That story about government agents forcing a kid to eat chicken nuggets instead of the lunch her mom packed for her? Yeah, that’s bogus

Turns out the chicken nugget controversy is sound and fury.

Mark Thompson uncovers the truth behind the story about the little girl “forced” by “state agents” to eat chicken nuggets instead of her packed lunch:

One problem: the story is a load of bunk at worst, a non-story at best, standing for little more than the proposition that low-income children in NC’s low-income pre-K program whose parents don’t send them to school with enough healthy food will be provided with additional food to supplement what their parents send them to school with.

For starters, the context in which all of this occurred was a public school pre-K program run by the state popularly known as “More at Four,” but now called the generic name “NC Pre-K.”  In order to have a child enrolled in this program, which has a limited number of slots, the parents must actively choose to enroll, with priority going to “at-risk” children, to wit: special needs children and (importantly) low-income children.  Indeed, to even be eligible for the program, the child must either fit in one of those two categories or have a parent on (or about to be called on) active military duty.  Enrollment as an “at-risk” child means that the child’s enrollment is fully subsidized by the state, regardless of whether the day care is private or public.

These facts are critical because the “state agent” in this story turns out to be nothing more than a researcher from a program that grades the performance of pre-schools and operates out of the FPG Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  It also does not appear that this institute has any actual authority other than to provide assessments, which the state then uses in making licensing decisions and in setting the fees it will pay the day care provider for subsidized care.

Notably, as the second-linked story above suggests, the mother’s main gripe here does not even appear to be with this “state agent,” but instead with the school’s teachers, who continue to give the girl milk and vegetables despite letters from the mother asking them not to.  Indeed, the notion that this “state agent” was going around inspecting every single lunch box brought to the school does not appear to have much basis, as the agent apparently ordered full school lunches for every single child in this program and was evaluating the school’s compliance with standards, not individual parents’ compliance.  Even if he was doing such an inspection, there’s a pretty obvious context-specific reason for it: this is an opt-in program for parents who largely can’t afford to provide fully balanced meals.

Her other major gripe appears to be that she is worried about being charged for the additional food being placed in front of her daughter based on a letter from the school purportedly saying that kids who did not bring a healthy lunch would be offered supplements and that parents “may” be charged for the supplemented portions.  However, as the second-linked story makes clear, no such charges have been issued nor apparently was there any actual chance that such charges would be issued.

The original story’s claim that the relevant regulation applies to all pre-schools is also false – to the contrary, it applies only  to pre-schools choosing to participate in (and eligible for) the subsidized program.

The original story further obscures that in no circumstance was this child – or any child, for that matter – being forced to eat the school-provided lunch, nor was this child -or any other child – deprived of her boxed lunch.  Instead, as the second linked story acknowledges, the child was just provided with additional food and given the option to consume that in addition to her boxed lunch.  In other words, the claim that the school “replaced” this girl’s turkey sandwich, banana, apple, potato chips, and juice with chicken nuggets is totally bogus.

So before we all go crazy talking about how awful the nanny state is to make this poor little girl eat chicken nuggets instead of her sack lunch, let’s all take a deep breath and, I dunno, spend some time researching the facts. I love a good knee-jerk reaction as much as the next guy, but when something sounds too awful to be true, chances are it is. With the very real problems in, say, our criminal justice system – no-knock raids, innocent people on death row, overfilled prisons, and so on and so forth, spending any time at all on this non-troversy is a waste of precious digital ink.

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Our immigration policy is anti-family

Our immigration policy is a disgrace

The story of Felipe Montes is horrifying but not an isolated incident. Montes, who had lived in the United States for nine years before being deported, left behind his wife Marie and their three children. Their youngest had just been born a couple months earlier, and Marie had fallen ill. She survived on disability with Felipe gone. And, of course, the story only gets worse from there:

 Less than two months after their baby was born, just two weeks after Felipe was loaded onto a plane and deported to Mexico, the Allegheny County child welfare department took the children from Marie and put them in foster care.

Allegheny County has already convinced a judge to end family reunification efforts with Marie Montes. She wants the children to be placed with their father. “If they can’t be with me, I want them to be with him,” she said. “Nobody is a better father than he is.”

But next week, on February 21, the county’s Department of Social Services plans to ask a judge to cease all efforts to reunify the family and put the children into adoption proceedings with foster families. Though Felipe Montes was his children’s primary caregiver before he was deported and has not been charged with neglect, the child welfare department nonetheless believes that his children, who have now been in foster care for over a year, are better off in the care of strangers than in Mexico with their father.

For Montes, this feels tantamount to kidnapping.

“I cannot find the words to tell you how important my kids are to me. I would do anything for them,” he told, speaking on his cell phone in Mexico while on a break from his job at a farm. “In this world there are many injustices. At the very least, I would like them to send my kids to Mexico.”

The tragedy here underscores a larger tragedy with the US immigration system. US-born children who are deported with their undocumented parents are not counted by the government, not included in their tallies. When we hear that 400,000 undocumented immigrants were deported, how many of those took their US-born children with them? What are the true figures?

The tragedies stack up. When Felipe Montes was deported, his economic productivity was lost. That’s an immediate loss for the country and his community. A worker and a consumer simply disappeared from the local economy. Worse still, his wife could no longer support their children due to her illness and the loss of income. That obviously has a direct economic impact on that family (not to mention the emotional impact.)

Compounding the economic strain this created, now the the taxpayer is footing the bill for the childrens’ welfare, sucking even more money out of the economy and pumping it into the badly broken foster care system. It’s one thing if kids are taken from truly abusive homes and placed into foster care – that’s a state service born out of inevitability and mercy. But when it’s the result of an immoral immigration policy that is at once harmful to the broader economy and to the lives of very real, very innocent people it’s just unconscionable.

Colorlines has a full report on the growing number of children – numbering in the thousands – who face a similar fate. But countless more face deportation themselves. These are real people, torn by force from the only home or family they’ve ever known because of a rule that is at once economically backwards and utterly devoid of compassion.

We should be encouraging immigration – as much of it as possible – and the free movement of people across borders. The side effects of our immigration policy are so numerous: coyotes smuggling people in horrifying and often life-threatening conditions; sexual assault of women and girls who try to emigrate from their home countries; the destruction of families; economic hardship and unnecessary suffering. The list goes on and on and on.

Economic illiteracy and unbridled nationalism fuel our immigration policy. Real people suffer the consequences. Real people, despite their linguistic dissimilarities and darker skin, suffer because of abstract, old-fashioned ideas about borders. In the case of the Montes family, the youngest child – now one year old – lives with a different foster family than his brothers. Felipe has never met his youngest son, having been detained prior to the child’s birth.

As a parent, I cannot even begin to imagine this – to imagine first being detained during the birth of my child, and then to learn that they’d been taken away by the state and placed with strangers. The heartbreak is too much. The choices we ask people to make are too enormous. It should weigh heavy on our mind, those of us who face no such calamities.

It’s just inexplicable to me that people who tout their “family values” bona fides could support such a monstrous policy.

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‘George Romney deserved a better son’

George Romney opposed Barry Goldwater's extreme rhetoric

This exchange between Mitt Romney’s father – then Michigan governor George Romney – and Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee at the time, is fascinating.

Actually, it’s especially fascinating given that Ron Paul is in the race against Romney-the-younger this time around, and Paul shares many of Goldwater’s more unfortunate views on the Civil Rights Act. He also has some of the same dubious associations.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think Ron Paul comes off as a heck of a lot less crazy than someone like Santorum, and leaps and bounds more honest than Romney, but the Ron Paul newsletters raise many of the same concerns about Paul’s past choices as George Romney raises about some of Goldwater’s associations.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney displays none of his father’s courage or frankness, none of his honesty whatsoever. The younger Romney comes across as a fake, through and through.

It’s too bad, really. Reading George Romney one does realize how badly this country needs two grown-up parties and not one grown-up party and one party throwing a perpetual temper tantrum.

At a time when the Republican ticket consisted of a man who opposed the Civil Rights Act, George Romney was saying things like: “The assassination of Martin Luther King is a great national tragedy. At a time when we need aggressive nonviolent leadership to peacefully achieve equal rights, equal opportunities and equal responsibilities for all, his leadership will be grievously missed.” George Romney even marched in civil rights marches.

Of course, these days we have Newt Gingrich saying that the first black president is the “food-stamp president” and that black people are all dependent on government largess. And we have Rick Santorum saying that women really ought to be governed by the laws of Christ rather than the laws of America when it comes to their own bodies.

Wouldn’t it be nice if George Romney’s son could speak out against this sort of nonsense the way his father spoke out against similar nonsense several decades ago?

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Andrew Breitbart says he’ll take a drug test after his anti-OWS rant goes viral

Looks like Breitbart’s little anti-Occupy Wall Street rant has more people than just me questioning his use of illicit substances – though I just wondered if he had a drinking problem.

Seems the Big Hollywood blogger-in-chief is on the defensive, if his Twitter feed says anything about it:

Notice the deflection here – as though David Brock just screamed at a bunch of protesters and had to be dragged off by security. It’s pretty much par for the course when it comes to Breitbart.

Two thoughts: First, it’s easy to beat a drug test, especially if you’re doing something like cocaine or speed – the sort of drugs that might make someone lose their head at an OWS protest. Stimulants leave the bloodstream quickly, and with a little preparation you could easily beat the test. If it’s booze, of course, this is all a moot point.

Second, who cares if he was high when he flipped out on the protesters? It’s almost more understandable if he was. If he has a substance abuse problem, I might sympathize with him a little bit. Addicts need help, not scorn.

But if this was the angry rant of a sober man? That’s much more troubling. That says something about Breitbart as a human being, deep down – about his anger and instability as a person without the use of drugs.

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Ron Paul winning delegates despite losses

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Mistermix captions the above video:

[I]t turns out that Ron Paul has another reason to be smiling ever time he announces that he “lost” a straw poll. His supporters are being elected as delegates in bigger numbers than the straw poll totals indicate.

It works like this: Romney, Santorum and Gingrich supporters vote in the straw poll, then leave. Paul supporters vote in the poll and stay around for the county business meeting to be elected delegates. Because those delegates are completely loyal to Paul, not to the straw poll results, Paul, not Romney, Gingrich or Santorum, might actually be winning the caucuses. So, who the hell knows how many delegates any Republican has at this point.

Paul has a very organized campaign. His people know what they’re doing. They aren’t messing around. The media may not take Paul seriously, but Paul and his people are deadly serious, whether or not Paul actually thinks he can win.

If he takes enough delegates, it’s going to be a really interesting nomination this year. I have no doubt that Santorum or Gingrich will eventually come around and support Romney if push comes to shove. But Paul’s supporters are another bunch entirely.

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Andrew Breitbart loses his shit at CPAC, keeps screaming “behave yourself” at OWS protesters

Now, I can’t be sure about this, but last I checked running around screaming “behave yourself” at a bunch of peaceful protesters and struggling with security is not exactly behaving oneself.

It’s also remarkably stupid. There are these things called “camera phones” and another thing he may have heard of called “the internet.”

Breitbart is many things, but stupid enough to hand the left a viral video like this? It’s a head-scratcher for sure.

Occupy protesters congregated outside of CPAC, hoping to stir up some media attention and irritate conservatives in attendance. Not in a million years did they hope to get so far under Breitbart’s skin.

Do we know if he has a drinking problem? Because I just cannot for the life of me fathom what he was thinking here. Behave yourself? Seriously?

I half expected Bill Maher to show up suddenly and start making wise-cracks about how they should all go get a job, followed by a big make-out scene between the two.

Oh well. We can’t have everything. Even in an age of rapidly-shared-stupidity.

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Every sperm is sacred

Now that death panels are a thing of the distant past, the real threat to liberty in this country is apparently the pill, something that we’ve had for over half a century and that a majority of us thought was a fairly settled debate. Of course, since the right is adamantly opposed to providing life-saving universal access to healthcare we instead get yet another front in the culture wars.

Now the administration has changed course in the right direction on the contraception mandate:

Today, the White House did the right thing for women, public health and human rights.  Despite deep concerns, including my own, based on what transpired in the past under health reform, the White House has decided on a plan to address the birth control mandate that will enable women to get contraceptive coverage directly through their insurance plans without having to buy a rider or a second plan, and without having to negotiate with or through religious entities or administrations that are hostile to primary reproductive health care, including but not limited to contraception.

Under this plan, every insurance company will be obligated to provide contraceptive coverage. Administration officials stated that a woman’s insurance company “will be required to reach out directly and offer her contraceptive care free of charge.  The religious institutions will not have to pay for it.”

This is the right move. A smart, effective way to get past the objections on the right. And it pushes us one tiny step closer to shedding employer coverage altogether.

Even before the changed policy, public opinion was squarely behind the administration:

A solid 56 percent majority of voters support the decision to require health plans to cover prescription birth control with no additional out-of-pocket fees, while only 37 percent are opposed. It’s particularly noteworthy that pivotal independent voters support this benefit by a 55/36 margin; in fact, a majority of voters in every racial, age, and religious category that we track express support. In particular, a 53 percent majority of Catholic voters, who were oversampled as part of this poll, favor the benefit, including fully 62 percent of Catholics who identify themselves as independents.

It will be interesting to see how Republicans respond to this latest move by the president. The reason it’s an issue at all is simple: just as the economy starts to heat up, Republicans panic and pick a fight over something bound to whip up the fervor of the angriest of culture warriors: no death panels this time, no, this time it’s contraception. But actually that’s not quite right either. That’s just a code word for abortion.

Of course, we’re not talking about a mandate to cover abortions, we’re talking about a mandate to cover birth control. Some people on the fringe of this debate equate the two, but a huge majority of Americans disagree. A majority of Catholics disagree, for that matter.

I think of the Affordable Care Act as the wrong law at the right time. Or the right law at the wrong time. I can’t quite decide. Either way, it’s a vast improvement over the status quo, and yet doubles down on one thing that I can’t stand about our healthcare system: employer-provided coverage. The problem with American healthcare isn’t too much government, it’s too many middle-men, and third-party coverage is the most glaring middle man of all.

The exchanges built into the new law are another story, mirroring systems in place in Germany and Switzerland. Germany is the economic powerhouse of Europe, and Switzerland is about as close to a libertarian paradise as anywhere on earth. Our healthcare law should, over time, push us toward something quite similar. Cries of socialism are particularly vapid given the countries in question.

The difference between here and everywhere else in the world is that in America everything revolves around the culture wars.

I don’t think the Republican party actually cares one bit about birth control. They’re just using the issue to obstruct the ACA at every turn. It’s silly, childish, and manipulative. That social conservatives don’t feel entirely burned and jaded by the GOP’s cynical politicization of their issues is telling. Social conservatives made a deal with the devil when they decided to use majority-rules democracy to further their goals, and now the piper must be paid. Diminishing returns on diminishing demographics.

I fully support the right for women (and everyone, for that matter) to have full, unfettered access to healthcare and birth control and preventative medicine. These things will save us money and make the country safer and more prosperous. A woman’s right to have control over her own body is sacrosanct as far as my conception of liberty is concerned. And women who don’t want to use contraception don’t have to. Nobody is forcing them to do anything.

The fact that employer’s provide insurance to their employees is profoundly stupid, an accident of history, a huge part of why we’re in the straits we’re in when it comes to our badly mangled healthcare system. This latest move by the president actually puts a dent in this system – it’s a victory both for women’s rights and crafting a smarter, more efficient, and more fair system of healthcare.

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Why conservatives can’t do pop culture very well

Yes, somebody actually painted this. And no, I don’t think it’s satire. You have to sort of love the rooster, though. He’s as free as a bird now.

The question is: where’s Waldo?

You see this is why conservatives are failing when it comes to waging the culture war in the arts, and why they at once turn to political means rather than cultural means to wage that war. It’s also why we see so many conservatives devolve into self-victimization.

Conservatives have a hard time making conservative films or television shows – though occasionally you’ll find a show like 24 which espouses some conservative ideas about war and national security. I think the success of 24 was in weaving some conservative ideals into a show that focuses mostly on the action.

You rarely hear conservative music outside of Nashville. Country is one of the few successes at transposing conservative culture war politics into pop culture.

We do see plenty of sexism and other illiberal views in our  mainstream pop culture, of course. See Alyssa Rosenberg’s deconstruction of the Superbowl ads for one example.

But for some reason, conservative attempts at pop culture simply don’t pan out for the most part. So we get complaints about liberal media or liberal Hollywood or whatever. But it’s not liberal Hollywood’s fault that conservatives can’t do art. (Nor is it entirely obvious that Hollywood is liberal, but that’s another story for another time.)

And it’s not as though no good conservative art or literature has ever been produced. It’s just that today’s conservatives have lost any sense of proportion or subtext. Everything is so overt and over-stated. I think that The Lord of the Rings is a basically conservative text. It’s just not explicitly conservative and doesn’t say anything nasty about Obama.

Today’s conservative pop culture is reactionary, which is fitting I suppose. There was a mockumentary conservatives made a couple years ago that attempted to not very cleverly spoof Michael Moore. But an attempt to beat Moore at his own game is probably going to fail, if only because it’s little more than preaching to the choir (and this isn’t even to say that Moore isn’t deserving of his own criticism – the left is actually very good at leveling its own critique at Moore.) It’s the same in politics: conservatives aren’t so much interested with their own ideas about governance as they are about responding to and obstructing the ideas of their opponents.

And perhaps that’s the crux of the issue. Conservative art mimics conservative politics rather than the other way around. And so it can never really be art.


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What Obama’s Up Against

Not-Romney is one candidate with two heads, one of which is very large.

Nate Silver thinks the GOP primary is going to be a long, protracted race, noting that it bears a “resemblance to something like the 1984 Democratic contest or the 1976 Republican race.” Mondale won in 1984, and Ford beat Reagan in 1976, but both primaries were close calls, and neither Mondale nor Ford inspired their respective parties.

Still, I’m not sure either one had as abysmal an outlook as presumed front-runner Mitt Romney does in this race:

Meanwhile, the two not-Romney candidates – Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum – are nipping at Romney’s heels making sure that neither one has any real chance at stealing the nomination.

And of course Ron Paul has his base of support which will likely neither grow nor dwindle in the coming months.

Now, it’s almost not even worth talking about anyone in the Republican field except Romney – the race is still his to lose as far as I’m concerned. All that Santorum’s win Tuesday achieved was to further split the not-Romney vote. That doesn’t hurt Romney – if anything it helps him. So long as both Gingrich and Santorum keep winning primaries, neither is likely to drop out. And Romney is flush with cash, a well-organized campaign, and the support of the Republican Establishment. He may not have the adoration of the now all-but-defunct Tea Party, but that hardly matters.

Romney’s real problem is President Obama.

Rest assured, the president will be well-armed with Super PAC money, campaign contributions, and a well organized network of volunteers both online and in the trenches. As the economy starts to warm up, Romney’s key selling points begin to wither. The private sector businessman routine won’t resonate if unemployment is falling, at least not with moderates and independents. He can’t really drum up culture war issues, either, given his Mormonism and his history as a moderate on social issues. And his extremism in the primary will hurt him with independents in the general, as will the negativity of his rivals, none of whom are likely to stop throwing punches any time soon.

If Ron Paul goes third party, this will almost certainly hurt Romney more than Obama.

So it’s no wonder Obama seems happy these days. The Republicans, for all their bizarre hatred of the president, have failed to field even one candidate that has a chance at unseating him, and the lack of enthusiasm among GOP voters stands in stark contrast to the 2010 mid-terms and the Rise of the Tea Party. It’s hard to imagine that this will change much in the general, though Romney could, theoretically, pick a Palinesque VP to help grind up some red meat and inspire the uninspired base.

Meanwhile, for pundits and bloggers and late-night talk show hosts, and all the political junkies out there, at least we should be in for an entertaining ride.


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Santorum sweeps Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado further fragmenting the not-Romney camp

Santorum's wins Tuesday may have hurt the not-Romney cause.

When you think about it, there’s really only three candidates in the race: Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and not-Romney.

Santorum pulled a string of wins in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado Tuesday evening, but it may as well have been Gingrich. The point is someone other than Romney (or Paul, for that matter) won.

Now this means two things. First – a problem for Romney. Second – a problem for not-Romney.

Here’s Romney’s problem: his favorability is capsizing and his unfavorability is shooting through the roof.

The problem for not-Romney is that not-Romney is not one, but rather two candidates neither of whom appears ready to drop out of the race. If not-Romney were just Newt Gingrich or just Rick Santorum, not-Romney could start raising serious money to push back against Romney’s very deep treasure trove.

But all that Santorum’s three wins did was make the Gingrich/Santorum division more pronounced. And that’s a win for Romney and a loss for not-Romney.

It’s also a win for Obama. For that matter, virtually every moment in the GOP primary has been a win for Obama. As the GOP fractures, the chances of Obama beating the eventual nominee grows.

It doesn’t help that the economy seems to be slowly dragging itself back to life – here and in Europe. The culture wars are great for the primary for GOP voters, but not so great for the general election.

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