Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Last Call For French's Disconnection

I didn't think it was possible, but Bill Kristol managed to fail so badly he might have pegged the needle on the maximum allowed negative integer and flipped it around positive.

Two Republicans intimately familiar with Bill Kristol’s efforts to recruit an independent presidential candidate to challenge Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have told Bloomberg Politics that the person Kristol has in mind is David French -- whose name the editor of the Weekly Standard floated in the current issue of the magazine.

French is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. According to the website of National Review, where French is a staff writer, he is a constitutional lawyer, a recipient of the Bronze Star, and an author of several books who lives in Columbia, Tenn., with his wife Nancy and three children.

Reached in Israel late Tuesday afternoon, Kristol declined to comment on his efforts to induce French to run. The two Republicans confirmed that French is open to launching a bid, but that he has not made a final decision. One of the Republicans added that French has not lined up a vice-presidential running mate or significant financial support.

So, David French is a pundit.

A National Review pundit running for President.

A pundit who, as of a week ago, was asking Mitt Romney to run for president.

The American people need the chance to make a better choice. Given the stakes of the election, to simply leave the race to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is to guarantee a terrible presidency marked by incompetence and cronyism. There is just one hope — however slim — of avoiding this national disaster: America needs a third option.

And at this point, Mitt Romney is the only man who combines the integrity, financial resources, name recognition, and broad public support to make a realistic independent run at the presidency. He’s conservative, he’s got an enviable record in business and government, and he’s demonstrated a unique capacity for turning around failing enterprises. Oh, and there’s one other thing: Romney has been proven right.

It's like Kristol went to the National Review staff meeting and said "Hey, do any of you guys want to run for President?" And everyone else backed up a step because David French was checking his phone and playing Angry Birds: Donald Trump Edition. and didn't see, and now you guys he's gonna run for president and stuff.

Sure.  This is going to be great.

The Company Store Is Now The Company Bank

One of the reasons why barely-paid restaurant workers continue to get screwed by giant chains in the name of profits is because these restaurant chains have enough leverage to force their workers (some undocumented) to remain poor, and Wall Street banks are more than happy to sell the rope to hang these workers with.

Workers at Darden Restaurants chains are routinely told they must accept prepaid debit cards instead of paychecks, according to a new report from the worker organization Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United. A quarter of workers surveyed said they asked to be paid some other way and were told the cards are their only option. 
The practice helps the company, which came under intense pressure to cut costs from dissatisfied investors a couple years back. But it puts an expensive barrier between workers and their money. 
The restaurant conglomerate has roughly 148,000 employees in the U.S. Half of those workers get payroll cards in lieu of standard paper checks. Each card shaves about $2.75 per pay period off of the company’s overhead, saving Darden as much as $5 million per year. 
Darden’s bottom-line bliss means pain and chaos for those 70,000-plus workers. The cards come with a litany of fees: 99 cents for using it to pay utility bills, 50 cents if the card is declined at a cash register, $1.75 to withdraw money from an out-of-network ATM and 75 cents just to check the card’s balance. If a worker loses her card, she’ll pay $10 to have it replaced. 
As Darden cuts its administrative costs, the banks that provide the cards rack up significant income on the back end. Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia researchers put median bank earnings at $1.75 per card per month back in 2012. That suggests Darden’s financial partners are pulling down about $1.5 million a year.

So yes, remember the next time you're at Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse or the Capital Grille that half the employees there are forced to used high-fee "payroll cards" rather than direct deposit, so they can nickel and dime their employees to death, and a great many of these low-paid employees are women.

And eventually, these low-paid full-time employees end up on some sort of government assistance while working 40 hours a week or more, because their employers refuse to pay them a living wage.

I know, I've had employers in the past that tried to user these payroll cards to pay me, saying they were a "great deal" for workers and saved hassle and were very convenient right up until you read the fine print and realize that it would cost you hundreds of dollars in fees a year to use the card.

But that's how we now treat workers in America.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Last Call For Deflecting Defection

So a lot is being made of former AG Eric Holder saying that Edward Snowden "performed a service" to the government by taking a treasure trove of NSA documents to leak, but it's more complicated than that.

In an appearance on former Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod’s podcast, Holder said Snowden’s 2013 leaks “harmed American interests” but that the light he shone on controversial government practices could mitigate some of the damage done.

"I know there are ways in which certain of our agents were put at risk, relationships with other countries were harmed, our ability to keep the American people safe was compromised,” Holder told Axelrod. “There were all kinds of re-dos that had to be put in place as a result of what he did, and while those things were being done we were blind in certain really critical areas. So what he did was not without consequence."

In other words, Snowden forced the NSA to re-examine methods and manners across the board, which for an intelligence agency is I guess a good thing, being stuck with outdated (or in this case, wholly compromised) resources makes the agency useless.

Which of course was Snowden's entire point, to render the NSA powerless internationally. 

“He's broken the law in my view. He needs to get lawyers, come on back, and decide, see what he wants to do: Go to trial, try to cut a deal. I think there has to be a consequence for what he has done,” Holder continued. "I think in deciding what an appropriate sentence should be, I think a judge could take into account the usefulness of having had that national debate."

Appearing from Russia via videoconference at a University of Chicago event earlier this month, Snowden reiterated his willingness to return to the U.S., but only if he could be guaranteed a “fair trial.”

“If I had access to public interest defenses and other things like that, I would want to come home and make my case to the jury," Snowden said. "But, as I think you're quite familiar, the Espionage Act does not permit a public interest defense. You're not allowed to speak the word 'whistleblower' at trial."

Since Snowden's definition of a fair trial is "one where he walks free and is treated like a hero after delivering reams of classified NSA information to Russia and China" no, he's not going to get a fair trial and should stay in Moscow.

Besides Putin is having too much fun laughing at us. In a lot of ways, Edward Snowden is one of the Obama administration's biggest failures with repercussions affecting American intelligence services for years, if not decades to come.

Whether or not you agree that Snowden jump-started the debate over civil liberties in America is one thing, but the fact that Snowden broke the law doing it doesn't absolve him of the crime, either.  Both can be true, that Snowden started a needed debate, and that Snowden needs to face trial, and that continues to be my position.

The Kroog Versus The Math

As Paul Krugman points out, the horse race political "journalism" covering the Democratic primary season is full of crap, and that the people who are telling you Bernie Sanders is going to be the nominee are willfully lying.

First, at a certain point you have to stop reporting about the race for a party’s nomination as if it’s mainly about narrative and “momentum.” That may be true at an early stage, when candidates are competing for credibility and dollars. Eventually, however, it all becomes a simple, concrete matter of delegate counts.

That’s why Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee; she locked it up over a month ago with her big Mid-Atlantic wins, leaving Bernie Sanders no way to overtake her without gigantic, implausible landslides — winning two-thirds of the vote! — in states with large nonwhite populations, which have supported Mrs. Clinton by huge margins throughout the campaign.

And no, saying that the race is effectively over isn’t somehow aiding a nefarious plot to shut it down by prematurely declaring victory. Nate Silver recently summed it up: “Clinton ‘strategy’ is to persuade more ‘people’ to ‘vote’ for her, hence producing ‘majority’ of ‘delegates.’” You may think those people chose the wrong candidate, but choose her they did.

Second, polls can be really helpful at assessing the state of a race, but only if you fight the temptation to cherry-pick, to only cite polls telling the story you want to hear. Recent hyperventilating over the California primary is a classic example. Most polls show Mrs. Clinton with a solid lead, but one recent poll shows a very close race. So, has her lead “evaporated,” as some reports suggest? Probably not: Another poll, taken at the very same time, showed an 18-point lead.

What the polling experts keep telling us to do is rely on averages of polls rather than highlighting any one poll in particular. This does double duty: it prevents cherry-picking, and it also helps smooth out the random fluctuations that are an inherent part of polling, but can all too easily be mistaken for real movement. And the polling average for California has, in fact, been pretty stable, with a solid Clinton lead.

Polls can, of course, be wrong, and have been a number of times this cycle. But they’ve worked better than many people think. Most notably, Donald Trump’s rise didn’t defy the polls — on the contrary, he was solidly leading the polls by last September. Pundits who dismissed his chances were overruling what the surveys were trying to tell them.

Which brings us to the general election. Here’s what you should know, but may not be hearing clearly in the political reporting: Mrs. Clinton is clearly ahead, both in general election polls and in Electoral College projections based on state polls.

It’s true that her lead isn’t as big as it was before Mr. Trump clinched the G.O.P. nomination, largely because Republicans have consolidated around their presumptive nominee, while many Sanders supporters are still balking at saying that they’ll vote for her.

But that probably won’t last; many Clinton supporters said similar things about Barack Obama in 2008, but eventually rallied around the nominee. So unless Bernie Sanders refuses to concede and insinuates that the nomination was somehow stolen by the candidate who won more votes, Mrs. Clinton is a clear favorite to win the White House

Accept the things you cannot change, and have the wisdom to know the difference, as the back two-thirds of the serenity prayer goes.

Like A Kansas Tornado, Con't.

The ultimate insult to the injury of the Sam Brownback Austerity Regime is that, like most GOP-controlled governments, what sacrifices that are demanded of the little people are never enforced upon those who make the laws. After all, Kansas has got to cut salaries for state employees like teachers, but not so much for lawmakers.

The one-of-a-kind Kansas pension plan lets representatives and senators sign up for full-time pension benefits while working their part-time elected positions.

“Legislators,” notes an employee benefit sheet explaining the pension plan to new lawmakers, “have a special deal here.”

They get a modest salary for the roughly four months they spend each year in Topeka, but their pensions grow as if the state paid them for a year-round gig.

All told, a salary shy of $15,000 makes a lawmaker eligible for a pension that any teacher, road worker, prison employee or Kansas bureaucrat could qualify for only if their actual pay ran north of $90,000.

“It’s not fair or appropriate,” said Rebecca Proctor, the executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, a union representing 8,000 workers.

She was a member of a Kansas Public Employees Retirement System study commission that in 2011 suggested changing the system for legislators. The Legislature never acted on that recommendation.

Instead, she said, lawmakers have attempted to shore up KPERS by increasing contributions required of regular state employees. In addition, some legislators have floated proposals limiting whether those workers could count unused vacation and sick time toward their pension benefits.

“It’s hypocritical,” Proctor said.

To be sure, members of the House and Senate must pay into the kitty, 6 percent of the supposed salary on which their pensions are calculated. But it’s such a good deal that few pass it up.

Taxpayers typically pay about twice an employee’s contribution toward the pension. So the more legislators sign up for, the more the state also must chip in.

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article80590492.html#storylink=cpy

And of course this awesome pension deal isn't new, Kansas lawmakers have been enjoying this since 1982 and no other state employee gets that kind of deal.  But the state lawmaker pension plan wasn't touched when Gov. Brownback installed his austerity regime, while other state employees received massive pension cuts, especially teachers.

Did you think austerity in Kansas actually counted for the "servants of the people"?



Sunday, May 29, 2016

It's A Zoo Out There

Something of a tragedy here at the Cincinnati Zoo this weekend as Harambe, one of the gorillas at the zoo's primate enclosure was shot and killed by keepers who were trying to protect a 4-year-old boy who had climbed into the habitat.

The encounter at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden occurred Saturday afternoon when the boy crawled through a barrier and fell into a moat at the facility’s outdoor gorilla center, zoo director Thane Maynard told reporters.

The boy wasn’t seriously hurt in the fall, Maynard said at a news conference, but after he dropped into the enclosure, the gorilla, a 17-year-old male named Harambe, “went down and got him.” The animal grabbed and dragged the child, Maynard said, and that’s why officials determined that the boy’s life was in danger.

“It seemed very much by our professional team, our dangerous-animal response team, to be a life-threatening situation,” Maynard said. “And so the choice was made to put down, or shoot, Harambe. And so he’s gone.”

The 4-year-old boy was taken to a children’s hospital, according to a news release from the zoo. His name was not released.

“It’s a sad day all the way around,” Maynard said. “The right choice was made; it was a difficult choice. We have protocols and procedures, we do drills with our dangerous-animal response team. But we’ve never had a situation like this at the Cincinnati Zoo, where a dangerous animal needed to be dispatched in an emergency situation.”

Zoo employees opted to put down the animal instead of using tranquilizers because in “agitated” situations, it can take time for the drugs to take effect, Maynard said. Harambe also would have had a “dramatic response” to a tranquilizer’s effect, he said.

Maynard praised the workers tasked with handling the incident, saying they had a “tough choice.”

“Because they saved that little boy’s life,” he said. “It could have been very bad.”

The child squeezed into an area where he shouldn't have, getting away from his busy mother, and climbed the wall outside the Gorilla World area. He then fell into the moat surrounding the enclosure, and Harambe dragged the boy out of the water.

That was enough for the keepers to make the call to put the gorilla down.

There's going to be a lot of second guessing here, about if it was the right choice, if the zoo could have done more to protect the enclosure, if the child's mother could have stopped the boy, if the zoo should have had a silverback in the first place.

I don't know the honest answers to these questions, but they need to be answered, I think.

Sunday Long Read: Under The Sea

Mitch Moxley brings us an amazing piece over at The Atavist, the story of Chinese billionaire Jon Jiang and his spectacular, $100 million failure at turning Beijing into Hollywood. 

The script called for an epic battle. In the movie’s third act, the forces of the Eight Faery Kingdoms defend their aquatic empires from annihilation by the evil Demon Mage and his spectral legions. Five hundred extras would play the opposing armies.

But in January 2010, when Jonathan Lawrence, the director of Empires of the Deep, showed up for the shoot, in Qinyu, a resort town in coastal China, he saw only about 20 extras, mostly ornery Russians complaining that they hadn’t been paid in weeks.How would he turn 20 people into 500? On top of that, their costumes—swamp green rubber suits decorated with scales, octopus suckers, and shells—looked like poorly made Halloween getups. Some of them had fins glued to their heads.

Lawrence was in most ways a strange choice to be running a massive film set in China. A 40-something director from Los Angeles with just one feature-film credit, he made his living directing shorts, commercials, and music videos. But then again, ever since he saw Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Arkas a teenager in 1981, he had waited for this chance.

The offer to direct a fantastical adventure movie was a dream come true.Empires of the Deep would be China’s Avatar—a reportedly $100 million production featuring mermaid sirens, Greek warriors, pirates, and sea monsters, complete with cutting-edge special effects and an international cast. The film’s producers hoped that it would break through the cultural barrier that had frustrated producers on both sides of the Pacific for years: a Hollywood-style blockbuster made in China that would captivate audiences around the world.

But the offer came with strings attached. Massive strings. The film’s producer was Jon Jiang, a billionaire real estate mogul and film fanatic who had writtenEmpires and put up much of the funding himself. On set he gave actors preposterous and contradictory directions. But mostly he deployed his assistants to watch Lawrence’s every move and report back to him.

The beach location, which would stand in for Mermaid Island, home of an ancient race of mer-folk, had much of what Lawrence required—a long stretch of coast, endless ocean beyond it—but a few weeks earlier, when he inspected the location, he couldn’t help but notice the row of luxury resort buildings at the edge of the sand. A bit modern for Mermaid Island, he thought.

Lawrence joked to the assistant director that they’d have to build a wall to hide the resort from view.

Let's just say that the story of this disaster is a thousand times more interesting than the attempted movie itself, and would probably make a better film.  It's a hell of an adventure though.

Enjoy it for your long weekend.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Meanwhile, In Venezuela...

The socialist Nicolas Maduro government of Venezuela is in the process of real-time self-destruction, and the resulting (and inevitable) power void is going to be brutal, ugly, and probably extremely deadly in Caracas.

The growing economic crisis — fueled by low prices for oil, the country’s main export; a drought that has crippled Venezuela’s ability to generatehydroelectric power; and a long decline in manufacturing and agricultural production — has turned into an intensely political one for President Nicolás Maduro. This month, he declared a state of emergency, his second this year, and ordered military exercises, citing foreign threats.

But the president looks increasingly encircled.

American officials say the multiplying crises have led Mr. Maduro to fall out of favor with members of his own socialist party, who they believe may turn on him, leading to chaos in the streets.

Old allies like Brazil, whose leftist president, Dilma Rousseff, was removed this month pending an impeachment trial, are now openly criticizing Venezuela. José Mujica, the leftist former president of Uruguay last week called Mr. Maduro “crazy like a goat.”

The regional tensions came to a head last week when Mr. Maduro went on television to chide the Organization of American States, which has criticized Venezuela’s handling of the economic and political crises. Mr. Maduro took aim at Luis Almagro, its secretary general, calling him a “longtime traitor” and implying he was a spy.

Mr. Almagro responded with an open letter blasting the president, calling on him to allow the recall referendum his opponents are pushing this year to remove Mr. Maduro from office.

“You betray your people and your supposed ideology with your diatribes without substance,” Mr. Almagro wrote. “To deny the people that vote, to deny them the possibility of deciding, would make you just another petty dictator, like so many this hemisphere has had.”

As the sparring continues, Mariángel González, a 32-year-old mother of two, is most worried about the retreat of the government from daily life.

Venezuela’s public schools are now closed on Fridays, another effort to save electricity. So Ms. González was waiting in line with her elder child at an A.T.M., while her husband watched over the other one at home.

“Right now, my older girl should be at elementary school and the little one in kindergarten,” she said. “My husband and I have been inventing new routines.”

Ms. González, a freelance lawyer, lived a middle-class life until recently. But she says the government shutdown has left her without work and her family without food.

The older girl, who understands what’s going on says, ‘What is there, Mom: bread, arepas or nothing?’” She said that on a recent night, the family ate a dinner of pasta and ketchup.

When your government has failed so utterly that people have no food to buy, no fuel or electricity to cook it with, and no water to drink, the riots will come quickly.  When they do come, and the crackdown follows, and the government comes apart, what happens then?

We've seen this play out in MENA countries over the Obama years: Morocco, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, Syria.  The final results have been different, but each time involved a lethal government crackdown that killed thousands of its own citizens and a government collapse.

It certainly won't be the first time it's happened in the Americas considering a slightly more polite version of a coup is going on in Brazil now, with Dilma Rouseff gone and not coming back. But it's always a tragedy when it happens.

I'm guessing we'll meet the new boss in Caracas fairly soon.

Water Babies

Californians will be pleased to know that they should vote for Donald Trump as president, because he can stop droughts.

No, really, that's his Golden State plug.

California suffered one of its driest years in 2015. And last year the state hit its driest four-year period on record.

But Donald Trump isn't sold. The presumptive GOP nominee told supporters in Fresno, Calif., on Friday night that no such dry spell exists.

Trump said state officials were simply denying water to Central Valley farmers to prioritize the Delta smelt, a native California fish nearing extinction — or as Trump called it, "a certain kind of three-inch fish.”

We’re going to solve your water problem. You have a water problem that is so insane. It is so ridiculous where they’re taking the water and shoving it out to sea,” Trump told thousands of supporters at the campaign event.

After all, this is a guy who blames climate change on Chinese propaganda, so of course he can fix droughts.

Trump's comments come weeks after Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order updating water restrictions. The water rules were imposed in hopes of building the state's "resilience" in the long-term water conservation measures through monthly water use reporting and bans on "clearly wasteful practices such as hosing off sidewalks, driveways and other hardscapes," according to a news release from the California Government Operations Agency's website.

Meanwhile, the powerful farm lobby is trying to secure federal and state approval for billions of dollars to create new water tunnels, dams and other projects.

At least we know where Trump stands on the issue: “If I win, believe me, we’re going to start opening up the water so that you can have your farmers survive."

Because environmental concerns are all fake anyway.  Just bulldoze nature and put up a Wal-Mart or sixteen and hey, they sell water there.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Last Call For Dispatches From Bevinstan

And just because Gov. Matt Bevin hasn't wasted enough taxpayer money on fighting the Obama administration, he's joining the Texas suit over where kids pee.

WKYT has learned Kentucky is joining the list of states suing the Obama administration over a federal directive concerning transgender students in public schools. 
Governor Matt Bevin's office made the announcement on Friday. 
Earlier this month, President Obama issued a directive telling schools that they must allow students to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity instead of the sex on their birth certificate. 
In a statement, Governor Bevin says that since Attorney General Andy Beshear did not act, his administration is joining in on the lawsuit. 
“The federal government has no authority to dictate local school districts' bathroom and locker room policies,” said Gov. Bevin. “The Obama Administration’s transgender policy ‘guidelines’ are an absurd federal overreach into a local issue.” 
“Unfortunately, Attorney General Andy Beshear is unwilling to protect Kentucky’s control over local issues. Therefore, my administration will do so by joining this lawsuit. We are committed to protecting the Tenth Amendment and fighting federal overreach into state and local issues.”

Yep, gotta protect the state's right to discriminate and treat people like sub-human garbage.  So when the courts tell Bevin "Why yes, if you take federal money for schools, local and state government buildings, and  public facilities, you can't actually use them to discriminate" then I'll have a good laugh, but I really, really hope that at some point we get rid of the hatred this man proposes.

He's been in office six months and he already is tiresome.

Oh well.  I voted for Conway.

Berned Out, Con't

It's kind of hard to talk about "party unity" when Sanders supporters are openly hoping for an FBI indictment for Hillary Clinton.

Senator Bernie Sanders may be trailing Hillary Clinton by hundreds of delegates, and Mrs. Clinton may be treating the Democratic nomination as hers, but Julie Crowell, a stay-at-home mother and a die-hard Sanders supporter, is holding out for an 11th-hour miracle: divine deliverance at the hands of the F.B.I. 
Like many of Mr. Sanders’s supporters, Ms. Crowell, 37, said she hoped that Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state would eventually yield an indictment, and she described it as the kind of transgression that would disqualify another politician seeking high office. 
“She should be removed,” said Ms. Crowell, of Tustin, Calif., who attended a Sanders rally here on Tuesday and said she planned to vote for a third-party candidate if Mr. Sanders failed to overtake Mrs. Clinton and capture the Democratic nomination. “I don’t know why she’s not already being told, ‘You can’t run because you’re being investigated.’ I don’t know how that’s not a thing.” 
Campaigning in California, where polls show a tightening primary race, Mr. Sanders continued to hit Mrs. Clinton over her positions on Wall Street, trade deals, the minimum wage, hydrofracking and “super PACs” — seemingly everything except her emails, which he famously took off the table as an issue during an early Democratic debate. But Mrs. Clinton faces renewed criticism after an inspector general’s report faulted her for violating the State Department’s records-retention policy. And as the F.B.I. continues its investigation into the handling of classified information, attendees at Sanders rallies have repeatedly expressed hope that the scandal would result in criminal charges against Mrs. Clinton. 
“If there’s any chance of her getting indicted, they shouldn’t even consider her for the nomination,” said Zachary O’Neill, 21, of Escondido. “We can’t have a criminal in the White House.” 
And what would be a more colossal comeuppance to the Democratic establishment? 
“We can’t go back and undo giving her the Democratic nomination,” said Jennifer Peters, 28, of Costa Mesa. 

I know, 2008 was far worse.  I was there. It's why I started the blog nearly 8 years ago. But it's going to be months more of idiocy like this, and every bit of it will only help Trump.

Sanders is the one who will have to bury the hatchet.  I still have reservations believing he will, because assholes like this exist:

Victor Vizcarra, 48, of Los Angeles, said he would much prefer Mr. Trump to Mrs. Clinton. Though he said he disagreed with some of Mr. Trump’s policies, Mr. Vizcarra said he had watched “The Apprentice” and expected that a Trump presidency would be more exciting than a “boring” Clinton administration. 
A dark side of me wants to see what happens if Trump is in,” said Mr. Vizcarra, who works in information technology. “There is going to be some kind of change, and even if it’s like a Nazi-type change. People are so drama-filled. They want to see stuff like that happen. It’s like reality TV. You don’t want to just see everybody be happy with each other. You want to see someone fighting somebody.”

Trump'll make the trains Bern on time!

Seriously, folks, there's a subset of Bernie voters who were never, ever going to vote for Clinton in the first place, and they're having their day in the hot take sun.

They were never Dems to begin with, just embarrassed Republicans, most of them. Treat them as such.

The Sound Of The Police

With two of the six officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore getting off with no convictions so far, two more of the officers are now suing Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby for defamation of character ahead of their respective trials, essentially saying they were scapegoated.

Sgt. Alicia White and Officer William Porter, who are facing charges of involuntary manslaughter in the 25-year-old's death last April, filed the lawsuit against Mosby, Baltimore sheriff's office Maj. Sam Cogen and the state of Maryland on May 2, according to Baltimore Circuit Court records made public Wednesday. 
The officers claim that Mosby and Cogen knew the statement of charges filed against the officers and other statements made by Mosby at a May 1, 2015, news conference announcing the charges "were false." 
"These among other statements were made not for the purpose of prosecuting crimes that had allegedly been committed by White and Porter, but rather for purposes of quelling the riots in Baltimore," the suit alleges. 
The officers had asked that the lawsuit be sealed to "avoid any suggestion" that they were "not complying with the spirit of" a gag order issued in their criminal cases by Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams, and to "avoid any additional pretrial publicity in connection with their upcoming criminal trials." They said they had to file the lawsuit at this time because of statute of limitations concerns. 
Judge Althea Handy on Wednesday denied the motion to seal the case, saying the officers had "failed to provide a special and compelling reason to preclude or limit inspection of the case record sufficient to overcome the presumption of openness" under Maryland law.

Basically, White and Porter are saying the charges are trumped-up just to stop rioting last year.  It's a stupid shot in the dark, but considering Mosby is zero for two so far, and given the minuscule percentage of cops ever convicted for murder, it's probably worth the hassle.

Not that I expect a single charge to stick to any of these scumballs.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Last Call For Shutting The Door

Gotta love Republicans who think Donald Trump isn't going far enough on immigration and deportation.

Robert Blaha, a Republican primary candidate in Colorado’s Senate race, said on Tuesday that Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the country doesn’t go far enough. 
“I want to go beyond just Muslims,” Blaha said at a GOP meeting in Fremont County. “And I’ll tell you why. The issue is not—the issue is partially a religious issue, but the real issue there is—the real issue is security. The real issue is we do not know who these people are. We don’t know where they’re coming from, we don’t know whether a terrorist state. We do not have the ability as a government right now to vet these people.”

But please, tell me again how being the party of "Let's get rid of all the brown people!" is going to help in 2016.

“Until we can properly vet people and know who they are and know where they’re coming from and know what their belief structures are they’re coming out of, we cannot afford to take that risk,” he said. “So it’s bigger than just a religious issue, to me. It’s a much bigger issue than just a religious issue. So we must secure the border, and we must not allow people to come into this country when we do not know who they are.”

Forget Trump blocking Muslims from coming into the country, this guy wants to block everyone.

I hope this guy wins the primary next month.  It'll be funny to see Michael Bennet defend his Senate seat and win by 20.

The Bern Out Continues

Apparently this whole horrible idea of a Bernie Sanders/Donald Trump debate in California is not only a real thing, but apparently may actually happen.

Donald Trump late Wednesday said that he is ready and willing to debate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for charity. 
“Yes, I am,” he said on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!" "How much is he going to pay me? If he paid a nice sum toward a charity, I’d love to do that.

“If I debated him, we would have such high ratings and I think I should take that money and give it to some worthy charity,” the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee added. 
Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, later accepted Trump’s offer, even offering a potential battleground site.

I'm with Steve M. on this.  It's an atrocious idea that only plays into Trump's stubby little hands.

Trump will spend most of the "debate" either agreeing with Sanders (on trade deals, on the need for more jobs) or chiding him gently. Trump will have no motivation to bang heads with Sanders -- remember, in the primaries he attacked opponents only when they seemed to be gaining on him in polls of upcoming contests. Trump's goal will be to use the words of Sanders as a club to beat Clinton with. Sanders won't see that coming, though he certainly won't object when it happens. He'll pile on
It's not going to be a great moment in the history of Western democracy. Sorry, kids.

Agreed.  This is going to be a slag fest on Hillary, and Sanders won't lay a glove on Trump. He'll be too busy trashing Clinton. I don't see any reason for doing this unless Sanders is willing to destroy the party for his own ego (entirely possible at this juncture.)

And can you imagine the howling of "Arrogant!" and screaming of "What a bitch!" from the Sanders camp if Hillary debated Trump before the California primary?

Nope, there's zero upside for Sanders here other than to be used as a tool to attack Hillary with by Trump, and at this point Sanders is okay with that.

Right now any possible goodwill I've had left for the Sanders camp is gone. The man was never a Democrat, and with this stunt, he clearly shows that he doesn't care if he fractures the party and hands the country over to Trump.

But the joke's on Bernie: Trump has no actual intention of debating him.

I'm done with him at this point.

Don't Come Ryan To Trump Anymore

Looks like the "principled conservative Never Trump movement" is about as dead as the Reds' chances of winning the World Series this year, as GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan is now waving the white flag in surrender to the Party of Trump.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has begun telling confidants that he wants to end his standoff with Donald Trump in part because he’s worried the split has sharpened divisions in the Republican Party, according to two people close to the lawmaker. 
Ryan aides say nothing has been decided about a possible Trump endorsement. But Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, told a small group of Republican lawmakers Thursday that he expects Ryan to endorse the party’s nominee as early as this week, according to two people in the meeting. 
If Ryan were to endorse Trump, the move would end a nearly unprecedented standoff between the House speaker and his party’s presumptive presidential nominee, and remove the biggest remaining obstacle to Trump’s efforts to unite Republicans around his campaign.

In fact, Manafort told the gathering of Republican lawmakers that Ryan’s endorsement would put more pressure on the party’s remaining Trump holdouts to fall in line.

Which would be the first truthful thing Paul Manafort has said this year, but he's right.  Not that there ever was any real resistance to Donald Trump's racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, fear-based garbage, because Republicans are now the party of hate, but you guys they tried to stop him, they tried really, really hard and I guess they'll just have to support him rather than that mean ol' Hillary.

I'm so tired of Republicans.  It really is hard for me not to just say "Every single one of you are racist dirtbags who hate anyone darker than a paper bag" and be done with it, except I know that's not true.

But it's difficult to find a Republican who rejects Trump, and by the time November rolls around, they'll be voting for him for President of the United States of America in the tens of millions.

I miss Republicans who weren't insane.  Then again, Paul Ryan knows exactly what he's doing, and that is attempting to destroy Social Security, Obamacare, Medicare and Medicaid for good, so maybe Trump by comparison isn't the actual problem.  Paul Ryal after all is already in office, and he's House Speaker.

Perhaps we should fix that in November.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Last Call For A Bathroom Break

Republicans have decided that the social issue hill to die on in 2016 is which bathroom schoolkids use to go to poop.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and officials in 10 other states on Wednesday filed a lawsuit in federal court resisting the Obama administration’s guidance that instructs schools to let transgender students use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. 
Among the defendants in the case, filed in federal district court in Northern Texas, are the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S Department of Education. 
The guidance issued to public schools on May 13 instructs publicly funded education institutions to allow transgender students use facilities consistent with their gender identity in a wide range of setting — from restrooms and dorms, to sports teams.

So this is really a thing now, red states are now suing to stop trangender people from being treated as human beings by the government.  Hey, superb work, Christians.  So, let's check the list of usual suspects, shall we?

The state of Texas is the lead plaintiff and was joined by Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah and Georgia, plus the Arizona Department of Education and the governor of Maine.

Schools districts from Texas and Arizona also joined the suit, which names the U.S. government and a host of federal agencies and officials as defendants.

Ahh, good ol' red states.  What would we do without you making sure Americans are miserable Puritanical losers?

Dear lord I cannot wait for that ninth Supreme Court justice to be appointed so we can smash these idiots in the mouth for years to come.

The Third Degree In 2016

I've talked about a possible conservative third party challenge to Trump, and I've even entertained Bernie Sanders breaking off and joining Jill Stein over in Green land, but as Clare Malone over at Five Thirty Eight reminds us, there already is a serious third party candidate on the ballot in November, and Libertarian Party mainstay Gary Johnson is polling in double digits in a three-way race.

At the moment, he’s probably most often confused with that plumber who fixed your running toilet last month or your spouse’s weird friend from work who keeps calling the landline, but he’s neither — he’s the former governor of New Mexico, likely Libertarian candidate for president, and he’s polling at 10 percent in two recently released national polls against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. 
A Morning Consult survey published Tuesday and found Clinton getting 38 percent of the vote, Trump 35 and Johnson 10, with 17 percent undecided. A Fox News poll conducted from May 14-17 showed Trump leading over Clinton, 42 percent to 39 percent, but Johnson at 10 percent as well. Lest you think this is some fluky May development, a Monmouth Universitysurvey conducted in mid-March — while the political universe was still busy wringing its hands over the Republican nomination — found that in a three-way race, Clinton would get 42 percent, Trump 34 percent and Johnson 11 percent. 
Given that Trump and Clinton are sporting historically high negative ratings, Johnson’s polling makes a fair bit of sense; Gary Johnson is neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton. He might not win a state, but he could make some noise.

This seems like it could maybe turn into another Ross Perot moment.  Maybe.  Still a long shot.

The most serious third-party candidate in recent memory was Ross Perot, who third-wheeled his way onto the political stage in 1992 and 1996, eventually taking 19 percent and 8 percent of the national vote in those respective years. In May of 1992, Perot, a former businessman, was polling gangbusters; a Gallup poll found him at 35 percent and an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey had him at 30 percent. Perot entered the race in February of that year, a few weeks after the county was initiated to the first of Bill Clinton’s sex scandals, and in the midst of a tough economy for President George H.W. Bush — plenty of voters were looking for other options. Four years later, he was still polling well for a third-party candidate, but not nearly at his 1992 levels: May polls (not to be confused with maypoles) had Perot at 17 percent (ABC/Washington Post), 12 percent (NBC/Wall Street Journal), and 10 percent (Gallup1). 
But that was the ‘90s, back before most of us in the interior of the country had ever even seen an avocado let alone mashed it up on toast. How have third-party candidates polled recently? Johnson ran as the Libertarian candidate in 2012, and won about 1 percent of the national vote, becoming the most successful Libertarian candidate ever; in polls done in May and June of 2012, he was polling at 2 percent. Bob Barr, the Libertarian nominee in 2008, also polled at 2 percent in the late spring of that year. 
It must be noted that Johnson is not yet the Libertarian nominee. The party will be holding its nominating convention this weekend in Orlando, where he will face Austin Petersen, a young party operative, as well as former fugitive millionaire businessman John McAfee, who was once called“extremely paranoid, even bonkers” by the prime minister of Belize. 
Given that this is 2016, no result should be ruled out.

The point is there are people out there who have no intention of voting for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, and if they start seeing Johnson as a viable alternative, it's possible that he could get enough votes to swing a close state or two. As 2000 showed us, you don't need more than a few thousand votes in the right state to change the course of an election and of history.  Even if Johnson doesn't get 10% of the vote, 1% of the vote could be enough in places like Florida, NC, and even Ohio.

It wouldn't be the first time in American history.

North Carolina Goes Into The Crapper, Con't.

The Charlotte Chamber of Commerce is raging mad at NC GOP Gov. Pay McCrory and the state's GOP lawmakers as so far the state's idiotic HB2 "bathroom bill" has cost the state $285 million in lost business...

...and that's just Charlotte.

Mecklenburg County has suffered an economic blow of $285 million and a loss of as many as 1,300 jobs as a result of House Bill 2, a new Charlotte Chamber report says. 
The report also says inquiries about new economic development are down 58 percent since lawmakers passed the bill in March, and client visits down 69 percent from last year. 
“We have said all along that the economic loss has been real, the risk of further loss is great, and this is potentially catastrophic to our economy,” Chamber President Bob Morgan said. 
The report was distributed to Charlotte City Council members and some lawmakers. The council voted 7-4 Monday night against considering a repeal of the city ordinance that prompted lawmakers to pass HB2.

That toll is expected to climb higher if the law stays in place, too.  $285 million in lost business and 1,300 jobs is nothing to sneeze at, and that's not counting any other of North Carolina's other 99 counties that have lost business and jobs because of NC Republican bigots.

That's the kind of losses that look bad to lawmakers, and look even worse to voters around election day.  Hopefully my home state will finally kick these idiots out of office in November, starting with McCrory.
Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/politics-government/article79503287.html#storylink=cpy


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Last Call For It's Still About Suppression

Just another friendly reminder that new Republican voter suppression efforts in a dozen states will definitely lower turnout in the 2016 election, because voter ID laws are designed to keep people of color, the elderly, students, and the poor from voting at all.

In November, 17 states will have voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. Eleven of those states will require their residents to show a photo ID. They include swing states such as Wisconsin and states with large African American and Latino populations, such as North Carolina and Texas. On Tuesday, the entire 15-judge U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans is to begin hearing a case regarding the legality of the Texas law, considered to be the most stringent in the country.

Supporters say that everyone should easily be able to get a photo ID and that the requirement is needed to combat voter fraud. But many election experts say that the process for obtaining a photo ID can be far more difficult than it looks for hundreds of thousands of people across the country who do not have the required photo identification cards. Those most likely to be affected are elderly citizens, African Americans, Hispanics and low-income residents
“A lot of people don’t realize what it takes to obtain an ID without the proper identification and papers,” said Abbie Kamin, a lawyer who has worked with the Campaign Legal Center to help Texans obtain the proper identification to vote. “Many people will give up and not even bother trying to vote.” 
A federal court in Texas found that 608,470 registered voters don’t have the forms of identification that the state now requires for voting. For example, residents can vote with their concealed-carry handgun licenses but not their state-issued student university IDs.
Across the country, about 11 percent of Americans do not have government-issued photo identification cards, such as a driver’s license or a passport, according to Wendy Weiser of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. 
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R), compares his state’s new voter-ID requirement to what is needed for “boarding an airplane and purchasing Sudafed.” Texas officials, who say the laws are needed to combat possible voter fraud, recently said in court papers that the Justice Department and civil rights groups suing the state are not able to find anyone “who would face a substantial obstacle to voting.” 
But former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. has called the costs associated for voters seeking a photo ID a “poll tax,” referring to fees that some Southern states used to disenfranchise blacks during the Jim Crow era of laws enforcing racial segregation between the late 1800s through 1965.

And that's exactly what these new laws do: make it specifically more difficult for people who don't have the proper IDs to get one, and then keeping those people from voting.  Yes, the law does keep some people from voting Republican (mainly the elderly) but the effect is far more prevalent for groups that favor Democrats.

Republicans of course are fine with that, because that's the point.  Turnout among black voters, Latino voters, and students gave Barack Obama wins in states like North Carolina, Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin on the way to two terms, while coming very close to wins in Indiana in 2008.  Republicans are trying to make sure that never happens again.

Bottom line: if GOP voter suppression laws were in place in 2012, and flipped Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Wisconsin to the Republicans, Mitt Romney would be president right now.

2016 is going to be a lot tougher than Democrats realize, and the key to that is massive voter registration NOW.

Meet The Old Boss, Wish He Was The New Boss

Given the less-than-thrilling choices ahead of us this November, America is starting to miss Barack Obama as president already. I'm right there with them.

As the race to succeed President Barack Obama rages around him, the man who currently sits in the Oval Office has hit his highest approval rating since his second inauguration, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows. 
Fifty-one percent of registered voters say they approve of the job Obama is doing as president, compared to 46 percent who disapprove. 
The last time more than half of the electorate gave Obama a thumbs up in the poll was in January 2013, when Obama took the oath of office after his successful re-election campaign against Republican Mitt Romney. His approval rating sunk as low as 40 percent before the 2014 midterm elections but subsequently rebounded, particularly since primary voting in the 2016 presidential race got underway at the beginning of this year. 
Obama's approval rating remains dismal with self-described Republicans, who disapprove of his performance by an 88 percent to eight percent margin. It's nearly the inverse image for Democrats, who approve of the job Obama is doing by 88 percent to 11 percent. And more than half - 54 percent - of independents give Obama high marks, compared to 44 percent who do not. 
Voters overall were less enthusiastic about the idea of electing Obama to a third term in office if such a move was allowed by the Constitution, although about four-in-ten respondents said they were willing to entertain the idea. Fifty-nine percent said they would not consider voting for a third Obama term, while 39 percent said they would consider it. That's compared to 34 percent who said they would consider voting for a third term for Bill Clinton in September 2000.

Granted, 2000 wasn't exactly Clinton's best year, but still, where was Dubya in spring 2008? Somewhere in the 20's by now?   Seeing Obama above water despite the daily programmed hatred of the man by the right-wing noise machine just goes to show you that if Republicans were reasonable instead of being the bugnuts party of Trump, Obama would be staking out future real estate on Mount Rushmore.

It tells you just how badly we're going to miss the guy, despite my grumblings about his foreign policy.

OK GO: This Too Shall (Not) Pass

Earlier this month I talked about Oklahoma being in such a budget hole that Republicans were seriously considering taking Obamacare's Medicaid expansion as the state's oil boom turned into an oil bust.  Now however it looks like Republicans would rather close down dozens of hospitals and nursing homes rather than admit they took help from the first black president.

A bill to expand Medicaid eligibility in Oklahoma so that the state could tap into an infusion of federal funding available under the Affordable Care Act appears to be dead, the state's Senate leader said on Monday.

With just one week remaining before lawmakers are set to adjourn, Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said there isn't enough support in the Republican-controlled Senate to approve the plan. A proposed $1.50-per-pack tax increase on cigarettes to help pay for the state's share was defeated in the Oklahoma House last week, and Bingman said that proposal is also likely dead for the year.

"I think part of the (plan) is the expansion of Obamacare, and I think the Senate has been pretty clear for the last six years that we don't want to expand that portion ... because Oklahoma can't afford it," said Bingman, R-Sapulpa.

The plan called for expanding Medicaid eligibility to about 170,000 uninsured low-income Oklahomans and shifting about an equal number of currently Medicaid-eligible pregnant women and children onto the private market. Because of Republicans' bitter resistance to the federal health care law, the plan was dubbed a "rebalancing" instead of an expansion since the overall number of people on Medicaid was projected to stay the same.

If the plan had received federal approval, the federal government would have covered 95 percent of the state's Medicaid costs. That figure would have decreased to 90 percent of the share in 2020.

Without more funding, the state's Medicaid agency has said it would have to impose 25-percent cuts to the reimbursement rates paid to Medicaid providers, a slash so deep that many hospitals and nursing homes have said they would be forced to close their doors.

Oh well.  I guess this is what happens when you put fanatics in charge of your state government. Republicans would rather do nothing and kick out elderly nursing home patients and close dozens of rural hospitals than take taxpayer money to keep even basic health care facilities open.

I guess if you kill off all the poor people, then your Medicaid problem is solved, right?


Monday, May 23, 2016

Last Call For Bad Morning Vietnam

Last night I watched the HBO movie about Lyndon Johnson's 1964 presidential run, All the Way. Bryan Cranston definitely deserves an Emmy nod for his performance as the embattled Texas Democrat, and Anthony Mackie played MLK, Jr.  The film very much centered on their relationship as both the Civil Rights battle and Vietnam War were heating up.  It's a good movie, I recommend it.

Which brings us to today, more than 50 years later as another US president seems to think that arming Vietnam again with US weapons is somehow a good idea.

As US President Barack Obama announced the lifting of the decades-long embargo on sales of lethal weapons to Vietnam, he seemed at pains to explain the decision "was not based on China or any other considerations". 
Yet his mention of China reveals some of the greatest security concerns brewing in Hanoi. 
Since a brief but bloody border war in 1979 that cost thousands of lives, Vietnam-China relations have been bumpy to say the least. From being Vietnam's biggest ally, ironically, in the war against the United States, China has increasingly been seen as a dominant, and at times, threatening neighbour. 
Recent tensions in the South China Sea have added to the growing mistrust. Vietnam protests against what it sees as excessive Chinese maritime claims and supports the court case brought against China by the Philippines. Not only does China's growing assertiveness in the area challenge Vietnam's sovereignty, it could greatly affect its fishery, oil and gas activities, too.

I'm not sure what President Obama's game here is, but the notion that this is not "based on China" is not complete garbage like it seems at face value, Of course this is about protecting Hanoi from Beijing's navy, happily building their own airstrip islands across the pacific to project power.

But if there is somehow another country involved, it's actually Russia:

It is no secret that Vietnam is trying to boost its maritime defensive capability. Its largest arms contract to date with a foreign country was the $2bn purchase of six kilo-class submarines from Russia. 
A large number of patrol and missile ships and fighter jets have also been purchased from Russia, as Vietnam's military spending more than doubled between 2004 and 2013. It is now the eighth largest importer of weapons in the world.

"Better for Vietnam to be buying weapons from us than Putin" isn't exactly the kind of thing Obama should want to be remembered for, but here we are neck-deep in the realpolitik quagmire once again, hooray!

No way this will come back and bite us in the ass or anything.  Hey, those US jobs in the TPP have to be paid for by selling some sort of good or service, and that apparently includes military equipment to Hanoi. See, new markets!

New markets, and same old mistakes.  Sigh.

Bernie's California Love

To be honest, California's "jungle primary" rules are a flaming hot mess, and I definitely see why Bernie Sanders supporters are suing for extended party primary registration up to the June 7th vote.

A federal lawsuit alleging widespread confusion over California's presidential primary rules asks that voter registration be extended past Monday's deadline until the day of the state's primary election on June 7. 
"Mistakes are being made," said William Simpich, an Oakland civil rights attorney who filed the lawsuit Friday. 
At issue is whether voters understand the rules for the presidential primary, which differ from those governing other elections in California. 
Unlike statewide primaries — where voters now choose any candidate, no matter the political party — the presidential contests are controlled by the parties themselves. Democrats have opened up their primary between Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to voters that have no political affiliation, known in California as having "no party preference." 
But the lawsuit alleges elections officials in some of California's 58 counties aren't making that clear to these unaffiliated voters. 
"There's mass confusion," Simpich said in an interview on Saturday night. "This is a situation that really shouts out for some uniformity." 
Simpich said a judge should require state elections officials to conduct a broad public awareness campaign about the voting rules before May 31, the deadline for requesting a ballot by mail. 
And to ensure unregistered Californians aren't disenfranchised in the presidential contest, the lawsuit asks voter registration be extended from its deadline on Monday until June 7, the day of the election. 
There is no indication yet of whether a judge will agree with the suit.

Yes, this reeks of enlightened self-interest for Team Bernie, but the point is that it's not just red states that have issues with voting (Gosh, if there were only something like a national Voting Rights Act that would establish equal standards for all US voting, preferably legislation that hadn't been completely gutted by the Supreme Court recently.)

Sure, this is all about helping Bernie's vote (and delegate) totals in the Golden State, but it doesn't mean the changes aren't necessary.  California's primary system really is confusing and the rules need to be made more clear, and considering one in seven US voters live here, it's rather important to the nation that this gets fixed sooner rather than later.

So yeah, here's hoping the suit allows more people to vote and vote correctly in the state's primary. I'm no fan of open primaries, but if that's the rule of the state, it needs to be clearly enforced and made clear to voters that this is how the primary works. That's on the state to perform, and if they're not doing the job, then the federal government needs to step in.

It's the same principle that applies to voter ID laws, they are there simply to disenfranchise, and again, the feds need to step in.

Having said all that, Sanders is still lying to his supporters about his chances in interviews in California.

“Here’s the math,” he said. “there are polls that came out recently where Hillary Clinton actually lost to Donald Trump. So part of the math, is which candidate stands the best chance to make sure that Donald Trump does not become president of the United States? — and that’s me.” 
If he does win the California primary, does he expect a divided convention? 
I think we have a realistic chance in the sense that if we do really well in California, and in the other five states, and the non-state primaries, it will be possible for us to get 50 percent of the pledged delegates,” Sanders said.

Sure, he just has to win more than 80% of the remaining delegates.

That's "realistic" right?

The Viennese Gambit, Or Make Austria Great Again

With Sunday's votes in Austria's presidential election, far-right nationalist candidate Norbert Hofer has a slender lead against centrist Green Alexander Van der Bellen, and the final vote tally will be decided by absentee and mail-in ballots still being counted.

Austria is split. The soft-spoken, charismatic Mr Hofer, sometimes described as a wolf in sheep's clothing, caused turmoil in Austrian politics when he won a clear victory in the first round of voting in April.

But now his rival, Mr Van der Bellen from the Greens, has caught up. The far right has profited from deep frustration with the established parties of the centre left and the centre right in Austria. And in recent months, it has been boosted further by fears about the migrant crisis.

If Mr Hofer wins, it could have an impact far beyond Austria's borders - possibly giving momentum to far-right and Eurosceptic parties in other EU countries.

According to the interior ministry's final count of votes cast at polling-stations(in German), Mr Hofer took 51.9% to 48.1% for Mr Van der Bellen.

Postal voting accounts for 750,000 ballots, roughly 12% of Austria's 6.4 million eligible voters, said Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka.

"None of us wished for this," Mr Hofer said when he and Mr Van der Bellen were interviewed by ORF after the vote on Sunday.

"After all, both of us wanted to have a good night's sleep but it is so exciting. I've been in politics for a long time but I've never experienced an election night like this one."

Whoever won, he said, would have "the job of uniting Austria".

Mr Van der Bellen said that if he were elected president he would be welcome in all member states of the EU.

"I have been pro-European during the five months of campaigning," he said. "I made clear how important the European Union is for freedom, security and prosperity - also in Austria."

In the first round, Mr Hofer secured 35% of the votes, while Mr Van der Bellen polled 21%.

The two rivals had engaged in an angry TV debate earlier in the week, described as "political mud-wrestling" by commentators.

If this sounds familiar, there's a similar tune being played by Hofer's Freedom Party here in the States, and it sounds an awful lot like Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric.  We'll see where the voters stand after the mail ballots have been counted, but don't be surprised if the winner here wants to build a wall, kick those people out of the country, and want to Make Austria Great Again.

The same anger brought on by demographics in Europe is the same as the flames being stoked here, and the results may scorch a whole lot of Europe and the US before they are contained.

[UPDATE] : The BBC now saying that the postal votes are showing a Van de Bellen win.  Austria barely avoids a right-wing nationalist disaster.

For now.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sunday Long Read: The Science Of Error

The science of DNA testing has been proven time and time again.  The problem is human error: lab technicians who make mistakes, overloaded crime labs with no funding, backlogs of evidence and police who mishandle all kinds of samples, by accident or even on purpose. The thing is in crime lab after crime lab in America, all of that has now become commonplace.

DNA analysis has risen above all other forensic techniques for good reason: “No [other] forensic method has been rigorously shown able to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source,” the National Research Council wrote in an influential 2009 report calling out inadequate methods and stating the need for stricter standards throughout the forensic sciences.

The problem, as a growing number of academics see it, is that science is only as reliable as the manner in which we use it—and in the case of DNA, the manner in which we use it is evolving rapidly. Consider the following hypothetical scenario: Detectives find a pool of blood on the floor of an apartment where a man has just been murdered. A technician, following proper anticontamination protocol, takes the blood to the local crime lab for processing. Blood-typing shows that the sample did not come from the victim; most likely, it belongs to the perpetrator. A day later, the detectives arrest a suspect. The suspect agrees to provide blood for testing. A pair of well-trained crime-lab analysts, double-checking each other’s work, establish a match between the two samples. The detectives can now place the suspect at the scene of the crime.

When Alec Jeffreys devised his DNA-typing technique, in the mid-1980s, this was as far as the science extended: side-by-side comparison tests. Sizable sample against sizable sample. The state of technology at the time mandated it—you couldn’t test the DNA unless you had plenty of biological material (blood, semen, mucus) to work with.

But today, most large labs have access to cutting-edge extraction kits capable of obtaining usable DNA from the smallest of samples, like so-called touch DNA (a smeared thumbprint on a window or a speck of spit invisible to the eye), and of identifying individual DNA profiles in complex mixtures, which include genetic material from multiple contributors, as was the case with the vaginal swab in the Sutton case.

These advances have greatly expanded the universe of forensic evidence. But they’ve also made the forensic analyst’s job more difficult. To understand how complex mixtures are analyzed—and how easily those analyses can go wrong—it may be helpful to recall a little bit of high-school biology: We share 99.9 percent of our genes with every other human on the planet. However, in specific locations along each strand of our DNA, the genetic code repeats itself in ways that vary from one individual to the next. Each of those variations, or alleles, is shared with a relatively small portion of the global population. The best way to determine whether a drop of blood belongs to a serial killer or to the president of the United States is to compare alleles at as many locations as possible.

Think of it this way: There are many thousands of paintings with blue backgrounds, but fewer with blue backgrounds and yellow flowers, and fewer still with blue backgrounds, yellow flowers, and a mounted knight in the foreground. When a forensic analyst compares alleles at 13 locations—the standard for most labs—the odds of two unrelated people matching at all of them are less than one in 1 billion.

With mixtures, the math gets a lot more complicated: The number of alleles in a sample doubles in the case of two contributors, and triples in the case of three. Now, rather than a painting, the DNA profile is like a stack of transparency films. The analyst must determine how many contributors are involved, and which alleles belong to whom. If the sample is very small or degraded—the two often go hand in hand—alleles might drop out in some locations, or appear to exist where they do not. Suddenly, we are dealing not so much with an objective science as an interpretive art.

And suddenly, a tool that is a lock for a conviction is increasingly something that can be wrongly determined or even falsified into a wrongful conviction.  DNA analysis is a tool and a powerful one, but any tool can be misused, and that's where we need far more oversight.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Last Call For Bernie vs. Debbie

The one thing the Sanders camp has right and that I wholeheartedly support them on? Bernie Sanders backing a primary challenge to DNC chair and Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Sanders came out today for her primary opponent, Tim Canova, in the August 30th state primary.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on Saturday said he supports Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz's Democratic opponent in her August 30 primary, adding that if he is elected president, he would effectively terminate her chairmanship of the DNC. 
Sanders, whose campaign has engaged in an increasingly bitter feud with the DNC chairwoman during his presidential bid, said in an interview set to air on CNN's "State of the Union" that he favors Tim Canova in Florida's 23rd congressional district. Canova is supporting Sanders. 
"Well, clearly, I favor her opponent," Sanders told Tapper. "His views are much closer to mine than as to Wasserman Schultz's." 
Sanders added that if he's elected president, he wouldn't reappoint Wasserman Schultz to head the DNC. 
In a response to Sanders on Saturday afternoon, Wasserman Schultz insisted she would remain neutral in the Democratic presidential race despite the Vermont senator's endorsement of her primary opponent. 
"I am so proud to serve the people of Florida's 23rd district and I am confident that they know that I am an effective fighter and advocate on their behalf in Congress," Wasserman Schultz said. "Even though Senator Sanders has endorsed my opponent, I remain, as I have been from the beginning, neutral in the presidential Democratic primary. I look forward to working together with him for Democratic victories in the fall."

This is the one thing that Sanders unequivocally has correct: Wasserman Schultz must go, I've been calling for her resignation for months and months now, and if Sanders is backing Tim Canova, I may throw a few dollars to the race in FL-23 myself.

She has been a total disaster for the Democratic party, under her tenure the Dems have lost 14 Senate seats and more than 80 House seats, not to mention over a dozen state legislatures and governor's mansions in 2010, 2012, and 2014.  In no way should she still be head of the DNC for any conceivable reason, and I actually do believe like Bill Moyers that the Dems will not be united until she's out.

In the fight between the long-time chair of the DNC and the Senator who only became a Democrat months ago, I'm backing Bernie here without hesitation.

Getting rid of her is about the only thing all sides in the Democratic primary mess that we can almost all agree upon.

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