?”

Video: How one city council member reacted when a gunman opened fire outside the meeting room

Police in New Hope, Minnesota, shot and killed a man Monday after he allegedly opened fire on a group of cops gathered to witness the swearing-in ceremony for two new members. Members of the city council were still seated behind their council desks in the public meeting room as the officers stepped outside and the shooting started.

A suspect, whose identity the medical examiner had not revealed as of Tuesday afternoon, had allegedly entered an area of the building outside the meeting room with what officials described as a “long gun” and opened fire on the group of officers, striking two of them. The victims are expected to recover from their injuries, but police shot the suspect dead.

The council room in New Hope evidently hasn’t been legislated into a gun-free zone, and it just so happened that one of the members — council member John Elder, a retired cop and current public information officer for the Minneapolis Police Department — was packing. Although one councilman exclaims that a bullet “went through the door,” the gunman didn’t find his way inside the council room. But there’s reason to believe that if he had, he would have been met with force.

A closed-circuit video from the meeting room shows how Elder and others reacted as the shots rang out. Plenty of commenters with an interest in tactical defense have questioned the finer points of his tactical judgment. But at least it’s clear that, while uniformed police might have presented the only obvious armed targets, they weren’t the only ones equipped to neutralize the threat.

Obama extends reach over ANWR lands to keep oil industry out

President Obama announced Sunday he will seek congressional protection for 12 million acres of Alaska’s coastline in order to protect the land and offshore areas from oil and gas exploration.

The president said he plans to ask Congress to designate the acreage, which lies within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), as “wilderness,” thereby conveying federally protected status and forbidding development.

“Alaska’s national wildlife refuge is an incredible place: pristine, undisturbed,” the president said in a White House video. “It supports caribou and polar bears, all manner of marine life, countless species of birds and fish, and, for centuries, it supported many Alaskan native communities.

“But it’s very fragile. That’s why I’m very proud that my Department of Interior has put forward a comprehensive plan to make sure that we’re protecting the refuge, and/or designating new areas, including coastal plains, for preservation. And I’m gonna be calling on Congress to make sure that they take it one step further: designating it as a wilderness, so we can make sure that this amazing wonder is preserved for future generations.”

Republican Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski immediately blasted Obama’s proposal as a not-so-veiled federal power grab against the sovereignty of her home state.

“It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory,” Murkowski said in a strongly worded statement. “The promises made to us at statehood, and since then, mean absolutely nothing to them. I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska.”

Telling reporters in Anchorage that he was “angry, very angry, that this is happening,” Alaska Gov. Bill Walker offered official remarks that echoed Murkowski’s. The president’s proposal, said Walker, would slam the door on known natural resources that, if properly exploited, could boost some sectors of the state’s slumping energy economy.

“Having just given to Alaskans the State of the State and State of the Budget addresses, it’s clear that our fiscal challenges in both the short and long term would benefit significantly from increased oil production,” wrote Walker.

Walker, along with Murkowski and the rest of the state’s congressional delegation, made their official remarks in a jointly released statement Sunday that slammed the Obama administration for an “outrageous act” that launches “an unprecedented assault on Alaska that will have long-lasting effects on the state’s economy and the nation’s energy security.”

You can read that full statement here.

Union participation lowest in past 100 years

A fresh round of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows labor union participation has dropped to its lowest level in a century.

Measured as a proportion of the total workforce, union participation fell to 11.1 percent in 2014, with the public sector carrying much of the weight. Union participation in the public sector stood at 35.7 percent last year, compared with 6.6 percent for the private sector.

According to the BLS, there were 14.6 million “wage and salary workers belonging to unions” last year.

For comparison, the bureau offers this: “In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.”

BLS further breaks down the 2014 data:

Public-sector workers had a union membership rate (35.7 percent), more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.6 percent).

Workers in education, training, and library occupations and in protective service occupations had the highest unionization rate, at 35.3 percent for each occupation group.

Men had a higher union membership rate (11.7 percent) than women (10.5 percent) in 2014.

Black workers were more likely to be union members than were white, Asian, or Hispanic workers.

Median weekly earnings of nonunion workers ($763) were 79 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($970). (The comparisons of earnings in this release are on a broad level and do not control for many factors that can be important in explaining earnings differences.)

Among states, New York continued to have the highest union membership rate (24.6 percent), and North Carolina again had the lowest rate (1.9 percent).

More information you probably could have guessed if you didn’t know already: Education led among occupational fields that saw the highest union participation rate, followed by “training, and library occupations and protective service occupations.” By contrast, farming, fishing and forestry had the lowest participation rates, followed closely by sales.

OIG report slams government for poor, costly oversight for Obamacare contractors

Only days following reports that the IRS has retained the services of the same contractor accused of botching the Healthcare.gov website, an inspector general’s report is slamming the federal government’s sloppy, inattentive and ultimately costly lack of diligence in vetting and overseeing Obamacare contractors.

The Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) unveiled its criticism last Thursday, accusing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) of failing to protect public funds when it failed to conduct background checks on contractors and, once contractors had been retained, did not hold contractors accountable for cost and deadline overruns.

“For a project of this size and importance, CMS missed opportunities to leverage all available acquisition planning tools and contracting approaches to identify and mitigate risks,” the OIG report states:

When awarding the Federal Marketplace contracts, CMS did not always meet contracting requirements. For example, CMS did not develop an overarching acquisition strategy for the Federal Marketplace or perform all required oversight activities. Moreover, for a project of this size and importance, CMS missed opportunities to leverage all available acquisition planning tools and contracting approaches to identify and mitigate risks. Specifically, CMS did not exercise the option to plan for a lead systems integrator to coordinate all contractors’ efforts prior to the launch of the Federal Marketplace. The complexity of the Federal Marketplace underscored the need for CMS to select the most qualified contractors. However, CMS did not perform thorough reviews of contractor past performance when awarding two key contracts. CMS also made contracting decisions that may have limited the number of acceptable proposals for much of the key Federal Marketplace work. In addition, CMS selected contract types that placed the risk of cost increases for this work solely on the Government.

The report goes on to identify numerous instances in which CMS requested or received contract proposals from only a single company. It also notes CMS “did not perform thorough reviews of contractor past performance,” as was undoubtedly the case with contractors such as CGI Federal.

HHS severed its ties with CGI after the first botched rollout of Obamacare website Healthcare.gov. Seven months afterward, the undeterred IRS hired CGI to provide “critical functions” for the agency’s Obamacare tax enforcement program.

Wisconsin Governor moves ahead with drug-testing plan for welfare recipients

Joining a handful of other states that have attached conditions to receiving government welfare benefits, Wisconsin may soon become the latest to compel some welfare and state-subsidized healthcare recipients to pass a drug test in order to remain eligible.

Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker recommitted to the drug-screening plan — a key campaign promise — during his state of the state address in early January. Previews of his state budget, due for release on Feb. 3, reveal that the drug-testing program will move forward this year.

“Walker committed to drug testing recipients of BadgerCare Plus health coverage and also pledged free treatment and job training for those testing positive for drugs,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“… The governor said the drug-testing proposal would apply only to able-bodied adults, not the elderly or children, and would include transitional jobs initiatives. Walker wants to test all FoodShare and BadgerCare applicants but limit the drug testing for unemployment benefits to certain applicants.”

BadgerCare Plus is a reimbursement program for healthcare coverage. It was originally aimed at Wisconsin residents who occupy the demographic no-man’s land between employer-sponsored health insurance and Medicaid eligibility. The “Plus” appellation, added in 2008, accompanied an expansion of the program to cover more of the state’s indigent residents, particularly children.

States like Georgia, Maine and Michigan have already approved similar plans, often to the aggravation of the federal government, which is currently fighting several of the new rules.

In Wisconsin, there was plenty of opposition to Walker’s plan from the left. Democratic lawmakers called the proposal a political move intended to galvanize Walker’s conservative base as he ponders a presidential run in 2016.

“This proposal is more about making headlines than finding real solutions,” state Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Schilling told the Sentinel. “Rather than getting distracted by presidential posturing, we need to work together and find real solutions that will create jobs.”

Note: An earlier headline had the wrong name for the governor. We regret the error.

IRS contracts for Obamacare service with company behind botched Healthcare.gov rollout

CGI Federal, the same company the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) essentially fired following the disastrous launch of Healthcare.gov in 2013, now holds a contract with the IRS to help manage the tax enforcement agency’s Obamacare tax program.

According to The Daily Caller, seven months elapsed between the time HHS sent CGI Federal packing and the time the IRS award the company a fresh contract to help it carry out its Obamacare enforcement.

“After facing a year of embarrassing failures, federal officials finally pulled the plug on the company and terminated CGI’s contract in January 2014,” the DC reported Wednesday.

“Yet on Aug. 11, seven months later, IRS officials signed a new contract with CGI to provide ‘critical functions’ and ‘management support’ for its Obamacare tax program, according to the Federal Procurement Data System, a federal government procurement database.”

That new contract is worth nearly $4.5 million and runs through mid-August.

An attorney with a nonprofit government watchdog told the DC that CGI Federal — even before the IRS went vendor shopping for its Obamacare program — had become the “poster child for government failure.”

“I am shocked that the IRS has turned around and is using them for Obamacare IT work,” the Project on Government Oversight’s Scott Amey said.

That might sound like typical partisan hyperbole, were it not for the fact that CGI Federal has other recent blemishes on its record of helping deploy Obamacare websites.

“Last year, CGI was fired by the liberal states of Vermont and Massachusetts for failing to deliver on their Obamacare websites,” the DC notes. And Massachusetts’ Obamacare site “never worked, despite the state paying $170 million to CGI.”

Washington, D.C. leaders weigh offering municipal voting rights to non-citizens

Some members of the Washington, D.C. city council, led by at-large council member David Grosso, are advocating a new law that would extend municipal voting rights to permanent residents who are not U.S. citizens.

Grasso introduced his proposal, the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015, Tuesday in order to “reignite” a “conversation” about offering non-citizens access to the mechanism of choosing local representatives.

Here’s Grasso’s explanation , taken from his announcement of the proposal:

This morning along with Councilmembers Allen, Nadeau, Evans and Silverman, I introduced the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015. This bill would grant voting rights in local municipal elections to D.C. residents who are not U.S. citizens but have permanent residency status.

“All politics is local” is a common phrase in the U.S. political system and what most District residents care about are the tangible things that affect their day-to-day lives like potholes, playgrounds, taxes, snow removal, trash collection, red light cameras and more. All of these issues are important to voters in D.C. Unfortunately, not all of our residents have a say in choosing the officials who make these decisions. In my opinion, that is unjust.

Since 1970, the District of Columbia has had a steady increase in the number of foreign-born residents. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2012), approximately 53,975 residents in the District are foreign born, but not naturalized U.S. citizens. Over 90% of that population is 18 years of age or older. These are taxpayers who should have the opportunity to have their voices heard in local elections.

For most of American history, non-citizens were permitted to vote in 22 states and federal territories. It was not until the 1920s that, amidst anti-immigrant hysteria, lawmakers began to bar non-citizens from voting in local and statewide elections. Unfortunately, this hysteria continues across the United States, but it does not need to continue any longer in the District of Columbia.

Currently, there are seven jurisdictions where non-citizens can vote in local elections in the U.S., six of which are in neighboring Maryland. None of these cities or towns has experienced incidents of voting fraud with regard to non-citizens voting in federal elections. A similar bill was introduced in the Council in 2004 and unfortunately, due to the political climate at the time regarding immigration reform, it did not receive full consideration by this Council. Eleven years later, the time is now to reignite this conversation.

If approved, the law would not make Washington, D.C., the first municipality to offer the vote to non-citizens. “Currently, half a dozen towns or jurisdictions in Maryland, including Takoma Park, allow the practice, while Chicago allows all (presumably legal) residents to vote in school board elections,” The Weekly Standard observed Thursday. “In much the same vein, non-citizens in California now have the right to act as poll monitors, to practice law (even if an illegal alien), and also to serve on juries.”

Al Sharpton gets invited to an Oxford debate and promptly chickens out

MSNBC host, race profiteer and Obama confidante Al Sharpton received the honor of an invitation to participate in debate about U.S. race relations, hosted by the Oxford Union in London.

Set for Friday, Jan. 23, the event will feature participants representing the ideological spectrum: a Black Panther leader, a liberal writer and a pair of conservative radio hosts. Oxford-style debates adhere to the classical form: point, counterpoint — with the audience voting on each side’s position once at the beginning and again at the end, after all parties have had a chance to influence opinion.

A debate — that means there would be articulate, informed people offering ideas and challenging others’ ideas. Live-action discourse in real time isn’t exactly Sharpton’s métier, so credit him for doing the obvious and chickening out.

According to Breitbart, Sharpton was slated to defend the position that America is “institutionally racist” and had confirmed that he would participate before “shocking his esteemed hosts” and reversing course.

Sources have indicated that Sharpton, who is an informal adviser to both President Obama and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, has asked Oxford for an opportunity to speak but not debate the counter argument. ‘He wants to control the event, because he won’t debate the facts and the real issues including how his own conduct impacts race relations in the U.S.,” stated [conservative debater David] Webb. “He doesn’t want to be exposed for what he really is — a shakedown artist and racial coward. After years of conning people into giving him money by fanning the flames of racism, he’s just too afraid to have a civil, fact-based conversation about the issues of race in America.”

Sharpton is still planning to attend the event, and is even being allowed to speak outside of the debate format and field questions from the audience. But the persuasiveness of his opinions won’t be assessed alongside those of his would-be colleagues.

Healthcare.gov shares personal info with third parties

If you needed another reason to resort to anything but Healthcare.gov to satisfy your health insurance needs, here’s one more: The federal government’s online place of business for Obamacare shoppers surreptitiously shares enrollees’ personal data with outside vendors, who in turn can use that data for advertising or to enrich their market research.

If that sounds like an unpleasant oversight from the people who brought you a busted, unsecured and non-functioning website in the first year of Obamacare’s release, it’s not. That’s because, according to the Feds, data sharing isn’t a bug; it’s a feature.

When The Hill followed up on an AP story about the data sharing, a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokesman touted secret data sharing as a “best practice” for the government-run health insurance marketplace.

“We deploy tools on the window shopping application that collect basic information to optimize and assess system performance,” said CMS’s Aaron Albright in a statement. “We believe that the use of these tools are common and represent best practices for a typical e-commerce site.”

The Healthcare.gov fine print discloses that any information you submit may be passed among government agencies as well as insurance companies. It also advises that the Feds reserve the right to share your personal data — your address, your personal habits (such as whether you’re a smoker), your income level — with “contractors that perform functions for the Marketplace to accomplish the specific functions they’re engaged to perform.”

That’s a pretty open-ended statement, leaving the way open for a pretty open-ended amount of data sharing — all covered by a single general disclosure foisted on the user in the fine print, on the front end. Once your info is out there, it’s out there — and, the government argues, you have no one to blame but yourself if that info ends up in places you’d rather it hadn’t.

Oh, and about that “best practices” claim?

“Things got a little sticky when an Administration spokesman assured the Associated Press that ‘HealthCare.gov comports with standards set by the federal National Institute for Standards and Technology,'” Breitbart observed Tuesday.

“… Even if the harvested data is never used for anything except personalized health-care advertising, it could prove unnerving for HealthCare.gov users, especially as their new Big Doctor in Washington becomes more concerned with ‘improving’ their lifestyles to reduce health care costs. And it’s all being done without our knowledge, or permission, because Big Doc thinks we gave our individual dignity away forever on the night of the 2008 presidential election.”

Moving data shows population shift favors right-to-work states

An analysis of data from three of the nation’s largest moving companies shows that right-to-work states continue to enjoy a net influx of new residents, while many states that don’t give workers a choice about union membership remain among the least-popular destinations for relocating Americans.

Although the U.S. Census Bureau will release updated data on migration demographics later in 2015, a Watchdog analysis of data from Allied Van Lines, Atlas Van Lines and United Van Lines reveals a similar trend: Right-to-work states rank at or near the top for people looking to put down new roots.

“While each state’s weather and other variables are obviously major factors, data from the three shipping companies suggest Americans are unconvinced by union propaganda about low wages and deadly conditions created by right-to-work laws,” Watchdog’s Jason Hart wrote Tuesday.

For example, Allied Van Lines’ list of the top 10 states with the highest ratio of inbound moves for 2014 features seven right-to-work states (Idaho, Arizona, Florida, Texas, South Carolina, Utah and Wyoming) and only three states without a right-to-work law (Montana, Alaska and Oregon).

Conversely, only three right-to-work states make the company’s bottom 10 list for the lowest ration of inbound moves: Michigan, South Dakota and Iowa. The other seven states at the bottom (New Jersey, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, Connecticut and Maryland) are all pro-union.

The other two companies’ top- and bottom-10 lists are similar: Texas, Florida and Idaho make an appearance in each company’s top 10; New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Illinois and West Virginia appear in each company’s bottom 10.

Allied Van Lines noted in its 2014 “Magnet States Report” that Texas has been its clients’ No. 1 “most Inbound State” for a decade:

Texas maintained top status as Most Inbound State on Allied’s report, which uses internal data to track U.S. migration patterns. Texas’ net relocation gain of 1,973 families in 2014 is calculated by the difference between inbound moves and outbound moves performed by Allied Van Lines, one of the world’s largest moving companies.

Texas has also demonstrated strong population growth (adding 1.3 million new residents since April 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau) and has increased non-government jobs by 12 percent since 2007, according to the American Enterprise Institute.

Florida had a strong showing as the next most magnetic state with 1,751 moves, well above its 2013 net gain of 1,115 moves.

Rounding out the top five magnet states in 2014 are Arizona (no. 3), South Carolina (no. 4) and Colorado (no. 5).

“We’ve seen for a number of years now that Americans are voting with their feet and leaving forced unionism states for Right to Work states,” the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s Patrick Semmens told Watchdog.

“… Once you adjust for the cost of living (which as a whole is lower in Right to Work states), workers in Right to Work states have $3,000 more disposable income each year.”

No rush to embrace establishment GOP candidates in early presidential poll

As talk of the 2016 presidential race heats up, so too does the media interest in potential candidacies of the heirs to the GOP’s establishment mantle: Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. Yet a recent tracking poll of voter attitudes finds there’s not a lot of enthusiasm to revisit a Romney candidacy or to send another Bush to the White House.

According to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released this week, media buzz about the two Republican power players hasn’t set voters’ imaginations on fire. Since September 2014, voters’ positive approval of Romney has skidded from 32 percent to 27 percent. Since November of last year — when the poll last measured Bush’s approval — the former Florida governor’s response has fallen from 26 percent to 19 percent among all voters.

On the flip side, a lot of people continue to hold negative views of both potential candidates. In recent polling, 40 percent of voters viewed Romney negatively, hewing closely to Romney’s “negative” rating of 39 percent last September. Similarly, Bush holds a 32 percent “negative” rating in the recent poll — essentially unchanged from 33 percent figure he received in the November poll.

While neither candidate is likely to represent conservative voters’ first choice, Romney holds an edge over Bush when it comes to appealing to the Republican Party’s base. Romney got a 52 percent “positive” rating from Republican voters in the recent poll, while Bush enjoyed a favorable rating from only 37 percent of self-identified Republicans.

Despite his dynastic associations, Bush still doesn’t have quite the name recognition of Romney, who lost the 2012 presidential election to Barack Obama. But among those who do recognize Bush, there’s been a decline in his favorable polling in the days since he began touting to the media his interest in the presidency.

“While former Florida governor Jeb Bush is not quite as well-known as Romney, with 13 percent of respondents saying they don’t know the name, he’s also seen a drop in approval since announcing that he’s ‘actively exploring’ a 2016 run,” explained the poll summary.

Note: This story has been updated to change 2008 to 2012. We regret the error.

Washington mom refuses flu vaccine for baby; state threatens confiscation

The foster parent of an infant in Tacoma, Washington, is facing a state ultimatum: Have your entire family vaccinated against the flu or surrender your baby to the government.

So far, foster mom Jamie Smith has chosen against vaccination. It’s a choice that comes with a tremendous consequence. The Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) informed Smith she has until February to vaccinate the baby — born on Christmas Day — as well as everyone else in her home.

If she doesn’t, she’ll be violating a state requirement that compels foster parents to inoculate themselves and their households. That means the foster child, by law, is subject to state confiscation.

Smith told local news outlet KOMO-TV that she’s concerned about potential side effects from the vaccine. “I’ve done a lot of research on it and I don’t like some of the side effects that it has,” she said.

Yet Smith isn’t militant about it. Her husband, whose employer requires flu shots, has gotten one. Yet Smith, who’s played the role of foster parent to seven other children, told the press she’s willing to hand the infant back to the state before she’d force the other children in her house to be vaccinated.

“Unfortunately, I have to think about our kids who are in the house first and to me they’re more important, their safety, than trying to fight to keep this little guy,” Smith said.

The degree of power the state exerts over individuals in the name of public health is an ongoing source of controversy. A Connecticut teenager diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma was removed from her home and forced into chemotherapy last month after she and her mother told state health officials they preferred not to undergo the treatment.

In early January, the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the state’s right to enforce its treatment mandate.

Lindsey Graham getting serious about running for president

Now that he’s bagged ringing establishment endorsements from both sides of the Senate aisle — here’s one from John McCain (R-Ariz.) and another from Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) seems to be getting earnest about entering the crowded field of GOP presidential candidates.

Graham told NBC News Sunday that he’s formed an exploratory committee to assay his chances of connecting with potential voters outside his home state, where he sailed through an attrition-heavy Senate primary election last November.

Graham, who’s extremely unpopular among South Carolina’s conservative GOP contingent, won his June 2014 party primary in part because of his opponents’ collective weakness. He had no fewer than six primary challengers in the Republican primary — each of whom strove to stand out as the preferred, ideologically purer conservative alternative.

On the national stage, though, Graham has support — at least for now — where it counts: the Washington, D.C. establishment.

“We’re not polling, but we set up a ‘testing the waters’ committee under the IRS code that would allow me to look beyond South Carolina as to whether or not a guy like Lindsey Graham has a viable path,” Graham told NBC News’ Chuck Todd.

“I don’t know where this will go, but I am definitely going to look at it… I think the world is falling apart, and I’ve been more right than wrong when it comes to foreign policy, but we’ll see.”

That line about the world “falling apart” advances the same talking point that McCain, who’s been particularly enthusiastic about priming Graham for the White House, made last week when he joked to the media that his “illegitimate son” — Graham — has a good head for foreign relations.

“My illegitimate son Lindsey Graham is exploring that option,” said McCain when asked about the 2016 presidential race. “So I am strongly encouraging Sen. Lindsey Graham, particularly with the world the way it is today. No one understands the world today in the way that Lindsey Graham does, in my view.”

Is Harry Reid serving his final Senate term?

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could be closing out his long political career in the U.S. Senate, choosing “retirement” — i.e., declining to seek office again — over the risk of defeat at the hands of a Republican challenger.

That’s the upshot of an analysis from the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, which last month placed Reid at the front of its tally of “most vulnerable” Senate Democrats in the 2016 election cycle.

This month, the Center for Politics’ Geoffrey Skelley expands on that assessment by noting that Reid — whom he describes as “the heartiest of the ‘Senate survivors'” for repeatedly beating the odds at election time — may be facing a number of unrelated circumstances that could conspire against his deciding to run again in 2016.

The circumstance that matters most is competitive adversity: if the GOP fields a strong and well-known candidate, Reid might opt out of the 2016 race. Here’s a Jan. 15 snippet from Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the Center for Politics’ elections analysis journal:

In the Crystal Ball’s first batch of 2016 Senate ratings in December 2014, we identified Reid as probably the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in this Senate cycle. While we rate the contest as Leans Democratic, the prospect of a possible challenge from popular Gov. Brian Sandoval (R-NV) could seriously endanger Reid’s future in Congress’ upper chamber, and Reid’s weak approval ratings also make him potentially vulnerable to other, less heralded Republicans. It’s also possible that he will retire, although his heavy fundraising and public comments suggest that he’s running again. That said, Reid just suffered significant injuries in an exercising accident, and his wife and daughter have also had recent illnesses.

You may have heard about Reid’s recent injury, which he has attributed to a mishap while getting his exercise:

However he was hurt, the 75-year-old Reid has since been doing business remotely, “a prisoner of sorts at his home in D.C.’s Ritz-Carlton,” according to Roll Call’s #WGDB blog.

AG Holder moves against civil forfeitures

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder moved late last week to set new limits on the practice of civil asset forfeiture by local police and sheriff’s departments throughout the country, closing off access to a federal program that had enabled local law enforcement to claim — and keep — private property, with or without an associated criminal charge.

Holder shut the door on local law enforcement’s use of the federal “Equitable Sharing” program for civil asset forfeiture, a program that allows local police to seize private property in their role as proxy enforcers of federal statutes. Under those partnerships, the feds receive a portion of seized property, while the local cops hang on to the rest.

“[E]ffective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons,” Holder announced in a statement:

Federal adoption of property seized by state or local law enforcement under state law is prohibited, except for property that directly relates to public safety concerns, including firearms, ammunition, explosives, and property associated with child pornography. To the extent that seizures of property other than these four specified categories of property are being considered for federal adoption under this public safety exception, such seizures may not be adopted without the approval of the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division. The prohibition on federal adoption includes, but is not limited to, seizures by state or local law enforcement of vehicles, valuables, and cash, which is defined as currency and currency equivalents, such as postal money orders, personal and cashier’s checks, stored value cards, certificates of deposit, travelers checks, and U.S. savings bonds.

This order does not apply to ( 1) seizures by state and local authorities working together with federal authorities in a joint task force; (2) seizures by state and local authorities that are the result of joint federal-state investigations or that are coordinated with federal authorities as part of ongoing federal investigations; or (3) seizures pursuant to federal seizure warrants, obtained from federal courts to take custody of assets originally seized under state law. This Order also does not affect the ability of state and local agencies to pursue the forfeiture of assets pursuant to their respective state laws.

Because Eric Holder is Eric Holder, of course the reversal doesn’t apply to guns and ammo. And we are skeptical of the extent to which local cops may attempt to beg their way into task force partnerships with the Feds, since joint operations are still fair game for seized assets.

But this is definitely a good step.

Arizona will require civics exam as condition for high school graduation

Arizona lawmakers have made the state the first in the U.S. to require a basic understanding of civics in order for students to receive high school diplomas.

New Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law last week a bill making the test mandatory, although the law leaves it up to schools how best to instruct students to prepare to pass it.

In September, Republican State Rep. Steve Montenegro proposed that the state require students to pass the same 100-question civics test the federal government uses to test foreigners who apply for U.S. naturalization.

“Every single student in Arizona and across the United States of America should have basic knowledge and understanding of American government,” Montenegro said at the time.

According to The Arizona Republic, the civics requirement has set a precedent that 17 other states may soon follow. A consultant pushing the legislation in state houses across the country said North Dakota is likely to be the next state to implement the change.

While the law has its critics, it has been well received by others.

Moses Sanchez, a Tempe parent, shared his enthusiasm for the new requirement — one born of personal experience.

“As an immigrant and naturalized citizen, I observed and assisted my parents as they studied for their citizenship test and shared in their pride as they passed it,” he told the Arizona Senate Education Committee. “As a parent, I support this bill.”

While the naturalization process requires a foreign applicant to correctly answer 6 out of 10 questions administered verbally by an immigration official, the Arizona schools version will require students to correctly answer 60 questions out of 100. Students can take the test as early as their 8th grade year, and can retake it until they pass.

‘Free-range’ parents under scrutiny for letting kids walk home from the park

Last month, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, self-described “free-range” parents of two children — a 10-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl — had agreed to allow their kids to make the mile-long walk from a nearby park to their Silver Spring, Maryland, home.

Acting on a tip, the cops picked up the kids about midway through their journey. According to The Washington Post, the Meitivs are now under investigation for suspicion of neglect.

The parents told the newspaper they are thoughtful in their parenting style, and that they’ve made a conscientious choice to afford their kids enough mundane independence to allow them to experience both the joys — and the consequences — of a sensible measure of unsupervised activity.

“The world is actually even safer than when I was a child, and I just want to give them the same freedom and independence that I had — basically an old-fashioned childhood,” Danielle Meitiv told the Post. “I think it’s absolutely critical for their development — to learn responsibility, to experience the world, to gain confidence and competency… Parenthood is an exercise in risk management.”

A couple of hours after the cops had deposited the kids back at home, the family received a visit from Montgomery County Child Protective Services (CPS). They asked Alexander, the father, to sign a pledge that the kids wouldn’t be left unsupervised in any way until CPS could “follow up” with the family the following week. He grudgingly agreed after CPS threatened to remove the children from the home.

Since then, CPS representatives have attempted to visit the family at home — and, according to the Post, they’ve been turned away. Danielle explained that allowing the government into her home to assess the merits of her parenting “seemed like such a huge violation of privacy.”

“I think what CPS considered neglect, we felt was an essential part of growing up and maturing,” her husband added.