Monthly Archives: June 2013

Duckworth Dresses Down IRS Contractor

It is one of those rare Congressional exchanges that's both dramatic and compelling: Yesterday during a House Oversight Committee hearing, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who lost her legs and use of her right arm when she served in Iraq, dressed down an IRS contractor who used his military disability status to receive government contracts reserved for disabled vets.

The catch? The Military Times reports Braulio Castillo claimed disability based on an injury he sustained at the U.S. Military Preparatory School nearly 30 years ago. The Times reports that Castillo broke his foot at the prep school, but went on to play football in college.

Duckworth pounced. It's worth watching the whole thing:


The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

An openly gay state representative was silenced by his colleagues on the Pennsylvania House floor Thursday when he tried to comment on the Supreme Court's ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

State Rep. Brian Sims' (D) remarks during a part of the House session where representatives are allowed to speak openly were cut off almost immediately by a procedural maneuver. State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R) objected to the remarks on the grounds that Sims was speaking out "against God's law."

"I did not believe that as a member of that body that I should allow someone to make comments such as he was preparing to make that ultimately were just open rebellion against what the word of God has said, what God has said, and just open rebellion against God's law," Metcalfe said, as quoted by WHYY-FM.

Sims told WHYY that Republicans approached him after the session to apologize.

DOMA and Prop 8 Decisions

Pretty much like I predicted: DOMA overturned, and Prop 8 booted because plaintiffs lacked standing.

What happens next: Since the Court ruled that the federal government cannot discriminate against same-sex marriages under the Equal Protection Clause, all the remains is for that same reasoning to be applied to the states.  After all, states cannot violate the federal constitution either.  So some new case must work its way up through the courts.  It will probably be a case where someone was married in, say, Massachusetts, and then moved to, say, North Carolina, and was denied some state benefit relating to marriage.

Or it could simply be a case where a gay couple tried to get married in a state not recognizing gay marriage, and they are denied.  They sue the state saying it violates the Equal Protection Clause.

Either way, this is the beginning of the end.

That Didn’t Take Long


Texas is wasting no time capitalizing on the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act.

Shortly after the high court issued a sweeping 5-4 decision Tuesday striking down a centerpiece of the historic 1965 law, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott vowed to immediately implement a controversial voter ID law in the Lone Star State that was blocked last year by the now-gutted preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act.

“With today’s decision, the State’s voter ID law will take effect immediately,” Abbott said, according to the Dallas Morning News. “Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.”

The provocative move is the first in what could be a series of clashes between the Justice Department and state and local governments after the Supreme Court’s ruling. The court invalidated the section of the law specifying which state and local governments (all with a history of racial discrimination) are required to receive federal pre-clearance before making any changes to their voting laws. Texas was one of those states.

Shortly after the Supreme Court handed down its decision, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder warned in a televised speech that the Justice Department will take “swift enforcement actions” against any efforts to exploit the ruling and enact discriminatory voting laws. But the DOJ will have one less tool to do so.

Abbott fired off a series of tweets promising to move forward with the voter ID law, one of which declared that “Eric Holder can no longer deny [voter ID] in [Texas].”


Where’s Cable News?

Today, Obama made a very major environmental speech.  Here are the bullet points:

Curbing carbon pollution

• Directs the EPA to establish carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants.

• Promises $8 billion in loan guarantees for fossil fuel projects.

• Directs the Interior Department to permit 10 gigawatts of wind and solar projects on public lands by 2020.

• Expands the president’s Better Building Challenge, helping buildings cut waste to become at least 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020.

• Sets a goal to reduce carbon pollution by at least 3 billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030 through efficiency standards set for appliances and federal buildings.

• Commits to developing fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles.

• Aims to reduce hydrofluorocarbons, highly potent greenhouse gases.

• Directs agencies to develop a comprehensive methane strategy.

• Commits to forests and other landscape protection.

Preparing for climate change

• Directs agencies to support local investment to help vulnerable communities become more resilient to the effects of global warming.

• Establishment of flood-risk reduction standards in the Hurricane Sandy-affected region.

• Will work with the health-care industry to create sustainable, resilient hospitals.

• Distribution of science-based information for farmers, ranchers and landowners.

• Establishment of the National Drought Resilience Partnership to make rangelands less vulnerable to catastrophic fires.

• Climate Data Initiative will provide information for state, local and private-sector leaders.

Leading global efforts to address climate change

• Commits to expanding new and existing initiatives, including those with China, India and other major emitting countries.

• Calls for the end of U.S. government support for public financing of new coal-fired power plants overseas.*

• Expands government capacity for planning and response.

*Except for efficient coal plants in the poorest countries, or for plants using carbon capture.

All of the three major news networks spent mere minutes on the speech — which ran in total 49 minutes.

MSNBC: 41 seconds

FOX News: 4 minutes and 37 seconds

CNN: 8 minutes and 5 seconds

The Weather Channel: 49 minutes

While the lack of coverage is shocking enough, perhaps the most astounding media failure of the day was by FOX News, who broke from Obama’s climate speech to interview climate denier Chris Horner. Horner works for the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, and is largely funded by the oil money, including the Koch Brothers and Exxon-Mobil.


Supreme Court Cuts Voting Rights Act of 1964

Today, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling, struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act.  Basically, they eliminated the requirement that jurisdictions with a history of discrimination pre-clear election and voting law changes to ensure they do not disenfranchise minority voters. While the remaining provisions will still ban outright racial discrimination, those states and localities previously covered will now be able to implement changes first and victims will have to prove discrimination after the fact.

You may wonder how many times a proposed law fails to get-precleared in this day and age.  Well, in the past year, the U.S. Department of Justice denied pre-clearance to four laws it deemed discriminatory — and federal courts upheld three of those four determinations.  Those three cases involved stricter voter ID laws, shorter voting hours, and redistricting — all the ways in which the GOP tried to disenfranchise the minority vote this past election cycle.

It bears repeating that disenfranchising the minority vote is still forbidden under the Voting Rights Act, but now it will just become harder to stop the States from doing it once the pre-clearance oversight is scrapped.

IRS Didn’t Single Out Tea Party Groups


The Internal Revenue Service’s screening of groups seeking tax-exempt status was broader and lasted longer than has been previously disclosed, the new head of the agency said Monday.

An internal IRS document obtained by The Associated Press said that besides “tea party,” lists used by screeners to pick groups for close examination also included the terms “Israel,” ”Progressive” and “Occupy.” The document said an investigation into why specific terms were included was still underway.

In a conference call with reporters, Danny Werfel said that after becoming acting IRS chief last month, he discovered wide-ranging and improper terms on the lists and said screeners were still using them. He did not specify what terms were on the lists, but said he suspended the use of all such lists immediately.

“There was a wide-ranging set of categories and cases that spanned a broad spectrum” on the lists, Werfel said. He added that his aides found those lists contained “inappropriate criteria that was in use.”

So much for the Tea Party persecution.

DOMA and Prop 8: A Prediction

This week — probably Thursday — the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will release its opinion on two cases dealing with same-sex marriage.

One case challenges the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  Section III of DOMA prevents the federal government from treating same-sex couples (those legally married under state law) as "married" for the purpose of federal law . For example, someone who is legally married to a person of the same sex cannot currently receive spousal Social Security benefits should his or her spouse die.  This is, according to DOMA opponents, unconstritutional discrimination.

The second case concerns Prop 8 in California.  Prop 8, as you recall, was a statewide referendum banning gay marriages in California, passed by the people of California.  The district court and the appeals court both held that Prop 8 violates both the U.S. and California Constitutions.  There was also the thorny issue that some same-sex couples in California had already become married in that state before Prop 8 passed.

Both cases, taken together, give the Supreme Court a chance to address gay marriage.  Months ago, I gave a summary of possible outcomes:

Taken together, I suspect there are five possible outcomes:

(1)  SCOTUS will kick the can down the road.  It is possible, though I suspect unlikely, that both cases will be disposed of on issues other than the merits.  For example, there is a standing issue in the Prop 8 case ("standing" means whether or not the plaintiffs had the right to bring the lawsuit in the first place).  Conceivably, the court could rule on that, and never reach the merits.  The DOMA case has a standing issue as well.

(2)  SCOTUS would allow each state to decide whether or not to allow same-sex marriages, and force the federal government to accept it only where states accept it.  

(3)  SCOTUS would allow each state to decide whether or not to allow same-sex marriages, but the federal government does not have to accept it.  Basically, a ruling like this would say that same-sex marriages are not protected by the U.S. Constitution, and the federal government can discriminate.  This is essentially what we have now.

(4)  SCOTUS finds that same-sex marriages are protected by the U.S. Constitution, and therefore ALL states must recognize same-sex marriages.  The best of all outcomes.

(5) SCOTUS finds that the U.S. Constitution (14th Amendment) bars states from allowing same-sex marriage.  The worst of all outcomes.

Now it is time to stick my neck out and make predictions, which will, most assuredly, be wrong.  So here I go…..

In 1954, with Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court lay down a landmark decision that laid to rest, with all finality, the issue of segregated schools.  No way, the Court said, and there was no wiggle room.  Not just for Topeka, Kansas (where the case arose), but everywhere.  Nothing was left to the states but to implement integration, with "all due haste".

I don't see that happening with same-sex marriage… with this Court.  It tends to be timid about making the sweeping apply-to-all-states kind of decisions.  It is very sensitive to its unelected status, and will want to avoid making "activist" decisions, even though the Constitution might demand it (as it did in Brown).  So it will, if at all possible, try to make its ruling as narrow as possible.  Scratch #4 and #5 above.

The smart money says, and I agree, that DOMA will fall.  Most say 5-4; I say 6-3.  I think you get Justice Kennedy and maybe Chief Justice Roberts voting with the "liberals": Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan.  

There's little question that DOMA discriminates: it treats opposite-sex couples differently than same-sex couples.  That's undeniable.

It should be pointed out to the lay reader that "discrimination" isn't, in constitutional parlance, necessarily a bad thing.  After all, every single law discriminates.  A law against child molestation discriminates against, well, child molesters.  

So the key question, or one of them anyway, is whether the discrimination affects a "suspect class" of people.  Without getting too deep in the weeds, a "suspect class" is any group (a) that has been the subject of invidious discrimination, hostility, in the past, (b) that possesses an immutible trait and (c) whose distinguishing characteristic does not prevent them from becoming meaningul members of society.  Groups based on race fall into a suspect class.  Presumably, so do homosexuals, although the Supremes have not specifically said so.

The counterargument regarding DOMA is this: it doesn't discriminate based on sexual orientation.  After all, where DOMA says that marriage is between "one man and one woman", it is indifferent to the sexual orientations of either.  That is what I call "the cute argument" ("Hey, gay men can still marry women, so where's the discriminiation?!?") and watch for Scalia to breathe life into that.

Anyway, once you've got the general sense of what level of discrimination we're talking about, then the court will ask, "Is there any rational basis for this discrimination?" or "What is the important objective that the government is trying to achieve that accounts for this discrimination?"  In other words, it will look at the government interest.

And that's where the DOMA case crumbles.  There simply is no federal government interest in discriminating between same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples.  You know who says so?  The federal government.  The Obama Administration.  They're not even there in the Supreme Court to defend DOMA.  (It is being defended by a handful of Republicans in Congress).

Okay.  So DOMA flies by the wayside.  What about Prop 8?

That's trickier.

But my prediction is that the Supreme Court will "punt" the issue down the road as much as it can.  To the extent that they make a decision at all, I feel that they will limit it to California, and not all the states… even if all the states have provisions similar to that in the California constitution.

There are several ways that SCOTUS can "punt" this.  For one, they can resolve the case on the standing issue, and never reach the merits of whether or not Prop 8 violates the state and federal constitution.  "Standing" means whether or not the plaintiffs had the right to bring the lawsuit in the first place.  Like the federal government in the DOMA case, the State of California is not showing up to defend the results of Prop 8.  Who is?  A conglomeration of right wing groups opposed to same-sex marriage.  That is unusual.

The lower courts found that the plaintiffs in Prop 8 had standing.  The Supreme Court might disagree.  But if it does, what happens?  Does Prop 8 get reinistated, because "the will of the people" said it should?  Maybe.

But I think what is more likely to happen is that SCOTUS will rule that the plaintiffs have standing.  Even then, however, they will still avoid the tough question, and decide in favor of defendants for one reason, and one reason alone — that it is unconstitutional to take away a "right" once it has been given.

Remember, there was a time when same-sex couples could get married in California.  This was before Prop 8.  Then Prop 8 came along and stripped that right away.

This narrowly drawn opinion will probably win 5-4.  Justice Kennedy, as always, is seriously in play.  Kennedy stands as the author of Lawrence v. Texas and Roemer v. Evans — two key Supreme Court decisions overturning state laws on sexual orientation. Lawrence invoked privacy protections to invalidate sodomy laws, while Roemer struck down a Colorado constitutional amendment that would have prohibited antidiscrimination laws protecting gays.  On the other hand, Kennedy is also likely to be reluctant to overturn a sizable majority of state laws in one blow.

Chief Justice Roberts, I believe, is also in play.  Just as he did when he voted in favor of Obamacare, he may want to side with the majority only so he can write a narrow narrow opinion.

But whether it is Roberts or Kennedy (or both), I predict the result will allow SCOTUS to allow same sex marriage in California, but not allow that precedent to spread to other states which clearly do not want same sex marriage.  In doing so, the court will avoid having to answer THE salient question: "Does banning same sex marriage violate the federal constitution?"

So, a victory for California, but not the country.  For the rest of the country, the battle returns to state legislatures.

This half-ruling will leave open many questions, most notably, issues regarding full faith and credit between the states.  For example, if a same sex couple legally marries in Massachusetts, and moves to North Carolina, can a state-run North Carolina hospital deny visitation rights to one half of the same-sex couple, even though the law says it must allow it for opposite-sex couples?

Those kind of questions will not be answered this week.  Again, as I say, the Court will kick it all down the road and only address those questions when it absolutely HAS to.

For those of you who read the transcripts of Prop 8 (or saw the play "8"), I don't think there will be much discussion about the facts that came from that case (or rather, the lack of facts showing that same-sex couples make terrible parents).  Scalia is most likely to throw this crap in there, and possibly even insert "evidence" that wasn't raised at trial.  Yes, he's just that bad a justice.

SCOTUS Punts on Changing Affirmative Action

Big week for SCOTUS this week, with most eyes awaiting the DOMA and Prop 8 decisions.  Nothing happened with those today.  The Court scheduled more opinions for tomorrow (although I suspect there will be one more day after tomorrow, and that's when we'll get the gay marriage cases).

Interest was also high on what the Court would do regarding affirmative action in college admissions.  That case was Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. Many thought the Court would take the opportunity to re-examine its previous rulings defending the legality of affirmative action (taking diversitry into account for college admissions). This morning, they did not — the precedent remains intact.  They merely sent the case back down to the Seventh Circuit, and asked them to review the case under a "strict scrutiny" standard.  (No matter what the Seventh Circuit does, the case is likely to come back up to the Supremes).

Republican Legislatures Still Stupid About Women’s Bodies

On Sunday night as the Texas legislature pushed through a series of stringent restrictions on abortion and women’s health.  Typical of conservative state legislatures, the event was filled with myths about abortion and women's health.  One of the most egregious examples?  One state representative tried to argue on the State House floor that rape kits are a form of abortion.

Texas Rep. Jody Laubenberg (R) sponsored several anti-abortion measures currently making their way to the Governor’s desk. Taken together, they would shut down the vast majority of the state’s women’s health clinics and criminalize abortions after 20 weeks. But in reasoning out why she did not support an exemption for rape victims in the 20-week ban, Laubenberg betrayed a woeful lack of information on the procedures a victim of rape undergoes — namely, the “rape kit,” which is used to collect data on the assailant and in no way relates to pregnancy:

When Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, called for an exemption for women who were victims of rape and incest, Rep. Jody Laubenberg, R-Parker, explained why she felt it was unnecessary.

“In the emergency room they have what’s called rape kits where a woman can get cleaned out,” she said, comparing the procedure to an abortion. “The woman had five months to make that decision, at this point we are looking at a baby that is very far along in its development.”

The remark about rape kits, which is not accurate, sparked widespread ridicule on social media sites. Laubenberg, who has difficulty debating bills, then simply rejected all proposed changes to her bill without speaking until the end of the debate.

Rape kits are used to collect DNA evidence from the bodies of rape victims; after a victim enters a hospital, staff collect bodily fluid, residue under the victim’s nails, and any blood or hair samples that could be relevant for an investigation. Rape kits are in no way equivalent to an abortion.

Monday at 10

With the session coming to a close, some thought the Supreme Court might announce its opinions today in the Prop 8 and DOMA cases.  

It did not.

So it looks like Monday at 10, the last scheduled opinion-reading of the Court for the term, and maybe not even then.  There are still several outstanding opinions, and it is likely that the Supreme Court will add another session next Thursday.

In any event, we'll know where the Supreme Court came down on same sex marriage within a week.  There are also a couple of important racism/affirmative action cases as well.  Next week will be interesting.

Fake “Pray The Gay Away” Church To Close Its Doors

I guess reality caught up:

Exodus International, the oldest and largest Christian ministry dealing with faith and homosexuality announced tonight that it’s closing its doors after three-plus decades of ministry. The Board of Directors reached a decision after a year of dialogue and prayer about the organization’s place in a changing culture.

“We’re not negating the ways God used Exodus to positively affect thousands of people, but a new generation of Christians is looking for change – and they want to be heard,”Tony Moore, Board member of Exodus. The message came less than a day after Exodus released a statement apologizing ( to the gay community for years of undue judgment by the organization and the Christian Church as a whole.

“Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism,” said Alan Chambers, President of Exodus. “For quite some time we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical.”

Basically, they have been living a lie for over thirty years.

Defender of Second Amendment Taunts Father Of Killed Girl, Gets Tasered

I'm not a big fan of police tasering citizens, but in this case, I'm happy to make an exception.

This all went down in Concord, New Hampshire (my home town).

John Cantin's daughter Melissa was shot and killed by her estranged husband in Manchester, NH in 2009. John was also shot, but he survived. John refused to be silenced. Instead, he bravely continued to share his daughter's story and call for common-sense legislation to reduce gun violence.  

Yesterday, he spoke for gun control at a rally in Concord, staged by Mayros Against Illegal Guns.  And that's where he was taunted by a heckler named Danial Musso.   Musso was part of a counter-rally staged by Gun Rights Across America.

As Cantin spoke, just moments after delivering the names of the dead to Sen. Ayotte, Musso began to get agitated. “Why are you shaking talking about this?” WMUR-TV, which had a reporter on the scene, quoted him as saying. “You’re not the truth!” The Concord Monitor added that he kept asking Cantin to elaborate on what kind of gun was used to kill his daughter. “A pellet gun, a machine gun – what kind of gun, sir?”

Here's the video:


Here’s what happened next, according to the local news:

After numerous interjections, Musso [the heckler] decided to walk away, but Concord police had been called. When officers began talking to him, Musso initiated physical contact with police, [local reporter] Sexton said.

Officers struggled to subdue Musso for about a minute and a half, Sexton said, before they had to use a stun gun on him.

More video:



Even Eric Reed, president of Gun Rights Across America, one of the organizations that staged the counter-rally, said last night that Musso’s conduct had been “out of line.”

RIP Slim Whitman

I never heard of him until those ads in the 1980s, which spawned countless jokes.  He was a serious musical influence on early rock. In the British Isles, he was known as a pioneer of country music for popularizing the style there. Whitman also encouraged a teen Elvis Presley when the young singer made his professional debut.  He died today at the age of 90.


Plan B Attack on Plan B

Now that Plan B is available to all women, conservatives are going to try to limit it at the state level.

In Arkansas, for example, abortion opponents are already pushing the legislature to consider imposing either an age limit or a total ban on Plan B sales next year. Jerry Cox, the director of the state’s conservative Christian Family Council, told Arkansas News that the new federal policy on emergency contraception means that “essentially, kids can get contraception now as easy as they can buy candy out of the store,” and that “bothers” him enough to consider lobbying for legislative action.

Elsewhere, there exist a patchwork of “conscience clauses” which would allow pharmacists to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions for personal or religious reasons. The National Women’s Law Center has tracked at least 24 states that haverefused to sell either birth control or emergency contraception to women who are well within their rights to purchase it. Legislation introduced by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) would standardize pharmacies’ practices to ensure that women aren’t denied reproductive care, but it hasn’t moved in Congress.

GOP Priorities

In the constant internal GOP tug-of-war between "tone it down to appeal to sane voters" and "ramp it up for the wingnut base", guess which side is winning?

The Republican-led House on Tuesday sought to shore up their support from conservatives with a vote on one of the most far-reaching anti-abortion bills in years.

The measure to restrict abortions to the first 20 weeks after conception will be ignored by the Democratic-controlled Senate but not necessarily by voters in next year's GOP primaries. Supporters see it as an opportunity to make inroads against legalized abortion while Democratic opponents portrayed it as yet another instance of what they call the GOP's war on women.

The legislation, heading for near-certain passage in the House, contravenes the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortions and invites court challenges that could eventually force the Supreme Court to reconsider that decision.

It's doubtful that the Senate will take up the bill, but if it does, it certainly won't pass.  And if, by some miracle, it passes the Senate, Obama won't sign it.  In other words, this is posturing by the GOP in the House, all of whom know that the law will never come into effect.  It is grandstanding for the base.

Fortunately, their misogyny can easily be turned against them in the upcoming 2014 mid-term elections.

Snowden Is A Dick

I have been following with interest the various leaks from Edward Snowden, although I have not been writing about them much.  I write this post to officially say that the so-called whistleblower really is a self-aggrandizing a-hole, and not the 4th Amendment crusador that he envisions himself to be.

I join with others who ask — if he was so concerned about civil rights and privacy, why has he run to China (a place notorious for its lack of both)?

And then you read things that he says like today's Q&A with the Guardian:

First, the US Government, just as they did with other whistleblowers, immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home, openly declaring me guilty of treason and that the disclosure of secret, criminal, and even unconstitutional acts is an unforgivable crime. That's not justice, and it would be foolish to volunteer yourself to it if you can do more good outside of prison than in it.

Um, what?  He thinks that the disclousure of secret acts is a forgivable crime?  Since when?

He says what he is disclosing is "secret".  On that, I think we all agree.  But is it against the law?  Absolutely not.  Everything he has disclosed seems is within the law as it exists.  There is no legal abuse.  Yes, reasonable people can disagree about whether the laws are unconstitutional, but something being illegal and something being constitutional are two entirely different things.  Laws can be unconstitutional, but laws cannot be illegal.

And some of what he is disclosing clearly isn't unconstitutional.  For example, spying on foreign countries, including countries we are not at war with (like China).  Again, you may like the policy, but espionage against other countries is not unconstitutional… for one simple reason: The Constitution does not protect other countries.

In fact, he is complaing about things that the NSA is supposed to be doing.

He repeats his mistake here:

Congress hasn't declared war on the countries – the majority of them are our allies – but without asking for public permission, NSA is running network operations against them that affect millions of innocent people. And for what? So we can have secret access to a computer in a country we're not even fighting? So we can potentially reveal a potential terrorist with the potential to kill fewer Americans than our own Police? No, the public needs to know the kinds of things a government does in its name, or the "consent of the governed" is meaningless.

This is complete and total bullshit.  "Consent of the governed", which isn't in the Constitution by the way, does not mean that the public-at-large raises its collective hand and votes on what our intelligence agencies do in secret.  It never has meant that.  The Constitution, in fact, tells us how "consent of the governed" works — we elect leaders and they decide.  It's a representative democracy, moron.

Later, he rails against the "policy protections" that we have against our email, saying that policy protections are no protections at all.

Well, that's one way to look at it, I suppose.  But "policy" is pretty broad, and encompasses actual laws.  His argument basically is that laws can be broken, so any protections we have against privacy are meaningless.  And while that might be true, it also applies to anything.  I could say that laws against murder are meaningless, because people can break those laws and murder me.  Yeah, so?  What does he suggest?!?

It seems that Snowden may have possessed an ideal and naive view of what our government does.  I don't think anyone is surprised, and most people expect, our government to do intelligence surveillance, especially on foreigners.  I'm sure more aren't surprised that they are doing it on us.  There seems to be a system of checks and balances (FISA court overview, congressional debriefings) so that the potential for abuse is low.  And as for ACTUAL abuse of the laws, Snowden has not presented ANY evidence.  No evidence that the courts were avoided, for example.

I think it's a good thing to have a national discussion and reexamination of intelligence gathering to the extent that it infringes on our privacy and Fourth Amendment expectations.  And that's the only good that has some of this.  But I don't see any wrongdoing so far, except on Snowden's part.  This guy's a dick.  And a traitor.

UPDATE:  John Avarosis agrees with me

Famed NSA leaker Edward Snowden almost had me convinced of his sincerity.  Until today, when he released damaging information about US spying on Russia’s former president, and offered up no explanation for how such revelations jibe with his earlier claims to be fighting for the American people.

You don’t go and help the Russians if your goal is fighting for the American people, unless you have a darn good reason, and Snowden has so far given none for today’s new leaks.


It’s not clear what any of those have to do with Snowden’s earlier justifications for his leaks.  They don’t have anything to do with the NSA director lying to Congress.  They don’t have anything to do with the President not closing down Gitmo.  And they have nothing to do with the dangers the surveillance state pose to the privacy of Americans.  They weren’t spying on Americans in today’s stories, they were spying on Russian leaders and diplomats, among others foreign officials.  So Snowden’s earlier justifications for the leaks don’t seem to apply.  Then why did he do it?


And here’s where I really think Snowden lost me:

Congress hasn’t declared war on the countries – the majority of them are our allies – but without asking for public permission, NSA is running network operations against them that affect millions of innocent people…. And for what? So we can have secret access to a computer in a country we’re not even fighting?

So now Snowden thinks we should only spy on countries we’re at war with?  Who are we technically at war with?  North Korea?  Anyone else?  That makes for a pretty small list.  Even if what he really means is de facto wars like Afghanistan and Iraq, again, that’s a rather small list.  Can we spy on Iran?  How about Syria?  How about Cuba?  How about China?

It almost sounds as if Snowden objects to the entire notion of spying.  And if that’s the case, then why did he go to work at the CIA and the NSA in the first place if he’s morally repulsed by the notion of spying generally, and on Russia in particular?


Happy 84th Birthday, Anne

This footage, discovered within the last decade, was originally shot on July 22 1941.  It shows the wedding of a person living at Merwedeplein 39, Amsterdam.  For a few brief seconds, the camera shows a young girl looking down from the second floor at the events transpiring below her.

This is the only known footage of Anne Frank.


An Uncomfortable Flight

Half an hour ago:

A Newark-bound United Airlines flight is carrying a passenger who reportedly informed the crew that he "poisoned everyone on board."

United Flight 116, from Hong Kong, is set to land at 2:05 p.m.

The passenger is being restrained by other passengers.

Law enforcement officials in New York and Washington, D.C., are aware of the incident and are responding.

There is no evidence that passengers have been poisoned, and officials believe the man who made the claim is emotionally disturbed.

He and others on board will be interviewed when plane lands.

Yes, I would think so.

Miss Utah Crowned As New Youtube Babbling Pageant Contestant

It’s been six years, but the memory of Miss South Carolina Teen USA contestant Caite Upton tackling a pretty straightforward question about the geographical ignorance of our fellow Americans with words fished out of the garbage disposal is as fresh as ever: “People in our nation don’t have maps, The Iraq, like, everywhere such as, something something schools in the U.S. should help South Africa and The Iraq and all of those Asian countries, such as."

In the Miss USA pageant last night, Miss Utah – Marissa Powell – struggled to respond with her thoughts on the question, “A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does it say about society?”

Not as cringe-worthy as Miss South Carolina, but her response was still worth a hearty, "WTF?!?!?"


I stand by her call for better education, if that was indeed her point.  Ms. Powell, BTW, is a singer, model and actress who attended Brigham Young University.

Oh, she came in third, which shows how much the Miss USA pageant places a premium on brains.

Jan Brewer Is Too Crazy Even For Scalia

In an opinion by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, a 7-2 Supreme Court held this morning that an Arizona law requiring voting officials to reject voter registration forms that are “not accompanied by concrete evidence of citizenship” conflicts with a federal law requiring states to use a uniform voter registration form for federal elections. Scalia once justified an anti-immigrant opinion with a reference to laws excluding “freed blacks” from southern states, and he called the Voting Rights Act a “perpetuation of racial entitlement. So his authorship of this opinion is both unexpected and a sign of the weakness of Arizona’s legal position in defending this law.

We Live In A Reactive World

Yesterday, two girls, fans of The Hobbit, posted a video of their reaction to Peter Jackson's video about the new Hobbit movie.  They were very excited.


So director Peter Jackson decided to get all meta on everybody, and have charactors from the movie react to the girls' reaction video.


Meanwhile, Back At The IRS Scandal…

The GOP line is quickly unraveling:

A self-described conservative Republican who is a manager in the Internal Revenue Service office that targeted tea party groups told investigators that he, not the White House, set the review in motion, the top Democrat on the House watchdog committee said Sunday.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., released a partial transcript of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform interview with the unnamed manager in the IRS' Cincinnati office. In it, the employee said the extra scrutiny for tea party groups' tax exempt status was an effort to be consistent in reviewing applications and not driven by politics.

"He is a conservative Republican working for the IRS. I think this interview and these statements go a long way to what's showing that the White House was not involved in this," Cummings said.

Cummings, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, added, "Based upon everything I've seen, the case is solved. And if it were me, I would wrap this case up and move on, to be frank with you."

You'll recall that Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) released carefully edited partial transcripts of interviews with IRS employees, in the hopes keeping interest in the story alive. Asked to release full transcripts, so the public could see the context of the exchanges, Issa refused.

And now we're starting to get a batter sense as to why Issa preferred to keep all of the facts out of the public light.

Cummings has seen the interviews, and has seen the conservative Republican official in the IRS explain that allegations of White House wrongdoing are baseless, which only reinforces the impression that this "scandal" is quickly turning into a nothingburger.

US Majority Backs NSA Surveillance

A new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll found that 56% of Americans consider the NSA's accessing of telephone call records of millions of Americans through secret court orders "acceptable." A 62% majority believe it's more important for the government to investigate terrorist threats, even if those investigations intrude on personal privacy. Support drops when it comes to government monitoring of emails, but even here, the public is evenly split.

The thing to note from the poll, however, is the partisan split, and how it has evolved since 2006.


Basically, we're a bunch of hypocrites.  Democrats don't trust the NSA to respect privacy when it is Bush in power, but are okay when Obama is in power.  And vice versa for the Republicans.

In 2006, the Pew Research Center asked the public about attitudes towards the Bush/Cheney warrantless-wiretap program through the NSA, and found that 75% of self-identified Republicans supported the program, while only 37% of self-identified Democrats agreed.

In 2013, those numbers have largely flipped — support for the surveillance is down sharply among Republicans, from 75% to 52%, while support among Democrats has soared, from 37% to 64%.

Steve Benen points out one crucial point: In 2006, the poll question dealt with a warrantless surveillance program in which the Bush administration exceeded its legal authority with no judicial check or congressional approval. In 2013, the Obama administration, at least given what we know now, appears to be acting within its legal authority, relying in part on the courts, and acting within a law approved by bipartisan majorities.

In any event, the larger point is that the American mainstream is far less concerned with federal surveillance programs than civil libertarians had hoped. Indeed, the Post/Pew poll found that 45% of the public — very nearly half — believe the government should be able to go even further than it currently is when it comes to spying on Americans, so long as the goal is to prevent terrorism.

This Happened

What's remarkable is that it barely made the news, and has prompted little discussion.  I guess the NRA won:

Five are dead after a gunman rampaged through Santa Monica, CA, on Friday, ending at the local community college. The Santa Monica shooting marks the tenth mass shooting on a school campus in California since 1976. 

The suspect, 23-year-old John Zawahri, was known as an angry young man with a “fascination with guns” that worried family friends. Zawahri was born in Lebanon but has lived in the U.S. for at least 10 years. In a press conference on Sunday, police said the troubled young man had planned out the attackand likely hoped to kill hundreds. The spree lasted 10 minutes, ending when police shot and killed Zawahri on the scene. 

Zawahri allegedly killed his father and brother and burned down their house before heading toward Santa Monica College, armed with a ballistic vest, an AR-15 assault rifle and a duffel bag filled with an estimated 1,300 rounds of ammunition, magazines, and a .44 revolver. He shot and wounded a woman driving by his house, then carjacked another woman. On the way, he shot at pedestrians and a city bus, injuring 3 people. 

Once he arrived at the community college, Zawahri gunned down a groundskeeper, 68-year-old Navarro Franco, killing him immediately, and his 26-year-old daughter, Marcela, who died in the hospital on Sunday. Witnesses say students scattered, jumping out windows and running for their lives. He then shot an unidentified woman in her 50s outside the library, went inside and fired 70 rounds at students who had been studying for exams. Police ultimately shot and killed him in the library. 

And everybody yawned a collective yawn.

On The NSA Leaks And The Fact That Your Phone Records Are Being Seized And Everything You Do On The Internet Is Being Swept Up And All That

Busy-ness and business kept me from blogging about last week's bombshell news: the leaks to Glenn Greenwald and the Washington Post that (a) phone records of Americans are seized en masse by the NSA and (b) everyone's Internet activity is likewise seized.

My immediate thought is: This is news?

Rachel Maddow devoted almost all of her show on Thrusday to something called "Room 641A", a room at the headquarters of AT&T where only one person — an NSA person — has access, and that literally sweeps up every piece of digital data that goes through those wires.

And I thought: This is old news, isn't it?  Hell, I was blogging about Room 641A back in May of 2006:

I mean, Glenn Greenwald was screaming about the same thing then.  As was I.  As was Michael Moore and thousands of others.

And I thought to myself, well, NOW we have a scandal, but it's the same one we've always had.  Yes, Obama didn't budge from Bush when it came to protecting the Constitution and warrentless wiretapping.  And Congress knew it.

I don't know.  Nobody's talking about Benghazi or even the IRS focus on tea parties.  The "scandal" is one that implicates not only Obama, but virtually every single Democrat and Republican in Congress who was aware of the program, and voted to continue it.  And that was virtually all of them.

It's the fault lines that I find interesting.  All of a sudden, neocon Republicans and many Democrats with a non-libertarian streak are defending the program and Obama's use of it.  And left-right libertarians (like Greenwald) are screaming bloody murder.

I do have a problem with these programs in principle.  I am assured that a FISA court is overseeing these operations to make sure the Fourth Amendment is being violated, but the problem is that the court works in secret, and so that assurance is not very large.  I do believe these programs have been successful in preventing terrorist attacks, and I am sympathetic to the "what-do-I-care-there's-nothing-criminal-in-my-emails" stance.  I recognize that they are not reading MY personal emails.  I recognize that to combat terrorism — which is analagous to finding a needle in a haystack — our intelligence experts need the whole "haystack".  I get all that.

But at the same time, the potential for government abuse — not now, perhaps, but sometime — is huge.  And nobody likes the idea of living in a surveillance state.

And still on the other hand, everyone seems quite okay with private corporations tracking our whereabouts online and even selling that informatoin to others.  This is something in 2013 that just wasn't around in 2007, yet we accept now if somewhat begrudgingly.

I just think it is odd that it is coming up now.  We had this battle before.  We lost.

UPDATE:  And about the leaker, who outted himself yesterday as former Booz Allen Hamilton employee Edward Snowden (now hiding out in China).  

Another development with strange fault lines.  I mean, Michael Moore and Glenn Beck are calling him a hero.  Others are ready to villify for revealing national security secrets.

But his whistleblowing (if you want to call it that) raises another disturbing aspect — the government outsourcing of intelligence gathering.  It's because people don't want to pay higher taxes that we cut the number of government employees, and outsource to private companies (which ironically, is actually more expensive).  According to a 2013 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, a total of 483,263 contractors held Top Secret clearances in 2012, the highest level one can obtain, with another 582,524 holding them at the Confidential and Secret levels.  Even if you're not worried about government abuse of privacy, you should be worried about the private sector as well.


Hurricane Names For This Season


Some hurricane names just sound like they will be bad.

I'm guessing that Hurricane Andrea, Hurricane Dorian, Hurricane Nestor, Hurricane Olga, and Hurricane Pablo will all be serious contenders.  But they will all pale compared to Hurricane Gabrielle.

But don't sweat Hurricane Barry or Hurricane Chantel.

Obama Not Worried About Benghazi-gate.

National Security Adviser Tom Donilon is stepping down, to be replaced by Susan Rice.  This is sure to make many heads explode among the Tea Partiers, who are convinced that Susan Rice was complicit in covering up "the truth" about Benghazi (although what "the truth" is, Obama opponents don't seem to know.  But rest assured, the truth is out there, and it's been covered up, and they'll find out what it is soon enough).

Seriously, several months ago, Susan Rice withdrew her name from consideration as the replacement to Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.  It was political grace that forced her to do so; Republicans were insisting that she knowingly lied when she went on Sunday morning talk shows and told the press that, according to the CIA at that time, the Benghazi attacks appeared to come spontaneously from protests.

We now know that Susan Rice didn't lie so much as tell the truth based on what the CIA told her.  That hardly makes her criminal or evil.  

The National Security Advisor position, unlike Secretary of State, does not require congressional approval, and by putting Rice in that position, Obama is basically thumbing his nose at the right wing — saying "I'm not intimidated by your scandal-mongering, and I'm not going to let it affect how I run my administration."

Good for him.

45 Years Ago Today

I often wonder how different the world would have been had it not been for June 5, 1968.  No President Nixon.  An earlier Vietnam withdrawal.  An all-out effort to end poverty and starvation.  Different lessons learned.  Probably a much kinder nation.


Why Michelle Obama Is A Bad-Ass

Apparently, the First Lady was speaking in front of 200 people at a private DNC fundraiser someplace on Tuesday evening, when a LGBT heckler shouted something:

"One of the things I don't do well is this," Obama said, per the pool report. She left the podium and moved toward the protestor, saying they could "listen to me or you can take the mic, but I'm leaving. You all decide. You have one choice."

Ironically, the heckler later complained about Mrs. Obama's lack of civility.


Anyway, don't mess with Michelle.

UpdateBuzzFeed has posted audio of the confrontation:


GOP Really In Trouble With Youth

I guess that headline isn't exactly news, but a report out today shows that the GOP is really really in trouble with young voters.

The 95-page report by the College National Republican Committee, based on in-depth research by the Winston Group looks at voters age 18-29.  In 1984, Reagan won the over by 25 points.  Now, the Demcorats enjoy a 25-35 point advantage.

“Neither technology, nor policy, nor branding alone will fully endear the Republican Party to a generation that has now twice broken for a Democratic candidate by historic margins,” the report concludes. “Yet a message and narrative that focuses on economic growth and opportunity cannot exist without substance behind it. [T]here are still many items in the Republican economic agenda that young voters have not been sold on.”

Here are some of the report’s starkest findings about the GOP’s challenges:

‘Closed-Minded, Racist, Rigid, Old-Fashioned’

Uncommitted young voters may not be enamored with the Democratic Party but they have a terrible opinion of the GOP.

“In the focus group research conducted in January 2013,” the report said, “the young ‘winnable’ Obama voters were asked to say what words came to mind when they heard ‘Republican Party.’ The responses were brutal: closed-minded, racist, rigid, old-fashioned.”

‘Couldn’t Care Less’

“We’ve become the party that will pat you on your back when you make it, but won’t offer a hand to help you get there. This has to change in order to have a shot with young voters.”

The GOP’s focus on low taxes and pro-business policies has left young voters thinking “they will only reap the benefits of Republican policies if they become wealthy or rise to the top of a big business.” The GOP is at risk of being seen as the “fend for yourself” party.

Latino voters in particular “tend to think the GOP couldn’t care less about them,” the report said.

‘Stupid Party,’ ‘Errant Republican Voices’

Bobby Jindal was “absolutely right” to worry that the GOP’s mustn’t be the stupid party.

“The ‘intelligent’ brand (among other positive attributes) is seriously undercut by outrageous statements made by errant Republican voices that are inevitably repeated over and over in the media,” the report said.

‘The Most Extreme Anti-Abortion Position’

Being pro-life isn’t inherently a detriment to the GOP but far-right anti-abortion rhetoric has come to define the party and is alienating the younger generation.

“Unfortunately for the GOP,” the report said, “the Republican Party has been painted – both by Democrats and by unhelpful voices in our own ranks — as holding the most extreme anti-abortion position (that it should be prohibited in all cases).”

‘Anti-Gay Rhetoric’

In terms of being seen as “open-minded,” the report found, “we will face serious difficulty so long as the issue of gay marriage remains on the table.”

The solution? Promote “diversity of thought” and welcome a “healthy debate” on the issue. And: “We should also strongly oppose the use of anti-gay rhetoric.”

‘Turn Voters Away’

While immigration isn’t a top priority for young voters, “the immigration debate may set up a ‘gateway issue,’” the report said. “For voters who are undecided but have a connection to communities affected by immigration policy, the issue can certainly turn voters away.”

More broadly, “[t]he issue of the Republican Party’s challenges with the youth vote and the
party’s challenges with non-white voters are inseparable.”

Read the full report below:

  Grand Old Party for a Brand New Generation