Monday, January 31, 2011

Frosh Republ[]an Gets Early Start On Ethics Violations

It's what they do best: lie, cheat and steal. In this case, the apparent culprit is Rep. David Rivera (R-Fl) ... whose campaign financial disclosure seems to be questionable.  From the Miami Herald:


At the heart of the probe is Millennium Marketing, a company owned by Rivera's mother and godmother that received $510,000 from the Flagler Dog Track as part of a deal for Rivera to lead a pro-slots political campaign on behalf of the parimutuel.

Rivera, who had long denied receiving any money from the dog track, earlier this month admitted to receiving $132,000 in undisclosed loans from Millennium -- loans Rivera says he has since repaid.

Also under investigators' microscope: Rivera's campaign expenses, including $30,000 he paid to Millennium for consulting in 2006, and $75,000 he paid last year to a now-defunct consulting company owned by the daughter of a longtime aide. Rivera has denied any wrongdoing.

The Associated Press reported Friday that Rivera paid himself nearly $60,000 in unexplained campaign reimbursements over the eight years he served in the state Legislature.

So what's the best headline? "Campaign financing goes to the dogs," or perhaps "Keeping it all in the family"? This is so blatant that even the GOP pretends to take offense, with Boehner making the excuse that "These were activities that took place before [Rivera] was elected." Yeah, sure, that makes it all OK.

Someone in the FDL comment thread remarked that the purpose of Florida Republ[]ans is to make Texas Republ[]ans look honest. Perhaps that's going too far, but I appreciated the thought.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Shutting Down The 'Net: Can Egypt Survive Economically?

Monday, the government of Egypt faces a choice: continue cutting off 'net access in the assumption that the opposition depends on it for effective resistance... or restore the 'net and resume something like normal banking and commerce with the rest of the world. There is probably not really a middle ground, and no modern economy has seriously tried to do without the 'net. It doesn't matter what I think, but I believe the choice is real, and as stark as it possibly could be.

(H/T upyernoz, here and here. 'noz's post on the American role in the crisis [the second link] is well worth reading.)

UPDATE Sunday evening CST:  If this is "shutting down the internet," let's have more of it, please. Al-Jazeera, the English version, seems to be going strong. They have talked more than once about tweets they have seen, so Twitter must also be living and active in Egypt.

UPDATE Sunday night CST:  Juan Cole says the broadcasts are not originating from Cairo, and that Al Jazeera had not been permitted to broadcast from there even before today. Cole's post is definitely worth your time to read. (H/T Bryan.)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Red Alert Fades To Black

It's true: sad to say, the infamous color-coded terrorism alerts are being retired. I can't help remembering my doggerel on the subject back on 3/13/2002. So you won't have to traverse a link to a nearly defunct site, I'll reproduce the doggerel below.
Red Alert! Misread Alert!

Can't afford to be in error?
Try our color-coded terror
There's a color of the spectrum
   for each level of alert;
Save the hue for quick retrieval:
It's your measure of the evil...
Doesn't tell you how you'll lose your ass,
   but how you'll lose your shirt!

First: they'll verbally announce
That the terrorists may pounce,
Though the statement won't assist you
   in discerning where or when;
When the bad guys hear the color,
In frustration they will holler:
If it clashes with their clothing,
   they'll commit no fashion sin!

Next: each dendrite and each axon
Are assaulted by a klaxon
Blaring loud, with flashing colored lights
   delighting all the Trekkers;
It's the rainbow you'll have seen
(Though they flipped the blue and green),
It will help you stave off boredom,
   but it won't avoid the wreckers.

Next: you're shouting, "Holy shit," sir:
Seeing Jennings, Rather, Blitzer
On the tube, with hair and skin
   all dyed the color of the day;
With your breakfast in your throat,
You may reach for your remote;
You can mute, switch channels, turn it off...
   It never goes away.

Next: I cannot tell you how, sir,
But they'll commandeer each browser,
Pitching popups full of terror words
   in shades you'll hate to view.
Once you're full of fear and loathing,
You should wear no piece of clothing
That you care about, for there's no doubt
   you soon will poop or spew!

Last: new color. For a while it
Seems to push beyond the violet,
Then you'll realize this new alert
   has struck you bloody blind.
While your body heaves and pukes,
Dub is setting off his nukes,
Just to show the evil terrorists
   what's on his tiny mind.

But before you melt or vaporize,
Or burn as bright as paper, guys,
Remember, you were duly warned;
   for once Dub didn't lie.
Do not think his warning cruel;
Just recall the ancient rule:
Tuck your head between your legs, my friend,
   and kiss your ass goodbye!

- Steve Bates

New Air Force Sponsored Software Predicts Civil Unrest

That's what they claim:

Scientists working on a project sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory now have a forecasting model that they claim can accurately predict civil unrest against foreign governments.

A team composed of academics at Kansas State University and New York's Binghamton University developed the Predictive Societal Indicators of Radicalism Model of Domestic Political Violence Forecast. The KSU/Binghamton plans to integrate their forecasting model into applications developed by Milcord, a firm that develops web and mobile applications for various government agencies. According to Milcord's Alper Caglayan, the model "will be integrated into strategic planning, early crisis warning and contingency planning-type operations."

Toto, I have a feeling... aw, never mind.

In related news, similar software is being developed that predicts future commissions of crimes, so that perpetrators may be apprehended in advance. Reports say the prototype software has exceptional difficulty predicting really, criminally bad movies...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Our Republ[ic]an President

He really sounds like a member of that other party. He proposes to act like a member of that other party. He's going to fuck the nation like a Republan.

I give up; I'm tired of the bullshit. For a decent liveblog of the speech, read David Dayen of FDL. And try not to slit your wrists tonight.

UPDATE: read Krugman. Then imagine my face with that cat's expression on it.

Ghailani Convicted In 1998 Bombing - Sentence: Life Without Parole

The Guardian has the details. This is the first Gitmo detainee tried in a civilian U.S. court.

Remember how all the Republans* in Congress were saying it couldn't be done, that the risk of acquittal was too great, that the punishment would be inadequate, etc. etc., in other words, a veritable laundry list of alleged reasons why the justice system that has served us well in the past simply would not do against "known" terrorists? Well, guess what. Ghailani got LWOP (Life WithOut Parole... an acronym that I hope will become common) for the one conspiracy count of which he was convicted. The Guardian says, "Ghailani will now almost certainly be sent to a 'supermax' high security prison in Colorado, where other defendants convicted in the bombings are being held. His sentence includes no prospect of ever getting parole,"

My late father, who (unlike me) was an advocate of the death penalty, admitted occasionally that a life sentence without the possibility of parole was almost surely a more severe punishment than death. I was young; I didn't understand. But in recent years I've come to realize the truth of what he was saying. And besides, LWOP, unlike death, is reversible in the event the conviction is somehow found to be in error.

* They call themselves "RepublICans". They call the opposition the "Democrat" party. It is only justice to remove the IC from their name: an IC for an IC.

Monday, January 24, 2011

OSC Report: Bush White House Violated Law In 2006 Elections

Well, now is a fucking helluva time to tell us this:

Report: Bush White House Violated Law By Using Gov't Resources To Support GOP in '06 Elections
Ryan J. Reilly | January 24, 2011, 8:51PM

George W. Bush's White House Office of Political Affairs violated the law by giving political briefings to political employees, concludes an Office of Special Counsel report issued Monday, nearly five years after the fact.

The report, titled "Investigation of Political Activities by White House and Federal Agency Officials During the 2006 Midterm Elections," finds that the electoral success of the Republican Party and possible strategies for achieving it often were on the agenda at some of 75 political briefings at 20 federal agencies from 2001 to 2007, the Associated Press reported.

OSC found that "White House Office of Political Affairs (OPA) employees, as well as high-level agency political appointees, violated the Hatch Act through a number of practices that were prevalent during the months leading up to the 2006 midterm elections," they said in a news release.

"Because most of the briefings took place during normal business hours and in government buildings, many of the briefings implicated the Hatch Act's prohibition against engaging in political activity while on duty or in a federal workplace," the report found.


Mission accomplished, I suppose. What possible good does it do to announce in 2011 that a president used federal resources to steal yet another election in 2006? This just reinforces the common impression that laws are for little people, that politicians can do anything they damned well please with no consequences whatsoever.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bradley Manning Is Denied His One Authorized Visitor - UPDATED 3x

The Quantico folks have decided to play hardball. Putting aside for the moment Manning's military obligations, please note, to start with, that he 1) is an American citizen, 2) has been held without charge and without legal counsel for some months now, and 3) is to all appearances confined to his cell 23 hours in a day, a practice that many argue is tantamount to torture... remember, Manning has not been charged with a crime under either conventional criminal law or UCMJ.

Tonight, his one permitted weekly visitor, David House, and the latter's driver, Jane Hamsher, were detained at the gate of the base for long enough to prevent House from visiting with Manning during permitted hours. Hamsher, who carried with her a petition of 40,000+ names urging due process for Manning, was denied any opportunity to present the petition to base authorities. Moreover, Hamsher's vehicle was cited for lack of proof of insurance... on every prior visit, her digital insurance ID had been accepted... and towed off base once she was released from detention. The guards who did all this were quite emphatic that the orders came "from the top." Which "top"? the base commander? the Commander-in-Chief?

It is pretty clear to most observers that the intent is to browbeat (torture?) Manning into making a statement implicating Julian Assange of Wikileaks for... what, exactly? Assange, no doubt an obnoxious guy, has behaved just like... just like a journalist, an honest journalist, and that apparently is sufficient to ensure his persecution.

It pains me to see my own government so willing to resort to "enhanced interrogation" of people not even charged with a crime. How low America has fallen.

AFTERTHOUGHT:  Before you argue whether Assange had a right to publish the material, please read the wiki regarding the Supreme Court's decision on the Pentagon Papers. The burden of proof for prior restraint is rightly very, very high. Are these Wikileaks papers embarrassing (or worse) to currently serving and recent high government officials? No doubt many of them are. Can the government take legal steps to stop them from being published? Probably not. Will they resort to illegal means? Is the Pope Catholic?

UPDATE Sunday evening:  Jane Hamsher's account of the event is posted. Please read it.

UPDATE Tuesday morning:  Bryan of Why Now provides a convincing explanation of the whole episode in comments to this post. I am taking the liberty of reproducing his comment here:

OK, I think I know who and why. The who is the Quantico brig commander and the the why is that s/he had just been smacked down for ordering a suicide watch on Manning. A suicide watch may only be ordered by medical personnel.

Further, there are now leaks that there is no indication of any connection between Manning and Assange, something that the DoJ really needed to prove to cobble up any kind of charge against Assange.

The brig commander will now retire at his/her current rank, rather than being offered another position or given a retirement promotion. I would imagine that the officer is a bit upset by that, and the juvenile performance at the gate is probably the result.

They have stretched the military system of justice to a breaking point with the conduct in the Manning case, it is very possible that they may not be able to try him now, depending on the outcome of a petition just filed by Manning's lawyer. The UCMJ is hard, but just, and there are definite rules about how long you can be held before the formal process begins.

UPDATE Tuesday late morning: Details are emerging confirming Bryan's explanation. Here's Trevor Fitzgibbon of FDL:

Military officials admitted today that Quantico Brig Commander James Averhart improperly classified Bradley Manning as a “suicide risk” in order to impose harsh conditions on him as punishment for failure to follow orders. Averhart’s order overruled the opinion of three brig psychiatrists who said Manning was not at risk. 

The statement comes one day after David House, Manning’s only regular visitor, was detained for two hours by military police and prevented from seeing Manning until visiting hours were over.

“With today’s admission, the government acknowledges they have been abusing Bradley Manning’s medical classification to consciously subject him to relentless isolation and deprivation,” says House. “President Obama and Robert Gates should heed the call of the United Nations, Amnesty International and Psychologists for Social Responsibility and put an end to Bradley’s cruel and inhumane treatment.”

Military officials also confirm that investigators have been unable to make any direct connection between Bradley Manning and Julian Assange. In December of 2010, the New York Times reported that the Justice Department was attempting to build a case against Assange by looking for evidence he colluded with Manning.


Follow the link to see more details. If you are an American, as you read, remember that this is what your nation has become.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bad Doggerel. Bad, Bad Doggerel!

This time it's from Fred Phelps. Apparently bored with desecrating the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Phelps's Westboro Church (excuse me while I laugh in astonishment and derision at their latest craziness) is going after... Ozzy Osbourne.


Accompanying the cautions against what Ozzy is about to do to Kansas City is a link to Westboro's "parody" of Ozzy's hit Crazy Train. The parody was first rolled out late last year while the Westboro crew was arguing before the Supreme Court for their right to hold anti-gay protests outside military funerals. The outcome of that case is still pending.


They've written a parody of Osbourne's song Crazy Train. Read it at the link above... preferably not close to mealtime. As writing, it is a real pile of craft.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Comcast Boots Olbermann

... while denying that their merger with (takeover of) NBC has anything to do with his ouster. Comcast doesn't even take the helm until Monday. I guess they didn't want to put up with Olbermann as an employee for even one day.

Reports say that the deal reached to buy out the remaining two years of Olbermann's four-year contract includes an agreement that he will not take a similar position with another network for those remaining two years.

I hope Olbermann was fully compensated for those two years. If not, and if he objects legally, Comcast may find that courts are not fond of non-compete clauses that have the effect of depriving employees of their ability to pursue their primary livelihood. (It's been a long time since I signed a contract with a non-compete clause, but I researched the matter at the time. At the very least, the clause must be time-limited and restricted to a specific list of employers.)

Then again, maybe Keith is ready to retire. One could hardly blame him.

Who's next? Rachel Maddow?

Bye Bye, Miranda?

The Obama administration has a new policy ("guidance," whatever that is) on Miranda warnings in terrorist cases. The policy is... well, actually, the policy is being kept secret. Here's Justin Elliott on Salon:

The Obama administration has issued new guidance on use of the Miranda warning in interrogations of terrorism suspects, potentially chipping away at the rule that bars the government from using information in court if it was gathered before a suspect was informed of his right to remain silent and to an attorney. 

But the Department of Justice is refusing to publicly release the guidance, with a spokesman describing it in an interview as an "internal document." So we don't know the administration's exact interpretation of Miranda, even though it may have significantly reshaped the way terrorism interrogations are conducted.


Some seem to think this guidance may be an extension of the public safety exception to the Miranda requirement. But this administration seems to feel free to do literally anything regarding any legal procedure, constitutional due process be damned.

Does anyone else perceive the notion of "secret rules" as nonsensical to the point of stupidity?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Report: Gulet Mohamed On Way Home To America - UPDATED

Recall my post of a couple of days ago, "If It Can Be Done To One American, It Can Be Done To Any Of Us"? Remember that American citizen Gulet Mohamed was detained in Kuwait (by Kuwaiti or U.S. authorities, either way without due process), allegedly abusively interrogated, and placed on the no-fly list to prevent his return to the U.S.

The good news is that Mohamed is on his way home. As of this writing, the plane has not landed yet, but DoJ assures (heh) that he will have no trouble on arrival in the U.S. If you think about it, this probably would not have happened, at least not so quickly, without active pressure from our side of the blogosphere (notably Glenn Greenwald).

Of course this does not mean that we have regained all our civil liberties or even minimal due process. Only when there are real assurances that this will never happen again, only when all those illegally detained are either released or charged, only when... Dog help us... the torture stops, can we sigh with relief that our civil liberties have been restored. Don't hold your breath.

UPDATE: This morning, Friday 1/21, Mohamed was detained at Dulles airport and questioned without access to counsel by government agents (FBI). There it is again... that feeling I keep experiencing that the Bill of Rights has vanished. Be sure to watch the video. Denial of counsel after that right was explicitly invoked by an American citizen is truly un-American, and speaks badly of both the FBI and Obama's DoJ.


Here's Harry Reid, quoted by Jon Ralston of the Las Vegas Sun, via TPM:


I am going to go back to Washington and meet with the president of China. He is a dictator. He can do a lot of things through the form of government they have. Maybe I shouldn't have said dictator. But they have a different type of government then we have and that is an understatement.

As this was spoken during Hu's official diplomatic visit, I guess this is what passes for diplomacy by Harry Reid. True or not, the statement was unspeakably rude and should never have been made during Hu's visit. I've said it before: it's time for Harry to retire.

Hot Nuts! Get 'Em While They're Hot! Bachmann Speaks Her Mind

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Another Planet) says the GOP House caucus was sent to Washington to "repeal the current Senate" and "repeal a president." Her words, not mine. Watch her say 'em at the link above.

Shorter Bachmann: "Who will rid me of this meddlesome Senate and President?"

Shorter answer: given that a new Congress has just begun, and that it's two years until the next presidential election, no one can legally do what she asks.

Does her statement mean that she is joining the ranks of GOPers advocating violent overthrow of the government?

Or is she just completely fucking nuts?

(I tend to go with Option 2 above.)

Vma2on's Effects On The Publishing Industry

NOTE: please make the obvious substitution throughout this post. They will find it, of course, but I'm damned if I'll make it easy for them.

I thought I knew something about this topic, but Onnesha Roychoudhuri of the Boston Review, writing for the Investigative Fund (a project of The Nation Institute) provides chilling detail about the hardball tactics Vma2on allegedly uses with publishers. I am reminded of many of the practices I've heard Wal-Mart uses.

Here's an example: have you ever happened upon a page on Vma2on for a book you want to buy, but find that there is no Buy button on the page? Vma2on allegedly uses removal of the Buy button as a club in its negotiations with publishers who do not go along with its various services and practices.

In other cases, they allegedly "disappear" not just the Buy button but whole pages or catalogs of publishers who don't cave in to deals Vma2on "offers" them. You've heard of "an offer you can't refuse"? Vma2on apparently makes them every day. You can well imagine the impact this has on smaller publishers, as they cope with Vma2on's alleged attempt to leverage a larger discount out of them. That in turn reduces the variety of books ultimately published and available to you, and of course is a sharp stick in the eye of talented young authors attempting to get published.

And did you know that the retail price to you from Vma2on allegedly varies depending on your purchasing history with them?

Google seems to have abandoned its "don't be evil" pledge in the matter of net neutrality. Are these practices going to become the equivalent in the world of online book sales?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cookbook Quote Of The Week

From 200 Fast & Easy Artisan Breads: No-Knead, One Bowl, p. 166:
The dough should feel soft and smooth all over, like a baby's skin, but not at all sticky.
Right. Pick one and call me back.

Isolated Incidents

Tom Tomorrow nails it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Announcement Of The Announcement of Joe's Departure

That's right: Holy Joe LIEberman apparently said today that he will announce tomorrow his retirement from the Senate in 2012. One can only pray to all that is holy (except Joe) that it is true.

Comcast - NBC Universal Merger Approved By FCC, DOJ

How long before there's only The Media Giant Corporation?

Both the FCC and DOJ imposed conditions designed to ensure that the new company would not unfairly limit other companies' access to its content, or limit consumers' access to other companies' content. The FCC approved the public interest portion of mergers while DOJ approved the antitrust components.

The FCC passed the merger with votes from two the Democrats and two Republicans on the commission. The sole dissenter was Democratic Commissioner Michael J. Copps, who said in a statement that the transaction was "like no other that has come before this Commission—ever."

"It reaches into virtually every corner of our media and digital landscapes and will affect every citizen in the land," he said. "It is new media as well as old; it is news and information as well as sports and entertainment; it is distribution as well as content. And it confers too much power in one company’s hands."

Those "imposed conditions" ought to last about 10 minutes...

AFTERTHOUGHT: Can we now call the FCC "Copps and robbers"?

'Wal-Mart Is Not A Person'

Thom Hartmann explains to a roomful of lawyers about the Citizens United decision, how the original statement of corporate personhood emerged from a preface written by a court reporter and not the Supreme Court's actual decision in the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad case of 1886, and how our nation's founders were adamantly opposed to all but the most minimal of rights for artificial entities like corporations. It doesn't make us any less screwed, but if you experience any confusion about the Citizens United case, Hartmann will clear it up for you.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Headline Of The Week

From Votelaw:

Jefferson Co, AL: Nell Hunter has retired after servicing 47 years as voter registrar

That's a lot of servicing!

If It Can Be Done To One American, It Can Be Done To Any Of Us

I'm talking about what's happening to Gulet Mohamed, an American citizen detained in Kuwait, with no due process (how common is that becoming), apparently abusively interrogated, and unable to return to America because 1) Kuwait requires deportees to be placed on a direct flight to their country of citizenship, and 2) The U.S. government has placed Mohamed on the no-fly list, refusing to provide an explanation of why. (Mohamed found out by purchasing a ticket and being denied boarding of the plane.)

Please read Greenwald's post. If this can be done to Mohamed, it can be done to any of us. Welcome to our world of executive-only rule, otherwise known as dictatorship.

UPDATE:  If you fly (I don't), and if you take your laptop and cellphone with you when you fly, please read this Greenwald post:

For those who regularly write and read about civil liberties abuses, it's sometimes easy to lose perspective of just how extreme and outrageous certain erosions are.  One becomes inured to them, and even severe incursions start to seem ordinary.  Such was the case, at least for me, with Homeland Security's practice of detaining American citizens upon their re-entry into the country, and as part of that detention, literally seizing their electronic products -- laptops, cellphones, Blackberries and the like -- copying and storing the data, and keeping that property for months on end, sometimes never returning it.  Worse, all of this is done not only without a warrant, probable cause or any oversight, but even without reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in any crime.  It's completely standard-less, arbitrary, and unconstrained.  There's no law authorizing this power nor any judicial or Congressional body overseeing or regulating what DHS is doing.  And the citizens to whom this is done have no recourse -- not even to have their property returned to them.

The Bill of Rights is gone. Gone. All the fine speeches made by President Obama, Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, etc. about our being a beacon of freedom to the world are just so much crap, nothing more. Welcome to totalitarian America; enjoy your stay.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Them's Fightin' Words

Via Susie Madrak, from Pensions & Investments:

Gingrich seeks bill allowing state bankruptcy to avert bailouts
Move afoot to help states escape benefit obligations
By Doug Halonen
January 10, 2011, 12:01 AM ET

Former House Speaker and possible GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich is pushing for federal legislation giving financially strapped states the right to file for bankruptcy and renege on pension and other benefit promises made to state employees.

Proponents of the measure — which include Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington lobby group that fights tax increases — said the legislation is desperately needed to clear the way for struggling states to slash costs before they go belly up, and should be regarded as a preemptive move that could preclude the need for massive federal bailouts.

“It's in the short-term and long-term interests of government workers and taxpayers to start those reforms now, rather than having to pick up the pieces after a crash landing,” ATR President Grover Norquist said in an interview.

“We are working with people inside and outside of Congress on this issue,” said Joe DeSantis, a spokes-man for Mr. Gingrich, whom Mr. DeSantis said is considering a bid to be the Republican presidential candidate in 2012.

I paid into Texas Teacher Retirement System until I vested... back in the day, that was 10 years of hard labor for the great State... and now Mr. Gingrich wants to permit Texas to say "Sorry, Steve. We were just fooling when we told you that was for your retirement. We're gonna absquatulate with all of it."

Mr. Gingrich has no idea who he is tampering with. No idea.

New GOP Chair Has The Perfect Republican Name

After much acrimonious debate and seven rounds of balloting, the new GOP Chair is (drum roll, please...)

Reince Priebus!

Well, you knew it wasn't going to be E Pluribus Unum...

PATRIOT Act Likely To Be Renewed... Again

So much for the "sunset" provisions that made it possible for the Bushies to sell the original act. Lately it's been renewed year-to-year, on the basis that "it's only for a year." So far, it has been "only" more than nine years. Crooks and Liars has details. And yes, the FBI (at least) continues to abuse the act's warrantless surveillance provisions to peer into individuals' personal records.

This was completely predictable from the day the bill was introduced in Congress in 2001; indeed, I predicted exactly this on that very day... much good it did me.

David Rovics - Who Would Jesus Bomb?

It is astonishing to me how many self-proclaimed Christians advocate U.S. involvement in even more wars than we're in already. David Rovics has a question for these people: Who Would Jesus Bomb?

(H/T BadTux.)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Texas State Rep. Urges 'Religious Or Cultural Law' Ban

No place serves up cracked nuts like Texas:

Texas state Rep. Leo Berman (R), last seen getting shellacked by Anderson Cooper over his birther bill, is pushing a state constitutional amendment that would prevent Texas courts from considering "religious or cultural law" when handing down rulings.

Though the amendment doesn't specifically say anything about sharia law -- like a recently-blocked law in Oklahoma does, for example -- Berman said of the resolution: "A lot of federal courts are referring to international courts and laws of other countries. We want to make sure our courts are not doing this, especially in regards to cultural laws. If that includes Sharia law, then so be it."

The resolution says: "A court of this state shall uphold the laws of the Constitution of the United States, this Constitution, federal laws, and laws of this state. A court of this state may not enforce, consider, or apply any religious or cultural law." 


 Ahem (Steve sings, badly, of course)

How do you solve a problem like Sharia, ...

Aw, come on, Rep. Berman. You're not only a bastard, you're a stupid bastard, and apparently think the rest of us are stupid, too. This proposal is as unconstitutional as hell. You know it as surely as we do. And there's no remote possibility in Texas that a court would resolve a case explicitly according to sharia law. Yours is a purely political gesture, born of ignorance and aimed at your ignorant supporters. I can only hope you are defeated next election.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

EPA Revokes Permit, Averts Mountaintop Removal Mining Disaster

One of the largest proposed mountaintop removal mining projects ever, Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County, W. Virginia, has been blocked by the EPA, which has just fully revoked the permit for the project. Mountaintop removal is one of the most environmentally destructive mining techniques because the resulting debris... and there's a lot of it... all goes somewhere, often destroying streams and hollows.

Sierra Club provides more detail. The short version: "EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson stopped a mountaintop mine that would have destroyed more than seven miles of vital streams and more than 2,000 mountain acres in an important part of Appalachia."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Memorial Service And Right-Wing Whines

I just watched most of the memorial service for the six people killed in Tucson. Everything was appropriate and predictable. But the Right had to have something to complain about, and they found it in the T-shirts distributed to the attendees by the university. The shirt bore the caption, "Together We Thrive: Tucson & America." If there's anything offensive to any American in that caption, I can't see it.

But I forgot something. Remember that the Right has determined to spoil every single thing in which Obama participates. If their action also spoils a memorial service for six people, that's nothing to the righties. The shirt contains nothing even remotely offensive, but they had to find something to fault in an event at which Obama spoke, and the T-shirts were about the only available target... anything else would have marked them... rightly... as unfeeling and insensitive for the world to see.

Ignore the sorry SOBs. They do not deserve a response.

AFTERTHOUGHT: I couldn't help thinking of Paul Wellstone's funeral, and the sorry bastard who was governor of Minnesota at the time who willfully appointed a replacement who was not a Democrat, because he didn't like the allegedly partisan tone of speakers at the funeral, never mind that Wellstone was to me the signature Democrat of our time. Since then, I have come to expect not one shred of fairness or kindness from a Republican in power or a right-wing pundit. It looks as if they have fulfilled my worst expectations tonight.

Shooting Event Cleans Glock From Store Shelves

Oh, now here's a rational response [/snark]:

Glocks Are Flying Off The Shelves In Arizona After Saturday's Massacre
Katya Wachtel | Business Insider

Sales of semi-automatic Glock handguns have surged since Jared Loughner gunned down six and injured 14 more, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on the weekend.

According to Bloomberg, one-day sales of pistols in Arizona leapt 60% on January 10 - the Monday after the shooting, compared to the previous week.

The owner of two Arizona gun shops told Bloomberg the store was "at double our volume over what we usually do."

Welcome to America, where if you're shot and you're not a member of Congress, you probably can't afford the necessary healthcare.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

'Stop The Blame'? First, Stop The Violent Rhetoric

The county chair of the Republican Party in Tucson called upon President Obama to quit blaming Republicans for the shooting:

Brian Miller called on Obama to "lead the effort to stop the blame" after the shooting, responsibility for which he says has been unfairly placed on the shoulders of Republicans and the right.


OK, Mr. Miller. We'll stop the blame when you manage to put a cork in Sarah's mouth... to stop her undeniably violent rhetoric not only on her web site (crosshair targets on congressional districts? give me a break!) but at political rallies. Oh, and put a stop to incidents like these in a list compiled by Rachel Slajda:

Robert Lowry, a Republican challenger to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz (D-FL), stopped by a local Republican event in October. The event was at a gun range, and Lowry shot at a human-shaped target that had Wasserman Schulz's initials written next to it. He later said it was a "mistake." 


Stephen Broden, a Republican challenger to Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), in late October said that violent revolution is "on the table."   


Dale Peterson, Republican candidate for agricultural commissioner of Alabama, ran an ad in May which he posed with a rifle and declared, "I'll name names and take no prisoners." He lost the primary.


Erstwhile Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R-NV) found herself in June defending comments she had made six months earlier about the Second Amendment.

"People are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying, my goodness, what can we do to turn this country around? I'll tell you, the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out," she said. 


In March 2009, [Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN)] said on a radio show: "I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax, because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us having a revolution every now and then is a good thing. And the people -- we the people -- are going to have to fight back hard if we're not going to lose our country."


Another one from 2009: Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS) told Politico that he hunts Democrats. Asked about the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, he said, "We hunt liberal, tree-hugging Democrats, although it does seem like a waste of good ammunition." 

and on and on and on; read the linked post.

Ms. Slajda has on her list exactly one Democrat, who fielded a campaign commercial in which the candidate, Joe Manchin of W. Virginia, shoots... not a person... but a climate change bill.

It is hard to argue seriously that the violent rhetoric is the fault of both sides, or that President Obama has the unilateral power to rein in such threats by candidates not of his own party. And so I say it again: Mr. Miller, Mr. Obama owes you nothing until you put a cork in Sarah's mouth... and the mouths of no fewer than a dozen other Republicans and/or Tea Partiers who exploit the actual or imagined political advantage of urging violent action when speaking to a roused rabble. Get your own house in order!

AFTERTHOUGHT: Jane Hamsher has it just right:

When you realize you’re pouring gasoline on an already volatile situation you stop.  They didn’t.  It’s beyond ideology.  It’s stupid and reckless behavior, and there’s no reason to do it when you realize you’re just egging people on who are already stepping over the boundaries into lawlessness.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Doc Day

Monday was a doctor's appointment day for me, followed by a marathon grocery run. No bad news from the doctor, so I suppose it wasn't a totally wasted day. Forgive me for not piling on by putting up a blog post.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

What Does It Mean To Be Liberal?

masaccio of FDL explores the matter, using the work of John Rawls as a starting point. It is masaccio's position that the liberal period of American life is over and done with. I regret that he may be right. The more I read of our nation's founders, indisputably wealthy white men with an ax to grind, the more I see that even the most conservative among them was still considerably more liberal than any member of either major party today.

What do you think? Is liberalism in America a thing of the past?


It is difficult for many of us to write about the assault on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her colleagues at a meet-the-Congress-member event in Arizona. If this is the first you're learning of the tragedy, which Rep. Giffords barely survived and five people did not, the link takes you to a slideshow of the essentials of the event.

First, let me offer my prayers and support to Rep. Giffords herself and to the families of all of those wounded and killed; one of the dead was only nine years old. The senselessness of it all is overwhelming. Any temptation to write about it as if it were primarily a political event is squelched by the sheer horror induced by the event itself: people died; others were critically injured.

So please believe me (if you are capable of it) that I am not indulging in politics when I speak of the events in which Rep. Giffords's opponent in the last election held a "Fire an M-16 with Jesse Kelly" event in his quest to "remove Gabrielle Giffords from office." Nor am I indulging in partisan politics when I point out that Sarah Palin placed a gunsight-style target on Rep. Giffords's district in campaign literature. And I am especially not being political when I point out that the Tea Party leadership is rejecting any notion of backing off of their undeniably violent pre-election rhetoric, claiming a First Amendment right to say any damned thing. I am not being partisan because these are not legitimate political acts in America: I would condemn them if Democrats or any other political groups engaged in them.

Free speech as protected by the First Amendment does not include overt threats of murder. You may not issue credible death threats and then claim First Amendment protection for them... and I state that, even though I am inclined to the broadest reasonable interpretation of the First Amendment. Someone has no First Amendment right to say, in all seriousness, in a public forum, around people inclined to violent action, "so-and-so ought to be killed."

And that is precisely what Jesse Kelly, Sarah Palin and the Tea Party leadership have done. These individuals need to understand that their own freedoms depend on their willingness to restrain overt threats against people who disagree with them. Today provides evidence of one of many reasons why these threats, whether seriously meant or not, cannot be tolerated: there is, often enough, some nut with a gun who will take the threats seriously and attempt to assassinate opponents. The fact that Sarah Palin is too busy killing moose and turkeys to shoot at her political opponents is irrelevant: if she indulges in rhetoric that causes some of her listeners to shoot people, she is, undeniably, to blame, as are Giffords's M-16-wielding political opponent and the Tea Party leadership. This must end... and only they have the ability to put a stop to it right now.

Again, my condolences to those who lost family members in today's massacre.

AFTERTHOUGHT:  The link above is to a slideshow, not a very good summary of events but rather a retrospective of Rep. Giffords's career. The only thing I can suggest to cover all the articles provided by TPM is to go to their home page, or if it's not still 1/9/2011, read this, this, this, this, this, this and this. Please skip President Obama's statement; never has his dependency on the TelePrompTer been more blatantly evident than here.

UPDATE Sunday morning:  while law enforcement officials seek the second suspect, Sarah Palin disclaims all responsibility, saying the markings on her campaign map were not crosshairs like those in a gunsight but "simply cross-hairs like you'd see on maps." Sarah... give. me. a. fucking. BREAK!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Even The GOP Can't Stand Steve King

They detest him so much that they will make someone else the chair of the immigration subcommittee, even though King was in line for it:

The new chair of the House Judiciary Committee has passed over Rep. Steve King (R-IA), the super-conservative hard-line immigration foe, for chairman of the immigration subcommittee. 

King was the ranking member of the subcommittee and was expected to take the chair. But the committee chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chose Rep. Elton Gallegly of California instead.

Gallegly (R) is no liberal on immigration. ...

I'll take "no liberal" over "full-blown batshit crazy mean" any day of the week.

GOP: Rules Are Only For Our Opponents, Part 2

Evan McMorris-Santoro of TPM, one more time:

The Republican-controlled House voted this morning to wash away the massive fail caused by Reps. Pete Sessions' (R-TX) and Mike Fitzpatrick's (R-PA) decision to skip Wednesday's swearing-in ceremony in favor of taking the oath to a television set at a Capitol complex event for Fitzpatrick. 

By a vote of 257 to 159, the House voted in a special rule written for Sessions and Fitzpatrick to essentially rewrite Congressional history so the votes they cast as unsworn members-elect Wednesday and Thursday never happened. 

What is there to say but "IOKIYAR" ...

AFTERTHOUGHT:  Taking an oath to a television set does seem to me to make a lot of sense for an American. Many of us worship the damned thing.

Friday, January 7, 2011

What A Shock: Democratic Party Membership Down In 2010

Oh, yeah, that's a real surprise. I mean, some of us were kicked simultaneously in the butt and in the teeth and told to STFU; what possible reason could we have for leaving the Party? Ask Jon Walker of FDL:

Number Who Identify as Democrats Down Big in 2010
By: Jon Walker Friday January 7, 2011 6:21 pm

While the Obama administration is thinking about ways to win over independents in anticipation of the 2012 election, they actually should be worried that a large segment of former Democrats are no longer choosing to identify themselves with the party. From Gallup:

In 2010, 31% of Americans identified as Democrats, down five percentage points from just two years ago and tied for the lowest annual average Gallup has measured in the last 22 years. While Democrats still outnumber Republicans by two points, the percentage identifying as independents increased to 38%, on the high end of what Gallup has measured in the last two decades. [...]

While there is usually some year-to-year variation in party identification at the aggregate level, the changes are typically not large. Thus, the five-point drop in Democratic identification over the past two years, from the party’s 22-year high of 36% (tying the 1988 figure) to its 22-year low of 31%, is notable.

Perhaps equally significant is that the percentage of Americans identifying as Republicans has increased only slightly to 29% during this time, and remains on the low end of what Gallup has measured the past two decades.

This would indicate that the success of the GOP in 2010 was not the result of Republicans successfully winning new converts with new ideas, but a direct result of the failure of the Democratic party.

No fuckin' kidding? Do tell! Why in the world could that be? Could it be that the Obama administration is built upside-down, with assholes at the top?

AFTERTHOUGHT: I know that party membership is not identical to people who identify with a particular party. But I was both, and now I'm neither. Yes, I do blame Obama and his advisers.

Bill Bates (1/7/1920 - 8/1/1995)

This would have been Dad's 91st birthday. Last year's in memoriam serves perfectly well, and I haven't the stamina to write another right now. We do, however, have another year's worth of reasons to wish he hadn't passed from our midst quite so long ago; Dad did not suffer fools gladly, and we have plenty of fools to suffer in our day.

Nut-Cases On Parade

Today's episode features Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). As quoted by TPM's Ryan J. Reilly:


During a rant on the floor of the House about health care, King used the word "mendacity" -- meaning untruthfulness -- where he likely meant the opposite.

"As I deliberate and I listen to the gentleman from Tennessee, I have to make the point that when you challenge the mendacity of the leader or another member, there is an opportunity to rise to a point of order, there is an opportunity to make a motion to take the gentleman's words down, however many of the members are off on other endeavors and I would make the point that the leader and the speaker have established their integrity and their mendacity for years in this Congress and I don't believe it can be effectively challenged and those who do so actually cast aspersions on themselves by making wild accusations," King said.

Far be it from me to challenge Rep. King's mendacity...

(H/T Fallenmonk.)

Order Matter Word Does

From Carl Pope's Sierra Club blog, on values in Kenya regarding various animals:

To kill a lion that was killing a cow with a spear is a badge of courage and honor.

I sincerely hope I never encounter a cow with a spear, or a spear-wielding lion killing it...

GOP: Rules Are Only For Our Opponents

According to Evan McMorris-Santoro of TPM, two GOP House members were not present for the swearing-in of the 112th Congress as required by the Constitution, and therefore not legally members when they cast all their first-day votes. So where were Reps. Pete Sessions (R-TX) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) when the swearing-in was taking place? They were at a fundraiser for Fitzpatrick which was being held in the Capitol Visitors Center.

Commenter yesiwantfrieswiththat reminds us that "[t]his is a bigger deal than it first appears because House ethics rules forbid fundraising in the Capitol." But hey, why violate only the Constitution when you can also simultaneously break a House ethics rule?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

GOP-Led House Amends Constitution

Well, sort of. The 'publicans began their majority status in the House by reading aloud what was billed in advance as the entire Constitution. In reality, this total waste of time omitted passages unpleasant to the sensibilities of 21st-century Americans, such as the counting of slaves for census purposes as 3/5 of a person. Yes, the parts they omitted have been replaced by amendment over the centuries. But frankly, I think it's dishonest to omit the bad parts.

Thanks in part to the Tea Party, the Constitution has been reified and deified. Indeed, I suspect any of our Founders would be shocked to see the Constitution-worship engaged in by the House today. The Constitution is not a religious text, graven in stone or at least set down in parchment for all time: it is, as our founders realized it must be, a living document, a basic structure for use in governing day-to-day. Living things are of necessity flexible, mobile and changing. Living things are full of ambiguities and internal contradictions. Such is our Constitution; it follows the classic rule: adapt or die.

It is no surprise to me that the 'publicans want to put their stamp on the Constitution as if they somehow owned the thing. But the document begins "We, the people of the United States..." not "We, the radical rightist remnant of the Republican Party of the United States..." and our founders clearly envisioned rough-and-tumble struggles in the governing process, the Constitution serving as a framework for those struggles.

So let us be clear: this reading has more to do with 'publican messaging than with the Constitution's necessarily fluid content. The truly unpleasant people in the House on both sides of the aisle will learn nothing from this reading; they couldn't care less about a "more perfect Union" or the "Blessings of Liberty." The reading is a waste of time and taxpayers' money.

I am reminded of something attributed to the composer Frederic Chopin, a remark on the music of Franz Schubert: "... the sublime is desecrated when followed by the trivial or commonplace." This reading in the House is surely trivial. Is the Constitution sublime? Again, it is not a religious text, not an object of worship, and regarding it as such "desecrates" what was never intended as sacred. I would greatly prefer that the members of the House spend a bit of time reading a good annotated copy of the Constitution, with attention to the interpretations of scholars, justices and legislators over the ages, than engage in something that is nothing more than a partisan publicity stunt.

AFTERTHOUGHT:  Let me be clear about this: I have nothing against publicans, who do a real service to the public; only against 'publicans, who for the most part do a real disservice to us all.

Just How Bad Was 2010's Weather?

Jim DeRosa gives us a transcript from PRI of a segment of Steve Curwood's "Living on Earth" show in which Jeff Young cites interviews with meteorologists (including our own favorite Jeff Masters of Weather Underground) and other experts regarding the climate in 2010. Here's a sample:


YOUNG: Jeff Masters has seen some pretty wild weather. As a hurricane hunter in the late '80s, he flew into the teeth of some of the biggest, baddest storms. Then he co-founded the internet forecasting site, Weather Underground. There he keeps track of extreme weather events. And Masters says 2010 is the most extreme yet.

MASTERS: In my 30 plus years of being a meteorologist I can't ever recall a year like this one as far as extreme weather events go, not only for U.S. but the world at large.

YOUNG: Countries covering one fifth of the planet's land saw record high heat. Drought altered the world's food trade. Floodwaters inundated parts of the U.S. and Asia with frequency that defied statistical expectations.

TRENBERTH: Isn't that interesting, we have a one in a thousand year event happening every few years nowadays.

YOUNG That's Kevin Trenberth, a meteorologist who leads the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

TRENBERTH: And so, it's the changes in extremes where we notice the climate change. Droughts and floods and heat waves that are outside the bounds of what we'd normally expect. The global warming component is rearing its head in that way.

Read (or listen to) the rest. Unsurprisingly, the news is not good.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Virginia Is For (Kid) Lovers

It's even on their license plates... or was, until the Virginia DMV revoked it, saying it referred to oral sex:

(Blatantly stolen from TPM.)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

'Huckleberry Finn' To Be Bowdlerized By Publisher

Michael Whitney of FDL:

I wish this was some kind of a joke. The publishers of the next edition of Mark Twain’s classic Huckleberry Finn plan to replace the “n” word with “slave.”
What is a word worth? According to Publishers Weekly, NewSouth Books’ upcoming edition of Mark Twain’s seminal novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will remove all instances of the “n” word—I’ll give you a hint, it’s not nonesuch—present in the text and replace it with slave. The new book will also remove usage of the word Injun. The effort is spearheaded by Twain expert Alan Gribben, who says his PC-ified version is not an attempt to neuter the classic but rather to update it. “Race matters in these books,” Gribben told PW. “It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”
Whitney then quotes Jonathan Turley on instances of such a replacement which simply don't work, e.g., one that results in the oxymoron "free slave."

But that's not the worst of it. Like censors throughout the ages, those who would censor Twain's use of the word "nigger" in Huckleberry Finn are often enough people who have read none of the book... none of it... but they can cite the page numbers on which the word is used. Context? they know and care nothing of context. Why a boy like Huck Finn would use the word? no, they know nothing of that, either. That Huck ultimately befriends and feels protective of Jim, to the point that Huck is willing to suffer the flames of Hell himself in order to protect Jim from recapture? no, no; they neither know that nor care about it.

I have read that Twain always chose exactly the right word and not its second cousin. I believe that is the case here. Huck, a creature of his time and social status, uses the indifferently contemptuous word (remember, it was not a hateful word until the 20th century) because such a person in that pre-Civil-War period would have used it, and Twain is nothing if not authentic.

Yet there are apparently many parents to whom context and authenticity mean nothing. They cannot even remotely tell you what the novel Huckleberry Finn is about, but they can tell you it contains the 'n'-word. And so the publisher commits an act against which Twain, being dead, cannot defend himself. I cannot begin to tell you all the ways in which they are simply wrong to do this... nor can I convey in my second-cousin words the disservice they do to our children in misrepresenting one of the truly great works of any era about race relations.

Monday, January 3, 2011

American Public: Tax The Rich

So says a 60 Minutes / Vanity Fair poll. From a Reuters article:

Most Americans say tax rich to balance budget: poll

NEW YORK | Mon Jan 3, 2011 11:15am EST

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Most Americans think the United States should raise taxes for the rich to balance the budget, according to a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll released on Monday.

President Barack Obama last month signed into law a two-year extension of Bush-era tax cuts for millions of Americans, including the wealthiest, in a compromise with Republicans.

Republicans, who this week take control of the House of Representatives, want to extend all Bush-era tax cuts "permanently" for the middle class and wealthier Americans. ...

Sixty-one percent of Americans polled would rather see taxes for the wealthy increased as a first step to tackling the deficit, the poll showed.


Hear, hear! Over the past 50 to 75 years, taxes for the wealthiest Americans have gone (if memory serves me right) from about 90 percent in increments down to 30-35 percent today. And that's only in principle: many of the wealthy, and a surprising number of corporations, manage to pay no taxes at all. Tell me again: why is the government short of money?

The next most popular proposed cut? Twenty percent said we should cut "defense" spending. Again, count me in: spending is not for defense if it is used to fund discretionary wars of aggression, and there's hardly any other way to read Iraq and Afghanistan (and probably Pakistan and possibly Iran and... etc.) than as wars of aggression. They don't make us safer, and they cost a lot, both in dollars and in international reputation.

So how many people polled would cut Medicare and Social Security? That would be 4% and 3% respectively. Again, I find myself well into the 96%-97% who think cutting those is a bad idea.

So what do you think the 'publicans in the House will do with these issues in the next Congress? Yeah, that's what I think, too. Let's hope President O has the balls to veto a lot.

AFTERTHOUGHT: the Declaration of Independence says we each have a right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Neither the Declaration nor the Constitution speaks of a right to be wealthy beyond all reasonable need. If you think the Founders had obscene wealth in mind as a right, consider Benjamin Franklin's words: "Private property therefore is a creature of society, and is subject to the calls of that society, whenever its necessities shall require it, even to its last farthing." So be it.

Obama To Cut Social Security? No Evidence Of That, Says Josh Marshall

Read about it on TPM:

Over the last month or so I've been getting emails from readers suggesting that President Obama... will buy into the debt commission's call for cuts to Social Security. ... But so far I'm just not seeing any evidence to suggest this is true. 

... one key issue is that the nation's longterm debt problems -- which are very real -- don't really have much to do with Social Security. Social Security is currently subsidizing the rest of the budget.
In any case, I'm not saying it's impossible. I just haven't seen any convincing evidence. ...

I'd like to see concrete evidence, in the form of an unambiguous statement from the president, that he will defend Social Security. I know, I know: he's completely unreliable and his statements don't seem to mean much. But if he doesn't make a statement, that says even more: in that case, you can be relatively certain that he has secret plans to disable the fund into which we have been paying for decades, the fund that is already financially solid for about another 25 years even if no changes are made. That would be baldfaced theft from the elderly... and more proof that Obama is really a Republican.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Retired, 'Un-Tired,' Or Just Plain Tired?

Recently retired syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman, always a favorite of mine, examines the possibilities for senior citizens in America.

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