Thursday Reads: A Baby-Man In Charge

 baby-man-1Good Morning!!

Just one more day before the authoritarian baby-man becomes the “leader” of our once-great nation. It’s obvious that he’s not qualified for the job and he has done very little to prepare himself to do it. He has surrounded himself with other wealthy men who in many cases have no experience in government service. Will we survive this catastrophe? We’ll have to wait and see.

Jonathan Bernstein at Bloomberg yesterday: The Empty Trump Administration.

We’re two days away from having a new president. But we’re apparently a lot longer than that from having a Trump administration with even a minimally functional ability to govern.

Politico’s Michael Crowley has a nice piece explaining the missing National Security Council staffers, and the dangers that could cause if there’s an early crisis. Hundreds of briefing papers have been created by Obama’s NSC and sent to Team Trump, but the New York Times reports that no one knows if they’ve been reviewed.

Yet the NSC is ahead of the curve for this administration. Look at the big four departments. There’s no Trump appointee for any of the top State Department jobs below secretary nominee Rex Tillerson. No Trump appointee for any of the top Department of Defense jobs below retired general James Mattis. Treasury? Same story. Justice? It is one of two departments (along with, bizarrely, Commerce) where Trump has selected a deputy secretary. But no solicitor general, no one at civil rights, no one in the civil division, no one for the national security division.

And the same is true in department after department. Not to mention agencies without anyone at all nominated by the president-elect.

Overall, out of 690 positions requiring Senate confirmation tracked by the Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service, Trump has come up with only 28 people so far.

The Atlantic’s Russell Berman had a good story two weeks ago about how far behind Trump was. Since then? If anything, it’s getting worse — he’s added only two of those 28 since Jan. 5. As Berman reported, the Partnership for Public Service suggested a president should have “100 Senate-confirmed appointees in place on or around Inauguration Day.” At this pace, he won’t have 100 nominees by the end of February, let alone having them confirmed and hard at work.

Please read the rest at Bloomberg View.

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Politico: Distrust and empty desks could stunt Trump’s government.

Just days before he ascends to the presidency, there are lingering questions about whether President-elect Donald Trump’s team is fully prepared to take over the sprawling federal government, according to more than two dozen interviews with Trump and Obama administration officials, lobbyists, experts and others close to the process.

A deep distrust has taken hold between Trump’s transition officials and Obama’s political appointees at a number of federal agencies, slowing down the handover of agency responsibilities on everything from meat inspections to drug pricing. There’s confusion over policy on several major agenda items, as Trump gives conflicting signals and often disagrees with his Cabinet nominees. And a number of federal agencies are far from having the staff they need to run on Day One, people close to the transition say….

“They look like they are designed for chaos,” said Stephen Hess, an expert on transitions at the Brookings Institution. “It’s just, there is no other word for it, weird for those of us who have been involved in government for decades.”

Trump transition officials insist that they are prepared. They say they have written detailed action plans for every major agency, adding they’ve even been charting a path forward at more obscure subagencies and departments. They note that securing the confirmation of their nominees is the most important near-term task and that they will soon announce hundreds of hires.

Much more at the link.

Many of us are apprehensive about tRump having the sole power to order a nuclear strike. But what about the man tRump has chosen (perhaps unknowingly) to maintain and manage the U.S. nuclear arsenal?

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The New York Times: ‘Learning Curve’ as Rick Perry Pursues a Job He Initially Misunderstood.

When President-elect Donald J. Trump offered Rick Perry the job of energy secretary five weeks ago, Mr. Perry gladly accepted, believing he was taking on a role as a global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry that he had long championed in his home state.

In the days after, Mr. Perry, the former Texas governor, discovered that he would be no such thing — that in fact, if confirmed by the Senate, he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States’ nuclear arsenal.

Two-thirds of the agency’s annual $30 billion budget is devoted to maintaining, refurbishing and keeping safe the nation’s nuclear stockpile; thwarting nuclear proliferation; cleaning up and rebuilding an aging constellation of nuclear production facilities; and overseeing national laboratories that are considered the crown jewels of government science.

“If you asked him on that first day he said yes, he would have said, ‘I want to be an advocate for energy,’” said Michael McKenna, a Republican energy lobbyist who advised Mr. Perry’s 2016 presidential campaign and worked on the Trump transition’s Energy Department team in its early days. “If you asked him now, he’d say, ‘I’m serious about the challenges facing the nuclear complex.’ It’s been a learning curve.”

Unreal. And this is one of the departments presidential candidate Perry said he wanted to eliminate.

Mr. Perry, who once called for the elimination of the Energy Department, will begin the confirmation process Thursday with a hearing before the Senate Energy Committee. If approved by the Senate, he will take over from a secretary, Ernest J. Moniz, who was chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics department and directed the linear accelerator at M.I.T.’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science. Before Mr. Moniz, the job belonged to Steven Chu, a physicist who won a Nobel Prize.

For Mr. Moniz, the future of nuclear science has been a lifelong obsession; he spent his early years working at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Mr. Perry studied animal husbandry and led cheers at Texas A&M University.

Mr. Moniz had such deep experience with nuclear weapons that in 2015, President Obama made him a co-negotiator, along with Secretary of State John Kerry, of the Iran nuclear deal.

Mr. Perry would sit atop the men and women making the judgments about whether Iran is complying with that accord. In the basement of the Energy Department’s headquarters, the agency’s intelligence unit monitors compliance, working closely with the C.I.A., the National Security Agency and other intelligence bodies.

That is just plain frightening. According to Politico, Perry now “regrets” calling for the elimination of the Energy Department.

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Journalists and biographers are still trying to figure out what’s going on in tRump’s psyche.

Politico: ‘He Has This Deep Fear That He Is Not a Legitimate President.’ I’d say that fear is very well-founded. The piece is a follow up to a previous one in which Politico talked to tRump’s biographers.

Now, after more than two months of Trump’s norm-shattering transition, we gathered Gwenda Blair, Michael D’Antonio and Tim O’Brien by conference call (Wayne Barrett, the dean of Trump reporters, could not participate because of illness) to assess whether Trump has continued to surprise them. Their collective wisdom? In a word, no.

From his pick of nominees for posts in his cabinet to his belligerent use of Twitter (our conversation was a day before he traded barbs with Congressman John Lewis) to his unwillingness to cut ties with his business to avoid conflicts of interest, they see the same person they’ve always seen—the consummate classroom troublemaker; a vain, insecure bully; and an anti-institutional schemer, as adept at “gaming the system” as he is unashamed. As they look ahead to his inauguration speech in two days, and to his administration beyond, they feel confident predicting that he will run the country much as he has run his company. For himself.

“He’s not going to be that concerned with the actual competent administration of the government,” D’Antonio said. “It’s going to be what he seems to be gaining or losing in public esteem. So almost like a monarch. The figurehead who rallies people and gets credit for things.”

Read the rest at Politico.

One more interesting read from Thomas Edsall at The New York Times: What Does Vladimir Putin See in Donald Trump?

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At noon on Friday, Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States. Millions of Americans will rejoice at the sight, and millions more will not. As a rule, foreign leaders don’t attend the inauguration of American presidents, but Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, will be there in spirit. To understand why and to understand what’s happening as Trump takes over the White House, we need to go back two weeks.

On Jan. 6, the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the National Security Agency asserted with “high confidence” that “Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election” formed part of a broader, worldwide agenda “to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order.”

According to the intelligence report, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” Vladimir Putin

ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.

The intelligence assessment raises the question: what made Trump an attractive vehicle through which to attempt to weaken the liberal democratic order. Why him?

The article is an excellent summary of reporting and opinions on Russia’s successful campaign to elect their own puppet to the U.S. presidency. Now we will have a baby-man in charge. It’s going to get very hairy folks.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and enjoy our country’s final day of sane, adult leadership.


Lazy Saturday Reads: Grown-Ups on the Left and Clowns on the Right

Beryl Cook: Tea in the Garden

Beryl Cook: Tea in the Garden

Good Afternoon!!

There’s big news today from the UK. The Brits have elected Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader–which, according to the Guardian, means that “the party now has one of the most leftwing, anti-establishment leaders in its history.”

Jeremy Corbyn has been elected leader of the British Labour party, in a stunning first-round victory that dwarfed even the mandate for Tony Blair in 1994.

Corbyn won with nearly 59.5% of first-preference votes, beating rivals Andy Burnham, who trailed on 19%, and Yvette Cooper who received 17%. The “Blairite” candidate Liz Kendall came last on 4.5%.

Minutes after his victory, Corbyn said the message is that people are “fed up with the injustice and the inequality” of Britain.

“The media and many of us, simply didn’t understand the views of young people in our country. They were turned off by the way politics was being conducted. We have to and must change that. The fightback gathers speed and gathers pace,” he said.

The north London MP is one of the most unexpected winners of the party leadership in its history, after persuading Labour members and supporters that the party needed to draw a line under the New Labour era of Blair and Gordon Brown.

Wow! Could this be the beginning of the end for austerity politics in Europe? Reuters and other U.S. media outlets are calling Corbyn a “Marx admirer.”

Beryl Cook: End of Term

Beryl Cook: End of Term

Reuters: Marx admirer Corbyn elected UK opposition Labour leader.

Karl Marx admirer Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of Britain’s opposition Labour party on Saturday, a victory that may make a British EU exit more likely and which one former Labour prime minister has said could leave their party unelectable.

Greeted by cheers from supporters in the room and hailed by radicals across Europe, Corbyn’s triumph opened up the prospect of deep splits within Labour with some fearing he will repel voters with radical policies that include unilateral nuclear disarmament, nationalization and wealth taxes.

“Things can and they will change,” Corbyn, who when he entered the contest was a rank outsider, said in his acceptance speech after taking 59.5 percent of votes cast, winning by a far bigger margin than anyone had envisaged.

“I say thank you in advance to us all working together to achieve great victories, not just electorally for Labour, but emotionally for the whole of our society to show we don’t have to be unequal, it doesn’t have to be unfair, poverty isn’t inevitable,” the grey-haired, bearded 66-year-old said.

His victory reflects growing support for left-wing movements across Europe, with Syriza winning an election in Greece in January and Spain’s anti-austerity party Podemos performing well in opinion polls.

Beryl Cook: The Dancing Class

Beryl Cook: The Dancing Class

Here’s a profile of Corbyn in Time Magazine: Meet the Man Shaking Up Britain’s Political Establishment (September 4, 2015).

Before announcing his candidacy for the Labour Party leadership, Jeremy Corbyn was a little-known member of parliament (MP) who had represented the same London constituency, Islington North, for 32 years. His career had always been more focused on left-wing activism than government — he is a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Stop the War Coalition — but this has not prevented him becoming the odds on favorite to become the next leader of the 115-year-old party, which has been without one since Ed Milliband resigned following a disastrous election campaign which saw the party all but eradicated in Scotland and far behind the Conservatives elsewhere.

The Labour Party governed Britain under Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown from 1997 to 2010 after they rebranded the party as ‘New Labour’, adopted more centrist policies and persuaded many formerly Conservative voters to back them. Corbyn was often opposed to his own government in power and he hopes to shift Labour from being a centre-left party to one that is decisively left wing.

Corbyn makes some in the Labour Pary nervous, according to author Tara John.

The Labour Party leader is elected by the membership from a shortlist selected by MPs. Many in Labour fear that if the membership elect Corbyn on Sept. 12, it will mean the end of the party as a viable candidate for government, instead devolving into a left-wing pressure group. “The party is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched, over the cliff’s edge to the jagged rocks below,” warned Tony Blair in the Guardian. “If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader it won’t be a defeat like 1983 or 2015 at the next election. It will mean rout, possibly annihilation.”

Corbyn’s platform seems like a return to the postwar Britain of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, when the foundation of the welfare state was laid. Corbyn has called for the renationalization of rail and energy companies and funding increased government spending with higher taxes on the wealthy. He would also withdraw the U.K. from NATO and abandon its independent nuclear deterrent, which would be catastrophic for its relations with the U.S. and other nations and reduce the U.K’s role in international affairs.

Speaking at the Union Chapel in London to hundreds of supporters last month, Corbyn blamed the post-2008 policies of economic austerity on bankers and economists who were forcing the poorest and most vulnerable in the world to pay for the mistakes of the banking system. “We are saying something very very different in this campaign. And we are saying the problem was that Labour lost the election not because we were too left-wing or spent too much, because we were not offering a clear economic alternative. We want a new society where we all care for each other and everyone cares for everyone else; it’s called socialism,” he said to loud applause.

Read more at the link.

5beryl

Of course many in the U.S. media are comparing Corbyn to Bernie Sanders. For example, in the Wall Street Journal, Ian Birrell called him “Britain’s Bernie Sanders,” (September 4). Birrell strongly disapproves of both candidates of course.

…in perhaps the strangest twist in modern British politics, this left-winger, now 66, finds himself at the helm of a youth movement that may sweep him to the head of the Labour Party when the summer-long leadership election results are revealed on Sept. 12. To call this a surprise would be massive understatement. Labour lost a general election in May because it was seen as too militant. Mr. Corbyn stood for the party’s leadership only reluctantly as the hard left’s token candidate. At first he struggled to find enough supporters to make the ballot, and was written off by bookmakers as a 100-1 shot.

But like Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential race, Mr. Corbyn has electrified disenchanted young voters, leading to a surge in support for his antiquated brand of socialism. New members have flocked to join the party, while his rallies overflow with fans enthralled by his “authenticity.”

It’s going to be interesting to see what comes of this surprising turn of events in Britain.

Back in the USA, the Clown Car will go on down the road to destruction with one less passenger.

Beryl Cook: Getting Ready

Beryl Cook: Getting Ready

Sam Reissman at The National Memo: Rick Perry Drops Out Of Presidential Race.

On Friday afternoon, Rick Perry became the first candidate in the congested Republican field to drop out of the presidential race.

In a concession speech delivered to the Eagle Forum in St. Louis, Missouri, the former Texas governor took aim at Donald Trump — without directly mentioning the business tycoon’s name. He challenged voters to resist the lures of celebrity, nativism, racism, false conservatism, and candidates who did not have true Christian faith.

He asserted that the U.S.-Mexico border can be secured “without inflammatory rhetoric, without base appeals that divide us based by race, culture, and creed.”

“Demeaning people of Hispanic heritage is not just ignorant,” he said. “It betrays the example of Christ.”

He nodded to Martin Luther King, Jr., saying in his prepared remarks: “We need to get back to the central constitutional principle that, in America, it is the content of your character that matters, not the color of your skin – that it doesn’t matter where you come from, but where you are going.”

“We have a tremendous field of candidates,” he said, faltering. “Probably the greatest group of men and women. I step aside knowing our party’s in good hands.”

Buh-bye Rick, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Who will be the next to fall by the wayside?

Now for the clowniest of the clown car riders:

Beryl Cook: Clubbing in the Rain

Beryl Cook: Clubbing in the Rain

Donald Trump claimed yesterday that he can kick out all the undocumented immigrants in 18 months to 2 years. From the Wall Street Journal:

Donald Trump estimated that it will take 18 months to two years to get the roughly 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to leave the country, and that he would then build a wall running along the border with Mexico.

The businessman’s statement made on a call with Alabama Republicans Thursday night added a bit of specificity to the Republican presidential frontrunner’s hardline stance on immigration….

Mr. Trump was asked for details about how long it would take to round up illegal immigrants living in the U.S., with the questioner asking if five or ten years was an appropriate timeframe. Mr. Trump said his two year benchmark could be met with “really good management.”

“We have to get them out. If we have wonderful cases, they can come back in but they have to come back in legally,” Mr. Trump said in an audio clip posted on YouTube Thursday night by a person on the call.

Mr. Trump said he would remove illegal immigrants from the country “so fast that your head will spin,” and long before he could embark on his plan to build a wall spanning the 1,900 mile border between the U.S. and Mexico.

Trump didn’t say how he would accomplish this or how much it would cost taxpayers, but he did say that Ben Carson would not be able to do it: “It wouldn’t work for him because he has absolutely no management capability.”

So that’s what’s happening in the lowest-common-denominator campaign . . . Sigh…

The Justice Department stuck a hatpin in the GOP MailGhazi ballon yesterday.

Beryl Cook: Strip Poker

Beryl Cook: Strip Poker

Ruby Cramer and Chris Geidner at Buzzfeed News: Justice Department Lawyers: Clinton Had Authority To Delete Personal Emails.

In a little noticed brief, filed on Wednesday to a federal court, Department of Justice lawyers outlined a comprehensive defense of the contentious decision by Hillary Clinton to wipe the private email server she used as secretary of state: The attorneys assert that, regardless of whether she used a personal or government account, Clinton was within her legal right to handpick the emails that qualified as federal records — and to delete the ones she deemed personal.

“There is no question that former Secretary Clinton had authority to delete personal emails without agency supervision — she appropriately could have done so even if she were working on a government server,” write the Justice Department attorneys, representing the State Department in the brief.

The lawyers add that under policies issued by the State Department and by NARA, the National Archives and Records Administration, government employees “are permitted and expected to exercise judgment to determine what constitutes a federal record.”

Be sure to read the whole thing!

And of course the NYT continues its tired attacks: Hillary Clinton’s Long Road to ‘Sorry’ Over Email use. Because they know more than the Justice Department and they only focus on gossip these days.

Other News, Links Only

Beryl Cook: Two on a Stool

Beryl Cook: Two on a Stool

Reuters: Russia to U.S.: talk to us on Syria or risk ‘unintended incidents.’

NYT: US Drops Charges That Professor Shared Technology With China.

MSNBC: Poll: Democrats claim resounding Latino support over GOP.

Jonathan Chait: Bobby Jindal Upset That Trump Is Stealing His Act. (funny!)

The National Memo: This Week In Crazy: Come Hell And High Water.

Reuters: At least 107 killed by falling crane at Grand Mosque in Mecca.

BBC News: India restaurant blast in Madhya Pradesh kills 89.

Buzzfeed: This Is What Refugees Are Given in Germany. (Nice, upbeat story)

NPR: Camerawoman Who Tripped Migrant In Hungary Apologizes. (What a horrible woman!)

NY Daily News: James Blake doesn’t want NYPD cop who tackled him to ‘ever have a badge and gun again.’ 

What else is happening?


Lazy Saturday Reads: Two Republican Candidates in Trouble

 Rick Perry readsGood Afternoon!!

Poor Rick Perry. He just can’t seem to catch a break. First there was his indictment on two felony charges. Then he had to face the further indignity that being indicted on felony charges means he can no longer swagger around with a concealed weapon on his person. According to the Washington Times,

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s indictment on felony corruption charges means he can no longer carry a concealed weapon under state law.

Federal law also prohibits him from being able to buy more guns or ammunition, as long as the indictment is pending, Reuters reported.

I wonder if he knows that? Because when he was in New Hampshire last week, he told voter he didn’t understand the charges against him. From ABC News last Friday, Aug. 22:

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – Texas Gov. Rick Perry returned to New Hampshire Friday for the first time since 2012, as he tries to rehab his political image after a failed presidential bid.

Speaking to a group of business leaders here, Perry tried to focus on substance, talking about issues like economic development and the border crisis, but his recent indictment on two felony charges was hard to ignore.

Asked about his indictment during a question-and-answer session with business leaders, Perry was a little unclear when explaining what felony charges were issued against him.

“I’ve been indicted by that same body now for I think two counts, one of bribery, which I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t really understand the details here,” Perry said of the grand jury that indicted him.

A grand jury indicted Perry last week on two felony counts – abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public official – over a 2013 veto threat.

Texas Governor Perry

At The Wire, Arit John has a funny post in which he describes Perry’s confusion as just one step in the grief process over the indictment, Rick Perry Enters the Final Stage of Indictment Grief: Confusion.

Maybe Rick Perry should have read up on his indictment charges before he started using them as a campaign talking point. During a speech last week, the Texas governor said he was being indicted for bribery, which isn’t actually true.

“I’ve been indicted by that same body now for I think two counts, one of bribery, which I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t really understand the details here,” he said,according to the Houston Chronicle. But Perry is actually being indicted for abuse of power and coercing a public official, after he threatened to veto District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s budget if she refused to resign after her drunk driving conviction.

This is another oops moment for Perry, but it also signaled his transition into the 5th and, likely for him, final stage of indictment related grief: confusion. After grinning mugshot denial, angry ads “setting the record straight,” bargaining over who should pay the lawyers and depression over a loss of Second Amendment privileges, all that’s left for Perry is to be slightly unsure of what, exactly, people are accusing him of doing.

Read the details at the link.

Rick Perry gun3

Then there are the embarrassing stories about how Perry hasn’t paid the National Guard troops that he sent to guard the Texas-Mexico border. From Gawker:

When Texas Gov. Rick Perry sent National Guard soldiers to the Mexico border to much fanfare earlier this summer, he couldn’t say how long they’d be there. It turns out he also couldn’t pay them: At least 50 soldiers haven’t seen a paycheck and are getting sustenance and vehicle fuel from a local food bank.

Via KGBT News, the sudden call-up took those weekend warriors away from their day jobs and deposited them in the Rio Grande valley, but the service hasn’t covered their losses yet….

Perry—who’s busy being indicted for criminal abuse of power—and the National Guard didn’t respond to reporter queries earlier this week, but the pay lag could be related to the governor’s refusal to fund the mobilization he ordered, and his insistence that the federal government cover it. (In the meantime, Perry was supposedly attempting to finance the deployment “by diverting $38 million in public safety funds earmarked for emergency radio infrastructure,” the L.A. Times has reported.)

Yesterday afternoon, the Austin Statement reported that unnamed “National Guard officials” were claiming the stories about hungry troops were exaggerated, but it sounds like they may be just trying to clean up Perry’s mess.

The Guard said it had identified 50 service members who, because of their early August start date, weren’t going to be paid until Sept. 5.

None of those 50 troops have notified leaders that they had used the food bank, officials said.

According to the Guard, troops receive one meal while on duty, plus a $32 per diem food reimbursement that is included in their paychecks.

According to Omar Ramirez, Food Bank RGV’s manager of communications and advocacy, the food bank made extra preparations after being contacted by someone from the Texas National Guard Support Foundation, but that he wasn’t aware of any troops being served.

“Maybe they come in and they just don’t tell us they’re National Guard,” he said.

OK, but if the $32 dollars is included in their paychecks, then that means the troops have to front the money for two meals a day until Sept. 5, right? Read the rest at the link.

CoatHangerPerryW480_zpsc5ed0bd9

Finally, yesterday Perry learned that his latest anti-abortion bill–the one that Wendy Davis filibustered–has been struck down by a federal judge. From AP:

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel sided with clinics that sued over one of the most disputed measures of a sweeping anti-abortion bill signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry in 2013. The ruling stops new restrictions that would have left seven abortion facilities in Texas come Monday. There are currently 19 abortion providers in the state, according to groups challenging the law.

“The overall effect of the provisions is to create an impermissible obstacle as applied to all women seeking a previability abortion,” Yeakel wrote in his 21-page ruling.

The trial in Texas was the latest battle over tough new abortion restrictions sweeping across the U.S.

The law would have required clinics “to meet the building, equipment and staffing standards of hospital-style surgery centers,” according to The New York Times.

Adopted as part of a sweeping anti-abortion measure last year, the rule would have forced the closing of more than a dozen of Texas’ remaining abortion clinics because they were unable to afford to renovate or to open new facilities that met the standards for such things as hallway width, ceiling height, advanced ventilation equipment, staffing and even parking spaces.

The closings would have left Texas, the second-biggest state by population and by size, with seven or eight abortion clinics, all in major cities like Houston and Dallas. Women in El Paso in West Texas and in the Rio Grande Valley in the south would have lived more than 150 miles — a distance ruled constitutional by a federal appeals court — from the closest clinic in the state, in San Antonio.

Fortunately for Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, her opponent Greg Abbott plans to appeal the decision.

Mitch McDonnell at Morris' Deli in Louisville, KY

Mitch McDonnell at Morris’ Deli in Louisville, KY

Mitch McConnell is also experiencing some difficulties in his Senate reelection campaign in Kentucky. He has been in a close race with Democratic challenger Allison Lundergan Grimes–they’ve been running neck-and-neck for a long time now. And recently McConnell has had a couple of setbacks. First there was the secretly recorded audiotape released by The Undercurrent Youtube channel, of McConnell’s remarks at a “meeting for millionaire and billionaire donors hosted by the Koch brothers,” in which he promised to continue blocking Obama proposals and emphasized his opposition to raising the minimum wage. The contents of the tape were first reported in The Nation.

Last week, in an interview with Politico, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) outlined his plan to shut down President Obama’s legislative agenda by placing riders on appropriations bills. Should Republicans take control of the Senate in the 2014 elections, McConnell intends to pass spending bills that “have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy.”

What McConnell didn’t tell Politico was that two months ago, he made the same promise to a secret strategy conference of conservative millionaire and billionaire donors hosted by the Koch brothers. The Nation and The Undercurrent obtained an audio recording of McConnell’s remarks to the gathering, called “American Courage: Our Commitment to a Free Society.” In the question-and-answer period following his June 15 session titled “Free Speech: Defending First Amendment Rights,” McConnell says:

“So in the House and Senate, we own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board [inaudible]. All across the federal government, we’re going to go after it.”

Mitch McConnell gun

The article notes that the McConnell campaign has received $41,800 from Koch Industries in addition to outside groups who get funding from the Kochs.

“And we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage [inaudible]—cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment—that’s a great message for retirees; uh, the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse, uh. These people believe in all the wrong things.”

In late April, Senate Republicans, led by McConnell, successfully filibustered a bill to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, a widely popular measure that would increase wages for at least 16.5 million Americans. Earlier in the year, McConnell also led a filibuster of a three-month extension of unemployment insurance to some 1.7 million Americans. At one point in the negotiations, he offered a deal to extend unemployment only if Democrats agreed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, even though the ACA does not add to the federal deficit.

More from The New York Times:

The [Undercurrent] channel released audio of three other Republicans in tough Senate races — Representative Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Representative Cory Gardner of Colorado and Joni Ernst, a state senator in Iowa — all of whom praised Charles G. and David H. Koch and the millions of dollars they have provided to help Republican candidates….

Republicans said the recordings were insignificant. Josh Holmes, a senior McConnell campaign aide, said the senator was in no way suggesting a strategy to shut down the government unless Mr. Obama capitulates.

Nonetheless, the audio recordings are likely to become fodder for the campaigns in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa and Kentucky. Democrats, most notably Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, have tried to demonize contributions by the Koch brothers as corruptive to the political system.

In Arkansas, especially, the audio could touch a nerve. Mr. Cotton, a freshman House member, skipped a popular political event in his state, the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival, to attend the Koch brothers’ meeting in California. According to the audio, he was repaid with praise for his willingness to hew to the most conservative line, even if it meant voting against legislation popular in his state.

o-MITCH-MCCONNELL-JESSE-BENTON-facebook

Then yesterday, McConnell’s campaign manager Jesse Benton was forced to resign because of a scandal involving his work for the Ron Paul campaign in Iowa in 2012. From CBS News:

Benton’s resignation, effective Saturday, comes barely two months before Kentucky voters choose between McConnell, a five-term incumbent and the top-ranking Senate Republican, and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.

In Iowa this week, former state Sen. Kent Sorenson pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from his switch of support from one Republican presidential candidate to another before the 2012 Iowa caucuses. He received thousands of dollars in “under the table payments” before switching loyalties from candidate Michele Bachmann, whose Iowa campaign he headed, to candidate Ron Paul, then lied to federal investigators about the money, the Justice Department said.

Prosecutors refused to say which campaign paid Sorenson. A representative for Bachmann didn’t immediately return voice and email messages seeking comment Friday. A phone message for Paul also wasn’t immediately returned.

Benton, a tea party insider, worked as a top aide to Paul. On Friday he said that he has been the target of “inaccurate press accounts and unsubstantiated media rumors” about his role in past campaigns that are “politically motivated, unfair and, most importantly, untrue.”

Benton had been hired to help McConnell appeal to Tea Party extremists in Kentucky. Is it possible McConnell misjudged his constituents? I sincerely hope so.

So I’ve ended up focusing this post on just two struggling Republicans–but there are plenty of others I could write about. I don’t think we should give up on Democrats holding the Senate yet. I know there is plenty of other news, but I thought I’d shift the focus to electoral politics today. What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great Labor Day weekend!!

 

 


Sunday Reads: Israel-Palestine Conflict and Presidential Break-Out

woman-reading Childe Hassam 1885

Good Morning!!

Is it just me, or is there less exciting news this summer than usual? Today, the top stories are the Israel-Palestine conflict and President Obama’s supposed sudden freedom to be himself. Oh, and the so-called “super moon” that reached its peak last night.

I have to be honest; I don’t understand why Israel is stepping up its attacks on the Palestine territory; Israel-Palestine discussions always seem to lead to bitter fighting on blogs, so I tend to avoid the issue entirely. But I’ll try to pick out some helpful stories on the conflict this morning.

From USA Today: Thousands flee Gaza as Israel ramps up offensive.

GAZA CITY — Thousands fled northern Gaza on Sunday as the Israeli military notified residents of an impending attack and its ground troops briefly crossed the border on a mission to destroy a launching site.

“Civilians are requested to evacuate their residences immediately for their own safety,” the leaflets dropped by air said, before listing specific areas that would “prove to be most dangerous.”

Israeli airstrikes hit more than 200 homes and buildings across Gaza on Sunday, bringing the death toll in the sixth day of the Israeli offensive Operation Protective Edge to 166 with more than 1,000 injured, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

Despite calls from the United Nations and world leaders, there are no signs the two sides will agree to a cease-fire anytime soon.

“We don’t know when the operation will end,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a Cabinet meeting Sunday. “It might take a long time.”

From the UK Guardian: Israel calls on residents to leave northern Gaza as death toll continues to spiral.

The death toll passed 160 on Sunday on the Palestinian side, with no Israeli fatalities reported. The United Nations called on Israel and Hamas to end hostilities. Instead the violence escalated with more exchanges of rocket fire from Gaza and missiles from Israel….

The military said four Israeli navy commandos were lightly wounded in a shootout with Gaza-based Hamas fighters as they carried out a raid to destroy a rocket launching site on Sunday morning. It marks the first time the sides have directly clashed since Israel began a devastating bombardment in response to rocket fire. Hamas said its fighters had fired at the Israeli force offshore, preventing them from landing.

Both sides have dismissed calls for a truce and Israel has continued to build up troops along the Gaza border ahead of a possible ground invasion.

So is this all-out war?

There has been little sign that either side is interested in an immediate end to the hostilities, which appeared to be ramping up over Saturday night….

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said on Friday that “no international pressure will prevent us from striking, with all force, against the terrorist organisation which calls for our destruction”.

Hamas’s Haniya sounded a similar tone, saying: “[Israel] is the one that started this aggression and it must stop, because we are [simply] defending ourselves.”

The latest conflict unfolded after last month’s kidnap and murder of three young Israelis in the occupied West Bank and the brutal revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists.

What are we to think about this seemingly endless, unresolvable conflict? I gained a bit of insight from two posts at Tikkun by David Harris-Gershon.

From July 5, As a Jew living in America, the past week has changed me forever

Gershon writes that he was brought up by parents who were very liberal; at the same time he was taught to be loyal to the state of Israel and to believe that the Palestinians were evil.

As an adult, I’ve moved away from such naiveté while holding on to both my Zionist and progressive leanings, despite the growing struggle for coexistence between the two. And it’s not as though I’m mildly informed about the region or mildly invested in Israel and my Jewishness. The opposite, in fact, is the case. I’m a Jewish studies teacher at a day school, yeshiva-educated with a master’s degree from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I’ve authored a memoir about my experience with terror and reconciliation, and write extensively about the region, often critiquing Israel from a progressive perspective while maintaining my desire for a two-state solution to the conflict.

As an adult, I’ve learned about the cleansing of Arab villages which took place from 1947-1949 to make way for the Jewish state. I’ve learned about the ongoing settlement enterprise, the appropriation and bifurcation of Palestinian lands. I’ve learned the horrors of Israel’s decades-old occupation of the West Bank, about the suppression of basic human rights and the atrocities committed. I’ve studied Israel’s use of indefinite detentions, home demolitions, restrictions on goods and movement, and the violence visited upon those being occupied.

I’ve learned that – and this is just one example of many – a Palestinian child has tragically been killed every three days for the past 14 years. That bears repeating, since such deaths are rarely, if ever, given any attention in America: Palestinian parents have had to bury a child every three days for the past 14 years.

Knowing all this, I’ve still held fast to my ‘progressive Zionism,’ hoping Israel could become that beacon of liberalism I was presented as a child, a beacon which never truly existed in the first place, despite the country’s socialist roots. Why have I done so? For two reasons: 1) deep down, I still believe in the promise of Israel, and 2) I can’t shake the notion that a Jewish state is absolutely necessary for our security….

Gershon writes that he has worked with others to try to get Israel to change its warlike, even racist, policies, but with little success. he has come to the conclusion that the Israeli government has “little interest in peace.”

These realities have forced me to consider the incongruity between my American-borne progressivism and my Zionism. They have forced me to admit, like Peter Beinart, that in order to continue supporting Israel as a Jewish state, with everything it continues to do, I must compromise my progressivism.

However, the mind-numbingly horrific events of the past week have forced me, for the first time, to wonder whether such compromising can be sustained.

Smoke and fire rise above the skyline following an Israeli air strike on July 11 in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Israeli warplanes kept up deadly raids on Gaza Friday but failed to stop Palestinian militants firing rockets across the border (NBC News).

Smoke and fire rise above the skyline following an Israeli air strike on July 11 in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Israeli warplanes kept up deadly raids on Gaza Friday but failed to stop Palestinian militants firing rockets across the border (NBC News).

And from July 12, My Head Is Spinning as Gaza Burns: The Most Timely Book Review I’ve Ever Written

I was sitting in Philadelphia’s airport recently, awaiting a flight back home, the book I had been reading turned face down in my lap. Intentionally. I didn’t want anyone to see the cover. Didn’t want anyone to associate its cover with my views – these people I didn’t know, people I would never know.

I had just opened to the book’s second chapter – “Does Israel Have a Right to Exist as a Jewish State?” – and had closed it quickly. Shocked by the question. Shocked by my imagined (and false) notions of what a chapter with such a title might contain, by the prospect of a stranger seeing me reading it.

So I shut the book – Ali Abunimah’s The Battle for Justice in Palestine, which argues that only a bi-national state can justly end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and quickly hid it from those milling about.

Gershon goes on to discuss his recent epiphany about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

…recent, unspeakable events of the past two weeks have begun to make me question whether a two-state solution is even remotely possible anymore, particularly as Israeli officials begin embracing various one-state solutions.

Such internal questioning reached a climax on Friday, when Netanyahu explicitly stated that he wanted Israel to control the West Bank indefinitely, marking his first-ever public rejection of the two-state solution and Palestinian statehood.

My jaw dropped.

There’s much more at the link. I hope you’ll check it out.

 

The famous reluctant handshake in Texas

The famous reluctant handshake in Texas

Now for President Obama’s supposed break-out.

From The Washington Post: ‘The bear is loose’: Is Obama breaking free or running away?

Bears, beer and horse heads: What exactly is going on with the leader of the free world?

On a single day this week in Denver, President Obama scarfed down pizza and drinks with strangers, shot pool with Colorado’s governor and shook hands with a guy on the street wearing a horse mask. His top staffers are promoting these stops on Twitter with the hashtag#TheBearIsLoose — a term one of Obama’s aides coined in 2008 when the candidate would defy his schedule.

More than five years into his presidency, Obama is trying to free himself from the constraints of office, whether by strolling on the Mall or hopscotching the country as part of a campaign-style tour. White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer says the president “just wants to get out” and influence “our overall political conversation” by connecting with ordinary Americans.

But to some, breaking free can also look like running away.

Obama’s trip to Colorado and Texas this week took place against the backdrop of a burgeoning crisis on the Mexican border, where tens of thousands of children have been apprehended seeking entry into the United States. In Dallas, Obama dismissed the idea of heading farther south for a border visit as a “photo op” — not long after those photo ops showing him shooting pool and sipping beer in Denver.

Read more at the link. To me it looks like Obama is feeling freed up lately–mostly because he seems to be ignoring Republican nonsense and express his real opinions. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it feels that way to me.

fist bump

Obama’s latest photo-op came at an Austin, TX barbecue restaurant. From The Advocate: Texas Restaurant Worker Gets Gay-Supportive Fist Bump From Obama.

A gay employee at Franklin Barbecue in Austin had “a lucky day to be the register girl” Thursday, as he not only got to wait on President Obama but got a fist bump in support of LGBT rights.

Daniel Rugg Webb, a musician and comedian who works part-time at the restaurant, was on duty at the register as the president came up to pay for more than $300 worth of takeout, The Austin Chronicle reports. Webb slapped the counter and shouted, “Equal rights for gay people!” Obama asked, “Are you gay?” and Webb replied, “Only when I have sex.”

“That’s when he laughed and said, ‘Bump me,’” Webb told the Chronicle. Several onlookers photographed the fist bump and circulated the photo on Twitter. “It was just a lucky day to be the register girl,” Webb added.

From the Austin Chronicle via Buzzfeed:

Webb told the Chronicle:

“As a comedian, it was cool to have a moment where I was making a sitting president laugh — over something that might be considered inappropriate is a bonus,” Webb said of the experience.

He said he had been hoping to get in a joke about Texas Governor Rick Perry, who he described as “famously anti-gay.”

While Webb said he appreciates Obama’s social progressiveness, he expressed hope that the president will close the gap between his own relative forward-thinking on gay rights, and his general quietness on the anti-gay views of many state leaders before he leaves office.

“It would be interesting if he could call some people out for it. People can use a lot of things—religion, freedom of speech—to be anti-gay, but I need people to understand you can call people out for civil rights things,” Webb said.

“We are an anti-gay state. We are a state with a whole bunch of hungry children and sick old people, and [Rick Perry is] grandstanding on things that will get him a better election,” Webb said. “And it’s glaringly obvious. He’s kind of primitive in his social beliefs. I would like to see Rick Perry negatively influenced by any kind of attention. Even Obama laughing at something as, hopefully, acceptable as sexuality can show the difference.”

What do you think? Is Obama really changing?

What other stories are you following today? I have a few more news links, but I’ll post them in comments.

 


Thursday Reads: Obama KOs Perry, and Other News

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Good Morning!!

Yesterday President Obama met with Texas Governor Rick Perry to discuss the so-called “immigration crisis.” Perry had initially refused to shake hands with the President as Obama disembarked from Airforce One, but Perry ended up doing it anyway.

From Mediaite: Rick Perry Admits Defeat, Shakes President Obama’s Hand.

Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) was determined not to shake President Barack Obama’s hand when he arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth airport on Wednesday. But in the end, it appears he just couldn’t help himself.

As CNN’s Wolf Blitzer said while Obama was descending the steps of Air Force One, “I’m anxious to see if the governor Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, is there at the bottom of the stairs to receive the president of the United States.”

The anchor betrayed some surprise when Perry walked across the tarmac to greet Obama, shaking his hand and walking side by side to Marine One, where they would have a private meeting about the current crisis at the border.

It’s been ages since I’ve watched CNN, but it sounds like Wolf and his network are practically outdoing Fox News. Do they not see the racial implications of a Republican Governor resisting shaking hands with an African-American President?

On Monday, the Austin American-Statesman reported: Rick Perry declines Obama offer for ‘quick handshake’ at Austin airport.

Gov. Rick Perry Monday turned down what he characterized as President Barack Obama’s offer for a “quick handshake on the tarmac” at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Wednesday, but said he would juggle his schedule to accommodate a “substantive meeting” with the president on the border crisis any time during his two-day visit to Texas.

In a letter to the president, Perry wrote, “I appreciate the offer to greet you at Austin-Bergstrom Airport, but a quick handshake on the tarmac will not allow for a thoughtful discussion regarding the humanitarian and national security crises enveloping the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. I would instead offer to meet with you at any time during your visit to Texas for a substantive meeting to discuss this critical issue. With the appropriate notice, I am willing to change my schedule to facilitate this request.”

“At any point while you are here, I am available to sit down privately so we can talk and you may directly gain my state’s perspective on the effects of an unsecured border and what is necessary to make it secure,” Perry wrote the president.

In addition, Perry actually said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday:

“I don’t believe he particularly cares whether or not the border of the United States is secure,” Perry said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” charging the president was either “inept” or had an “ulterior motive” in failing to secure the border.

Perry Obama

Back to the Mediaite story:

Following Perry’s letter, the Obama administration decided to invite the governor to join Obama at a previously scheduled meeting with faith leaders and elected officials in Dallas. Following that concession, Perry decided he would be comfortable greeting Obama on the tarmac, though he did not indicate whether he would deign to shake the president’s hand.

If Perry was wary of the type of photo-op that has haunted Republicans like Governor Chris Christie(R-NJ), and former Republicans like Charlie Crist, he can at least be thankful that the president did not try to hug him. Though, he did give him a few friendly pats on the back.

Mediaite thinks the photos will doom Perry’s chances for the 2016 Republican nomination; but after his performance in 2012, it seems pretty obvious that Perry himself will destroy his presidential hopes all by himself.

So what happened when the two men met? The New York Times reports: Obama Presses Perry to Rally Support for Border Funds. According to the authors, Jackie Calmes and Ashley Parker, Obama “directly challenged” Perry to convince Congressional Republicans to support $3.7 billion in emergency funds to deal with what Perry has called “a humanitarian crisis” — “thousands of Central American children who have crossed the Mexican border.”

Perry frown

And from The Wire: Rick Perry’s Immigration Meeting With Obama Produces Photo for the Ages.

So, how did President Obama’s meeting with Republican Governor Rick Perry go today? In a statement on Wednesday, Obama described the meeting as “constructive,” but, well, this photo also exists. It’s not immediately clear what the context of this photo was — Is Perry sad? Uncomfortable? Telling a funny story? Happy, but trying to look serious? Hmm. Perhaps someone made a joke at Perry’s expense? Or maybe Perry just makes the Robert De Niro shrug face a lot for no reason.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter right now. Until we know more about the context, the photo will be a Rorschach test. In the future, there will be Midrash about this photo.

A couple more links on the border crisis:

The Washington Post: Dana Milbank: In border crisis, Obama is accused of ‘lawlessness’ for following law.

A querulous quartet of conservatives took to the Senate floor Wednesday….to criticize the president for failing to visit the border during his visit to Texas this week, was coordinated by Sen. John McCain and included fellow Arizonan Jeff Flake and both of the chamber’s Texans, Sen. John Cornyn and the man McCain once dubbed a “wacko bird,” Sen. Ted Cruz.

“President Obama today is down in the state of Texas, but sadly he’s not visiting the border,” said Cruz, in a rare collaboration with McCain. “. . . He’s visiting Democratic fat cats to collect checks, and apparently there’s no time to look at the disaster, at the devastation that’s being caused by his policies. . . . It is a disaster that is the direct consequence of President Obama’s lawlessness.” ….

But this border crisis, sowed years ago and building for months, is neither a high crime nor a misdemeanor. It’s a humanitarian nightmare in which children, some as young as 4, can face physical and sexual abuse, injury and death in their lonely journeys. What’s upside-down about the Cruz-Palin argument is that this crisis has actually been brought about by Obama following the law.

The most obvious and direct cause of the flood of children from Central America is the 2008 human trafficking law that ended the rapid deportation of unaccompanied minors who come illegally from countries other than Mexico and Canada. The law essentially guarantees long stays for these immigrants by promising them a deportation process that can take 18 months, during which time they are often placed with family members who have little incentive to have the kids show up for hearings.

Lindsay Graham disagrees with his good buddy McCain, according to The Hill:

Republicans will take the political fall if they don’t provide emergency funds to address the immigrant crisis at the southern border, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) warned Wednesday.

A number of conservatives on Capitol Hill are pushing back hard against President Obama’s request for almost $4 billion to manage the spike of immigrants — thousands of them unaccompanied minors — that’s hit the Texas-Mexico border in recent months.

But Graham, a long-time supporter of an immigration system overhaul, said a failure to provide the funds will exacerbate the crisis while handing Obama and the Democrats a political victory ahead of November’s midterm elections.

“If we do that, then we’re going to get blamed for perpetuating the problem,” Graham told reporters on Wednesday.

Well, it wouldn’t be the first time that right wing Republicans acted against their political best interest.

In other news,

Mike Pence

Mike Pence

Another Republican Governor has made an ass of himself  (not for the first time). Indiana Governor Mike Pence has told state agencies to not to honor the hundreds of gay marriages that took place after a federal court in Indianapolis invalidated as unconstitutional Indiana’s law banning same-sex marriages.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s office is telling state agencies act as if no gay marriages had been performed during three days following a federal court order.

The memo from the governor’s chief counsel tells executive branch agencies to execute their functions as though the June 25 court order had not been issued.

Pence defended the memo Wednesday and the sentiment expressed in it Wednesday afternoon. He said it was his job as governor to carry out the laws of the State of Indiana.

“The State of Indiana must operate in a manner with the laws of Indiana. So we have directed our state agencies earlier this week to conduct themselves in a way that respects current Indiana law, pending this matter’s process through the courts,” Pence said.

A “disappointed” Beth White responded to Pence’s order:

“As Clerk of Marion County, I was proud our office was able to issue these licenses and officiate over 450 weddings for couples, many of whom have been in loving committed relationships for decades. Governor Pence owes these couples an explanation on why he continues to deem them as second class citizens. They legally obtained their license, paid the requisite fee and should be entitled to the same rights and privileges the rest of us enjoy.

It is time for our state leaders to put the issue behind us so that we can focus on strengthening the middle-class, investing in quality Universal Coin and rebuilding Indiana’s economy. Hoosier businesses depend on the best and brightest employees to compete in the global economy. Indiana is rolling up the welcome mat with this regressive stance on this issue. Although my opponent has a long history of opposing marriage equality, I call on Mrs. Lawson to reject Governor Pence’s ruling today. The Office of the Secretary of State should be welcoming to all employers choosing to invest or reinvest in Indiana. And that includes their prospective employees and their families. Hoosiers deserve common sense leadership that is focused on moving Indiana forward.”

Greenwald

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has released an official statement in response to the latest article and statements by Glenn Greenwald that suggest without any supporting evidence that U.S. intelligence agencies are essentially duplicating the illegal actions of COINTELPRO from 1956-1971.

Joint Statement by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice on Court-ordered Legal Surveillance of U.S. Persons.

It is entirely false that U.S. intelligence agencies conduct electronic surveillance of political, religious or activist figures solely because they disagree with public policies or criticize the government, or for exercising constitutional rights.

Unlike some other nations, the United States does not monitor anyone’s communications in order to suppress criticism or to put people at a disadvantage based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

Our intelligence agencies help protect America by collecting communications when they have a legitimate foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purpose.

With limited exceptions (for example, in an emergency), our intelligence agencies must have a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to target any U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident for electronic surveillance.

These court orders are issued by an independent federal judge only if probable cause, based on specific facts, are established that the person is an agent of a foreign power, a terrorist, a spy, or someone who takes orders from a foreign power.

No U.S. person can be the subject of surveillance based solely on First Amendment activities, such as staging public rallies, organizing campaigns, writing critical essays, or expressing personal beliefs.

On the other hand, a person who the court finds is an agent of a foreign power under this rigorous standard is not exempted just because of his or her occupation.

The United States is as committed to protecting privacy rights and individual freedom as we are to defending our national security.

Take from that what you will. The Greenwald cultists simply dismiss statements coming that from the Government as lies, and assume the worst. My tendency is to base my opinions on evidence. So far I haven’t seen evidence in anything coming from the Snowden leaks that NSA is specifically targeting people because of their political and/or religious beliefs. In my opinion the FBI has done this, but Greenwald’s latest article doesn’t even present valid evidence against the FBI.

On the other hand, I’d like to see Congress do a serious investigation of what NSA and other intelligence agencies are actually doing, and particularly I’d like the government to address the issue of whether the five Americans named in Greenwald’s article were actually targeted and why. The supposed targeting happened before 2008, so perhaps it wouldn’t hurt if more information were released about the reasons.

For further reactions to the latest claims from The Intercept and The Washington Post–and to the DNI/DOJ statement, check out  to the following links.

Bob Cesca at The Daily Banter, Greenwald’s Latest NSA Bombshell is an Incomplete Mess, Lacking Any Evidence of Wrongdoing. Here’s the lede:

Glenn Greenwald’s “grand finale fireworks display” finally appeared online early Wednesday and, indeed, there were fireworks but not the “spectacular multicolored hues” he predicted. The fireworks instead came in the form of a bombshell that exploded in a mushroom cloud of shoddy reporting and the usual hyperbolic, misleading accusations that have been the centerpiece of his brand of journalism for more than a year.

You need to read the entire article to understand Cesca’s article, so please go over there if you’re interested in this issue.

Driftglass,  Beware the Tingler: Glenn Greenwald, The Phantom Menace, and The Present Progressive Tense.

Marc Ambinder at The Week analyzes the IC official statement, What you need to know about the latest NSA revelations.

Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare: On Glenn Greenwald’s Latest.

That’s all the news I have room for today. What stories are you following? Please post your links in the comment thread, and have a terrific Thursday!


Friday Reads

Good Morning!

images (20)I’ve been looking at some of the elections coming up for the midterm season as well as reading the scuttlebutt about the presidential campaigns likely to gear up at the same time.  There’s still some worry that the Republicans may have the momentum going into the midterms and that the Democratic Party may lose its majority in the Senate.  I figured I’d start looking towards fall with my own vulnerable senator and overtly ambitious governor.

The Koch Brothers’ money is hot and heavy in most of the races that are seen as potential switches including my one sane–albeit owned by the oil & gas industry–Senator Mary Landrieu. I’ve been getting really sick of the same stupid Obama-care based attack ad on her that plays endlessly on TV.  The Democratic party is evidently trying some new strategies to run the Koch Brothers express off the tracks. Here’s the new response to that ad that’s been bugging the living daylights out of me for months now.  The analysis comes from Greg Sargent.

A Dem source tells me the spot is backed by a $200,000 buy. Script:

Out of state billionaires spending millions to rig the system and elect Bill Cassidy. Their goal: Another politician bought and paid for. Their agenda: Protect tax cuts for companies that ship our jobs overseas. Cut Social Security and end Medicare as we know it. They even tried to kill relief for hurricane victims. Cassidy’s billion dollar backers: They’ve got a plan for him. It’s not good for Louisiana.

As I noted the other day, this is all about creating a framework within which voters can be made to understand the actual policy agenda Republicans are campaigning on. This is what the Bain attacks on Mitt Romney were all about: Dem focus groups showed voters simply didn’t believe Romney would cut entitlements (per the Paul Ryan plan) whilecutting taxes on the rich. The Bain narrative made Romney’s actual priorities more comprehensible.

The Koch attacks are designed to do something similar. They aren’t really about the Kochs. They are a proxy for the one percent, a means through which to tap into a general sense that the economy remains rigged in favor of the very wealthy. Placed into this frame, GOP policies – opposition to raising the minimum wage; the Paul Ryan fiscal blueprint, which would redistribute wealth upwards; opposition to the Medicaid expansion, which AFP is fighting in multiple states –  become more comprehensible as part of a broader storyline. In that narrative, Republican candidates are trying to maintain or even exacerbate an economic status quo that’s stacked against ordinary Americans, while Dems are offering solutions to boost economic mobility and reduce inequality, which are increasingly pressing public concerns.

In many ways this strategy is born of necessity. The 2014 fundamentals are stacked heavily against Democrats, who are defending seven Senate seats in states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012 that are older, whiter, and redder than the diversifying national electorate. This is made even worse by the midterm electorate, in which core Dem groups are less likely to turn out.

GOP attacks on the health law in red states are not just about Obamacare. They are, more broadly, about casting Senate Dems as willing enablers of the hated president and blaming the sputtering recovery on #Obummer Big Gummint, to channel people’s economic anxieties into a vote to oust Dem incumbents.

Mary Landrieu, meanwhile, is out front and center trying to force through the Keystone Pipeline.  This is likely to bring a few jobs to Louisiana and make her oil company donors quite happy.

Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana intensified the pressure on Secretary of State John Kerry, a former Senate colleague, to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

During a hearing on the State Department’s 2015 budget, Ms. Landrieu, a Democrat who has been a strong pipeline proponent and faces a tough re-election fight this year, pressed Mr. Kerry to approve the project, which would carry crude from Canada’s oil sands and from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale Formation to Gulf Coast refineries.

Ms. Landrieu, the new chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee, said, “Canada is our closest, strongest trading partner,” and “a majority of American people” support Keystone. “It is hard for me to understand why there are still questions about whether building this pipeline is in our national interest,” she said.

Actually, it really isn’t in the national interest since most of the Canadian tar sands oil will be sold on the open market and the danger of polluting the major source of fresh water for five states in the center of the country remains.  However, Landrieu always moves to the right during the election cycle. I am certainly not going to vote for Bill Cassidy who could be worse .  He still rings all the usual right wing bells albeit not with much charisma as some of his Texas compadres in congress.

Leading Republicans figured Cassidy to be her perfect foil, as a physician (treating the poor in public hospitals) with only eight years in elected office (experience but not a career in politics). He’s not especially charismatic, but he is intelligent and trustworthy. In the recent government shutdown/debt crisis, he voted along with conservatives but, in his rhetoric, he did not get wild-eyed about it.

And that’s a problem. Though U.S. Sen. David Vitter has run interference, Cassidy has been unable to close the deal on the right. For Republicans running for Congress these days, it is not enough to be conservative. If you are not ultra-conservative, then you’re moderate, which is just a slippery slope away from closet liberal. This nagging distrust about his conservatism has created an opening on the right, into which have stepped two other Republican candidates, Rep. Paul Hollis of Covington and Rob Maness of Madisonville.

Maness, with tea party connections, lumps Cassidy together with Landrieu as compromised establishment politicians. Hollis assured Vitter that he would not criticize Cassidy but keep his aim on Landrieu. Yet in his first TV ads, standing under an oak tree, he distinguishes himself as unspoiled by the partisan politics of Washington. His bid for home boy status — “lifelong Louisiana,” he describes himself — is a sly dig at both Maness, an Air Force brat, and Cassidy, whose family moved here when he was 6 years old. His underlying message is: I’m one of us, and they are not.

A more direct slap at the GOP anointed one comes from Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, a former Louisiana legislator, who recently told The Hill newspaper that Cassidy can’t beat the incumbent because he’s not conservative enough.

Perkins has his eye on a seat some where right now so he’s hardly an objective  on the candidate.   Of course, the Republican Party and the Koch ads are hammering away at “Obamacare”.  This is an interesting tactic in a state like Louisiana where the needs of so many go unserved and the governor is taking heat for turning down the Medicaid expansion from every paper in the state.  Then, there are these numbers.  Ted Cruz’s fears have come true.  It’s getting popular and most of the recent advertised scare stories used in the political ads are being successfully debunked,

President Barack Obama’s health-care law is becoming more entrenched, with 64 percent of Americans now supporting it outright or backing small changes.

Even so, the fervor of the opposition shows no sign of abating, posing a challenge for Obama’s Democrats during congressional races this year, as a Republican victory in a special Florida election this week showed. In addition, 54 percent of Americans say they’re unhappy with the president’s handling of the issue, according to a Bloomberg National Poll.

That’s an improvement since the last poll, in December, when Obama’s public standing on health care hit a low of 60 percent disapproval after the botched rollout of the insurance exchanges, according to the March 7-10 poll of 1,001 adults.

So, this Louisiana race may be one to watch if you want to see what could happen in the fall.  The other thing is that it’s pretty certain thatimages (19) Governor Bobby Jindal is not giving up his presidential dreams no matter how badly he shows in all the polls.  He’s on the campaign trail and introducing legislation that’s been written by the Koch machine.  Oh, and he’s in New Hampshire.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal launched a new political action committee (PAC) on Thursday (March 13) to assist conservative candidates in the 2014 midterm elections, just before heading off to New Hampshire for a series of events.

Jindal’s PAC, dubbed “Stand Up to Washington,” will feature former Mitt Romney campaign manager Jill Neunaber in its leadership role. Neunaber is getting to be a familiar name around Louisiana, as the head of Jindal’s PAC and also his recently-formed nonprofit “America Next,” which is aimed primarily at national issues and supporting Republican candidates in this year’s gubernatorial races.

“Obviously, my main focus is still going to be continuing to help governors win their races and candidates to win gubernatorial races,” Jindal told POLITICO in a reported 18-minute phone interview about the new PAC.

“But I also get a ton of requests to go and speak and help federal candidates in the Senate and the House. So we just thought this was a logical thing to do.”

Soon after announcing the PAC, Jindal will head off to the battleground state of New Hampshire for a series of events. He will keynote the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference on Friday; The Nashua Telegraph also reports he will appear at the Wild Irish Breakfast that morning.

Nothing says candidate like Pancake breakfasts and parades.  Oh, and appearing on comedy and talk shows.  Did you know that Texas Governor Rick Perry got booed during an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel live?

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was booed when he took the stage at ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’ on Tuesday night at the South by Southwest conference in Austin.

“We do know how to get it stirred up,” the Republican said as he sat down, presumably referring to Texans.

The booing continued throughout the interview, until Perry mentioned decriminalizing marijuana – that prompted the crowd to cheer.

When asked if he’d ever smoked marijuana himself, Perry responded, “No, thank God!”

Kimmel also asked Perry whether he planned to run for president in 2016, after an unsuccessful attempt in 2012.

“This is not the crowd that I want to make this announcement to,” Perry said.

I have to think that most of the folks in Austin will be really glad to get rid of the man, but then you probably should ask Ralph about that since he would know more than me.

images (18)I might as well follow up on my post last Friday since this post seems to have taken on a Louisianan flavor anyway.  There have been a few more folks–recent transplants and visitors–writing articles on the state still.  I’m thinking it must have something to do with True Detective but maybe not.   I don’t feel like I can be the outstanding transmitter of what’s special and frustrating about this state as well as a native because frankly, after 20 years, the place still can make me dizzy in both good and bad ways. So, I’m going to quote Lamar White here.   See, Lamar, I not  only attribute and cite you but I put your name right here.  Too bad I’m not any one that matters, but hey, you’re out there making some waves and that’s good.

On Tuesday, Dave Thier, a freelance writer based in New Orleans, published a piece in Esquire titled “Sorry, Louisiana Is Not Actually Made Of Magic.” I really wanted to like Mr. Thier’s piece, because I thought the headline was provocative. But the article was absurdly patronizing and completely disconnected. Mr. Thier is a Yale graduate who has lived in New Orleans for only three years. While we should all celebrate smart, young, educated professionals who move to Louisiana, it is unwise, arrogant, and misguided for a self-described “transplant” to hold himself out, to a national audience, as a curator of Louisiana culture, particularly when he implies that his understanding of his newly-adopted home has been informed by Hollywood.

Indeed, that seems to be the point of his article: Hollywood has lied about Louisiana being magical, which he can prove by way of juxtaposing the banalities of his own life. He watches Netflix and plays video games and prefers Thai take-out over the native cuisine of his adopted Louisiana. And this, I think, may bolster Mr. Thier’s argument that he’s just an ordinary American in his late twenties. But it completely destroys his credibility when it comes to opining on the culture and, yes, the magic of Louisiana.

The same group of Louisiana Bloggers, Twitterati, and Facebookers had it out re: Thier’s article in Esquire, harkened back to Kalegate and the NYT,  and then hashed over if we should even be paying these folks some never mind anyway.  I personally wonder why these recent transplants get the paid gigs on what is and isn’t New Orleans or Louisiana instead of folks that have either been born here or at least lived here long enough to have decoded some of the unique charms and frustration.  Here’s another take in Salon that’s called True Detective goth Southern porn characterizing Louisiana poverty as stemming from a stereotyped swampbilly culture.

As someone who studies southern Appalachia in popular culture, I have become occasionally numb to the portrayal of other parts of the southern United States, viewing their representation/stereotypes as being less severe. Louisiana in particular.

Louisiana gets heaps of praise. “True Blood” made it sexy and campy. “Treme” showed its heart. The last season of “Top Chef” showcased its deliciousness.

There’s another side, though. A bit darker. “Duck Dynasty,” “Gator Boys,” “Cajun Pawn Stars,” “Swamp People,” etc. All reality television series that showcase people living off the land or trying to get by, often downplaying the intelligence of its stars. It paints the state as a different country, with different rules.

But those rules are not as far-flung as “True Detective” might have you believe. Creator Nic Pizzolatto, who grew up in the Lake Charles, La., depicts his hometown as a post-apocalyptic landscape in which the rapes and murders of women and children are covered up by kin connections. He follows what I have deemed the three rules of a Southern horror story: Close Family Relationships, Weird Sex and Malicious Rednecks.

Important note: The more overlap between the above three elements, the better.

Essentially Lake Charles received its own “Deliverance” through the episodes of “True Detective.” Has ever a show depicted such a large number of beaten and bruised female prostitutes? As far as the series reveals, there’s no reason that Marty’s elementary-school-aged daughter draws graphic pictures of people having sex or sets up her toys to depict a doll getting gang-banged. It’s just one of those things kids in rural Louisiana do.

By the way, Lake Charles was not really the center of the series or the filming location or the plot, but then I quibble. I’m not exactly certain why the writers of establishment media have decided to put every one in Louisiana on the couch, but it appears chickenchasing2there’s some kind’ve creepy fascination that’s playing out in the press right now. Yes, there is unique culture down here. This area has given the world a lot of musical forms, food, and reasons to party. The landscape can be breathtaking in both its lushness and its austerity.  You can see any and all of it play out just by visiting here and taking note.  But, really, does that mean you can decode it for the rest of the world to earn a few bucks?

Here’s the Cajun version of  Mardi Gras that shows you there is plenty of unique culture to celebrate, to learn about, and to appreciate. Thier should take some time away from his video games and Thai take out food to chase some of this down. The last thing I did when I first moved here was to sit at home with all things mundane. I just participated.  This part of the country will amaze and capture your attention.  The problem that I have with these accidental tourists and transplants is they really haven’t taken the time to let their gumbo simmer.  But, when has Hollywood or the New York/Washington DC -centric press ever put any place in any kind of real light?  I frankly remember growing up watching TV where every hayseed that became the butt of a sitcom joke haled from Nebraska. (It’s actually a subtheme of The Big Bang Theory right now.)  It would absolutely make me even more embarrassed of having to grow up in the place knowing that the rest of the country had a worse opinion of the place than me and mine was pretty darn low.

What I’m more worried though about is this kind of thing : U.S. Agrees to Allow BP Back Into Gulf Waters to Seek Oil.  Since corporations are people my friend–at least that’s what Citizen’s United declared–then I say we ought not let a mass murderer out to kill again.  But, that’s not the kind of story that’s likely to create any human interest.  Well, not yet.  So, what should we be more worried about?   It does no one a great service to characterize a culture, but at least that doesn’t have the power to take down the culture itself. What’s gotten me to start writing about my adopted home has been my experiences with Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil spill because having lived here 20 years, I know exactly what’s at stake if the country would lose it.  There are things down here both human and natural that are awesome.  It’s worth appreciating, experiencing and protecting.

What’s on your blogging and reading list today?


Saturday Morning Open Thread

Abortion rights advocates fill the rotunda of the State Capitol as the Senate neared its vote Friday night (Tamir Kalifa/AP)

Abortion rights advocates fill the rotunda of the State Capitol as the Senate neared its vote Friday night (Tamir Kalifa/AP)

Good Morning Sky Dancers!!

There sure is a lot of news out there for a summer Saturday. Beginning in Texas, the state senate passed a restrictive anti-abortion bill that will threaten women’s lives. The New York Times reports:

AUSTIN, Tex. — The Texas Senate gave final passage on Friday to one of the strictest anti-abortion measures in the country, legislation championed by Gov. Rick Perry, who rallied the Republican-controlled Legislature late last month after a Democratic filibuster blocked the bill and intensified already passionate resistance by abortion-rights supporters.

The bill would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and hold abortion clinics to the same standards as hospital-style surgical centers, among other requirements. Its supporters say that the strengthened requirements for the structures and doctors will protect women’s health; opponents argue that the restrictions are actually intended to put financial pressure on the clinics that perform abortions and will force most of them to shut their doors.

Mr. Perry applauded lawmakers for passing the bill, saying “Today the Texas Legislature took its final step in our historic effort to protect life.” Legislators and anti-abortion activists, he said “tirelessly defended our smallest and most vulnerable Texans and future Texans.”

Mr. Perry does not appear to include any “right to life” for adult women in his “effort to protect life,” however. I wonder if anyone has ever asked him one simple question: are women human beings? Forced childbirth is tantamount to slavery in my opinion. Furthermore, childbirth is far more dangerous than abortion, and the restrictions will likely mean that women with problematic late term pregnancies will die or suffer grievous harm. According to the NYT story,

The bill was opposed by many doctors, including leaders of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Texas Medical Association; the gynecologists’ group has run advertisements locally that question the scientific underpinnings of the legislation and tell legislators to “Get out of our exam rooms.”

Andrea Grimes writes at RH Reality Check: As Out-Of-State Gawkers Look On, Texas Lawmakers Prepare to Pass ‘Death Sentence’ Anti-Abortion Bill. She describes a young man from Minnesota who traveled down to Texas to watch the show.

This young guy, probably a senior in high school or a freshman in college—I didn’t catch his name—said he was real tired of wearing blue, the chosen color of anti-choice supporters of HB 2. I wore orange that day, the same color as thousands of Texans who have turned up at the capitol to stand up for reproductive rights. I also wore pink earbuds, trying to follow the house debate while waiting in line. Maybe this young guy thought I couldn’t hear him. Maybe he didn’t care.

“I’m looking forward to all this being over so I can wear my orange shirts again!” he joked.

She contrasts his blase attitude with that of Yatzel Sabat, a gay woman of color

who was dragged out of that same gallery Wednesday morning by law enforcement. Sabat was not wearing orange. She was wearing black.

Her limbs bound by state troopers, she screamed in a clear, strong voice, “This bill will kill women!” as the Texas House of Representatives gave its approval to HB 2, passing the devastating legislation along to the state senate for final passage….

This bill will kill. Period.

It will kill Texans who already travel to Mexico to buy abortion pills from flea markets because they are too poor to go to a legal abortion clinic, or unable to take time off work to find a doctor’s office and wait 24 hours between a state-mandated sonogram and an abortion procedure. It will kill Texans who, if HB 2 passes, cannot travel a thousand miles round trip to a San Antonio or Dallas ambulatory surgical center for a safe, legal abortion.

Please read the whole thing if you can.

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Next up, the U.S. Congress debates more cuts in food stamps as American children go hungry. From Martha White at NBC News:

For one in seven Americans, the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka food stamps, is all that stands between them and too little food.

But the complicated calculus of financial survival for the working poor also means any cuts to the roughly $80 billion SNAP, as it’s known, being considered by Congress would be felt well beyond the grocery checkout line. Buying new school clothes, family outings, even getting a toehold in the financial mainstream could be thrown into limbo.

For many of the working poor, wages just don’t go far enough. The National Employment Law project says nearly 60 percent of jobs created in the post-recession recovery pay $13.83 or less an hour, and hourly wages for some low-wage occupations fell by more than 5 percent in just three years.

Food service and temporary employment make up 43 percent of the post-recession job growth, according to NELP policy analyst Jack Temple. “They overwhelmingly pay low wages,” Temple said. “For that lower segment, you’re going to see increased use of safety net programs to make up the difference.”

Read it and weep, folks; and while you do keep in mind that the Federal deficit has been dropping steadily. The only possible reasons for the austerity agenda are to make the rich richer and punish the working poor.

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The Snowden saga continues.  Reuters reports that Russia has not yet received an application for asylum from the American hacker/leaker/whistleblower/dissident–or whatever he’s being called at the moment.

Russia kept former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden at arm’s length on Saturday, saying it had not been in touch with the fugitive American and had not yet received a formal request for political asylum.

Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signaled Russia is weighing its options after Snowden, who is stranded at a Moscow airport, broke three weeks of silence and asked for refuge in Russia until he can secure safe passage to Latin America.

Washington urged Moscow to return Snowden to the United States, where he is wanted on espionage charges after revealing details of secret surveillance programs, and President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin….

“We are not in contact with Snowden,” Russian news agencies quoted Lavrov as saying in Kyrgyzstan, where he attended a foreign ministers’ meeting.

He said he had learned of Snowden’s meeting with Russian human rights activists and public figures at the airport on Friday from the media, “just like everyone else.”

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Senator Elizabeth Warren is working on bringing back Glass-Steagall-like regulations on banks. From the LA Times:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has launched a campaign to make banks boring again as she pushes legislation to enact stricter regulations forcing deposit-taking financial institutions out of the investment business.

The Massachusetts Democrat wants to reinstate the Depression-era Glass-Steagall law, which separated what she called boring checking and savings accounts that are backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from risky investment banking.

And after joining three other senators Thursday in introducing a bipartisan bill to do that, Warren went toTwitter to rally support.

She urged her Twitter followers to retweet the message, “Banks should be boring.” She emailed her political backers, asking them to support her 21st century Glass-Steagall Act, which she introduced along with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Angus King (I-Maine).

Yesterday Warren went on CNBC to argue her case with some blonde talking head. Check it out:

As you know, yesterday Malala Yousafzai spoke to the United Nations and told the world: Being shot by Taliban made me stronger (NBC News)

Malala Yousafzai addresses the UN

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for girls’ education, was given a standing ovation at the United Nations Friday as she declared the attempt on her life had only given her strength and banished any fear she once felt.

“Dear friends, on the 9th of October, 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too,” she said in her first major public appearance. “They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed.”

Speaking on her 16th birthday, she said the “terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this — weakness, fear and hopelessness died, strength, power and courage was born.”

“I am the same Malala, my ambitions are the same, my hopes are the same and my dreams are the same,” she said to thunderous applause.

What an courageous, intelligent, and inspiring and young woman she is!

On that note, I’ll turn the floor over to you. What stories are you following today. Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread. Have a stupendous Saturday