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Monday, May 05, 2014

Gallop: Number of Uninsured Is The Lowest We've Recorded

13.4%, baby.


Which means Fox News has to talk about something else....


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Senate Republicans Block Minimum Wage Legislation

Because why not

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Grim Reminder

I didn't know her, but I have friends who did.  She made national news this weekend, because of the irony.  But behind that, there is the obvious lesson about texting and driving:

HIGH POINT, N.C., April 27 (UPI) -- A 32-year-old North Carolina woman died in a car accident Thursday just moments after she used her cell phone to post on Facebook.

Police in High Point, N.C., said Courtney Ann Sanford posted a message on Facebook at 8:33 a.m. and one minute later the car accident was reported. She was driving.

“The happy song makes me HAPPY," Sanford wrote of the hit song by Pharrell Williams.

“In a matter of seconds, a life was over just so she could notify some friends that she was happy,” said High Point Police Lt. Chris Weisner.

Sanford drove her vehicle across a grass median and hit a truck. The truck driver was uninjured.

“As sad as it is, it is a grim reminder for everyone ... you just have to pay attention while you are in the car,” Weisner said.


The final post of 32-year-old Courtney Ann Sanford, who died one minute after sending this because she veered across a grass median and slammed into an oncoming truck. The other driver was not hurt.

World's Worst Lawyer™ Defends World's Worst Racist Cattlerancher™

Oh, Aaron Walker.  Please don't practice law.  Ever.  Even academically on your blog.  You're just so bad at it.  You embarass yourself and the profession.

Yes, folks, the World's Worst Lawyer™ is back at it again.  Taking a break from his Brett Kimberlin obsession, Aaron Walker tackles current events -- specifically, the Cliven Bundy issue in a terribly-reasoned and tragic post entitled "Is Cliven Bundy Right?"... which is Walker's way of saying, "Cliven Bundy is right and I'll show it even if I have to use the most tortured and indeed untruthful legal reasoning available to me."

But first, Walker, like most conservatives last week, must do the necessary throw-Bundy-under-the-bus-for-his-racism dance:

There has been some attempt to rehabilitate what he said, such as here, but at best it only mitigates what is still a pretty racist and ignorant thing to say.  No, there is zero chance that black people were better off under slavery and you have to be willfully ignorant of the evil of slavery to even entertain the thought.

I give Walker a little credit here.  Normally, when a right wing hero is accused of racism, Walker tries to turn it around and accuse a black person of reverse racism.  But, seeing no black person in the Bundy scandal, I guess Walker is forced to admit that Bundy is indeed a racist.

And props to Walker for admitting this:

When it comes to the legal issues his racism is beside the point.  If a government lawyer brought it up in court, it would annoy the judge by being irrelevant. Or to quote from Mark Steyn:
the reason the standard representation of justice in statuary is a blindfolded lady is because justice is supposed to be blind: If you run a red light and hit a pedestrian, it makes no difference whether the pedestrian you hit is Nelson Mandela or Cliven Bundy. Or at least it shouldn't: one of the basic building blocks of civilized society is equality before the law.
The only problem is that Walker is the wrong person to deliver this message.  Yes, Bundy's racism is irrelevant to the legal situation, but the same could be said for Brett Kimberlin (what 50+ year old man can and should be held accountable for mistakes that he made -- and paid for -- in his youth?)  In other words, Walker is a hypocrite about what is and isn't relevant when it comes to assessing "equality before the law".
But let's get to the legal issues and the point of MY post -- which is just how terribly terribly BAD Walker is as a lawyer.

Continue reading "World's Worst Lawyer™ Defends World's Worst Racist Cattlerancher™" »

Friday, April 25, 2014

Bundy Tries To Apologize

He got a decent start on CNN Friday morning, saying "Maybe I sinned and maybe I need to ask forgiveness and maybe I don’t know what I actually said."

Take out the three "maybe"s, and he would have been home free.  But instead, Bundy continued:

If I call — if I say negro or black boy or slave, I’m not — if those people cannot take those kind of words and not be offended, then Martin Luther King hasn’t got his job done then yet. They should be able to — I should be able to say those things and they shouldn’t offend anybody.

Yeah.  Stupid Martin Luther King getting himself murdered before he finished the job.

But more importantly, note what Bundy seems to think that MLK's "job" actually was.  Apparently, Martin Luther King was here so that Bundy could slur black people, and nobody would be offended.  Certainly that was Martin Luther King's dream, right?  When you make racist statements suggesting that the Negro would be better off a slave, and not get called out for it?

UPDATE:  Actual Craigslist listing:


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hashtag #Fail

I love spontaneous protests, particularly when they happen in cyberspace:

An exercise in social media outreach turned #epicfail Tuesday when users flooded the Twittersphere with some of the NYPD’s most infamous moments of brutality.

The NYPD, through its Twitter page, innocuously asked people on to post pictures of themselves interacting with New York’s Finest — complete with the hashtag myNYPD.

But instead of happy pictures of cops posing with tourists and helping out locals, Twitter erupted with hundreds of photos of police violence, including Occupy Wall Street arrests and the 84-year-old man who was bloodied for jaywalking on the Upper West Side earlier this year.

Just before midnight, more than 70,000 people had posted comments on Twitter decrying police brutality, slamming the NYPD for the social media disaster and recalling the names of people shot to death by police. It was the top trending hashtag on Twitter by late Tuesday, replacing #HappyEarthDay.

Police officials wouldn’t respond to questions about the negative comments or say who was behind the Twitter outreach. They released a short statement on Tuesday evening, when users were posting more than 10,000 tweets an hour.

“The NYPD is creating new ways to communicate effectively with the community,” said Kim Royster, an NYPD spokeswoman. “Twitter provides an open forum for an uncensored exchange and this is an open dialogue good for our city.”
Twitter users had plenty to say.

“Free massages from the #NYPD,” read one of the Occupy Wall Street tweets, which showed a young man being smashed into the trunk of a car by three cops in riot gear.

Nice PR move.

Not Number One

The New York Times reports what we all know:

The American middle class, long the most affluent in the world, has lost that distinction.

While the wealthiest Americans are outpacing many of their global peers, a New York Times analysis shows that across the lower- and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have received considerably larger raises over the last three decades.

After-tax middle-class incomes in Canada — substantially behind in 2000 — now appear to be higher than in the United States. The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans.

The numbers, based on surveys conducted over the past 35 years, offer some of the most detailed publicly available comparisons for different income groups in different countries over time. They suggest that most American families are paying a steep price for high and rising income inequality.

Although economic growth in the United States continues to be as strong as in many other countries, or stronger, a small percentage of American households is fully benefiting from it. Median income in Canada pulled into a tie with median United States income in 2010 and has most likely surpassed it since then. Median incomes in Western European countries still trail those in the United States, but the gap in several — including Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden — is much smaller than it was a decade ago.

What's to account for this?  It doesn't take a genius.  It's the policies the began in the early 2000's, and are still here with us today:  a tax policy that favors the wealthiest while placing burdens on the middle and lower classes.  There is no trickle-down.  These other countries did not apply the rightwing tax policy (plus, take note, they all have socialized medicine).  And they are surpassing the United States.

But try to tell that to your typical Fox News viewer, lobotomized by what he sees on Hannity.  You'll know what he'll say?  Benghazi!!!!

Darling of The Right, Cliven Bundy, Expresses His Views About Race....

.... and they are just about what you would expect:

Republican politicians began backtracking on their support of Nevada anti-government rancher Cliven Bundy after the New York Times caught Bundy making racially-inflammatory remarks blaming African-Americans for willingly submiting to dependency on federal assistance.

“They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton,” Bundy was quoted as saying to a group of supporters last Saturday. “And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Bundy’s statements about “the Negro,” published on Wednesday, were made during his daily speech to supporters outside Bunkerville, Nevada, where a crowd gathered to support him in defiance of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) during an attempted round up of his cattle. The confrontation was the result of Bundy’s refusal to pay grazing fees on federally-owned land for more than 20 years, in spite of multiple court rulings against him. Bundy has stated on several occasions that he does not recognize the existence of the federal government.

Every single Republican politician who spoke out in favor of this loser should have their words plastered on tv commercials over this racist asshole’s words.

Of course, Bundy's rhetoric isn't all that new....

UPDATE:  The reaction of Cliven Bundy's defenders to his pro-slavery rant is proving quite entertaining. Exhibits ABC, and D.  I especially like the ones who say he's not the issue.  Look -- he doesn't recognize the legitimacy of the federal government.  Just like pro-slave Southerners.  It's not a coincidence.

UPDATE #2:  Bundy made the rounds of rightwing radio today, and tried to clarify his remarks, which sound just like the racist remarks he said in the first place:

I'm wondering if they're better off under a government subsidy and their young women are having the abortions and their young men are in jail and their older women and children are sitting out on the cement porch without nothing to do.

I'm wondering: Are they happier now under this government subsidy system than they were when they were when they were slaves and they was able to their family structure together and the chickens and the garden and the people have something to do?

So in my mind, are they better off being slaves in that sense or better off being slaves to the United States government in the sense of the subsidy? I'm wondering. The statement was right. I am wondering. 

UPDATE #3:  By the way, want a good example of the adage that "racism isn't about hatred; it's about ignorance"?  Listen to Cliven Bundy talk about Mexican immigrants, a group of people he actually has first-hand experience with:

"I understand that they come over here against our Constitution and cross our borders," he says. "But they're here and they're people. I worked side-by-side a lot of them. Don't tell me they don't work, and don't tell me they don't pay taxes. And don't tell me they don't have better family structures than most of us white people."

"When you see those Mexican families, they're together. They picnic together. They're spending their time together," he said. "I'll tell you, in my way of thinking, they're awful nice people. We need to have those people join us and be with us."

Pretty liberal, huh?

UPDATE #4:  Before the news broke that Cliven Bundy is a raging racist (in addition to being a deadbeat rancher backed by an armed militia defending his right to stiff the federal government): 458 mentions of the right's newest hero on Fox News in April, an average of 20 per day.

And since then? Two.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Denial of Service Attacks

Typepad and therefore this blog has been under attack for the past several days.... for ransom:

UPDATE: SAY Media has responded that they, too, received a “ransom” note which didn’t specify an amount. The company ignored the note and focused instead on mitigating the attack. They are also cooperating with the FBI on this investigation. “We’ve made excellent progress this morning, but still have some customers impacted and we’ll keep you posted when there’s more news to share,” a spokesperson said.

I say they need to catch the culprits and fry them.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

This Bundy Thing

The story of the Bundy ranch has slowly made its way into mainstream media circles.  It started out on the absolute fringes of the far right, then worked its way to Fox News.  And now, others are picking it up.

It's troubling, not so much for what is actually going on, but because it shows the absolute lack of morality of the right wing -- yes, even the "reasonable" right wing, who caters to the fascist right.

For those not in the know, the story isn't complicated.  For 20 years the federal government has fined Cliven Bundy for grazing his cattle on protected federal land. And for 20 years Bundy has refused to pay. Last month this dance came to an end when the Bureau of Land Management sent Bundy a letter informing him that it intended to “impound his trespass cattle” that have been roaming on federal property. It closed off hundreds of thousands of acres, and earlier this month, moved to round up Bundy’s cows.

Protesters challenged the BLM, and Bundy’s son was arrested for “refusing to disperse” from the area in question. Bundy’s cause caught fire on right-wing blogs, egged on by Fox News and conservative outlets like the National Review, which have held the confiscation as a dangerous intrusion on private property rights, despite Bundy’s lawbreaking. Defending his decision, the rancher told one right-wing radio host that he’s ready to take drastic steps beyond refusing to pay:

I told you that I did the legal thing and the political thing and the media thing and it seems like it's down to “we the people” if we're going to get it done. You know the things like militias. You know, I haven't called no militia or anything like that, but hey, it looks like that's where we're at.

To that end, hundreds of people from outside Nevada—including “militia” armed with rifles and ammunition—have joined his protests, going as far as to set up camp and confront federal officials with brandished weapons. The federal government blinked, and the Bureau of Land Management announced an abrupt end to its cattle roundup, hoping to avoid violence and further confrontations.

This story amazes me. 

What we have here is, quite simply, a lawbreaker.  He's also one of the peope who can rightly be called a "taker" in Mitt Romney language -- someone who literally lives off the federal government and contributes nothing.

Other ranchers pay their grzaing fees.  What makes Bundy special?

The notion that Fox News and others (Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul) would embrace this guy is scary. Right-wing media ought to be condemned for their role in fanning the flames of this standoff. After years of decrying Obama’s “lawlessness” and hyperventilating over faux scandals, it’s galling to watch conservatives applaudactual lawbreaking and violent threats to federal officials.

And to those who say there isn't racism on the right, does anyone think this would be happening if the ranchers were black?

Anyway, for the crazed nutjobs on the right (some of whom were wishing for a Waco, you can tell), this is only the beginning [AFTERTHOUGHT: I neglected to mention how these guys put women and children up front in the hopes that the U.S. federal government would shoot and kill them].  Let's hope that before they start bombing federal buildings, etc., Fox News and others realize that we are a nation of laws.  Some of which, yes, you might dislike.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Rewriting The Civil War

Heritage Foundation Leader Jim DeMint:

DeMint: This progressive, the whole idea of being progressive is to progress away from those ideas that made this country great. What we’re trying to conserve as conservative are those things that work. They work today, they work for young people, they work for minorities and we can change this country and change its course very quickly if we just remember what works.

Newcombe: What if somebody, let’s say you’re talking with a liberal person and they were to turn around and say, ‘that Founding Fathers thing worked out really well, look at that Civil War we had eighty years later.’

DeMint: Well the reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution, it was like the conscience of the American people. Unfortunately there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the minds of God. But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government. It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like Wilberforce who persisted for years because of his faith and because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves. In fact, it was Abraham Lincoln, the very first Republican, who took this on as a cause and a lot of it was based on a love in his heart that comes from God.

(Emphasis mine)

No, no, no!  A thousand times no.  You just can't make up shit like that as historical fact, and pollute the airwaves like that.

Of COURSE big government freed the slaves, you mouthbreathing moron!  Linclon's Emancipation Proclamation was nice, but it did not free a single slave.  Freedom from slavery came from the Thirteenth Amendment and in the form of a GIGANTIC FUCKING ARMY bringing the Southern states to its knees.  You can't get a bigger federal government than that.

Also, not for nothing, but "all men created equal" was in the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution.  And if you don't know that, that's fine.  But you shouldn't opine on stuff you know nothing about.

Monday, April 07, 2014

RIP Mickey Rooney

Unbelievably long career - peaked at 25.  People forget how really big he was at the time.  Bigger than Bieber.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Breaking: SCOTUS Makes The Money-In-Politics Problem Worse

Further loosening the reins on the role of money in politics, the U.S. Supreme Court today struck down restrictions on the grand total that any person can contribute to all federal candidates for office.

Today's decision left intact the cap of $2,600 per election that a contributor to give to any single candidate for federal office, but it invalidated the separate limit on how much can be contributed to all federal candidates put together — $48,600. 

The law was challenged by the Republican Party and an Alabama businessman, Shaun McCutcheon, who argued that the contribution ceilings were an unconstitutional restriction on his free expression.

"It's about freedom of speech and your right to spend your money on as many candidates as you choose. It's a basic freedom," McCutcheon said in bringing the challenge.

Supporters of what's known as the aggregate contribution limit said its purpose was to help prevent corruption. Without it, warned Fred Wertheimer, a longtime proponent of federal regulation of contributions, "you will establish a system of legalized bribery like we used to have before the Watergate scandals."

Under the aggregate limits, an individual could donate a maximum of $48,600 to all candidates for federal office plus another $74,600 to national political parties, state and local political parties, and political action committees — a grand contribution total of $123,200 per election.

House Speaker John Boehner hailed the decision, saying "freedom of speech is being upheld."

Go On Offense

Just a week ago, things looked bleak for Democrats and Obama for 2014. But then thePaul Ryan Vanity Project collided with 7 million new signups under the Affordable Care Act, and now the Democrats have the makings of a winning ticket for this year:

Go on offense.

One of Karl Rove’s basic tenets of politics was to attack from your area of weakness. In the same vein, Congressional Democrats and Barack Obama need to treat the next seven months as a sprint, an all-out attack campaign against their GOP opponents, day in and day out to push the GOP on defense for having no solutions except to throw millions off their health insurancehurt the vulnerable, and protect corporations and the wealthy. Democrats and the White House should aggressively push the ACA, attack the Ryan budget, and tar the GOP as whores for the Koch Brothers, end of story. Hammer the message every day without apology.

And watch these poll numbers go even higher. Go for broke and double down, instead of crawling into a hole.

ExxonMobile Can No Longer Deny It

Yes, human civilization is facing one of the greatest threats it has ever faced and no, we aren’t going to do anything about it. Or so says ExxonMobil in their latest report issued coincidentally on the same day as the latest IPCC report on the dangers of climate change. The report marks a rhetorical turning point of sorts where the fossil fuel industry accepts that climate change does pose significant risks.

Apparently ExxonMobil did not get the memo that climate change is a hoax as the world’s largest energy corporation acknowledged that the carbon being pumped into the atmosphere posed serious risks.

“We know enough based on the research and science that the risk (of climate change) is real and appropriate steps should be taken to address that risk,” Ken Cohen, Exxon’s government affairs chief, said in an interview. “But given the essential role that energy plays in everyone’s lives, those steps need to be taken in context with other realities we face, including lifting much of the world’s population out of poverty.”

97% of scientists might have a point. 

But before anyone starts celebrating a new enlightened fossil fuel industry, recognize this public acknowledgement of the danger does not translate into a commitment to reduce carbon emissions. In fact, ExxonMobil sees the climate change issue as part of a larger calculus that still favors their current business model. One that reasonable governments will be “highly unlikely” to mess with.

Exxon says that renewable energy sources are not now cheap enough nor technologically advanced enough to meet growing demand for energy, let alone also replace oil and gas. Governments therefore face a choice between restricting access to energy or raising the cost of energy significantly. In Exxon’s view, governments will chose to raise the cost of fossil fuels to encourage alternatives somewhat, but stop well short of enacting policies that will sharply curtail consumption, especially in developing countries, because populations would resist and social upheaval would result.

Now that is some impressive rhetorical jujitsu. Unlike Koch Industries which just lobs crazy people at Congress, ExxonMobil takes the warnings that climate change will cause social unrest and political instability and turns them on their head. Regulating carbon consumption, not climate change, becomes the real threat to social stability.  GO figure.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Head Explode

Christian conservatives are complaining about the new Russell Crowe action movie "Noah" because it does not accurately depict the real-life flood as written in the Bible.


By the way, has anyone answered the question as to where all the flood waters went?  I mean, the whole planet was covered in water -- higher than the highest mountain.  Where did all that water go?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Is Climate Change Real

Somebody went back and looked at all the articles about climate change in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

10,853 articles accepted that climate change is real and humans are the cause of it.

2 did not.

Graphically, that looks like this:

Can we stop the "debate" now?

The Hobby Lobby Case

Justice Anthony Kennedy, on whose vote the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS case rests, seems very concerned about the government forcing corporations to cover abortion:

WASHINGTON, DC — Justice Anthony Kennedy thinks gay people are fabulous. All three of the Supreme Court’s most important gay rights decisions were written by Justice Kennedy. So advocates for birth control had a simple task today: convince Kennedy that allowing religious employers to exempt themselves from a federal law expanding birth control access would lead to all kinds of horrible consequences in future cases — including potentially allowing religious business owners to discriminate against gay people.

Kennedy, however, also hates abortion. Although Kennedy cast the key vote in Planned Parenthood v. Casey upholding what he called the “essential holding of Roe v. Wade,” he’s left no doubt that he cast that vote very grudgingly. Casey significantly rolled back the constitutional right to choose an abortion. And Kennedy hasn’t cast a single pro-choice vote in an abortion case in the last 22 years.

So Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, the two companies claiming that they should be exempt from the birth control rules had an ace in their pocket as well. Their path to victory involved convincing Kennedy that their cases are really about abortion — and it looks like Kennedy convinced himself of that point on his own.

It was clear from the get go that the Court’s liberals understood that their best course involved highlighting the dangerous consequences of a victory for Hobby Lobby. Paul Clement, the de facto Solicitor General of the Republican Party who argued the case on Hobby Lobby’s behalf, barely uttered his first sentence before Justice Sonia Sotomayor cut him off to ask what other medical procedures religious employers could refuse to cover in their employee health plans. Justice Elena Kagan quickly joined the party. If Hobby Lobby can deny birth control coverage, Kagan asked, what about employers who object to vaccinations? Or blood transfusions?

When Clement tried to deflect this list, Kagan came armed with an even bigger what. What of religious employers who object to gender equality, or the minimum wage, or family medical leave, or child labor laws? If the Supreme Court agrees with Hobby Lobby’s brief, which argues that laws burdening a corporation’s purported religious faith must survive the “most demanding test known to constitutional law,” then there would be few laws corporations could not exempt themselves from following.

Clement’s argument time then took a number of detours, with the Court’s three women dominating the questioning. Justice Kagan pointed out that religious liberty cases have never applied the same strict constitutional rule applied in race cases. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wondered how the federal religious liberty law at issue in this case — the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) — could have passed almost unanimously if it lead to the deeply controversial results advocated by Clement. Justice Sotomayor wondered how it is possible for a corporation to exercise religion.
The justices also spent a good amount of time discussing whether Hobby Lobby faces any real burden at all, since they could always simply stop offering health benefits and pay a tax — a position first articulated in a blog post written by Professor Marty Lederman.

At the end of Clement’s first turn at the podium, Kennedy asked the question that will probably give most hope to Team Birth Control. What about the rights of employees who may be hurt by their employer’s decision not to follow the law? For the moment, it appeared that Kennedy was worried about the parade of horribles that could follow a decision for Hobby Lobby.

Indeed, not long after Solicitor General Don Verrilli took the podium to argue the government’s case, it appeared that he may ultimately emerge victorious. Clement spent much of his argument on his heels. The three women on the bench appeared quite confident in their questioning. Kennedy was silent for much of Verilli’s argument.

But then he made a statement that will likely doom the government’s case. “Your reasoning would permit” Congress to force corporations to pay for abortions, Kennedy told Verrilli. This was not the Anthony Kennedy that worried about conservatives imposing their anti-gay “animus” on others, this was the Anthony Kennedy that views abortion as a grave moral wrong. Shortly after Kennedy made this statement, Justice Kagan’s face dropped. It appeared that she’d just figured out that she would be joining a dissenting opinion.

It’s worth noting that Kennedy expressed a different concern than one offered shortly thereafter by Chief Justice John Roberts. Hobby Lobby objects to four forms of contraception on the mistaken ground that these contraceptive methods are actually forms of abortion — a brief filed by numerous medical organizations explains that they are not. Roberts, however, suggested that someone’s mere belief that something is an abortion is enough to trigger an religious exemption to federal law.

This is insane.

Suppose I had the "mere belief" -- religiously held -- that black people evolved from mud and white people were descendents of Adam and Eve, and had a rightful place in heaven and on Earth?  And in my place of employment?

Of course, you don't have to go that far.  No Muslim or Jewish employer gets to demand that their employees not get coverage for, say, illnesses resulting from eating pork. No Hindu employer gets to restrict health coverage for people who eat beef or were born to the wrong caste.  Why do Christians get a pass?

We have actually addressed this issue before, in 1990, in Employment Division, Oregon Department of Human Resources vs. Smith.  In that case,  Smith and Black were fired by a private drug rehabilitation organization because they ingested peyote, a hallucinogenic drug, for sacramental purposes at a ceremony of their Native American Church. Their applications for unemployment compensation were denied by the State of Oregon under a state law disqualifying employees discharged for work-related "misconduct."

That case involved the same question: what happens when one's religious belief runs up against a generally-applicable law?

And the answer was: Tough.  Here's what Scalia -- yes, Scalia -- wrote:

We have never held that an individual's religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate. On the contrary, the record of more than a century of our free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition. As described succinctly by Justice Frankfurter in Minersville School Dist. Bd. of Ed. v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586, 594 -595 (1940): "Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs. The mere possession of religious convictions which contradict the relevant concerns of a political society does not relieve the citizen from the discharge of political responsibilities (footnote omitted)." We first had occasion to assert that principle in Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145(1879), where we rejected the claim that criminal laws against polygamy could not be constitutionally applied to those whose religion commanded the practice. "Laws," we said, "are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices. . . . Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself." Id., at 166-167.

Emphasis mine.

There simply is no reason why abortion is entitled to some special category of religious exemption, where peyote and polygamy were not.

But it looks like this is where the Supreme Court is headed, and as Scalia notes, it will be throwing aside centuries of jurisprudence in doing so (Scalia is likely to be one of the justices contraditing himself).

Very sad.  And a very dangerous precedent.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

How To Talk About Rape In High School? Censorship.

Cardinal Columns is a student newspaper at Fond du Lac High School, in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  In last month's issue, a student wrote an article entitled "The Rape Joke", a thoughful article about the rape culture that percades high schools and youth.

You can read the article here.  And once you do, I hope you'll agree that the student should have received some honor.

But that's not what happened.  The Fond du Lac school board freaked out.  This was not a topic for students to write about, they said, and urged greater oversight of student publications.

Which, of course, is dumb.  Girls ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault, according to RAINN.  44% of sexual assault victims are under 18 years old.

So, no, I don't think high school students are too young to read about the subject.

The latest:

In response to the new layer of administrative control, students launched an online petition earlier this month asking Sebert to overturn the policy. The petition has garnered nearly 5,500 signatures and has gained national attention among free speech advocates.

“All the negative attention drawn to the Fond du Lac School District can be changed to a positive by the Board of Education returning the district to its previously defined policy before Superintendent James Sebert and Principal Jon Wiltzius aggressively suppressed students with prior review,” said Sandy Jacoby, state director of the Journalism Education Association and president of the Kettle Moraine Press Association, an organization dedicated to the support of scholastic journalism in Wisconsin schools.

Without the intervention of the Board, Jacoby believes that student journalists may self-censor as they struggle to gain approval from (administration).

“If our children cannot learn the practice of responsible press at Fond du Lac High School, then where? If our children cannot learn to grapple with the most challenging issues faced by their generation under the guidance of intelligent and experienced advisers like Matthew Smith, then where?” Jacoby asked. “If our children cannot provoke thought, encourage discussion, arouse public concern and action among teenage peers and parents through the school paper, then where?”

School board reaction

School board member Eric Everson said he wasn’t surprised by the widespread attention the article has received in the media.

“This type of thing garners big news because you have a very active and involved minority of people who are very sensitive to the word censorship,” Everson said. “We’re not dealing with censorship, we’re dealing with adult oversight.”

Kumar said the widespread support of The Rape Joke article has received from media outlets and First Amendment advocates has been encouraging.

“The school board has to realize how many people care about this issue,” Kumar said. “The whole school has been truly brought together behind this cause. (Administration and the school board) just can’t ignore it.”

School board member Mark Jurgella doesn’t believe the new guidelines will be used to censor future student work.

“I’m pretty comfortable that there will be little to no change in what students’ work product will end up looking like,” Jurgella said. “I do hope, however, if we need to have dialogue (with students) we’ll have it and clarify both sides’ point of view on this issue.”

Incredible opportunity

Sex assault survivor Dr. Anna Nelson said Kumar’s article was especially appropriate for a high school audience.

“(Administration) is concerned that students might be too immature for the subject matter; you’re not too immature to learn about rape. One of the girls interviewed was assaulted when she was 5!” Nelson said. “Perpetrators need to know what rape is also. They need to know that once someone says no, that’s it.”

In her work as a public prosecutor, former state Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager says she has worked with many victims of sexual assault, and believes Kumar’s article was an “incredible opportunity to have a conversation about something impacting the lives of the students at Fond du Lac High School.”

“A commonality among sex assault victims is their fear of speaking out. Ms. Kumar was able to articulate for them on their behalf the horrors of what happened to them,” Lautenschlager said, referring to the three female sex assault victims in Kumar’s story. “And then some days later Ms. Kumar finds out that she (and her fellow writers might occasionally) be silenced because somehow her speaking out on behalf of these victims was inappropriate for school conversation.”

Back into the shadows

Kumor fears that the stepped up policy may silence a reticent victim back into the shadows.

“It took a lot for these three girls to speak up about something truly awful that happened to them. I don’t want them to think that the administration is administering this policy to shame them back into their silence,” Kumar said. “I want them to know they have a voice no matter what happens with this issue.”

Fellow Cardinal Column staffer Austin Klewicki says the new guidelines have caused student writers to question future topics.

“We’re not sure what they’ll choose to censor. But we’re committed to putting out hard-hitting stories that deal with issues important to students like depression and suicide. Our stories raise awareness among students so they can reach out for help,” Klewicki said. “Right now we’re fighting for the younger generations coming up behind us. If (the administration) stops us, they stop them.”


"Justified Shooting"

That's what the chief of police in Albequerque, NM calls this.

There is a verbal confrontation between James Boyd, 38, a homeless and mentally disturbed man camping out in the mountains of New Mexico... and the armed police with attack dogs.

But eventually, Boyd agrees to gather his stuff and go.  He does not make a move to the officers.

And then the police shoot and kill him.  Read the full story here, but mostly, watch the video:



It Took A Spill, But NC Voters Finally Came Around

Good news:

The Sierra Club on Tuesday released the results of a poll it commissioned from Hart Research Associates that shows broad bipartisan support for regulation of coal ash among voters in North Carolina.

Hart polled 600 North Carolina voters earlier this month, and found that 83 percent of respondents want coal ash regulated as a hazardous substance and 90 percent think that Duke should clean up all coal ash sites in the state. Seventy percent of those polled thought Duke Energy was at least mostly at fault for the Dan River spill and 57 percent think that stronger regulations could have prevented the spill.

Voters also indicated that they were prepared to let politicians know where they stand on this issue at the ballot box with 70 percent of respondents saying they would be more likely to support a candidate who “favors strong regulations and enforcement…to prevent future spills.” Just 17 percent of voters would be more likely to support a candidate who says that having more regulations and enforcement will hurt jobs and the state’s economy.

“You can throw the coal industry’s conventional wisdom out the window,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, in a release. “As we saw in West Virginia, this North Carolina coal spill has been a wake up call for voters about the need to protect our water from toxic coal pollution. This poll is yet another indication that Republicans, Democrats, and Independents in coal states want leaders who will stand up to big coal companies and enact common-sense initiatives to protect our air, our water, and our families from toxic coal ash and pollution.”

Apparently There's Still A Debate About This?

Give it up, science deniers.  You don't get equal time:

Sunday's episode of Cosmos was all about evolution. It closely followed the rhetorical strategy of Charles Darwin's world-changing 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, beginning with an example of "artificial selection" by breeders (Darwin used pigeons, Cosmos used domestic dogs) to get us ready to appreciate the far vaster power of natural selection. It employed Darwin's favorite metaphor: the "tree of life," an analogy that helps us see how all organisms are living on different branches of the same hereditary tree. In the episode, Tyson also refuted one of the creationist's favorite canards: the idea that complex organs, like the eye, could not have been produced through evolution.

Over at the pro-"intelligent design" Discovery Institute, they're not happy. Senior fellow David Klinghoffer writes that the latest Cosmos episode "[extrapolated] shamelessly, promiscuously from artificial selection (dogs from wolves) to minor stuff like the color of a polar bear's fur to the development of the human eye." In a much more elaborate attempted takedown, meanwhile, the institute's Casey Luskin accuses Tyson and Cosmos of engaging in "attempts to persuade people of both evolutionary scientific views and larger materialistic evolutionary beliefs, not just by the force of the evidence, but by rhetoric and emotion, and especially by leaving out important contrary arguments and evidence." Luskin goes on to contend that there is something wrong with the idea of the "tree of life." 
Tell that to the scientists involved in the Open Tree of Life project, which plans to produce "the first online, comprehensive first-draft tree of all 1.8 million named species, accessible to both the public and scientific communities." Precisely how to reconstruct every last evolutionary relationship may still be an open scientific question, but the idea of common ancestry, the core of evolution (represented conceptually by a tree of life), is not.

Happy 30th Birthday, Breakfast Club

The film didn't come out 30 years ago today; it took place thirty years ago today.


Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Why Russia Is Showing Its Teeth: The Right Wing Analysis

Q: Why are Putin and Russia showing their teeth in the Ukraine?

Sarah Palin:  Because Putin wrestles alligators, while Obama wears mom jeans.  *Giggle* *Snort*

Q:  Uh, thanks.  But seriously, why are Putin and Russia showing their teeth in the Ukraine?

Lindsey Graham:  Because...... Benghazi!!!

Thanks for that helpful analysis.

Now go away.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Not Dead

Yes, I haven't posted in a loooooong time, and it's very frustrating because some interesting stuff has been going down (the excuse is work -- I'm covering for a sick co-worker and it has been time-consuming).

The MOST interesting story, as far as I am concerned, came from Arizona and SB1062, the "religious freedom" pro-bigotry bill which would permit businesses to discriminate against homosexuals for "religious" reasons.  Issues of religious freedom have been cropping up lately everywhere -- see, for example, the debate about Catholic hospitals not providing insurance which includes birth control -- but SB 1062 was a fantastic example of the rubber meeting the road.  It was brazen in its attempt to codify discrimination -- bigotry, to be exact -- in the name of religious freedom.

Arizona governnor Jan Brewer last night vetoed the bill.  Sadly, she didn't do it because it was morally repugnant.  She did it because of pressures from the business community.  The NFL was considering moving the Supre Bowl from Arizona.  Major League Baseball weighed in.  As did Intel and other large corporations.  Even companies that didn't reside in Arizona threatened to move their corporate get-away conventions from that state.  Suddenly, when it came to massive loss of business revenue, "religious freedom" didn't seem so important.

And Arizona's reputation had been further damaged.

Sadly, this is not over.  Georgia is looking to pass the same law.



Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Nye-Ham Debate

So there was a debate between Bill Nye vs Ken Ham (founder of the Creationist Museum) last night on the subject of evolution vs. creationism.  It was fascinating to watch.  One of my key takeaways was that Ham actually admitted that evolution takes place.  He says it explains the varieties of "kinds" of animals.  Rather than say that Noah took thousands of kinds of cats on his ark 4000 years ago, he says that Noah took one pair of cats, and from those two cats, we get all the various cats (lions, tigers, pumas, domestic cats) today.

That's a startling admission, if only because it makes evolution work at a much faster pace than Darwin (or any other scientist) claims.

Now, obviously I am in the pro-Nye pro-evolution camp, because I think.  But even then, I was surprised at how BAD the arguments were for the creationism side.  They weren't scientific at all.  He admitted as much.  But I'll farm out the rest of my review:

When I first heard this debate was going to happen, I couldn’t wait.  I never thought as a child that somehow “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” who I watched on Saturday mornings, would one day become a leading figure in the political battle of science vs. delusion.

Keep in mind that I am a Christian, so I don’t discount everything in the Bible.  Though I’ve made it clear that I don’t put a whole lot of stock in the Bible as it’s obvious (to me at least) that much of it has been rewritten – and poorly translated – over centuries.

The dawn of the tea party brought about the attempted hijacking of the GOP by radicals, and science that had never really been up for debate previously (besides between people who were borderline insane) because it had always been accepted as scientific fact,  suddenly became a “debatable topic.”

Not because the science changed, but because insane people were suddenly given a voice in mainstream politics thanks to the tea party.

All of a sudden these people began pushing the ridiculous idea that climate change was a “global hoax” perpetrated by over 95% of the world’s scientists and that evolution didn’t belong in the classroom.  And if we were going to teach evolution in the classroom, creationism should be taught along side of it as another “scientific theory.”

Except, there’s just one problem with that.  Creationism isn’t a scientific theory! 

Which is what led to this debate.  Over the last several years, Bill Nye has been quite public with his assertion that it’s insane how certain people want faith-based beliefs to be taught alongside proven science in our schools.

Well, Nye wasted no time in asserting that he would make Mr. Ham look like a fool this entire night.

Going into this night, I had imagined giving specific quotes and a detailed examination of what I had just seen.  However, it didn’t take me long before I realized that wouldn’t be necessary.

Honestly, a quick summation of what I saw is enough to properly convey just how badly Mr. Nye embarrassed Mr. Ham.

There were questions, rebuttals, long presentations and scientific facts (well, from Nye anyway) that would make most of our heads spin.

There was talk of radiometric dating, bedrock layers, tree rings, the expansion of the universe, evolutionary patterns of animals, technological advancements of ships, common sense and all sorts of scientific data which has been proven by some of best and brightest over many years.

Then there was Mr. Ham’s argument.  Which I will summarize:

“Well, there’s a book which tells me…”

No, I’m not kidding.  That was honestly his answer for most questions.  Because the Bible says something, that makes it fact.  Because a book that’s been translated over centuries says something, that proves it to be fact. 

I’m really not lying, that was his answer to most questions.

Oh, that and, “Well, because we can’t see the earth billions of years ago – how do we know?”   Then Mr. Ham’s “proof” being not that he can prove what’s in the Bible in any way – just that it’s in the Bible.

Seriously, that’s what he used as “proof” for most of his argument, “Because the Bible says.”

Bill Nye used facts, logic, science, data, research and common sense while Ken Ham countered these arguments with, “Well, the Bible says…”

I seriously started laughing during parts of this.

But my favorite part came during the question and answer section when someone submitted a question for Mr. Ham asking if he took all parts of the Bible literally (citing a part about touching pig skin or having multiple wives).  That’s when Mr. Ham proved himself to be an absolute hypocrite.

While the whole night he confidently spoke about the earth being 6,000 years old because that’s what the Bible says, or all these specific things in the Bible which should be taken for their literal word, yet during this part he stumbled over what is or isn’t taken from natural parts.

Essentially saying, well – I guess you can’t take every word of the Bible literally because it doesn’t make sense.

Because as most of us know, the Bible is full of passages that give men the right to stone their wives and all sorts of other heinous acts that in a modern society would seem barbaric.

It was quite comical to see Mr. Ham suddenly start to “subjectively” interpret the Bible when it came to some of the more controversial aspects of what’s written inside.

This entire night showcased that Bill Nye (over and over again) proved with science that there’s evidence to support theories and beliefs of the scientific community based on quantitative data collected by some of the best and brightest this world has ever seen.

While Mr. Ham’s answers basically consisted of two things:

  • Well, we didn’t see the world during that time so how do we know?
  • The Bible says…

And that’s about it.  No proof, no evidence – just another guy reading the Bible trying to claim that as “scientific evidence.”

So, in this debate of Science vs. Creationism, science not only won – it wasn’t even close.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Bi-Culturalism and the Right

It was just last week when RNC chairman Reince Priebus threw a huge fit of fake outrage and got MSNBC president Phil Griffin to apologize and fire a staffer who tweeted "maybe the rightwing will hate it" about that new Cheerios ad with a biracial family. How dare MSNBC imply that the right wing doesn't support bi-culturalism, screamed the wounded right wing.

Flash forward to the Super Bowl, and guess what happens?

The right wing flew into frenzy of racism and nativism about a different Super Bowl ad -- the Coca-Cola ad featuring a multi-racial cast singing "America the Beautiful" in many different languages:

The multilingual aspect of the ad drew fire from former Republican Congressman Allen West, who wrote a blog post saying, "If we cannot be proud enough as a country to sing "American the Beautiful" in English in a commercial during the Super Bowl, by a company as American as they come -- doggone we are on the road to perdition."

Conservative columnist and Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes tweeted his dislike of the ad, writing, "So was Coca-Cola saying America is beautiful because new immigrants don't learn to speak English?"

For awhile, the hashtag #BoycottCoke trended on Twitter, with some calling for a boycott of the soft drink for daring to desecrate the national anthem by using foreign languages. (It should be pointed out for anyone confused on the matter, that America's actual national anthem is "The Star-Spangled Banner.")


And there are gay people in it, too!  (Never mind the fact that America the Beautiful's lyrics were written by a gay woman).

Paul Whitefield atThe Los Angeles Times had the best response:

Frankly, I’m getting more than a little tired of hearing from angry America. I’m also less than fond of knee-jerk America. And when you combine the two with the Internet, you too often get stupid America, which is really annoying.

Face facts, folks: A lot of people came here not speaking English. We like to think that they all quickly learned it. Some did; many didn’t. But, their kids did. And their kids speak English; many probably couldn’t speak the grandparents’ native language if they wanted to.

So get a grip: We’re not being overrun by hordes of Spanish speakers. Just like always, we’re growing a new crop of Americans. They are enriching the country. They are working hard, paying taxes. And they will create future Nobel Prize winners and future presidents and future titans of industry.

In short, they will make America beautiful.

Monday, February 03, 2014

RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead on Sunday in his Manhattan apartment. He was 46.

Hoffman was steeped in his profession — in film, on stage, in the spotlight and behind the scenes.

In 2005, he won the Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of Truman Capote. The movie focuses on Capote's interviews with two murderers on death row for his novel, In Cold Blood.

He was, to me, the greatest charactor actor of all time.  Astounding performances in Truman and Doubt.  I saw him off Broadway in 2007 in Jack Goes Boating, and even then - a memorable performance.

A big loss to both stage and screen.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Aide Blows Christie Scandal Wide Open

A major bombshell has just dropped in the Bridgegate scandal. David Wildstein, Governor Chris Christie’s appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, has publicly claimed that Governor Christie knew about the improper and illegal lane closures on the George Washington Bridge.

In a letter Wildstein not only relays that Governor Christie knew about the lane closures – which is in direct contradiction to what Christie said in his marathon press conference – but that Wildstein has evidence to back up the charge.

In a letter released by his lawyer, the official, David Wildstein, a high school friend of Mr. Christie’s who was appointed with the governor’s blessing at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the bridge, described the order to close the lanes as “the Christie administration’s order” and said “evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference” three weeks ago.

If true, that fact would not only undermine Governor Christie’s political future but possibly subject Christie to impeachment proceedings if not criminal prosecution.

Wildstein, through his attorney, has already expressed interest in an immunity deal with various law enforcement agencies. He seems quite willing, perhaps even desperate, to talk to authorities under the condition he not be prosecuted for his involvement in Bridgegate. Wildstein has already been implicated by various officials in the scandal and emails he provided to a New Jersey Assembly Committee proved further involvement both by Wildstein and Governor Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, in the lane closures.

It could be a he-said, he-said deal at the end of the day.  Unless he does have hard evidence.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

State of the Union 2014

I thought Obama's speech was wonderful.  It wasn't very ambitious, but the tone was amazing.  It was nationalistic and populistic, and very non-partisan.  The non-partisan nature of it was clearly disappointing to the Fox News people, who clearly were hoping to engage in post-speech whining and victimhood.  Obama simply said, "Here are the problems; here's what I can do as President; I hope Congress will join me."  

The thing was, Obama didn't need to bash Republicans to make them look bad.  All he had to do was say "Women deserve to be paid the same as men for the same work" and then have all the Republicans sit on their hands while everyone else stood and applauded.  They made themselves look bad, again and again.

The best commentary I've read so far comes from the New York Times contributing writer, Timothy Egan:

The least productive Congress in nearly half a century has rarely looked more out-of-sorts than during the speech that put its members on notice for their irrelevance. That, essentially, was the triumph of the rhetorical trick President Obama employed in his fifth State of the Union address.

The president’s wish list — a rise in the minimum wage, healthcare that doesn’t dump sick people, resolve to do something over the basic fact of climate change and the scourge of income inequality — is backed in poll after poll by a majority of Americans. What stands in the way of doing something about these issues are the people who sat on their hands Tuesday night in that chamber.

For some time now, the Republican House has made it clear that they have no intention of governing. They shut down the government for 16 days, in case you didn’t get the point. And on Tuesday, they seemed more interested in having their pictures taken with the “Duck Dynasty” guy than finding middle ground with the American majority. For freak value on the fringe, Representative Randy Weber, Republican of Texas, tweeted just before the speech: “Waiting for the Kommandant-in-Chef [sic]” and the “Socialist dictator who been feeding US a line.”

Need more proof? Two-thirds of Americans rated this Congress the worst in their lifetime, in a recent CNN poll. And 81 percent disapproved of them in the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey.

What Obama did in his speech, in outlining a unilateral map for the sixth year of his presidency, was to finally join the majority of citizens in dismissing the lawmakers who will not do their bidding. On raising the minimum wage, Obama framed it as a simple measure to keep out of poverty the people “who cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes.”

In one of the speech highlights, he urged Republicans to “join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give Americans a raise.” That was the Democratic campaign slogan going into the midterms, birthed in the den of the opposition.

Having marginalized a branch of government that is already on the wrong side of popular sentiment, Obama now takes his bully pulpit on the road, to Nashville and Milwaukee and other stops. But if he really hopes to have a lasting impact — “I really want to make a difference,” he told The New Yorker — he has to do more than staged road stopovers. If he’s truly going to take his case to the people, he has to spend more time with the people. For starters, he could treat the West Coast, a big part of his base, as something more than a fundraising fount.

It’s certainly heartening to hear Obama, in full-throated defiance that is rare for him, proclaim, “America will not stand still — and neither will I.” But executive orders can only go so far. He needs the majority of the people back with him in order to govern around the say-no, do-nothing Congress. This speech was a muscular start — one of the better efforts by a man whose orator skills were missing for most of the last year.

Noticeably missing from the speech was any reference to NSA reform, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement -- both of which are of tremendous concern to the left base.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Thinking Of Pete

A piece of Pete Seeger's congressional testimony before the House Unamerican Activities Committee in 1955:

MR. TAVENNER: The Committee has information obtained in part from the Daily Worker indicating that, over a period of time, especially since December of 1945, you took part in numerous entertainment features. I have before me a photostatic copy of the June 20, 1947, issue of the Daily Worker. In a column entitled "What's On" appears this advertisement: "Tonight-Bronx, hear Peter Seeger and his guitar, at Allerton Section housewarming." May I ask you whether or not the Allerton Section was a section of the Communist Party?

MR. SEEGER: Sir, I refuse to answer that question whether it was a quote from the New York Times or the Vegetarian Journal.

MR. TAVENNER: I don't believe there is any more authoritative document in regard to the Communist Party than its official organ, the Daily Worker.

MR. SCHERER: He hasn't answered the question, and he merely said he wouldn't answer whether the article appeared in the New York Times or some other magazine. I ask you to direct the witness to answer the question.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer.

MR. SEEGER: Sir, the whole line of questioning-

CHAIRMAN WALTER: You have only been asked one question, so far.

MR. SEEGER: I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this. I would be very glad to tell you my life if you want to hear of it.

MR. TAVENNER: Has the witness declined to answer this specific question?

CHAIRMAN WALTER: He said that he is not going to answer any questions, any names or things.

MR. SCHERER: He was directed to answer the question.

MR. TAVENNER: I have before me a photostatic copy of the April 30, 1948, issue of the Daily Worker which carries under the same title of "What's On," an advertisement of a "May Day Rally: For Peace, Security and Democracy." The advertisement states: "Are you in a fighting mood? Then attend the May Day rally." Expert speakers are stated to be slated for the program, and then follows a statement, "Entertainment by Pete Seeger." At the bottom appears this: "Auspices Essex County Communist Party," and at the top, "Tonight, Newark, N.J." Did you lend your talent to the Essex County Communist Party on the occasion indicated by this article from the Daily Worker?

MR. SEEGER: Mr. Walter, I believe I have already answered this question, and the same answer.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: The same answer. In other words, you mean that you decline to answer because of the reasons stated before?

MR. SEEGER: I gave my answer, sir.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: What is your answer?

MR. SEEGER: You see, sir, I feel-

CHAIRMAN WALTER: What is your answer?

MR. SEEGER: I will tell you what my answer is.

(Witness consulted with counsel [Paul L. Ross].)

I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature and I resent very much and very deeply the implication of being called before this Committee that in some way because my opinions may be different from yours, or yours, Mr. Willis, or yours, Mr. Scherer, that I am any less of an American than anybody else. I love my country very deeply, sir.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Why don't you make a little contribution toward preserving its institutions?

MR. SEEGER: I feel that my whole life is a contribution. That is why I would like to tell you about it.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I don't want to hear about it.

MR. SCHERER: I think that there must be a direction to answer.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer that question.

MR. SEEGER: I have already given you my answer, sir.

MR. SCHERER: Let me understand. You are not relying on the Fifth Amendment, are you?

MR. SEEGER: No, sir, although I do not want to in any way discredit or depreciate or depredate the witnesses that have used the Fifth Amendment, and I simply feel it is improper for this committee to ask such questions.

MR. SCHERER: And then in answering the rest of the questions, or in refusing to answer the rest of the questions, I understand that you are not relying on the Fifth Amendment as a basis for your refusal to answer?

MR. SEEGER: No, I am not, sir.

Seeger was held in contempt for this testimony and sentenced to one year in jail. He finally won on appeal after years of legal wrangling.

RIP Pete Seeger

A name that has been appearing in my dead pool the past few years (although not in my "select" list this year).  He was 94.

I grew up with Pete Seeger.  He may have been the first singer I could identify.  A good old-fashioned "red", he was the father of folk music, inspiring everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Peter, Paul & Mary.  I had the fortune of knowing his half-sister, Peggy, a little bit, who wrote and recorded this tribute to her half-brother noly a few months ago:


The Guardian's tribute:

On the first Friday of the month, in fine weather and sometimes foul, you will find Pete Seeger, the folk-singing legend and pioneering environmentalist, in a small wooden clubhouse by the Hudson river, 70 miles north of Manhattan.

At 87, and only slightly stooped by age, he looks much as he did 40 years ago, when he was the voice of the left, and an inspiration to young folk singers like Bob Dylan. Here at his beloved Beacon Sloop Club, in jeans and with shirt sleeves rolled up, he is still the driving force for a weekly dinner that draws a few dozen similarly conscientious folk at the river's edge.

"The town gave us use of the building 45 years ago," recalls Seeger. "My wife suggested we call it a pot-luck dinner and we've been busy ever since."

Seeger has won many awards, including the National Medal for the Arts, but his main concern these days is teaching children about the natural life of the Hudson. Ecology is so much his passion that sometimes he likes to be called a river singer. Indeed, along with raising anti-war consciousness in the 1960s, he played a key role in the movement to clean up the Hudson, which forced General Electric to pay half a billion dollars for the removal of toxic substances.

"I still call myself a failed communist," says Seeger, preparing the club's stage for a late afternoon sing-song. And it's true that his most famous compositions, Where Have All the Flowers Gone? (adapted from an old Russian song about Cossacks going off to war) and Turn, Turn, Turn (a big hit for the Byrds) don't sound as revolutionary as they did.

Seeger's banjo once sported the message: "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender" (an echo of the message on Woody Guthrie's guitar: "This machine kills fascists"). The anti-fascist, union anthems he sang with Guthrie and later with his own band, the Weavers, placed him at the forefront of the action. He was targeted as a communist sympathiser in the 1950s (he was called before the McCarthy hearings after being warned that If I Had a Hammer would go down badly with the authorities, found guilty of contempt of Congress and sentenced to a year in prison). During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, he led a crowd, with Martin Luther King, in a rendition of We Shall Overcome.

Nowadays, Seeger doesn't play before large audiences, partly because he fears his voice is no longer strong enough. But he'll spend hours in the club, mischievously giving out bumper stickers reading "Gravity - it's just a theory" and encouraging people to send them to anyone in Kansas, heartland of the anti-Darwinism, creationist movement. He'll sing along at the club and tell stories for hours - but his best story is his own.

Born in 1919, and immersed in music by his teacher parents, Seeger got his big break in 1940. His parents were helping famous folk team John and Alan Lomax to transcribe songs recorded in the south. Woody Guthrie was persuaded to come to Washington to record them and Seeger accompanied him in the studio. The results were eventually published as a book: Hard Hitting Songs for Hard Hit People. "I went out west with Woody," says Seeger. "He taught me how to sing in saloons, how to hitch-hike, how to ride freight trains. Then I went out on my own."

Guthrie, he says, taught him how to busk. "He'd say put the banjo on your back, go into a bar and buy a nickel beer and sip it as slow as you can. Sooner or later, someone will say, 'Kid, can you play that thing?' Don't be too eager, just say, 'Maybe, a little.' Keep on sipping beer. Sooner or later, someone will say, 'Kid, I've got a quarter for you if you pick us a tune.' Then you play your best song." With that advice, Seeger supported himself on his travels.

Last year, Bruce Springsteen - a friend since the 1990s - released an album of songs Seeger had performed over the years. We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions put Seeger back in the spotlight. "I wish he hadn't used my name," says Seeger. "I've managed to survive all these years by keeping a low profile. Now my cover's blown. If I had known, I'd have asked him to mention my name somewhere inside."

While he likes Springsteen's renditions ("They're not my songs, they're old songs, I just happened to sing 'em,"), he says the renewed attention has added to the admin work that falls to his wife of more than 60 years, Toshi. "Most men chain their wives to a sink. Mine is chained to a table covered with correspondence. 'Oh, Mr Seeger, won't you listen to my record? Read my book, come over here and accept this award ...'" He refuses almost all such requests.

The business of the mighty river comes first nowadays. He's the enduring, seemingly ageless, folk-singing socialist-ecologist, and a fervent believer in thinking globally and acting locally. And down by the river, after the monthly pot-luck dinner, there's always time to take out the old five-string banjo and sing a song. "The real revolution will come when people realise the danger we're in," he offers in parting. "I'm not as optimistic as people think I am. I think we have a 50-50 chance of there being a human race in 100 years".

This is Pete Seeger singing an anti-Vietnam song on The Smothers Brothers Hour, which landed him and his hosts in hot water.  It was one of the first songs I ever learned to sing (not knowing at the time what it meant).


Monday, January 27, 2014

"I'm going to be very blunt: the Left tries to win the women's vote by talking from the waist down"


I think the record is pretty clear that the Left is responding to the GOP's obsession with a woman's uterus, from forced mammograms to banning abortions to not including contraception as something health insurance should cover.  Honestly, I think women would prefer not having their "below the waist" being politicized, but as long as the GOP wants to treat women like chattel, I'm afraid women (and progressives) are going to speak up.

Newsflash: Having A Problem With The 1 Percenters Makes You A Nazi

Venture capitalist Tom Perkins compared liberals' push to reduce inequality in the United States to Nazi Germany's war on Jews.

In a letter to the editor published in The Wall Street Journal Perkins, a founding member of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, asks whether a "progressive Kristallnacht" is coming. Perkins's letter is in response to an editorial on speech codes at American colleges.

"Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its "one percent," namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the "rich," Perkins wrote in the letter to the editor.

He continued that he perceives "a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them."

Perkins cites outrage over real-estate prices as an example of overblown liberal outrage.

"This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent "progressive" radicalism unthinkable now?" Perkins concluded in the letter.

Perkins is listed as a partner emeritus on the Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers website.

Here's the full letter to the editor:

Regarding your editorial "Censors on Campus" (Jan. 18): Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its "one percent," namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the "rich."

From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these "techno geeks" can pay. We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a "snob" despite the millions she has spent on our city's homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.

This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent "progressive" radicalism unthinkable now?

Tom Perkins

San Francisco

Mr. Perkins is a founder of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Yes, proposals to tax the richest one percent at a rate closer to what they were paying under Ronald Reagan or to charge giant tech companies a small fee for using city bus stops for their private shuttles.... that's JUST like the Nazis. Except they're not. Really, not even close.

The biggest historical difference of course, is that the Jews in pre-war Germany -- even the most wealthy ones -- did not have any political power whatsoever which would ensure that their riches were safe, or grew exponentially.  Can that be said of the 1 percenters?  I think not.

Nice try at victimhood though.  I'm sure we won't see the last of it.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Virginia Upheaval on Gay Marriage Issue

Virginia, like many southern and midwest states, had passed a ban on same-sex marriage.  As in most states that have passed such a ban, there are legal challenges.  As we know in Oklahoma, a challenge to the ban recently succeeded, and a judge ruled that a ban on same-sex marriage is unconstititional (of course, that decision is being appealed).

But something interesting happened in Virginia today.  The Attorney General of Virginia weighed in, and submitted a brief stating that Virginia's own law -- the statute banning gay marriage -- is unconstitutional:

 Following a seismic political shift in Virginia, the new attorney general has concluded that the state's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, and on Thursday he joined a lawsuit challenging it.

Attorney General Mark R. Herring says in a brief filed in federal court in Norfolk that marriage is a fundamental right and the ban is discriminatory.

Virginia, widely considered a battleground state in the nationwide fight to grant same-sex couples the right to wed, is siding with the plaintiffs who are seeking to have the ban struck down, a spokesman for Attorney General Mark Herring said in an email to The Associated Press.

"After a thorough legal review of the matter, Attorney General Herring has concluded that Virginia's current ban is in violation of the U.S. constitution and he will not defend it," spokesman Michael Kelly wrote.

Herring is a Democrat who campaigned in part on marriage equality. The state's shift comes on the heels of court rulings in which federal judges struck down gay marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma.

Yes, Virginia -- elections have consxequences.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Obscene Income Inequality is Obscene

Just 1 percent of the world's population controls nearly half of the planet's wealth, according to anew study published by Oxfam ahead of the World Economic Forum's annual meeting.

The study says this tiny slice of humanity controls $110 trillion, or 65 times the total wealth of the poorest 3.5 billion people.

Other key findings in the report:

— The world's 85 richest people own as much as the poorest 50 percent of humanity.

— 70 percent of the world's people live in a country where income inequality has increased in the past three decades.

— In the U.S., where the gap between rich and poor has grown at a faster rate than any other developed country, the top 1 percent captured 95 percent of post-recession growth (since 2009), while 90 percent of Americans became poorer.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Then And Now

53 years ago today, an outgoing President Eisenhower said:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

He went on:

“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

That was the famous military-industrial complex speech, and how it posed a potential threat to democracy.

Below the fold is Obama's speech today, about how national security measures pose a threat to democracy, and some of the changes needed to ensure privacy.

Continue reading "Then And Now" »

Thursday, January 16, 2014


I was willing to give Governor Christie the benefit of the doubt that it was a rogue staffer who was responsible for the closing of lanes on the GW bridge on 9/11/13, and that he (and the rest of his staff) knew nothing about it.

But a photo published earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal along with new revelations found by analyzing documents disclosed by the New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee invalidate some of Governor Chris Christie’s central assertions that he made in his marathon two hour press conference on improper and possibly illegal lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. Those assertions being that his remaining staff was unaware of the event until after it happened and the claim that Christie did not know David Wildstein that well and could “count on one hand” the amount of time they saw each other.

Photos published by the Wall Street Journal show Chris Christie and David Wildstein (in red tie) together on 9/11 when the lane closures were occurring as well as an earlier event in June. Both photos show Governor Christie and Wildstein speaking with one another.  Here's one:


Emails that were released by the New Jersey Assembly Committee investigating the GW bridge scandal prove members of Christie’s staff, including members of his senior staff, were receiving emails during the lane closures which contradicts Christie’s claim that his staff were ignorant until after the closures had ended.


I'm still willing to give Christie the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe more of his staffers knew about it, and Christie didn't know.  Maybe it is just a coincidence that he happened  to be with David Wildstein that day, even though Christie says he rarely sees him.

But it isn't looking good for the Governor.

Normally, this is just another scandal involving power-mongering, but I believe this has national implcations.  Christiie, in my view, was the only one who had a chance of beating Hillary Clinton in the 2016 elections.  Now... who knows?  Unless this blows over quickly, or the public has a short memory, or Christie catches a baby falling from a burning building, I would say that the White House is Hillary's in 2016.  Because of Bridgegate.

Calling It Quits

Jimmy LaSalvia co-founded political action group GOProud to prove to America that the Republican Party is a safe home for gay conservatives. But he no longer believes his own arguments. On Monday, he announced on his blog that he could no longer take his own party’s refusal to stand up to bigotry: he was leaving the Republican Party and had registered as an Independent. “I am every bit as conservative as I’ve always been, but I just can’t bring myself to carry the Republican label any longer,” he wrote.

His condemnation of the GOP was even stronger when he explained his decision to TIME on Wednesday. The Republican brand, he says, is so tarnished that he no longer believes it is salvageable. “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to pull the plug on the patient. It’s been brain-dead for a long, long time.”

He adds:

I spent my career working to create an atmosphere in the conservative movement where gay conservatives can be open and honest and live their lives and work within the conservative movement. I wanted it to be a place where straight conservatives could publicly support gay Americans and even eventually come to support civil marriage for gay couples.  I feel like I have accomplished that. I had hoped that would be enough to melt the anti-gay bigotry that runs through the ranks of some in the Republican Party. I’ve come to realize that it is not, and that the leadership of the party tolerates bigotry, not just antigay bigotry, but anti-Muslim, any people who are not like us it seems like, because they are afraid of losing that sliver of their base who are anti-gay. And the truth is they are turning off millions more Americans by kowtowing to a group that frankly is losing and who most Americans think are wrong.

I could have told him it wouldn't make a difference.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Coming South

Oklahoma court rules that a ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.  There's an appeal though.

Didn't See This Coming?

West Virginia'ss image as caring more about corporations than people is really being bolstered this week.

West Virginia emergency planners never put together any strategy for dealing with spills of a toxic chemical from the Freedom Industries’ tank farm, despite the facility’s location just 1.5 miles upstream from a drinking water intake serving 300,000 people, officials acknowledged this morning.

Local emergency official likewise didn’t act to prepare for such an incident, even though they had been warned for years about storage of toxic chemicals so close to the West Virginia American Water plant serving the Kanawha Valley and surrounding region.

“That’s just something that’s kind of fallen by the wayside,” said Larry Zuspan, administrator of the Kanawha-Putnam Emergency Planning Committee.

They had other priorities than health and safety I guess.

Freedom Industries’ tanks don’t fall under an inspection program, and the chemicals stored at the facility weren’t considered hazardous enough to require environmental permitting.



Friday, January 10, 2014

Bad Day For West Virginians

Although... the West Virginian who I'm thinking of is named Pat McGeehan.  Pat McGeehan is a 34 year old "constitutional conservative" running for U.S. Senate in 2014.  From his campaign website:

Pat McGeehan is a strong proponent for constitutional government. Since returning to West Virginia from active duty military service, he has traveled across the state in order to spread the message of America’s Founding Fathers. Pat demonstrated his principles after being elected in 2008 to represent the heavily Democratic House District 1, as a constitutional conservative Republican. During his time in the House of Delegates, Pat introduced legislation to reduce government such as the Firearms Freedom Act, the Repeal of the Food Tax, the Repeal of the Personal Income Tax, as well as his efforts to urge West Virginia government to reassert state rights as defined in the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment.

Yup, he's one of those.

And what is one of the main planks of McGeehan's run for office?

As your US Senator, I will continue to oppose any anti-coal legislation, and fight to eliminate the EPA. Not only is this the real solution to defending ourselves against this horrendous war on our coal industry, it is the right thing to do. Under the Constitution, the federal government is not granted these powers to begin with. Returning environmental regulatory powers back to the States is mandated by the 10th Amendment in the Bill of Rights. We know what is best for us in West Virginia, not bureaucrats in Washington D.C.

Sure.  Abolish the Environmental Protection Agency.  After all,what do they do but protect the environment?

So poor Pat woke up to this news:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Schools and restaurants closed, grocery stores sold out of bottled water, and state legislators who had just started their session canceled the day's business after a chemical spill in the Elk River in Charleston shut down much of the city and surrounding counties even as the extent of the danger remained unclear.

The federal government joined the state early Friday in declaring a disaster, and the West Virginia National Guard planned to distribute bottled drinking water to emergency services agencies in the nine affected counties. In requesting the federal declaration, which makes federal resources available to the state, state officials said about 300,000 people were affected.

Federal authorities are also launching an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the spill and what caused it, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said in a news release Friday.

Shortly after the Thursday spill from Freedom Industries hit the river and a nearby treatment plant, a licorice-like smell enveloped parts of the city, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued an order to customers of West Virginia American Water: Do not drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes with tap water.

The chemical, a foaming agent used in the coal preparation process, leaked from a tank at Freedom Industries and overran a containment area. Freedom, a manufacturer of chemicals for the mining, steel, and cement industries, said in a news release Friday that the company is working to contain the leak to prevent further contamination. President Gary Southern also said the company still does not know how much of the chemical spilled from its operation into the river.

Well done, coal industry.  Now think for a moment if Pat McGreehan had been elected and got his wish of no EPA, no enviormental regulations.  Not only would this thing happen a lot more, but even as it happens, nothing can be done about it.

As for the culprit, Freedom Industries -- well, you can tell what they're about, too.  Their website is all American flags and bald eagles.  Here's their statement, within the past hour:

“Since the discovery of the leak, safety for residents in Kanawha and surrounding counties has been Freedom Industries’ first priority. We have been working with local and federal regulatory, safety and environmental entities, including the DEP, Coast Guard, Army Corp of Engineers and Homeland Security, and are following all necessary steps to fix the issue.  Our team has been working around the clock since the discovery to contain the leak to prevent further contamination.  At this point, Freedom Industries is still working to determine the amount of 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, or Crude MCHM, a chemical used in processing coal, that has been released, as the first priority was safety, containment and cleanup. 

Freedom Industries is in the process of setting up an Incident Command Center on site. As more factual information is made available, we will keep you updated.”

Emphasis mine.  In other words, they don't know yet how badly they fucked up nine counties in West Virginia.

What do you think now, Mr. McGeehan and like-minded West Virginians?  Environmental protections -- good or bad?

Wednesday, January 08, 2014


Investigators of every stripe dream about getting smoking gun documents like the ones multiple media outlets obtained today. They not only show aides and appointees of Chris Christie conspiring to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., a Democrat who did not endorse Christie's reelection bid in 2013, but they capture a tone and mentality that, well, you might find in the works of David Chase or David Simon. Jonathan Chait calls it an "almost comical venality bordering on outright sociopathy."

"It will be a tough November for this little Serbian," wrote David Wildstein, one of Christie's appointees to the Port Authority, apparently referring to Mayor Mark Sokolich. Wildstein is at the center of the scandal and has been called to testify at a state legislative hearing on the matter Thursday.

Christie has repeatedly denied he played any role in the decision to shut the lanes, and nothing in the emails directly implicates him.  Directly.

But Jonathan Chait thinks this means the end of Christie's 2016 presidential bid:

Several things come together to make this scandal especially devastating to Christie. One is that it’s very easy for voters to understand: He punished a town because its mayor endorsed his rival. There are no complex financial transfers or legal maneuverings to parse. Second, it fits into a broader pattern of behavior, documented by the New York Times, of taking retribution against politicians who cross him in any way. There is, in all likelihood, much more. Mark Halperin and my colleague John Heilemann reported in their book about the 2012 campaign that Mitt Romney wanted to put Christie on his ticket, but his staff was “stunned by the garish controversies lurking in the shadows of his record”:

There was a 2010 Department of Justice inspector general’s investigation of Christie’s spending patterns in his job prior to the governorship, which criticized him for being “the U.S. attorney who most often exceeded the government [travel expense] rate without adequate justification” and for offering “insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification” for stays at swank hotels like the Four Seasons. There was the fact that Christie worked as a lobbyist on behalf of the Securities Industry Association at a time when Bernie Madoff was a senior SIA official — and sought an exemption from New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. There was Christie’s decision to steer hefty government contracts to donors and political allies like former Attorney General John Ashcroft, which sparked a congressional hearing. There was a defamation lawsuit brought against Christie arising out of his successful 1994 run to oust an incumbent in a local Garden State race. Then there was Todd Christie, the Governor’s brother, who in 2008 agreed to a settlement of civil charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission in which he acknowledged making “hundreds of trades in which customers had been systematically overcharged.

The investigations also “raised questions for the vetters about Christie’s relationship with a top female deputy who accompanied him on many of the trips.”

I'm not convinced. Yet.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Be Wary Of Obamacare "Losers" You See On TV


For months, health reform’s opponents have been feasting on tales of Obamacare’s innocent victims – Americans who lost their insurance because it doesn’t comply with the ACA’s regulations, and now have to shell out more than they can afford – or go without coverage.

Trouble is, many of those stories just aren’t true.

Yesterday I posted about a Fort Worth Star Telegram article that leads with the tale of Whitney Johnson, a 26-year-old new mother who suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS). Her insurer just cancelled her policy, and according to Johnson, new insurance would cost her over $1,000 a month.

That claim stopped me in my tracks. Under the ACA, no 26-year-old could be charged $1,000 monthly – even if she has MS.

Obamacare prohibits insurers from charging more because a customer suffers from a pre-existing condition. This rule applies to all new policies, whether they are sold inside or outside the exchanges.

At that point, I knew that something was wrong.

When I checked the exchange – plugging in Johnson’s county and her age – I soon found a Blue Choice Gold PPO plan priced at $332 monthly (just $7 more than she had been paying for the plan that was cancelled). Co-pays to see a primary care doctor would run just $10 ($50 to visit a specialist) and she would not have to pay down the $1,500 deductible before the insurance kicked in.

My radar went up. Recently, I have been reading more and more reports regarding “fake Obamacare victims.”

Now I couldn’t help but wonder: Who are these folks in the Star-Telegram story? The paper profiled four people who supposedly had been hurt by Obamacare. When I Googled their names, I soon discovered that three (including Johnson) were Tea Party members.

The paper describes them as among Obamacare’s “losers,” but the truth is that they didn’t want to be winners. Two hadn’t even attempted to check prices in the exchanges.

Meanwhile, it appeared that no one at the Star-Telegram even attempted to run a background check on the sources, or fact check their stories. I couldn’t help but wonder: “Why?”

The answer will surprise you.

You should read the whole story.  Meanwhile, the Johnson lady makes the rounds...


Monday, January 06, 2014

If There's Global Warming, Then Why Is It So Cold?

Forecasts in the midwest call for temperatures to drop to 32 below zero in Fargo, N.D.; minus 21 in Madison, Wis.; and 15 below zero in Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Chicago. Wind chills have been predicted to fall to negative 60 degrees — a dangerous cold that could break decades-old records.

All of which begs the question — if climate change is real, then how did it get so cold?

The question is based on common misconceptions of how cold weather moves across the planet, said Greg Laden, a bioanthroplogist who writes for National Geographic’s Scienceblog. According to Laden, the recent record-cold temperatures indicate to many that the Arctic’s cold air is expanding, engulfing other countries. If true, this would be a perfect argument for a “global cooling” theory. The Arctic’s coldness is growing. Laden asks, “How can such a thing happen with global warming?”

The answer, he writes, is that the Arctic air that usually sits on top of our planet is “taking an excursion” south for a couple of days, leaving the North Pole “relatively warm” and our temperate region not-so-temperate. “Go Home Arctic, You’re Drunk,” he titled the explanation.

“The Polar Vortex, a huge system of moving swirling air that normally contains the polar cold air, has shifted so it is not sitting right on the pole as it usually does,” Laden writes. “We are not seeing an expansion of cold, an ice age, or an anti-global warming phenomenon. We are seeing the usual cold polar air taking an excursion. So, this cold weather we are having does not disprove global warming.”

In fact, some scientists have theorized that the influx of extreme cold is actually fueled by effects of climate change. Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Science, told ClimateProgress on Monday that it’s not the Arctic who is drunk. It’s the jet stream.

“The drunk part is that the jet stream is in this wavy pattern, like a drunk walking along,” Francis, who primarily studies Arctic links to global weather patterns, said. “In other places, you could see the tropics are drunk.”

Arctic warming, she said, is causing less drastic changes in temperatures between northern and southern climates, leading to weakened west-to-east winds, and ultimately, a wavier jet stream. The stream’s recent “waviness” has been taking coldness down to the temperate United States and leaving Alaska and the Arctic relatively warm, Francis said. The same thing has been happening in other countries as well. Winter storms have been pounding the U.K., she noted, while Scandinavia is having a very warm winter.

“This kind of pattern is going to be more likely, and has been more likely,” she said. “Extremes on both ends are a symptom. Wild, unusual temperatures of both sides, both warmer and colder.


There are many many many things wrong with our healthcare system, including things that drive up costs.  None of this is the fault of Obamacare.  But you can be sure that these problems will come to light, and it will be blamed on Obamacare, even if those problems have been around for decades.

To Arms!

Once again, a gun nut has been censored for speaking out on the subject of guns.  You would think that the Tea Party patriots would be going ballistic, crying "HOW DARE THEY STIFLE HIS FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS JUST BECAUSE HE GAVE HIS OPINION ABOUT GUNS?!?!?!"

But that's not happening.  Why not?  Because this guy spoke in favor of reasonable gun legislation.  The New York Times:

BARRY, Ill. — The byline of Dick Metcalf, one of the country’s pre-eminent gun journalists, has gone missing. It has been removed from Guns & Ammo magazine, where his widely-read column once ran on the back page. He no longer stars on a popular television show about firearms. Gun companies have stopped flying him around the world and sending him the latest weapons to review.

In late October, Mr. Metcalf wrote a column that the magazine titled “Let’s Talk Limits,” which debated gun laws. “The fact is,” wrote Mr. Metcalf, who has taught history at Cornell and Yale, “all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be.”

The backlash was swift, and fierce. Readers threatened to cancel their subscriptions. Death threats poured in by email. His television program was pulled from the air.

Just days after the column appeared, Mr. Metcalf said, his editor called to tell him that two major gun manufacturers had said “in no uncertain terms” that they could no longer do business with InterMedia Outdoors, the company that publishes Guns & Ammo and co-produces his TV show, if he continued to work there. He was let go immediately.

“I’ve been vanished, disappeared,” Mr. Metcalf, 67, said in an interview last month on his gun range here, about 100 miles north of St. Louis, surrounded by snow-blanketed fields and towering grain elevators. “Now you see him. Now you don’t.”

He is unsure of his next move, but fears he has become a pariah in the gun industry, to which, he said, he has devoted nearly his entire adult life.

His experience sheds light on the close-knit world of gun journalism, where editors and reporters say there is little room for nuance in the debate over gun laws. Moderate voices that might broaden the discussion from within are silenced. When writers stray from the party line promoting an absolutist view of an unfettered right to bear arms, their publications — often under pressure from advertisers — excommunicate them.

“We are locked in a struggle with powerful forces in this country who will do anything to destroy the Second Amendment,” said Richard Venola, a former editor of Guns & Ammo. “The time for ceding some rational points is gone.”

Let's let that last line sink in a little. The time for ceding some rational points is gone.

Sadly, Metcalf isn't the only gun enthusiast who has been censored for being reasonable.

In 2012, Jerry Tsai, the editor of Recoil magazine, wrote that the Heckler & Koch MP7A1 gun, designed for law enforcement, was “unavailable to civilians and for good reason.” He was pressured to step down, and despite apologizing, has not written since. In 2007, Jim Zumbo, by then the author of 23 hunting books, wrote a blog post for Outdoor Life’s website suggesting that military-style rifles were “terrorist” weapons, best avoided by hunters. His writing, television and endorsement deals were quickly put on hiatus.

It's nice to know there are some rational voices out there in the gun community.  It's too bad they've been silenced by the real gun nuts.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Good Advice

Charlie Piece has a little piece of advice for the GOP handwringers struggling to "rebrand" their party as something other that certifiably looney tunes:

Who was it that nailed the Laffer Curve to the doors of the cathedral? It was Ronald Reagan -- and, elsewhere, Maggie Thatcher -- and I don't recall any great howls of Papist outrage from Sullivan back then, when everything the pope condemns today was just winding into its political strength.

The primary problem for any Republican who genuinely wants to reform his party is to disenthrall it from the mythology that has metastasized within the conservative movement that has been the only real energy in the party since its primary power centers moved south and west. One of the founding myths is the notion of what the pope called out, by name, as "trickle-down economics." It does not work but, most important of all, it never has worked. It didn't work for Reagan any better than it worked for younger Bush, whose eventual unthinking rise to power the Reaganauts made inevitable every time they covered for the dim old cowboy in charge and the fairy tales he used to get elected. Sooner or later, if we followed their path, we were going to get a know-nothing president who also was a political maladroit. Abandon Reagan, all of him, and save your party. Cling to the myth, and we're going to see impotent appeals for party reform every three or four years for the three or four decades.

Good advice.  Doubt anyone in the GOP will take it.  And this bodes well for progressives.  So well, in fact, that EJ Dionne is popping the champagne.  He sees 2014 as the year of the resurrgent progressive.

The reemergence of a Democratic left will be one of the major stories of 2014. Moderates, don’t be alarmed. The return of a viable, vocal left will actually be good news for the political center.

For a long time, the American conversation has been terribly distorted because an active, uncompromising political right has not had to face a comparably influential left. As a result, our entire debate has been dragged in a conservative direction, meaning that the center has been pulled that way, too.

Consider what this means in practice. Obamacare is not a left-wing program, no matter how often conservatives might say it is. Its structure is based on conservative ideas. The individual mandate was the conservatives’ alternative to a mandate on employers. The health-care exchanges are an alternative to government-provided medicine on the Medicare model.

Obamacare is complex because the government is trying to create a marketplace in which people shop for private insurance and receive government subsidies if they need them. It goes to a lot of trouble to preserve the private insurance market. The system does not even include a government plan as one option among many.

But once conservatives succeeded in pulling the health-care debate to where they had always wanted it, they abandoned the concepts they pioneered and denounced Obamacare as a socialist scheme. It’s a classic case of heads-I-win-tails-you-lose politics: Move toward me, and I’ll just keep moving farther away from you.

The right’s strong hand also prevented more aggressive action to ease joblessness. After the crash of 2008, the country desperately needed government to step in to bolster mass purchasing power, the point of stimulus efforts. With interest rates near zero, there was no better time to borrow in order to rebuild a decrepit national infrastructure and make other long-term public investments.

Instead, relentless pressure from the right made the initial stimulus smaller than it should have been — and then prevented any further expansion of government spending. In the blink of an eye, the public discussion was engulfed by an obsession with the deficit as millions languished without a job. Even Republicans are frustrated over how ideological fears about government’s size have stalled transportation bills that were once the stuff of bipartisan concord.

This pattern was repeated over and over on other issues, and the new militancy on the Democratic left is a consequence of a slowly building backlash against the skewed nature of our politics.


The resurgent progressives are battling a double standard. They are asking why it is that “populism” is a good thing when it’s invoked by the tea party against “liberal elites” but suddenly a bad thing when it describes efforts to raise the minimum wage and take other steps toward a fairer system of economic rewards.

And here’s why moderates should be cheering them on: When politicians can ignore the questions posed by the left and are pushed to focus almost exclusively on the right’s concerns about “big government” and its unquestioning faith in deregulated markets, the result is immoderate and ultimately impractical policy. To create a real center, you need a real left.

I don't know.  Maybe.  We're off to a good start with the new NYC mayor, an unapologetic progressive.  Lots of eyes on him.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Everything That Is Wrong With This Country Now

Millionaire hillbillies greedily putting more guns into the hands of its cultureless fans.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014 Dead Pool

Link to 2013 Dead Pool

Link to 2012 Dead Pool

Link to 2011 Dead Pool

There are two "dead pool" lists.  One is just a random list of people who I think will pass in the upcoming year. The other is a competitive list where you pick ten (and only ten) people-to-die, and you score your points by subtracting their age-at-death from 100.  For example, Amy Winehouse was in my 2011 Dead Pool list, and she indeed did die that year.  Since she was 27, I received 73 points (100 minus 27).

So, let's see how I did with my 2013 Dead Pool(s).

First, the generic list of people I thought might die:

  • Zsa-Zsa Gabor - still alive
  • Olivia de Havilland - still alive
  • Billy Graham - still alive
  • Eli Wallach - still alive
  • Stan Musial - died 1/19/2013
  • Norman Lear - still alive
  • Jean Stapleton - died 5/31/2013
  • Yogi Berra - still alive
  • Lauren Becall - still alive
  • Mickey Rooney - still alive
  • Fidel Castro - still alive
  • Pete Seeger - still alive
  • Nanette Fabray - still alive
  • Sid Caesar - still alive
  • Rose Marie - still alive

Not very impressive.  And even worse for my 2013 Competitive Dead Pool list:

  1. Eli Wallach (born 12/07/1915)
  2. Zsa Zsa Gabor (born 2/06/1917)
  3. Billy Graham (born 11/7/1918)
  4. George Bush (born 6/12/1924)
  5. Margaret Thatcher (born 10/13/1925)
  6. Fidel Castro (born 8/13/1926)
  7. John McLaughlin (born 3/29/1927)
  8. James Garner (born 4/7/1928)
  9. Dick Cheney (born 1/30/1941)
  10. Stephen Hawking (born 1/8/1942)

The only one on that list who actually died was Margaret Thatcher.  She died on 4/08/2013, maker her 87.  Which means this year I scored a total of 13 points.  That's terrible.

2012 points:  38
2011 points:  113

Let's see if I can do better.  For my 2014 general list, I'm just going to keep what I had, minus a couple of names:

  • Zsa-Zsa Gabor
  • Olivia de Havilland
  • Billy Graham
  • Eli Wallach
  • Norman Lear
  • Yogi Berra
  • Lauren Becall
  • Mickey Rooney
  • Fidel Castro
  • Pete Seeger
  • Nanette Fabray
  • Sid Caesar
  • Rose Marie
  • Don Pardo
  • June Lockhart

And as for my competitive list, I'm not going to tweak it much, and not going to go too young:

  1. Eli Wallach (born 12/07/1915)
  2. Zsa Zsa Gabor (born 2/06/1917)
  3. Billy Graham (born 11/7/1918)
  4. Abe Vigoda (born 2/24/1921)
  5. Bob Barker (born 12/12/1923)
  6. George Bush (born 6/12/1924)
  7. Fidel Castro (born 8/13/1926)
  8. John McLaughlin (born 3/29/1927)
  9. James Garner (born 4/7/1928)
  10. Valerie Harper (born 8/22/1940)
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