Friday, July 19, 2013

Vimeo of the Day: "The Fruit Hunters"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I read yesterday at The Atlantic about a 2012 documentary called The Fruit Hunters. It's a Canadian production, but somehow I missed it -- maybe because it got little attention at the time.

Below is the trailer, and here's the description:

Exotic fruit obsessives, adventurers, detectives and even movie star Bill Pullman are the subjects of the dizzying new film from acclaimed director Yung Chang (Up the Yangtze, China Heavyweight). A cinematic odyssey through nature and commerce that spans prehistory to the present, The Fruit Hunters will change not only the way we look at what we eat but how we view our relationship to the natural world. 

I love fruit. A lot. And I want to see this doc. And to eat as much of this glorious fruit as possible.

(By the way, Up the Yangtze, which I have seen, is excellent. Sad and depressing, but excellent.)

The Fruit Hunters - Official Trailer : in theaters November 23, 2012 from EyeSteelFilm on Vimeo.

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So you think Ray Kelly should head up the Department of Homeland Security?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Well, whether you do or don't, you should read Conor Friedersdorf's excellent piece at The Atlantic, "Prominent Democrats Are Now Comfortable With Racial and Ethnic Profiling," which includes:

Under Ray Kelly, the NYPD infiltrated Muslim communities and spied on hundreds or perhaps thousands of totally innocent Americans at mosques, colleges, and elsewhere. Officers "put American citizens under surveillance and scrutinized where they ate, prayed and worked, not because of charges of wrongdoing but because of their ethnicity," AP reported, citing NYPD documents. Informants were paid to bait Muslims into making inflammatory statements. The NYPD even conducted surveillance on Muslim Americans outside its jurisdiction, drawing a rebuke from an FBI field office, where a top official charged that "the department's surveillance of Muslims in the state has hindered investigations and created 'additional risks' in counterterrorism."

Moreover, "In more than six years of spying on Muslim neighborhoods, eavesdropping on conversations and cataloguing mosques," the Associated Press reported, "the New York Police Department's secret Demographics Unit never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation." The horrifying effects on innocent Americans are documented here. But despite the high costs and lack of counterterrorism benefits, Kelly stands behind the surveillance on Muslims.


On its own, Kelly's treatment of Muslims ought to disqualify him from the position, and even from being praised by the president of the United States. On its own, his treatment of blacks and Hispanics ought to disqualify him from being promoted, too. But his tenure has also been characterized by a dearth of transparency that has exacerbated his abuses. As Murray Weiss explains, "The lack of transparency during the Kelly administration played a pivotal role in keeping the public -- and by extension the NYPD -- from recognizing years earlier that the number of stop-and-frisks in New York was escalating to troubling levels. Kelly failed to disclose the stop-and-frisk numbers for seven years despite being required by law to do so. When he was finally forced to release them, the numbers were stunning, and caused critics to ask why stop-and-frisks escalated from 100,000 during Bloomberg's first year in office to 500,000 seven years later."

Yet New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer is lobbying for him, and on Wednesday President Obama said Kelly's "obviously done an extraordinary job" and would be "very well qualified for the job" of Homeland Security secretary.

Sadly, this isn't at all surprising, though it is to the immense discredit of both men.

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Will Obama cave to Republican demands on fiscal deal?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The other day, National Journal ran an article entitled "Republicans, White House in Talks Toward Big Fiscal Deal":

At least a dozen Republican senators are regularly meeting with President Obama's top aides in an attempt to plot a way forward on the looming fiscal challenges facing leaders this fall, senators involved in the meetings tell National Journal.

The meetings, which began after Obama hosted GOP senators for dinner earlier this year, are the first sign that Democrats and Republicans are in talks to strike a deal that would reduce the deficit and reform entitlements and taxes.

Now, let's not get ahead of ourselves. There's no deal in sight: "The talks are, as McCain put it, still in the 'embryonic stage' and so far have consisted of identifying the dividing lines between the two sides." Furthermore, "[t]he differences between the two sides... remain vast."

Suffice it to say, though, this is all rather concerning.

First, there are no Democrats to be seen, at least in this piece. It's the White House and Congressional Republicans doing the talking.

Second, if the point is to establish the dividing lines and to find agreement in between the White House on one side and Republicans on the other, the result will be a deal that is somewhere on the center-right: tax revenue the Republicans agree to along with entitlement and tax "reform" (with Obama having put entitlements on the table, and any such deal securing Republicans an historic victory in their quest to dismantle the social safety net) the Republicans demand.

Meanwhile, we see yet again what the president thinks of progressives, and of the vast majority of his own party -- he wants to cut a deal with Republicans, moving to the right in the process, everything to the left of his establishment centrism be damned.

Of course, the House likely won't agree to any of this. So there's that, for better and for worse.

(By the way, the answer to the title of this post is: Yes, probably.)

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Peter King, terrorism supporter, eyes White House, role of bigot-in-chief

By Michael J.W. Stickings 

Apparently, Peter King -- the congressman from New York, not the SI/NBC football guy -- is thinking about running for president.

(I'll pause while you let out a hearty laugh.)

I look forward to hearing him explain his rabid anti-Muslim bigotry and his enthusiastic support for the terrorist Irish Republican Army on the campaign trail.

Doesn't stand a chance, you say? I thought so, too, at first.

But consider how well anti-Muslim bigotry and the right (i.e., right-wing, or at least white) sort of terrorism freedom fighting, not to mention the call for greater domestic surveillance particularly of Muslims, plays among Republicans.

They lap that shit up.

It's still a long shot, but stranger things have happened.

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Thoughts on the Rolling Stone cover with alleged Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Oh, there's just so much righteous outrage over Rolling Stone's supposedly controversial, supposedly inappropriate cover photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. How dare they? It glamorized him, it glorifies him, it disrespects the victims, it's so very, very wrong, the shame!


Here are some comments before I turn to Frank Rich:

First, this is a "selfie," a photo the young Tsarnaev took of himself. Yes, he looks a bit like a rock star, but that's the point of the article. This isn't the sort of guy you'd expect to find at an al Qaeda training camp in some remote part of some hellish part of the world. He seemed "normal," and most of those around him, most of those close to him, talk of how wonderful he was, of how promising his life was, how he seemed to be your basic American kid.

But that's too complicated, apparently. People want to vilify him, to find him evil incarnate, refusing to acknowledge that there was, and likely still is, much more to him than that, that even if he's guilty, as he likely is, it's not as easy as saying he's a good-for-nothing killer.

This troubled me at the time and troubles me even more now. Did he do horrendous things? Does he have innocent blood on his hands? Yes, it appears so. But why did he do those things? Why did he -- this promising young man -- follow his brother into an act of terrorism and the additional bloodshed that followed? This outstanding article by Janet Reitman tries to answer that question, or at least tries to get us closer to the person, to see him for what he was, and is, the human being instead of the evil psychopath who is held up in the media and by those who have no interest in understanding anything.

Read more »

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Why was Abdulrahman al-Awlaki killed?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I think the Obama Administration, and the president personally, has some explaining to do:

Though everyone already knew that U.S. forces killed American Al Qaeda preacher Anwar al-Awlaki in a 2011 drone strike, the Obama administration only admitted in May that he was among four Americans targeted overseas. The government's justification for killing one of its own citizens without due process is still sketchy, though Attorney General Eric Holder assured us it was, "lawful, it was considered, and it was just." The White House has been even more evasive about why al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son was killed by a drone two weeks later, saying only that he and two other slain American citizens "were not specifically targeted by the United States." In a devastating New York Times op-ed published Thursday, his grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki demands to know why. "My grandson was killed by his own government," he writes. "The Obama administration must answer for its actions and be held accountable."

In the op-ed, Nasser al-Awlaki describes his grandson Abdulrahman as a typical teen who "watched The Simpsons, listened to Snoop Dogg, read Harry Potter and had a Facebook page with many friends." In September 2011 he left home without permission because he wanted to find his father. He turned up at a cousin's house in southern Yemen and called after learning of his father's death to say he was coming home. Two weeks later, Abdulrahman, his teenage cousin, and five other people were killed in an open-air restaurant.

Actually, I'm not sure an explanation is nearly enough. What we need is some accountability -- yes, from a president who claims he has the right -- and that it is both legal and just -- to kill American citizens, not to mention anyone else, simply by fiat.

Oh, and a 16-year old at that.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

More bad Bradley Manning news

By Frank Moraes 

In the trial of Bradley Manning, Judge Colonel Denise Lind has ruled that the most series charge of aiding the enemy cannot be dropped. She said, "He was knowingly providing intelligence to the enemy." That statement shocks me on two levels. First, she seems to have already convicted him. Second, really?! If we are talking about Osama Bin Laden, then this is clearly not true. If we are talking about the press, then okay. In modern America, the government has defined its enemies so broadly and the concept of damage so vast that no one can say anything without risking indictment.

But the government apparently now knows that some of Manning's leaked information was found on Bin Laden's computer. When the government killed him, you were probably like me in thinking, "I'll bet there is some good information that the government can use to fight terrorists." But apparently not. There was good information there for the government to use to oppress its citizens. James Madison would be so proud!

In general, I've always seen military courts as little more than well catered drumhead court-martials. So I've never expected that Bradley Manning would get justice. The only question in my mind is whether he will die in prison. Judge Lind's ruling is yet another step in that eventuality. There is still some hope, but I'm not optimistic.

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Bankrupt Detroit

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So Detroit, to no one's surprise, has filed for bankruptcy. Such is what has happened to what was once one of the great American cities:

Detroit, the cradle of America's automobile industry and once the nation’s fourth-most-populous city, has filed for bankruptcy, an official said Thursday afternoon, the largest American city ever to take such a course.

The decision to turn to the federal courts, which required approval from both the emergency manager assigned to oversee the troubled city and from Gov. Rick Snyder, is also the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in American history in terms of debt.

New York magazine notes optimistically that "a bankruptcy proceeding will allow the city to shed some of the billions of dollars of liability it has and get something close to a fresh start" -- and so maybe this is the start of a long rebuilding process that will see the city prosper once again.

Or maybe not. After all, where is the money for rebuilding supposed to come from? What would the source of any future prosperity be? Will businesses ever return in significant numbers? Will people ever return? And if not, what do you do with a large and largely dilapidated city that has passed the point of no return? Would it just go the way of the cities of antiquity, falling ever further into ruin, one day perhaps a destination for historians and archeologists?

Whatever the case, Detroit's demise, like the demise of industrial America generally, is a sad thing. And if you want to know how it all happened, watch this video:

What Happened To Detroit?! from Publius on Vimeo.

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A.M. Headlines

(USA Today): "'Rolling Stone' defends Tsarnaev glam cover"

(CNN): "Exclusive: Juror pushes for new laws following Zimmerman trial"

(National Journal): "Republicans, White House in talks towards big fiscal deal"

(CBS News): "Obama in staunch defense of health care law"

(Reuters): "India to probe school meal scheme after 23 children die"


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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

P.M. Headlines

(The Hill): "Black Dems ready racial profiling bill in response to Florida verdict"

(FiveThirtyEight): "In public opinion on abortion, few absolutes"

(USA Today): "Putin warns Snowden not to hurt U.S.-Russia relations"

(New York Times): "Filibuster deal heralds stirrings of compromise"

(The Hill): "Labour secretary nominee narrowly survives Senate vote"


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Behind the Ad: Terry McAuliffe on natural gas royalties

By Richard K. Barry

(Another in our extensive Behind the Ad series.)

Who: The Terry McAuliffe (D) campaign for governor

Where: Virginia

What's going on: As The Washington Post describes it, the ad is built around a controversy to do with "how - and whether - landowners should be paid royalties by natural gas companies who extract coal-bed methane from their land."

 McAuliffe's Republican opponent in the governor's race, Ken Cuccinelli, gets drawn into this because a federal judge expressed strong concern "at the advice and assistance an assistant attorney general from Cuccinelli’s office (when he was AG) was giving to two energy companies embroiled in a lawsuit."

The bottom line claim is that area residents are saying they are not seeing any money from royalties and Cuccinelli's office was giving information to the energy companies that was used to fight the claims of locals. And then, the ad says, Cuccinelli got $100,000 from said energy companies for his governor's campaign.

And here's a shocking retort from the Cuccinelli campaign:
Cuccinelli’s campaign said McAuliffe had decided to launch the first negative ad of their duel to distract from his own shortcomings.

“If Virginians want a governor who’s willing to use scare tactics to get elected, Terry McAuliffe is their candidate,” said Cuccinelli spokeswoman Anna Nix. “It’s notable that his campaign, with no positive economic message to run on, has decided to go up with negative, misleading TV ads. With regard to the methane case, McAuliffe is deliberately trying to distort the facts in a shameless attempt to drum up votes.”

You will be shocked to learn that Cuccinelli's team is denying any impropriety.

When will they learn that if they haven't got anything nice to say, they shouldn't say anything at all?

I have no idea if this issues resonates in Virginia.


(Cross-posted at Phantom Public.)

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Ed Kilgore and rational cynicism

By Frank Moraes

I have a normal evolution regarding political writers. At first, I am in their thrall. Slowly, I begin to disagree with them more and more. And eventually I reach the point where they annoy me more often than not. The most recent example of this is Greg Sargent. With regards to policy, I think we very much agree. But I just can't take his optimism in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I first started noticing it with the gun control legislation but it has continued through the debt ceiling (which he claims is solved but is not) and most recently comprehensive immigration reform.

Well, I've started a new relationship; this time it is with the Washington Times' Ed Kilgore. I can't say where our relationship will go from here, but I think we are starting at a better place. For one thing, having read him on and off for a long time, I already know that I don't always agree with him. But when it comes to temperament, we are very much alike. For example, on the issue of filibuster reform, he has wanted to see actual reform the whole time. Early this morning, he published, May Cooler Heads Not Prevail. That was nice to read after so many liberals were gloating that Democrats got what they wanted without actually improving the broken Senate. All morning I've been reading slight variants on, "And if the Republicans don't behave, the Democrats still have the nuclear option!" Yeah, but they could just fix the problem instead. As Kilgore noted, "This is not time for sticky sentimentality about the Senate's sacred traditions, which (a) are not at all "sacred" and (b) in the case of the filibuster, have been twisted beyond recognition in the last few years."

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Keeping it pure

By Mustang Bobby

There are probably a number of good and principled reasons to oppose immigration reform: it’s going to be expensive, it could enable scams by people who figure out how to exploit the immigrants, and it may be only a stopgap where those who are determined to get around the laws will find new ways to do it.

But some well-connected people are putting out a reason to be against immigration reform, and it has nothing to do with principled reasons… unless you happen to be a Klansman. George Zomick of The Nation has the story.
Ken Crow, who used to be president of Tea Party of America until he bungled logistics of a Sarah Palin speech and is now affiliated with Tea Party Community, got up and started talking about “well-bred Americans.”

Here is some video of what followed, in which he made a straightforward case for racial purity. (Apologies for the quality; I didn’t anticipate something that crazy to about be said and so I wasn’t well-positioned. But the audio should be clear.)

The transcript:
From those incredible blood lines of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and John Smith. And all these great Americans, Martin Luther King. These great Americans who built this country. You came from them. And the unique thing about being from that part of the world, when you learn about breeding, you learn that you cannot breed Secretariat to a donkey and expect to win the Kentucky Derby. You guys have incredible DNA and don’t forget it.

Not only was this said in the presence of hundreds of people on Capitol Hill, but many important Republican politicians were present. Senator Jeff Sessions, who helped lead the opposition to the immigration bill in the Senate, was directly behind me, glad-handing attendees, as I shot this video. Congressman Steve King, who is taking up Session’s mantle in the House, was also there. Both men spoke (Sessions is the keynote), and Senator Ted Cruz is also on the roster. The rally was promoted by major conservative media figures like Laura Ingraham.

In other words, the rally and its place on the political landscape is impossible to ignore. Last month, another hard-right rally featured Representative Michele Bachmann holding up a white baby and talking about the “future of America”–not quite as explicit, but mainly a difference in degree.

This is not to say that everyone who is opposed to immigration reform is a racist in pursuit of racial purity. But if you are against it, you might want to look around and see who is on your side.

(Cross-posted at Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Reid backs down from compromise of compromise

This is how Democrats work. First they compromise. Then they back off. Then they come back with more compromises. Then they back off again. Again they come back with yet more compromises. And finally they compromise some more.

And that's what we're getting with filibuster reform. We couldn't have complete filibuster reform. So we talked about just judicial and executive branch nominees. And then just executive branch nominees. That was pretty weak tea from my perspective, but at least it was something—and it was completely justified. And as of last night, it looked like that compromise of a compromise might hold. Mitch McConnell offered to permit all seven of the "test" nominations to go forward if Reid would back off on his use of the so called nuclear option. Reid said no.

This morning, the Boston Globe is reporting that Reid has caved again:

If ratified, the deal would mark a retreat by Reid from his insistence on Monday that all seven of the pending nominees be confirmed.

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell privately offered to clear the way for several of the nominees, officials in both parties said.

What's more, the article says that people worry that the nuclear option would poison relations between the parties. What a joke! Are relations not already poisoned? Then to top off this bit of hand wringing, "But critics say Reid's plan would be likely to prompt Republicans to retaliate by doing even more to reduce the minority party's rights if the GOP regains control of the Senate." As I've argued again and again and again: that's going to happen anyway.

As of this writing, the deal is still not done. But once again it looks like there is nothing the Democrats will do to fix the Senate. We will have to wait for the Republicans to take over the Senate and live through some very unpleasant legislative years before we can see any real reform. Harry Reid and his Democratic caucus are again showing they have no backbone and won't do even the smallest things for their constituencies.

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A.M. Headlines

(Politico): "Hillary Clinton: George Zimmerman verdict brought 'deep heartache'"

(The Hill): "Bipartisan House immigration group weighs when to unveil plan"

(Ezra Klein): "The Senate didn’t go nuclear. But, actually, it kind of did"

(Reuters): "Putin says U.S. ties more important than Snowden"

(National Journal): "Americans support the Keystone XL pipeline by wide margin"


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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

P.M. Headlines

(Jonathan Chiat): "Senate Democrats threaten nuclear option and win"

(CBS News): "Liz Cheney to challenge Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo."

(USA Today): "Experts: Prosecutors failed to humanize Trayvon"

(BBC News): "Snowden applies for asylum in Russia"

(New York Times): "Barrage of cyberattacks challenge campus culture"


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Vimeo of the Day: "Adrift"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I love time-lapse video, and this serene short film by Simon Christen is just beautiful:

Adrift from Simon Christen on Vimeo.


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Hm. buyer's remorse?

By Carl

An interesting interview on Anderson Cooper’s show last night with one of the jurors on the George Zimmerman panel:
The woman, known as Juror B37, told CNN's Anderson Cooper that when the jury began deliberations Friday, they took an initial vote. Three jurors -- including B37 -- were in favor of acquittal, two supported manslaughter and one backed second-degree murder. She said the jury started going through all the evidence, listening to tapes multiple times.

"That's why it took us so long," said B37, who said she planned to write a book about the trial but later had a change of heart.

Said “change of heart” was forced upon her, by the way as first her publisher, then her agent, dropped her like a shit-covered rock.

People disgust me, but I digress…or maybe not a digression. Let’s look further into the AC360 interview.
When they started looking at the law, the person who initially wanted second-degree murder changed her vote to manslaughter, the juror said. Then they asked for clarification from the judge and went over it again and again. B37 said some jurors wanted to find Zimmerman guilty of something, but there was just no place to go based on the law

Now, all that may be true, but it seems to me that if you stood your ground – no pun intended – the judge would accept the verdict, and appealing that verdict would be very hard for the defense. It’s easy to appeal errors in the trial, errors of procedure, but if a jury sifts through the evidence and determines that, despite the law, a crime was committed, then there’s nothing to be done about it.

Better legal minds than mine (e.g. actual lawyers…I’ve only played them on the TeeVee) have told me that the law gives this jury cover, and it’s true, it does.

Still, it wouldn’t be the first time a jury has broken ranks with the law to do the right thing. And that’s something this woman and the other two will have to spend the rest of their lives living with: a young man died, and they had the chance to punish the killer, but let him walk free.

Shameful. Absolutely shameful.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Gang of Umpteen

By Frank Moraes 

Politico reported yesterday, "Reid digs in as Senate Nears Nuclear Option Showdown." While it is good that Reid is indeed moving forward, that isn't what the article is about. Rather, it seems that some Republicans are trying to pitch a new "Gang of Umpteen" to Reid. I am not in favor of this.

Right off the top, I'm skeptical because the Gang of 14 disappeared as soon the Democrats got control of the Senate. Why was that? I thought the whole idea of that group was not just to stop the Republicans from using the nuclear option, but also to make filibuster use more responsible and rare. And the way the Gang of 14 worked was pretty much that the Republicans got whatever they wanted. Pretty much every nominee who would have been filibustered was pushed through by the Gang of 14. In other words, the Republicans might as well have used the nuclear option, there were only a very small number of nominees the Gang stopped. So the question is whether the new Gang of Umpteen would function the same and allow pretty much all nominees through.

Ha ha ha! Wait, I have to catch my breath... My, but that was a doozy! Of course that isn't going to happen.

As usual, what the Republicans are offering the Democrats is the weakest of tea.

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Is there a vaccination against Jenny McCarthy's anti-scientific bullshit?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Normally I wouldn't care what goes on at The View. I don't watch it, I don't want to watch it, and on the whole it just adds to the cultural pollution that envelops America. (Yes, it's generally liberal, but really it's just a squawk-fest of superficiality. It's good to see women in positions of influence, sure, but this is generally more embarrassing than enlightening.)

But it's hard not to care when it hires as new co-host a complete fucking idiot like Jenny McCarthy, giving her a significant platform from which to spew her bullshit.

And I say that with all due respect. She may well be, for the most part, a lovely person. But her one issue, the one thing she seems truly passionate about, the one thing other than her personality she's bringing to the show, is a completely unscientific view of vaccination. As Slate's Phil Plait writes:

McCarthy's views constitute, in my opinion, a threat to public health. She is loudly against vaccines, claiming they cause autism, claiming they are loaded with toxins, and claiming her own son became autistic after a vaccination and that she subsequently cured him with a gluten-free diet.

To phrase it delicately, none of her claims has any medical merit at all. Vaccines have an incredibly small risk compared to their extremely large benefit. Polio, measles, pertussis... these diseases and many more have infected, sickened, and killed far fewer people than they used to due to the development of vaccinations against them. Smallpox alone killed hundreds of millions of people, and it's gone because of vaccines

Vaccines have been tested exhaustively to see if they cause autism, and it's become overwhelmingly clear: There is no good evidence that they do.

Yet despite these facts McCarthy has gone everywhere and anywhere protesting vaccinations.

And now she's going to a very popular daytime show where there isn't exactly rigorous debate. You do the math.

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Virginians don't much care for their governor

By Michael J.W. Stickings


PPP's newest Virginia poll finds that Bob McDonnell's net approval rating has dropped 12 points in the last month, and that for the first time since taking office he's under water. Only 36% of voters approve of the job he's doing to 41% who disapprove.

McDonnell's numbers are down across the board from our last poll of the state. He's dropped from 73% approval with Republicans to 62%, 22% approval with Democrats to 14%, and from a 39/41 spread to a 36/43 one with independents. McDonnell's favorability numbers are even worse than his approval numbers with just 32% of voters seeing him in a positive light to 45% who have a negative opinion.

McDonnell's ethics issues seem to be driving this downturn in his popularity.

Oh really? You think?

I guess this is what happens when you take gifts from a shady corporate exec trying to buy influence, arousing the FBI's interest, and spend public money improperly at your mansion, and otherwise come across as a walking ethics violation.

But the question is how McDonnell's current troubles will impact the Republican ticket, specifically blow job hater Ken Cuccinelli (running for governor) and all-around wacko E.W. Jackson (running for lieutenant governor). (Those PPP numbers are coming today. Stay tuned.)

Suffice it to say, Virginia Republicans don't look all that good at the moment.

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Snowden for the Nobel?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

He claims he's not a hero, but... why not?

In his letter addressed to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, [Swedish professor] Stefan Svallfors praised Snowden for his "heroic effort at great personal cost." He stated that by revealing the existence and the scale of the US surveillance programs, Snowden showed "individuals can stand up for fundamental rights and freedoms."

I mean, he's more deserving of the Peace Prize than, oh, say, Barack Obama, no? And certainly more deserving than a war criminal like Henry Kissinger.

He's a whistleblower for peace. And deserves to be recognized as such.

(Even though, as I and others keep stressing, this isn't about Edward Snowden, or Glenn Greenwald, it's about what the NSA is doing and more broadly about the expansion of the American surveillance state at the expense of liberty, privacy, and democratic self-governance.)

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A.M. Headlines

(Washington Post): "As Senate nears filibuster showdown, Reid says Republicans can still avoid fight"

(Politico): "Rand Paul, Ted Cruz join Kirsten Gillibrand push on military sexual assault"

(New York Times): "In second term, Obama is seen as using 'hidden hand" approach"

(USA Today): "Juror: Zimmerman should have stayed in car"

(Radio Free Europe): "Putin: U.S. trapping Snowden in Russia"


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Monday, July 15, 2013

P.M. Headlines

(USA Today): "'Tabloid Twins' Spitzer and Weiner lead in new NYC poll"

(Daily Journal): "Detroit still in 'dire' shape, low on cash, emergency manager says in latest report to state"

(National Journal): "Why Senators can be arrested for not going to work"

(Reuters): Reid warns of using 'nuclear option' on filibusters"

(New York Times): "Egyptian liberals embrace the military, brooking no dissent"


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The tragedy of the all-too-common

By Carl

As the anger builds over the verdict in the George Zimmerman case, one thing leaps off the page to this actor and public speaker: the prosecution.

Before I get to my thoughts on that, let me just say that it’s fortunate, I think, that the protests and demonstrations have been overwhelmingly peaceful, with scattered violence. It makes it hard for the right wing to paste “savages” label over this and forces them to move mountains to do so.

Moving on…

The facts supported one slam-dunk verdict: manslaughter. A case could be argued for murder in that Zimmerman saw Martin, started stalking him, aggravated an assault then in a panic shot Martin dead, meaning that he brought this on himself with at least a felonious assault. Killing someone in the commission of a crime is by definition in most states murder, and I’m sure Florida has had enough fatalities during bank robberies and such that this statute exists there, too.

That’s a hard case to make when the victim can’t speak for himself, can’t give his side of the story and there’s precious little evidence – either forensic or eyewitness – that conclusively determines this is what happened.

Which brings me to my point.

The prosecution attempted to try this case strictly on facts, but they missed a golden opportunity to get the jurors’ sympathy for Martin, leaving Zimmerman and the families to be the only emotional totems in the entire courtroom.

His opening statement focused on the actions of Zimmerman, which it should, but he presented it from an objective, third party standpoint, and threw in a few obscenities to boot. On a jury of six southern women, this was a mistake. He needed to make an emotional connection with them, make them feel for Martin. Here’s what I would have said:
“Ladies of the jury, I want you to put yourself on the streets of Sanford that rainy, dark night. You’re walking home from the store, carrying a few groceries. Maybe you’re chatting with a friend on the phone, minding your own business, when you notice that creeping up behind you is a car you don’t recognize. It’s moving slowly. It makes no effort to pass you. If anything, it seems to be following you. You walk a little faster. Maybe you mention to your friend on the phone that there’s this car creeping behind you. You duck down a side yard, hoping to get away.”

You walk on a little further and realize now there’s a man walking behind you, following you. You don’t know who he is, but you recognize him as the driver of the car. You don’t know what he wants, but you’re scared, terrified. It’s a cold night and windows are closed, no one else is out on the street. You shout at him, more to get him to leave you alone than to find out what he wants. He yells back. Words are exchanged and you panic out of sheer terror, trying to force him to stop following you.”

“We’ve all been in situations like this. We’ve all been stalked, hunted, by someone who means to do us harm, no matter how nice we might be. It’s frightening.”

Imagine now, six women jurors. They’ve been to pools and beaches, walked past construction sites. Maybe they’ve had *that guy* as a boyfriend, the one who follows them after they break up, demanding answers. It made them angry. It was terror of the most personal and destructive kind.

And you’ve just won your verdict by being honest about Trayvon Martin.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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A.M. Headlines

(Esquire): "What George Zimmerman can do now"

(ABC News): "George Zimmerman to get his gun back"

(The Hill): "Reid: Low approval of Congress justifies triggering nuclear option in Senate"

(Detroit Free Press): "Guardian journalist: Snowden docs contain NSA 'blueprint'"

(New York Times): "No quick impact in U.S. arms plan for Syria rebels"


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Sunday, July 14, 2013

P.M. Headlines

(USA Today): "Obama: 'A jury has spoken' in Zimmerman case"

(The Hill): "Holder faces big decision on Zimmerman"

(New York Times): "Zimmerman acquittal reverberates, setting off protests and talk of race"

(Statesman): "Attorney General Greg Abbott launches campaign for governor [Texas]"

(Washington Post): "Billionaire Koch brothers use Web to take on media reports they dispute"


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Making sense of the Zimmerman verdict

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Like many others, I tweeted a lot last night in response to the Zimmerman verdict. Like many others, I wanted -- and still want -- #JusticeForTrayvon. Here are a couple of them:

And yet, while I understood, and still do, the enormous outpouring of outrage, and while I abhorred, and always will, the gloating coming from the pro-Zimmerman types on the right, I must say I found much of the reaction to the verdict, from those outraged, unnecessarily weighed down with grotesque hyperbole at a time when what is needed is perspective and a sober sense of what to do now now that the trial is over.

For example, there were those attacking the jurors for supposedly being right-wing morons, as if we can possibly know what was going through their minds, consciously or not, as they reached a verdict in one of the most controversial trials in recent memory.

And there were those attacking the defense attorneys. Yes, there was some ugly gloating on their part, but they were also just doing their jobs.

And those attacking the system without really understanding how criminal justice works.

And today I saw some insanely calling for a boycott of the State of Florida, as if that somehow would solve the problem.

And so on.

This is not to say that I'm happy with the verdict or that I think justice was done. Please. This isn't an either/or thing.

I think we know pretty clearly what happened, or at least we think we do, and I think we know pretty clearly that racism was involved in what happened, and perhaps also in some rather less clear way in the trial/verdict, and I think it's understandable to be angry, disappointed, frustrated.

But while wanting justice for Trayvon Martin, and finding the whole damn thing abhorrent, let's not make the mistake of mistaking this one case for more than it was.

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A bitter pill

By Carl

I fell asleep last night just as the jury in the George Zimmerman trial reached a verdict. I knew it would take another hour or so for all parties to gather and to announce the actual verdict, and I was pretty tired already. I'm glad I did. As it was, I only read about it this morning when I looked at my phone to see what time it was around 4 AM, and got so angry that I couldn't fall back to sleep.

A few thoughts:

1) Finding someone guilty on a charge of manslaughter entails two conditions: first, someone has to be dead and second, that death has to occur because of the deliberate actions of the accused. Unless you buy the ludicrous self-defense charge, that's clearly what happened here.

2) To buy the ludicrous self-defense charge means willfully ignoring the entire incident up to the point where the struggle between two men begins. It also means that the prosecution failed miserably to put the jurors in the scenario. A young boy is walking home, minding his own business, when a creep starts stalking him, first in his car, then on foot. He's terrified, not knowing who or what this is about. As he is still just a teen, he acts first and questions his actions later (sadly, he never gets that chance.) He turns and confronts his assailant, and demands to know what his problem is. Things escalate.

3) The trouble with the jury system is jurors. When your jury pool is the state of Florida, you are going to be hard pressed to find even six modestly intelligent people. That they asked to have the charge of manslaughter read back to them and then didn't respond to an admittedly stupid request of the judge, that told me the prosecution was in trouble.

4) My suspicion is the jury, unable to find sufficient cause to convict on murder (I might give them this. It's hard to know for sure that Zimmerman set out to kill this particular kid.) and completely confused about what constitutes manslaughter, threw up their hands because they wanted the trial over and to go home.

5) Zimmerman is far from off the hook. For one thing, the parents have recourse to a civil suit -- you may recall this was the trial that actually did find O. J. Simpson guilty -- which only needs a preponderance of evidence that Zimmerman caused the death of Trayvon Martin. For another, the Federal government could pursue a hate crimes case against Zimmerman, although that's a little unlikely given the paucity of evidence, some garbled phone transcripts.

6) Speaking of OJ, it's a bit ironic that just about twenty years after that verdict shocked America, here comes the Zimmerman verdict. I think the parallels will not end there. You may recall that OJ never really "got away with it," and although he gained his freedom, it didn't last. He's currently serving a prison sentence for another crime he committed and was convicted of and the judge in that case was none too kind in sentencing. Given the Zimmerman family propensity for criminal behavior, this is probably not the last time we'll see him in court. He'll try to get a book deal out of this, and in a worst case scenario, a movie, but in the end, he'll crash harder believing he got away with murder.

So a piece of advice, George: Not guilty is not the same thing as innocent. You killed a boy. You're going to have to square yourself with that.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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By Capt. Fogg

This isn't the first time I've said that Justice in America isn't about the law, it's about the lawyers. It won't be the last time. The web-footed honkers and quackers at CNN were still telling each other as I switched it all off and went to bed, that we have a pattern of letting killers go free, but if you have a memory longer than a goose and if you still make an effort to look past the selected stories the angertainment industry allows us, you'd be aware that if there is a pattern, it's a pattern of framing the innocent.

I was appalled last Friday night when Cornell West told us on Bill Maher's show that Florida's Stand Your Ground law allowed everyone to carry a gun, but not surprised. The level of ignorance about gun laws is shockingly high, stubbornly held and sadly near universal amongst those most vociferously opposed to public ownership of weapons. Tragically sad because the law is written to exclude the right to chase down, confront and threaten or even to escalate a dispute if one wants to claim self-defense, but as I said, it's not about the law, it's about glib and sarcastic trial lawyers, dull witted jurors and ignorance.

I dread to read the news this morning. I don't want to lose my breakfast over yet more railing against guns, I don't want to hear that the decision to acquit Zimmerman was all about race or any of the other stale arguments imposed on this case before Trayvon Martin was interred. As far as I'm concerned, it's just another flim-flam defense based on making the law seem to say what it doesn't, and it doesn't say that you can shoot someone -- an unarmed someone who knocks you down or gives you a bloody nose particularly when you instigated the fight and violated someones civil rights in the process. In fact, the law was designed to allow someone like Martin to use deadly force to defend himself against someone, some "crazy cracker" posing a credible threat to his life to force him out of any place he had a right to be. He brought his fists and some skittles to a gun fight. 

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A.M. Headlines

(CNN): "George Zimmerman found not guilty of murder in Trayvon Martin's death"

(New York Times): "Zimmerman is acquitted in killing of Trayvon Martin"

(Los Angeles Times): "The Justice Dept. and a free press"

(USA Today): "Mandela could soon be discharged, Mbeki says"

(Washington Post): "Ambush kills 7 UN peacekeepers in Darfur in deadliest ever attack on Sudan force"


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