Monday, July 6, 2015

Tyranny Of The Majority Update

A pretty disturbing poll from Rasmussen: in the wake of June's Supreme Court decisions on Obamacare and same-sex marriage, a third of Americans now believe that judicial branch should be able to be ignored

Following last week’s controversial U.S. Supreme Court rulings on Obamacare and gay marriage, voters believe more strongly that individual states should have the right to turn their backs on the federal courts.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 33% of Likely U.S. Voters now believe that states should have the right to ignore federal court rulings if their elected officials agree with them. That’s up nine points from 24% when we first asked this question in February. Just over half (52%) disagree, down from 58% in the earlier survey. Fifteen percent (15%) are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Perhaps even more disturbing is that the voters who feel strongest about overriding the federal courts – Republicans and conservatives - are those who traditionally have been the most supportive of the Constitution and separation of powers. During the Obama years, however, these voters have become increasingly suspicious and even hostile toward the federal government.

Fifty percent (50%) of GOP voters now believe states should have the right to ignore federal court rulings, compared to just 22% of Democrats and 30% of voters not affiliated with either major party. Interestingly, this represents a noticeable rise in support among all three groups.

Fifty percent (50%) of conservative voters share this view, but just 27% of moderates and 15% of liberals agree.

Half of Republicans and half of conservatives no longer believe in the federal judicial branch as a check or balance to the other two branches.  I'm betting you'd find even higher numbers among these same groups that the executive branch should be ignored if the mob of WE THE PEOPLE is large enough.

This line of thinking should be terrifying, because we went through it 150 years ago at the cost of hundreds of thousands dead and a war that split the nation.

But we're at the point where tens of millions of Americans no longer believe their government is legitimate simply because they disagree with it.  That's not how a representative democracy is supposed to work. It is however a recipe for another disastrous period in American history and one of our two major political parties is now openly advocating for such conflict.

Increasingly I think we're heading for some dark days ahead.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Last Call For Hillary The Hawk

In the wake of several high-profile hacks of government databases by China in the last several months, Hillary Clinton went after Beijing over the weekend with some pretty hard words.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton accused China on Saturday of stealing commercial secrets and “huge amounts of government information,” and of trying to “hack into everything that doesn’t move in America.”

Clinton’s language on China appeared to be far stronger than that usually used by President Barack Obama’s Democratic administration.

Speaking at a campaign event in New Hampshire, Clinton said she wanted to see China’s peaceful rise.

“But we also have to be fully vigilant, China’s military is growing very quickly, they’re establishing military installations that again threaten countries we have treaties with, like the Philippines because they are building on contested property,” said Clinton, who was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

“They’re also trying to hack into everything that doesn’t move in America. Stealing commercial secrets … from defense contractors, stealing huge amounts of government information, all looking for an advantage,” she said.

It's not like Clinton lacks details of, experience with, or access to US foreign policy information on China or anything, but this seems very belligerent even for Clinton's normal rhetoric.

On the other hand, China hacking US government databases isn't exactly fluffy rainbow kitten unicorn time, either.  I'm just not sure how much we can (literally) afford to piss of China and its huge market of consumers.

In the same speech, Clinton had some pretty hawkish words about President Obama's Iran deal as well.

Clinton also addressed the current talks over Iran’s nuclear program and had strong words for Tehran.

She said that even if a deal is reached with Iran, Tehran’s “aggressiveness will not end” and it will remain a principal state sponsor of terrorism.

Clinton said she hoped that “a strong verifiable deal” would be reached at talks in Vienna between world powers and Iran.

But she added that even with an agreement, “They will continue to be the principal state sponsor of terrorism. They will continue to destabilize governments in the region and beyond. They will continue to use their proxies like Hezbollah. And they will continue to be an existential threat to Israel.”

OK, if she considers Iran an existential threat to Israel, then 1) I can see why nothing happened via Iran/America while she was at State and 2) I have to ask if Clinton, as President, would even both to honor anything President Obama came up with as a deal.

This is the kind of talk I expect to hear from Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush, and it was talk like this on Iraq that assured I didn't vote for her in the primary here in Kentucky in 2008 (not that it made much difference).

You would think the last seven years would have tempered her inner hawk.  If she's still on this hard line, then there will be problems.

Sunday Long Read: On The Trail Of A Fugitive

This week's Sunday Long Read is the story of James T. Hammes, a fugitive from the law who was captured in May after evading the FBI for over six years. Hammes was wanted on charges of embezzling millions from a Pepsi distributor where he worked, and evaded police by living as a hiker on the Appalachian Trail since 2009.  It was Hammes's double life as a hiker named Bismarck that shocked trail aficionados, because it turns out in those six years, he became something of a legend.

Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, those who walk the entire 2,100-mile trail in a single season, beginning in Georgia in spring, knew Bismarck as a smiling Catholic with a Jerry Garcia beard, baker’s belly and fondness for hammocks. They liked him. There is something hikers call “trail magic” that the Appalachian Trail Conservancy defines as “an unexpected act of kindness.” In nearly every story about Bismarck on the Appalachian Trail, or AT as it is commonly called, trail magic appears. He took to people. People took to him. Up and down the length of the trail, he was well known for his gentle, good nature. Beginning in 2010 the name Bismarck began appearing regularly on blogs written by hikers recounting their trips. His picture pops up in their snapshots.

Millions of people step somewhere onto the AT each year. That anyone stands out to the degree he did is astonishing. Yet Bismarck did. Veteran hikers, encountering newbies, sometimes asked, “Have you met Bismarck?” It was a way of gauging just how experienced a hiker was, how long they had been on the trail and how well they fit in with others. If you knew Bismarck, your boots had many worthy miles already worn on their soles. A man who hiked with him last September said the general consensus along the AT was that he was “on his way to becoming a trail legend” - someone whose story hikers share amongst themselves, one with inspirational overtones. Like that of the late Earl Shaffer, who in 1948 became the first person to hike the entire AT in a single season. Like Matt Kirk, who two years ago hiked the trail in 58 days. Such was Bismarck’s reputation that this past spring, David Miller, the author of AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, a popular book about hiking the AT, was on his phone talking with the owner of a North Carolina hostel along the state’s western edge, near Nantahala Lake. In an offhand way, the proprietor mentioned Bismarck was there, similar to the way Grateful Dead followers once mentioned an encounter with Jerry, a measure of his own familiarity of trail culture, a touchstone showing he, too, knew the ways of the wandering tribe.

When the other hikers learned that Bismarck had been taken into custody at Trail Days, shock bloomed through the AT community. Word spread along every step of the trail - hushed tones spoken at campfires from Georgia to Maine - in a matter of days.

“So many people liked him,” Susan Montgomery said. “I feel sorry for him, if he did what they say he did, because he loved the outdoors. He really did. He loved the outdoors so much.”

All I can say is this is going to make a hell of a movie some day.

Think I Found Your Trump Problem

If Donald Trump is curious as to why he manged to lose money on a casino and made a boatload of other bad business decisions, the fact he's shocked by the reaction of single-handedly destroying the Trump brand with his massive racism is everything you need to know as to how terrible it is.

Republican presidential candidate and real estate mogul Donald Trump on Saturday stood by statements he made recently that too many illegal immigrants from Mexico are criminals but said he was surprised by the backlash and that his comments are causing financial concerns.

The crime is raging and it’s violent. And if you talk about it, it’s racist,” Trump told Fox News, three days after a purported illegal Mexican immigrant deported five previous times allegedly killed a woman in San Francisco.

Trump first made his inflammatory remarks during his non-scripted, June 16 presidential announcement speech.

“When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending the best,” he said during the announcement. “They're not sending you, they're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems. They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they're telling us what we're getting."

Since then, a list of businesses have announced plans to cut ties with Trump’s vast business empire, while fellow Republican candidates and others have questioned Trump’s remarks.

NBC and Univision, for example, have decided not to air the Trump-owned Miss Universe Pageant, Macy’s is dropping his signature clothing line, New York Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered a review of Trump's city contracts and NASCAR is moving an annual banquet from the Trump National Doral resort in Miami.

I didn’t know it was going to be this severe,” Trump said Saturday, adding that he was surprised by the NASCAR decision, considering he has a good relationship with the group. “I am a whipping post.”

Surprise!  Smart businesses and business leaders don't want to wreck their brand by pissing off the fastest-growing demographic in the US.  Imagine that. No corporation wants to associate with somebody who calls all Mexicans criminals in 2015 America.

And Trump is "surprised" by this.

Here's the kicker though.  Ted Cruz agrees with him.

Sen. Ted Cruz defended Donald Trump on immigration and called out “the Washington cartel” he says is ignoring the issue, in an interview to be broadcast Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“I salute Donald Trump for focusing on the need to address illegal immigration,” Cruz said of his rival for the 2016 GOP nomination, adding that it “seems the favorite sport of the Washington media is to encourage some Republicans to attack other Republicans.”

Story Continued Below

“I’m not interested in Republican on Republican violence,” he told host Chuck Todd, adding that “bold … brash” Trump “has a colorful way of speaking.”

The Texas senator’s comments were similar to his defense of Trump during Fox & Friends on Tuesday.

“When it comes to Donald Trump, I like Donald Trump,” Cruz said on the show. “I think he’s terrific.”

It's almost like Trump is running for Cruz's veep.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Last Call For Pardon Me, Mr. President

A big complaint I hear from the left is that President Obama isn't doing nearly enough to deal with non-violent convicts sent to prison for federal drug crimes with huge mandatory minimum sentences, people who are essentially victims of the War on Drugs.

Lame Duck Obama is best Obama.

Sometime in the next few weeks, aides expect President Obama to issue orders freeing dozens of federal prisoners locked up on nonviolent drug offenses. With the stroke of his pen, he will probably commute more sentences at one time than any president has in nearly half a century.

The expansive use of his clemency power is part of a broader effort by Mr. Obama to correct what he sees as the excesses of the past, when politicians eager to be tough on crime threw away the key even for minor criminals. With many Republicans and Democrats now agreeing that the nation went too far, Mr. Obama holds the power to unlock that prison door, especially for young African-American and Hispanic men disproportionately affected.

But even as he exercises authority more assertively than any of his modern predecessors, Mr. Obama has only begun to tackle the problem he has identified. In the next weeks, the total number of commutations for Mr. Obama’s presidency may surpass 80, but more than 30,000 federal inmates have come forward in response to his administration’s call for clemency applications. A cumbersome review process has advanced only a small fraction of them. And just a small fraction of those have reached the president’s desk for a signature.

“I think they honestly want to address some of the people who have been oversentenced in the last 30 years,” said Julie Stewart, the founder and president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a group advocating changes in sentencing. “I’m not sure they envisioned that it would be as complicated as it is, but it has become more complicated, whether it needs to be or not, and that’s what has bogged down the process.”

And I know that it's a fraction, less than one percent.  But it's a start, and it's more than any other US President has done.  Hopefully we'll see this process starting moving over the last 18 months of the Obama presidency and that 80 will become a lot, lot more. The prison pipeline is a massive issue for all of us, and I'm glad to see that the White House is starting to take real steps, to help real people.

Surviving The Hard Cell

Dylann Roof, the 21-year old man allegedly behind the slaughter of 9 black churchgoers in Charleston, may not have been alone in the knowledge and planning of the deadly attack.

A joint state and federal investigation into the activities of accused Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof has widened to include other persons of interest, according to multiple sources familiar with the ongoing investigation.

The expanded scope of the investigation now includes people with whom Roof associated in the weeks before the June 17 shootings of nine African-Americans at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the sources said. Roof, 21, of Columbia, is white.

Although it appears Roof traveled alone to and from Charleston on the day of the killings, it is possible others had some knowledge of what he planned to carry out, said the sources, who are not being identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.

Investigators began to explore how much Roof’s associates knew, and when they knew it, after reviewing his cellphone and computer records, the sources said.

Prosecutors are still studying exactly what charges, if any, some of those associates might face, the sources said.

Asked Friday about the Roof case, U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said, “As the Attorney General (Loretta Lynch) said, ‘We have opened a file on this and are continuing to investigate this tragedy.’ ” He declined to elaborate.

One possible charge could be misprision of a felony, which means a person had knowledge of a crime to be carried out and did not inform law enforcement. Other charges might be lying to a federal law enforcement officer.

Similar charges were brought against associates of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev, so I'm not surprised in the least about the obstruction of justice style of charges.  The more disturbing question is whether or not anyone helped Roof plan his deadly attack.

As I've said before, dozens of right-wing domestic terrorist cells operate in the US: white supremacist groups, sovereign citizen outfits, anti-government militias, they're still out there and by and large we pretend they don't exist until after they massacre people in a church or plant a bomb at a MLK Day parade.

It would be nice to take these guys out before somebody gets hurt or killed for once.

Read more here:

Making The Havana Run

With President Obama's announcement of a US embassy in Havana and opening up, the first practical charter flights by a major carrier, in this case JetBlue, are now available.

The airline said Cuba Travel Services Inc is offering the weekly flight on Fridays between New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and Havana's Jose Marti International Airport. It did not say how much the trip would cost.

JetBlue now operates five weekly round trips to Cuba, including flights from Tampa and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood with various charter partners, the company said in a statement.

Since the Obama administration issued new regulations that eased some restrictions on trade with Cuba, including permitting more travel by Americans to the island, U.S. airlines such as United Airlines Inc [UALCO.UL] and Delta Air Lines have also said they would look into adding service.

Other charter airlines already operate limited service to the Caribbean island.

American citizens are still not allowed to visit Cuba as tourists, but they can visit the island for one of 12 reasons, such as visiting family or participating in academic, professional, religious or educational programs.

I'm going to have to imagine that tourism flights to Cuba, a regular thing enjoyed by our Mexican and Canadian neighbors, will become a reality within a year or two.  Well, if Republicans don't kill it. 

Somehow I think it'll be academic pretty soon.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Last Call For Iran Across The Finish Line

We've got proof that the Obama/Kerry Iran deal is a serious diplomatic breakthrough of historic proportions, mainly because Charles Krauthammer loathes it.

Taken together, the catalog of capitulations is breathtaking: spot inspections, disclosure of previous nuclear activity, gradual sanctions relief, retention of nonnuclear sanctions.

What’s left? A surrender document of the kind offered by defeated nations suing for peace. Consider: The strongest military and economic power on earth, backed by the five other major powers, armed with what had been a crushing sanctions regime, is about to sign the worst international agreement in U.S. diplomatic history.

How did it come to this? With every concession, Obama and Kerry made clear they were desperate for a deal.

And they will get it. Obama will get his “legacy.” Kerry will get his Nobel. And Iran will get the bomb.

Sure.  Just like we had to go to war to prevent Saddam Hussein from getting the bomb, remember that?

It would be funny except for the fact that he's remained gainfully employed by the Washington Post despite a 13 year track record of idiocy about foreign policy.  None of Krauthammer's dire predictions came true about Iraq, and none of the benefits of invasion were ever found.  Hell, more than a dozen years later we're still dealing with the aftermath.

Invading Iraq was the greatest diplomatic mistake of our time, and Krauthammer used his position to push for it.

Why would anyone listen to this fool now?

Escape From New York

New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is calling for additional security measures for the long holiday weekend as the federal government is suggesting possible activity by Islamic State is increased.

“We are keenly aware that New York State remains a top target for terrorists,” Cuomo said in a statement.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have issued an alert calling for local authorities and the public to remain vigilant for possible threats following recent calls for violence by Islamic State militants.

In New York City, the nation’s largest municipal police force assigned about 7,000 officers and nearly all its counterterrorism personnel to handle security around Independence Day events.

Cuomo expanded the stepped-up security measures to include the entire state in a directive to the New York Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

“In response to the warning by the federal government, New York State is taking steps to increase monitoring and communication with our local, state, and federal emergency management and law enforcement partners through the holiday weekend,” Cuomo said.

The state’s homeland security department also will increase the staff on Saturday at its 24-hour Emergency Operations Center and the New York State Watch Center, which monitors events across the state.

New York is taking this seriously after attacks last month in France, Tunisia and Kuwait.  Can't really blame them for some additional vigilance.

Hopefully this weekend will be quiet.

Paxton, Some Heat

The criminal investigation against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has taken a more serious turn, with special prosecutors now planning to present a first-degree felony securities fraud case against him to a Collin County grand jury, News 8 has learned.

Special prosecutor Kent Schaffer told News 8 Wednesday afternoon that the Texas Rangers uncovered new evidence during the investigation that led to the securities fraud allegations against the sitting attorney general.

"The Rangers went out to investigate one thing, and they came back with information on something else," Schaffer told News 8. "It's turned into something different than when they started."

Schaffer, a Houston criminal defense attorney, said the securities fraud allegations involve amounts well in excess of $100,000. He declined to comment specifics of the fraud allegations.

A first-degree felony conviction is punishable by up to life in prison.

Now, securities fraud isn't sexy or anything, but an attorney general facing a felony fraud indictment is a pretty big deal.  I'm interested to see how this plays out.  Paxton is such a raging asshole that he can't have made too many friends among prosecutors and cops in Texas.  If there's a special prosecutor that was looking for one crime and managed to find a much bigger one hiding nearby, it's a pretty safe bet ol' Ken here has some pretty dirty laundry.

How he made it this far, well that might be a question for, say, Rick Perry.

Who is facing his own investigation.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Last Call For Listen Up You Primitive Screwheads

This is the court's boomstick, as states in the South's 5th Circuit Court are finding out as they are now officially ordered to comply with allowing same-sex marriages.

A federal appeals court on Wednesday afternoon directed the district courts in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas to issue final orders ending enforcement of the states’ respective bans on same-sex couples’ marriages.

In the Texas case, in which the trial court had struck down the ban, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, in an opinion by Judge Jerry E. Smith, wrote that “the injunction appealed from is correct in light of Obergefell, the preliminary injunction is AFFIRMED.”

In the Louisiana case, in which the trial court had upheld the ban, the appeals court, in a second opinion by Judge Smith, wrote that “the judgment appealed from is REVERSED, and this matter is REMANDED for entry of judgment in favor of the plaintiffs.” Notably, Smith added: “The district court must act expeditiously on remand, especially in view of the declining health of plaintiff Robert Welles,” a plaintiff in the case.

In the Mississippi case, in which the trial court had struck down the ban and refused to issue a stay of the ruling during the state’s appeal — leading the appeals court to issue a stay — the court stated that “the injunction appealed from is correct in light of Obergefell” and, therefore, “the preliminary injunction is AFFIRMED.” It also lifted its earlier stay of the district court’s ruling.

The Mississippi opinion came last, likely a result of the fact that Gov. Phil Bryant initially had said he opposed the plaintiffs’ motion to put a quick end to the case after the June 26 Supreme Court ruling striking down marriage bans.

In all three cases, the appeals court ordered the trial courts to act on the final resolution of the cases “by July 17, 2015, and earlier if reasonably possible.”

The last bastions of stupid, bureaucratic bigotry are falling on this, and as they say, power concedes nothing without being forced.  Meet the force, guys.  Especially you, Bobby Jindal.

And have a happy ceremony.

That Poll-Asked Look In The South

In what should surprise precisely no one, an overwhelming majority of white Southerners still see the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern pride in a new CNN poll.

American public opinion on the Confederate flag remains about where it was 15 years ago, with most describing the flag as a symbol of Southern pride more than one of racism, according to a new CNN/ORC poll. And questions about how far to go to remove references to the Confederacy from public life prompt broad racial divides.

The poll shows that 57% of Americans see the flag more as a symbol of Southern pride than as a symbol of racism, about the same as in 2000 when 59% said they viewed it as a symbol of pride. Opinions of the flag are sharply divided by race, and among whites, views are split by education.

Among African-Americans, 72% see the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism, just 25% of whites agree. In the South, the racial divide is even broader. While 75% of Southern whites describe the flag as a symbol of pride and 18% call it a symbol of racism, those figures are almost exactly reversed among Southern African-Americans, with just 11% seeing it as a sign of pride and 75% viewing it as a symbol of racism.

Among whites, there's a sharp divide by education, and those with more formal education are less apt to see the flag as a symbol of pride. Among whites with a college degree, 51% say it's a symbol of pride, 41% one of racism. Among those whites who do not have a college degree, 73% say it's a sign of Southern pride, 18% racism.

A majority of Southern whites with college degrees are okay with the Confederate flag. And among Democrats (if you dig into the crosstabs) 34% find the flag a symbol of pride (77% among Republicans) and 34% of liberals do too (71% among conservatives, 60% among moderates.)

The real killer: 58% of Millennials see the flag as a symbol of pride, which is actually slightly higher than Gen X-ers (56% or Boomers under 65 (53%).  Seniors, well, They're at 64%.  I hope we're well past the whole "Young people aren't as racist as their parents" nonsense, because Millennials are just as awful.  Indoctrination is awesome.

I grew up in North Carolina, and this doesn't surprise me one damn bit.  People ought to know better.

Jobapalooza Update

Good numbers in the June jobs report today: 223K new jobs, unemployment down to 5.3%.

Oh wait I'm sorry THAT'S HORRIBLE NEWS.

The addition of 223,000 jobs followed a 254,000 increase in the prior month that was less than previously estimated, a Labor Department report showed Thursday in Washington. The jobless rate fell to a seven-year low of 5.3 percent as more people left the labor force. 
The figures indicate corporate managers are confident they can temper hiring and meet demand against a backdrop of stronger consumer spending and feeble overseas markets. At the same time, more moderate job gains may still be enough to reduce the unemployment rate, consistent with the Federal Reserve’s perceived timetable to raise borrowing costs by year-end.
An increase in June payrolls followed smaller gains in the prior two months and wages were little changed as U.S. job market reflected a more moderate pace of economic growth. 
One month’s low number wouldn’t shake our optimism,” Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said before the report. “The job market still has a ways to go but we’re making progress.” 

Again, when we were losing 800K jobs a month under Bush, 223K new jobs and more than five straight YEARS of job growth is "disappointing" and equals "low numbers".

Good news for President Romney though.

You assholes are going to miss Obama when he's gone.
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