Monthly Archives: September 2015

Worse Than Watergate

The Benghazi investigation has been the longest in special congressional investigative history:

The House committee investigating the Benghazi attacks is now the longest congressional investigation in history, committee Democrats announced today. As of Monday, the House Select Committee on Benghazi, has been active for 72 weeks — surpassing the record previously held by the Watergate Committee in the 1970’s.

Of course, the House committee investigation is one of seven separate congressional committees investigating the matter.  And NOT ONE has found intentional misconduct.  This top-shelf effort is spending a fortune in hopes of inventing something to destroy Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. The closest they’ve come is to discover that the former Secretary of State used an unconventional private email server that she shouldn’t have used.

 

Utah Governor Loses In Court With His Attempt To Defund Planned Parenthood

Take that:

Planned Parenthood’s Utah chapter won an initial round in court on Tuesday challenging an attempt by the governor to cut off its funding, with a federal judge ruling that the public’s interest favors keeping the women’s health organization open.

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups issued a temporary restraining order barring Governor Gary Herbert from carrying out his directive for state agencies to revoke their contracts through which Planned Parenthood receives federal dollars.

Herbert ordered the cut-off citing the recent release of secretly recorded videos that Planned Parenthood’s critics say show officials from the group in Texas and other states discussing the illegal sale of aborted fetal tissue.

Anti-abortion activists and their Republican allies in Congress have seized on the videos to challenge Planned Parenthood’s continued eligibility for federal funds on Capitol Hill.

Planned Parenthood says the videos have been used to distort the issue of fetal tissue donations the group makes for scientific research, insisting there is nothing unlawful or unethical about the reimbursements it receives to cover the costs of those donations.

Supporters say efforts to defund the group would restrict women’s access to reproductive healthcare and disproportionately hurt low-income patients.

The judge echoed that argument in his restraining order, issued after a hearing in Salt Lake City on Planned Parenthood’s request to block Herbert’s directive.

“The programs carried out by plaintiff target at-risk individuals and the reduction of communicable diseases,” he wrote. “These are strong public interests that outweigh the defendants’ stated interests in defunding” the group.

The judge also sided with Planned Parenthood in finding “a substantial likelihood” that it would prevail on the merits of its arguments that Herbert, a Republican, had violated its constitutional rights to equal protection and freedom of association.

The plaintiffs were singled out based on their “association with an organization against whom accusations have been made of illegal conduct,” the judge said. “Those accusations are still under investigation and have not been proved.”

Again, I say, this is the right wing going about this badly.  If the goal is to have fewer abortions, demonizing (with lies) Planned Parenthood is the wrong way to go.  How about…. sex education?  Or, you know, birth control?  BOTH those things result in few unwanted pregnancies, and hence, fewer abortions.

But… like I said… nothing to worry about.

Yay to Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ta-Nehisi Coates for the MacArthur Genius Grant. They haven’t called me this year…. yet.

Sexual Misconduct At My Alma Mater

This seems to be right on par with most other universities, i.e., too much.  From Tufts University President Tony Monaco, via email:

Last spring, Tufts issued a survey to students on all three campuses to gather information about sexual misconduct and to assess their knowledge of campus policies and prevention programs. I am deeply troubled by what we have learned from the survey.

The Tufts Attitudes About Sexual Conduct survey, which was anonymous and confidential, was sent to 11,000 students. It had a 28.7 percent response rate; approximately 30 percent of undergraduate students responded to the survey. The survey—the first university-wide survey on this topic—will provide an important baseline, and we will issue future surveys to determine if our work is having a positive impact.

Approximately 14 percent of students across the university reported having had at least one incident of “non-consensual sexual contact” since enrolling at Tufts; this includes experiencing incidents of non-consensual improper touching, including sexual intercourse. Of the 14 percent, 5 percent of students across the university reported non-consensual sexual intercourse.

***

The survey data was particularly distressing when analyzed by gender and gender identity, and by academic status:

  • Nearly a quarter (24.7%) of undergraduates have experienced either non-consensual intercourse or other non-consensual sexual contact.
  • Approximately 4.7% of students in our professional and graduate schools have also experienced one or both kinds of misconduct.
  • About 22% of students identifying as transgender, genderqueer or gender non-conforming, or as another identity other than male/female reported having experienced non-consensual sexual contact.
  • The majority of such misconduct incidents appear to have been perpetrated by someone who was known to the victim. Most incidents appear to have taken place in a residential location, and in most cases, the victim and/or the perpetrator was using alcohol.
  • Although most victims report telling someone about the incident, they harbor a variety of concerns about telling others, such as thinking the incident wasn’t serious enough to share or not wanting any disciplinary or legal action to be taken. Most victims, consistent with national numbers, do not officially report their incidents to the Office of Equal Opportunity. Those who do generally feel respected, listened to, and supported during the formal process and feel the staff are well-trained.

The survey does indicate that we have made some progress, and we need to continue our efforts to make every student aware of policies, procedures, and resources:

  • The majority of students said they are happy (92.3%), feel safe (95.9%), and feel valued in the classroom (93.6%) at Tufts.
  • Most respondents felt that most Tufts students respected one another’s personal space (91.5%). Most trusted that their friends would watch out for them at a social event (95.7%).
  • The majority of students had received information about university policies regarding incidents of sexual misconduct (81.1%) and complaint and disciplinary procedures (66.6%). Most students (70.3%) knew how to seek confidential counseling about sexual misconduct.

Tufts is not alone in confronting sexual assault and sexual misconduct. Sadly, these behaviors are occurring on college campuses across the country. However, that does not diminish my profound concern about what this survey tells us about the safety of our students.

Well, identifying the problem is just step one.  Let’s hope this isn’t merely a way to avoid doing step two and step three.  The full downloadable report is below the fold (PDF)

Why I Don’t Stand With Planned Parenthood

I don’t stand with Planned Parenthood because… okay, I DO stand with Planned Parenthood, but my point is I don’t NEED to because I don’t see a serious threat to Planned Parenthood’s existence or funding.

Some might consider this naive.  After all, there are these videos and congressional hearings and threats to shut down the government… all over the issues of abortions by Planned Parenthood.

And I get that.  But as I wrote early last month, this is all theater. I wrote that the Republicans would never dare shut down the government in order to defund Planned Parenthood, because they lack the political will of the people.  And indeed, there is and will be no government shutdown (at least this year) over Planned Parenthood.

The videos themselves have riled the anti-choice base, but all they have managed to do is solidify the previously-held views about abortion on both sides.  And those views were pretty solid to begin with.  The pro-choice has noted repeatedly that the videos are edited and deceptive (a good summary is here at Media Matters), and the pro-life side has repeatedly not cared.  Ultimately, no matter what you believe about the “truthiness” that PP is “harvesting babies” as shown in these videos, every debate I’ve seen involving those videos ends up the same — it’s still about abortion and when life begins… and the videos themselves are almost irrelevant.

Well, not really.  The video are intended to make some people think that these are what ALL abortions look like, in order to get people to switch their views on abortion.  And perhaps some low-information people will switch.  But In fact, very few abortions look like the ones in the heavily-edited Planned Parenthood video (and in fact, some of what is in the video aren’t abortions at all, but rather, stillborn babies being born).

The videos are also important only as a pretext to grill Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards by the GOP lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which they did yesterday.  It is part of the latest congressional effort to strip funding from the women’s health organization.

The big problem is that despite all the argle bargle from the pro-life side, there’s no evidence Planned Parenthood has broken any law.  Interestingly, as Richards was getting grilled yesterday, the Missouri attorney general issued a report confirming there’s no evidence of misconduct at the state’s only Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis. The state official reached that conclusion after reviewing more than 3,500 pages of documents and conducting multiple interviews with the clinic’s employees.

In reaching its findings, Missouri joined five other states — Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota — that have also cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing after launching investigations following the release of the inflammatory videos. An additional seven states considered investigating the group, but decided there wasn’t enough information suggesting Planned Parenthood has broken the law to justify a statewide probe.

map-of-pp-638x388

The hearings yesterday, to be sure, were ugly, as Ms Richard was brow-beaten, and constantly interrupted, by the mansplaining Committee.  For her part, Richards maintained an admirable calmness, although it was clear that was a challenge. She nailed the whole exercise, however.

“The latest smear campaign is based on efforts by our opponents to entrap our doctors and clinicians into breaking the law—and once again our opponents failed,” Ms. Richards said.

House Republicans have promised there won’t be any end any time soon to the smear campaign. They’re launching a select committee to supposedly investigate the information in the videos. Just like Benghazi. Another committee spending oodles of taxpayer dollars investigating nothing, but designed to attack the frontrunner in the presidential race, who just happens to be a woman, and an organization devoted to providing healthcare to women.

The latest “gotcha” seems to be the “revelation” that PP does not perform mammograms.  Over and over again at the hearing yesterday, the fact that Planned Parenthood doesn’t offer mammograms was held out as some kind of proof that the organization doesn’t provide women’s health care. The GOP seems obsessed with mammograms, as if that and abortions are the only aspects of womens’ health.  Since PP does not perform mammograms, they MUST be doing abortions full-time.  Which of course is nonsense.

Let’s get a few things clear:

Planned Parenthood never hid the fact that it doesn’t do mammograms.  It’s right there on its website (“Where Can I Get A Mammogram?”)

In fact (MEN of the Congressional committee), there’s no reason for them to have mammogram machines on premises. Most gynecologists don’t do them on premises, but refer women out to another location for a mammogram, because mammogram facilities are accredited by the American College of Radiology.  Also, Planned Parenthood is, as its name suggests, a family planning clinic and therefore has much to do with sexual health.  Most women don’t start getting mammograms until they are past child-bearing years.  Therefore, it would be a waste of resources for Planned Parenthood facilities to have those machines (and licensed radiology staff) on premises.  So while PP screens for cancer and other womens’ health issues, it doesn’t actually perform the actual mammograms.

It is interesting, from a tactical perspective, that a lot of the focus was on mammograms yesterday.  Oddly enough, that isn’t going to endear the GOP to women voters.  And that is ultimately why I don’t feel there is much threat to Planned Parenthood….

Because a nationwide USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds Americans back government support for the group by more than 2-1.  Two-thirds of those surveyed, 65%, say funding should continue for the group, which provides contraception, cancer screening and other health services to women; 29% say it should be cut off.  91% of Democrats support PP funding, but even 59% of Republicans.

Like I said, this is a battle with high emotions.  But the war has already been won.  PP is not going anywhere and they don’t need me to stand with them (although of course, I do)

It doesn’t help PP opponents that they lie so brazenly.  The blue ribbon goes to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who tried to ambush Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards with a bizarre “chart” that purported to show that Planned Parenthood had nearly ceased providing breast exams and cancer screenings, while the number of abortions radically increased.

Here’s the exchange:

Here’s a clear image of that “chart”, which Chaffetz says (lying) that it was pulled from a PP corporate website.  Notice that 1) it starts in 2006, and 2) the numbers are ridiculously out of whack because the chart lacks a Y axis. “Cancer screening and prevention services” actually have declined while abortions have increased; cancer screenings end up at more than 935,000, while the number of abortions ends at 327,000. But the chart is presented in a deceptive way to make it look like there are now three times as many abortions as cancer screenings, which is ludicrously false. The truth is exactly the opposite.

fakechart

At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum replotted the data for this chart, but added a Y axis (which we all learned in grade school math, right?)

correctchart

And if you add in the other services Planned Parenthood provides, specifically STD screening and contraception, the chart looks even more real.

reallycorrect

But…. these are facts and numbers, something the GOP (and PP haters) have no use for.  Well, except to create lies.

Kim Davis Secretly Met With The Pope

Not much of a secret anymore:

Pope Francis met privately in Washington last week with Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who defied a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a Vatican spokesman confirmed on Wednesday.

Ms. Davis, the clerk in Rowan County, has been at the center of a nationwide controversy over whether government employees and private businesses have a legal right to refuse to serve same-sex couples. She spent five days in jail for disobeying a federal court order to issue the licenses.

On Tuesday night, her lawyer, Mathew D. Staver, said in a telephone interview that Ms. Davis and her husband, Joe, were sneaked into the Vatican Embassy by car on Thursday afternoon. Francis gave her rosaries and told her to “stay strong,” the lawyer said. The couple met for about 15 minutes with the pope, who was accompanied by security guards, aides and photographers. Mr. Staver said he expected to receive photographs of the meeting from the Vatican soon.

On Wednesday, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, confirmed that the meeting took place, but he declined to elaborate. “I do not deny that the meeting took place, but I have no other comments to add,” he said.

Ms. Davis described the meeting in an interview on Wednesday with ABC News.

“I put my hand out and he reached and he grabbed it, and I hugged him and he hugged me,” Ms. Davis said. “And he said, ‘Thank you for your courage.’ ”

“I was crying. I had tears coming out of my eyes,” she said. “I’m just a nobody, so it was really humbling to think he would want to meet or know me.”

Mr. Staver, her lawyer, said Vatican officials had been aware of Ms. Davis, and that the meeting had been arranged through them — not through bishops or the bishops’ conference in the United States. He would not identify the Vatican officials.

In his public addresses in the United States, the pope spoke in broad strokes about the importance of religious freedom. On the plane trip home, an American television reporter asked him about government officials who refused to perform their duties because of religious objections to same-sex marriage.

The pope said that he could not speak specifically about cases but that “conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right.”

“It is a right,” Francis said. “And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right.”

The pope did not mention Ms. Davis, but added: “Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise, we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying, ‘This right, that has merit; this one does not.’ ”

While in Washington, Francis also made an unscheduled stop to see the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns that is suing the federal government over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.

Ms. Davis and her husband were in Washington anyway to receive an award from the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group, in recognition of her stand against same-sex marriage.

During Ms. Davis’s visit to the Vatican Embassy, “the pope came to her and held out his hand,” Mr. Staver said.

Ms. Davis asked the pope to pray for her, which he said he would, and then the pope asked Ms. Davis to pray for him, Mr. Staver said. They spoke in English, he said, and the pope gave the Davises two rosaries. Ms. Davis gave the rosaries to her mother and father, who are Catholics.

Many on the left are disappointed because they hoped that the Pope would be on our side.  And he is, on many issues (climate change, for one).  But as has been said so many times, this Pope (like all Popes really) does not fall into the left-right schism that we have in this country.  So we just have to eat this one.

RT @lauriegnyt: Pope Francis met secretly with Kim Davis and her husband for 15 minutes in Vatican embassy in DC, her lawyer told me. Story…

They discovered flowing water on Mars. And rather than marvel at that, all I can think is “I bet that would taste really good bottled.”

Departing Boehner Takes A Swipe At Tea Party Congresscritters

The exiting John Boehner is free from his shackles and can say anything he wants.  And boy, does he hate the rightwing extremists:

Outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner (R) ripped into some of his Republican colleagues on Sunday for failing to be realistic about what the party can and cannot do, and took a jab at bombastic Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) to make his point.

Appearing on Face the Nation, Boehner said he that he had begun to make plans to step down after colleague Eric Cantor was primaried out in July of last year by a Tea Party backed candidate.

***

Speaking of his legislative accomplishments, Boehner became quite animated when noting opposition often came from within his own party.

“All [my legislation] done over the last four and a half years with a Democrat president and voted against by my most conservative members because ‘it wasn’t good enough,’” an incredulous Boehner said before asking sarcastically, “Really?”

“This the part that I really don’t understand,” he continued before being asked if the hard liners were “unrealistic.”

“Absolutely, they’re unrealistic!” he exclaimed. “You know the Bible says beware of false prophets. And there are people out there, y’know, spreading noise about how much can get done. I mean this whole idea about shutting down government to get rid of Obamacare in 2013 — I mean, this plan never had a chance.”

Asked if Cruz was one of the “false prophets,” Boehner smirked and became coy, saying, “I’ll refer you to a remark I made at a fundraiser in August, in Steamboat Springs, Colorado,” where the GOP leader called the Texas senator a “jackass.”

Good on you, Boehner.  A reasonable Republican gets forced out…. again.

When Will We Ever Learn… Oh, When Will Weeeee Ever Learn?

I don’t write much about the Middle East because — Jesus, it’s a clusterfuck and it just gets worse and worse and it is depressing.  It’s basically an unsolvable problem and everybody wants to kill each other.

But I think I have figure out ONE truism.

Intervention on the part of the United States makes things worse for us.

I don’t care who the president is, or where the conflict is within the Middles East, or whose side we are on.  Everytime we intervene, it just makes the situation worse.  The Middle East is fire, we are oil, period.  Case in point:

In another embarrassing setback for one of President Barack Obama’s centerpiece strategies for defeating the Islamic State, the Pentagon said Friday that the commander of U.S.-trained Syrians appears to have turned over his pickup trucks and weapons to al Qaeda militants in exchange for protection within days of re-entering his homeland.

The Pentagon admission represented an abrupt reversal of its position as recently as Wednesday, when American military officials firmly denied social media reports that a U.S.-backed commander had defected to Nusra Front, Syria’s al Qaida affiliate, and provided trucks and weapons to the radical Islamic group.

“Unfortunately, we learned today that the New Syrian Force unit now says it did in fact provide six pick-up trucks and a portion of their ammunition to a suspected al-Nusra Front (representative),” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said Friday evening.

Two days earlier, Davis had stated: “The folks that are part of the New Syrian Force are accounted for, as are their weapons.”

The new revelations angered American military leaders.

Remember the good old days when the Russians invaded Afghanistan and we backed the Afghan rebels there by providing them weapons, including that guy — oh, what was his name — Osama bin Laden?  Fine ally he turned out to be.

The political climate is unstable there, and the factional politics is always shifting.  You can show a support for Israel (and we do and we should), but trying to back anyone on the flipside of that coin — it’s impossible.  And if stupid me has figured that out, why hasn’t anyone in power?

The Supermoon Lunar Eclipse Last Night

What actually happened was a confluence of three things. The moon was full and in its closest point in its orbit around the Earth, making it a so-called supermoon.  In addition to this, a lunar eclipse occurred. In other words, the Earth lined up directly with the sun and moon, directly between the two.

It last happened 33 years ago, and it won’t happen again for another 18 years.

And this one fell within normal viewing hours (instead of 4 a.m.)

Unfortunately, there was cloud cover and rain here in the southeast.  But this is what it looked like – time-elapsed.

tumblr_nv8lvrTdbC1rnq3cto1_500

 

I don’t know much, but I can name 4 people who will never get nominated: Trump, Fiorina, Carlson & Sanders. Just ignore them.

RT @tbogg: Kim Davis announces switch to Republican Party. Hillary expected to drop out. “What’s the use. We’re doomed now…doomed, I say.”

RT @Atrios: everybody gets only one “speaker doesn’t have to be in congress so it could be…” joke

Trump Beginning To Lose Hard Right?

Moments ago at the conservative Value Voters summit (which met Rubio this morning to much applause), this happened:

Trump also does this:

Seriously? THAT old chestnut?  P.S.  Check out this inspiring Churchillian oratory:

CPxEfFfWwAAl5nH

KKKKids: Where Are They Now?

Almost 10 years ago on this blog, I wrote about Prussian Blue – the name of the rock group comprised of two twin sisters, Lamb and Lynx Gaede, who sang songs about white pride and nationalism and had a huge following among white supremacists.

Here is what they looked like then:

Twins Lamb and Lynx Gaede are singers in a band called Prussian Blue whose songs have nationalistic lyrics branded rascist by critics. The 13-year-old twins from Bakersfield, California, have even modelled T Shirts showing an emblem of Hitler for the website www.ayryanwear.com

As I wrote then, the two girls had been nurtured from birth with the racist beliefs of their mother, April Gaede.  They recorded two albums and even toured Europe, performing at white nationalist organizations. They even went on to say that they believed the Holocaust was a “myth,” and in fact, the name Prussian Blue refers to the by-product of the poisonous substance used to gas Jews in concentration camps.

So what happened to them?

Well, they got a lot of publicity around 2005 — much of it negative as you might suspect — and eventually left Bakersfield, California to go to Montana, where they hoped to hide under a rock.

As they grew older, and much to the disappointment of their racist mother, the girls’ views changed.  They now think diversity is great.

They both live in Montana still, with Lamb living on her own and working as a hotel maid, and Lynx lives with their mother, stepdad and half-sister, Dresden (the names of these children, good lord) in a home near Lamb.

As a freshman in high school, Lynx was diagnosed with cancer and a large tumor was removed from her shoulder. She also suffers from a rare condition called CVS, Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome, which sounds like the most horrible disease in the world.

Unfortunately Lamb has suffered from a few health problems as well, including scoliosis and chronic back pain, as well as lack of appetite and emotional stress… wonder where that came from.

But the one thing that helps them get through the day? Pot. Yes, you read that right.

Lynx reveals, “I have to say, marijuana saved my life. I would probably be dead if I didn’t have it.”

In fact, the two made more history as they became one of the first five minors to get a medical marijuana card in Montana

Lynx tried to explain why they got into the business in the first place, saying, “My sister and I were home-schooled. We were these country bumpkins. We spent most of our days up on the hill playing with our goats.”

Lamb adds, “I was just spouting a lot of knowledge that I had no idea what I was saying.”

 

“We just want to come from a place of love and light,” Lamb said. “I think we’re meant to do something more  — we’re healers. We just want to exert the most love and positivity we can.”

2011, USA: Lamb and Lynx Gaede of White Power group Prussian Blue///Lamb and Lynx Gaede of Prussian Blue. Credit: Polaris

Good for them.

Breaking: Boehner To Resign From Congress End of October

I wonder if this has anything to do with his rift with others on the right — in particular, the pressure from the far right to shut down the government in order to defund Planned Parenthood.

Boehner is also facing two difficult, and interrelated, challenges right now: many House Republicans want to shut the government down over defunding Planned Parenthood, and some House conservatives want to use an unusual parliamentary maneuver to launch a coup against Boehner. The problem for Boehner is that a shutdown would likely be a disaster for the Republican Party, but stopping a shutdown would make a coup against him more likely to succeed.

In a statement to reporters, a Boehner spokesman said:

Speaker Boehner believes that the first job of any Speaker is to protect this institution and, as we saw yesterday with the Holy Father, it is the one thing that unites and inspires us all.

The Speaker’s plan was to serve only through the end of last year. Leader Cantor’s loss in his primary changed that calculation.

The Speaker believes putting members through prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution.

He is proud of what this majority has accomplished, and his Speakership, but for the good of the Republican Conference and the institution, he will resign the Speakership and his seat in Congress, effective October 30.

That seems a little hasty and thrown together.

I never cared for Boehner, but I respect the fact that he warded off dangerous factions within his party. We are much worse off without him.  Whoever replaces him is going to face the same pressures, and is more likely to cave I think.  Which means more government shutdowns in Washington (or threats of it) and gridlock.

Rep. Pete King (R-NY) has reacted to the news of Speaker John Boehner’s resignation on Friday by telling Politico reporter John Bresnahan it was a “victory for the crazies.”  Yup.

UPDATE:  Some blogs are reporting that Boehner wanted out a while ago, but he wanted to bring the Pope to Congress, which he did.  He reportedly said last night that after bringing the Pope to Congress, he has “nothing more left to do”.  So as to the question of “Did Boehner jump, or was he pushed?”, the best answer seems to be “a little of both.”

UPDATE #2:  The conservatives rejoice.  Here is video of Rubio announcing the resignation at the Value Voters Summit this morning:

RT @AngryBlackLady: There is something seriously wrong with you if you think that Planned Parenthood is dismembering live babies and sellin…

I can’t stop watching….

Facebook was down for a little bit there. THANKS, OBAMA!

RT @TheTweetOfGod: Facebook is down. Please refrain from genuine human contact until the problem is resolved.

Pope failed to mention Deflate-gate.

How Long Does It Take To Get Hooked On A Show And Start Binge-watching?

Netflix, ground zero of binge-watching, did a study.  This is how long it takes to start binge-watching a show, by episode:

Arrow, Episode 8
Bates Motel, Episode 2
Better Call Saul, Episode 4
Bloodline, Episode 4
BoJack Horseman, Episode 5
Breaking Bad, Episode 2
Daredevil, Episode 5
Dexter, Episode 3
Gossip Girl, Episode 3
Grace & Frankie, Episode 4
HIMYM, Episode 8
House of Cards, Episode 3
Mad Men, Episode 6
Marco Polo, Episode 3
OITNB, Episode 3
Once Upon A Time, Episode 6
Pretty Little Liars, Episode 4
Scandal, Episode 2
Sense8, Episode 3
Sons of Anarchy, Episode 2
Suits, Episode 2
The Blacklist, Episode 6
The Killing, Episode 2
The Walking Dead, Episode 2
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Episode 4

This might explain why I had a hard time getting into Mad Men.  Six hour long episodes is quite an investment before a person gets “hooked”,

The Pope’s Speech To Congress (And By Extension, The American People)

He reminds us that “America” is more than the United States, and that we are all immigrants.  He calls out the black/white-good/evil mindset in politics and promotes pragmatism in resolving problems.  He reminds us of the Golden Rule in calling for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty (as well as a subtle nod to banning abortions).  He speaks of the environment, but does not mention the phrase “climate change”.  Perhaps a nod relating to gay marriage as he says that “fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family.”

With the exception of immigration and the death penalty, most of his speech is understated, with vague and passing references.  The spinners are going to spin wildly to try to make bread out of the flour droppings.

Full text of the prepared speech is below the fold.

RT @kathleenmadigan: Sarah Palin would not enjoy this mass becuz so far no one is speaking American. #PopeInDC

This bitch is a bigot! Yeah, I said it — the “b” word. Both of them!

Tales Of The One Percenters

Honestly.  What is it going to take for the people and/or the government to throw these rich bastards in jail?  No, not for being rich, but for, you know, breaking laws and regulations that effect the lives of actual people…. when?!?

Case Study Number One:

Volkswagen chief executive Martin Winterkorn resigned Wednesday as a growing scandal over falsified emissions tests rocked the world’s biggest carmaker.

“I am doing this in the interests of the company even though I am not aware of any wrongdoing on my part,” Winterkorn said after an emergency meeting with Volkswagen directors.

Winterkorn, 68, was Volkswagen (VLKAY) CEO for eight years. The German company, which also owns the Audi and Porsche brands, had just achieved his long-standing goal of overtaking Toyota (TM) to become the biggest automaker three years ahead of target.

But his position had looked increasingly precarious since the scandal broke Friday, when U.S. regulators said the company had deliberately programmed some 500,000 diesel-powered vehicles to emit lower levels of harmful gases in official tests than on the roads.

The crisis escalated Tuesday when Volkswagen revealed it had found significant emissions discrepancies in 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide.

Winterkorn, an engineer and former head of Audi, said he was stunned by the scale of the misconduct, and was accepting responsibility to clear the way for a “fresh start” for the company.

Stunned, my ass.  You don’t intentionally program an entire line of cars to “cheat” emissions tests without the CEO knowing about it.  So this guy straps on a golden parachute, and leaves Volkswagon.  But people die when these things are avoided:

Volkswagen has admitted that 11 million of its cars worldwide were designed to cheat emissions testing, in an escalating scandal that has loaded pressure on the wider motor industry.

Campaigners have long claimed engine emissions figures under laboratory tests are far exceeded in real-life conditions, and experts have said thousands of premature deaths could be averted by ensuring cars meet their legal limits.

Emphasis mine.

Case Study Number Two:

Hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli is 32 years old but he’s acting half that age on Twitter today after news broke that his company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, had raised the price of the life-saving drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per pill.

That’s not a typo — $13.50 to $750.00 per pill.

Daraprim is used to treat toxoplasmosis, a condition caused by a parasite that exists in nearly a quarter of the U.S. population over age 12, but which can prove deadly for the unborn children of pregnant women and for immunocompromised individuals like AIDS patients. These vulnerable populations will now have to pay over 5,000 percent more for their treatment.

Due to the sudden price hike, Shkreli, whose company only acquired Daraprim last month, has already dethroned the dentist who killed Cecil the Lion as the most-hated man in America.

***

Shkreli did a news show circuit as well, beginning with Bloomberg, where he attempted to argue that Daraprim had been underpriced before Turing swept in.

“The price per course of treatment to save your life was only $1,000 and we know these days, [with] modern pharmaceuticals, cancer drugs can cost $100,000 or more, rare-disease drugs can cost half a million dollars,” Shkreli said, as if it should be shocking that cheap, life-saving medicine could cost less than a laptop.

When confronted by the reporter with the low cost of producing Daraprim—about $1 per pill by her estimate—Shkreli claimed that the price hike was necessary for Turing Pharmaceuticals to increase revenue, and that some of the profits would be funneled into research and development costs for a Daraprim alternative. But as Emory University infectious disease professor Dr. Wendy Armstrong told RawStory, “I certainly don’t think this is one of those diseases where we have been clamoring for better therapies.”

Why do one percenters get away with this?  Because they can:

But as reprehensible as Shkreli’s actions might appear, what is even more harrowing is that they are not illegal. With his social media swagger, Shkreli makes an easy target for a problem that extends far beyond the confines of his ego: the rampant overpricing of life-saving medicine. As USA Today reported, many new cancer drugs cost over $100,000 per year—a fact that Shkreli, ironically, sees as justification for raising the cost of Daraprim. And technically, there’s no way to stop him.

As a spokesperson for the Food and Drug Administration told The Daily Beast’s Ben Collins on Twitter in response to Shkreli’s actions, their power in this situation is, well, nonexistent.

An FAQ page on the FDA’s website asks, “What can the FDA do about the cost of drugs?” and the answer is, essentially, nothing: “We understand that drug prices have a direct impact on the ability of people to cope with their illnesses as well as meet other expenses. However, FDA has no legal authority to investigate or control the prices charged for marketed drugs.”

Martin_Shkreli__3449094bThis is true, but states have laws against gouging.  An industrious state Attorney General could make a name for himself on this.

In any event, Shkreli’s media blitz cast him in an even worse light — he came off as slimy and greasy as a used car salesman.  Just .look at his picture.  The latest news today is that Shkreli has agreed to reduce the price, although he will not say by how much.

He’s not the first person to corner the market on a drug and hike the price.  But he’s one of the most frequent offenders.  Fortunately, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have weighed in, and this could become a political hot potato.  Any chance for reform?  We’ll see.

 

RT @HillaryClinton: “Baseball is 90% mental—the other half is physical.” Yogi gave everything at least 140%. We’ll miss him. My prayers are…

RT @rudepundit: The fact that drug profiteer @MartinShkreli hasn’t been dragged to Hell by a barb-dicked demon pretty much proves religion …

RT @michelleisawolf: Oddly enough, Martin Shkreli is like if AIDS were a person.

The Right Wing Welcomes The Pope

The Pope’s message::

In his strongest remarks yet concerning the world’s economic and financial crises, the pope said, “Money has to serve, not to rule.

“We have created new idols,” Pope Francis told a group of diplomats gathered at the Vatican on May 16, and the “golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.” According to Pope Francis, a major reason behind the increase in social and economic woes worldwide “is in our relationship with money and our acceptance of its power over ourselves and our society.”

Blasphemy!  Sic him, right wing talking heads!!

“Happy Birthday” Now In Public Domain

Finally:

A judge grants summary judgment to a filmmaker challenging Warner/Chappell’s copyright to a song more than a century old.

The world’s most popular English-language song is potentially free from copyright after a federal judge ruled on Tuesday that filmmakers challenging Warner/Chappell Music’s hold on “Happy Birthday to You” should be granted summary judgment.

According to the opinion on Tuesday from U.S. District Judge George H. King, “Because Summy Co. never acquired the rights to the Happy Birthday lyrics, Defendants, as Summy Co.’s purported successors-in-interest, do not own a valid copyright in the Happy Birthday lyrics.”

The ruling means that Warner/Chappell will lose out on $2 million a year in reported revenue on the song. Unless something happens at an appellate court or unless someone else comes forward with a valid claim of ownership to the song, filmmakers like director Jennifer Nelson — who sued in 2013 over demands as much as six figures to license — will no longer have to pay to feature “Happy Birthday” in motion pictures and television shows.

The “Happy Birthday” song dates to late 19th century work by a schoolteacher named Patty Smith Hill and her sister Mildred Hill.

The Hill sisters later assigned rights to a publishing company owned by Clayton Summy. Later, copyright registrations were made by Sumny’s company on “Happy Birthday.” Warner/Chappell has been contending that the 1935 registration covered both the piano arrangement as well as nearly universally known lyrics. The melody wasn’t in contention.

Today’s opinion rejects Warner’s argument that a copyright entitles them to a presumption of validity with the judge noting that it isn’t particularly clear whether the registration included the lyrics. Furthermore, the ruling establishes that rights never properly transferred.

“Defendants ask us to find that the Hill sisters eventually gave Summy Co. the rights in the lyrics to exploit and protect, but this assertion has no support in the record. The Hill sisters gave Summy Co. the rights to the melody, and the rights to piano arrangements based on the melody, but never any rights to the lyrics.”

With a nod towards plaintiffs’ early contentions in the case that the song appeared in early 20th century schoolbooks, the judge adds that the Hill sisters never objected to publication until 1934 — four decades after they wrote the song. Even then, the Hill sisters asserted rights on the melody, not the lyrics.

The judge rules that plaintiffs can’t score on a claim of copyright abandonment — it would have been a triable issue — but there’s still enough in the record to give them victory on another aspect. Even if the Hill sisters still held common law rights to the lyrics when they made their later deals with Summy, the judge says there’s no plausible evidence to support the theory they gave those rights to Summy Co.

In fact, Warner may owe money to people who have paid for rights to “Happy Birthday” in the past.

The opinion is below the fold as a PDF:

RIP Yogi Berra

“It ain’t over ’til its over” – Yogi Berra

Well, it’s over.  Yogi Berra is dead at the age of 90.

A dropout in the 8th grade, and looking a lot like a caveman, Yogi Berra was an odd duck within the glamorous 1950s New York Yankees organization.  Often outshown by superstars like Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, Berra was actually the powerhouse of the 1950s Yankees — it was Berra, not Mantle or DiMaggio — who lead the Yankees with the most RBIs for seven consecutive seasons.

He holds several World Series records, including most games by a catcher (63); hits (71); times on a winning team (10); first in at bats, first in doubles, second in RBIs, third in home runs and walks; and he hit the first pinch-hit home run in World Series history in 1947.

Favorite Yogi quote: “Baseball is 90% physical.  The other half is mental.”

Of course, nobody is ever sure if Yogi made all these silly quotes.  “I never said half the things I said,” Yogi once said (supposedly)

Sexual Violence On Campus — Worse Than We Thought

One of the largest-ever surveys on campus sexual violence was conducted recently by the Association of American Universities.  More than 150,000 students across 27 colleges were surveyed,  The results, released Monday, are terrible.

The survey asked students whether they had experienced events ranging from sexual touching to forcible penetration. If they answered affirmatively, they were asked follow-up questions about the circumstances and the event’s aftermath, including whether they reported the incident to law enforcement or a campus authority. Some scenarios that appeared in the survey fit the legal definitions for rape and sexual battery, while others involved incidents that universities typically consider to be sexual misconduct. Other questions measured attitudes toward campus sexual assault and how often students intervened when they observed potentially risky situations.

The participation rate of respondents was low, which might call into question the validity of some of these results.

Here are a few takeaways:

  • More than 1 in 5 undergraduate women are victims of sexual assault.The AAU’s findings suggest sexual-assault rates are slightly higher than the widely cited yet disputed statistic that 1 in 5 college women are victims of sexual assault. According to the survey, 23 percent of female respondents said they experienced nonconsensual sexual contact due to physical force, under the threat of physical force, or while they were incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. Among seniors nearing graduation, that number rises to 1 in 3.
  • In the last academic year alone, 11 percent of respondents said they experienced nonconsensual sexual contact. That’s around 16,500 students across the 27 institutions.
  • First-year students are are the most vulnerable to sexual assault. Sixteen percent of freshman women said they experienced sexual contact under physical force or incapacitation.
  • The vast majority of students don’t report sexual assault or misconduct. While most victims said they confided in a friend, family member or someone else, only 26 percent of students who experienced forcible penetration filed an official report. More than half of those victims said they didn’t consider the event serious enough to go to the authorities, while one-third of said they were “embarrassed, ashamed, or that it would be too emotionally difficult.” Others said they “did not think anything would be done about it.” Students were much more likely to report certain kinds of events than others, with reports filed by 28 percent of stalking victims but only 5 percent of those who experienced unwanted sexual touching while they were incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.​
  • Transgender and gender-nonconforming students experience sexual assault and misconduct at higher rates than their peers. These students comprised 1.5 percent of survey respondents, but nearly 40 percent of seniors identifying with this group said they had experienced nonconsensual sexual contact in college, compared to a third of senior women. They’re also less likely to believe the university will conduct a fair investigation or take their reports seriously.
  • Response rates were low. About 19 percent of students across the 27 universities chose to respond to the online survey, which was conducted during a three-week period in April. The survey notes that nonvictims may be less likely to participate, skewing incidence rates slightly upward. Still, final participation rates were well below the the rates of similar studies.

Here is the survey if you want to go deep-diving into methodology and results:

Here Come Da Pope

I am a BIG Pope Francis fan.  And I like that he is coming to America and he’s going to do some papal spanking.

I noted this morning that Lindsey Graham tweeted about how the Pope has pro-life views.  Indeed, he does.  But he also has very strong views on sexual equality, climate change, and income disparity.  I wonder how many Republicans and Republican candidates will cozy up to those messages.  I expect a lot of Pope-bashing starting today, when he lands in the United States.

[UPDATE:  Yup, George Will has started it.]

Over at The Atlantic, Emma Green warns people like me that the Pope, although willing to stake out some doctrinal shifts, is not a progressive in the American sense:

Francis does not fit neatly into American categories. To understand him and his agenda, it’s more helpful to look at America through his eyes than to look at him through an American’s eyes, for even the most familiar U.S. issue may seem very different to this Argentinian Jesuit. As the pope makes his way from Cuba through Washington, D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia, here are a few things to keep in mind.

First, the American political spectrum is truly idiosyncratic. This is a country where a Democratic congressman can loudly oppose the death penalty on moral grounds, but can’t risk really opposing abortion; a Republican might care a lot about the poor, but woe unto her campaign coffers if she suggests raising taxes on the rich. “Francis, like all the other popes, like the Catholic Church, simply doesn’t land comfortably on either side of the political divide in the U.S.,” said Vincent Miller, a professor of theology at the University of Dayton. “But it’s not simply that on questions of sexuality and human life he agrees with Republicans and on questions of economics he agrees with Democrats. The whole system is so skewed.”

Second, although some read this pope as a rebel within a broken Church, no pontiff can single-handedly overhaul Church teachings on any issue, nor has that ever been Francis’s intention. There is no doubt Francis is a reformer: He has cleaned up Church finances and reorganized the Roman Curia, the Vatican’s bureaucracy. In October, bishops will also gather in Rome for the second of two synods on the topic of family, which may yield changes in how the Church deals with married priests and divorcées. But as with anything in the Church, it’s reform in increments, always in continuity with what has come before. Francis’s style may be different from that of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the two popes who preceded him. But this pope has made painstaking efforts to show how his work is a continuation of theirs, rather than something totally new.

Finally, Francis is fundamentally a global pope. He is not coming to the U.S. to address it as a voting bloc, like some politician traveling to a recalcitrant county to court constituents. The most vibrant and fastest growing parts of the Church are in Latin America and Africa, not North America and Europe. Moreover, the United States is sort of like the Death Star in Pope Francis’s understanding of global politics.

***

In an American context, Francis is actually something of a traditionalist in his approach to family. Although he just about broke the Internet in 2013 when he said, “Who am I to judge?” in response to a pool reporter’squestion about a gay priest, he has not shifted Church doctrine on traditional marriage at all. In fact, at times, he has emphasized the male/female nature of marriage; at a Vatican summit in November, for example, he affirmed that marriages between husband and wife are “an anthropological fact, and consequently a social, cultural fact, etc.” He has consistently written that “marriage and the family are in crisis,” and that “the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.”

I’m not sure I agree with all of it, but it’s a good read.

Walker Don’t Run

Scott Walker is out of the race.  This is pretty big news — bigger than Perry getting out. Last March, Nate Silver gave Walker a 26% chance of being the GOP nominee. Last June, Walker was the frontrunner in Iowa.  It was a crowded field then, too, but Walker had somewhere around 8%.  Now he is an asterisk, with less than 1%.

At one time, I considered Walker to be the biggest threat to Hillary Clinton.  If he caught fire, I thought he was the ideal candidate for the GOP (along with Rubio or Fiorina).  Those three seemed to have the best claims in the field for balancing conservatism with electability, historically a sweet spot for Republican nominees.

But Walker never caught fire.

In announcing the “suspension” of his campaign, Walker said, “I encourage other Republican presidential candidates to consider doing the same so that the voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive, conservative alternative to the current front-runner.”

That was a reference to Trump.

He’s got a point, although Trump really isn’t completely responsible for Walker’s demise.  Walker was mediocre in the debates at best.  And he had fewer than 14 minutes in both debates combined to speak to voters: the least for any candidate on the main stage for both events.

He also had his share of missteps on the campaign trail — such as implying that the U.S. should consider building a border wall with Canada — but they don’t seem to be much worse than the gaffes other candidates have committed.

I think Walker simply failed to stand out and plant his flag in a crowded field.  Like the 15th or 16th Duggar child, he was just…. there.  I suspect he might be back if a Democrat wins the presidency.  Otherwise, he may be off the political stage for good now.

After hearing the soundtrack, I’ve never been so pumped to see a show as I am to see @HamiltonMusical. Soon, very soon.

RT @ditzkoff: The Emmys existed so that Amy Schumer could meet Tatiana Maslany. Everything else is just noise. http://t.co/3gYargiVwb
rt-ditzkoff-the-emmys-existed-so-that-amy-schumer-could-meet-tatiana-maslany-everything-else-is-just-noise-httpt-co3gyargivwb 

Ugh. Had a bad dream about a prior relationship. Forgot how exhausting and soul-draining all that was. #dramafree #lovinglife

RT @TheEricGoldman: Aaaaaand, yeah. That’s not shocking, but still… Sigh. One day, Tatiana. #Emmys

I love Viola Davis, but I am IN love with my girl Tatiana Maslany. Oh well. #Emmys

I was hoping for the left shark to win something #Emmys

Ending the In Memoriam with Leonard Nimoy “live long and prosper” was a classy touch #Emmys

I must say, Dinklage had his best season yet and really deserted that win. #Emmys

Tatiana Maslany please #Emmys

Yay to Uzo, who sang to me in Godspell. Wins Best Supporting as a comedy AND a drama! #Emmys #OITNB