Monday, July 28, 2014

At Peril Of Thy Soul Sale

AP via TPM:
Dollar Tree To Buy Family Dollar To Create $9B Dollar-Store Giant
Thou shalt not commit...
I thought good Christians were forbidden to commit Dollar Tree... <grin_duck_run />

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Stella Suffers Sudden Strength Shortages

Stella holds Esther (2010)
Her birthday, which I expected would cheer and comfort her, surround her with friends and grant her a new lease on life, instead inflicted great pain on Stella and forced her to suffer limited mobility for the entire week. Not entirely certain of his diagnosis, her doc fears the phenomenon may afflict her for literally months. Worst of all, she suffers impaired mobility and significant muscle pain, and despite using the family walker most of the time, still manages to fall unexpectedly every couple of days, struck down by a sudden loss of muscle strength. There is some question how soon she will be able to resume work, but like most of us, she can't really afford not to. Keep your fingers crossed. Please forgive me if I'm not around the blog as often as usual, and please think good thoughts toward Stella.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) Used Against Peaceful Protest Of Detroit Water Shut-Off

You knew when you read about the development of the LRAD that its use would extend far beyond mere acoustic communications over long distances.

You knew from its use against protesters at the 2004 Republican National Convention that its use as a police weapon would not be confined to control of violent crowds.

And you learned last Friday that Detroit police used it against peaceful protesters at the entrance to Homrich, "a demolition contractor working on a $5.6 million deal to perform the water shutoffs on residents." There's a video on the linked post; despite the manifestly peaceful nature of the protest, the LRAD fires up near the end of the video. All claims aside, the actual clear purpose of the LRAD is physical intimidation of protesters.

Live in Detroit. Miss a water bill. Have your water shut off along with thousands of other households, as part of a "Detroit Water Collection Project." Join an organized peaceful protest of that over‑the‑top action which surely endangered public health. And in response, have your protest physically assaulted by a sound weapon intended for military use or violent crowd control. Got the picture?

The first arrest the cops made was of a guy in a wheelchair. I've spent time in a wheelchair; I didn't attend any protests while I was wheel-bound... it's just not safe. You've got to admire the man for his courage. I hope he was treated with basic human respect. But I wouldn't bet on it.

The cops used presumably the same weapon or its cousin against Occupy Detroit in May 2012, dispersing another pointedly peaceful protest. Do you see a pattern here?

"Land of the free, home of the brave"... MFA!

A small hand-portable LRAD. Notice that it is illustrated as held by police, not military personnel. Even the smallest LRADs are capable of generating sound at levels capable of damaging human hearing. As small as they are, devices like this one have a range of about a half mile.

Chomsky On Gaza

Noam Chomsky (call him whatever derogatory epithets you will, I admire the man immensely) begins his righteous rant on Israel's assault on Gaza as follows:
Even a single night in jail is enough to give a taste of what it means to be under the total control of some external force.

And it hardly takes more than a day in Gaza to appreciate what it must be like to try to survive in the world's largest open-air prison, where some 1.5 million people on a roughly 140-square-mile strip of land are subject to random terror and arbitrary punishment, with no purpose other than to humiliate and degrade.

Such cruelty is to ensure that Palestinian hopes for a decent future will be crushed, and that the overwhelming global support for a diplomatic settlement granting basic human rights will be nullified. The Israeli political leadership has dramatically illustrated this commitment in the past few days, warning that they will "go crazy" if Palestinian rights are given even limited recognition by the U.N.

...
Once again, Israel goes beyond the bounds of civilized behavior, not assaulting the people and groups that might endanger its existence as a nation, but instead killing several hundred unarmed civilians who have engaged in no military action against Israel... including several dozen children.

In my youth I was a vocal supporter of Israel. Gradually I realized the inevitability of the kinds of conflict we have seen in the past couple of decades. But by no means is all of Israel's aggressive behavior necessary or helpful. The US must cease its active support of Israel's raw aggression against civilians who are not engaging in war against it, especially until Israel ceases its relentless killing of children. The US has no strategic interest in supporting such uncivilized and unjustified use of force, and it must end its participation.

Monday, July 21, 2014

It's Stella's Birthday...

... and she's somehow arranged to take a week off work. I have a feeling I won't be blogging a lot for the next couple of days.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

John Napier Tye On EO 12333: Does It Spell The Limit Of Democracy?

Via emptywheel, we have John Napier Tye, who "served as section chief for Internet freedom in the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor from January 2011 to April 2014," writing at WaPo:
What if most American laws looked
like this, even to Congress?
In March I received a call from the White House counsel’s office regarding a speech I had prepared for my boss at the State Department. The speech was about the impact that the disclosure of National Security Agency surveillance practices would have on U.S. Internet freedom policies. The draft stated that “if U.S. citizens disagree with congressional and executive branch determinations about the proper scope of signals intelligence activities, they have the opportunity to change the policy through our democratic process.”

But the White House counsel’s office told me that no, that wasn’t true. I was instructed to amend the line, making a general reference to “our laws and policies,” rather than our intelligence practices. I did.

Even after all the reforms President Obama has announced, some intelligence practices remain so secret, even from members of Congress, that there is no opportunity for our democracy to change them.

...

(Bolds mine. - SB)

The notion that there are federal government intelligence policies and practices that are a) completely secret, even from Congress, b) implemented exclusively according to the dictates of executive agencies historically operated in strictest secrecy, and c) beyond the reach of, and modification or revocation by, our alleged representative democracy, is a concept that would have been familiar to... but abhorrent to... our nation's founders. They would likely have seen such policies and practices as among the worst that an absolute monarchy had to offer. And IMNSHO they would have been absolutely right.

Even our Constitution, that most stable basis of our government, has means of modification when the times require it. Such modification of our fundamental document has been successfully undertaken 27 times in our history. No such procedure for modification of Executive Order 12333 exists. It is, in theory at least, forever immutable.

Have a nice day! [/sarcasm] 



AFTERTHOUGHT: do I even need to say it? The motherfucker that is EO 12333 was issued in 1981, by.... of course... Ronald Reagan. If there is an afterlife, and if Reagan lives there, I hope he has no temperature control in his room...

Friday, July 18, 2014

GOPers Threaten Obama's Impeachment... In Response, I Have A Threat For Them

Jonathan Capehart, member of the WaPoo's editorial board, discusses... OK, let's be honest, threatens... impeachment of President Obama. This he does under a banner titled "PostPartisan." Heh. What a card!

Sarah Palin, pea-brained, more immature even than the usual Republican, rejected soundly by Americans as Vice President, advocates impeachment of a president elected not once but twice by the American people.

Obama, pensive
I do not like President Obama. He has many shortcomings, some in the specific areas of American governance... civil liberties, privacy, compliance with the Bill of Rights including due process rights... that mean a great deal to me. But on the rare occasions that I wish him gone, I can't get past one simple fact:

The American people elected Obama their President, not once but twice. Just like George Dubya Bush.* Just like Bill Clinton. Obama was solidly elected by a substantial majority, twice; neither election was a squeaker. My feelings about him aside, he was (and if polls are to believed, still is) the duly elected choice of the American people.

Dog knows America has suffered under two-term Republican presidents... Ronald Reagan, for example... and no one seriously sought to throw them out of office before their terms expired. Like him or not, Ronald Reagan was my President. Like him or not, Poppy Bush was my President. Like him or laugh at him, Junior Bush was my President (however dubious the process by which he took office). As a committed American, I accepted the choices of the American people, foolish as I thought those choices were, and got on with business.

Today's Republican Party has another way of doing things. To them, no Democrat, no matter how large a majority s/he receives in a presidential election, can remain President for as long as a term, let alone two terms. When Mitch McConnell said back in 2008 (?) that his most important task was to see to it that Obama did not win a second term, that's exactly what he meant, and I have no doubt he began planning Obama's impeachment that very day.

Impeachment is a safety valve, a last-ditch method for dealing with a President who has gone crazy... and criminal. The main problem with impeachment is that it is undemocratic (with a small 'd') and indeed subverts the democratic process by which at least in theory we choose our nation's leaders. Impeachment is a political process... that's how everything is accomplished in a representative democracy... but it should not be thought of first and foremost as a political option, just another means of getting what one party wants. Impeachment ignores and overthrows the voice of the American people. It's like a fire extinguisher behind glass: you don't break the glass unless there's a genuine fire.

Yet if Obama is impeached, Republicans will have availed themselves of that emergency process twice in my adult lifetime. Maybe, after elections, they will have the Senate votes to convict Obama and remove him from office. But they certainly have no right to do so, not if they continue talking, as Dubya did repeatedly, about "freedom 'n' democracy" as if it were our form of government. Such talk comes from a party that sees its own reign, at all times, as trumping both freedom and democracy.

I have no great love for Obama, as regular readers know. And I have no stomach for rebellion, let alone outright revolution. But if the GOP wants to strengthen my stomach, all they need to do is impeach and remove Obama. In that case... "Go ahead... Make. My. Day!"

*Obligatory asterisk. As in, "vote carefully; you have only one asterisk..."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Trace Browne Of Adgita Diaries (June 7, 1951 — July 10, 2014)

I am saddened; if you have followed MandT, I know you will be, too. You might stop by and offer Michael your condolences.

Study: State Laws To Enhance Business Growth Widen Wealth Inequality

I suppose the results presented by DSWright at FDL should not be surprising:
Who beggars whom?
When state governments try to create a better business climate they run the risk of encouraging a more stratified society, according to a new study by David Neumark and Jennifer Muz of the University of California. The study compares two different policy approaches to improve the business climate of a state – those that attempt to increase growth by lowering business costs and those that work to improve the quality of life.

There was little exacerbation of wealth inequality when states enacted policies to improve their quality of life to create a better business climate, but when the method was lowering business costs to augment growth the wealth gap widened.

...
(NOTE: the "new study" link above is to a summary of the study. If you want more, downloading the full paper will cost you $5 unless your receiving email address is connected with an "appropriate" institution. Oh, irony! The CityLab link is free, and has more general info about the relationship of business climate to wealth inequality.)

This suggests to me that when business conditions improve, the businesses that benefit do not use any significant portion of their enhanced profits to pay their employees more, let alone to hire more people. This indifference to including employees in the gains reflects what I saw over my working life: my own increased productivity never significantly increased my salary. This result is part of what led to my becoming a full-time contractor (a solution which had its own set of problems for the worker who chooses it).

As far as I can see, there is no simple modification of what passes for capitalism in America that would benefit both employers and employees. All the "job creation" that Mitt Rmoney bragged about is exclusively at the discretion of, and largely to the benefit of, the employer. And states and cities that try to buy into the benefits on behalf of their working citizens by lavishing expensive benefits on the business community are wasting their time... and to a large extent their money.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

‘Weed Card’ - UPDATED

Too funny to pass up...



I've never even tried marijuana. I don't smoke, and I don't want the hassles with the law. If I were in one of the, what is it, 22 states in which it can be obtained for "medical" purposes, I certainly experience enough pain in the course of almost every day to qualify. But Hell Texas will freeze over in mid-July before that great state, run by a radical fundamentalist government selected by a carefully gerrymandered minority, ever legalizes pot. I'm not holding my breath, well, at least not until there's a good reason...

UPDATE: via Jon Walker at FDL, as of today 6/17,  marijuana is decriminalized in Washington, DC. At least one Republican in Congress is trying to use Congress's raw power over our Last Colony to revoke the law; stay tuned.

Monday, July 14, 2014

John Yoo Appointed To Endowed Chair At Berkeley

Yoo contemplating torture?
John Yoo, former Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel and coauthor of the infamous "torture memos" allegedly justifying "enhanced" interrogation... torture... during GeeDubya Bush's Iraq war, has been named to an endowed faculty chair at Cal Berkeley. As DSWright at FDL reminds us, "[i]n America today no good deed goes unpunished nor bad deed unrewarded."

Contrary to rumor, Yoo was not heard to remark in response, "I was only following warders..."

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Watch Bill Moyers As He Interviews Linda Greenhouse And Dahlia Lithwick On Hobby Lobby And The Supreme Court...

... but put your credit card and your bullhorn out of reach first, because you may find yourself thinking you need to make a trip to DC to engage in a bit of civil disobedience... no, just watch the video to inform your own condemnation of this decision, its consequences even in the short term, and the whole bloody Catholic Supreme Court as currently configured by GeeDubya Bush and Barry Obama. I can pretty much guarantee you that if you are a reader of this site, this interview will make you angry!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

CIA's Likely Unconstitutional Removal Of Senate Intelligence Committee Evidence Documents From Senate Staffers' Computers, Revealed In March, Goes Unanswered In July

Peter Van Buren at FDL has the story. Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein puts it this way (in a WaPo transcript quoted by Van Buren):
I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the Speech and Debate Clause. It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities.

[CIA actions] may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.
So... the Senate Intelligence Committee, as part of its balance-of-powers oversight role, investigates likely CIA violations of law; the CIA hacks the Committee's computers and deletes the relevant documents to interfere with that oversight, the Obama administration declines to intervene (see the article), and... nothing. That's right, nothing. Van Buren:
A classified 6,300-page Senate report on torture was prepared 19 months ago, before the details of the CIA spying became public. Calls were made, in March 2014, to declassify parts and release them to the public. Now, in July, we are still waiting.
Feinstein has had nothing further to say since March. You all know what that means: we're venturing still further into the post-Constitutional era. Enjoy your stay!

(H/T Enfant de la Haute Mer in comments. Sorry for the delay in crediting; I read the article independently just this morning and wrote this post after that. Enfant was on top of this issue long before I was!)

Friday, July 11, 2014

NOAA: ‘Tropical’ Storms Move Northward With Climate Change

Pakalolo at Kos describes in some detail the phenomenon NOAA has documented, with helpful diagrams, and explains why it's dangerous to human existence... not to mention most business activity in the Arctic. We can take this seriously now, or we can pay an unthinkable price later. Given how many damned fools there are in our declining nation, I'm betting on the latter.

Dark Pools: Who Owns The Stock Market, And Who Benefits?

Source: Rosenblatt via WSJ
Kos's bobswern has republished, with permission, an article by Pam and Russ Martens at Wall Street on Parade called Who Owns the U.S. Stock Market? The answer may not surprise you... I've known a tiny bit about this phenomenon since around 2007 or 2008, when I was working for some very market-oriented people in my next-to-last contract before I retired... but it damned well ought to frighten you even if your only investment is a retirement account or two. The short version (not adequate, but the best I can do in a sentence): a combination of automated trading algorithms, self-trading in "dark" venues, and massive trading venue ownership by the largest investment firms threatens the stability of the invested wealth of literally everybody else. It's not a pretty picture, if you're part of "everybody else."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Greenwald: NSA Targets Five American Muslim Leaders For Surveillance, Apparently Because They Are Muslim

Via Kevin Gosztola at FDL's The Dissenter, we have Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain at The Intercept revealing yet more NSA activity in violation of the First Amendment's freedom of religion guarantee. Here's Gosztola's summary:
...

Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain of The Intercept have published a much-anticipated story revealing five prominent Muslim-Americans the National Security Agency and FBI spied upon. The surveillance, which primarily appears to have involved monitoring their emails, was conducted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The five individuals are: Faisal Gill, a former member of President George W. Bush’s administration and a Republican Party operative; Asim Ghafoor, a public relations consultant, lobbyist, lawyer and advocate for the rights of American Muslims; Agha Saeed, a professor who has mobilized American Muslims to become involved in the American political process; Hooshang Amirahmadi, founder and president of the American Iranian Council, who has done considerable work on American policy toward Iran; and Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which is the largest Muslim civil rights organization in America.

The national legal advocacy organization, Muslim Advocates, reacted, “This report confirms the worst fears of American Muslims: the federal government has targeted Americans, even those who have served their country in the military and government, simply because of their faith or religious heritage.  The report clearly documents how biased training by the FBI leads to biased surveillance.”

...
Oh, and Gosztola notes this bit of raw, offensive incivility:
On a visceral level, The Intercept included a section from July 2005 instructions on how to format internal memos “justifying surveillance.” The NSA did not use “John Doe” in the place where the name is supposed to be. They used “Mohammed Raghead” instead.
And this from Greenwald and Hussain:
“I just don’t know why,” says Gill, whose AOL and Yahoo! email accounts were monitored while he was a Republican candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates. “I’ve done everything in my life to be patriotic. I served in the Navy, served in the government, was active in my community—I’ve done everything that a good citizen, in my opinion, should do.”
Please read both articles. Apparently, in today's America, being both a Muslim and a civil liberties activist are enough in combination to ensure you will be spied upon by the most invasive arm of your government. If the Hobby Lobby case wasn't enough to signal to you the death of the First Amendment's establishment clause, this revelation should finish the job. If you're not Christian, as I am not, you have a choice: keep a low profile... or expect your government to spy on you. Once again, Thomas Jefferson turns in his grave...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A ‘Kill List’ By Any Other Name... The Disposition Matrix

From Ian Cobain at The Guardian:
...

In truth, the [disposition] matrix is more than a mere euphemism for a kill list, or even a capture-or-kill list. It is a sophisticated grid, mounted upon a database that is said to have been more than two years in the development, containing biographies of individuals believed to pose a threat to US interests, and their known or suspected locations, as well as a range of options for their disposal.

It is a grid, however, that both blurs and expands the boundaries that human rights law and the law of war place upon acts of abduction or targeted killing. There have been claims that people's names have been entered into it with little or no evidence. And it appears that it will be with us for many years to come.

...
In other words, this is the menu from which Obama and company in their "Terror Tuesday" meetings can choose the target(s) of their next extrajudicial execution(s)... put bluntly, the secret but official "hit list." How very like a mob. How little resemblance to any of America's stated founding principles. How low we have fallen...

(H/T l'Enfant de la Haute Mer, in comments, for the link.)

Monday, July 7, 2014

One Photo, Two Great Minds

Josh Marshall of TPM has posted a splendid photo from 1943 of poet Langston Hughes holding a small sculpture apparently by Margaret Brassler Kane. Allow yourself a smile this morning: go view this charming picture!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Irony Exemplified

Caitlin Macneal at TPM:
WTF? Wat, Thai, Firearm!
A North Carolina man was partially paralyzed after he was struck in the head on Saturday by a stray bullet at a festival celebrating the opening of a Buddhist temple in Charlotte, N.C., WSOC-TV reported.
Brandon Yam was serving food at the festival when a stray bullet fell from the sky, according to WSOC.
I suppose as many Americans as there are who fire their guns into the air on July 4, this was inevitable. But... a Buddhist temple opening? Oh, irony... the poor man really was struck in the temple...

Your Hobby Lobby Reading For Today

This decision will impact, wholly negatively, literally millions of women of reproductive age. And that's not counting its influence on the Supreme Court's future interpretation of the distinction between "freedom of religion" and "an establishment of religion." Apparently, to Just‑Us Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Scalia and Thomas, surprisingly along with Just‑Us Breyer, the former concept perversely equates to the latter. Handmaid's Tale, here we come.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Need Some Inspiration? Bill Moyers Is Ready And Willing To Provide

Does this Fourth of July seem bleaker than the last few? Is the sh!t flying so fast you can't duck it? Does your typically activist self feel overwhelmed speaking truth to power, because there's just so much power that needs to hear your message these days, and they're so uninterested in what you have to say?

Yeah. Me too.

One of my usual sources of inspiration in troubled times is Bill Moyers. No young man, Moyers is bound to feel the fatigue... but he never for a moment relents in his pursuit of social justice. Involved in Washington politics since at least Lyndon Johnson's presidency, he knows the ropes, and is not afraid to climb them.

And can that man interview! In the segment below, he even challenged the great Jim Hightower on the foundations of his populism, and showed him and his movement in the strong, positive light they deserve. The succeeding segment, on a new style of organizing to capture the attention of the powerful, based not on political party and in the absence of vast funding used by lobbies, is a sight to behold... and to be inspired by.

Here it is (if I can get Vimeo to cooperate). Happy Fourth; may your America thrive in the coming year, and maybe longer!

The Stars And Stripes For, Um, For A While Yet



As some wag parodied it,
Now you may think that this is the end,
Well it is!

Your assigned reading for Independence Day, if your beer and hot dog consumption permit, is here and here. Always remember, Big Uncle (Sam) is watching you!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Drones That Fire Pepper Spray Bullets

Using a BBC technology article as a source, Bruce Schneier tells us about these newly available weapons:
Desert Wolf's website states that its Skunk octacopter drone is fitted with four high-capacity paintball barrels, each capable of firing up to 20 bullets per second.

In addition to pepper-spray ammunition, the firm says it can also be armed with dye-marker balls and solid plastic balls.

The machine can carry up to 4,000 bullets at a time as well as "blinding lasers" and on-board speakers that can communicate warnings to a crowd.
If you're planning the next-generation Occupy movement, you may want to consider the casualties to be inflicted on practitioners of a legal and once-respectable civic activity, and prepare by having several hospitals at your disposal. Given the thirst for violence evidenced by some big-city police departments in the original Occupy protests, one may be confident this isn't going to be pretty.

Court Gives Broader Scope To Contraceptive Ruling, All 3 Female Justices Object (MAJOR UPDATES)

Very briefly, 'cause it's an AP article:
WASHINGTON (AP) — A divided Supreme Court on Thursday allowed, at least for now, an evangelical college in Illinois that objects to paying for contraceptives in its health plan to avoid filling out a government document that the college says would violate its religious beliefs.

...

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor said they would have denied Wheaton's request and made the college fill out a form that enables their insurers or third-party administrators to take on the responsibility of paying for the birth control.

...
So now the sheer obscenity of the Court's conservative majority position has divided the Court along... well, gender lines as surely as partisan lines. Great. Just great. [/irony]

And having for the most part gotten what they wanted regarding abortion, they're targeting contraception. If I were a woman, I wouldn't expect them to stop there.

Conservatives, including the five Justices (plus one Justice normally not so conservative) in the majority of this ruling, make several outright misrepresentations of contraception:http://www.thenation.com/blog/180509/supreme-court-has-already-expanded-its-narrow-hobby-lobby-ruling?utm_source=sailthru&utm_medium=onsite
  • It is a real stretch to say that any modern contraceptive method is an abortifacient. As a matter of scientific fact, they don't.
  • Many institutions (e.g., Hobby Lobby) who rant on forever about contraceptives for their employees nonetheless do business with China, where family size regulation by abortion is not uncommon.
  • The consequences of an unintended pregnancy brought to term can be devastating to young women, poor women and working women. The consequences (both circumstantial and psychological) of an abortion as opposed to an unwanted child are, despite contrary claims, almost always positive.
In other words, since the Hobby Lobby ruling, it's going to be open season on women of childbearing age. Ladies, prepare for second-class citizenship, or prepare to fight like hell!

(Now may be a good time for a contribution to Planned Parenthood if you're in a position to afford it.)

ADDENDUM: also very much worth reading is Lyle Denniston's post at SCOTUSblog.

AFTERTHOUGHT: this is a women's issue, of course, but it is much more than that: it is a constitutional separation-of-powers issue. It looks very much to me as if the Supreme Court is gradually using traditional judicial review to supplant parts of congressionally passed and presidentially signed laws, as well as to overrule legal executive orders to countervail their effect on policy. If I were president, or if I were in Congress, I'd be plenty angry!

AFTERTHOUGHT: still think it's "only" a women's issue? Think again, this time about a statement by Zoë Carpenter at The Nation:
... Business owners now have a new basis for trying to evade anti-discrimination laws and their responsibilities to their employees. Religious liberty is already the rallying cry for conservatives looking for a legal way to discriminate against LGBT Americans; other business owners have tried to use religion to justify opposition to minimum-wage laws and Social Security taxes. Faith groups are already trying to capitalize on the Hobby Lobby decision out of court; on Wednesday, a group of religious leaders asked the Obama administration for an exemption from a forthcoming federal order barring federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Introducing religious belief as a basis for legal action eviscerates the freedom-of-religion clause of the First Amendment... we don't have to guess what will happen; it's already happening, and we can watch the whole sorry business unfold right away.

AFTERTHOUGHT:  Melissa Harris-Perry explains How the Supreme Court Undermined Women's Citizenship. (H/T l'Enfant de la Haute Mer, in comments.)

Greg Abbott Receiving Campaign Money From... You Guessed It... The Koch Family

Wayne Slater of Dallas Morning News has the story:
AUSTIN — Five months after an ammonium nitrate explosion that killed 15 people in West, Attorney General Greg Abbott received a $25,000 contribution from a first-time donor to his political campaigns — the head of Koch Industries’ fertilizer division.

The donor, Chase Koch, is the son of one of the billionaire brothers atop Koch Industries’ politically influential business empire.

Abbott, who has since been criticized for allowing Texas chemical facilities to keep secret the contents of their plants, received more than $75,000 from Koch interests after the April 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. storage and distribution facility, campaign finance records filed with the state showed.

...
Is it true, Texas has the best politicians money... and more money, and still more money... can buy? That sounds like a pile of, er, explosive fertilizer to me!


We do have a clear choice: Texans: elect Wendy Davis, for the good of your state.

Or else, meet our new owners:


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

‘National Security’ And National/International Abuse Of Government Power: Chomsky

His ideological personal history aside, Noam Chomsky has, in the past two decades, struck me as one of the clearest thinkers of our age on issues involving both international relations and relations between individuals and government. His latest article for The Nation is no exception. Wait until late at night when you have fewer distractions, brew yourself some really strong tea and read Chomsky's response to the question, Should We Stop Talking About National Security? / Our government has always justified its worst abuses of power—here and abroad—on the basis of “national security.” His themes will not surprise you if you've read any of his other articles, but you may appreciate his synthesis in one place of policy issues seldom mentioned together in the American press and media.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Highlights From Ginsburg's Dissent In Hobby Lobby

Janet Allon at AlterNet offers a list of 10 such highlights, and since I can't begin to approach Justice Ginsburg's clarity of thought and sharply expressive prose, I'll simply refer you to Allon's article, which contains the following highlights:
  1. "Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah's Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today's decision."
  2. "Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be 'perceived as favoring one religion over another,' the very 'risk the [Constitution's] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude."
  3. "Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community."
  4. "The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers' beliefs access to contraceptive coverage."
  5. "Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby's or Conestoga's plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman's autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults."
  6. "It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month's full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage." *
  7. “Even if one were to conclude that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga meet the substantial burden requirement, the Government has shown that the contraceptive coverage for which the ACA provides furthers compelling interests in public health and women’s well being. Those interests are concrete, specific, and demonstrated by a wealth of empirical evidence.”
  8. “The distinction between a community made up of believers in the same religion and one embracing persons of diverse beliefs, clear as it is, constantly escapes the Court’s attention. One can only wonder why the Court shuts this key difference from sight.”
  9. “Suppose an employer’s sincerely held religious belief is offended by health coverage of vaccines, or paying the minimum wage, or according women equal pay for substantially similar work?”
  10. “The Court does not even begin to explain how one might go about ascertaining the religious scruples of a corporation where shares are sold to the public. No need to speculate on that, the Court says, for ‘it seems unlikely’ that large corporation ‘will often assert RFRA claims.’”
* Quoting Sid Kirchheimer at WebMD:
Although both have upfront costs of about $500 in product and medical costs, they are the cheapest contraception types over a five-year period, when the financial price of a possible unwanted pregnancy is also calculated, says lead researcher James Trussell, PhD, a Princeton University economist and director of the school's Office of Population Research.
I wish to goodness at least one of five cranky, ideologically obsessed people had read her dissent (scroll to p. 60) with better attention... and from the real world the rest of us inhabit.

ADDENDUM: Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, daughter of the last honorable governor the State of Texas had, is ready to give new meaning to terms like "unrest," "unruly," "civil disobedience," etc. You go, Cecile! Be sure to have cameras rolling (do digital cameras and videocams "roll"?) everywhere you go...

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