Tuesday Reads: The GOP Clown Car

clown car via crooks and liars

Good Morning!!

In this today’s Washington Post, Dana Millbank belatedly latches onto a very old meme–The Republican field is a clown car–in order to promote one of the clowns.

“If you can’t take a joke,” Lindsey Graham has said , “don’t run for president.”

Graham, a senator from South Carolina and one of umpteen Republicans running for president, can take a joke — which is why he appreciates the absurdity that is the GOP field. There are far too many candidates (so many that there are concerns they won’t all fit on a debate stage), and to gain attention they are juggling, tooting horns and blowing slide whistles like so many painted performers emerging from a clown car.

“I do bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, weddings, funerals — call me, I’ll come,” Graham told a crowd in New Hampshire last month. He said voters should ignore Hillary Clinton and “look to the 35 people running for president on the Republican side. And just shoot up among us until you get one of us out of the tree.”

But what if you are the joke? Just think, Graham could be the first obviously closeted gay man to win the nomination of the party that hates gays and wants them to be second class citizens.

Ted Cruz tried for his 15 minutes of fame by holding the first announcement. Marco Rubio drew thousands to Miami’s Freedom Tower. Mike Huckabee brought in aging crooner Tony Orlando but was easily eclipsed by Ben Carson, who had a musical extravaganza and a video putting the candidate in the company of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.

Former New York governor George Pataki, perhaps the smallest of the GOP Lilliputians, announced on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week that . . . he will make his announcement on May 28. Donald Trump announced over the weekend that he would make an announcement in June and that “the announcement is going to surprise a lot of people.”

It would probably surprise a lot of people if Trump said something that made sense.

clown-car

Sigh . . . .

Also in this morning’s WaPo, Bobby Jindal hints that he too will have an important announcement soon: Bobby Jindal launches presidential exploratory committee.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) on Monday formally launched a presidential exploratory committee, the clearest indication yet that he is gearing up for a White House run.

“For some time now, my wife Supriya and I have been thinking and praying about whether to run for the Presidency of our great nation,” Jindal said in a statement. “If I run, my candidacy will be based on the idea that the American people are ready to try a dramatically different direction. Not a course correction, but a dramatically different path.”

The Louisiana Republican has made frequent visits to key early voting states in recent months, testing a message centered on the need to “restore the American Dream,” which he says President Obama’s “weak leadership” has diminished. But despite his experience as governor and a compelling personal background as the American-born son of Indian immigrants, Jindal has struggled to make an impact in national polls of potential Republican candidates.

If Jindal does anything “dramatically different,” I’d be stunned. But he’ll just be peddling the usual Koch brothers gibberish to very small audiences.

cpac-clowns

What are the other clown car occupants up to?

Rick Sanatorum has been busy either grossly misinterpreting or blatantly lying about a book he supposedly read.

Buzzfeed: Harvard Professor: Rick Santorum Is Misusing My Book To Say “All Black Men Are Sexual Predators.”

Last week, former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum called men who father children with multiple women “sexual predators.”

When making his argument to the socially-conservative Cornerstone organization in New Hampshire, Santorum cited statistics on marriage from Harvard professor Robert Putnam’s book, Our Kids.

“Another new statistic just came out in his book. A majority of children being born out of wedlock today in America are born in families where the father is in the home. But they’re not married,” said Santorum. “So they are born to cohabiting couples. So the majority of children born out of wedlock are born to cohabiting couples. And what does Putnam say about these? They stuck to them longitudinally, they never get married. Let me use that term, never, like one or two percent ever get married.

“And he compared it when he was growing up in the 1950s and when children were conceived out of wedlock, what happened in the 1950s,” added Santorum. “We all know what happened in the 1950s and here is the amazing thing, this is Putnam saying this, 80 plus percent of these marriages succeeded.

“And children were raised in stable homes. Now these fathers leave the home and not just father children with that particular women, they father a child with another women, and another and another. We have created predators, sexual predators particularly where, again, Putnam—low income America.”

Voters will spend the next year trying to figure out the different shades of the GOP presidential candidates.

Voters will spend the next year trying to figure out the different shades of the GOP presidential candidates.

Here’s what Putnam had to say about Santorum’s comments.

“I’m a progressive and I think the evidence is that first of all, there has been a collapse in the working family class family, black and white, and that’s bad for kids,” Putnam said responding to Santorum in a speech to promote his book last week.

Putnam said Santorum misinterpreted what he was saying and took advantage of “the fact I was trying to be open.”

“But there is a presidential candidate, who yesterday quoted me as saying therefore—he’s quoted me as saying all black men are sexual predators. I’m not going to say who it is but what I’m trying to say is, he’s a conservative and he took what I was saying and sort of so misinterpreted it that it’s nothing like—it’s just isn’t even in the universe of what I said. But that’s an example of how at least this one guy was in effect taking advantage of the fact that I was trying to be open. He says ‘isn’t it amazing that this liberal’, actually he said ‘this extreme leftist at Harvard acknowledges that blah, blah, blah.’”

Another clown car occupant, Rand Paul wants to eliminate the Department of Education (Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee do too). Think Progress explains: What Would Actually Happen If Rand Paul Eliminated The Department Of Education. According to TP,

We wouldn’t have a federal department to administer Pell Grants to students….

There wouldn’t be any oversight over states when they break civil rights laws….

There wouldn’t be a department to check on rampant inequality between low-income school districts and wealthy districts.

We would have inconsistent education data, as the quality of data would vary among the states….

There would be more gender discrimination within schools….

There would be no way to hold schools accountable for the funds they receive.

Of course for the GOP clowns, those are goals that should be wholeheartedly supported.

gop-clown-car-by-hip-is-everything1

Jeb Bush stumbled out the block and has continued to stumble and stagger on his path to an as-yet unannounced presidential candidacy. Here’s the latest from Reuters, via Yahoo News: Jeb Bush sees no constitutional right to gay marriage.

(Reuters) – Republican Jeb Bush said in a weekend radio interview that he does not believe the Constitution grants a right to gay marriage, emphasizing his support for “traditional marriage.”

The Supreme Court is expected by the end of June to make a landmark ruling that could make gay marriage the law of the land or return the decision to individual states.

“It’s at the core of the Catholic faith and to imagine how we are going to succeed in our country unless we have committed family life, (a) committed child-centered family system, is hard to imagine,” Bush told the Christian Broadcasting Network show, “The Brody File, in an interview broadcast on Sunday.

“So, irrespective of the Supreme Court ruling because they are going to decide whatever they decide – I don’t know what they are going to do – we need to be stalwart supporters of traditional marriage,” said Bush, who converted to Catholicism 20 years ago….

Bush also said in the radio interview that Christian business owners should be able to refuse, “if it’s based on a religious belief,” to provide services to same-sex couples.

MAY15-2016-Republican-ClownCar-500x281

But at Slate, Mark Joseph Stern notes that: Jeb Bush Accidentally Made a Brilliant Argument Against Anti-Gay “Religious Liberty” Laws.

Jeb Bush has an odd conception of liberty. As governor of Florida, Bush strongly opposed same-sex marriage, preferring to force committed gay couples to live as legal strangers with no ability to formally adopt their own children. As his presidential campaign warms up, though, Bush has taken a selectively expansive view of liberty.According to Bush, anti-gay business owners should have a legal right to refuse service to same-sex couples seeking to celebrate their relationship.

Bush’s support for anti-gay “religious liberty” laws are no surprise—unless you happen to have believed that silly BuzzFeed report that he would be “2016’s gay-friendly Republican.” What is surprising is that Bush framed his endorsement of such laws in a way that beautifully illustrates exactly why the usual argument for such laws is so fatuous. Take a look at his comment:

A big country, a tolerant country, ought to be able to figure out the difference between discriminating against someone because of their sexual orientation and not forcing someone to participate in a wedding that they find goes against their moral beliefs. This should not be that complicated. Gosh, it is right now.

At bottom, Bush is arguing that the law should differentiate between identity and conduct. He believes the state may protect gays from discrimination because they’re gay (identity), but not because they’re celebrating a gay relationship (conduct). Unfortunately for Bush, this argument fails quite spectacularly in the wedding context, because homosexuality is an identity defined by its conduct. To be gay is to be attracted to, and maybe marry, someone of the same sex. There is no more fundamental way to discriminate against a gay person than to refuse to serve them based on the fact that they are marrying someone of the same sex.

cartoon-citizens-united-pledge

Koch brothers favorite Scott Walker is having some not-so-funny (from his point of view) problems. He has been a target of corruption investigations for the past couple of years. Now this from The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Records indicate Scott Walker was copied on letter promising loan to donor.

Madison — State records say that Gov. Scott Walker received a copy of a 2011 letter pledging a $500,000 taxpayer loan to a now-defunct Milwaukee construction company headed by a Walker donor, seemingly contradicting statements by the governor and his aides that he was not aware of the award.

A spokeswoman for Walker said that, in spite of the records, a copy of the letter from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. was never delivered to the governor’s office.

The Sept. 9, 2011, letter from Paul Jadin, WEDC’s chief executive officer at the time, was sent to William Minahan, owner of Building Committee Inc., a company that is now being sued by WEDC for defaulting on the unsecured loan without delivering the promised project and the jobs it was supposed to create.

Jadin said in his letter of intent that he was writing “on behalf of Governor Scott Walker” and noted “cc: Scott Walker, Governor” at the bottom.

Walker’s top cabinet appointee, then Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch, urged WEDC officials to provide the loan, and Walker’s then-chief of staff Keith Gilkes attended an initial meeting on it, according to records provided to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by the Walker administration.

“In closing Governor Walker and I are firmly committed to doing everything possible to expedite the processing and awarding of this incentive award,” Jadin wrote in the letter.

Read the details at the link.

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And from the La Crosse Tribune: Hours after damning audit, Scott Walker calls off WEDC-WHEDA merger.

Gov. Scott Walker has cancelled a planned merger of two economic development agencies after a new audit said Walker’s job-creating entity failed to follow statutes or its own policies when making financial awards.

The audit released Friday also says the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. failed to meet all statutory requirements related to program oversight and that staff “did not consistently comply with policies established by WEDC’s own governing board” which is chaired by Walker.

The audit comes as Walker had been calling for a merger of WEDC and WHEDA, the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.

Within hours of the audit release, Walker issued a statement calling for that merger to be removed from the state budget along with a merger of two other state agencies.

“After hearing concerns from legislators, stakeholders, and the WHEDA and WEDC boards, we asked legislators to remove the proposed agency mergers from the state budget and we asked the bill authors to not move forward with the proposed separate legislation,” Walker said.

Walker also had proposed a merger of the Department of Financial Institutions and the Department of Safety and Professional Services into one regulatory agency. That merger is also cancelled, he said.

Wisconsin Democrats are gloating . . .

“While Scott Walker has completely abandoned Wisconsin to advance his presidential ambitions the continued incompetence and ineptitude at his Economic Disaster Corporation is bordering on criminal negligence at this point,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said in a statement.

Meanwhile, wicked witch Hillary Clinton and her husband (who is a different person) got paid a lot of money for making speeches. Horrors!

 That’s all the clown car news I have room for today. What else is happening?


Friday Reads: Lunatic Fringe, we know you’re out there

6805d9f7e66514d6cb902a00cf898b9cGood Morning!

I think I’ve seen the word “lunatic” used in more headlines recently than I’ve ever seen the word used.  You won’t even need two guesses to get the reference in mind.  Lunatic is an interesting word that is usually associated with a mentally ill person and generally is a throw back word used in less enlightened times.  But, it seems appropos even if it’s directed at folks actually making major policy decisions for our country and states.  Teddy Roosevelt said something interesting about the ‘lunatic fringe’. He popularized that term around 1913. He said “Every reform movement has a lunatic fringe.  The same political party that produced Teddy Roosevelt now is producing reactionary reform in that everything they suggest seems to take us back to periods prior to post-civil war reforms or worse.

So, the first headline is from Salon and has to do with the state of Texas and its new elected crazed Governor of the moment.  Digby writes that”Right-wing lunatics think the military is planning to invade Texas. Here’s why.”

In fact, it appears that the right wing in this country has become downright hostile to the one government institution they heretofore had defended with every fiber of their being: the military. This week, members of the conservative fringe, having apparently become convinced that the army is holding a large training exercise in the American southwest in order to prepare the ground for a federal government takeover of Texas, are themselves metaphorically spitting right in the faces of U.S. soldiers:

“It’s the same thing that happened in Nazi Germany: You get the people used to the troops on the street, the appearance of uniformed troops and the militarization of the police,” Bastrop resident Bob Wells told the Statesman after the meeting. “They’re gathering intelligence. That’s what they’re doing. And they’re moving logistics in place for martial law. That’s my feeling. Now, I could be wrong. I hope I am wrong. I hope I’m a ‘conspiracy theorist.’”

Yes, we all hope that Bob is a conspiracy theorist. It would be disturbing indeed if the U.S. military were preparing to invade Texas and turn it into Nazi Germany.

That’s even way south of a conspiracy theory.  I suppose that’s why lunacy is involved.

Paul Waldman–writing for The American Prospect–inkles the l word too. The title is hauntingly similar: “Indulging the Lunatics b3e65f772919ecfbd0d1e32157b64e37on the Right” and it’s on the same topic.  Is the Governor of Texas indulging the lunatics on the right or is he actually an example of the lunatic having taken over the asylum?

So in response to the fact that some of Texas’s dumbest citizens emerged from their doomsday prepper shelters long enough to harangue a colonel about their belief that martial law is coming to their state, Governor Abbott issued an order to the National Guard to monitor the movements of the U.S. military just to make sure they aren’t herding citizens into re-education camps or dropping Islamic State infiltrators into Galveston. I guess we’re safe from that, for the moment anyway.

Every politician encounters nutballs from time to time, and it isn’t always easy to figure out how to respond to them. But what’s remarkable about this is that we aren’t talking about an offhand remark Abbott made, or an occasion in which a constituent went on a rant to him and he nodded along to be friendly instead of saying, “You, sir, are out of your mind.” This is an official action the governor is taking. He’s mobilizing state resources, at taxpayer expense, because of a bizarre conspiracy theory that has some of Texas’s more colorful citizens in its grip.

It’s really hard to keep people from believing outlandish things. But you don’t have to indulge them. And that’s what so many Republicans do with the crazies on their side: They indulge them. Doing so doesn’t reassure them or calm them down, it only convinces them that they were right all along and encourages them to believe the next crazy thing they hear.

If it were only a few national guard units in a state well known for doing weird things in a big way, I could almost go for the lord2coddling, indulging, encouraging meme.  However, what do you call it when a set of House Republicans actually want to start passing laws that are blatantly unconstitutional because they prefer to ignore all the amendments passed after The US Civil War?  Exactly how many states emptied their asylums during the Reagan years, only to vote them into office now as long as they are Republican, white, and of a certain majority religion?

A House Judiciary subcommittee took up the question Wednesday afternoon, prompted by legislation sponsored by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and 22 other lawmakers that, after nearly 150 years, would end automatic citizenship.

The 14th Amendment, King told the panel, “did not contemplate that anyone who would sneak into the United States and have a baby would have automatic citizenship conferred on them.” Added King, “I’d suggest it’s our job here in this Congress to decide who will be citizens, not someone in a foreign country that can sneak into the United States and have a baby and then go home with the birth certificate.”

It’s no small task to undo a principle, enshrined in the Constitution and upheld by the Supreme Court, that defines the United States as a nation of immigrants. It’s particularly audacious that House Republicans would undo a century and a half of precedent without amending the Constitution but merely by passing a law to reinterpret the 14th Amendment’s wording in a way that will stop the scourge of “anchor babies” and “birth tourism.”

c-2dayroom Iowa not only births lunatics, it sends them to the District to create laws.    They can also be elected governor and run for President as the candidate of Theocracy.

Mike Huckabee rallied a crowd of Hispanic evangelicals on Wednesday night, pushing back in the debate over religious freedom just one day after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments to determine whether states have the right to ban same-sex marriage.

“I respect the courts, but the Supreme Court is only that — the supreme of the courts. It is not the supreme being. It cannot overrule God,” he said. “When it comes to prayer, when it comes to life, and when it comes to the sanctity of marriage, the court cannot change what God has created.”

His well-received speech at the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference came just days before the former Arkansas governor is expected make his 2016 announcement in Hope, Arkansas, on Tuesday followed by a campaign swing through Iowa.

Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucuses during his 2008 presidential bid with support from Christian conservatives, has never shied away from weighing in on social issues and warned that “our country’s in trouble because we lost our landmarks of faith.”

He doubled down on his argument that Christian business owners are being “criminalized” when they face legal action for not agreeing to participate in same-sex weddings, an issue that has spurred the recent religious liberty debate in Indiana.

“Somebody’s got to be willing to take on the institutions that challenge and threaten our ability to believe as we believe, because when religious liberty is lost, all liberty is lost,” he said.

Did you notice he’s chosen Hope, Arkansas for the annoucement?  I can only imagine the Clinton hatefest that will ensue.  After fdfb76fc43b40031efd7fa68a035b89ball, hatred is the calling card of the religious lunatics of Huckabee’s ilk.

Both Huckabee and Rand Paul continually call for their version of Father Knows Best while their own children behave more than badly.  Huckabee’s son tortured and killed a dog.   Huckabee lectured the Obama’s on their parenting, however.  Rand Paul is now lecturing black people in Baltimore. Paul said the violence is about a “lack of fathers”. What does he call the root of the obvious issues displayed by his son’s behavior?

Presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) weighed in on the turmoil in Baltimore on Tuesday, standing with police and blaming the violence on a lack of morals in America.

“I came through the train on Baltimore (sic) last night, I’m glad the train didn’t stop,” he said, laughing, during an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham.

Railing against what he repeatedly called “thuggery and thievery” in the streets of Baltimore, Paul told Ingraham that talking about “root causes” was not appropriate in the middle of a riot.

“The police have to do what they have to do, and I am very sympathetic to the plight of the police in this,” he said.

As for root causes, Paul listed some ideas of his own.

“There are so many things we can talk about,” the senator said, “the breakdown of the family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of a moral code in our society.”

He added that “this isn’t just a racial thing.”

 Paul’s son was recently cited for a DUI.  This is his third run in with the law involving alcohol.

Presidential candidate Rand Paul’s son, William, received a citation for driving under the influence of alcohol this past weekend, according to reports.

Police reportedly encountered the Kentucky GOP Senator’s 22-year-old son on Sunday morning after his Honda Ridgeline rear-ended a parked vehicle in Lexington, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

READ: Sen. Rand Paul’s son arrested, charged with underage drinking

William Paul has had two prior alcohol-related interactions with law enforcement, including a charged assault, the paper reported.

The son sustained minor injuries after the Sunday crash and has been charged with driving under the influence and for not having car insurance, according to the local media reports.

 Wonkette kindly fills us in on some of the other details of his drunken behavior including assaulting a flight attendant.  Of course, Senator Aqua Buddha was no pillar of morality at his age either.7e3fd84a1c598f7eabd481f239ce54db

That would be William Hilton Paul, son of Rand Paul, getting himself in law trouble — for the third time (thus far) in his brief 22 years — for illegally boozing. (And kindly note, people, that was eleven IN THE MORNING.) The first time this thug in need of a father got busted, it was for drinking under age and assaulting a flight attendant, but, like every other thug who flaunts the law to do disorderly violence, he just had to perform some community service and take a class about not doing that. Which he failed because he got busted for underage drinking again later that year. WHERE WAS HIS FATHER?!?! Cleary he does not understand, as Rand Paul does, that “we do have problems in our country” — fathers not sticking around to teach their kids not to do riots and looting and drunk driving, for example — “but there can be no excuse for the behavior.”

It’s really too bad kids these days don’t have the right kind of family structure and the right kind of moral code to know better and not engage in this kind of lawless behavior. Good thing Rand Paul is running for president. Clearly, he’s the perfect dad for the job.

As for the flight attendant, that was so 2013.

William Hilton Paul, the 19-year-old son of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and the grandson of former presidential candidate Ron Paul, is being accused of physically assaulting a female flight attendant during a flight last weekend, the Charlotte Observer reported.

The publication said the Charlotte-Mecklenberg police confirmed that Paul had been charged with a misdemeanor assault on a female by “aggressive physical force” on Saturday.

 This is also the libertarian that says religion can be a part of the US Federal Government.  Confused much?

Republican senator Rand Paul, who currently represents Kentucky and is a prospective presidential candidate for the upcoming 2016 elections, told religious leaders during a private prayer breakfast last month that the First Amendment does not say religion has to be kept out of governance.

“The First Amendment says keep government out of religion. It doesn’t say keep religion out of government,” Paul said. “So, you do have a role and a place here.”

I suggest a new, extended definition for lunatic.  It should include something about being a Republican and having an excessive attachment to religious craziness.  I could go on a little more here, but then you’d have to find out the latest news on Governor Jindal and I hate to torture you with any more tales of fringed lunatics.

What’s on your reading and blogging list 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.

rand paul1

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.

rape

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?

 


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!

 


Tuesday Reads

The Magpie, Claude Monet

The Magpie, Claude Monet

Good Morning!!

The Midwest and Northeast were hit with another huge snowstorm yesterday, and there could be another one on the way. I may never get my car out of the driveway again. The strange thing is that it is also incredibly cold, in the single numbers again this morning. I’m going to wait until it gets into the 20s before I start trying to get my front door open and start digging out. I’m also struggling with a cold, so I’m going to have to shovel slowly.

The measles outbreak and the vaccine “controversy” are the stories topping the news today, after several politicians weighed in yesterday. I’m going to focus on those stories again today.

First up, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. From Jeffrey Kluger at Time Magazine: Chris Christie’s Terrible Vaccine Advice.

Last I checked, Chris Christie isn’t a licensed commercial pilot, which is one reason he probably doesn’t phone the cockpit with instructions when his flight encounters turbulence. Chances are, he doesn’t tell his plow operators how to clear a road when New Jersey gets hit by a snow storm either. But when it comes to medicine, the current Governor, former prosecutor and never doctor evidently feels pretty free to dispense advice. And doncha’ know it? That advice turns out to be terrible.

Asked about the ongoing 14-state outbreak of measles that has been linked to falling vaccination rates, Christie—the man who prides himself on chin-jutting certainty—went all squishy. “Mary Pat and I have had our children vaccinated and we think that it’s an important part of being sure we protect their health and the public health,” he said. “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”

The Governor then went further, taking off his family doctor hat and putting on his epidemiologist hat. “Not every vaccine is created equal,” he said, “and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others.”

He was not specific about which diseases fall below his public-health threat threshold, but New Jerseyans are free to guess. Would it be polio, which paralyzed or killed tens of thousands of American children every year before a vaccine against it was developed? Would it be whooping cough, which results in hospitalization for 50% of all infants who contract it and death for 2%, and is now making a comeback in California due to the state’s low vaccination rates? Or would it be measles, which still kills nearly 150,000 people—mostly children—worldwide every year?

Chris-Christie-balance-to-vaccinations-CrabDivingOf course this isn’t the first time Christie pretended to be a medical expert–remember how he reacted when nurse Kaci Hickox landed in Newark after treating Ebola patients in Africa?

Christie later tried to walk back his remarks about vaccines, but he has a history of pandering to anti-vaxxers. During his 2009 campaign for governor, Christie wrote the following in a letter to supporters:

“Many of these families have expressed their concern over New Jersey’s highest-in-the nation vaccine mandates. I stand with them now, and will stand with them as their governor in their fight for greater parental involvement in vaccination decisions that affect their children.”

Next up, Senator Rand Paul. At the Washington Post,  Jose A. DelReal writes: Rand Paul, M.D., says most vaccines should be ‘voluntary.’

“I’m not anti-vaccine at all but…most of them ought to be voluntary,” Paul told Laura Ingraham on her radio show Monday. “I think there are times in which there can be some rules but for the most part it ought to be voluntary.”

Paul pointed to a 2007 effort by then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who is also considering a 2016 run for the Republican nomination, that would have required young girls to receive a vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV). That move was sharply attacked by social conservatives who said requiring vaccination against HPV, which is a sexually transmitted disease, would encourage promiscuity. The Texas legislature eventually overturned the mandate. Perry later called the order “a mistake.”

“While I think it’s a good idea to take the vaccine, I think that’s a personal decision for individual’s to take,” Paul said, attempting to strike a balance between responsible medical protocols and personal choice.

Paul

Like Christie, Paul made sure his own children were vaccinated. But Paul really went off the deep end later on Monday.

Speaking on CNBC’s “Closing Bell” later Monday, Paul said that there should be increased public awareness that vaccines are good for children, but reiterated that vaccines should be voluntary, as he said they were in the past.

“I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” Paul said. “I’m not arguing vaccines are a bad idea. I think they’re a good thing. But I think parents should have some input. The state doesn’t own your children, parents own the children and it is an issue of freedom and public health.”

Parents “own their children?” WTF?! And what are these “profound mental disorders?” Who are these children and what vaccines did they get? I can’t believe the media lets this man get away with throwing out these evidence-free claims.

At The Week, Ryan Cooper explains the immorality of Christie’s and Paul’s positions.

…this entire argumentative frame misses the greatest benefit of vaccines: herd immunity. A population vaccinated to a high enough level becomes largely impervious to the disease by sheer statistics, and that protects the vulnerable ones who can’t be vaccinated, or those whose vaccines didn’t take root. Vaccines are not just about preventing personal illness, but stopping them from spreading. Done systematically enough, it can eradicate diseases completely. The elimination of smallpox, which killed something like 300 million people in the 20th century alone, ranks high on the list of human accomplishments.

That is why this is as much a moral issue as a scientific one. The appalling selfishness inherent in the idea of “vaccine choice” was starkly illustrated in a recent CNN story. After the measles outbreak at Disneyland, CNN talked to a family whose 10-month old baby had contracted the disease. They’re terrified he’ll pass it on to their 3-year-old daughter, who has leukemia and can’t get the vaccine — but might be killed by the disease. Here’s the response of a refusenik parent:

CNN asked Wolfson if he could live with himself if his unvaccinated child got another child gravely ill. “I could live with myself easily,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate thing that people die, but people die. I’m not going to put my child at risk to save another child.” [CNN]

Wolfson

In other words, it’s okay to cause the death of another child if your kid wants to go to Disneyland. And that’s leaving aside the risk to Wolfson’s own kids, who are put at risk by his atrocious parenting.

Every person depends on society to function. From public roads, to sanitation, to clean water, to the very economic system itself — your day is made possible by millions of other people doing their small part to maintain our civilization. When it comes to violently contagious diseases, it is not possible to speak meaningfully of choice divorced from the needs of those people.

Here’s a little more on Dr. Wolfson from Terrence McCoy at The Washington Post: Amid measles outbreak, anti-vaccine doctor revels in his notoriety.

“Don’t be mad at me for speaking the truth about vaccines,” Wolfson said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post. “Be mad at yourself, because you’re, frankly, a bad mother. You didn’t ask once about those vaccines. You didn’t ask about the chemicals in them. You didn’t ask about all the harmful things in those vaccines…. People need to learn the facts.”

But whose facts is he talking about? Every respectable expert totally disagrees with him and his anti-vaccine movement and, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urges parents to get their kids vaccinated. And Wolfson himself, who has quickly become something of a spokesman for the anti-vaxxers, is in no way an expert on vaccines or infectious diseases. He’s cardiologist who now does holistic medicine.

What the experts say: “The measles vaccine is one of the most highly effective vaccines that we have against any virus or any microbe, and it is safe, number one,” Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CBS. “Number two, measles is one of the top two most contagious infectious viruses that we know of…. So you have a highly infectious virus and you have an extraordinarily effective vaccine.”

Despite the measles outbreak that has spread to at least 14 states, Wolfson’s advice to parents is:

Wolfson actively urges people to avoid vaccines. “We should be getting measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, these are the rights of our children to get it,” he told the Arizona Republic. “We do not need to inject chemicals into ourselves and into our children in order to boost our immune system.” He added: “I’m a big fan of what’s called paleo-nutrition, so our children eat foods that our ancestors have been eating for millions of years…. That’s the best way to protect.”

Should kids have polio too?

andrew-wakefield385_482677a

McCoy also wrote recently about Andrew Wakefield the British doctor who started the vaccine panic: 

If the [measles] outbreak proves anything, it’s Wakefield’s enduring legacy. Even years after he lost his medical license, years after he was shown to have committed numerous ethical violations, and years after the retraction of a medical paper that alleged a vaccine-autism link, his message resonates. Facebook is populated by pages like “Dr. Wakefield’s Work Must Continue.” There’s the Web site called “We Support Andrew Wakefield,” which peddles the Wakefieldian doctrine. And thousands sign petitions pledging support….

Wakefield’s defenders frequently harbor a deep distrust of government. “They often suggest that vaccination is motivated by profit and is an infringement of personal liberty and choice; vaccines violate the laws and nature and are temporary or ineffective; and good hygiene is sufficient to protect against disease,” said a 2008 editorial in Nature.

Others, from Katie Couric to Jenny McCarthy to Michele Bachmann, have caught the anti-vaccine bug.

Katie Couric?

And in Wakefield, who still preaches the gospel of anti-vaccination from Texas, such individuals find a true martyr — a man who has sacrificed everything to take on powerful pharmaceutical companies and the biggest villain of all: the government. Those who came to hear him speak in 2011 at Graceview Baptish Church in Tomball, Texas, left messages of encouragement, according to the New York Times: “We stand by you!” and “Thank you for the many sacrifices you have made for the cause!” Another person, suddenly aware that a reporter was in the midst, warned the writer she better be careful. “Be nice to him,” the woman said. “Or we will hurt you.

“To our community, Andrew Wakefield is Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ rolled up into one,” J.B. Handley, co-founder of a group that disputes vaccine safety, told the Times. “He is a symbol of how all of us feel.”

Read much more about Wakefield and his discredited research at the WaPo link.

Meanwhile measles continues to spread from coast to coast. Here’s a map of reported cases at the NYT.

What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a terrific Tuesday!


Lazy Saturday Reads

NYC Newsstand on a rainy day

NYC Newsstand on a rainy day.

 

Good Afternoon!!

First, I want to thank everyone who responded to our request for help with blog expenses. We are so fortunate to have such kind and loyal readers. You guys are the greatest!

The biggest story on my mind today is the Supreme Court’s decision to rule on the same-sex marriage issue. I have to admit, I’m very nervous about it. What if the Court rules that states can ban same-sex marriages and refuse to recognize such marriages from other states? Some background from SCOTUS blog:

Taking on a historic constitutional challenge with wide cultural impact, the Supreme Court on Friday afternoon agreed to hear four new cases on same-sex marriage.   The Court said it would rule on the power of the states to ban same-sex marriages and to refuse to recognize such marriages performed in another state.  A total of two-and-a-half hours was allocated for the hearings, likely in the April sitting.  A final ruling is expected by early next summer, probably in late June.

The Court fashioned the specific questions it is prepared to answer, but they closely tracked the two core constitutional issues that have led to a lengthy string of lower-court rulings striking down state bans.  As of now, same-sex marriages are allowed in thirty-six states, with bans remaining in the other fourteen but all are under court challenge.

Although the Court said explicitly that it was limiting review to the two basic issues, along the way the Justices may have to consider what constitutional tests they are going to apply to state bans, and what weight to give to policies that states will claim to justify one or the other of the bans….

The focus of the Court’s review will be a decision issued in early November by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  That decision, breaking ranks with most other courts, upheld bans on marriage or marriage-recognition in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Friday’s order granted review of one petition from each of those states; the petitions phrase the two basic issues in somewhat different ways, which is why the Court rewrote them to make specifically clear what it intended to review.

The Kentucky case (Bourke v. Beshear) raises both of the issues that the Court will be deciding, the Michigan case (DeBoer v. Snyder) deals only with marriage, and the Ohio (Obergefell v. Hodges) and Tennessee cases (Tanco v. Haslam) deal only with the recognition question. If customary practice is followed, the first case listed in the order — the Ohio case Obergefell v. Hodges — will become the historic title for the final ruling.

kkk-supreme-court

The problem for the conservative justices will be that public opinion has shifted so rapidly on this issue–if they decide to limit the civil rights of LGBT Americans, there would probably be a serious backlash. From The Washington Post:

The country’s first same-sex marriage, the result of a Massachusetts court decision, took place less than 11 years ago. Now, more than 70 percent of Americans live in states where same-sex couples are allowed to marry, according to estimates.

The questions raised in the cases that the court will consider this spring were left open in 2013 when the justices last confronted the issue of same-sex marriage. A slim majority said at the time that a key portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act — withholding recognition of same-sex marriages — was unconstitutional and in a separate case allowed same-sex marriages to resume in California.

Since then, courts across the nation — with the notable exception of the Cincinnati appeals court — have struck down a string of state prohibitions on same-sex marriage, many of them passed by voters in referendums. Many of those court decisions compared the prohibitions to the ones on interracial marriage that the Supreme Court struck down in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia.

When the Supreme Court declined to review a clutch of those decisions in October, same-sex marriage proliferated across the country.

Couples may now marry in 36 states and the District. Three in four same-sex couples live in a state where they are allowed to wed, according to estimates by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.

Chief Justice John Roberts will have to keep all that in mind if he cares about his place in history.

Rand Paul

While we’re talking about the conservative trend on the Supreme Court, take a look at this sobering article at Think Progress: If You Want To Understand What’s Happened To The Supreme Court, You Need To Listen To Rand Paul.

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is an odd place to seek counsel on the Constitution. As a Senate candidate in 2010, Paul told a Louisville editorial board that he opposed the federal ban on whites-only lunch counters, claiming that the right of “private ownership” should trump the right to be free from racist discrimination. Opposing a core protection for racial minorities, according to Paul, is “the hard part about believing in freedom.” He later suggested that civil rights laws targeting private businesses may exceed Congress’s power under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause — a view the Supreme Court unanimously rejected in 1964.

Yet the Heritage Foundation, one of the backbones of the conservative movement in Washington, DC, invited Paul to speak at length on the Constitution and the role of the judiciary earlier this week. If the audience was upset that voters sometimes elect leaders who disagree with the Heritage Foundation, they were no doubt enraptured by Paul’s vision for the courts. Senator Paul’s speech was a repudiation of democracy, and he called for the Supreme Court to assume a dominant role in setting American policy that it abandoned three generations ago. Under Paul’s vision, the minimum wage is forbidden and union busting is constitutionally protected. The New Deal is an illegitimate expansion of federal power, and more recent efforts to ensure that no one dies because they cannot afford health care are an abomination.

“I’m a judicial activist,” Paul proudly proclaimed.

Nevertheless, Paul’s speech to the Heritage Foundation is worth watching in its entirety. It lays out a vision that is closer than the Court’s current precedents suggest, and that could easily become a reality if the Court’s older members are replaced by younger conservatives. Moreover, as I explain in my book, Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted, a Supreme Court committed to Paul’s economic agenda would hardly be unprecedented in American history. If anything, Paul is asking the Court to return to its self-appointed role as the vanguard against democracy.

It’s a fairly long piece, but please go read the rest if you can.
ron paul disability
Rand Paul is running for president, and he was up in New Hampshire this week, and he took the opportunity to attack the Social Security disability program. Remember the Republicans have already undercut this program with a rules change.
From The Boston Globe, Rand Paul tests, and roils, the political waters in N.H.
While state legislators ate eggs and drank coffee in a Manchester diner, Paul suggested that half of the recipients of federal disability relief are “gaming the system” because they are able to work. He also told them the arguments against building the Keystone XL pipeline are “this sort of Luddite, flat-earth, that my goodness we shouldn’t have cars” mentality.
Paul shared his reactionary ideas about some other topics like his goal of abolishing the Department of Education, but
It was Paul’s comments about disability benefits that drew the most attention, largely because Democrats quickly pounced.

During a question-and-answer period, Paul was asked about government programs and welfare.

“You know, the thing is that all of these programs — there’s always somebody who is deserving. Everybody in this room knows somebody who is gaming the system,” said Paul.

“What I tell people is, if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn’t be getting a disability check,” Paul said. “You know, over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club. Who doesn’t get up a little anxious for work every day and their back hurts? Everybody over 40 has a back pain.”

Really? I’m over 60, and I might get a little bit stiff sometimes, but I certainly don’t have chronic back pain. Let’s see what the fact checkers have to say about Paul’s claim.

Politifact

Politifact: Rand Paul says most people receive disability for back pain, anxiety.

You can read the whole article for the details and some caveats, but here’s the bottom line:

Paul said, “Over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts.”

The numbers don’t add up. The two broader disability categories that include back pain (“diseases of the musculoskeletal system”) and anxiety disorders (“mental disorders – other”) don’t even equal close to 50 percent, let alone those two ailments by themselves.

Paul’s quip might make for a good soundbite, but it’s not rooted in reality. We rate the statement False.

As for people “gaming the system,” Politifact notes a report from the Government Accountability Office that estimated that

…in fiscal year 2011, the Social Security Administration made $1.29 billion in potential cash benefit overpayments to about 36,000 individuals who were working and making more than $1,100 a month (the limit to receive disability benefits).

The 36,000 people receiving improper payments, while a lot on paper, represent about 0.4 percent of all beneficiaries, the report said.

Talking Points Memo posted a video of three “christian” men “apologizing” to women for allowing them to have abortions. It’s the most patronizing bit of mansplaining I’ve seen I’ve seen in a very long time. From TPM:

“I conceded to an abortion,” Pastor Shane Idleman says. “That decision still haunts me today.”

Against a montage of giggling, joyful children and babies, the men discuss how much they regret the decision and take responsibility for letting down God, women and their unborn children.

“I should’ve manned up and I should’ve fought for you and — I didn’t,” John Blandford says. “I didn’t.”

Then come the apologies to all women who have had an abortion, women who have been “subjected to such a terrible thing,” women who “no one tried to rescue,” and women who have “tried to hide this from everyone.”

“I’m sorry for men not taking a greater stand in this area,” Idleman says.

“I’m sorry that, I’m sorry that this is available,” Daniel Phillips says.

But don’t worry all you sinful women “hid[ing] in shame and darkness,” you can always repent and ask god to forgive you. Watch the video yourself if you can stomach it.

Here’s an interesting story from Slate’s Hanna Rosin about the “free range parenting movement.”

Police Investigate Family for Letting Their Kids Walk Home Alone. Parents, We All Need to Fight Back.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, a 10-year old Maryland boy named Rafi and his 6-year old sister, Dvora, walked home by themselves from a playground about a mile away from their suburban house. They made it about halfway home when the police picked them up. You’ve heard these stories before, about what happens when kids in paranoid, hyperprotective America go to and from playgrounds alone. I bet you can guess the sequence of events preceding and after: Someone saw the kids walking without an adult and called the police. The police tracked down the kids and drove them home. The hitch this time is, when the police got there, they discovered that they were meddling with the wrong family.

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Danielle and Alexander Meitiv explicitly ally themselves with the “free range” parenting movement, which believes that children have to take calculated risks in order to learn to be self-reliant. Their kids usually even carry a card that says: “I am not lost. I am a free-range kid,” although they didn’t happen to have it that day. They had carefully prepared their kids for that walk, letting them go first just around the block, then to a library a little farther away, and then the full mile. When the police came to the door, they did not present as hassled overworked parents who leave their children alone at a playground by necessity, or laissez-faire parents who let their children roam wherever, but as an ideological counterpoint to all that’s wrong with child-rearing in America today. If we are lucky, the Meitivs will end up on every morning talk show and help convince American parents that it’s perfectly OK to let children walk without an adult to the neighborhood playground.

Perhaps if they had been black and lived in South Carolina, they would have been arrested like Debra Harrell, the single mother who let her daughter go to the playground while she was working at McDonald’s. As white suburban professionals, the Meitivs experienced a lower level of intrusion, but still one that would make any parent bristle. The police asked for the father’s ID, and when he refused, called six patrol cars as backup. Alexander went upstairs, and the police called out that if he came down with anything else in his hand “shots would be fired,” according to Alexander. (They said this in front of the children, Alexander says.) Soon after, a representative from Montgomery County Child Welfare Services came by and required that the couple sign a “safety plan” promising not to let the children go unsupervised until the following week, when another CPS worker would talk to them. At first, the dad refused, but then the workers told him they would take the kids away if he did not sign.

It’s a thought-provoking piece. Read more at the link.

Masha

Finally, a feel-good story, thanks to Ralph B., who posted it on Facebook.

From The Washington Post: Russia’s heroic cat Masha: She’s credited with saving an abandoned infant from winter’s deep freeze.

Masha the cat – as the stray is called by the residents of the building she calls home in Obninsk – found the infant in an entryway Saturday night and climbed into the box in which the baby had been left.

One of the building’s residents heard the cat and the baby’s cries. At first, Nadezhda Makhovikova just thought she was hearing Masha in some sort of distress. “When I went down, I saw it was a baby crying,” Makhovikova told REN TV earlier this week.

Reports said the baby had been left with a pacifier, bottle and diapers, and was dressed warmly, wearing a little hat, as residents described him – though he likely would have had difficulty staying warm enough to survive a whole night in the sub-freezing temperatures in the area.

Residents called an ambulance, which whisked the baby away to a local hospital – but not before Masha would try to accompany the baby on the way.

Here’s a video about Masha. It’s in Russian, but you can get the gist.

 

So . . . what else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread and enjoy the long weekend!


Friday Reads

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Good Morning!!

 

I’m going to begin with some good news today.

It looks like the coming winter will be on the mild side. From Discovery News: Winter Forecast for US Nothing to Shiver About.

Don’t expect the polar vortex to pummel the eastern United States this winter, government scientists said today (Oct. 16).

Overall, forecasters expect mild winter conditions across much of the United States, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said as they issued their annual winter weather outlook.

While there’s always a chance that the polar jet stream will again funnel frigid Arctic air south toward the United States, nothing in the new forecast indicates a rerun of the persistent patterns responsible for the “polar vortex.” “We do not expect to see a repeat of last winter,” said Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

Developing El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean will influence this year’s winter weather, with wet conditions forecast from Southern California to South Carolina, and dry conditions expected across the North. Temperatures will be warmer than average in the West and in New England, but colder in the South from Texas east to Florida, according to the forecast.

I hope they’re right!

Now for the latest Ebola news . . .

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Why can’t Dallas hospital workers just stay home until they’re cleared? From The Washington Post: Texas hospital worker quarantined on cruise ship in Caribbean.

A Texas health-care worker who “may have” handled lab specimens from Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan has been isolated on board a Carnival cruise ship in the Caribbean. The worker has shown no symptoms of the disease, according to Carnival, which said it is in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control. A Carnival spokeswoman said the guest, who was not named, will remain on board in voluntary isolation until the ship returns to its home port of Galveston on Sunday.

The Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital employee and a partner boarded the ship Oct. 12 in Galveston, Tex., before the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated the requirement for active monitoring, the State Department said in a statement. Although the worker is healthy, the U.S. government is working with the cruise line to get the ship back to America “out of an abundance of caution.”

The employee, who has not been named, did not come into direct contact with Duncan, the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. However, he or she may have been exposed to his clinical specimens, the State Department said.

“It has been 19 days since the passenger may have processed” Duncan’s fluid samples, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement early Friday morning. “The cruise line has actively supported CDC’s efforts to speak with the individual, whom the cruise ship’s medical doctor has monitored and confirmed was in good health. Following this examination, the hospital employee and traveling partner have voluntarily remained isolated in a cabin.”

Belize refused to allow the woman (gender identified by news release) to be leave the ship so she could be evacuated by the U.S.

In its own statement Thursday, the the Belize government said it “was contacted today by officers of the U.S. Government and made aware of a cruise ship passenger considered of very low risk for Ebola….Nonetheless, out of an abundance of caution, the Government of Belize decided not to facilitate a U.S. request for assistance in evacuating the passenger through the Phillip Goldson International Airport.”

Now that the horses are out of the barn, so to speak, officials in Texas have decided to close the barn doors. From USA Today: Travel Ban for Texas health care workers in Ebola case.

Texas health officials have ordered any person who entered the room of the first Ebola patient at a Dallas hospital not to travel by public transport, including planes ship, buses or trains, or visit groceries, restaurants or theaters for 21 days, until the danger of developing Ebola has passed.

The instructions, issued by the Texas Department of State Health Service late Thursday, cover more than 70 health workers involved in providing care for Thomas Duncan, the Liberian national who became the first patient to test positive for Ebola in the United States.

Duncan died Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

The hospital workers were ordered to undergo monitoring twice a day, including one face-to-face encounter.

The health department said anyone failing to adhere to the rules “may be subject to a communicable disease control order.” The health workers were asked to sign a written acknowledgement of the directions when they appear for monitoring.

Amber Vinson

Amber Vinson

According to The Hill, the CDC has now decided it needs to talk to passengers who were on Amber Vinson’s flight from Dallas to Cleveland. Vinson is the second nurse to come down with Ebola after caring for Thomas Duncan, who died of the disease last week.

After reports that she may have shown symptoms on her flight back to Dallas, the CDC asked those passengers to contact the agency. But in a release Thursday night, the CDC expanded that notification to include passengers on Vinson’s flight to Cleveland. The agency said that it wants to interview passengers and that “individuals who are determined to be at any potential risk will be actively monitored.”

Ebola is contagious once an infected person starts exhibiting symptoms, so the CDC wants to keep tabs on anyone that could have come into contact with Vinson when those symptoms began. She traveled to Cleveland on Oct. 10 and returned on Oct. 13, the day before she reported her symptoms to the CDC.

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives decided to get involved in the Ebola crisis, and it wasn’t pretty. BloombergPolitics compiled The Five Worst Questions from the House Ebola Hearing. According to the article, Democrats are wrong to claim that lack of funding made the situation worse. Republicans obsessed over banning travel into the U.S. and “securing the borders.” But the most ludicrous question came from Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA).

Representative Morgan Griffith wanted to know if humans can catch Ebola from dogs, and Frieden said there were no known incidents. But still, the Virginia Republican wanted to know if we could stem the flow of West African dogs traveling into America.

“Don’t you think we ought to at least restrict travel of dogs?” he asked.

“Um,” Frieden replied. “We’ll follow up in terms of what’s possible.”

In addition, President Obama held an “emergency meeting” at the White House yesterday.

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama said he was considering appointing an Ebola “czar” to coordinate the fight against the virus in the United States, but he remained opposed to a ban on travel from West Africa.

Obama’s administration is facing sharp criticism from lawmakers over its efforts to contain the disease at home. Obama authorized calling up military reservists for the U.S. fight against Ebola in West Africa on Thursday….

“It may be appropriate for me to appoint an additional person” to oversee efforts to contain Ebola, Obama told reporters, adding that experts have told him “a flat-out travel ban is not the way to go” because current screening measures at airports are working.

He said he had no philosophical objection to a travel ban but that some travelers might attempt to enter the United States by avoiding screening measures, which could lead to more Ebola cases, not fewer.

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A final dose of stupid came from Sen. Rand Paul, who told an audience of college students that you could catch Ebola by standing three feet from someone who is infected.

His comments directly conflict with statements from world health authorities who have dealt with Ebola outbreaks since 1976.

Paul…made his comments during a stop at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire Wednesday. In his remarks, he called Ebola “incredibly contagious” and suggested it could spread at a cocktail party attended by someone who is symptomatic, according to CNN video footage….

“You’re not going to get AIDS at a cocktail party. No one’s going to cough on you and you’re going to get AIDS. Everybody knows that. That’s what they make it sound exactly like,” Paul, a doctor and potential presidential contender, said Thursday at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. “But then you listen to them closely, they say you have to have direct contact. But you know how they define direct contact? Being within three feet of someone.”

World health authorities have been clear that Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids, and that blood, vomit and feces carry the most virus. Health workers are at particular risk because in the course of caring for patients, they draw blood and clean up diarrhea when the patients are most infectious. Likewise in the epidemic zone in West Africa, people involved with burials of highly infectious bodies are at high risk.

In other news . . .

Bill Clinton is heading down to Louisiana on Monday to stump for Mary Landrieu, according to Politico.

Former President Bill Clinton will campaign in Louisiana Monday with Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, joining the endangered incumbent in the state capital of Baton Rouge.

Clinton, unlike President Barack Obama, can be an effective surrogate in the red Southern states where the Democratic majority hangs in the balance.

The visit, Clinton’s second for Landrieu this election cycle, comes a day before the start of early voting, which runs from October 21-28.

Bill Clinton stumps for Coakley

I’ve been hoping Bill would find time to come to Massachusetts to campaign for Martha Coakley for Governor, and what do you know? He blew through here yesterday! He spoke at Clark University in Worcester.

WORCESTER — Former President Bill Clinton told a capacity crowd at Clark University today that elections are just one big job interview.

Speaking in Worcester in support of Martha Coakley’s run for governor, Mr. Clinton said Ms. Coakley’s actions and advocacy as attorney general indicate how well she will perform once she completes that job interview.

“All you’ve got to do,” he told more than 800 people who waited in a line the length of the Main South campus in monsoon-like conditions to get into Atwood Hall, “is increase the number of employers who make the hiring decision.”

Ms. Coakley, a Democrat, and her running mate, Steve Kerrigan of Lancaster, are in a tight race with Republican Charlie Baker and his running mate, Karyn Polito of Shrewsbury. Mr. Clinton tried to convince the crowd they had the potential to make it a landslide.

“I don’t care what the polls say, she can win this race handily if you want it bad enough,” Mr. Clinton said.

Now we just need Hillary to show up.

How about a little economics news? It seems people in Europe are getting fed up with Angela Merkel’s austerity obsession, according to the NYT. I can’t excerpt from the piece, but here’s a report from The Local in Italy:

Italy and France on Thursday reacted to turmoil in global stock markets by stepping up their calls for the European Union to switch course to focus on growth, not on balancing budgets.

But their calls were once again batted away by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who insisted the way out of the crisis was for all eurozone states to stick to agreed rules on the size of their deficits.

In the latest salvos in a simmering row that is set to come to head at a summit of EU leaders next week, Rome and Paris went on the offensive on the sidelines of the ASEM meeting in Milan.

“We in a very delicate moment in terms of the international economic and financial situation,” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said.

“Which is all the more reason for Europe to show itself capable of producing an economic response based on investment in growth and not only on rigour and austerity,” Renzi said.

He also said a “focus on growth” was recommended by the IMF – “and they don’t seem to be dangerous communists to me”.

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According to UK Reuters, the U.S. has warned Europe about the possibility of deflation.

The United States on Wednesday renewed a warning that Europe risks falling into a downward spiral of falling wages and prices, saying recent actions by the European Central Bank may not be enough to ward off deflation.

In a semiannual report to Congress, the U.S. Treasury Department also said Berlin could do more to help Europe, namely by boosting demand in the German economy, Europe’s largest.

“Europe faces the risk of a prolonged period of substantially below-target inflation or outright deflation,” the Treasury said.

The Guardian today published a summary of Europe’s “five years of economic crisis.”

Finally, Janet Yellen has expressed concern over growing economic inequality in the U.S. Reuters reports:

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Friday the growth of economic inequality in the United States “greatly” concerned her, and suggested in a detailed speech on the politically charged issue that Americans should ask whether it was compatible with their values.

With global financial markets rebounding from days of frenzied selling, Yellen did not comment on the volatility or on monetary policy. Instead she focused on the gulf between rich and poor that has only grown wider over the last several decades and, she said, through the U.S. economic recovery.

“The extent of and continuing increase in inequality in the United States greatly concern me,” Yellen told a conference on inequality at the Boston branch of the central bank.

“It is no secret that the past few decades of widening inequality can be summed up as significant income and wealth gains for those at the very top and stagnant living standards for the majority,” she told economists, professors and community workers.

“I think it is appropriate to ask whether this trend is compatible with values rooted in our nation’s history, among them the high value Americans have traditionally placed on equality of opportunity.”

Good for Yellen. Now let’s see some action beyond the words.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a fabulous Friday!!

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