Tuesday Reads: The Latest Passenger in the GOP Clown Car

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Good Morning!!

The 2016 primaries are nearly a year away, and yet it’s beginning to feel as if the campaign has already begun. As Pat J said yesterday, following Bette Davis, “fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!” At least we finally have something to be excited about.

Today big media has slowed down its attacks on Hillary in order to drool over newly announced candidate Marco Rubio.

Here’s the Washington Post’s adoring introduction to the new media darling, written by Mary Jordan.

A man in a hurry.’Wait your turn’ is not in Marco Rubio’s DNA.The 43-year-old GOP candidate is used to moving up fast.

You can see it in his bouncing leg, his restless energy, his rapid-fire answers. Marco Rubio wants things now, now, now.

He has just left the Senate floor, where he ripped President Obama’s Israel policy, and now, seated in his grand Capitol Hill office, he dives headlong into explaining why, at just 43, he is ready to run for president.

“I have never understood that ‘wait your turn,’ ” logic, the Florida Republican says. “The presidency is not like a bakery, where you take a number and wait for it to be called. You’re either compelled to run for it because you believe it’s the best place to serve your country” or you stay out of the race.

Never mind that his mentor, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, 62, is gearing up to run, too. Or that he has not even finished his first term as senator. Or that the GOP has a long tradition of picking older presidential nominees who have paid their dues.

Rubio is a man in a hurry, whose dizzying political ascent — he has never lost a race — is a testament to his quickness to spot openings and go for them. “If you told me seven or eight years ago I would be in the Senate, I wouldn’t believe it,” Rubio says. “Sometimes opportunities come up that you could never have anticipated.”

More Rubio love at the link. Be sure to have your barf bag close at hand.

Should Rubio actually get the GOP nod, voters will likely see a lot of this embarrassing video of the young “man in a hurry” giving the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2013.

And here’s The New York Times’ glowing profile of the first term Senator, written by Ashley Parker and Jonathan Martin.

Stressing Youth, Marco Rubio Joins 2016 Field.

MIAMI — Senator Marco Rubio, the 43-year-old son of Cuban immigrants, on Monday declared that it was time for his generation to lead the country, portraying himself as the youthful future of a Republican Party that has struggled to connect with an increasingly diverse electorate.

Formally declaring his candidacy for president, Mr. Rubio entered a contest so far dominated by two aging American political dynasties — the Bushes and the Clintons — and warned Republicans and Democrats alike that it was time to start fresh.

“The time has come for our generation to lead the way towards a new American century,” he said.

“Before us now is the opportunity to author the greatest chapter yet in the amazing story of America,” Mr. Rubio told hundreds of supporters who crowded the lobby of the Freedom Tower, a historic building where many Cuban émigrés were processed on their arrival in the United States. “But we can’t do that by going back to the leaders and ideas of the past.”

Ironically, Rubio and his party actually do want to go back to the past–way back to the 19th Century. A Rubio presidency would mean rolling back women’s rights, LGBT rights, immigration reform, and handing Wall Street the keys to the White House. But never mind that. He’s a fresh face with surface charm.

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It certainly sounds like Rubio has been studying then Senator Obama’s campaign for the presidency in 2008. But Rubio says he’s way more experienced than Obama was then.

Kasie Hunt writes at MSNBC:

MIAMI –Presidential candidate Marco Rubio says that he has more experience than President Barack Obama did when he won the White House in 2008, even though both launched presidential campaigns as first term senators.

“There are some significant differences between his biography and mine,” Rubio told msnbc in an interview early Tuesday morning before flying to Washington to attend a congressional hearing on Iran. “We both served in the state legislatures, he as a back-bencher in the minority, me as the Speaker of House in the third-largest state in the country.”

He pointed out he will have served six full years in the Senate if he’s elected in 2016; President Obama had served four years when he was elected in 2008.

Okay . . . . Not all that impressive though; and Obama was a hell of a lot more well known around the country in 2008 than Rubio is now. As Matthew Yglesias wrote at Vox yesterday, that’s really the problem with the entire GOP field–most normal Americans don’t know who they are. On the other hand it would be difficult to find an average vote who doesn’t know quite a bit about Hillary Clinton.

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There were a few dissenting voices on Rubio at smaller media outlets. At The New Republic, Brian Beutler has a devastating piece on Rubio.

Marco Rubio Is the Most Disingenuous Republican Running for President. He’s not a reformer. He’s a fraud.

Senator Marco Rubio…was supposed to lead a GOP breakaway faction in support of comprehensive immigration reform, but was unable to persuade House Republicans to ignore the nativist right, and the whole thing blew up in his face. In regrouping, he’s determined that the key to restoring Republican viability in presidential elections is to woo middle class voters with fiscal policies that challenge conservative orthodoxy.

His new basic insight is correct. The GOP’s obsession with distributing resources up the income scale is the single biggest factor impeding it from reaching new constituencies, both because it reflects unpopular values and because it makes them unable to address emerging national needs that require spending money.

Well, we all know that isn’t going to become Republican policy, and Rubio has already demonstrated that he won’t stand up for policies the party leaders dislike.

If Rubio were both serious and talented enough to move his party away from its most inhibiting orthodoxy, in defiance of those donors, his candidacy would represent a watershed. His appeal to constituencies outside of the GOP base would be both sincere and persuasive.

But Rubio is not that politician. He is no likelier to succeed at persuading Republican supply-siders to reimagine their fiscal priorities than he was at persuading nativists to support a citizenship guarantee for unauthorized immigrants. In fact, nobody understands the obstacles facing Marco Rubio better than Marco Rubio. But rather than abandon his reformist pretensions, or advance them knowing he will ultimately lose, Rubio has chosen to claim the mantle of reform and surrender to the right simultaneously—to make promises to nontraditional voters he knows he can’t keep. My colleague Danny Vinik proposes that Rubio wants to “improve the lives of poor Americans” but he must “tailor [his] solutions to gain substantial support in the GOP, and those compromises would cause more harm to the poor.” I think this makes Rubio the most disingenuous candidate in the field.

More good insights at the link.

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Here’s Jonathan Chait on Rubio:

The presidential election is still a year and a half away, but Rubio’s campaign has already gone through three distinct stages. In the immediate wake of their 2012 debacle, Republican elites glommed onto Rubio as the cure for their demographic disease. Days after the election, Republican Über-pundit Charles Krauthammerostentantiously laid his hands upon the young, telegenic senator as the party’s new avatar. “Marco Rubio. So hot right now,” tweeted John Boehner’s press secretary. By the end of 2013, Rubio had crashed and burned. A conservative revolt forced him to repudiate the immigration reform plan he had carefully built. He desperately glommed on to the anti-Obamacare shutdown, alienating party elites without winning over the activists. But now Rubio has rebuilt his campaign and is showing signs of life, by repositioning himself to the right and eliminating his vulnerabilities.

The first and most dramatic such move was Rubio’s renunciation of immigration reform. Having championed a bipartisan plan for comprehensive reform, Rubio now insists that border security must come first. Fervent restrictionists may not fully trust his sincerity, but Rubio’s maneuver follows almost exactly the same script of apostasy and penance than John McCain used in 2008 to neutralize the issue.

The bigger shift has come on economic policy. Last year, Rubio positioned himself as a “reform conservative” who aspired to aim tax cuts at middle-class families rather than the rich. Instead, when he unveiled the plan, it consisted of a massive, debt-financed tax cut that would give its greatest benefit to the rich, not just in absolute terms, but also as a percentage of their income. Even that plan proved to be too stingy for Republican plutocrats, so Rubio revised his plan to make it far friendlier to the rich. The newest version took his old plan and added complete elimination of all taxes on inherited estates, capital gains, and interest income. Grover Norquist, guardian of the party’s anti-tax absolutism, cooed his approval.

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Rubio might be a bigger flip-flopper than Mitt Romney. But of course the corporate media fails to notice anything except the surface.

Fortunately for Rubio, much of the political media has covered his ideas as though they represent an important break from his party’s past. “Rubio appears to be hoping his plan will appeal to Republican voters concerned about rising economic inequality and tired of getting beaten up in the general election over plans that Democrats say would hand massive tax cuts to the rich at the expense of the middle class,” reports Politico.

This is not remotely accurate. Rubio’s original plan would have cut taxes by $2.4 trillion over a decade, making it quite similar to George W. Bush’s regressive, debt-financed tax-cut plan. It is true that Rubio would only cut the top tax rate to 35 percent, not as low as the fondest supply-side dreams would have it. But 35 percent would restore the Bush-era tax rate for the highest income earners. What’s more, Rubio’s elimination of the estate, interest, dividends, and capital gains taxes would go far beyond the Bush administration’s most plutocratic dreams. It is also true that Rubio plans to cut taxes for some middle-class families. But obviously that lost revenue has trade-offs, which he has failed to specify. The massive revenue hit would require very large cuts to existing programs. Given his party’s propensity to aim the bulk of its tax-cutting at the programs that direct their biggest benefits to Americans of modest incomes, there is no plausible way to imagine Rubio’s plan would do anything but engineer a massive upward redistribution of resources.

Read the rest at New York Magazine.

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Here’s Chait on Hillary Clinton:  Why Hillary Clinton Is Probably Going to Win the 2016 Election.

Unless the economy goes into a recession over the next year and a half, Hillary Clinton is probably going to win the presidential election. The United States has polarized into stable voting blocs, and the Democratic bloc is a bit larger and growing at a faster rate.

Of course, not everybody who follows politics professionally believes this. Many pundits feel the Democrats’ advantage in presidential elections has disappeared, or never existed. “The 2016 campaign is starting on level ground,” argues David Brooks, echoing a similar analysis by John Judis. But the evidence for this is quite slim, and a closer look suggests instead that something serious would have to change in order to prevent a Clinton victory. Here are the basic reasons why Clinton should be considered a presumptive favorite…

Check out Chait’s reasoning at the link.

So . . . What else is happening? Please posts your thoughts on this post and your links to recommended reads in the comment thread.

 


Thursday Reads: A Mixed Bag of News and Views

Tea in the garden darker

Good Morning!!

I’m not seeing any particular theme in today’s news, but there is quite a bit of good stuff to read; so I’ll just toss out a few items that interested me.

Poor Benjamin Netanyahu. It seems all his efforts to use the Republican Congress to squash President Obama’s negotiations is one big giant fail. He managed to get reelected with the help of John Boehner et al., but that’s about it. First Obama said that Iran recognizing Israel wouldn’t be part of any deal, and then yesterday the White House mocked Bibi on Twitter.

The Washington Post: Why Obama says Iran does not have to recognize Israel as part of a nuclear deal.

President Obama, who doesn’t get along with Netanyahu, seemed to dismiss the Israeli premier’s latest demand in an interview this week. When asked by NPR’s Steve Inskeep whether Iranian recognition of the state of Israel would be included in any final deal, Obama deemed such a move a “fundamental misjudgment.” Here’s an excerpt of his remarks:

Well, let me say this — it’s not that the idea of Iran recognizing Israel is unreasonable. It’s completely reasonable and that’s U.S. policy….

There’s still going to be a whole host of differences between us and Iran, and one of the most profound ones is the vile, anti-Semitic statements that have often come out of the highest levels of the Iranian regime. But the notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons, in a verifiable deal, on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms. And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment.

The point here is one that diplomats would take for granted. When attempting to make a deal with your interlocutor, particularly one where there’s a considerable history of grievance and animosity, you can’t expect to win a total capitulation.

Duh. Poor Bibi, like today’s Republicans doesn’t comprehend the notion of compromise.

David Knowles at Bloomberg Politics on the Twitter gag: White House Trolls Netanyahu on Iran with Bomb Graphic.

The White House has employed a graphic first used by Benjamin Netanyahu to push its case for a nuclear deal with Iran that the Israeli Prime Minister opposes. On Wednesday, the president’s office posted a tweet that borrowed the graphic representation of a bomb that Netanyahu had held up during a speech to the United Nation’s General Assembly in which he warned of Iran’s growing nuclear capability.

The fuse on the original image was intact, and there was no sign of the metaphorical scissors or accompanying text that the White House saw fit to add.

Bibi bomb

Pretty funny.

And how about this op-ed from the Jerusalem Post: How Netanyahu is single-handedly hurting the US-Israel relationship.

Benjamin Netanyahu is singlehandedly hurting a relationship that has resulted in over $100 billion in military aid to Israel since 1962.  The Prime Minister is hurting a relationship with a country that constantly defends Israel at the UN; resulting in over 30 U.S. vetoes of resolutions critical to Israel. Because of Netanyahu, some are wondering if the U.S. should continually give $3.1 billion in annual aid and professors like Harvard’s Steven Strauss have written about ending this perpetual assistance. Sadly, the Prime Minister’s supporters in Israel and abroad don’t seem moved by the magnitude of what could be lost if Netanyahu’s feud with Obama “gets even worse.”  [….] 

even those whose job it was to protect Israel from the threats trumpeted by Netanyahu feel that the Prime Minister has overstepped the boundaries of rationality.

According to The Jerusalem Post recently, “Former Mossad chief slams Netanyahu for insistence that Iran recognize Israel’s right to exist.” Efraim Halevy also predicted a“dramatic” improvement in Israeli relations with the U.S. if Netanyahu were to be defeated in the latest elections.  Another former Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, called Netanyahu’s speech to Congress “bull—t” and views the Prime Minister’s policies as dangerous to Israel’s future. A third former Mossad chief, Tamir Pardo, stated that a nuclear Iran did notpost an existential threat to Israel; a viewpoint directly at odds with the hysteria (fueled by Netanyahu’s political ideology) surrounding Obama’s nuclear deal.

When three former Mossad chiefs are forced to speak out, an Israeli Prime Minister should tone down his paranoid rhetoric, not increase the tempo of his political exploits. Say what you will about Bibi’s critics, but former Mossad chiefs aren’t “leftist” and they know quite a bit about Israeli security threats. Their sober assessment of Netanyahu’s P. T. Barnum inspired diplomacy (regarding Israel’s U.S. relationship) is just cause to reassess the Prime Minister’s behavior; not champion his constant criticism of Obama’s nuclear deal.

The Economist writes that “RARELY have relations between an American president and an Israeli prime minister sunk so low.” The New Yorker published an article titled A Bad Day In American-Israeli Relations. Senator Dianne Feinstein recently stated she wished that Netanyahu “would contain himself” and I echoed the California Senator’s sentiment in a recent Congress Blog piece. Tzipi Livni has warned that Netanyahu is leading Israel into “crisis and diplomatic isolation.” Like Livni, Yair Lapid has lamented over the state of relations between the White House and Israel, stating, “This damage will take a long time to mend.” Everyone from former Mossad chiefs, U.S. Senators, Israeli politicians, and journalist have expressed dismay about the decline in a relationship that is essential to Israel’s future.

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From The Washington Post, here’s more interesting news from the White House: White House condemns therapy to ‘cure’ gay youth.

The statement was issued in response to a White House petition signed by more than 120,000 people after the suicide of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen from Ohio whose suicide note condemning the society’s treatment of transgender people went viral after her death. In the note, she indicated she had been subjected to such therapies.

“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights,” Alcorn wrote in her note.

The White House statement, issued by President Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, condemned “conversion” therapy, also known as “reparative” therapy, which she defined as any treatment aimed at changing a person’s sexual identity.

“The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm,” she wrote. “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.”

Shortly before releasing the White House response to the petition on conversion therapy, according to a White House official, Jarrett spoke with organizers of the petition. “She listened to their personal stories about why this was important to them and thanked them for their efforts,” said the official, who asked for anonymity in order to describe a private conversation.

Transgender Bathroom

And from The Advocate: The White House’s Executive Office Now Has Gender-Neutral Bathroom.

An all-gender restroom is for the first time available in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, confirms a White House spokesman. Alternatively, guests are invited to use whichever bathroom fits with their gender identity.

“The White House allows staff and guests to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity,” said White House spokesman Jeff Tiller, “which is in keeping with the administration’s existing legal guidance on this issue and consistent with what is required by the executive order that took effect today for federal contractors.”

Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, had mentioned the policy change in an op-ed today for The Advocate, saying the adminstration had “closely examined” its policies on “restroom access” to help “ensure that everyone who enters this building feels safe and fully respected.”

Gender neutral bathrooms, if single-stall, also often offer a safe space to differently abled users, parents with their children, and anyone else seeking privacy.

The push for gender-neutral restrooms in public buildings and workplaces has been one cause taken up by transgender rights activists — and one that’s found the most visible sucecss on university campuses — making Jarrett’s anouncement feel to many like a win for trans Americans.

“It is heartening to see that, even if legislators in some states are attacking the dignity and humanity of transgender and gender-nonconforming people, at least the White House is still moving in the direction of dignity and common sense,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told The Advocate.

Within the past several years, the Obama administration has been increasingly affirming of trans citizens, with Vice President Joe Biden referring in 2012 to transgender discrimination as the “civil rights issue of our time” and President Obama using the word “transgender” (in addition to “lesbian” and “bisexual”) in this year’s State of the Union Address for the first time ever for any president. Federal employees have had the right to use the bathroom that accords with their gender identiy since 2011.

Around the country, heads of Republican homophobes must be exploding. Read the whole article for more on LGBT-positive actions the Obama administration has taken.

Xavier Morales

Xavier Morales

Some not so good news: the Secret Service’s credibility continues to slide downhill rapidly.

WaPo: Secret Service manager put on leave during probe of alleged assault.

The D.C. police’s sex-crimes unit and a government inspector general are investigating the female agent’s allegation that Xavier Morales, a manager in the security clearance division, made unwanted sexual advances and grabbed her on the night of March 31 after they returned to the office from a party at a downtown restaurant, according to two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the probe.

The woman told police and agency investigators that Morales, her boss, told her during the party at Capitol City Brewing Company that he was in love with her and would like to have sex with her, according to two people briefed on her statements. In the office later, she alleged, Morales tried to kiss her and grabbed her arms when she resisted, according to the two people briefed on her complaint. The woman alleged that the two scuffled until Morales relented.

Through an agency spokesman, Morales declined to comment, and he did not respond to requests for comment left on his personal phone.

Late last week, the Secret Service took the unusual step of placing Morales on indefinite administrative leave and adding his name to an internal “do not admit” list prohibiting entry to the office, a Secret Service official said. The Secret Service also took away his gun and badge after agency investigators launched a preliminary review of the complaint and conducted “subsequent corroborative interviews” Thursday afternoon, said agency spokesman Brian Leary.

More details at Heavy.com: Xavier Morales: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know.

Ugh. Maybe we need more female Secret Service agents to quell the “boys will be boys” atmosphere in the agency.

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More trouble may be coming for NJ governor and possible GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie.

NJ.com reports:  Indictments may come very soon in Bridgegate, report says.

Indictments may be coming very soon in Bridgegate, the investigation into improper lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in late 2013 that has also led to questions about bribery and conflicts of interest possibly involving Gov. Christie and the Port Authority, sources told The New York Times.

New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman launched the probe a few months after three lanes were closed to the bridge in September 2013, causing gridlock in Fort Lee. The closures were initially attributed to a traffic study by a Port Authority executive, Bill Baroni, but emails unearthed during an investigation revealed that the lanes were shut down on the orders of a Christie aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, to a Port Authority official appointed by Christie, David Wildstein. Some believe the lane closures were retribution for the failure of Fort Lee’s mayor, Mark Sokolich, to endorse Christie’s bid for re-election at a time when the governor and likely Republican presidential candidate was trying to build bipartisan support.

The Times previously reported that Fishman’s office may bring indictments to the operators of the bridge under a little-used statute that makes it a crime to use the bridge for something other than its intended purpose. Fishman’s office declined to say what course the investigation is taking.

This could be very interesting.

I have more news links, but I’m running out of space and time. I’ll add them to the comments.

What stories are you following? I’d love to read your comments on this post and click on your links to your recommended reads for today.

 


Tuesday Reads

Laurette with a coffee cup, Henri Matisse

Laurette with a coffee cup, Henri Matisse

Good Morning!!

I’m getting a late start today, because I was trying to find out what’s going on with my broken computer. I learned that it was shipped yesterday and supposedly will get to me on Thursday. It’s still in Oakland, so I’m not sure I believe that. Anyway, it’s a relief that I will get it back sometime soon. I have really missed it. At the same time, I’m very anxious about it. I’ve only had this computer since September and already the motherboard failed. I just hope it doesn’t happen again.

Anyway, enough about my problems. Let’s get to the news of the day.

The Boston Marathon bombing seems to have been mostly forgotten, but as this year’s marathon approaches, the trial of accused bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev is almost complete. Yesterday the prosecution and defense gave their closing arguments and today the jury begins deliberations.

Tsarnaev Jury Selection, Day 1

From The New York Times: Boston Marathon Bombing Trial Wraps Up With Clashing Portraits of Naïveté and Extremism.

BOSTON — The courtroom filled with a swelling chorus of Islamic chants as television screens showed the battlefield carnage on Boylston Street, with severed limbs, an 11-year-old boy with bone fragments from someone else lodged in his body, and bright red blood splashed on the pavement like so many buckets of paint.

Once more, the people of Boston on Monday were plunged back into that moment on April 15, 2013, when Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a pair of immigrant brothers, terrorized the city and the nation by setting off deadly bombs at the Boston Marathon in the worst terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

“That day, they felt they were soldiers,” the prosecutor said of the brothers. “They were the mujahedeen, and they were bringing their battle to Boston.”

The scene set the stage for closing arguments in this trial, in which testimony began a month ago, against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 21, whose brother, Tamerlan, 26, was killed in a shootout with police. In an emotional 80-minute multimedia finale delivered to a courtroom packed with survivors and victims’ families, the government cast Mr. Tsarnaev as an equal partner with his brother, equally determined to extract “an eye for an eye” against the United States for killing Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Read all about the closing arguments at the NYT link. The prosecution’s argument was very graphic and highly emotional. The case goes to the jury this morning. The defense already admitted that Tsarnaev is guilty, so the only real question will be whether he gets the death penalty or life in prison without parole. I certainly hope not, and most Greater Boston residents feel the same way, according to a poll by NPR station WBUR.

I expect to get my copy of a new book released today called The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy, by Masha Gessen. I’m really looking forward to reading it, because Gessen is knowledgeable about both Russia and the U.S. She is also the author of a biography of Vladimir Putin and a book about Pussy Riot. According to the reviews, Gessen focuses on the reasons behind the Tsarnaev brothers’ actions rather than on the crime itself, beginning with the history of Chechnya’s battle to stay separate from Russia.

From Wikipedia: Gessen was born in Moscow, lived for ten years in the U.S. before moving back home to Moscow. She moved back to New York  in 2013 after Russian authorities suggested they might take children away from gay parents. She is a lesbian and a well known activist for LGBT rights and against Putin. I’d love to read her book about Putin too.

From the LA Times review of the book (the NYT review is linked above):

Masha Gessen does something unexpected with “The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy.” In a book about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and their role in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, she barely describes the crime. Here it is, her account, which comes almost exactly at the halfway point: “Patriots’ Day 2013 fell on April 15, tax day — an ironic coincidence for a big American holiday. At 2:49 p.m. that day, a couple of hours after the winner completed the Boston Marathon, when runners were crossing the finish line in a steady stream, two bombs went off near the end of the route, killing three people and injuring at least 264 others, including sixteen who lost limbs.”

Still, if such an approach seems counterintuitive, that’s the power of this remarkable book. For Gessen, the details of the catastrophe — the backpacks, the surveillance footage, the suspension of civil liberties throughout Greater Boston for several days — are so well known as to be, in some sense, moot. More essential is the background, both historical and personal. In that sense, “The Brothers” is reminiscent of Lawrence Wright’s “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11,” which won a 2007 Pulitzer Prize.

Wright, of course, published his book several years after the fact, while Gessen’s story is unfolding in the Massachusetts courtroom of the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial. “The Brothers,” however, is less interested in the case per se than in its context, going back to the 1940s and the relocation by Soviet authorities of ethnic Chechens to the central Asian republics of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

What does this have to do with the bombing? Nothing and everything. The Tsarnaev brothers were the children, or grandchildren, of this relocation, which uprooted their father’s family. Nearly 60 years later, when they, with their sisters and parents, came to Boston not long after the Sept. 11 attacks, it was just one more place that did not want them, that regarded them as alien or worse.

I can’t wait to read Gessen’s book. I’ll let you know if I learn anything new and useful from it.

John Oliver interviews Edward Snowden

John Oliver interviews Edward Snowden

Another topic I haven’t written much about recently–the Edward Snowden saga–is back in the headlines after an interview he gave to HBO’s John Oliver. From Fortune: Edward Snowden’s most outlandish interview yet.

Edward Snowden, the whistleblower and former National Security Agency contractor, has conducted lots of interviews since he shocked the world with revelations about top secret government surveillance programs and fled to Russia. He’s video-streamed his visage onto a big screen at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas (as well as a smaller one). He’s appeared on panels, including what became the final public appearance of the celebrated New York Times media columnist David Carr. He’s wandered the halls of the TED conference on the screen of a telepresence robot.

But this weekend on John Oliver’s hit HBO series Last Week Tonight, Snowden participated in what is likely his kookiest interview to date. The show took a deep dive into government surveillance, a subject nearly two years in the public spotlight thanks to Snowden’s leaks, and encompassed subjects ranging from the Patriot Act and espionage to, er, “truck nuts” and “dick pics.”

I didn’t see the interview and I don’t know if I can bring myself to watch it; but the video is at the Fortune link if you’re interested.

Apparently the big revelation in the interview was that Snowden never read the documents he stole before releasing them. From Billboard:

If we learned anything from John Oliver‘s super-secret one-on-one interview with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, which aired Sunday on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, it’s that A) Few Americans probably know who is, and B) The spy agency does not have a department solely dedicated to collecting photos of your junk.

Oliver traveled to Russia to secure the interview with Snowden, who is sought by U.S. authorities for leaking thousands of NSA documents, and though there were plenty of laughs (truck nuts!) the host made sure to grill the asylum-seeker about the seriousness of his situation.

For one thing, Oliver asked Snowden if he had read all the classified docs that he leaked to the media. He said he had “evaluated” all of them — to which Oliver brought up the release of information that revealed the names of U.S. spies. “That’s a fu–up,” Oliver concluded. “You have to own that… You’re giving documents which you know could be harmful, and you know could get out there.”

Snowden responded, “You will never be completely free from risk if you’re free… The only time you can be free from risk is when you’re in prison.”

Snowden just isn’t a serious person. The Daily Mail has an in-depth report with plenty of quotes and videos. Here’s the headline: The damning truth about Snowden: Traitor who put Western lives at risk from terrorists reveals he didn’t even read all the top-secret files he leaked.

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This morning Rand Paul revealed (to no one’s surprise) that he’s running for president of the U.S. CBS News reports:

Rand Paul announced his bid for president Tuesday morning on his campaign website, randpaul.com.

On the web page, Paul wrote, “I am running for president to return our country to the principles of liberty and limited government.” The Kentucky senator has already begun asking his supporters for donations to help his cause, too.

His political action committee sent a long email imploring supporters to contribute anywhere from $10 to $500 for a “Stand With Rand Money Bomb.” Paul has used this fundraising technique in the past to collect small-dollar donations online from grassroots supporters.

“The media tells us — if our Republican Party has any hope of defeating Hillary Clinton — you and I should choose a nominee with a track record full of sellouts, compromises and Big Government betrayals. So even though I’m at or near the top of every state poll for the nomination, they continue to try and dismiss my message of liberty and limited government!” the appeal reads.

Paul is expected to formally launch his White House bid at an event in Louisville, Kentucky Tuesday afternoon. The announcement has been expected for weeks, and Paul spent the early part of the week converting his campaign-in-waiting to an actual campaign.

So now the Republicans have two clowns in the clown car: Rand Paul and Ted Cruz–not a particularly auspicious start if you ask me.

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One more big story came out late yesterday–a report organized by the Columbia Journalism Review on the Rolling Stone article on the rape problem at the University of Virginia in which the central character apparently fabricated her story. There were many other women in the story who had been raped on the UVA campus, but they were overshadowed by “Jackie’s” apparently false accusations of a man who seems not to exist at all.

Here’s the report at Rolling stone: Rolling Stone and UVA: The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Report

and the CJR story: Rolling Stone’s investigation: ‘A failure that was avoidable.’

Amanda Marcotte had two good articles on the report yesterday.

Talking Points Memo: Sorry, Rape Deniers: The Rolling Stone Report isn’t What You Hoped.

Raw Story: The big reveal in the report on Rolling Stone’s rape story fiasco that no one is talking about.

I hope you’ll check out those stories. They’re both well worth reading.

Just one more link from The Daily Beast: Rolling Stone Reporter ‘Nearly Broke Down.’

That’s all I have for you today. What stories are you following?

 


Thursday Reads: Sweet Schadenfreude

 SchadenfreudeGood Morning!!

It’s a good day for people who believe in minding their own business and letting other people live their lives without be harassed by nosy theocrats. It’s just so much fun seeing a nasty bully like Mike Pence get his just desserts.

This morning the Indianapolis Star broke the news that GOP state legislators have come up with a “fix” for the awful “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” they passed just a short time ago. The proposed changes to the law include the following language:

[T]he new “religious freedom” law does not authorize a provider — including businesses or individuals — to refuse to offer or provide its services, facilities, goods, or public accommodation to any member of the public based on sexual orientation or gender identity, in addition to race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, or military service.

The law will also include protections for people seeking employment and housing.

Ha ha!!

Churches and other religious non-profit organizations will still be allowed to discriminate, however.

Early signs are that neither side will be satisfied with the proposed changes.

The clarifying language is likely to rile socially conservative advocacy groups, which hold significant sway among Republicans at the Statehouse and pushed hard for the religious freedom law after a failed legislative effort last year to enshrine a same-sex marriage ban in the state constitution.

Leaders of three of those groups — the American Family Association of Indiana, the Indiana Family Institute, and Advance America — declined comment or did not return messages from The Star Wednesday.

But in an email update to supporters from the AFA’s Micah Clark, he urged them to contact their state senators and to pray for legislators.

“At this very moment, the Indiana Senate is considering “water-down” language to the recently passed and pro-religious-liberty bill, Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” the email says. “Homosexual activists are demanding Christian business owners in Indiana be forced to compromise their faith.”

images

Groups who oppose the law itself won’t be happy either.

“We understand that lawmakers are working to ‘fix’ the Indiana RFRA that has done so much harm to Indiana over the past week, but we want to make it clear that we need full protection from discrimination against all LGBT Hoosiers across the state and a guarantee that this RFRA cannot be used to undermine any nondiscrimination protections,” Katie Blair, campaign manager for Freedom Indiana, said in a statement. “According to current media reports, the proposal being considered falls far short of these principles, leaving the door wide open for discrimination.”

The prospect of the clarifying language also failed to prevent the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) from following through Wednesday on its threat of relocating its 6,000-person 2017 convention from Indianapolis because of the new law.

Spokeswoman Cherilyn Williams told The Indianapolis Star that church officials were unsure a legislative fix currently being considered would be adequate to address all of their concerns. The state’s lack of anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and sexual identity, in particular soured them on Indiana.

“We’re not sure the fix will be adequate to address all of our concerns, and we felt like we needed to move ahead to allow the hotels to make arrangements,” Williams said.

One of the businesses that strongly opposes the bill is prescription drug giant Eli Lilly. Lilly and two other corporations have been threatened with stock disinvestment by huge medical foundation The California Endowment.

Honestly, I wish I could paste the entire article from the Indy Star here. But I’ve already quoted too much. Please go to the link if you want more.

bart-simpson

Remember the “christian” pizza place that JJ wrote about yesterday? Well, they’re close for the time being, according to TMZ:

Memories Pizza — the first Indiana business to declare it would refuse LGBT business — got blasted on the Internet and by phone, but the owner says there’s been a huge misunderstanding … sorta.

Kevin O’Connor tells TMZ he’s had to temporarily close his business after he told a reporter he would refuse to cater a gay wedding under Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act. O’Connor says he was immediately flooded by threatening phone calls, and social media postings.

O’Connor wants to clear up one thing: He says he would never deny service to gay people in his restaurant. However, due to his religious beliefs, he does not believe in gay marriage … and that’s why he wouldn’t service one.

I wonder how many heterosexual weddings this guy has catered? I’d love to see the photos.

As for Mike Pence, Politico has an article with this blaring headline: The Week Mike Pence’s 2016 Dreams Crumbled.

Pence is in trouble, because there is already collateral damage.

At least 10 national conventions are threatening to pull out of commitments to meeting in Indianapolis, according to city tourism officials, who have spent late nights talking down convention organizers in an attempt to keep a grip on the industry that brings in $4.4 billion annually and supports 75,000 jobs. Comedian Nick Offerman and indie band Wilco scuttled upcoming engagements here. Even NASCAR, not known for leftie or social-justice bona fides, expressed disappointment in the legislation.

And just days before the NCAA Final Four Championship is set to tip off, a different kind of March Madness has settled over the city. NCAA President Mark Emmert expressed doubts about maintaining its Indianapolis headquarters—a short walk from the Statehouse.

In a hastily called news conference on Tuesday, Pence—usually keen on playing the happy warrior in public—looked wan and defeated, though his hair was still shaped into its perfect and immoveable silver part. At some turns, in a dulcet tone, Pence employed a humble tack, suggesting the law needed “a fix” and admitting that his defensive performance in a Sunday appearance with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week” likely made things worse (“I could have handled that better,” Pence told reporters). At others, he defended the religious freedom bill, criticizing press coverage of it as “reckless” and “sloppy,” and said he harbored no regrets in signing it.

giphy simpsons gif

“It’s been a tough week here in the Hoosier State, but we’re going to move forward,” Pence assured state and national media who had gathered at the Indiana State Library, an unconventional choice for a news conference but a sop to the national interest in the roiling imbroglio. Pence’s regular briefing area wasn’t large enough to accommodate reporters who had descended on the city. (Even Olympic diver Greg Louganis, in town to promote a new book with the mother of Ryan White, the Kokomo teen who died of AIDS 25 years ago this month, surfaced at the presser, ambling around with his black and white Jack Russell terrier, Dobby.)

Ha Ha Ha!!!!

Meanwhile, GOP legislators in Arkansas passed a law that was described in the media as identical to Indiana’s; but according to Nelson Tebbe at Balkinization, it will actually have much worse effects. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, no doubt wanting to avoid the public shaming that Pence has experienced, sent the law back to lawmakers for changes.

Yesterday, the Arkansas legislature passed a state RFRA and sent it to Governor Hutchinson. Today, the governor sent the bill back to the legislature, asking for language that is closer to the federal RFRA. Arkansas is being compared to Indiana, whose RFRA has drawn a firestorm of criticism. But in fact Arkansas law poses a greater danger to civil rights—and that is true regardless of whether the Arkansas RFRA is passed and what it ends up saying. That is because of another law, enacted recently, that prohibits localities from passing LGBT anti-discrimination measures. Considering the overall legal landscape in the state, it is unlikely that any changes in the RFRA bill will improve the grim situation for LGBT citizens of Arkansas.

Start with the current text of the Arkansas RFRA bill, which shares troubling features with Indiana’s law and is even broader in some respects. Most significantly, the Arkansas law is applicable in suits between private parties, just like the Indiana RFRA. As two of us have recently explained, those provisions are designed to change the legal analysis of cases where wedding vendors have refused service to same-sex couples in violation of local civil rights protections.

giphy simpsons laughing and taunting

Other aspects of the Arkansas RFRA bill are even broader than Indiana’s. For example, the Arkansas law protects all corporations and other legal entities, while Indiana’s law only applies to those where the religious beliefs are held by individuals “who have control and substantial legal ownership of the entity.” Moreover, a substantial burden on religion can only be justified under the Arkansas approach if it can be shown that applying the burden “in this particular instance” is “essential” to furthering a compelling governmental interest. Both of the quoted phrases are new to Arkansas. Whether either would matter in litigation is uncertain.

But what makes the Arkansas situation more troubling than the one in Indiana has little to do with the details of the RFRA bill. It is the way the new RFRA interacts with another new Arkansas law. Act 137, which became law in late February of 2015, provides that “A county, municipality, or other political subdivision of the state shall not adopt or enforce an ordinance, resolution, rule, or policy that creates a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not contained in state law.” In other words, localities within Arkansas may not pass anti-discrimination measures that protect LGBT citizens in employment, housing, or public accommodations—because state law does not provide such protections. Arkansas’s stated interest in passing the law was legal uniformity among jurisdictions within the state.

Scary. I don’t think Hutchinson has much chance of being POTUS, but he probably doesn’t want his state to replace Indiana in the national media spotlight either.

So it’s a good day so far. Let’s enjoy the schaedenfreude while we can.

What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread.

 


Tuesday Reads: Back Home Again In Indiana

Mounds State Park, near Muncie, IN with the Great Mound in the distance.

Mounds State Park, near Muncie, IN with the Great Mound in the background.

Good Morning!!

My family moved to Indiana when I was ten years old. My Dad had been offered a job as a professor at Ball State Teachers College (soon to be Ball State Univerity) in Muncie. He bought his first house there in one of those brand new 1950s developments that were springing up all over to respond to the needs of returning WWII vets and other upwardly mobile couples with growing families–like my parents.

I went to school in Muncie from 6th grade on. I graduated from Muncie Central High School in 1965, and then attended Ball State for two years. Muncie is a very different city now then when I was growing up there. At that time, Muncie was home to many auto parts factories that supported the car makers in Detroit. Thousands of people traveled from rural areas in Kentucky and Tennesee to find good paying jobs there.

I never felt like I fit in in Muncie. My parents were liberals and our family was Catholic. Only one other person I can recall–my best friend–had a father who was a professor. Muncie was mostly Republican and only about 10 percent Catholic. There was actually quite a bit of prejudice against Catholics there, and that was troubling to me. Other kids seemed to look at me oddly when they found out what my Dad did. I wanted to get out of there, and after two years of college, I moved to Boston.

Even though I wanted out of Muncie as a young woman, I’ve never lost my attachment to the natural beauty of Indiana. It’s still a largely rural state in which the geography varies widely depending on the region. Northern Indiana is lake country, Southern Indiana is filled with rolling hills and gorgeous scenery. The central part of the state where I grew up is flat and is still filled with the corn and soy fields that many people believe are all there is to Indiana. It’s not true. That’s just where the Interstate highways are. But I think the farm country is beautiful too.

As the car industry fell on hard times, so did Muncie. Unemployment skyrocketed, and stayed high for decades, as the car parts factories disappeared. Today Muncie is a majority Democratic “college town,” and Ball State is the city’s biggest employer. I think I could be happy in Muncie now, and I’ve often thought of moving back there in my old age. For one thing it’s a much less expensive place to live than Boston. For another thing, I miss those open spaces where you can see the horizon in the distance on all sides.

I’m telling you all this so you can understand that I still love Indiana, and why I am so deeply saddened by the way the Tea Party movement has captured the state’s government. Dakinikat has been posting quite a bit about the latest outrage–an extreme, post-Hobby-Lobby-decision version of the so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Indiana has also been a leader in the right wing attacks on voting rights (strict voter ID law) and women’s reproductive rights (attacks on Planned Parenthood and attempts to pass extreme anti-abortion measures). Historically Indiana has tended to elect Republican Governors and Democratic Senators. I don’t know why that is, but it’s also true here in deep blue Massachusetts where for nearly 50 years I’ve lived under GOP rule. Indiana’s current governor is a very far right extremist, as the entire country now knows.

I thought I’d post some of the reactions to this horrible new law from inside Indiana.

This morning, the conservative Indianapolis Star–which endorsed Mike Pence in 2012–published a rare front page editorial:

 

Indy star fix it

 

Gov. Pence, fix ‘religious freedom’ law now.

We are at a critical moment in Indiana’s history.

And much is at stake.

Our image. Our reputation as a state that embraces people of diverse backgrounds and makes them feel welcome. And our efforts over many years to retool our economy, to attract talented workers and thriving businesses, and to improve the quality of life for millions of Hoosiers.

All of this is at risk because of a new law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that no matter its original intent already has done enormous harm to our state and potentially our economic future.

The consequences will only get worse if our state leaders delay in fixing the deep mess created.

Half steps will not be enough. Half steps will not undo the damage.

Only bold action — action that sends an unmistakable message to the world that our state will not tolerate discrimination against any of its citizens — will be enough to reverse the damage.

Gov. Mike Pence and the General Assembly need to enact a state law to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, education and public accommodations on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Those protections and RFRA can co-exist. They do elsewhere.

Laws protecting sexual orientation and gender identity are not foreign to Indiana.

Indianapolis, for example, has had those legal protections in place for nearly a decade. Indy’s law applies to businesses with more than six employees, and exempts religious organizations and non-profit groups.

The city’s human rights ordinance provides strong legal protection — and peace of mind —for LGBT citizens; yet, it has not placed an undue burden on businesses.

Importantly, passage of a state human rights law would send a clear message that Indiana will not tolerate discrimination. It’s crucial for that message to be communicated widely.

That would bring Indiana in line Illinois where the “religious freedom” laws is overridden by a strict non-discrimination statute; but for the moment, Pence seems determined to stick with his bigoted stance because of his ridiculous fantasy of running for president. Before this, he had no chance in hell. Now he’s becoming a laughing stock like Bobby Jindal. But even Jindal probably has a better shot at the GOP nomination than Pence does.

 

Bridgeton covered bridge, Indiana

Bridgeton covered bridge, Indiana

 

Fox 59 Indianapolis: Indiana’s reputation taking a hit over religious freedom bill.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (March 30, 2015)– Those who work in tourism in Indianapolis fear the economic impact and damage the religious freedom legislation could bring to the city and state’s economy. Sunday, Visit Indy said conventions had expressed questions about the controversial legislation, but none had expressed interest in leaving.

Monday, labor union AFSCME announced it would pull its women’s conference out of downtown Indianapolis. It was scheduled for October 9th through October 11th. Visit Indy said the conference was to be held at the JW Marriott downtown, with 800 expected attendees and an estimated $500,000 in economic impact.

Meanwhile, the state remained in the crosshairs online Monday, with the hashtag #boycottIndiana going strong on Twitter.

Cher criticized Governor Mike Pence over the weekend, and Apple CEO Tim Cookpenned an editorial in the Washington Post calling religious freedom laws like Indiana’s dangerous.

Visit Indy said they’re in crisis mode reassuring conventions Hoosiers are welcoming. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is taking a stand, too. Open for service stickers are affixed to the museum’s windows.

“We wanted to reaffirm to the community that we welcome everyone,” said Brian Statz, Vice-President of Operations and General Counsel.

Then Statz had better get busy and put serious pressure on Pence and the legislature, because this backlash has reached critical mass and it’s not going away anytime soon.

Bean Blossom covered bridge

Bean Blossom covered bridge

CBS 4 Indianapolis: City-County Council passes resolution opposing RFRA, sends loud message to state leaders.

INDIANAPOLIS (March 30, 2015)–The Indianapolis City-County Council passed a resolution Monday night opposing the new Religious Freedom Restoration law. The measure was sponsored and introduced by 16 council members on both sides of aisle. It passed in a 24-4 vote.

The resolution will now be sent to Statehouse for Gov. Mike Pence’s viewing.

Supporters of the measure say the current version of the law hurts Indiana commerce, repels young talented professionals and further tarnishes the Hoosier image.

“As the representatives of the city and the county, we feel it is our job to make sure we are doing everything to fight back and let the world know that Indianapolis is a welcoming place,” said John Barth, City-County Council vice president.

“If they need to repeal it then repeal it. If they can fix it, then fix it! But make it count and that’s really what we are saying tonight,” said Councilor Jeff Miller.

Before the meeting, those opposed to the new law rallied in-front of the City-Market. Chants and signs sent a clear message to the rest of the world: “No hate in our State.”

“Under no terms or wording is discrimination acceptable,” said Patrick Dutchess.

“The support that our community has had here in Indiana to say we don’t agree with the governor is amazing,” said Angie Alexander.

 

Indiana's Brown County State Park in Fall.

Indiana’s Brown County State Park in Fall.

 

CBS 4: Butler, Purdue and other Indiana university presidents issue statements on religious freedom bill.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (March 29, 2015) — Presidents of universities in Indiana are speaking out after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act last week.  Questions remain about what Indiana’s new religious freedom bill means and the power it holds….

The president of Butler University, James Danko, released a statement on Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act on Sunday. The statement reads:

As president of Butler University I am particularly sensitive to the importance of supporting and facilitating an environment of open dialogue and critical inquiry, where free speech and a wide range of opinion is valued and respected. Thus, it is with a certain degree of apprehension that I step into the controversy surrounding Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

However, over the past week I have heard from many Butler community members—as well as prospective students, parents, and employees—who have expressed concerns about the impact this law may have on our state and our University. As such, I feel compelled to share my perspective and to reinforce the values of Butler University.

While I have read a variety of opinions and rationale for RFRA, it strikes me as ill-conceived legislation at best, and I fear that some of those who advanced it have allowed their personal or political agendas to supersede the best interests of the State of Indiana and its people. No matter your opinion of the law, it is hard to argue with the fact it has done significant damage to our state.

Like countless other Hoosier institutions, organizations, and businesses, Butler University reaffirms our longstanding commitment to reject discrimination and create an environment that is open to everyone.

Today, more than ever, it is important that we continue to build, cultivate, and defend a culture in which all members of our community—students, alumni, faculty, staff, and the public—can learn, work, engage, and thrive. It is our sincere hope that those around the country with their ears turned toward our Hoosier state hear just one thing loud and clear—the united voice of millions who support inclusion and abhor discrimination.

Butler is an institution where all people are welcome and valued, regardless of sexual orientation, religion, gender, race, or ethnicity; a culture of acceptance and inclusivity that is as old as the University itself. Butler was the first school in Indiana and third in the United States to enroll women as students on an equal basis with men, was among the first colleges in the nation to enroll African Americans, and was the second U.S. school to name a female professor to its faculty.

I strongly encourage our state leaders to take immediate action to address the damage done by this legislation and to reaffirm the fact that Indiana is a place that welcomes, supports, respects, and values all people.

Click on the link to read statements from the presidents of Ball State University, Hanover College, and Perdue (former governor Mitch Daniels is president).

Versailles State Park, Indiana

Versailles State Park, Indiana

 

Where are these so-called “religious freedom” laws coming from? The Christian Science Monitor tried to find out. The obvious candidate is ALEC, but they claimed to CSM that they aren’t drafted the legislation.

Who’s pushing the religious freedom laws in states?

But when asked whether ALEC was involved in supporting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, ALEC spokesperson Bill Meierling responds: “We do not work on firearms, marriage equality, immigration, any of those things people frequently say are ours.”

Still, North Carolina state Rep. Graig R. Meyer of (D) Durham says that ALEC is having a profound effect on how state legislators in his state are picking their targets.

“While ALEC may not be directly distributing the template legislation we’re seeing pop up all over the country, they are primarily the network for legislative exchange that is operating as a provider of educational seminars and conferences,” Mr. Meyer says in a phone interview.

One such ALEC conference was held in North Carolina. “While nobody can say for sure where the next religious freedom law bill will pop up, it’s probably a safe bet to look at where their most recent national conferences were held and where the next one will be,” says Meyer.

The last ALEC national conference was held in December in Washington, D.C. The next one coming up will be in San Diego, Calif., according to ALEC’s Meierling. He describes the organization as “an exchange of legislators and entrepreneurs who come together to discuss policy.”

Nevertheless,

A Source Watch report on the legislative authors of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) shows many are also on the ALEC Indiana membership list.  Three of the bill’s co-authors are also ALEC Task Force committee chairs, including Indiana state Sen. Carlin J. Yoder (R) of District 12, Sen. Jean Leising (R) of District 42, and Sen. Jim Buck (R) of District 21, according to Source Watch.

Other Democratic legislators say ALEC is shaping conservative legislation in their state. For example, Arizona state Sen. Steve Farley sees the non-profit group as a driver of debate on gun legislation and the recently aired idea of mandating church attendance in his state.

Mandating church attendance???!!! I certainly hope that doesn’t catch on. I don’t trust this Supreme Court to protect us.

What else is happening today? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread.


Lazy Saturday Reads: Signs of Life After the Snowpocalypse

 crocus snow

Good Morning!!

I can’t wait for spring flowers and warmer weather, can you tell? I have all the symptoms of Spring fever, including inability to concentrate on anything serious, like politics or plane crashes. But I’ll do my best to give you some interesting links on this lazy late March Saturday.

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Amanda Knox has finally been freed to live her life without the bizarre Italian legal system breathing down her neck. From the Chicago Tribune: Amanda Knox conviction thrown out by Italian court, closing legal saga.

Amanda Knox, who maintained that she and her former Italian boyfriend were innocent in her British roommate’s murder through multiple trials and nearly four years in jail, was vindicated Friday when Italy’s highest court threw out their convictions once and for all.

“Finished!” Knox’s lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova exulted after the decision was read out late Friday. “It couldn’t be better than this.”

The surprise decision definitively ends the 7½-year legal battle waged by Knox, 27, and co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito, 31, to clear their names in the gruesome 2007 murder and sexual assault of British student Meredith Kercher.

The supreme Court of Cassation panel deliberated for 10 hours before declaring that the two did not commit the crime, a stronger exoneration than merely finding insufficient evidence to convict. Instead, had the court-of-resort upheld the pair’s convictions, Knox would have faced 28 ½ years in an Italian prison, assuming she would have been extradited, while Sollecito had faced 25 years.

“Right now I’m still absorbing what all this means and what comes to mind is my gratitude for the life that’s been given to me,” Knox said late Friday, speaking to reporters outside her mother’s Seattle home.

This case has made me grateful that in the U.S. Constitution contains a double jeopardy clause.

crocus

Things are getting really ugly in Yemen. From The Washington Post: How the Yemen conflict risks new chaos in the Middle East.

The meltdown in Yemen is pushing the Middle East dangerously closer to the wider regional conflagration many long have feared would arise from the chaos unleashed by the Arab Spring revolts.

What began as a peaceful struggle to unseat a Yemeni strongman four years ago and then mutated into civil strife now risks spiraling into a full-blown war between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran over a country that lies at the choke point of one of the world’s major oil supply routes.

With negotiators chasing a Tuesday deadline for the framework of a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, it seems unlikely that Iran would immediately respond militarily to this week’s Saudi airstrikes in Yemen, analysts say.

But the confrontation has added a new layer of unpredictability — and confusion — to the many, multidimensional conflicts that have turned large swaths of the Middle East into war zones over the past four years, analysts say.

The United States is aligned alongside Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and against them in Yemen. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, who have joined in the Saudi offensive in Yemen, are bombing factions in Libya backed by Turkey and Qatar, who also support the Saudi offensive in Yemen. The Syrian conflict has been fueled by competition among all regional powers to outmaneuver one another on battlefields far from home.

Scary. All this because George W. Bush lied us into two needless, unwinnable wars.

Crocus in Boston

Ahramonline: Arab leaders pledge support to Yemen.

Although Saturday’s Arab League summit was due to cover a range of regional topics, the ongoing crisis in Yemen took the lead spot as the summit opened with speeches from Arab leaders.

A Saudi-led military offensive is underway against targets held by Houthi rebels in the turmoil-hit country, with the backing of a number of Arab states.

In his opening speech, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said that military action was  “inevitable” to restore legitimate rule in Yemen.

El-Sisi also said that Egypt has accepted a proposal by a meeting of Arab foreign ministers to form a joint Arab military force to counter the “unprecedented threats” facing the region’s stability.

Arab foreign ministers agreed on a draft resolution to form a joint Arab military force to counter growing security threats in the region. The proposal requires the endorsement of the Arab leaders during the two-day summit this weekend.

Saudi’s King Salman vowed in his opening speech that the military intervention will not stop until Yemen is stable and safe. The monarch said that Saudi Arabia supports the Hadi government’s legitimacy in Yemen and wants stability for the Yemeni population.

He further stated that the situation in the region necessitates an Arab coalition to fight terrorism.

More details from CNN: Arab League to discuss military operation in Yemen.

crocus-in-snow

The Wall Street Journal on the incredibly selfish, suicidal co-pilot of that crashed Germanwings jet: Germanwings Co-Pilot Andreas Lubitz Concealed Depression From Airline.

BERLIN—Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings co-pilot who crashed an airliner into a French mountainside, was being treated for depression, a fact he concealed from his employer, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

Mr. Lubitz had been excused from work by his neuropsychologist for a period that included the day of the crash, this person told The Wall Street Journal, but he decided to ignore the advice and reported to work.

The Germanwings tragedy highlights a broader industry dilemma: reliance on pilots themselves to disclose serious physical or psychological ailments to their employer—and what can happen when secrecy urges or privacy considerations trump full disclosure, safety and medial experts say.

Despite mandatory, regular medical exams—supplemented by company-specific safeguards intended to periodically check on aviators’ skills and psychological state—airlines ultimately depend on employees to honestly assess and report when they shouldn’t be flying.

In return, Germanwings, a unit of Deutsche Lufthansa AG, and many other airlines around the globe promise to avoid punishing pilots who comply with that guiding principle.

Read more at the WSJ. As Dakinikat wrote yesterday, this guy could have just shot himself or jumped out of a high window, but instead he decided to take 149 other people–including babies and high school kids–with him when he committed suicide.

Life after Snowpocalypse

A few stories on the terrible explosion in NYC’s East Village:

Newsweek: A Slice of New York City History Goes Up In Smoke.

An explosion in Manhattan’s East Village on Thursday injured an estimated 25 people and destroyed a row of landmarked buildings that have held meaning for generations of New Yorkers. At one time the mayor’s residence was there, and another building housed an iconic vintage-clothing store made popular in the 1985 film Desperately Seeking Susan.

“It’s a real tragedy. It was scary,” says Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council. “It’s shocking when this happens in an area that’s so close-knit. People really live on the streets here, in a good way. There’s a real community.”

City officials say the March 26 explosion happened at 121 Second Avenue and also damaged the neighboring buildings at 119, 123 and 125. The buildings all were awarded landmark status in October 2012 as part of a designation of an East Village/Lower East Side Historic District. The buildings in that district date mostly to the mid- to late 1800s, a time when wealthier New Yorkers started moving uptown and selling off their properties, which were often turned into tenement housing.

European immigrants began moving into the area in large numbers in the second half of the 19th century. An early influx consisted mostly of Germans, and the area became known as Kleindeutschland, or Little Germany. Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe moved there too and established a vibrant theater district.

“The East Village and the Lower East Side are remarkable in that they’ve seen successive waves of immigrants and new populations coming in and really shaping and affecting the physical environment, bringing with them their social clubs, their gathering places,” Bankoff says.

By the middle of the 20th century, the Village became an epicenter for artists and bohemians.

The historic district, one of 114 in the city, runs north-south from around East 7th Street to East Second Street and east-west from First and Second avenues to the Bowery.

crocuses-in-snow

Click on the above link to continue reading. More details on the fire at ABC News: NYC Building Fire: Restaurant Owner Smelled Gas Before Massive Explosion, Officials Say.

From The New Yorker, a thoughtful and interesting essay on living in the East Village by Sarah Larson: The East Village Fire: Love Saves the Day.

Finally, one of the passengers in the GOP Clown Car, faux libertarian Rand Paul, opens his big mouth and spews nonsense and hate.

From Charles Pierce’s “Stupid for Lunch” cafe: Rand Paul’s Take On Defense Spending. In which the cafe staff starts the five minute clock for Senator Rand Paul.

The staff at the Cafe has a small clock in one particular booth. The booth is reserved for Senator Rand Paul, whenever he stops by for a quick lunch, for which he invariably undertips, when he doesn’t try to beat itout the back door.

Time was when Senator Aqua Buddha entertained us all — five minutes at a time — about how the country was wasting its money on a whole mess of sophisticated boom-boom. The staff knows when to begin the countdown and they begin invariably to whisper again…

Continue reading at the link.

Atheist Ayn Rand must be spinning in her grave over this from TPM.

Rand: ‘Moral Crisis’ Led To Gay Marriage, US Needs Religious Revival.

“Don’t always look to Washington to solve anything,” Paul said during a private prayer breakfast at the Capitol Hill Club.

“In fact, the moral crisis we have in our country — there is a role for us trying to figure out things like marriage — there’s also a moral crisis that allows people to think that there would be some sort of other marriage.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Raw Story: Rand Paul calls for ‘tent revivals’ to resolve the ‘moral crisis’ of gay marriage.

“The moral crisis we have in our country — there is a role for us trying to figure out things like marriage — there’s also a moral crisis that allows people to think there would be some other sort of marriage, ” he explained. “I think the exhortation to try and change people’s thoughts has to come from the countryside.”

The libertarian lawmaker then took a slightly religious turn, saying “You know, I’ve said this before, we need a revival in the country.”

“We need another great awakening with tent revivals of thousands of people saying, you know,’reform or see what’s going to happen if we don’t reform’.”

In a recent interview with Brett Baier of Fox News, Paul admitted that the use of the term ‘marriage’ for same sex couples offends him.

Watch the video at Raw Story. Honestly, I think that cartoon JJ post last night is beginning to make sense. Someone must have put LSD in Rand’s grits when he was a kid. Why would anyone vote for this wacko?

I’d write about the latest “revelations” about Hillary’s emails, but I don’t want to completely depress myself. I have to believe this will all die down before the 2016 primaries.

What have you been hearing and reading? Let us know in the comment thread and enjoy the rest of March. April is coming soon!

 


Wednesday Spring Fever Open Thread

Matisse: Tea in the Garden, 1919

Matisse: Tea in the Garden, 1919

Good Afternoon!

I just found out that JJ isn’t feeling well enough to do a post this morning, so I’m filling in. I have things to do this afternoon, so this will have to be a very quick link dump.

Personally, I have Spring Fever! It has been sunny and not so cold here for the past few days and I’m loving it. We still have piles of snow, but they are shrinking steadily. I think March is going to go out with like lamb here in Boston. AND . . . soon it will be staying light here until almost 7PM. Isn’t Spring great?

Latest Ted Cruz Reactions

The Week: Ted Cruz isn’t really running for president.

Ted Cruz is running for president. Or at least that’s officially what’s happening, according to his FEC filings. But if you actually listen to him, it seems like he is running for something else.

Cruz’s announcement speech at Liberty University was less like a first step toward the Oval Office, than the latest of many steps he has taken to becoming the political leader of the conservative movement. This is distinct from being the nominee of the Grand Old Party, of which that movement is just a devoted part.

There is nothing about Cruz that appeals to people beyond his political sect. The one rhetorical move independents and Democrats may relate to in Cruz’s speech was the tribute to his mother as a glass ceiling–smashing computer programmer. But otherwise his mode of speech is much like Mike Huckabee’s: sentimental, broadly evangelical, and reliant on personal charisma. Although it isn’t easy to pinpoint what about a candidate’s personality rubs a larger demographic cohort the wrong way, Huckabeefared terribly among non-rural, non-Evangelical voters in 2008. Cruz may be headed for the same fate.

Consider Cruz’s overt sense of personal destiny. He makes Mitt Romney seem positively shy. Cruz’s speech implicitly compared Ted Cruz to Patrick Henry, George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan.

Salon: “I may owe Mitt Romney an apology”: Jon Stewart mocks Ted Cruz’s absurdly creepy presidential announcement.

“I may owe Mitt Romney an apology,” Jon Stewart said on Monday’s “Daily Show,” after learning that Cruz and his wife actually practiced waving and kissing before the announcement.  “Even the Mitt Romneytron 3000 didn’t have to rehearse waving and kissing,” he continued.

If you were wondering why so many of the students in the audience looked bored out of their minds (and why one girl was even wearing a Rand t-shirt): It’s because the conservative Christian university required students to attend the Ted Cruz announcement as part of their weekly convocation. No word on whether the university also required students to text “constitution” to an undisclosed number, as per Cruz’s orders.

“Let me clarify this a little bit: Students at Liberty University were required to attend a partisan political speech where a small-government conservative who had just promised he would respect privacy rights, told them if they cared about freedom, text your information to a mysterious address that collects your cell phone number for undisclosed purposes,” Stewart said.

More good stuff in the video (see link). Can you believe Cruz and his wife practiced kissing before the event?

Washington Post: Ted Cruz’s phenomenally bad idea.

Sen. Ted Cruz says he wants to get rid of the Internal Revenue Service. This is a phenomenally bad idea, one so obviously wrongheaded it’s hard to believe he really means it….

This is not the first time Cruz has proposed this. He pitched it on Facebooktwo years ago and in multiple interviews since, even calling it the “single most important tax reform” and priority “No. 2” (after repealing Obamacare) in recent talks. The fact that he might make ending the IRS a centerpiece of a presidential campaign, though, is singularly scary, particularly given Republicans’ demonstrated appetite for cutting the agency’s funding to the bone and beyond….

Well, sorry to say it, but someone has to collect the money that keeps our government up and running, funding everything from Medicare to the military. The IRS is a cash-flow-positive agency, collecting an estimated$255 for every $1 appropriated to it, and dumping it would vastly widen existing government deficits. This is something fiscal conservatives, Cruz included, presumably already know. Yet the view that the IRS’s budget should be minimized, and perhaps zeroed out entirely, is peculiarly popular on the right.

Read more at the WaPo.

Some satire from Andy Borowitz at The New Yorker: President Signs Order Making Ted Cruz Ineligible for Obamacare.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) — Just hours after Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told CNN that he had no choice but to sign up for Obamacare, President Barack Obama signed an executive order making Cruz ineligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

“Clearly, the hardship of receiving Obamacare was causing Ted a great deal of pain,” the President said. “This should take care of that.”

Obama acknowledged that the executive order, which makes Cruz the only American expressly forbidden from signing up for Obamacare, was an extraordinary measure, but added, “I felt it was a necessary humanitarian gesture to protect Ted from the law he hates.”

Germanwings Plane Crash

New York Times: Details Emerging of Passengers Aboard Crashed Germanwings Jet.

A clearer picture began to emerge on Wednesday of the 150 people believed to have lost their lives in the crash of a Germanwings jet in southernFrance.

According to the airline, at least 67 Germans, including two infants, were on the Airbus A320 that crashed on Tuesday on its way to Düsseldorf,Germany, from Barcelona, Spain. Many Spaniards were also aboard. The passengers included two opera singers, as well as a class of 16 German high school students returning from a study program near Barcelona, along with their two teachers.

Germanwings was working to notify families before releasing further information about the 144 passengers and six crew members who were on the plane. But some countries whose citizens were aboard began to confirm their identities, and details also emerged from other sources.

Also from the Times: Challenges Weigh Heavily on Recovery Efforts in Crash of Germanwings Jet.

Read all about it at the paper of record.

Iran and Israel News

Jerusalem Post: US Democrats say Israel’s efforts on Iran are backfiring.

Following months of intensified calls by Israel to block any deals with Iran, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech to Congress, members of the US senate say that theiropinions on a nuclear deal with Iran have not budged.

Read the responses from Senators at the link.

Politico: Boehner ‘shocked’ by reports Israel spied on Iran talks

Speaker John Boehner said he was “shocked” by a Wall Street Journal report Tuesday morning that said the Israelis were spying on negotiations by the U.S. and other world powers to strike a nuclear deal with Iran.

“I read that story this morning, and frankly, I was a bit shocked because there’s no information revealed to me whatsoever,” Boehner, a Republican from Ohio told reporters Tuesday morning. He added, “I was shocked by the fact that there were reports in this press article that information was being passed on from the Israelis to members of Congress. I’m not aware of that at all.”

He probably had a few too many before the meeting at which the leaks were discussed.

LA Times: Iran nuclear deal close; both sides face harsh politics at home.

If all goes according to plan, U.S. officials will return home from here next week declaring they have reached a historic agreement that will restrict Iran’s nuclear program forever.

Iranian officials will be in Tehran triumphantly explaining that they have secured a deal that will free Iran in a few years to pursue its nuclear program just like any other country.

Major international agreements usually require both sides to acknowledge they’ve given ground. Because of the brutal politics of the nuclear issue, however, neither side has much room to acknowledge compromise.

As a result, over the next few months, U.S. and Iranian officials are likely to be making starkly contradictory cases about the deal they have reached, both seeking to sell it at home.

Inside windowless negotiating rooms here, “we can talk about looking for a middle ground,” said a European diplomat said, who declined to be identified discussing the sensitive negotiations.

“Outside in the light, it’s harder.”

GOP Clown Car

Salon: Jeb’s “James Baker” problem: Why hawks are turning on the “anti-Israel” Bush

Aren’t GOP presidential politics just great? You wake up one morning and suddenly Jeb Bush is the “anti-Israel candidate” in the Republican presidential primary field.

 How did this happen? Last we checked, Jeb Bush loved the dickens out of Israel. He’s been very clear about his deep affection for any and everything that (the right wing of) Israel does. “Governor Bush’s support for Israel and its Prime Minister is clear,” Bush’s spokesperson, Kristy Campbell said Monday night. This is perfectly in line with his support for the dumb Tom Cotton letter, and his insistence that the nuclear deal being negotiated with Iran is “bad” and should be rejected because Israel. Et cetera et cetera, SO ON, AND SO ON. Jeb Bush has no interest in straying from the prevailing party line on Israel, which is that American foreign policy should be conducted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But why, pray tell, was Kristy Campbell issuing this reassurance of Jeb Bush’s deep, unwavering, total love for Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel late on a Monday night? Because James Baker, the former White House chief of staff, Treasury Secretary, and Secretary of State under Presidents Reagan and Bush Sr., had just addressed the annual J Street conference.

J Street is the advocacy group founded as a more liberal counterpart to AIPAC. It is critical of the Israeli right wing and does not see it as helping the prospects for peace in the Middle East. So naturally conservatives see J Street as a radical extremist left-wing terrorist organization in bed with the mullahs of Iran and hellbent on securing the total annihilation of Israel. (The views of American Jews at large, meanwhile, tend to align with J Street’s.)

Fascinating. I actually don’t think Jeb has a serious chance for the nomination. For one thing, he has zero charisma. He comes across as stuffy and boring.

Raw Story: Bill O’Reilly tells David Letterman: I’ve never ‘fibbed’ on the air ‘that I know of’

“Have you ever fibbed on the air?” Letterman asked the Factor host.

“Fibbed? Not that I know of,” O’Reilly responded. “What I do is analysis — different from what other people do. So I bioviate and give my opinion, as you well know. But it’s not worth it for me to do that.”

Letterman countered that there was a common factor linking O’Reilly’s editorializing and NBC’s Brian Williams’ position as a network anchor.

“Trust is the residue of both positions,” the Late Showhost said. “People must trust you to the same degree. They might disagree with you, but they must trust you, the same way they trust Brian Williams.”

Fibbed? No, but he’s told hundreds of bald faced lies; and Fox viewers trust him because they can’t tell the difference between reality and propaganda.

Raw Story: Watch Sarah Palin push a Koch-backed scheme to kill the VA and replace it with vouchers.

Sarah Palin is using recent scandals to apparently push for the dismantling of the Veterans Administration.

The federal agency has been rocked in recent months by scandals – including the deaths of at least 40 veterans awaiting care at facilities in Arizona — that resulted in a shakeup of its top leadership.

New VA Secretary Robert McDonald was recently forced to apologize after misstating his military service record while speaking to a veteran during a photo opportunity, which Palin said called his character into question.

Palin cited these and other incidents in a Facebook video posted Tuesday evening as justification to “clean house” at the VA and “fire bad employees like we do out in the private sector.”

“It’s time to reform the VA so thoroughly that vets don’t have to depend on it for their basic needs,” Palin said.

That’s about as good an idea as Ted Cruz’s proposal to abolish the IRS.

Spring Clean by Mariette Voke

Spring Clean by Mariette Voke

So . . . . What else is happening? Let us know in the comment thread and enjoy the rest of your early Spring Wednesday.