Let’s not be afraid. Let’s be Americans.

Let’s talk about refugees, because God knows everyone else is.

The collective freakout on the right about the idea that we might, maybe, accept a few thousand displaced women and children (which they are, mostly) is perhaps the most embarrassing and depressing excess of the modern American GOP yet. It is horrifying in its lack of empathy and logical inconsistency. It is terrifying in its xenophobia and appeal to fear as a transparent politial ploy. It is so ridiculous that, if it weren’t for the fact that people will die as a result, it would be goddamn hilarious.

It is also absurdly predictable that it seems the same folks apoplectic about the prospect of gay marriage are just as adamant that the refugees should stay away. These supposed Christians would cherry-pick Old Testament law (as they’re all presumably wearing blended fabrics and enjoying shrimp) to deny legal protections to their gay brothers and sisters while Christ was completely silent on the subject — but now that we have a situation that Jesus preached about repeatedly, they ignore Him (which isn’t entirely surprising; these folks are also typically opposed to social programs designed to aid the needy closer to home).

We are certainly not a Christian nation in any legal sense, but we do seem to enjoy thinking of ourselves as guided by Christian principles, at least in terms of charity — or, at least, that’s what we might say we aspire to. Except we aren’t, really, not when it counts. We are anti-Christian in our treatment of the needy, in our acceptance of those different from us, and in our willingness to choose lengthening our own tables instead of strengthening our doors when our neighbors are in need. “I got mine, you get yours” isn’t a Christian mantra.

Jesus taught very specifically on this subject, and with some frequency. The most famous instance is the parable of the Good Samaritan, taken from the Gospel of Luke (10:29-37):

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[a] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

There are no weasel words here. He is quite clear.

Remember, too, what He says in Matthew 25, which is even more explicit about what He expects of His followers:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

My point here is not that we should govern our nation according to the words attributed to Jesus because he was divine. We are not and should not be a theocracy. However, we have for pretty much our entire existence as a nation been the place that refugees came. Diaspora after diaspora have found homes and lives here when no such options existed for them in their homelands. They made us a stronger nation, because we are not homogenous. Even our origin story is about refugees — a fact that should be particularly clear this week.

God bless President Bartlett. Sure, he’s not a real President, but what he says above goes to the heart of who we should all want America to be. Reagan famously spoke of us being a “shining city on a hill,” a beacon of freedom and hope for those all over the world — but what sort of beacon can we really be if we’re too terrified to accept those huddled masses yearning to breathe free?

We have always struggled to live up to who we said we wanted to be, even from our beginnings in 1776. But we wrote them down, so we can keep referring to them: the idea that all people are created equal, and that all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is why our doors must remain open. We should be the example state, not the counter-example. We have spent much of the last 14 years in a state of perpetual freakout, but it’s time for that to STOP — not in the least because terrorism isn’t really a danger for Americans (statistically, bees are a bigger problem). By giving in to the baser impulses of fear and xenophobia, we do ISIS’ work for them; let’s not do that. Refuse to be terrorized, least of all by women and children.

I get that this isn’t easy with so many on TV telling you to be afraid. Remember that it’s easy to get people to pay attention to you when you say there’s danger, especially when you pin it on people who are different. Be strong. Be critical. And remember the point of terrorism: it’s right there in the name. Refuse to become the anti-foreigner freakout nation that ISIS wants to goad us into being. Every time a middle-eastern refugee puts down roots in the US, opens a small business, and raises his family here, it’s better than a thousand bombs when it comes to destabilizing and eradicating those jackasses. Every time we prove that we mean it when we say all people are created equal, and that all of us deserve the pursuit of happiness, we prove their worldview is a lie.

The shitstorm in the Middle East today will not get solved without bullets, I fear, but it also cannot be defeated by violence alone. We have to show people a better option. It’s an ideology based on poverty and despair, and my bet is that we can show folks a better path by embracing those in need, taking them to our collective chest, and making them part of our great American experiment.

I’ve said much of this before, in various Facebook comments in the past few weeks, but what really set me thinking this morning is a long piece in the October 26 New Yorker called “Ten Borders.” It’s the story of a young man’s protracted, difficult journey from Syria — which was collapsing around him — to Sweden, where he’s been welcomed as a refugee. What he endured to get there, and the risks he took, are staggering. Seriously, take the time to read it. You were probably born in a country that stayed safe, after all.

There are a few bits I want to share directly, though:

When Ghaith arrived in Sweden, an immigration officer recorded his fingerprints, ran the data through an E.U. database, and confirmed that he had not previously been processed in Europe [Note: this is about the Dublin Regulation]. “You are now under the custody of Sweden,” she told him. “Sweden will take care of you.” Ghaith subsequently attended an orientation session to learn, as he put it, “what Sweden owes to me and what I owe to Sweden.”


On the bus, Ghaith scrolled through music files on his phone. The Swedish national anthem started up, loud enough to turn heads. “I listen to it each morning,” Ghaith said, proudly.


An hour later, six more of Ghaith’s friends—all Syrian refugees whom he knew from law school or from Jdeidet Artouz—showed up carrying a grill, a bag of charcoal, and a three-foot hookah. They stripped to their underwear and prepared to go swimming. These were friends for life, Ghaith said, though he otherwise cared little for Syria anymore. Once his wife arrived, they would have children and he would raise them as Swedes. He didn’t care if his kids spoke Arabic. He added, in broken English, “I worship Sweden.”

And, finally:

Around the same time, Austrian authorities found an abandoned poultry truck with seventy-one dead refugees inside. Ghaith said that he couldn’t help but feel lucky: “I made it, while thousands of others didn’t. Some died on the way, some died in Syria. Every day, you hear about people drowning. Just think about how much every Syrian is suffering inside Syria to endure the suffering of this trip.” He paused. “In Greece, someone asked me, ‘Why take the chance?’ I said, ‘In Syria, there’s a hundred-per-cent chance that you’re going to die. If the chance of making it to Europe is even one per cent, then that means there is a one-per-cent chance of your leading an actual life.’”

Can you, as an American, read these words and be proud of how we are comporting ourselves during this crisis? I cannot. I am not. We are being ruled by small, petty, venal jackasses screaming on TV about how giving aid and comfort to victims of ISIS will somehow endanger us. It’s embarrassing and ridiculous. Fuck fear. The last 14 years have been a never-ending stream of fearmongering bullshit, and in the wake of it we have done terrible things that are absolutely anathema to the values we SAY we hold dear. Let’s fix that.

Virtually everyone who will read these words is descended from someone who left their original country and came to the US seeking a better life. That is, in a very literal sense, who we are. It’s what we’re made of. Let’s return to being that. It can only make us better.

Do not let the terrorists change who we are any more than they already have.

But how can I change what politicians are doing? What difference can I possibly make?

Glad you asked. Turns out, governors can’t close their states. Refugees are coming to your state, almost certainly, but will need help integrating and settling in. (If you’re local to me in Houston, this goes double — Houston is historically a popular refugee destination; it’s something that makes our city so awesome.) You can literally be the welcoming, helping hand by calling the folks at Refugee Services of Texas. Odds are, if you’re reading my blog, you’re pretty damn well off compared to folks escaping war with the clothes on their backs, right?

Joining or helping to start a Welcome Team seems like a great place to start. Let’s help them out. (h/t to Autojim for locating this organization.)

(Confidential to the “but terrorists!” crowd: according to stats from CATO quoted by John Scalzi, we’ve accepted 859,629 refugees since 2001. Of those, THREE have been convicted of planning terror attacks, and none actually happened. For perspective, 1 in every 22,541 Americans committed murder in 2014.)

Sometimes it’s not just Mississippi in a general sense that’s embarrassing. Sometimes it’s very specific.

Oh, good lord:

Republican presidential frontrunner Ben Carson announced on Friday that he has named former federal judge Charles W. Pickering to serve as his Mississippi state chair.

You may recall that Pickering made the news in the previous administration when President Bush tried to appoint him to the Fifth Circuit in 2001. This put him under enough of a microscope that troublesome things he wrote in the 1960s — e.g., a brief on how to amend the state’s anti-miscegenation statute to withstand Constitutional challenge — came to light. Politics ensued, and much was made of a 1994 case that could be turned in such a way to make it look like Pickering was soft on cross-burning (which is not a completely fair representation of the case, but all that’s public record easily read; draw your own conclusions). He got filibustered — probably more because of his pro-life position (and well done Dems for doing so) than his supposed racism — but eventually made it to the bench as a recess appointment until 2004, when he retired.

Anyway: The point here is not that Pickering is a racist. He’s not.

I mean, I’m sure he’s got racist ideas — he’s a 78 year old white guy from rural Mississippi; that’s a cohort not known for its progressive opinions on race — but his resume also includes taking actual personal risk in opposing the Klan (he required FBI protection at one point), so the national picture of him as a guy two steps away from burning crosses himself is egregiously unfair, and that ought to be obvious to anyone who even bothers to read his Wikipedia article (linked supra), or any coverage of his career not written with an axe to grind.

Moreover, my lay understanding of his bench career (aided a little by certain other family lawyers) is that he was broadly respected by folks across the political spectrum, and generally considered to be a better than average judge. Had he been a pro-choice Republican, my guess is there would’ve been no filibuster; because he was a conservative lawyer in the 1960s who wrote some stupid things, though, there was the material there to manufacture outrage and make the filibuster easier to pull off.

However, I don’t have to resort to research to know that Charles Pickering isn’t a firebrand racist, and to therefore draw the reasonable conclusion that of all the nutty things Carson has done, this isn’t one of them.

I know this because I know Charles Pickering personally. Charles is my cousin.

Specifically, he’s my grandfather’s first cousin, though because my great-grandmother was one of many siblings spread over many years, he’s about the same age as my mother. (I think this makes him my first cousin twice removed, but nobody knows what that means.) I’ve been in his house a hundred times, most recently in March after my grandfather’s sister Ruth died and we had a wake of sorts for her there (pics, if you’re curious, here; this one is of him).

Despite what ThinkProgress and other organs have written, Charles Pickering is a decent man. He’s got terrible politics, though, that are filtered through an apparently severely right wing and somewhat fundamentalist lens — which is to say that he’s a GREAT hire for Carson. The baffling thing here, and the thing that’s frankly embarrassing, is that my bright, intelligent cousin has been taken in by the bumbling goofball Carson.

This isn’t new. At the wake I mentioned above, I was seated close enough to him at lunch to hear him extolling Carson’s virtues to one of Ruth’s sons-in-law, an accomplished businessman and French national who, I assume, is with us in the rational world shaking our heads at the freakshow that is the GOP primary. (I’ve never talked politics with Patrick, but my assumption is that he makes me look like a Republican.)

So the tl;dr here is that:

A. The progressive coverage of this is lazy and reductive about who Charles actually is, which is kind of darkly hilarious — think about it: if indeed my cousin were a lifelong bigot and segregationist, why on EARTH would he be working to put another black man in the White House?

B. How the hell does someone like Carson convince smart people to help him and vote for him? It’s fucking depressing.

C. I am, once again, in the position of being embarrassed by something in Mississippi. Sigh.

I love John Oliver.

Nothing about what these assholes are trying to do is going to work.”

He continues:

France is going to endure and I’ll tell you why. If you are in a war of culture and lifestyle with France, good fucking luck. Go ahead, bring your bankrupt ideology. They’ll bring Jean-Paul Sartre, Edith Piaf, fine wine, Gauloise cigarettes, Camus, camembert, madeleines, macarons, and the fucking croquembouche. You just brought a philosophy of rigorous self-abnegation to a pastry fight, my friend.

Having trouble understanding right-wing logic? Try this.

The GOP and the Rise of Anti-Knowlege pulls lots of threads together in one place. Worth your time.

A sample:

Fifty years ago, if a person did not know who the prime minister of Great Britain was, what the conflict in Vietnam was about, or the barest rudiments of how a nuclear reaction worked, he would shrug his shoulders and move on. And if he didn’t bother to know those things, he was in all likelihood politically apathetic and confined his passionate arguing to topics like sports or the attributes of the opposite sex.

There were exceptions, like the Birchers’ theory that fluoridation was a monstrous communist conspiracy, but they were mostly confined to the fringes. Certainly, political candidates with national aspirations steered clear of such balderdash.

At present, however, a person can be blissfully ignorant of how to locate Kenya on a map, but know to a metaphysical certitude that Barack Obama was born there, because he learned it from Fox News. Likewise, he can be unable to differentiate a species from a phylum but be confident from viewing the 700 Club that evolution is “politically correct” hooey and that the earth is 6,000 years old.

And he may never have read the Constitution and have no clue about the Commerce Clause, but believe with an angry righteousness that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.

Go read the whole thing.

Does the FBI actually chase any real bad guys?

The FBI has a long post-9/11 history of ginning up plots to foil; the pattern is generally “find an inept loner who may have said something weird online, and then entice him to take part in a ‘plot’”. The issue is, of course, that (a) the aforementioned loner is typically the only non-cop involved; and (b) in the absence of the fabricated plot, it’s exceedingly unlikely that these inept doofuses would have ever become involved in any domestic terror efforts at all.

But, hey, the Feds get headlines, and people get promoted, and in the absence of real plots people might start to wonder why we spend so much money on security, so it keeps happening. (As has been previously noted, if you’re in security, the absence of existential threats is itself an existential threat.)

Well, now we have something even worse. Turns out, that Chinese professor at Temple they arrested was never actually doing anything wrong, and the FBI could have known this from day one had they bothered to check their own evidence.

Temple University physics professor Xiaoxing Xi made headlines back in May, when he was indicted for allegedly sharing “sensitive” information with colleagues in China about a piece of laboratory equipment used in his superconductivity research. Xi maintained his innocence from the start. On Friday, he was vindicated: the U.S. Justice Department dropped the charges against him, with a vague statement about new information coming to light.

This “new information” came in the form of several sworn affidavits from leading scientists confirming that schematics Xi sent to Chinese scientists had nothing to do with the proprietary device. Apparently nobody involved in the investigation thought to run their case past knowledgeable scientific experts before bursting into Xi’s suburban home with guns drawn, ransacking his house, and leading him off in handcuffs in front of his wife and daughter.

I mean, come ON people! If you’re going to drag a man’s name through the mud, you have an obligation to be RIGHT.

Confused about the Iran deal?

Josh Marshall has you covered, at least until more is known.

This paragraph says volumes, imo, about the nature of right-wing objections:

There’s a lot of Iran pony thinking going on about what would be cool if we could have everything we want. But as much as I fear what a Republican president might do on the Iran front, I think going to war with Iran is highly unlikely. Stiffening sanctions won’t happen because even if we stiffened sanctions, Europe and Russia and China won’t. So all the folks saying it’s not good enough or it’s a disaster or whatever else are basically saying we should hang tough and let the Iranians do whatever they want. Indeed, adopt a maximal line of confrontation short of war, which will empower hardliners and make it more likely the Iranians will take the step from being a nuclear threshold state to an actual nuclear weapons state. It is the elevation of self-satisfaction over tangible results and reality.

Remember that the Republicans whining about this deal would likely whine about ANY deal with Iran that didn’t include the enthusiastic religious conversion of every single man, woman, and child in Iran to Presbyterianism. They’re incapable of looking at anything generated by this Administration and not dismissing it as un-American, anti-Christian, and possibly socialist, even when the plan in question was written by Republicans in the first place, so it’s not as though these people are arguing in good faith.

Happy Pride Week Indeed

Love Wins.

Ten years ago, Mrs Heathen and I used a quote from Massachusetts Chief Justice Margaret Marshall’s opinion in the 2003 case Goodridge v. Department of Public Health. It’s as stellar today as it was when she wrote it in 2003:

Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, marriage provides an abundance of benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations. Without question, marriage enhances the welfare of the community. It is a social institution of the highest importance.

Marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.

It seems weird to me, in the Roberts era, to celebrate three major court victories in a week, and yet, here we are in a week with King v. Burwell, the fair housing case here in Texas, and Obergefell.

Let’s do more of this


Confederate flags were reportedly burned and buried on Monday in several southern states as part of a movement to get rid of the flag and its offensive historical context.

A good start.

More DEA Criminality

Imagine you’re a small business owner, and one of your employees ends up needing to be a DEA informant. His handlers entice him to take one of your company trucks, fill it with weed, and haul it back to a place where they can bust the buyers.

Bad shit happens. Your driver is killed, and your truck basically destroyed in a gun battle with Mexican gangsters.

I wouldn’t even be blogging this if the next step weren’t obvious, but: clearly the DEA is refusing to take responsibility for the truck or the death, and a judge has backed them.

The government argued that it is neither culpable for the damage nor under any obligation to inform the owner of any property that it wishes to use in its operations, because “clandestine.”

No statute, regulation, or policy “specifically prescribe[d]” or prohibited the course of action Patty alleges the DEA agents followed. The DEA derives its authority from the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. § 801, its implementing regulations, and various executive orders…

In this case, Task Force Officer Villasana submitted a similar declaration. He states that the DEA’s decision “to proceed with such an operation is entirely discretionary, and not mandated by any statute, rule, or policy.” Whether and how to conduct such an undercover investigation and operation is “necessarily discretionary in nature.” Villasana did not try to give advance notice to Patty that the Task Force would be using his truck because of operation’s covert nature, the risks of injury and potential for damage if something went wrong, and the uncertainty about whether other individuals (including Patty) could be trusted.

The business owner’s attorney summarized it thusly:

A federally deputized corporal from the Houston Police Department decides to pay your small company’s driver to drive your truck to the Mexican border, load it up with illegal drugs, and try to catch some bad guys. He knows that the driver is lying to “the owner” – although he doesn’t know your name or identity and doesn’t bother to find out. The bad guys outwit the cops. Your company’s driver is killed. Your truck is riddled with bullet holes.

Query:   is our federal government liable to pay for the damages to you and your property?

Answer:   Nope.

The DEA and the court have taken the position, apparently, that the government can come and take your stuff, fuck it up, and bear no responsibility afterwards if they say “clandestine operation” enough. You’d think the Takings Clause would have something to say about this, you know?

Republican refuses insurance, now blames Obama. Shocker.

This story is floating around this week. You ought to look at it, because it’s sort of a distillation of know-nothing Republicanism, and it’s the rare sort of such example that illustrates how far they are from reality.

The gist: a South Carolina Republican handyman has found himself facing both blindness and financial ruin because of a health problem — and he’s blaming the ACA for it.

As the Charlotte Observer explains, Lang is a self-employed handyman who works as a contractor with banks and the federal government to maintain foreclosed properties. He was making a decent living, enough to be the sole breadwinner in the family. As the Observer puts it, Lang “he has never bought insurance. Instead, he says, he prided himself on paying his own medical bills.”

All seemed good until this February when a series of headaches led him to the doctor. Tests revealed that Lang had suffered a series of mini-strokes tied to diabetes. [...] He now also has a partially detached retina and eye bleeding tied to his diabetes. The initial medical care for the mini-strokes ran to almost $10,000 and burned through his savings. And now he can’t work because of his eye issue and can’t afford the surgery that would save his eyesight and also allowing him to continue working.

More from the Charlotte Observer story:

That’s when he turned to the Affordable Care Act exchange. Lang learned two things: First, 2015 enrollment had closed earlier that month. And second, because his income has dried up, he earns too little to get a federal subsidy to buy a private policy.

Lang, a Republican, says he knew the act required him to get coverage, but he chose not to do so. But he thought help would be available in an emergency. He and his wife blame President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats for passing a complex and flawed bill.

“(My husband) should be at the front of the line, because he doesn’t work and because he has medical issues,” Mary Lang said last week. “We call it the Not Fair Health Care Act.”

Anyone who’s remotely familiar with insurance knows there’s no system that lets people skip payments while they’re healthy and cash in when they get sick. Public systems tax everyone. Private ones rely on the premiums of the well to cover the costs of those who are ailing.

And Democrats might point out that the ACA was designed to provide Medicaid coverage for people whose income falls below the poverty line. The federal government pays 100 percent of the ACA expansion to cover low-income, able-bodied adults, but 21 Republican-led states, including North Carolina and South Carolina, declined to participate. Emph added.

Lang’s position is utter bullshit on its face, but I’m not here to point and laugh. The good news is that many donors have stepped forward to help him out, despite the fact that this shitstorm is of his own making.

The bigger issue here is that the conservative media, which we may safely assume Lang consumed voraciously given his positions, was so foursquare against the ACA (and, really, any health care law, and anything espoused by Obama) that he came away from the public debate thinking his path was a safe and rational one. That’s completely fucking criminal.

The right wing media worked themselves into a goddamn frenzy about the ACA and spouted such amazing fountains of bullshit that people still think death panels are a risk. In deciding to become the propaganda arm of the GOP, though, these people abandoned their public mission: inform and protect the public with information. In their rush to deny the President and his party a victory, they refused to engage the bill on its merits and instead obfuscated any real points with hyperbole and outright lies while fueling the idea that having insurance isn’t even necessarily something you want.

The saying points out that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. The story of Luis Lang is an example of what happens when knowable facts make clear the opinions you’ve held are bankrupt. Sure, it’s partially on him for not doing his own research, but Americans have traditionally been able to trust “news” organizations not to lie to them. That you and I know this is no longer true is probably cold comfort to someone like Lang.

Antonin Scalia is a lying liar who lies

From the SSM arguments yesterday:

Scalia wondered aloud about ministers being required to marry same-sex couples. “I don’t see how you could possibly allow that minister to say, I will only marry a man and a woman,” Scalia said. “I will not marry two men. … I don’t see any answer to that. I really don’t.”

Because, you see, we don’t already live in a world where ministers routinely refuse to perform weddings that do not accord with their faith. Most famously, the Roman Catholic Church won’t marry you if you’ve been married before and haven’t paid them for an annulment. You’re still free to marry civilly, of course.

Scalia knows this, and is lying when he suggests he doesn’t, and is doing so to bolster his bigotry. Slacktivist has more.

Antonin Scalia is also fully aware of the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching and practice on divorce and remarriage. He is fully, completely aware that any Catholic with a valid civil divorce has every legal, civil and constitutional right to remarry. And he is fully, completely aware that this has never in any way, shape or form ever meant that a Catholic priest could be legally compelled to consecrate such a wedding.

Justice Scalia knows this. Everyone knows this.

And yet, today, Justice Scalia chose to pretend he doesn’t know this.

As they say, “Christ, what an asshole.”

Mitch McConnell Loves Him Some Unconstitutional Domestic Spying

He’s introduced a bill to reauthorize the PATRIOT act.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a bill Tuesday night that would reauthorize a controversial surveillance authority of the Patriot Act until 2020, a push that comes just as a group of bipartisan lawmakers is preparing a last-minute push to rein in the government’s mass-spying powers.

A McConnell aide said the majority leader is beginning a process to put the bill on the Senate calendar but said that the chamber will not take the measure up this week. That process, known as Rule 14, would bypass the traditional committee process. Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr is a cosponsor.

Under the bill, Section 215 of the post-9/11 Patriot Act would be extended until December 31, 2020. The core provision, which the National Security Agency uses to justify its bulk collection of U.S. phone records, is currently due to expire on June 1.

The bill appears to be an attempt to thwart efforts to rein in the National Security Agency’s expansive surveillance powers, which came under intense scrutiny nearly two years ago after the disclosures spurred by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. A bipartisan group of lawmakers were expected to reintroduce on Wednesday a comprehensive surveillance-reform bill that would have effectively ended the NSA’s dragnet of Americans’ call data.

What a jackass.

In the absence of accountability, you get stuff like this

The TSA destroyed Cory Doctorow’s suitcase because it looked like it might be locked.

  1. It was not locked; and
  2. Even if it was, the case was one with the “TSA locks” on it, which TSA agents supposedly have a master key for.

The TSA cannot be held responsible for the destruction, though, because terrorism. Accountability is anathema to this organization; just look at the distance they went to keep their serial gropers from being prosecuted.

Bug Bounties and Law Enforcement

In the 90s, Dilbert was still relatively novel, and was pretty often VERY on-point, as in this strip from almost 20 years ago:


As with most of Adams’ work, this one is predicated on the self-evidently ridiculous behavior of management, and the ability of the technical employees to see the failure immediately. Closely tied to this is the feeling we nearly always get from this kind of comedy: that’s pretty funny, but nobody would actually DO that. I mean, it’s stupid.

Well, yeah. About that. Bug bounties absolutely WERE a thing, but they’re positively benign compared to what the FBI has been doing for nearly 15 years. In the era of the War on Terror, it became necessary for Federal law enforcement to show success against terror plots. That terrorism in the US is fantastically rare isn’t an excuse, apparently, for not stopping terror plots.

So what does the FBI do? They go out and write themselves a minivan. A huge percentage of the “plots” they’ve crowed about stopping since 9/11 are plots that were set up by the Feds themselves as pseudo-sting operations. They’d target ineffectual loners and radicals, and then create a situation for them to get carried away and join other “radicals” — typically undercover officers — in an ambitious plot, only to find at the last minute that the plot never existed, but that they were nevertheless guilty of numerous felonies.

But the real winner is the FBI, who gets to trumpet their “success” here and use it to justify more power grabs and more funding. The 20-year-old would-be terrorist may be going to prison behind this, but the REAL losers are all of us, because eventually we’ll have to deal with the metastasizing cancer of overreaching, roll-your-own-crime law enforcement coupled with pols like Boehner using synthetic plots to justify additional government power.

But, hey, my guess is that entrapping basement-dwelling 20-year-olds is a lot easier than catching actual bad guys.

Turns out, being on the wrong side of history costs a lot of money

The gay-hatin’ National Organization for Marriage is drowning in debt after their donations dropped by half from 2012 to 2013.

An between 2012 and 2013, NOM saw a staggering 50 percent drop in donations. The group raised $5.1 million in 2013, and two donors accounted for more than half the money raised by the group, according to HRC.

Emphasis added. That’s some grassroots org you’ve got there, bigots.

“To prevent Obama from becoming the hero who fixed Washington, McConnell decided to break it. And it worked.”

This piece is very, very spot on, and it makes clear something I’ve been trying to articulate for years: People like Mitch McConnell are not Americans. They are Republicans, concerned first and foremost with the good of their party, not the nation, and certainly not those whom they purport to represent.

Edit: Messages like this one from the National Review just make this point even clearer: don’t do things; people will start to expect that. Keep your eyes on 2016.

I mean, seriously. WTF?

This is the platonic ideal of “barnburner”

Kentucky Secretary of State and Democratic senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes took Mitch McConnell to the goddamn WOODSHED in this speech — and he was sitting right in the room. The cutaways to his face are fucking DELICIOUS; he clearly has no idea what hit him.

I mean. DAMN.

McConnell had to follow her, which put him behind a pretty serious eight ball, and he absolutely failed to help himself in any way — as Grimes predicted, he basically just tried to run against Obama, who, as she pointed out, isn’t actually running for any office in Kentucky.

Turns out…

…the US isn’t much of a democracy anymore, at least not by the metrics that matter, according to a new study.

“[T]he preferences of economic elites,” conclude Princeton’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin I. Page, who work with the nonprofit Scholars Strategy Network, “have far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of average citizens do.”

So, yay?

Rancor, ignorance, and. . . power

The House of Representatives Committee on Science is Turning Into A National Embarrassment.

Leading the charge was Texas congressman Randy Weber:

Several members, for example, appeared to be trying to mock rather than engage Holdren on climate change. “I may want to get your cellphone number, Dr. Holdren,” said Representative Randy Weber (R–TX), “because, if we go through another few cycles of global warming and cooling, I may need to ask you when I should buy my long coat on sale.”

Weber, a freshman from the Galveston area, began his interrogation by asking Holdren whether “when you guys do your research, you start with a scientific postulate or theory and work forward from that? Is that right?” Holdren gamely played along, explaining that “it depends on the type of science, but the notion of posing a hypothesis and then trying to determine whether it is right is one of the tried and true approaches in science, yes.”

But Weber’s question was really just a setup for his concluding statement. “I just don’t know how you all prove those theories going back 50 or 100,000 or even millions of years,” Weber said.

Come for the guns! Stay for the racism!

At TPM: “Tea Partiers Livid State GOP Wants Clarification On White Supremacy Affiliation.”

There is so much derp in this bit:

[State Senator Chris] McDaniel had been slated to be the keynote speaker at a combined Firearm Freedom Day/ Tea Party Music Festival in Guntown, Mississippi. That event featured a vendor who sold Confederate memorabilia and founded the Council of White Patriot Voters and the Confederate Patriot Voters United, which the Southern Poverty Law Center listed as an active white nationalist group.

In a story full of amazement, I was even MORE amazed to discover that there is a place called Guntown, MS. Because OF COURSE THERE IS.

The dangers of poor science education

One of the key arguments being made by Hobby Lobby in their contraception coverage case is that some of the birth control methods being covered are “abortifacients.”

What they mean by this is that they believe they cause abortions, and reject the scientific information on offer that establishes conclusively that these drugs instead prevent conception.

This is a dangerous place to be: we have let science education get so mired in political, right-wing, evangelical bullshit combined with a populace that’s effectively illiterate that these fools are on the verge of winning a landmark case about health care on the back of their claim that their BELIEF that these drugs cause abortions, despite all medical evidence.

More at TPM, which you should read.

How the Halfwit States will Hold Us Back

You’re a long way from high school civics, I know, but I’m sure you know how the US Congress works: one chamber apportions representation based on population (with the will of the people widely thwarted by gerrymandering) while the other gives each state equal representation.

The US population has been migrating to urban centers for years, which concentrates progressive votes in small geographic areas — and in fewer states. The way Congress works, though, means that the GOP could gain control of the Senate while representing a minority of the US population.

And it’s likely they will.

The mistake would be expecting Scalia to be intellectually consistent

Scalia is widely viewed as the most hostile Supreme Court justice to Obama in general, and to health care and birth control specifically, so it’s no surprise that progressives see him as the enemy in the upcoming case challenging the requirement that most businesses provide health coverage that includes birth control. However, it turns out that Nino’s own rulings in the past establish a strong legal precedent for precisely the kind of requirement that Hobby Lobby, et. al., are challenging.

In 1990, the issue was whether or not two men fired from their jobs for smoking peyote could collect unemployment, which is ordinarily not available to those fired for cause (i.e., for using drugs).

Scalia said no:

“[T]he right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability,” Scalia wrote in the 6-3 majority decision, going on to aggressively argue that such exemptions could be a slippery slope to lawlessness.

“The rule respondents favor would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind,” he wrote, “ranging from compulsory military service, to the payment of taxes, to health and safety regulation such as manslaughter and child neglect laws, compulsory vaccination laws, drug laws, and traffic laws; to social welfare legislation such as minimum wage laws, child labor laws, animal cruelty laws, environmental protection laws, and laws providing for equality of opportunity for the races.”

So terribly proud

The idiot represesntive being aggressively, arrogantly wrong in this story about copyright infringement hearings in Washington is, of course, our own.

The ignorant right-wing anti-gay Poe, by way of a truly shameful degree of gerrymandering, represents both distant exurbs AND most of Montrose, i.e. one of Texas’ oldest “gayborhoods.”

We’re completely sure that district was rationally determined and not constructed to minimize the Democratic vote bloc that is Montrose.

In conclusion: Fuck Ted Poe.

Just so we’re clear: the anti-choice right is objectively anti-birth control

This should be obvious, since they want to both ban abortion AND make it harder to get access to any family planning services — hence the hostility to Planned Parenthood, and their ongoing support for folks like Hobby Lobby, who are suing to avoid having their insurance plan cover contraception at all.

You’d think that, if their actual desire was to reduce the incidence of abortion, they’d work super, super hard to make sure all women had access to highly effective means of birth control. But that’s not what they want. What they want is for sex to always carry the significant risk of pregnancy, for everyone, all the time. They see the fact that we’ve decoupled sex and childbearing as a problem, not an advance, and they’re desperate to roll back the clock.

Cases like Hobby Lobby’s force them to drop their veil just a bit, so we can see what they want more clearly. My guess is that even the notoriously halfwitted American public don’t really agree with them here; the Democrats should remember this issue come fall.

Busy? I don’t care. Do this.

Today is the day we fight back against ridiculous, overreaching, plainly illegal surveillance from the NSA.

Go to the link. The EFF will help you determine who your reps in Congress are, and will even set up the phone calls and give you talking points.

Make time. Even if your reps are, as mine are, generally weasels. This kind of day of action is precisely what pols respect.

This is a democracy. Take part.

I swear to God, I thought this was the Onion

But no: Fox News is freaking out over CVS’s decision to stop selling tobacco products.

Professional halfwit Gretchen Carlson actually asked, on air, “Is it OK legally … to restrict tobacco availability in a private store like this?” Apparently, Ms Carlson thinks some body of law governs what must be sold in any given store, and implicitly supports such laws, despite the rather alarming implications.

This is really yet another example of Fox being primarily interested only in stories they can warp into a club to hit the President with. How anyone takes them seriously is completely beyond me.