Friday Reads: America Held Hostage Day 90

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

Today’s cartoons come from The.Daily.Don!  Artist Jesse Duquette is the Daily Don: “Documenting this administration each day from the Inauguration to the Election.” They’re wonderful!  Go look at his Instagram page! There’s one for every day we’ve been held hostage by Kremlin Caligula.

This compelling Op Ed written by retired Army officer Sheri Swokowski is another indication that Trump staffs every position with the wrong person. “Trump’s anti-LGBT Army secretary nominee thinks veterans like me have ‘a disease’”

Like Mark Green — President Trump’s nominee for secretary of the Army — I served my country in uniform. I was proud to be an infantry officer and retired honorably after 34 years. But as a transgender member of the military, I hid my authentic self for decades to continue serving the country I love. Unlike Green, I was forced to serve in silence the entire time, but I won’t be silent now.

I respect his Iraq War service as an Army flight surgeon, but the disrespect — the bigotry — he’s shown over and over toward the LGBT community, including LGBT service members, doesn’t reflect the spirit or direction of the military I know. Rather, his selection reflects poorly on the president and our armed forces. He’s the wrong choice to be Army secretary.

As a Tennessee state senator, Green has targeted the LGBT community. He introduced legislation that would enable businesses to discriminate against LGBT individuals. At a town hall meeting with his constituents, he expressed support for the idea of his state’s government defying the Supreme Court’s decision upholding marriage equality in all 50 states. He argued being transgender “is a disease.”

Now that he’s been nominated, Green says “politics will have nothing to do” with how he would do the job of Army secretary. Wrong. Leading the Army requires an appreciation for every individual, without exception, and Green wouldn’t have the confidence of the thousands of LGBT soldiers proudly and openly serving today. Every soldier needs to know that those at the top, uniformed and civilian, have their back. But based on the way he has used anti-LGBT politics to advance his career, that’s not him.

The You Tubes I put here will just give you a moment of zen and peace via Scotland.  I’ve been listening to the haunting bagpipe music of my Gaelic ancestors for the last few days and finding some peace.  I thought I’d share.

We’ve always known that Fox News was a basically a nuclear reactor of hate generation. Read this on Marie Claire.

After 15 years of providing legal protection and millions of dollars to his accusers, Fox News finally fired their marquis star, Bill O’Reilly, on Wednesday. In an age when a self-proclaimed “pussy-grabber” occupies the Oval Office, any public consequences for harassing women feel particularly significant. And this move was particularly satisfying for me—just a few years ago, O’Reilly sent a tidal wave of harassment my way.

On May 31, 2009, an anti-abortion zealot murdered abortion provider George Tiller. At the time, I was 21 years old and working as a counselor at an abortion clinic in Philadelphia. Dr. Tiller’s murder drove a hot spike of fear and anxiety through my entire body. I walked through anti-abortion protestors a few times a week to get to work; I found their gruesome signs annoying, but not threatening. But Dr. Tiller’s assassination forced me to confront the terrifying reality that my co-workers and I faced more than just screams. We could actually get killed for providing people with legal, safe, and compassionate medical care.

My boyfriend walked me to work the next day, a sweet but feeble attempt to shield me from the protestors. What could he actually do if one of them had a gun? Inside, my coworkers and I gathered to talk about how we felt. As I listened to each person share why they were still so committed to this work despite the danger, I wondered what it would be like for our stories and motivations to be shared in a bigger way. One colleague made a comment about all of us being Dr. Tiller now, and I texted my boyfriend—did he know how to make a website? And how much work would it take?

We stayed up all night with him writing code and me writing content for IAmDrTiller.com. The next day, I told my coworkers to take photos with a sign that said “I Am Dr. Tiller,” and asked them to email me their own explanation of why they provide abortion care. My boss sent the website around to other abortion providers, and overnight I received dozens of submissions from abortion-clinic staff all over the country. Somehow, conservative media got wind of the website, and on June 10, Bill O’Reilly discussed the project on his show.

Read the story of how O’Reilly basically ginned up a group of crazy domestic terrorists to stalk, harass and haunt here.  I’ve been at the receiving end of attacks from those freaks.  They’re an ugly, mean, nasty, and hateful lot.

President Obama will be giving a speech in Chicago after spending a lot of time resting in the tropics. I’d personally like to hear why we didn’t get all this T-Russia information back last summer from him.  I believe we’re owed an explanation but I will take a little bit of hope and a lot of change talk.  I could use it.

Former President Barack Obama will return to Chicago on Monday to speak to young people at the University of Chicago, in what will be his first public event since leaving the White House.

Obama and young leaders will hold a conversation on civic engagement and discuss community organizing at the university’s Logan Center for the Arts, his office announced Friday.

Hundreds of people are expected to attend, chosen from area universities that were given tickets for distribution, said Kevin Lewis, a spokesman for the former president. About six young people will appear on stage with him for the 11 a.m. discussion, Lewis said.

The event will be a homecoming for Obama on multiple levels. He formerly taught constitutional law at the U. of C. and his family has a home nearby in the Kenwood neighborhood. It also lets the former president, who came to Chicago to work as a young community organizer, fulfill one of the commitments he set out for his post-presidential years: to engage and work with the country’s next generation of leaders, Lewis said.

One SCOTUS decision could do serious damage to the First Amendment. Will this SCOTUS destroy Church/State Seperation?

One of the many travesties endemic in a government controlled by Republicans is that the evangelical right now has the full weight and force of the federal government to institute a theocracy. Now that religious conservatives control the Supreme Court with Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the bench, they have an instant ally to achieve the Dominionist movement’s highest priorities: tearing down any and all constitutional barriers between church and state.

Yesterday, in a case the High Court’s conservatives postponed for 15 months wishing and hoping for an evangelical majority, they heard oral arguments in a case very few Americans are aware of. The people should be terrified because a ruling for theocracy will effectively demolish church-state separation and completely neuter the First Amendment’s religious clauses. And it will force every taxpayer to fund religious organizations; like it or not.

This one case will have far reaching effects on every American, and every facet of government, that will make the Hobby Lobby, Voting Rights, and Citizens United rulings seem petty and insignificant in comparison. Sadly, due to the media, including the cowards in the liberal media, and their resistance to reporting the rash of evangelical legislation they claim are simply born of “conservative ideology,” most Americans are clueless as to what is awaiting them; a High Court ruling establishing a veritable evangelical theocracy.

The case, “Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer,” is about forcing Missouri taxpayers to fund upgrading a church school’s playground despite a state and federal prohibition against it. Even though there is a long-standing Constitutional statute against using taxpayer money to fund religious organizations, Missouri is one several states that enshrined the same prohibition in its state Constitution. Still, the “churches” cried foul and claimed that if taxpayers fund public schools, then they damn sure better start funding religious schools and organizations.

One might think that churches earning well-over $82.5 billion annually (in 2013) from taxpayers subsidizing religious non-profits (churches) was enough welfare for the “charitable Christians.” Add to that staggering annual figure the $41.7 billion in annual payments (in 2004) in welfare from Bush’s “faith-based initiative” programs. Money well spent according to W. Bush who wanted the taxpayer’s money to “save one soul at a time.” Still, even that unconstitutional abomination didn’t satisfy their greed for more taxpayer money and more control over government. And, the sad truth is that tearing down the barrier between church and state will set a Constitutional precedent allowing evangelicals to do so much more than just force taxpayers to support their “ministries.”

Since before America was a nation, the Founding Fathers were preparing, and went to great lengths, to keep religion out of government. The concept of not funding, or legislating according to evangelicalism, is not a new idea.

I hold this near and dear as the descendant of Hugenot French who fled the Alsace Lorraine/Rhinelands area as Jews and Protestants being forcefully removed and slaughtered at the behest of the Roman Catholic Church.  The parts of my family who signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution made a refuge for folks suffering from state-sanctioned religious persecution.  I’d hate to see us dump on this most important right.

Speaking of Judges, have you ever heard an AG attack one plus show his geography ignorance simultaneously?  I’m willing to bet I can find second and third graders that know Hawaii is a state and is composed of quite a few islands too.  Isn’t this a MaCaCa moment?

The ability of federal judges to strike down actions taken by Congress or the executive branch if they’re deemed unconstitutional is a hallmark of the American system of government. It’s an important part of the system of checks and balances, ensuring that the president and legislators don’t acquire too much power.

But to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the nation’s top law enforcement officer, it’s “amazing” — and he means that in a bad way.

“I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power,” Sessions told conservative radio host Mark Levin during an interview Tuesday (as reported by CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski on Thursday). “The judges don’t get to psychoanalyze the president to see if the order he issues is lawful. It’s either lawful or it’s not.”

The “judge sitting on an island in the Pacific” in question is District of Hawaii judge Derrick Watson, who ruled in March against the Trump administration’s attempt to temporarily ban residents of six majority-Muslim countries and nearly all refugees from entering the US. (Watson’s ruling is just a temporary injunction while the lawsuit against the ban, brought by states including Hawaii, gets a full hearing in court; the Trump administration is appealing Watson’s ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and appealing a separate ruling against the ban, issued in Maryland, to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.)

Sessions’s remark has gotten a lot of attention as an attack on the state of Hawaii (not least because it fits a little too easily in a long tradition of racist dog-whistling about the “foreignness” of nonwhite and specifically Pacific Islander Americans), but it’s part of a broader attack from Republicans on the “liberal Ninth Circuit” as a whole — and the first indication that not only President Trump, but his chief law enforcement officer, is uneasy with the idea of judicial review itself.

Daily Don april 16.pngBut Sessions has decided to place the spying blame Julian Assange and flutter his little hands and air his squeaky little Tennessee Crackcer voice to keep the attention off his boss and off all those meetings with Russians of his own.

The arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is now a “priority” for the US, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has said.

Hours later it was reported by CNN that authorities have prepared charges against Assange, who is currently holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Donald Trump lavished praise on the anti-secrecy website during the presidential election campaign – “I love WikiLeaks,” he once told a rally – but his administration has struck a different tone.

Asked whether it was a priority for the justice department to arrest Assange “once and for all”, Sessions told a press conference in El Paso, Texas, on Thursday: “We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks. This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious.”

He added: “So yes, it is a priority. We’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.”

Citing unnamed officials, CNN reported that prosecutors have struggled with whether the Australian is protected from prosecution by the first amendment, but now believe they have found a path forward. A spokesman for the justice department declined to comment.

Barry Pollack, Assange’s lawyer, denied any knowledge of imminent prosecution. “We’ve had no communication with the Department of Justice and they have not indicated to me that they have brought any charges against Mr Assange,” he told CNN. “They’ve been unwilling to have any discussion at all, despite our repeated requests, that they let us know what Mr Assange’s status is in any pending investigations. There’s no reason why WikiLeaks should be treated differently from any other publisher.”

We’re all still wondering why Jason Chaffetz is exiting stage left with intense speed. What’s he running from exactly?

Jason Chaffetz is so ambitious that his last name is a verb.

In the political world, to Chaffetz means to throw a former mentor under the bus in order to get ahead, and various prominent Republicans, from former Utah governor and presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. to House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, have experienced what it’s like to get Chaffetzed. But the five-term Utah Republican and powerful chairman of the House oversight committee shocked Washington on Wednesday when he announced he would not seek reelection in 2018 or run for any other political office that year in order to spend more time with his family.

“I am healthy. I am confident I would continue to be re-elected by large margins,” he said in a statement. “I have the full support of Speaker [Paul] Ryan to continue as Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. That said, I have made a personal decision to return to the private sector.”

His surprise announcement has fueled speculation of a possible scandal, though Chaffetz told Politico there’s nothing to the rumors about a skeleton in his closet: “I’ve been given more enemas by more people over the last eight years than you can possibly imagine… If they had something really scandalous, it would’ve come out a long, long time ago.”

Louise Mensch thinks the Russians have Kompromat. Twitter rumors say that he’s been having multiple affairs.  (Who would fuck a man with a face like that?)

Okay, so I’m still thinking of planning an escape somewhere but meanwhile I’m here in the swamp with the Bagpipes wailing. I’m thinking I should get a set and practice at odd hours of the morning in front of the Air BnBs and the owners of my local nuisance bar. I’d be as unskilled as any of the musicians they hire for pennies there and at least as bad. One thing is certain that Scotland may look better than France if Marie LePen wins.

Have a great weekend! What’s on your reading and blogging list today?  The music above is beautiful.  Give it an ear or two.


Tuesday Reads: VP Debate and Other News

kaine-pence-759

Good Morning!!

Tonight at 9, Vice Presidential nominees Tim Kaine and Mike Pence will debate on national TV for the first and only time. We will have a live blog for discussion of the event.

NPR is billing these two as “softening the image” of the Democratic and Republican tickets.

Unlike running mates of the past, Pence and Kaine have not been unleashed as “attack dogs” to chew viciously on their adversaries. This year, the headlines about outrageous charges have come from the top of the ticket — with help from various TV surrogates and the rest of the media chorus.

Kaine and Pence, by contrast, serve to soften the image of the national tickets. They are Tim and Mike, known by the friendlier, shorter versions of their first names. Both have made their way in politics as loyal party men, to be sure, but as warmer and more personable versions of their respective partisan stereotypes. And both have been known for their ability to maneuver and adapt to changing political circumstances.

So far, at least, both have performed admirably in their subordinate roles. It might even be said that both have exceeded expectations in their assistance to the nominees who chose them.

Kaine has been a prolific fundraiser as well as an affable and effective salesman on the stump. Pence has been enormously influential in bringing religious and social conservatives around to accepting and endorsing Trump. Even some who had pleaded for primary voters to pick anyone but Trump have come on board this fall, however reluctantly; and several have done so after meeting with Pence. Former rival and bitter critic Ted Cruz is one example.

How anyone could consider Mike Pence “softer” on anything is beyond me. I can only assume that NPR is ignorant of or choosing to ignore Pence’s record in the House and as Governor of Indiana.

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Here’s one mainstream article that calls attention to Pence’s “baggage.” Roll Call (September 19, 2016):

Pence made national headlines in early 2015 when he signed into law the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which limited the legal actions that could be taken against an individual or business for asserting their religious beliefs.

The law sparked widespread outrage. Opponents contended that it would give license to religious conservatives to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. In response, several major events and corporations — including Salesforce.com, the NCAA, and the gaming convention Gen-Con — threatened to limit business ventures in the state or boycott it altogether.

Pence adamantly defended the RFRA legislation and refused to say whether it allowed for discrimination, which led to extensive questioning of his underlying motives.

What followed was a hemorrhaging of support from moderate Republicans in the state, and intense backlash on social media and in the press. So much so that he quietly signed a subsequent piece of legislation — dubbed the “RFRA Fix” — that clarified that the law did not allow businesses to discriminate based on a customer’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Read about more of Pence’s ugly record at the link. He tried to set up a state “news bureau,” a propaganda organ paid for by taxpayers.

mike-pence-cartoon

Pence is virulently anti-abortion and did everything he could to get rid of Planned Parenthood in the state. He attempted to prevent Syrian refugees from settling in Indiana. He has helped keep Indiana a “right-to-work” state. More background on Pence’s views:

Planned Parenthood: This Is Mike Pence’s Indiana, and It’s Terrifying.

Mother Jones: Mike Pence Has Led a Crusade Against Abortion Access and LGBT Rights.

Mother Jones: Pence Tells Evangelicals He’ll Help Trump Restrict Abortion Rights.

Bustle: Mike Pence’s Stance On Gay Marriage Is As Harsh As His “Religious Freedom” Views.

In These Times: Mike Pence May Be a Friend to Trump, But He’s No Friend to Workers.

Here’s the Clinton campaign’s take on Pence and his defenses of Trump:

Other News

Republican Trump supporters have been waiting breathlessly for an “October Surprise” from Julian Assange and Wikileaks. A couple of days ago, long-time Trump adviser and conspiracy theorist Roger Stone tweeted this cryptic warning:

Then yesterday he tweeted this:

But so far, Stone and the Trumpettes have been disappointed.

The Washington Post: Trump backers realize they’ve been played as WikiLeaks fails to deliver October surprise.

For weeks, backers of Republican nominee Donald Trump have hyped the tantalizing possibility that the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks was on the verge of publishing a set of documents that would doom Hillary Clinton’s chances in November….

The group’s founder, Julian Assange, did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm, suggesting to Fox News hosts that his scoops could upend the race with documents “associated with the election campaign, some quite unexpected angles, some quite interesting.”

The announcement by WikiLeaks that it would host a major news conference Tuesday only seemed to confirm that the bombshell was ready to burst. The pro-Trump, anti-Clinton media world rippled with fevered speculation.

But the dreamed-of takedown of Clinton was not to be.

The much-vaunted news conference, as it turned out, was little more than an extended infomercial for WikiLeaks on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of its founding.

Assange, whose group released a trove of hacked Democratic National Committee documents on the eve of the party’s convention this summer, breezily dismissed the idea that anyone should have expected any news at his news conference.

“If we are going to make a major publication about the U.S., we wouldn’t do it at 3 a.m.,” Assange said at one point, referring to the Eastern daylight start time for the event.That didn’t go over well with Trump backers who had stayed up through the night, thinking they’d be watching live the unveiling of the death blow to the Clinton campaign.

That didn’t go over well with Trump backers who had stayed up through the night, thinking they’d be watching live the unveiling of the death blow to the Clinton campaign.

LOL! Read more hilarious stuff at the link. The Trump campaign is nothing but a “fever swamp” of conspiracy theorists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Just look at the campaign’s leadership and advisers like Alex Jones.

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Mother Jones: How Trump Became Our Conspiracy Theorist in Chief.

Consider Trump’s inner circle: Campaign CEO Stephen Bannon is on leave from Breitbart News, the conservative site he helped turn into a one-stop destination for breathlessly reported stories like “Muslim Prayer Rug Found on Arizona Border” (on closer inspection, the “rug” was probably a track jacket). Trump’s deputy campaign manager, David Bossie, a peddler of many of the wildest Clinton conspiracy theories of the 1990s, once made a documentary alleging that Hillary Clinton had murdered a critic’s cat. Trump adviser Roger Stone, a former Nixon campaign aide and political dirty trickster, wrote a book claiming that Chelsea Clinton got four plastic surgeries to mask the identity of her real father.

Populist movements have long flirted with what political theorist Richard Hofstadter, writing about Barry Goldwater in 1964, called the “paranoid style in American politics”—the penchant for framing opponents as the tools of a powerful but shadowy fifth column. But Trump has embraced and normalized the political fringe in unprecedented ways—and that could have far-reaching effects.

That Trump would devote much of the substance of his campaign to wild claims and ominous innuendo is not surprising: This is what first made him a conservative star. Five years ago, Trump embarked on a national press tour to question the legitimacy of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Obama, Trump suggested, was actually a Kenyan-born impostor named “Barry Soweto.” Establishment Republicans may have snickered, but Trump’s strategy was an unmitigated success. A CNN poll showed that his support among likely GOP voters nearly doubled once he started talking about the birth certificate. He became a regular guest on Fox & Friends, a sought-after speaker at conservative dinners, and a campaign prop for Mitt Romney, who flew to Las Vegas to accept Trump’s endorsement. In just a few months, Trump showed how intoxicatingly viral the netherworld of conspiracies could be. (Even when he finally conceded that Obama was born in the United States, he claimed the birther rumors originated with Clinton.)

From the day he kicked off his 2016 presidential campaign, an air of paranoia has infused almost everything Trump has said or done. He demanded a border wall on the grounds that Mexico was sending killers and rapists into the country, boosting his claims with an Infowars video he’d seen on the Drudge Report. He promised to “bomb the shit out of” ISIS, while insinuating that the current commander in chief harbored sympathies for the terrorist group (“There’s something going on”). After Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in his sleep, Trump fanned theories of an assassination. He trumpeted a National Enquirer story suggesting that Ted Cruz’s dad was involved in the Kennedy assassination (even though Stone had written a best-selling book fingering Lyndon B. Johnson).

Read the rest at Mother Jones.

Links Only

Time Magazine: Why Tonight’s Vice Presidential Debate is Unusual.

The New Yorker: Why the Vice-Presidential Debate Does and Doesn’t Matter.

Media Matters: .What Media Need To Know About Mike Pence’s Economic Record.

WSOC TV: Michelle Obama to campaign for Hillary Clinton in Charlotte.

Melissa McEwan at Share Blue: I published this photo of Hillary Clinton and the response was overwhelming. (Must Read!)

Deadspin: Trump Supporters Spent The Debate Tweeting At Jon Lester Because They Thought He Was Moderator Lester Holt.

What stories are you following today? Let us know in the comment thread and be sure to check back tonight for the VP Debate live blog!


Thursday Reads: A Mixed Bag of News

Girl reading on a stone porch, by Winslow Homer

Girl reading on a stone porch, by Winslow Homer

Good Morning!!

The images in this post are from the blog, Reading and Art. I don’t have any central theme this morning, just a mixed bag of news stories. beginning with damaging explosions in Tianjin, China.

CNN reports, Tianjin blasts: Dozens dead; areas of Chinese port city devastated.

You can see the devastation everywhere: in the hollowed out shells of barely-standing buildings, in the anguished faces of relatives waiting for news of loved ones, in the parade of scorched cars.

But what was it that set off the terrifying blasts that ripped through warehouses housing hazardous chemical materials, sending fireballs shooting across the sky and shaking tall buildings more than 2 miles away?

Hours later, amid the destruction in this northern Chinese port city of more than 13 million, the exact cause remained unclear.

A thick chemical odor hung in the air. Fires still burned in the waterfront industrial district where the explosions went off. And the grim toll kept mounting.

At least 44 people are confirmed dead, 12 firefighters among them, officials said Thursday. More than 500 are hospitalized, 52 with severe injuries. Dozens of firefighters are missing.

Local authorities suspended firefighting efforts Thursday because of a lack of information about the “dangerous goods” stored at the warehouse at the heart of the blasts, the state-run Xinhua news agency said.

CNN has dramatic photos at the link. A few more stories on the disaster:

Vice News: Video Emerges of Horrific Tianjin Explosion as Death Toll Rises.

USA Today, 12 firefighters among 50 dead in Chinese port city explosions.

This is a developing story, and it sounds like the death toll is likely to rise.

Girl reading under an oak tree, by Winslow Homer

Girl reading under an oak tree, by Winslow Homer

You’ve probably heard by now that Jimmy Carter has cancer that has spread from his liver to other organs.

Washington Post, Former president Jimmy Carter, 90, announces that he has cancer.

Former president Jimmy Carter announced Wednesday that he has cancer and will be undergoing treatment at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta.

Carter, 90, said the disease was discovered during recent liver surgery to remove “a small mass” and that the cancer “is now in other parts of my body.”

“I will be rearranging my schedule as necessary so I can undergo treatment by physicians at Emory Healthcare,” Carter said in a statement on the Carter Center Web site. “A more complete public statement will be made when facts are known, possibly next week.”

In a statement, President Obama said he and first lady Michelle Obama wished Carter “a full and fast recovery.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with [wife] Rosalynn and the entire Carter family as they face this challenge with the same grace and determination that they have shown so many times before,” Obama said in a statement released by the White House. “Jimmy, you’re as resilient as they come, and along with the rest of America, we are rooting for you.”

The president also spoke with Carter on Wednesday evening to wish him “full and speedy recovery” and extended best wishes on behalf of himself and first lady Michelle Obama, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.

According to NBC News, Carter said “a more complete public statement will be made when facts are known, possibly next week.”

Sunlight and shadow, by Winslow Homer

Sunlight and shadow, by Winslow Homer

Sweden has dropped some of its charges against Julian Assange.

Wall Street Journal, Sweden Runs Out of Time on Parts of Assange Probe.

STOCKHOLM—Swedish prosecutors on Thursday ran out of time to pursue two of four investigations into allegations of sexual assault against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been living at the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning.

Prosecutors said that probes into suspected unlawful coercion and sexual molestation would be dropped as the five-year limit that Swedish law allows for such charges to be brought has come to an end.

The five-year deadline for a second count of sexual molestation will be reached Aug. 18, prosecutors said. If the statute of limitation on that allegation also comes into effect, Mr. Assange would be left facing a single, more serious accusation of rape, over which prosecutors have until 2020 to question him….

Mr. Assange was accused of the crimes by two women during a visit to Sweden in August 2010. Prosecutors requested Mr. Assange return to Sweden from the U.K to face questioning.

The WikiLeaks founder, who denies the crimes, refused to return to Sweden, saying he feared he would extradited from Sweden to the U.S. where he could face trial over the publication by WikiLeaks of classified U.S. documents.

Assange says he is disappointed, according to BBC News.

The Wikileaks founder said he was “extremely disappointed” and said the Swedish prosecutor had avoided hearing his side of the story….

He sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, fearing he would then be sent to the US for questioning about the activities of Wikileaks.

Under Swedish law, charges cannot be laid without interviewing the suspect.

Mr Assange said he was innocent and claimed prosecutors had refused to visit him at the embassy.

They also refused to promise not to send him to the US if he were to go to Sweden, he said.

Mr Assange said: “I am strong but the cost to my family is unacceptable.”

The new novel, by Winslow Homer

The new novel, by Winslow Homer

In clown car news, Mike Huckabee said some more insane things about Planned Parenthood and abortion.

Talking Points Memo, Huckabee: DOJ Should ‘Criminally Prosecute Planned Parenthood.’

“I would also invoke the 15th and Fourteenth Amendments,” he said on Wednesday. “This is the power that we have to stop this incredible, barbaric scourge of abortion. Not just stop funding Planned Parenthood, but we need to invoke the Fifth and 14th Amendment. The Fifth Amendment guarantees due process for every person. The 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law for every person.”

Huckabee said that he believes that unborn children are people, guaranteeing them Fifth and 14th Amendment rights.

“I would take that position. I would act on behalf of those unborn children, and I would let those who want to slaughter babies, those who want to sell their body parts, let them sue me,” he said.

In response, Melissa McEwan writes:

Again, this is less like chipping away at Roe and more like taking a bulldozer to it.

I have said many times (for instance) that fetuses are valued more highly than the people who carry them, that the potential life of every fetus is more important than the actual life of a pregnant person. Never has this been more clear.

If Mike Huckabee, or any of his fellow Republican candidates, had their way, fetuses would have not equivalent rights, but more rights than any pregnant person.

Protip, Huckabee: “Slaughtering babies” is already against the law.

The country school, by Winslow Homer

The country school, by Winslow Homer

CNN reports on a study showing that kids in elementary school are getting crushing amounts of homework.

Kids have three times too much homework, study finds; what’s the cost?

The study, published Wednesday in The American Journal of Family Therapy, found students in the early elementary school years are getting significantly more homework than is recommended by education leaders, in some cases nearly three times as much homework as is recommended.

The standard, endorsed by the National Education Association and the National Parent-Teacher Association, is the so-called “10-minute rule” — 10 minutes per grade level per night. That translates into 10 minutes of homework in the first grade, 20 minutes in the second grade, all the way up to 120 minutes for senior year of high school. The NEA and the National PTA do not endorse homework for kindergarten….

Parents reported first-graders were spending 28 minutes on homework each night versus the recommended 10 minutes. For second-graders, the homework time was nearly 29 minutes, as opposed to the 20 minutes recommended.

And kindergartners, their parents said, spent 25 minutes a night on after-school assignments, according to the study carried out by researchers from Brown University, Brandeis University, Rhode Island College, Dean College, the Children’s National Medial Center and the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology.

Homer, Winslow 6

That is ridiculous and harmful. Children at younger ages learn far more from play and interacting with other kids than from regimented school assignments.

“It is absolutely shocking to me to find out that particularly kindergarten students (who) are not supposed to have any homework at all … are getting as much homework as a third-grader is supposed to get,” said Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, the contributing editor of the study and clinical director of the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology.

“Anybody who’s tried to keep a 5-year-old at a table doing homework for 25 minutes after school knows what that’s like. I mean children don’t want to be doing, they want to be out playing, they want to be interacting and that’s what they should be doing. That’s what’s really important.”

The Pope is coming to the U.S., and one of his stops will be at a jail in Philadelphia.

Reuters: At drab Philadelphia jail, anxious times precede papal visit.

One of 17 stops on the pope’s first U.S. tour, the visit to the inner-city jail is a reminder of the emphasis the Argentine pontiff has placed on social justice issues since being named head of the Roman Catholic Church in March 2013.

The pope’s stop at the Philadelphia facility will be the latest in a series of prison visits by Francis, an outspoken opponent of the death penalty and lengthy prison terms. He has counseled teenagers in juvenile detention in Brazil. In Bolivia, he kissed inmates in the country’s most violent prison.

His visit also comes at a time when a growing number of Democrats and Republicans are questioning tough criminal sentencing policies that have left the United States with the highest incarceration rate in the developed world. Barack Obama, who last month became the first sitting U.S. president to tour a federal penitentiary, has called for legislation overhauling sentencing rules.

Advocates for prisoner rights say they are pleased the pope has decided to put the issue on his agenda during the U.S. tour, which will include attending a conference on family life in Philadelphia, plus stops in Washington and New York.

Morning glories, by Winslow Homer

Morning glories, by Winslow Homer

I was going to write about Hillary and the media’s obsession with her emails, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead, here’s an inspirational piece from Peter Daou and Tom Watson at #HillaryMen.

Hillary’s Path to History Will Get Much Rougher and She’s Ready.

There is a manic urge among the media, the GOP and the elite commentariat to Stop Hillary – to block a woman from reaching the pinnacle of American political leadership.

Each poll, news story or issue that appears to harm her is seized upon with a strange combination of desperation and glee. It’s an unsavory process but Hillary knew what she was in for when she decided to seek the presidency a second time.

As #HillaryMen, we’re undaunted by the negative stories, unwavering in our support for Hillary and unyielding in our commitment to help smash the ultimate gender barrier.

Ending a 44-0 shutout that has lasted nearly a quarter millennium was never going to be easy. There is no cakewalk to the White House. And certainly not for a woman.

We’ve worked in politics and media for nearly two decades. Peter is a veteran of two presidential campaigns, including Hillary’s 2008 run. We’ve seen every permutation of every attack, every rise and fall in the polls, every gaffe and every zinger, every debate moment and debate aftermath, every nervous election night and every election surprise.

We know what lies ahead for Hillary’s campaign and we realize there will be times when the obstacles seem insurmountable. They are not.

For all practical purposes, the 2016 race is just getting underway. As the first summer of the campaign winds down, the rhetoric heats up and political prognostications start climbing in pitch. The fall frenzy begins in a matter of weeks.

I plan to head over to #HillaryMen every time I get angry and/or anxious about something written or said about her in the media. In case you haven’t read it yet, here’s a link to “The Facts about Hillary Clinton’s Emails” at her campaign website.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread, and enjoy your Thursday.


Thursday Reads: Updates from Snowden-Greenwald Land and Other News

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Good Morning!!

The photos in today’s post are from a project by photographer Mark Makela to take pictures of children “learning to read by reading to homeless cats.”

Last February, photographer Mark Makela traveled to Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, to photograph a reading group where the participants were grade-school students and a group of cats. The idea for the group, known as Book Buddies, was hatched at the Animal Rescue League of Berks County when the program coordinator Kristi Rodriguez’s 10-year-old son was struggling with reading. Rodriguez decided to bring him into the shelter, where he could be in what she called a “nonevaluative” environment in order to feel more comfortable practicing his reading skills. It worked.

According to ARL’s website, studies at Tufts University found that the more relaxed, nonjudgmental audience of cats helps students to sustain their focus, maintain a higher state of awareness, and develop an improved attitude toward school. In August of last year, ARL officially started the Book Buddies program, inviting students in first through eighth grades to read to the cats. As an incentive to continue, once the students complete five books, they receive prizes. “It’s one of those opportunities that is unique and humorous and so endearing,” Makela said about the assignment to document the Book Buddies program.

See more marvelous photos at the Slate Magazine link above. Even more at Buzzfeed–including more girls.

Now to the news:

I’ve long suspected that Edward Snowden interacted with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange and others in the hacker community before he made his final decision to steal a massive trove of data from NSA computers and then abscond to Hong Kong at the end of May last year.

We know that Snowden was in touch with Jacob Applebaum and Laura Poitras early on, because they published an interview with him in Der Spiegel that they had conducted by e-mail in Mid-May, before Snowden fled Hawaii. But Snowden could have actually met Applebaum in Hawaii in April 2013 when Applebaum vacationed there by his own admission. Did Snowden and Applebaum discuss Snowden’s plans to steal NSA files? Did Applebaum suggest which items Snowden should take? Note that Applebaum is deeply involved with Wikileaks and has been a long-time, passionate defender of Julian Assange.

Glenn Greenwald revealed in his new book “No Place to Hide” that Snowden had used the code name “Cincinnatus” in early communications between the two. Interestingly enough, a “cyber-party” had been held in Hawaii in December 2012, and the host was someone who called himself “Cincinnatus.” Once this news came out, people began speculating on Twitter that perhaps this wasn’t a coincidence. Suddenly, on May 17, the cyber-party announcement was deleted by someone with the Twitter handle @jskuda. Fortunately Twitter user @ShrillBrigade located it on the Wayback Machine. And check out the title of Cincinnatus’ talk: “Painlessly setting up your own fast exit.” (h/t @catfitz)

Then yesterday, former criminal hacker and technical adviser to Greenwald and Poitras’ Freedom of the Press Foundation Kevin Poulsen published a limited hangout at Wired: Snowden’s First Move Against the NSA Was a Party in Hawaii.

It was December 11, 2012, and in a small art space behind a furniture store in Honolulu, NSA contractor Edward Snowden was working to subvert the machinery of global surveillance.

Snowden was not yet famous. His blockbuster leaks were still six months away, but the man destined to confront world leaders on a global stage was addressing a much smaller audience that Sunday evening. He was leading a local “Crypto Party,” teaching less than two dozen Hawaii residents how to encrypt their hard drives and use the internet anonymously.

“He introduced himself as Ed,” says technologist and writer Runa Sandvik, who co-presented with Snowden at the event, and spoke about the experience for the first time with WIRED. “We talked for a bit before everything started. And I remember asking where he worked or what he did, and he didn’t really want to tell.”

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Runa Sandvik is a hacker who works at the TOR project along with Jacob Applebaum. TOR is a site (ironically funded by the U.S. Department of Defense) that provides free encryption software to people who want to hide their on-line activities (including drug dealers and child porn purveyors).

Poulsen writes:

The roots of Snowden’s crypto party were put down on November 18, 2012, when he sent an e-mail to Sandvik, a rising star in privacy circles, who was then a key developer on the anonymous web surfing software Tor.

Tor is free software that lets you go online anonymously. The software is used by a wide swath of people in need of extreme anonymity, including human rights groups, criminals, government agencies, and journalists. It works by accepting connections from the public internet, encrypting the traffic and bouncing it through a winding series of relays before dumping it back on the web through any of more than 1,000 exit nodes.

Most of those relays are run by volunteers, and the pre-leak Edward Snowden, it turns out, was one of them.

How about that? Snowden was already deeply involved with TOR in December 2012–and Jacob Applebaum of TOR just happened to travel to Hawaii a few months later in April! Coincidence? I don’t think so.

In his e-mail, Snowden wrote that he personally ran one of the “major tor exits”–a 2 gbps server named “TheSignal”–and was trying to persuade some unnamed coworkers at his office to set up additional servers. He didn’t say where he worked. But he wanted to know if Sandvik could send him a stack of official Tor stickers. (In some post-leak photos of Snowden you can see the Tor sticker on the back of his laptop, next to the EFF sticker).

Well, well, well. Now we know how Snowden got his TOR sticker. Did Runa give him the EFF sticker too? Read the rest of the Wired piece for more details.

Phew! I hope that made sense. This stuff is difficult to write about.

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Also yesterday, well-known and respected journalist and New Yorker writer George Packer published a no-holds-barred review of Glenn Greenwald’s new book in the UK Prospect: The errors of Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. Among other things, Packer accuses Greenwald of “a pervasive absence of intellectual integrity,” and provides numerous examples. He characterizes Snowden as someone who lives on the internet, detached from the realities of the real world. Here are a few excerpts, but please read the whole thing.

Snowden’s leaks can be seen, in part, as a determined effort to restore the web to its original purity—a project of technology rather than law. “Let us speak no more of faith in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of cryptography,” wrote Snowden, in an early message to his collaborators. In March of this year, appearing remotely from Russia on a robotised screen onstage at a TED talk in Vancouver, Snowden said that the single best solution to the NSA’s abuses is stronger encryption: “The internet that we’ve enjoyed in the past has been exactly what we, as not just a nation but as a people around the world, need.” In taking nearly two million highly classified documents from the US, he was grabbing back the key to heaven.

As I’ve written previously, Snowden’s solution to the problem of government interference with its citizens is impenetrable universal encryption–never mind the fact that this would allow vast numbers of vicious criminals to hide their actions from law enforcement.

As I suspected, Packer writes that Greenwald’s book “contains no major scoops.” He does, however, praise Greenwald’s argument for the primacy of privacy as central to a “free society.”

Greenwald also makes a powerful case—all the more so for being uncompromising and absolute—for the central role of privacy in a free society, and against the utilitarian argument that, since the phone companies’ metadata on Americans hasn’t been seriously abused by government officials (not yet, anyway), none of us should be too worried. In a chapter called “The Harm of Surveillance,” he cites Justice Louis Brandeis’s famous opinion on the basic “right to be let alone,” and writes: “The desire for privacy is shared by us all as an essential, not ancillary, part of what it means to be human. We all instinctively understand that the private realm is where we can act, think, speak, write, experiment, and choose how to be, away from the judgemental eyes of others. Privacy is a core condition of being a free person.”

I would argue that these considerations are of vital importance to people like Greenwald who are financially secure. Those Americans who must deal with racial and gender discrimination, long-term unemployment, and especially grinding poverty have other, more urgent concerns. Can one be a “free person” under those conditions?

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Along similar lines, Packer writes:

If Greenwald and others were actually being persecuted for their political beliefs, they would instinctively understand that the rule of law has to protect people regardless of politics. The NSA disclosures are disturbing and even shocking; so is the Obama administration’s hyper-aggressive pursuit of leaks; so is the fact that, for several years, Poitras couldn’t leave or re-enter the US without being questioned at airports. These are abuses, but they don’t quite reach the level of the Stasi. They don’t portend a totalitarian state “beyond the dreams of even the greatest tyrants of the past,” as Greenwald believes is possible. A friend from Iran who was jailed and tortured for having the wrong political beliefs, and who is now an American citizen, observed drily, “I prefer to be spied on by NSA.” The sense of oppression among Greenwald, Poitras, and other American dissenters is only possible to those who have lived their entire lives under the rule of law and have come to take it for granted.

In the year since the first NSA disclosures, Snowden has drifted a long way from the Thoreauvian ideal of the majority of one. He has become an international celebrity, far more championed than reviled. He has praised Russia and Venezuela’s devotion to human rights. His more recent disclosures have nothing to do with the constitutional rights of US citizens. Many of them deal with surveillance of foreign governments, including Germany and Brazil, but also Iran, Russia, and China. These are activities that, wise or unwise, fall well within the NSA’s mandate and the normal ways of espionage. Snowden has attached himself to Wikileaks and to Assange, who has become a tool of Russian foreign policy and has no interest in reforming American democracy—his goal is to embarrass it. Assange and Snowden are not the first radical individualists to end up in thrall to strongmen.

Snowden looked to the internet for liberation, but it turns out that there is no such thing as an entirely free individual. Cryptography can never offer the absolute privacy and liberty that Snowden seeks online. The internet will always be a space controlled by corporations and governments, and the freedom it provides is of a limited, even stunting, kind. No one lives outside the fact of coercion—there is always a state to protect or pursue you, whether it’s Obama’s America or Putin’s Russia.

I’ve barely touched the surface of Packer’s scathing critique of Greenwald’s “journalism”; I enourage you to go to Prospect link to read more.

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I have a few more stories for you that I’ll list link-dump style:

It appears that the prosecution in the Boston Bombing case decided to leak some previously secret information–most likely to counter the defense’s argument that Dzhohar Tsarnaev was illegally questioned by the FBI when he was in the hospital with terrible injuries.

Reuters: Accused Boston bomber admitted role in attack, prosecutors say

NBC News: Government doc shows how closely Boston Marathon bombers followed al Qaeda plans.

NY Daily News: Boston Marathon bombers used ‘sophisticated’ bombs made of parts from Christmas lights, model cars: prosecutors.

Boston Globe: Christmas Lights Used in Boston Marathon Bombs.

KSDK.com: Feds: Boston bomber’s hideout note says he wanted to be martyr.

ABC News: FBI Feared Boston Bombers ‘Received Training’ And Aid From Terror Group, Docs Say.

This is encouraging from the Boston Globe: Oakland Examining Pension of FBI Agent who Shot Todashev

Other News:

The Economic Times of India: Google wants to show ads through your thermostat and car. (You though the NSA was bad?)

Information Week: Google Outlines Advertising Vision. (How would you like targeted Google ads appearing on your refrigerator or watch?)

The Atlantic: It Wasn’t Household Debt That Caused the Great Recession; It was how that debt was disproportionately distributed to America’s most economically fragile communities.

NYT: U.S. Sends Troops to Chad to Aid Hunt for Nigerian Schoolgirls.

USA Today: Thai military declares coup, detains party leaders.

Science Recorder:  ‘Aliens of the sea’ could lead to breakthroughs in regenerative medicine.

What stories are you following today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.


Saturday Morning Open Thread: Libertarians Are Not Our Friends

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Good Morning!!

Sorry I’m posting this so late today. I’ve been pondering some issues that have been troubling me for a long time, and I keep getting stuck about how to write about them.

I’m beginning to see the libertarian influence on so-called “progressives” as a very serious problem for the future of our country. Here’s a somewhat incoherent beginning to a discussion of this problem. I’m putting this out there in the hope that I’ll get some feedback from you that will help me sort this out. So here goes…

Partial transcript:

“I’m a big admirer of Ron Paul and Rand Paul for their very principled positions in the U.S. Congress on a number of issues. They have been the strongest supporters of the fight against the U.S. attacks on Wikileaks and on me in the U.S. Congress. Similarly, they have been the strongest opponents of drone warfare and extrajudicial executions.

And so, that’s quite an interesting phenomenon in the United States. The position of the libertarian Republican–or a better description [right?]–coming from a principle of nonviolence, the American libertarian, that produces interesting results.

So, nonviolence, not going to invade a foreign country. Nonviolence, don’t force people at the barrel of a gun to serve in the U.S. Army [?? The U.S. doesn’t have a draft]. Nonviolence, don’t extort taxes from people to the Federal government, with a [policeman?]….

Similarly, other acts of nonviolence in relation to abortion that they hold. I think that some of these positions that are held by Ron Paul…I can see how they come from the same underlying libertarian principle. I think the world is often more complex. By taking a laid out principle but sometimes simplistic position, you end up undermining the principle. In the short term, visions of the principle are one thing, visions of the principle…it’s quite hard to know [inaudible].

A few comments…

It’s not clear to me whether Assange supports the Paul’s position on abortion, but clearly it’s a side issue for him–not nearly as important as the Paul’s support of Wikileaks and Assange himself, since he later said that both political parties have been compromised and the only hope for the future comes from the libertarian portion of the Republican Party. HuffPo:

He then put forth an argument against both established political parties in Washington, claiming that nearly all Democrats had been “co-opted” by President Barack Obama’s administration, while Republicans were almost entirely “in bed with the war industry.”

The current libertarian strain of political thought in the Republican Party was the “the only hope” for American electoral politics, Assange concluded.

Assange sees federal taxes as “extortion.” I assume that includes the payroll taxes that support Social Security and Medicare. He never mentions social programs at all; as a libertarian he probably opposes them. This is in line with other libertarians who are leading the fight against the U.S. government keeping any secrets whatsoever, e.g., Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden, Conor Frierdersdorf, and David Sirota (I’ll have more about this in a later post).

Not only does Assange not know that the U.S. doesn’t have a military draft, he’s pretty mixed up about recent U.S. history. In praising right wing racist news aggregator Matt Drudge, Assange said, via Raw Story:

“Matt Drudge is a news media innovator. And he took off about eight years ago in response to the Monica Lewinsky scandal.”

(Eight years ago was 2005, the first year of George W. Bush’s second term, when President Bill Clinton had been out of office for five years and the Lewinsky scandal and subsequent failed impeachment attempt were a matter of history.)

Assange claimed that Drudge made his name by “publishing information that the establishment media would not. It is as a result of the self-censorship of the establishment press in the United States that gave Matt Drudge such a platform and so of course he should be applauded for breaking a lot of that censorship.”

Assange says he supports non-violence. I’d like to point out that in U.S. history, one of the leading advocates of nonviolence and civil disobedience was a man named Martin Luther King. Fifty years ago King led a “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” But Assange favors the Pauls’ notion of “nonviolence.” (Assange doesn’t appear to know that Ron and Rand Paul are the recipients of vast corporate donations from the defense industry.) I wonder if Assange knows that Ron and Rand Paul oppose Civil Rights laws? I wonder if he cares?

Julian Assange–along with Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald–is currently the idol of the “emoprogs” who have become so distracted by the NSA leaks story that they don’t even notice that Republicans have a very good chance of retaking the Senate next year. These supposed “leftists” have forgotten all about jobs, protecting social programs, women’s rights, civil rights, economic inequality, and our crumbling infrastructure in order to follow a handful of privileged, young white male libertarian pied pipers who are focused only on their own personal “liberties.”