AMERICAblog News A great nation deserves the truth // One of America's top progressive sites for news and opinion Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:00:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 No Republican president since Eisenhower has been legitimately elected, says Thom Hartmann Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:00:21 +0000 Has treason been behind many of our presidential election results — real treason?

The fishyness, for want of a better word, involved in the election of our modern Republican presidents is both well understood and under the radar, but for those who dare look, the implications are stark. In 2003 I myself wrote a piece making the same point for a web site I won’t name, because it was rejected. It’s just too bold a truth.

A strong case can be made that indeed, no Republican president since Eisenhower has been legitimately elected. And if sabotaging the negotiations of the elected U.S. government in order to win power is treason, well, some dare call it so, including Thom Hartman.

There’s an asterisk next to Bush I (George H.W. Bush) but I’ll deal with that below the Hartmann quote.

A Child’s Garden of Treason

This is radio host Thom Hartmann, in an interview covering the material of his new book, The Crash of 2016. The interviewer is Mark Karlin of Truthout. I’m printing just the part of the interview that deals with modern Republican presidents. The discussion starts with FOX News, then veers into Republican presidential legitimacy (my emphasis and paragraphing; square bracketted comments, the Truthout editor’s):

[Mark] KARLIN: You have a section on Roger Ailes as head of the GOP network (FOX). How significant do you think TV has been in getting America’s white working – and what remains of the middle – class to blame the nation’s woes on less fortunate non-whites, in many cases as poor as them?

[Thom] HARTMANN: It’s been absolutely consequential. FOX News was started by a billionaire who, in the beginning, lost 100 million dollars a year for the first five years in order to get the network up [it is now extremely profitable].

Republicans have really struggled since FDR to reverse the New Deal.

Hartmann_Crash-2016_coverIn 1968, LBJ had negotiated peace between North and South Vietnam. The Nixon campaign got a hold of the information that an end to the Vietnam War was at hand through the peace talks being held in Paris. A telephone transcript released of a conversation between President Johnson and Republican Senator Everett Dirksen indicates that Johnson knew that the Nixon campaign was … undermining the tentative peace agreement.

Johnson told Dirksen that what Nixon’s campaign was doing in trying to sabotage peace in order to win the ’68 election against [Hubert] Humphrey was treason, and Dirksen, a senior Republican, agreed.

In effect, Johnson was pleading with leading Republicans to get the Nixon operatives to allow a peace agreement. But Nixon refused to back off and won the ’68 election [but thousands upon thousands of US soldiers and Vietnamese died over the next few years, as well as an escalation of the war into Cambodia - and the resultant Khmer Rouge massacres - due to a GOP willingness to sacrifice lives to win an election].

Reagan’s campaign was long-rumored to have undercut an agreement to free hostages toward the end of the Carter administration because it would likely mean Carter’s re-election. The Reagan campaign [allegedly through a fall 1980 meeting with revolutionary Iranian government officials and Reagan campaign honcho William Casey*] promised Iran a better deal than they said Carter would give them, as well as spare military parts.

At the time Carter was near an agreement for the return of the US hostages, 80% of Iran was polled and supported their release. But the Reagan campaign, like Nixon’s, prevailed against US interests. In short, the Reagan administration likely assumed power also as a result of treason.

And then you have George W. Bush, whose brother was governor of Florida when Al Gore appeared to have more actual votes [although uncounted] than Bush. On top of that, Jeb Bush, through Katherine Harris, got about 80,000 African-American voters stricken from the polls through a caging strategy that struck felons and non-felons with similar names from the voting rolls. And that put Bush within range of officially counted votes for the Supreme Court to steal the election for Bush.

There has not been a Republican legitimately elected president since Dwight Eisenhower. In the House of Representatives, the Democrats got a million and a half more votes than the Republicans. The only reason that the Republicans are holding the House is because of redistricting, because of gerrymandering.

When your political agenda is to screw working people and the poor and reward rich people at all costs, you are not going to win elections. So they have to build coalitions with people who are anti-something, because if they ran on economics they would always lose. So organizations like ALEC have put their thumb on the scale and tipped things hugely in the direction of the GOP. It’s been just enough to get Republicans in power in many areas of elective government.

The media is tilted right and has created the modern infrastructure for the Republican Party. In most of the country, you can’t even get progressive radio anymore. So when Roger Ailes first sat down with Richard Nixon and said, let’s create this GOP TV thing, Nixon didn’t have the money. When Ailes found someone who could support his idea in Rupert Murdoch, it changed the course of our country.

Pretty damning, I would say. Note that every Republican president except Bush I, George H.W. Bush, is implicated.

Bush II is not exempt; he too probably met with the Iranians in 1980

The asterisk (*) in the above quotation is mine, and it relates to George H.W. Bush and his participation in the (alleged) Reagan plot, and also his (alleged) participation in the October 1980 Paris meetings with Casey and Iranian government officials, including Mahdi Karrubi.

The go-to guy on this is Robert Parry, who at the time of the Iran-Contra investigation was reporting for PBS’s Frontline, back when PBS was actually PBS, “your daddy’s PBS,” which no longer exists.

From Wikipedia, detailing the plot and Parry’s investigation (again, my emphasis and paragraphing; see source for footnotes):

Another key point of evidence was the claim that Casey attended a meeting with Karrubi in Paris on 19 October, “an assertion supported by four French intelligence officials, including the French spy chief Alexandre de Marenches who described the meetings to his biographer.”

The House of Representatives [nevertheless] considered this claim disproven by de Marenches’ denial when asked by Task Force investigators, and by uncorroborated evidence from Larry Casey, William Casey’s nephew, that he remembered his father calling William in Arlington, Virginia on the relevant date. A year earlier, Larry Casey had insisted to Frontline that he had a “vivid” memory of a dinner his parents had with William at the Jockey Club in Washington, until Jockey Club sign-in sheets and American Express receipts showed the dinner had been on 15 October.

Frontline’s Robert Parry told the House of Representatives about the discrepancy, but it still relied on Larry Casey’s evidence as disproving Casey’s attendance at the meeting. …

According to Robert Parry, de Marenches “privately mocked” the published House Task Force findings, although (according to Andelman) de Marenches demanded the story be kept out of their book, as he did not want to hurt [GHW] Bush’s re-election chances or Casey’s legacy. …

George H.W. Bush was also said to be at the meeting, but repeatedly denied it. During investigations in the early 1990s Bush provided several alibis that fell apart, before maintaining that he was visiting a private residence in Washington. Bush refused to disclose the person visited, except to members of the House October Surprise Task Force on condition that they did not disclose the name or interview the person.

This person ultimately proved to be Richard Anthony Moore (Ambassador to Ireland 1989-1992), but he had died by the time this was disclosedJohn Norman Maclean, who worked at the Chicago Tribune for 30 years, told a State Department official, on a date the official recalled as 18 October 1980, that Bush was flying to Paris for hostage negotiations. Maclean had been given the information by a source he described as “in a secondary position in Republican circles … where he would have access to information of this kind”, but never published the claim due to Republican denials.

By the way, I believe Parry and and the other investigators who were reporting at the time of Iran-Contra. There’s just enough doubt to hang your hat on, if you want to (and the House investigation really wanted to). But the preponderance of the evidence is damning of both Reagan and Bush I. I haven’t even present a tenth of it.

Did Bush I commit treason to become president? If the above is true, ultimately yes. He probably, in my view, participated in the plot, was probably at the core of it, and his presidency depended on Reagan’s and on whitewashing his own 1980 actions.

Finally, remember what Bush II, his son did, immediately after taking office? He sealed his father’s vice-presidential records into the next generation.

[T]he presidential papers of Ronald Reagan were due to be made public when George W. Bush took office in January 2001. However, in a White House memo dated March 23, 2001, the Counsel to the President conveyed the following to U.S Archivist John W. Carlin:

Section 2(b) of Executive Order 12667, issued by former President Ronald Reagan on January 16, 1989, requires the Archivist of the United States to delay release of Presidential records at the instruction of the current President. On behalf of the President, I instruct you to extend for 90 days (until June 21, 2001) the time in which President Bush may claim a constitutionally based privilege over the Presidential records that former President Reagan, acting under Section 2204(a) of Title 4, has protected from disclosure for the 12 years since the end of his Presidency. This directive applies as well to the Vice Presidential records of former Vice President George H.W. Bush.

What are the odds Bysh II was whitewashing his daddy’s involvement in Iran-Contra, protecting the family dishonor, so to speak? What are the odds the sun will rise tomorrow? Not certain, but … well …

This executive order was widely criticized as unprecedented, but you know Republicans — when they have power, they use it.

Thanks, Mr. Hartmann, for reminding us of this part of our history. I rag on neoliberal Dems liberally, and they deserve it. But Republicans have been committing treason since Watergate and before. Never forget it.

To order Thom Hartmann’s new book, click here. Enjoy.



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Cliven Bundy is a seditious liar, not a patriot Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:00:00 +0000 As a resident of the American Southwest — New Mexico to be exact — I’ve become familiar with complicated interplay of federally-owned lands, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), state lands, reservations, and even this interesting notion of ‘land grants’ which sometimes date back to before there were states in this part of the country.

We also have more than our share of radical libertarians and wingnuts. So I’ve been watching the Cliven Bundy situation in Nevada with a fair amount of interest because all of these elements are in play.

Long story short: Bundy is not the states-rights patriot he claims to be, but appears to be a law-breaking liar who has — quite literally — said he doesn’t believe in the legitimacy of the United States government. Not just since a black man became President, but EVER.

Pretty much the opposite of ‘patriot’ in every respect.

The Cliven Bundy story in a nutshell

Bundy owns a 160-acre cattle and melon ranch in Clark County, Nevada, near the town of Bunkerville, which is on the Virgin River — close to the Nevada-Arizona-Utah borders. Interstate-15 runs right through the area. This much is not at all in dispute. (BTW, the Virgin River is one of the feeders into Lake Meade, site of Hoover Dam.)

Fox News' version of Cliven Bundy.

Fox News’ version of Cliven Bundy.

In 1993, in response to reports that a local desert tortoise was dying off and that cattle were doing too much damage, the Feds began restricting access to cattle grazing on federally-owned lands throughout the entire region.

On top of denying access to some areas and more strictly enforcing grazing fees in others, the Feds began limiting which grazing ranges were open in any given year and how many cattle were allowed on the allotments.

Nevada’s Clark County also bought up and retired all of the remaining grazing leases in the nearby Gold Butte area, south of Bunkerville.

Well, Cliven Bundy refused to pay. He’s also defied repeated orders not to graze his cattle on protected federal lands.

He claims there is no such thing as federally-owned land and that there is no Constitutional basis for the Interior Department or the BLM. Yes, he’s that far out there.

Time and time again, Bundy went to court, including an appeal to the 9th Circuit in 1998, in which Bundy represented himself. His claims have invariably been nonsensical and at odds with established facts and laws.

In the ’98 case, a federal judge issued a permanent injunction ordering Bundy to remove his cattle from federal lands. By 2014, the unpaid fines and fees are now in excess of $1 million. He’s never paid a dime.

In August 2013, he was given 45 days by the BLM to remove his cattle, or they would be seized and sold off to pay the fines. Bundy refused. (Actually, the BLM has warned him a whole bunch of times over the years to remove the cattle or risk forfeiture.)

Last April, in response to a BLM move to seize Bundy’s cattle which were still grazing illegally on federal land, he rounded up about hundred friends, relatives, and would-be allies and began threatening BLM rangers and federal employees.

The militia types from out-of-state also showed up, heavily armed. They talked openly about firing on BLM rangers and federal law enforcement officers. In one report, one of the militia types — a retired sheriff from Arizona and member of the Oath Keepers (a radical Bircher-related militia movement) — Richard Mack, said they were planning to put the women and children in front. How courageous.

“I would have put my own wife or daughters there, and I would have been screaming bloody murder to watch them die,” he said. “I would’ve gone next, I would have been the next one to be killed. I’m not afraid to die here. I’m willing to die here.”

“But the best ploy would be to have had women at the front,” he continued. “Because, one, I don’t think they would have shot them. And, two, if they had, it would have been the worst thing that we could have shown to the rest of the world, that these ruthless cowards hired by the federal government will do anything.”

Right, because there’s nothing cowardly about using unarmed women and children as human shields so the heavily armed menfolk don’t get killed first.

In an effort to defuse the situation and avoid bloodshed, the BLM backed down, for now.

“I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing”

Cliven Bundy and his allies have never won in a court of law, whether it’s Nevada state or a federal court. In a radio interview in April, he said, I abide by all of Nevada state laws. But I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.

Cliven Bundy and his friends say they’re patriots, but they deny the authority of our elected federal government — and apparently Nevada state, too, whenever it suits them.

Sedition: (noun) (1) incitement of discontent or rebellion against a government. (2) any action, especially in speech or writing, promoting such discontent or rebellion.


Sound familiar?

Cliven Bundy is either a liar…or a serious exaggerator

In many of the early reports, Bundy is quoted as claiming his family had been ranching there since 1877. According to a report by KLAS:

“I’ve lived my lifetime here. My forefathers have been up and down the Virgin Valley here ever since 1877. All these rights that I claim, have been created through pre-emptive rights and beneficial use of the forage and the water and the access and range improvement”

Well, that first sentence is more or less true. The rest is sovereign citizen gobbledygook.

And the claim of his ancestors being there, with legal rights to the land since 1877, is not true. KLAS-TV out of Las Vegas and their investigative reporter, Nathan Baca, has done some terrific research and reporting on that particular claim of inherited rights that would predate the creation of the BLM itself in 1946.

Bundy’s father didn’t start grazing cattle there until 1954

Clark County records show that Cliven Bundy’s parents bought his ‘ancestral’ 160 acre ranch in 1948, and didn’t start grazing cattle on the adjacent federal lands until 1954. Prior to that, they lived in Arizona. Bundy himself was born in 1946.

“All my life” apparently doesn’t include his first two years.


See Jon Stewart's segment on Bundy's madness below.

See Jon Stewart’s segment on Bundy’s madness below.

According to court records, his father grazed cattle for several years in the Bunkerville Allotment, then stopped. Then presumably Bundy himself resumed in 1973, paying the required fees until 1993 when he stopped paying but kept grazing. After being served with several notices in 1994 to pay up or remove the cattle, he asserted ‘vested grazing rights’ — which have never been upheld in any court, nor has Bundy offered any documented proof of those rights when given numerous chances to do so.

Bundy has further claimed, “My rights are before the BLM even existed, but my rights are created by beneficial use. Beneficial use means we created the forage and the water from the time the very first pioneers come here.”

Again, apparently the rights Bundy claims also predate his ancestor’s presence in the immediate vicinity of his current ranch. And he weirdly claims he’s creating the water and the grass his cattle herds have been using up. Last I checked, Mother Nature took care of that sort of thing.

The term ‘beneficial use’ by the way is a term from the original 1862 Homesteading Act, whereby a family could lay claim to lands in certain designated areas, pay a small fee, and as long as they improved it and lived on it, they could claim title after five years. The Act itself was repealed in 1976, and in any case was limited to claims of just 160 acres total. It has never been recognized as an authority to seize or use federally-owned lands not listed as eligible for homesteading. (BTW, it’s no accident that Bundy’s ranch is 160 acres.)

According to additional reporting from KLAS’s Steve Karnigher, no Bundys lived in Bunkerville NV in 1930 or 1940. Bundy’s mother and her parents lived in the neighboring town of Mesquite, with census records from 1930 indicating John and Christena Jensen (Bundy’s maternal grandparents) were from Utah, which is about another 20-30 miles up the present-day I-15. They did have a farm (usually not considered the same thing as a cattle ranch), but it’s reported to have been near Main Street in Mesquite.

Although Bundy’s assertion is his right to graze and water his cattle on federal lands comes from his mother’s side of the family, he can point to no document, no contract, no license or agreement, and no law establishing this inheritable right in perpetuity. Just his specious assertion that the Federal government cannot legally own land inside any state — an assertion that has been dismissed repeatedly in state and federal courts.

Indeed, the only established legal rights he has under the law are the water rights, including water from the nearby Virgin River, associated with the 160-acre ranch which was purchased from Raoul and Ruth Leavitt in 1948. There are no records of inherited grazing rights, pre-emptive rights, special rights, or grandfathered federal land use rights assigned to Bundy or his ancestors.

Basically, Bundy claims grazing rights on the federally-owned lands adjacent to his property because he says so.

Irony abounds

One of the militia types in from Alaska, a man named Justine Giles, who is apparently as history- and irony-challenged as Bundy himself, remarked, “They are literally treating western United States citizens, ranchers, rural folks like this are the modern-day Indians. We’re being driven off of our lands.”

Bundy says his claim dates to 1877. The irony is that in 1875, the local Paiute Indians were forced off those lands into reservations so white men could move in and seize them.

Two years earlier, in 1873, the same land Bundy now owns and uses to grow his melons and raise cattle had been promised to the Paiute. A promise broken, obviously.

Those ‘pioneers’ of the late 19th century stole the land from the indigenous people already living there.

Bundy is a moocher, and he’s stealing from all of us

It costs money for the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and National Parks Service to manage the lands they’re in charge of. There are access roads to maintain, firefighters to deal with range fires, reclamation efforts, soil and water conservation — and the need to repair the damage done by overgrazing.

A big chunk of the BLM and NPS budgets comes from the Federal government — funded by us taxpayers — because although they can charge licensing fees for the grazing, farming, and mineral rights they regularly lease out, these fees are just a fraction of fair value and actual cost of management.

For example, for the last 30 years, the BLM has charged a mere $1.34 per animal per month (AUM) of grazing. That’s less than a quarter of what it costs the BLM to manage the lands. In 2004, the GAO estimated that private grazing fees, in today’s 2014 dollars, to be $10-29 AUM.

From Salon (emphasis added):

The public lands livestock grazing program uses approximately 250 million acres of the arid west, with permitted users paying a pittance to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the Forest Service for the privilege to do so. And it is truly a pittance. When Bundy stopped paying BLM in 1993, he owed just $1.86 per animal unit month for his mama cows, or $3,348 to use the land year-round. But Bundy refused to pay the fees because he didn’t want to reduce his herd to just 150 animals in order to help save the Mojave desert tortoise, a species given an emergency Endangered Species Act listing, and whose existence is specifically threatened by livestock competition for scarce desert vegetation and direct crushing and trampling of tortoise burrows. Bundy’s non-payment of fees was coupled with non-cooperation about getting his cows off the range. Since 1993, Bundy’s herd has ranged from 550 to more than 900 animals, far more than he was ever legally permitted. His cows have roamed over a much broader area than he was ever legally allowed to use. Without accounting for the legal expenses incurred by BLM and the costs of last week’s failed roundup, Bundy has since racked up a million dollar bill for overdue fees, trespass fees, and fines.

The lands Cliven Bundy claims as his own, to do with as he pleases, belong to all of us. Through our federal government and its laws, we elected to try to preserve a portion of those near-desert range lands, even as ranchers are being treated exceedingly generously with those ridiculously low grazing fees.

But that’s not good enough for a man like Bundy, a man who denies the United States even exists as a legitimate nation.

I’ll give him this much: He’d rather take a stand and cheat the rest of us out of the few thousand bucks a year he’d otherwise owe than to admit the federal government of the United States of America has any authority over him, a citizen not of America but of the sovereign and apparently independent nation-state of Nevada.

However, these are not the beliefs and positions of an American patriot. They’re the acts of a man committing an act of rebellion against lawful authority, a man whose patriotism and allegiance is not to any nation or state, but to himself alone.

The funny thing is he’s not even being a patriot to Nevada either, whose government’s position is he should pay for the damned grazing licenses like everybody else.

NOTE FROM JOHN: Please share our content on social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest and beyond. As I explained the other day, when you share our stories, you help bring us visitors, which increases our ad revenue and helps to keep this site alive. Thanks for your help. JOHN

And here’s on Stewart’s take on Cliven Bundy, from Monday night:

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How Ethiopian drivers navigate huge intersection with no lights (video) Tue, 22 Apr 2014 23:42:00 +0000 A pretty cool video of a huge intersection in Ethiopia in which drivers, and pedestrians, do amazingly well with no traffic lights.


Check out about 40 minutes into the video, when a whole bunch of pedestrians start crossing the intersection, including one couple that cuts right through the middle, coming from the bottom.

NOTE FROM JOHN: Please share our content on social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest and beyond. As I explained the other day, when you share our stories, you help bring us visitors, which increases our ad revenue and helps to keep this site alive. Thanks for your help. JOHN

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Aaron Schock: The continuing saga of Congressman Codel and his merry men Tue, 22 Apr 2014 20:39:57 +0000 What do you do when you find out your Instagram account is gay?

That’s the dilemma facing confirmed-bachelor and consummate world-traveler Aaron Schock.  You wouldn’t know it from many of the social media posts, but in addition to incessantly visiting exotic locations around the world and meeting lots of cute young guys, Schock is also the “conservative” seriously-anti-gay Republican congressman from smalltown Peoria, Illinois.

To great fanfare, Schock’s Instragram account and Twitter feeds came out earlier this year in what, to many, was not a terribly great surprise.

Since the revelation, Schock’s Twitter feed went all “ex-gay,” not reporting an update since last November.  Schock’s Instagram account, on the other hand, is definitely still a friend of Dorothy.  Albeit, a more closeted one.

While one post is of Schock with a known gay man, the others are putatively “straight” pictures that just so happen to contain Schock with one or more awfully good-looking, usually dark-haired, young guys.






The next two photos are particularly artful.  They’re about such benign topics as a pretty place setting, and the Vatican, except of course the photos “just happen” to contain really hot dark-haired young men. Yep, nothing gay about swiss-guards

But putting aside his Instagram account’s homophilia aside, Schock has another more serious problem: His obvious narcisissim.

Judging by his Instagram account, you might be undertandably confused to hear that Aaron Schock is the Congressman from Peoria, than the Representative from Rio.  Schock is a world-class traveler who’s just as comfortable in over-$400-a-night digs at the Four Seasons in Jackson Hole, Wyoming as he is surfing at Waikiki Beach in Hawaii.


Did I mention that our down-home congressman from Peoria hired a surfing coach while out in Hawaii, and then had a service photograph him while surfing, as part of the deal.  It’s good to be king.


Schock has apparently never met a congressional delegation he didn’t like. The guy goes everywhere, and he posts photos of his voyages, a lot of them, and very few show him at work rather than play.

In just the last year, and really most of these are from the only the past few months, Aaron Schock have visited:

Snowbird, Utah


Vail, Colorado


Venice, Italy




Dubrovnik, Croatia






Skiing in Wasatch, Utah




Mt. Etna




Nice, France




Japan, for a rare “at-work” photo – though actually just a cool chance to fly in a helicopter


The last facet of Congressman Codel’s fabulous frolicks is his penchant for star-f*cking. We’ve already seen him with Apple’s Steve Cook, but here he is doing a group selfie, just like Ellen, at “the pit” from the Country Music Awards!


And here he is with famed English billionaire Richard Branson!


And here he is with stars from the Grammys!


And great seats at the Justin Timberlake concert (becuse what conservative heterosexual GOP congressman doesn’t gush over Justin Timberlake).


And Carrie Underwood!


Like all gay Instagram accounts, this one has a beard – his gun

Do read the description to the right, and the first comment.


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Ingenious new attack ad from Oregon GOP Tue, 22 Apr 2014 16:20:00 +0000 A radio advertisement in Oregon’s GOP Senate primary between Monica Wehby and Jason Conger set a new standard for insidious genius. It’s no “Boats ‘N Hoes” scandal, but it’s a template for underhanded campaigning in the future.

The winner in the May primary will face Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley in November.

The spot targets Conger, a state representative with support among hard-core conservatives.

Monica Wehby

Monica Wehby

Establishment-favorite Wehby, a Portland pediatric neurosurgeon, did not purchase or produce the ad. It was an independent expenditure by a political action committee. It even says so at the end. “Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.”

That’s their story, and their sticking to it.

National media have picked up on the fact that Andrew Miller, one of the super PAC’s organizers and major contributors, is romantically involved with Wehby. MSNBC calls it the “most romantic political contribution ever.” Miller gave $31,000, and another GOP donor chipped in $75,000.

Super PACs may not coordinate with candidates. Miller insists there’s been neither pillow talk nor dinner conversation about how he would spend $106,000 supporting Wehby’s campaign.

Pundits have skewered this ludicrous claim. It’s just one more example of the broken campaign finance system post-Citizens United.

What the pundits have missed, however, is the ad’s audacious genius. Everyone loves a love story, but the legacy of this ad will be something more than one more PAC flaunting coordination rules.

The 60-second ad tries to convince Republicans that Conger is a RINO — Republican In Name Only. A woman narrates some of his controversial votes in the legislature. (It’s worth listening to the whole thing just for the hilarious intonation alone.)

“Republican Jason Conger voted five times with Democrats for Oregon’s Obamacare,” it says.

It fails to mention that Conger cast those votes holding his nose. They weren’t for the Affordable Care Act but to ensure Oregon created its own exchange lest the feds take over. That the state exchange has been a complete disaster is a separate issue.

Jason Conger

Jason Conger

The ad cites a few other votes without context. These sorts of blunt statements that lack nuance are typical attack-ad fare.

Finally there’s the disclosure that we’re all used to hearing: “Paid for by,” here’s the genius bit, “If he votes like that in Salem, imagine how he will vote in Congress.”

Huh? That’s just more attack, not a disclosure. Miller actually named his committee: “If he votes like that in Salem, imagine how he will vote in Congress.” Brilliant.

The “Paid for by” bit is supposed to help listeners know who is dumping money into political ads, but the rules don’t say you have to pick a helpful name. Substance and disclosure waste precious airtime better filled with one more attack.

It’s campaign evolution. Remember when candidates had to start saying, “I’m Joe Smith, and I approved this message,” at the end? Then it became, “I’m Joe Smith, and I approved this message because my opponent hates America.

The anti-Conger ad just took it to the next level. A descriptive name or the identities of donors would help people identify who is buying an election. A creative name provides a shroud of secrecy and more messaging. Most people don’t have the time or expertise to dig through Federal Election Commission filings to figure out who is really behind the money.

The radio-spot ups the obfuscation, too, by getting the PAC’s name wrong. It’s actually “If he votes like that in Salem imagine what he will do in Congress.” It’s harder to search the FEC when you don’t even have the right name. (The ad says “how he will vote,” not “what he will do.”)

The possibilities are endless. Come 2016, we might see the “Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi” and “End the war on women” committees form. They’ll spend millions, and few people will ever know who’s really pulling the strings.

Congress or the Federal Election Commission will not fix this any time soon. There’s a genuine free speech concern about the right to name committee’s whatever one wants, but that won’t be the real cause of inaction. Rather, politicians win or lose by the financial support they receive. If they can help those donors and spenders stay on message with a fair degree of anonymity, so much the better.

My name is Chris Trejbal, and I approve of this attack ad.

NOTE FROM JOHN: Please share our content on social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest and beyond. As I explained the other day, when you share our stories, you help bring us visitors, which increases our ad revenue and helps to keep this site alive. Thanks for your help. JOHN
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(Updated) Climate news: Koch-connected heavyweights have solar industry in their sights Tue, 22 Apr 2014 14:00:03 +0000 One prong in the carbon kings’ pushback to protect their future profits is to deny climate change even exists, or to deny it’s man-made, or to assert that it’s inevitable anyway.

But another prong is much more direct — to destroy the competitor, renewable energy, as an industry, in much the same way as GM destroyed the electric car as a purchasable product in the second half of the 20th century.

Thus we find your usual suspects — David and Charles Koch, Americans for (David Koch’s) Prosperity, and ALEC — trying to take down the last best hope for humans (not an exaggeration) so they can be even richer before kicking their personal can. Sons and daughters, fend for yourselves; maybe you can buy your way into Sweden, should it not freeze over.

Evan Halper, writing at the LA Times, has the sorrowful news (my emphasis and paragraphing):

Conservative heavyweights have solar industry in their sights

The political attack ad that ran recently in Arizona had some familiar hallmarks of the genre, including a greedy villain who hogged sweets for himself and made children cry.

But the bad guy, in this case, wasn’t a fat-cat lobbyist or someone’s political opponent. He was a solar-energy consumer. Solar, once almost universally regarded as a virtuous, if perhaps over-hyped, energy alternative, has now grown big enough to have enemies.

Let’s pause here. Job one for the carbon lords is to remove the veneer of “known good” or “known virtuous” from renewable energy, to tar and taint it in your minds. To do that, they have to take the discussion away from climate change and chaos and into safer mental waters — into the land of non-interference in the imagined “free market”; of “fair play” for all participants in the energy game; of “not picking winners” (unless it’s them).

What’s missing, of course, is any consideration that society as a whole has a compelling interest in … well, getting totally off of carbon to keep the planet livable. So they’re attacking laws and regulations that make solar (and other renewables) economically attractive, or even viable. Mr. Halper again:

US sunlight vs. Germany, map by NRE.

US sunlight vs. Germany, map by NRE.
Click to enlarge.

The Koch brothers, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and some of the nation’s largest power companies have backed efforts in recent months to roll back state policies that favor green energy. The conservative luminaries have pushed campaigns in Kansas, North Carolina and Arizona, with the battle rapidly spreading to other states. …

At the nub of the dispute are two policies found in dozens of states. One requires utilities to get a certain share of power from renewable sources. The other, known as net metering, guarantees homeowners or businesses with solar panels on their roofs the right to sell any excess electricity back into the power grid at attractive rates.

Net metering forms the linchpin of the solar-energy business model. Without it, firms say, solar power would be prohibitively expensive. … The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a membership group for conservative state lawmakers, recently drafted model legislation that targeted net metering. The group also helped launch efforts by conservative lawmakers in more than half a dozen states to repeal green energy mandates. …

“State governments are starting to wake up,” Christine Harbin Hanson, a spokeswoman for Americans for [David Koch's] Prosperity, the advocacy group backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, said in an email. The organization has led the effort to overturn the mandate in Kansas, which requires that 20% of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources.

I’ll leave you to read what the over-moneyed whiners have to say against “net metering,” and what the solar industry says to counter the complaint. It’s small potatoes, but it’s a wedge issue that, again, totally ignores the fact that they plan to sink the planet as human-habitable for a few extra fists full of dollars.

After detailing the corrupt way that AF(DK)P — American’s for (David Koch’s) Prosperity — is dropping millions in anonymously collected money into campaigns to kill solar with added mandated fees, we get to the nub of another problem, this one squarely on Eric Holder and Barack Obama.

The problem? They won’t enforce the law when it comes to requiring 501(c)4 non-political groups to be … well, non-political. Any law that goes ignored under bipartisan administrations has been repealed, in the same way the First and Fourth Amendments have been repealed. And yes, this really is Obama’s fault too. Overturning Bush II’s destruction of the law was all it would have taken to fix things. Confirming Bush II’s destruction of the law had just the same effect, only opposite.

The Times again, on how that law has been repealed:

“Politically oriented nonprofits are a fact of life today and provide a vehicle for individuals and organizations with a common point of view to express themselves,” company officials said in a statement in response to questions about their campaign.

Get that? Have become “a fact of life” we’ll just have to deal with. Like paramilitaries, however “illegal,” are “a fact of life” in some other countries, or systematically stolen elections, or Supreme Court coups of the electoral process, or corrupt deals for crooked presidents to step down in exchange for pardons.

The wave of the solar future — a battle over death-by-utility-fee

The battles are underway now (read the piece for details) and once more big carbon is buying your future. Is there enough critical mass for an effective revolt? There’s wasn’t in 2000. I do suspect though that critical mass is what it will take to turn the corner.

In the meantime, please support all efforts to increase renewables in your state, and at effective prices. Ignore the “free market” propaganda. If we don’t get off of carbon, we better consider finding another planet to inhabit. As the article shows, it’s a war in the trenches at the moment. And people like David “Let them eat Carbon” Koch has a lot of artillery to shell us with. We need to be fighting back hard until the day the cavalry — in the form of serious public engagement — arrives.

UPDATE: Rachel Maddow covered this as well. Watch the video below starting at 6:36.

(Sorry about not encoding a start time for the player. In their wisdom, the gods at the Christie network have eliminated that option for now.)


Twitter: @Gaius_Publius
Facebook: Gaius Publi

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Cardiac disease linked to depression Tue, 22 Apr 2014 12:00:35 +0000 There are a number of issues that are considered risk factors for cardiac disease, that is, they increase the risk that someone may develop a heart attack. Some can be controlled or modified, others cannot.

Since cardiac disease is the number one cause of mortality in the US, it’s important to look at these factors and work to decrease or modify those that can increase the threat of cardiovascular disease.

In the past, all of those risk factors have been physical ones (age, hypertension, smoking and others). A growing body of evidence indicates that there may be at least one psychological factor to add to the equation: Depression.

There are some risk factors that cannot be modified. Givens such as genetics, age and gender are unalterable.

For example, some families have a history of developing heart disease that starts early. There may be family members who have heart attacks in their early 40s, 30s or even in their 20s.

Aging increases the risk for having a heart attack. Older people thus have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

Men are at risk to have heart attacks earlier than women. But risk in women begins to approximate that of men after women finish menopause.

There is not much that we can do about those listed above. However, we can focus on factors that can be controlled or modified to lower risk.

Modifiable risks of cardiac disease, including depression

Modifiable risk factors include things like: hypertension, diabetes, smoking, elevated blood lipids, obesity, lack of exercise and others. These things can be altered to help lower the chance of a cardiovascular event.

Diabetes can be controlled. Patients can stop smoking. Blood pressure can be managed. Blood lipids can be lowered. Additionally, other factors that may play a role can also be modified. Patients can eat a more healthful diet, lose weight, begin to exercise regularly and do other things to develop a more healthy lifestyle.

Broken heart by Shutterstock

Broken heart by Shutterstock

For decades, the American Heart Association (AHA) has sponsored research into and published information about cardiovascular diseases. They’ve compiled a list of some of the things that may lead to a heart attack. In a recent study, they looked at the possibility that there might be a psychological risk factor that could lead to heart attacks. That factor is depression.

There was some previous research that showed an increase in heart disease in patients who had concurrent depression. Some studies, dating back over 20 years, showed that some psychological factors could elevate the risk for a heart attack and/or increase the chance for a poorer outcome after someone had a heart attack.

The AHA convened a panel of experts in the field to review a large number of studies that looked at the role of depression in cardiovascular diseases. The panel reviewed a number of studies. Some had only 100+ research subjects, but others included studies that contained over 10,000 patients. Some of these patient populations were followed for years to see whether or not they developed cardiovascular diseases. The research was done in Europe, Asia and the US.

Essentially, what these, and some of the other studies showed, was that depression is correlated with the risk of having a heart attack. People who have a heart attack and are depressed have worse outcomes than patients who have heart attacks and are not depressed.

The recommendation of the committee is that the AHA include depression as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

In addition to the previously cited physical risk factors (blood lipids, hypertension, etc.) we also need to look at the psychological factors that may contribute, as well.

NOTE FROM JOHN: Please share our content on social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest and beyond. As I explained the other day, when you share our stories, you help bring us visitors, which increases our ad revenue and helps to keep this site alive. Thanks for your help. JOHN
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So I got trapped in the bathroom by my nephew’s demon-cat Tue, 22 Apr 2014 11:00:06 +0000 So, my nephew’s demon-cat trapped me in the bathroom Sunday night for nearly half an hour.

It’s been a fun 24 hours at the Aravosis zoo.

It all started with me visiting mom for Easter, and she’s taking care of my nephew’s cat for the next month.

Demon Cat

Famous mom quotes: “I know you’re allergic to cats. I’ve had her litter box and her cage in your bedroom for a few weeks, it won’t bother your asthma having her here will it?

Ah, mothers.

The thing is, my cat allergies aren’t too bad, and they’ve gotten better as I’ve been getting allergy shots for over five years now. So, other than the wisdom of putting the litter box in my bedroom, I decided to be down with the cat.

Sadly, the cat did not decide to be down with me.

It started with the cat, nicknamed KC, aka Khaleesi (oh yes, the cat is named Khaleesi), hissing at me throughout our first encounter. Now, I know cats sufficiently well to leave well enough alone when they hiss at you. So I left her alone. About an hour later, I’m trying to go up the stairs and KC decides it’s very important to get in front of me on the steps and stretch out, blocking my way, while hissing.

I did manage to finally get by without losing a leg, only to have KC follow me, pass me, and then get between me and my ten pound Yorkie-Bichon Sasha, who conveniently bouncing out of the bedroom, and was beside herself to encounter a cat. Sasha, god bless her, LOVES cats. The bad news is that Sasha’s really only known one cat in her short four years, our neighbor’s case, and that cat pretty much likes dogs. As for KC, not so much.

Sasha was wagging wildly, slowly approaching  mother-of-dragons while KC hissed at her, mouth open, teeth-bared, tail wagging. Sasha wasn’t taking the hint, and kept coming forward, tail ever more excited (remember, in dog-land, a tail wagging is a good thing, in cat-land it means death is imminent – yours, not its).  I yelled at Sasha to stay. She finally figured out something was wrong, and then began to get increasingly upset, backing up slowly, trying to look around the cat to see if there was anyway to get by demon-cat, while giving the most pitiful whine that in Sasha-speak means “Daaaad, I caaaan’t get by!”

Fast forward a few hours, when I encounter KC in my dad’s office. The cat’s been following me around, and I suspect she does really want to get to know me, so I stop, the cat comes up, rubs against my leg and then hisses at me. Hmm, still somewhat disconcerting. So I lower my hand carefully, the cat nuzzled my hand with her muzzle, and then gives me a massive hiss while still nuzzling my hand.

Hmm, this still doesn’t seem to be going well. So I walk away.

Fast forward to 4am. I get up to go the bathroom, come back, and who’s come up to the stop of the stairs to hiss at me? Yep, the blond devil. I manage to make my way into the bedroom, and then we come to the next evening, around 1130pm, when I go to the bathroom to brush my teeth and get ready for bed.

Trapped by Demon-Cat

KC decided to come to the bathroom and plop herself down in front of the door while I flossed and brushed my teeth Sunday night.


I thought it was a bit strange, but figured maybe KC was finally finally warming up to me. Then her mood started to change, including her tail moving, a lot in that flicky way cats do before pouncing. Oh yeah, and she started hissing.

And whoever on Facebook suggested trying to stare the cat down – yeah, not so much.


Every time I moved towards the door she’d hiss again, yet not move away. I texted my nephew: “Still hissing and still stalking me. I go into bathroom, cat came out of hiding to block me and hiss.”

Oh, let me just share the texts, shall we?



At this point, I send Anthony a video of her hissing all the more as I approach her.

Anthony says she won’t attack, so I take a video and go for it – Anthony lost that bet.


In the meantime, the cat is doing this upside down stretchy thing that, as far as I know, constitutes flirting for cats.  Yeah, flirting with a hiss.






Yes, the cat fell asleep on guard duty:




cat-7Yes, dragon-cat was about to get a dose of saline solution when the pipes gurgled, and apparently noisy water pipes are a lot scarier than I.


In the meantime, where was my little watchdog doing while her daddy was being accosted by demon-cat? Waiting for Game of Thrones.


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Fireworks as seen from an unmanned quadcopter in the midst of it (video) Tue, 22 Apr 2014 01:55:45 +0000 I really enjoy some of these quadcopter videos. Basically, they’re small cameras running on a mini helicopter that has 4 blades.

This one shows the quadcopter flying through some fireworks. It’s nothing special, but I still find it enjoyable to watch.

Hope you do too.


NOTE FROM JOHN: Please share our content on social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest and beyond. As I explained the other day, when you share our stories, you help bring us visitors, which increases our ad revenue and helps to keep this site alive. Thanks for your help. JOHN

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The Defense of the History of (Gay) Marriage Mon, 21 Apr 2014 21:06:37 +0000 Gay activist and journalist Michelangelo Signorile weighs in on the growing controversy over a new book about the gay marriage battle that tends to overlook the work of a number of advocates at both the state and national level.

The book by Jo Becker, Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality, is billed as the “definitive account” of the marriage equality battle of the past five years. Except it isn’t.

From the book’s Amazon page:

A tour de force of groundbreaking reportage by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Jo Becker, Forcing the Spring is the definitive account of five remarkable years in American civil rights history: when the United States experienced a tectonic shift on the issue of marriage equality. Beginning with the historical legal challenge of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Becker expands the scope to encompass all aspects of this momentous struggle, offering a gripping behind-the-scenes narrative told with the lightning pace of the greatest legal thrillers.

Protesters outside the Supreme Court, and across from the US Congress, for the oral arguments on the gay rights cases involving DOMA and Proposition 8 in March, 2013. © John Aravosis 2013

Protesters outside the Supreme Court, and across from the US Congress, for the oral arguments on the gay rights cases involving DOMA and Proposition 8 in March, 2013. © John Aravosis 2013

For nearly five years, Becker was given free rein in the legal and political war rooms where the strategy of marriage equality was plotted. She takes us inside the remarkable campaign that rebranded a movement; into the Oval Office where the president and his advisors debated how to respond to a fast-changing political landscape; into the chambers of the federal judges who decided that today’s bans on same-sex marriage were no more constitutional than the previous century’s bans on interracial marriage; and into the mindsets of the Supreme Court judges who decided the California case and will likely soon decide the issue for the country at large. From the state-by state efforts to win marriage equality at the ballot box to the landmark Supreme Court case that struck down a law that banned legally married gay and lesbian couples from receiving federal benefits, Becker weaves together the political and legal forces that reshaped a nation.

Signorile walks through three particularly egregious examples of some serious defects in the book, including:

  • Becker’s refusal to name any state advocates who fought, and won, important gay marriage battles in their states in 2012;
  • Her effort to diminish the role, and importance, of Roberta Kaplan, Edie Windsor’s lawyer, in the incredible gains we’ve had over the past few years; and
  • The role AMERICAblog, and specifically Joe Sudbay, played in the debate over the administration’s defense, and then rejection, of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

I won’t go through all of Mike’s arguments, you can read through them on your own. I would like to weigh in on two points, though.  First, the significance of Prop 8 in our overall marriage quality gains, and the role of AMERICAblog.

Prop 8

As I’ve written before, Proposition 8 in California was a unique evil, the import of which even our straight allies don’t always fully appreciate.  Prop 8 passed in November of 2008, and not only was a statement “against gay marriage,” it repealed the already-existing civil right of gay couples in California to marry.  It was unique in civil rights history, where you’d be hard pressed to find too many examples of civil rights bestowed and then repealed.

prop-8-plaintiffs-air-force-oneBut of course, Prop 8 was even worse than that.  Its advocates claimed that Prop 8 actually dissolved 18,000 legal marriages of gay couples already performed in California.  The new state constitutional amendment, supported by the religious right and Catholic church, and brought back from the dead by the Mormons and their $20 million investment, was vicious.

So, Prop 8 had an incredible impact on the gay psyche. Add to that the legal challenge by esteemed lawyers Boies and Olson, and Prop 8 was hugely important in the marriage equality battle.

Except then a funny thing happened on the way to the promised land: Edie Windsor showed up and crossed the finish line first.

US v Windsor

Here’s some background on Windsor’s case, handled by lawyer Roberta Kaplan, from Wikipedia:


Edie Windsor

In 2007, Edith “Edie” Windsor and Thea Spyer, residents of New York, married in Toronto, Ontario, under the provisions set forth in the Canadian Civil Marriage Act, after 40 years of romantic partnership. Canada’s first openly gay judge, Justice Harvey Brownstone, officiated. Windsor had first suggested engagement in 1965. After Spyer’s death in 2009, Windsor was required to pay $363,053 in federal estate taxes on her inheritance of her wife’s estate. If federal law had recognized the validity of their marriage, Windsor would have qualified for an unlimited spousal deduction and paid no federal estate taxes. In May 2008, New York Governor David Paterson had ordered state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. Some lower-level state courts had made similar rulings, but whether the state’s highest court would give such a ruling the force of law, as Windsor’s claim for a refund required, remained uncertain and was disputed throughout her lawsuit.

To make a very long story short, last summer the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of DOMA, and sided with Windsor.  In the last less-than-year, the Windsor decision has successfully led to at least 14 victories of gay marriage advocates in as many states.

Something else happened last summer on the same day the historic Windsor decision was issued: The Supreme Court also dismissed the religious right’s challenge of a lower court decision finding Prop 8 unconstitutional.  That means, Prop 8 was struck down and gays in California could once again legally wed. It was a huge victory for Californians. And it had nowhere near the national import of US v. Windsor.

Yes, Prop 8 was  the “it girl” in 2008.  And then it wasn’t.  The true hero – well, the latest and greatest hero of the decades-long fight for marriage equality – was Edie Windsor and her lawyer Roberta Kaplan.

Now that’s not to say that lots of other heroes don’t share the crown.  Prop 8 was important in terms of focusing the gay community, and changing attitudes of the public at large.  And lots of commentators and activists from Andrew Sullivan to Evan Wolfson played a huge role, legally and culturally, in moving the marriage ball forward (in addition to the many state advocates that Mike mentions in his piece).  But the people who crossed the finish line first were Edie Windsor and her lawyer Roberta Kaplan.


And now a quick word about DOMA.

Becker mentions in her book the importance of the Obama administration changing its mind and no longer defending DOMA in the courts.  She writes about how the President was incensed when he found out that the administration’s brief filed in support of DOMA on June 12, 2009 had caused an uproar in the gay community, and with the national media.

But Becker doesn’t mention the fact that the “activists” who caused the firestorm were Joe Sudbay and me, writing on AMERICAblog.  Joe had managed to get a copy of the administration’s brief before anyone else in the media, or activist world, had it. Both of us being lawyers, we went through the brief and ripped it to shreds, piece by piece, over the ensuing hours — publishing minute-by-minute updates on AMERICAblog.

People were livid about the brief, but others were mad at us as well.  Some bought into the administration’s argument that they had no choice but to defend DOMA in court.  After all, the Department of Justice said, DOMA is the law of the land, and how could a department of “justice” not defend the law?

But again, being lawyers, Joe and I knew this wasn’t entirely true.  With the help of then-law-student Paul Sousa’s research, we wrote a story detailing how Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton and W. Bush all refused to defend certain laws during their respective administrations. We also asked our friend and colleague Richard Socarides, who is also a lawyer, and who worked in the Clinton White House, if he’d consider penning a piece explaining the options the President had.  So Richard did.  And it ended up being the first, and seminal, piece on the topic.

Two years later, the White House and DOJ relented, and admitted that the President didn’t have to, and no longer would, defend DOMA in court.  It was a huge and welcome victory, and it was owed to the work of a lot of people, from activists to organizations, but Joe and I quite literally got the ball rolling.  And you wouldn’t know any of it from Becker’s “definitive” history of the last five years of the gay marriage battle.

Here’s Mike with more:

AMERICAblog broke the story of the Obama administration's brief defending DOMA on June 12, 2009.

AMERICAblog broke the story of the Obama administration’s brief defending DOMA on June 12, 2009.

In another example Becker claims that President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, because of their beliefs about what was constitutional, both realized at the same time that they couldn’t defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court, a decision that was made in 2011. Yet she doesn’t detail the relentless pressure campaign that had been going on for over a year before that decision, coming from the streets and online, including from Joe Sudbay and John Aravosis at AMERICAblog. They began the campaign to stop Obama from defending DOMA after the Justice Department filed an offensive brief defending DOMA in June 2009, in the face of many Obama apologists, some connected to the administration, who attacked them and said that the administration had to defend DOMA. Every word and action of Becker’s insiders is reported in detail, but when it comes to others, they’re just anonymous “activists” or vague events or an unattributed headline here or there.


One final point that Signorile explains in more detail, but Becker also overlooked a rather major turning point in the gay marriage battle: AMERICAblog’s then-deputy Joe Sudbay’s interview with President Obama, in which Joe got the President to say that he was “evolving” on the issue of gay marriage.

Here’s Mike:

Joe Sudbay and four other progressive bloggers interview President Obama at the White House on

Joe Sudbay and four other progressive bloggers interview President Obama at the White House

Becker doesn’t even tell the story of how Sudbay got the president to say, during an interview in October 2010, that he was “evolving” on marriage. (“[A]ttitudes evolve, including mine,” Obama said.) It was a pivotal moment, certainly reported on at great length in the media, that would be used against the president over and over by media pundits and activists demanding that he “evolve already!” Becker doesn’t cover it at all, only mentioning, while telling yet another story about the insiders that took place three months later, that Obama had “now said” that he was “evolving,” again making it seem like it was the insiders who had gotten him there.

Enough credit to go around

There’s more than enough credit to go around on the increasingly-successful battle over marriage equality in America.  And there are far more activists and lawyers and organizations than I can remember, who over the decades played key roles in getting us to where we are today.

But Becker’s book, which portrays itself as the “definitive account” of the past five years, doesn’t mention any of it.

It only goes to prove something I learned long ago. History isn’t written by the victors. History is written by those who step up to write it.  And unless you speak out, and challenge fiction, fantasy will eventually become accepted as fact.

NOTE FROM JOHN: Please share our content on social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest and beyond. As I explained the other day, when you share our stories, you help bring us visitors, which increases our ad revenue and helps to keep this site alive. Thanks for your help. JOHN
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Black & Asian tourists are genetically more humble than whites? Seriously? Mon, 21 Apr 2014 17:37:33 +0000 Are we really to believe that blacks and Asians are genetically more humble than whites?

It’s an idiotic, and racist, assumption, but you might just think it’s true if you read a recent story on Al Jazeera America by an Amnesty International board member, Rafia Zakaria, who apparently believes that “white” westerners, but not Americans and Europeans of Asian or African or Latino descent, have a thing for visiting developing countries and then regaling their friends with stories of their do-good escapades.

At first I thought the problem with the piece was simply Al Jazeera playing fast and loose with the title of the story.  Editors do that, and many people don’t realize that the writer often doesn’t choose the title.  But in this case, the author also used the term “white” in her story, so she clearly thinks the “problem” is “white” people.  And it’s really not.


The specific problem the author writes about is what she calls “volontourism,” which is basically people planning vacations during which, rather than going to the beach, they do good deeds, such as building homes in poor countries.  Apparently, this is a bad thing that not only is counterproductive, but also shows how ill-willed “white people” truly are.

I’d written before about the growing penchant of some on the left to demonize “all white people.”  It’s a hateful and bigoted mentality, to demonize “the other,” that I’ve run across in the gay community as well.  Some gays like to call straight people “breeders,” because heterosexuals “breed and make babies,” whereas gay people don’t.  It’s a mean-spirited term that is rarely used without bile.  And I call (the rare) gay person out on it when they use it.  Yes, you could argue, “breeders” don’t need my help vis-a-vis gay people, since “breeders” have it all and we don’t, but being a civil and human rights advocate means I don’t get to pick and choose when it’s “okay” to be a bigot.  And it doesn’t make me any less of a bigot if I happen to be gay while hating straights.

But putting that issue aside for a moment, is it true that white people have a “white savior complex” that compels them to go to foreign lands and do “good deeds” that end up harming the locals?

A few issues.  First of all, generally speaking, I find it hard to criticize someone for choosing to spend their vacation building homes for the homeless in Africa, or Asia, rather than getting drunk and flashing their genitals on Bourbon Street.

I think the assumption in the article that everyone who does a trip like this is some kind of up-to-no-good braggart is a tad harsh.  We should welcome the fact that people want to do-good — especially people with some disposable income — and if the kind of good they’re doing isn’t working, then help them fix that.  It would go a lot further towards helping the needy than simply casting racist aspersions against the donors, which is more likely to get them to book their next trip to Cancun, and forget about helping altogether.

As for the “crimes” of the white tourist in detail, the article talks about one program in which, as I just mentioned, people go abroad and help build homes for the needy:

The pitfalls of the voluntourism industry go beyond orphanages. For example, Dorinda Elliot, a contributing editor at the Condé Nast Traveler website, writes about a “failed voluntourism project” in Haiti — a set of houses built by an American church. Buoyed by the imagined nobility of their endeavor, the builders failed to consider the needs of the would-be inhabitants. The uneducated families that moved into the houses lacked professional skills and employment to improve their conditions and continued to beg for food long after the tourists left.

The article linked to goes more in-depth.  Among the concerns: Wouldn’t it get your more bang for the buck if the “white” people (because African-Americans and Asian-Americans (and Latinos) apparently never volunteer to go abroad and build homes for the poor), had just given their money to the Haitians to hire an all-Haitian crew, rather than having the American volunteers fly in to help?

Sure, maybe.

But that assumes the volunteers would have donated the money otherwise.  As fundraising experts know, sometimes you have to give to get.  It’s why big non-profits (NGOs) hold big fundraising dinners, because some people would rather get something in exchange for a big donation, rather than just giving the donation and walking away.  Does that make the donor selfish?  I don’t know.  It is their money after all, and they have no obligation to hand it over to you, regardless of your good-intent or condescending attitude.  And in this case, it’s not like the donors demanded a champagne dinner in exchange for their generosity — they simply wanted to help other people, using their own hands.  I’m not convinced that’s the worst motivation in the world.

As for the specific home-building brigade in Haiti, the notion that this home-building project “failed,” because the poor Haitian families moving into the homes still lacked the skills to get a good job, strikes me as somewhat of a non sequitur.  Poor families shouldn’t get to live in decent homes until they learn the skills necessary to get a better job?  Really? There’s no benefit to a poor family finally getting a decent home, even if they’re still poor after getting the home?  If that’s the case, then homeless shelters are surely evil as well. After all, “all” such shelters do is put a roof over your head — it’s not like they actually get you a job or train you in a skill.  (And I suppose the same goes for giving money to a homeless man on the street. You should have taught him XML instead.)

Now, are there other needs those poor families have that aren’t being addressed by this particular project? Sure. Does that mean providing them a home over their heads is somehow a failure? I don’t think so.

Another part of the article complains about the fact that poor families in Bali, Indonesia are sending their kids to orphanages in order to trick tourists into thinking the kids are parentless.  Why?  Because the tourists then help the “orphans” by paying for their education.  And this is somehow “proof” of how “bad” the (white, of course) tourists are.

Mind you, the fraud being perpetrated by the Indonesian parents is overlooked because, apparently, it’s okay to act unethically, and immorally, if money is involved, and your skin color is other-than-white, and/or your nationality is other than “western.”

Rather than this hoax being proof that these tourists genuinely want to help — and perhaps therefore non-profits, and other aid groups, should strive to find better ways for people with some extra cash and time on their hands, who genuinely want to help others in need, to actually help — the “lesson” we’re supposed to take away from this is that white people suck.

I’m loathe to bring it up, lest I be accused of being a “white man bragging” about a trip to a developing region, but I went to the Amazon a few years ago.  And I already knew from graduate studies in foreign affairs that sometimes local economies get skewed in bad ways from a sudden large influx of foreign money.  In this case, people in our tour group wanted to give our guide a huge tip at the end of the week – on the order of each tourist giving one guide $150.  What they failed to understand was that, while receiving over $1,000 in tips alone would be a huge deal to a guy living in the Amazon jungle, the exorbitant salary also risked skewed the local economy, and economic incentives, in a similar manner to the way that the Indonesians in Bali felt the need to pretend their kids were orphans in order to get money for school.

So, yes, sometimes bad things happen when you mess with economic incentives, even with the best of intentions.  But that doesn’t mean that the folks on my tour group, who genuinely liked our guide, saw that he clearly wasn’t a person of means, and wanted to help him out with a heck of a tip, were somehow bad “white” people who need to be (racially) condemned.  Not to mention, I have a funny feeling that African-Americans and Asian-Americans would have been just as generous to someone in need.

I’m writing about this because there’s a larger problem underlying this story, and it’s undercutting progress on civil and human rights across the spectrum.  The problem is a rising level of acceptable-bigotry from the fringes of the left — bigotry empowered by the Internet, and the Net’s ability to connect like-minded crazies who misinterpret strength-in-numbers with righteousness.  The cumbaya commonality inspires people to think that they are never part of the problem, and that it’s always the other guy.  The white guy.  The straight guy.  The man, instead of the woman.  The person who isn’t transgender or bisexual. It absolves the non-”white, male, ‘cisgender’” liberal of any and all responsibility, so that it’s no longer in part their job to help “fix” their own problems, to help educate people about what those people are doing wrong and how in the future they could do it right.

Their message is clear: If you’re doing it wrong, then you’re obviously a bad (white) man, and the very notion of it being a civil or human rights advocate’s job to help you learn how to do things better, how to channel your desire to help into something truly (or at least “more”) productive, is only further evidence of your “privilege,” or whatever trendy word of the day the kids are using in lieu of an actual argument.

After all, if you were truly a good person, you’d have gotten it right from the git-go.  If you were truly worthy of our respect, you’d have been born a different color, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.

NOTE FROM JOHN: Please share our content on social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest and beyond. As I explained the other day, when you share our stories, you help bring us visitors, which increases our ad revenue and helps to keep this site alive. Thanks for your help. JOHN
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World’s worst Easter Bunny photos Mon, 21 Apr 2014 15:28:39 +0000 Yes, I’m a day late, but I really wanted to put together this collection of the scariest Easter bunnies, and forgot to do it before Easter, so here you go.

I’d done a Sketchy Santa post a few years back, about the worst Santa photos on record.

And I’m glad to see there’s such a history for Easter too. Enjoy.

Via Tarenga.

Via Tarenga.

NOTE FROM JOHN: Please share our content on social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest and beyond. As I explained the other day, when you share our stories, you help bring us visitors, which increases our ad revenue and helps to keep this site alive. Thanks for your help. JOHN
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Mom gets life for beating 3 y.o. son to death, thought he was gay Mon, 21 Apr 2014 12:30:43 +0000 Jessica Dutro was just sentenced to life in prison for the beating death of her 3 year old son, Zachary, one day before his 4th birthday.

Prosecutors say Jessica asked her boyfriend, Brian Canady, to “work on” the boy “big time,” because she feared he would turn out gay, based on the way he walked and talked.

The two then kicked and punched little Zachary, according to his older sister. The boy suffered five broken ribs, then received the fatal blow to his stomach that ripped his intestines.

Then the family ignored this injuries until Zachary was beyond help, and only then called the ambulance.

Jessica Dutro

Jessica Dutro

A search warrant turned up a mesasge the mother wrote to her boyfriend on Facebook about her son: “hes (sic) going to be a f*g he walks and talks like it ugh it p*sses me off.”

Again, the boy was 3 when they beat him.

The beating happened three months later.  It was instigated, prosecutors say, by the boyfriend becoming angered by an argument with another resident of the shelter they lived in.  He then took his anger out on the boy after Zachary refused to sit in front of the TV as directed.

Among other things, Zachary was kicked in the stomach.

The boy suffered for two days before they called an ambulance.  He had diarrhea and vomiting, and then developed difficulty walking and staying alert. It was only after he fell unconscious that they called for help.

Doctors say the boy would have likely lived had his mother and her boyfriend called for help sooner.

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Trollus internauticus Mon, 21 Apr 2014 11:00:19 +0000 Internet trolls (aka Trollus internauticus) have been around since people first allowed comments sections on their websites.

Trolls originally were beings in Scandinavian mythology: strong, nasty and relatively slow-witted. Not much has changed in the ensuing millenia.  In fact, you would probably still recognize many of the original Norse ancestors in today’s more wired progeny.

I’d like to start the day by listing and describe some of the more common species of trolls found in the digital age.

Internet troll via Shutterstock

Internet troll via Shutterstock

Trollus indignatio

Hyper-enraged troll. This troll may be enraged over just one thing, or a number of things that are often somewhat related (e.g., economy, jobs, immigration, Social Security), or at least are related in his mind.


His mission is to keep posting, IN CAPS, to make sure that he is not ignored, which ironically causes everyone to ignore him.

There are numerous subspecies of Trollus indignatio. These can often be identified by the topics or groups of topics over which they spew their anger.

Trollus indignato var conservatus

Angry posts directed at Democrats regarding Benghazi, ACORN, the Clintons, the IRS, liberals, Benghazi, Obamacare, contraceptive rights, Benghazi, George Soros, Jesse Jackson (seriously, they still bring up Jesse Jackson), the Second Amendment, climate change, immigrants, Benghazi, socialism, and other issues that aren’t linked to Benghazi, but could be if we just search hard enough.

Trollus indignatio var christianistus

Hate-filled posts directed against gays, the poor, immigrants (who, like many troll villains, are multi-category offenders), maintaining “churches” as tax-free entities, shielding pederast priests, and writing only about specific carefully hand-picked Biblical verses while ignoring other more inconvenient ones.

Often Trollus indignatio var christianistus takes the position that the rest of us are doomed, buy if we embrace God (Christ, not Buddha, Allah, Freya, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster — well, okay, some versions of Christ, such aren’t recognized either, be it Catholics or Mormons) we might be saved. But only if we give the evil practices that initially annoyed this troll in the first place.

Trollus indignatio var tehgayus

This troll is often a sub-variant of one of the above. This one is primarily enraged over homosexual acts, and displays an obsessive interest in, and knownledge of. Rick “Man-dog” Santorum and Antonin “No sodomy for you, but no word about me” Scalia come to mind.

There are many other Trollus indignatio variants and sub-variants. Those concerned with women/women’s rights (that is, suppressing them), immigrants (deporting them), global warming (denying it) and dozens more. The common thread seems to be intense anger, pugnaciousness, being poorly informed and a strong sense of self-righteousness and moral superiority.

Other troll-types include:

Trollus affirmatus and Trollus negatus

These two are considered together. These trolls take opposite viewpoints — one affirms the topic and all of the replies, the other negates all of them. They add little or nothing to the discussion itself. They are known to post things like: Agree. Nope. Thanks, Obama. Yeah. Benghazi. [Note: There are crossover trolls that do not neatly fit into one classification. That is a Trollus indignatio var conservatus may have elements of a Trollus negatus, and vice versa.

Trollus scrutator

Also known as the stalker troll. This one takes a dislike to one or many of those on the blog. He makes it his mission to dig up ancient posts and follows his victim to other blogs where he ports strings of previous comments made by the poster elsewhere. He then reposts the same content over and over again. In the more vicious species of this troll (Trollus scrutator var malignus), he will uncover the victim’s name, address, phone number and other personal data and post that online, as well.

Trollus pseudomensa

A particularly obnoxious troll who feels he is the world’s foremost authority on everything: science (ALL of science), the arts, languages, economics, politics, defense and other fields. From astrophysics to zoology, he’s got it covered. And he’s always right.

Trollus acneiformus (aka Trollus pubertus)

The juvenile of the species is often in the 10-15 year age-range. He frequently posts scatalogical comments. Other comments show that he has no true grasp of anything other than Bieber’s newest release. Often posts things like “That’s soooo gay!” “Ewwww!” Frequently, these posts are scrubbed the next day by one of this troll’s parental units. Unless the parental unit is also a troll (there is recent science to suggest some genetic causation). In that case, often the parental unit posts an equally vapid comment.

Trollus grammarius nazius var English

This troll only posts to correct the use of English by other posters, even if the mistakes are obvious typographical errors common to people writing quickly online. NOTE: These trolls seem to exist for all languages, not just English. Sometimes these trolls are so extreme they’ll even question as to how the poster PRONOUNCES a term he’s used (“Did you say that as PO-TAY-TO or PO-TAH-TO?”)

Trollus repeto velox

This troll has a component of Obsessive-Compulsive disorder. He gets onto a site and immediately, and quickly, floods it with replies to multiple posts, all within the same few minutes.

Trollus throwbackus

Throwbacks is found on many sites. His posts often call for a return to the “good old days,” which, to him, are all about ice cream, picnics and sports. When throwbackus hears words like: McCarthysim, Nixon, Vietnam, Watergate, segregation and other triggers, he either vanishes or goes into a rage blaming others for these bad memories.

Trollus obfuscatus

This variety can be quite annoying. He posts frequently trying to derail or hijack the thread by posting unrelated information, introducing new topics, or posting incorrect information. He want’s to bring the thread to a screeching halt because He does not care for the topic, those posting or the site itself.

Trollus aggressus

He is somewhat like Mikey in the “Life cereal” commercial — he hates everyone. Those on the site, the thread, the posters and possibly other, unnamed parties (such as the government). He simply attacks everything: he attacks poster’s views, the poster’s avatars, the poster’s parents, intelligence, patriotism, the topic, the site, the owner of the site, etc. Sometimes he is a var. of the acnieformus/pubertus or may be one of those who has matured in physical stature, but not in emotional or cerebral stature.

Trollus perplexa

This is the confused troll. He doesn’t seem to be able to read or comprehend the thread topic or the posts. He often posts rambling sentences that do not focus on any one thing, and is expert at accusing the author of the post, or a fellow commenter, of writing something they never wrote.

Trollus catapultus

The fanatic-troll believes that the Second Amendment guarantees him and any of his kin to own ANY numbers of ANY weapons, and as much ammunition as money can buy. Catapultus insists that he be allowed to carry loaded automatic weapons into churches, while drunk, to honor God, because the Constitution, or something.

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Let’s make Spanakopita, for a traditional Greek Easter Sun, 20 Apr 2014 17:39:27 +0000 I’m at mom’s for Easter. Usually we call it “Greek Easter,” but as this year “our” Easter and “your” Easter are the same day, it’s just “Easter.”

My sister typically holds the big family dinner, with a ridiculous(ly good and over-abundant) assortment of Greek food.

I try to make something to bring every year, usually Pastitsio (my favorite), but as I didn’t get to Chicago until late Saturday afternoon, and Pastitsio is a royal pain (way too many pots and pans), I opted for something simple, Spanakopita.


Spanakopita is basically a pie made of spinach, egg and cheeses that makes almost a quiche-like filling (but more spinach than you’d find in a quiche), with the crunchy phyllo dough encasing it.

People often think dishes made with phyllo (pronounced FEE-low) are difficult.  Not really, you just have to understand how to use the dough, so that it doesn’t dry out.  More on that in a moment.

First, here is mom’s recipe – written out in typical mom fashion, with varying amounts of ingredients.  The little note in the upper right corner indicates that it’s the recipe of (or at least tweaked from) my brother’s godmother (nouna, in Greek), Helen Delegiannis.


The basic recipe for a 9×13, or 10×14 pan (I sometimes find the slightly larger pan is easier to fit the phyllo in), is the following:

3 to 4 pounds of spinach (we use chopped frozen – recipe says 4, we used 3 this time)
1 to 2 bunch onions (meaning, green onions or scallions – and a bunch means the big bunch of several scallions tied together the way the supermarket sells it)
2T butter or olive oil
1/2c parsely, chopped
1T Dill, chopped
1T mint, chopped
1 lb. cotagge cheese (preferably small curd) – I supposea you could use Ricotta, we don’t, but you could always try
1 typical sized package of cream cheese
8 large eggs (or 6 extra large)
2T oil
1t lemon juice
1/2 lb. butter or so – the dish can come out salty, depending your feta – fetas vary – you might want to use half unsalted butter and half salted. Ours turned out fine though.
3/4 lb. feta (maybe a pound if you prefer)

Chop scallions, sauté with 2T butter or olive oil.

Put the onions in a very large bowl or container.  Then get to work on the spinach.

I microwave the spinach to thaw it out, don’t get it too warm, since you need to squeeze the excess water out of it – there’s usually a lot (and if it’s too cold, that’s annoying on your hands too).  Mom suggested smushing the spinach in a collander to get the water out (using a bowl), but it didn’t work well enough.  Eventually I had to squeeze individual bunches dry with my hands.

spanakopita spinach

Add the spinach to the bowl of onions.  Add mint, dill, 2T olive oil, lemon.

Separately, mix the cottage cheese, cream cheese, maybe 3/4 of the feta, and the eggs (beat the eggs first – ignore what the recipe says about separating the whites from the yolks first). Mix the entire mess, preferably by hand (it’s hard to mix it all together well, otherwise).


Add the egg/cheese mixture to the spinach/scallion mixture.  Also add 4T melted butter to the mix.  Again, easier to mix it all by hand. (You can try with a spoon, but you’ll see how hard it is.  You’ll also see why I told you to use a huge bowl to mix all of this in.)  As the feta is really salty, you typically don’t need to salt any of this.

spanakopita cheese


Now to the phyllo dough.  Melt maybe 2 to 3 sticks butter or margarine (you’ll probably need 3 sticks total or so, melted – don’t overheat them as you’ll need to spread the melted butter by hand – I’m guessing you could replace some of the butter with olive oil – perhaps not all, as you wanted a buttery taste, and not just overwhelming olive oil).  Having said this, I think 2 sticks butter might be enough – the dish can be REALLY buttery, and it can be too heavy.  Maybe try 2 sticks, and don’t pour too much on at the end – just make sure the phyllo is moist all around.

Open the phyllo pack (that you’ve had sitting at room temp for several hours to thaw, and be easier to unroll (it’s harder cold)). Spread some wax paper on your counter top (or table).  Lay the phyllo dough, opened up all the way and spread out, on top of the wax paper.  Put more wax paper on top to cover it.  Then take a dish towel, get it wet, wring out the water, and lay the dish towel on top of the wax paper.  This will keep the phyllo from drying out and sticking together, making it unworkable.


Now, while Greek-Greeks will tell you to use a layer of phyllo at a time, that’s nuts.  I usually cheat and use as many as 5 or 6 layers at once.  You’ll note that a pack of phyllo dough is actualy like 20 or so layers of fine dough.

This is my layout, to make the process easier.

spanakopita layout

Put some melted butter in your 9×13 or 10×14 pan.  Spread it around bottom and sides.  Then take 3 to 6 sheets of phyllo, lay it in pan, push it down and against sides.  Then add some melted butter – mabe a few tablespoons, and gently spread it all over the phyllo, make sure every inch is buttered.  In the meantime, you’ve covered the remaining phyllo with the wax paper and towel again.  You don’t need to cover the phyllo that’s already in your pan.


Put another layer of phyllo on top, so that you’ve now used maybe half (maybe a bit less) of the total amount of phyllo there is in the package.  Spread more butter so that you’ve used about 1.5 sticks butter at this point.  Then add the spinach mix, smooth it out.


Next, I like to take the remaining 1/4 of the feta, cut it in larger chunks and lay it on top of the spinach mixture. I do this this so that it won’t totally dissolve in the oven, if it does dissolve you won’t really taste it.  Sometimes I’ll buy a cheaper feta for the 1/2 to 3/4 that I put in the spinach, then use a more expensive better tasting feta for the 1/2 to 1/4 that I put on top in larger chunks. Screen-Shot-2014-04-20-at-10.38.06-AM

Then repeat the process with the phyllo.  Put 3-6 leaves on top of the spinach/feta.  Add butter, use your fingers to cover entire phyllo with butter.  Then add more layers of phyllo.  Finally, but remaining butter on top.

Next, carefully score the mixture into whatever sized pieces you want.  Only cut through the top layers of phyllo down to the spinach, don’t cut through the spinach. Here’s mom doing the scoring, because she still, at 84 years of age, refuses to believe that I actually know how to cook (having only made this dish a gazillion times myself).


Note that I like to keep the extra phyllo dough on the sides of the pan and just roll it in on the sides to make a nice super thick crust.  Some people cut the extra off.  I like the crunchiness.  Make sure you get plenty of butter on these rolled up sides.

spanakopita phyllo

You let this sit in the fridge, covered, overnight. Or cook right right away. Cook in 350F oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour 15.  Really, you cook it until it’s golden brown on top, like mine looks. I’d keep checking it from 30 minutes on, but don’t be surprised if it takes well over an hour, especially if it’s cold from the fridge. It’s not rocket science how long it cooks, you just want the thing well cooked – which you can tell by how golden it looks.  You might need to wrap some foil on the outside edges as the can cook faster since they’re higher up.

Then take it out, let cool a bit and serve, or let cool and then reheat later (I find things like this can take a bit of time to reheat.) Microwaving will make it kind of gooey and gross.  Also, let it cool before covering it up or it will get mushy.

That’s pretty much it.  I don’t think I’ve forgotten anything.  If I have, let me know.  Enjoy. Oh, and this probably serves 8 as a main course, and that’s still a pretty hefty serving. 6 if you’re a total sow :)


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SC mayor fires lesbian police chief, says rather have drunks than gays protecting children Sat, 19 Apr 2014 14:20:02 +0000 Earl Bullard, the mayor of Latta, South Carolina, is in some hot water after firing the town’s openly-lesbian police chief, Crystal Moore, apparently because she’s gay.

Latta was caught on tape disparaging gays, and suggesting that he’d rather have a drunk in charge of the safety of his children than someone who is gay.

Here’s the transcript of what Bullard was caught saying. The actual audio is below.

“I would much rather have.. and I will say this to anybody’s face… somebody who drank and drank too much taking care of my child than I had somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children.

Because that ain’t the damn way it’s supposed to be. You know.. you got people out there — I’m telling you buddy — I don’t agree with some of the lifestyles that I see portrayed and I don’t say anything because that is the way they want to live, but I am not going to let my child be around. ”

Latta. South Carolina mayor Earl Bullard.

Latta. South Carolina mayor Earl Bullard.

I’m not going to let 2 women stand up there and hold hands and let my child be aware of it. And I’m not going to see them do it with 2 men neither.”

I’m not going to do it. Because that ain’t the way the world works.”

Now, all these people showering down and saying ‘Oh it’s a different lifestyle they can have it.’ Ok, fine and dandy, but I don’t have to look at it and I don’t want my child around it.”

Mayor Latta served Chief Moore with seven reprimands right before firing her. These were the first reprimands she’d earned in 20 years on the job.  Some say that in addition to Bullard’s anti-gay animus he also had a vendetta against the chief because she investigated one of his hires:

Some residents believe the mayor firing Crystal Moore was payback. Moore investigated Mayor Bullard’s most recent hire, Parks And Rec Director Vontray Sellers.

NEWS 13 first broke the story of sellers driving a Latta town vehicle while his license was suspended back in February…Chief Moore found the mayor neglected to conduct a background check on Sellers.

It is legal under federal law to fire someone for being gay. Under state and local law, it depends on each state and municipality whether gay people are protected in employment.

Most people don’t realize that the only people covered under anti-discrimination laws are the groups of people actually covered by name.  Meaning, only those groups listed specifically under the law – race, religion, national origin, gender, etc. – are protected from discrimination.  If you’re not listed, as gays (aka sexual orientation) are not under federal law, and under many state and local laws, then you’re not protected.

And there is no such thing as the generally-held, but mistaken, concept that “the Constitution bans discrimination.”

There’s been a proposal before the Obama administration for several years now to issue an executive order to require that federal government grant recipients have employment protects in place for their gay and trans employees.  The effort hasn’t gone anywhere in part because it isn’t run very well (when’s the last time you heard any rabble-rousing on this issue?), but also in part because the administration, for whatever reason, simply doesn’t want to do it.

The administration’s public explanation for not doing an executive order is that they’d rather a pass ENDA, a federal law fixing the problem. The problem is that with a GOP-controlled House of Representatives, only the most hopefully think that there’s any chance of passing that law.

It would be interesting to see if the police department of Latta, SC has received any federal grants.

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The honey badger that could escape from any enclosure (video) Sat, 19 Apr 2014 00:16:23 +0000 This video about honey badgers from the BBC is fascinating. The animal worked with a mate to figure out how to unlock its cage door and get out. It kept getting out, she they built an outdoor enclosure for it with cement sides. No way in, no way out.

The honey badger climbed a tree in the enclosure, got to the top, bent the branch over and jumped out.

So they cut back the trees on the edges near the wall. What did it do next? The animal dug up rather large rocks, piled them in a corner, and then climbed on the rocks to get out. So they got rid of the rocks.

A few nights later, the guy’s wife wakes him, says there’s someone in the house, I heard the window break. At the same time, someone is jiggling the door to their bedroom. You guessed it. The honey badger had taken mud, rolled it into balls, placed the balls in the corner of the enclosure, as it had done with the rocks before, and finally climbed on the balls and got out.

Next, he grabbed a broken branch, pushed it into the corner of the enclosure, leaned it again the wall, and climbed up the branch and out.

Oh, but there’s more. He figured out how to grab a rake, roll it off his back against the wall, and climb the rake out of the enclosure.

And of course, I couldn’t post about the honey badger without posting the classic honey badger video. Enjoy.

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What happens when a woman asks random women for dates on the street (video) Fri, 18 Apr 2014 18:30:02 +0000 I’d posted a video yesterday of a guy asking random men on the street for dates, while a friend filmed it, just to see how they’d react.

Today, you get the female version, in which a cute young woman stops women at random and asks for their phone number.


The guy version didn’t go badly, for the most part, but the woman version clearly went better. (Not that this is necessarily a representative sample of society at large.) I’m told this is in Santa Barbara, CA, but am not sure.

I’m also not sure if there are any large lessons to be learned from this, but it is interesting to watch. As one guy noted on Facebook, if you had tried this (as a guy) 20 years ago, you’d have likely been beaten up, a lot.

NOTE FROM JOHN: Please share our content on social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest and beyond. As I explained the other day, when you share our stories, you help bring us visitors, which increases our ad revenue and helps to keep this site alive. Thanks for your help. JOHN

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Power’s bitch: Snowden responds to criticism of TV appearance with Putin Fri, 18 Apr 2014 16:35:17 +0000 Facing criticism over his appearance at a propaganda event organized by Russian President Vladimir Putin, NSA leaker/whistleblower Edward Snowden penned an op ed today in the British newspaper, the Guardian, defending his actions, and claiming that they were part of a larger strategy to begin a public discussion in Russia of the country’s domestic eavesdropping

First, Snowden claimed that he hit Putin hard in his questioning:

On Thursday, I questioned Russia’s involvement in mass surveillance on live television. I asked Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, a question that cannot credibly be answered in the negative by any leader who runs a modern, intrusive surveillance program: “Does [your country] intercept, analyse or store millions of individuals’ communications?”

I went on to challenge whether, even if such a mass surveillance program were effective and technically legal, it could ever be morally justified.

Not quite.  Snowden didn’t “question Russia’s involvement” and he didn’t “challenge” anyone.  Both of those sentence constructions suggest that you put your interlocutor on the spot – Snowden simply did not do that.  He asked Putin a softball question, Putin lied in response, and Snowden had zero follow-up, which was to be expected all around.

Here is Snowden’s question:

“Does Russia intercept, store or analyze in any way the communications of millions of individuals?

And do you believe that simply increasing the effectiveness of intelligence or law enforcement investigations can justify placing societies, rather than their subjects, under surveillance?”

Snowden didn’t “question Russia’s involvement,” he asked a question about Russia’s involvement. There’s a difference. And he didn’t “challenge” whether it’s ever morally justified to spy on your own population en masse, he simply asked nicely.  This was not speaking truth to power.  This was being power’s bitch.

Snowden goes on to suggest that his real intent in appearing with Putin at the staged propaganda event was to start a national dialogue about domestic spying in Russia. More from Snowden’s Guardian piece:

The investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, perhaps the single most prominent critic of Russia’s surveillance apparatus (and someone who has repeatedly criticised me in the past year), described my question as “extremely important for Russia”. According to the Daily Beast, Soldatov said it could lift a de facto ban on public conversations about state eavesdropping.

spock-11th-dimensional-chessOthers have pointed out that Putin’s response appears to be the strongest denial of involvement in mass surveillance ever given by a Russian leader – a denial that is, generously speaking, likely to be revisited by journalists.

In fact, Putin’s response was remarkably similar to Barack Obama’s initial, sweeping denials of the scope of the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs, before that position was later shown to be both untrue and indefensible….

But to me, the rare opportunity to lift a taboo on discussion of state surveillance before an audience that primarily views state media outweighed that risk. Moreover, I hoped that Putin’s answer – whatever it was – would provide opportunities for serious journalists and civil society to push the discussion further.

What “serious Russian journalists” and what “Russian civil society” is Snowden expecting to pick up the ball in a dictatorship where the media is controlled by the man he claims he now intended to put on the spot?

If Snowden is suggesting that the American media will now cover Russian spying, they already do.  There is no “taboo” in the west about covering Russia’s misdeeds. Snowden is clearly referring to the taboo in Russia against criticizing the state, or as Kremlinologists like to call it, committing suicide.  Vladimir Putin owns, funds, and controls the major media in Russia.  How exactly is this national conversation supposed to ignite in autocratic Russia the same way it ignited in democratic America?

Fortunately, I was able to find raw video of Snowden “challenging” Putin, in the original Russian. The “questioning” starts about 18:50 into the video. Below is a rough translation:

PUTIN: I agree with you and if I’m elected governor, I will lower taxes whether those bureaucrats in the state capital like it or not! Ahem, Edward do you have a question you would like to ask your uncle Vlad?

SNOWDEN: Yes, sir, a very inane one. Mr. Putin, your campaign seems to have the momentum of a runaway freight train. Why are you so popular?

lisa mr burns runaway train

“Mr. Putin, your campaign seems to have the momentum of a runaway freight train. Why are you so popular?”

PUTIN: Ooh, a tough question but a fair one. Edward, there’s no single answer. Some voters respond to my integrity, others are more impressed with my incorruptibility. (Edward leaves the table) Still others buy my determination to lower taxes. And the bureaucrats in the state capital can put that in their pipes and smoke it!

[Edward is in the kitchen.]

SNOWDEN: Oh Mom, that felt awful.

THE GUARDIAN: Mmm… I’m sorry dear. It will all be over soon.

SNOWDEN: But Mom, we’ve become the tools of evil.

Yes, the cartoon-American ended up realizing she had become a tool of evil. The real American, not so much.

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Edward Snowden’s “George Zimmerman moment” on Russian TV Fri, 18 Apr 2014 12:30:03 +0000 NSA leaker/whistleblower Edward Snowden appeared on Russian television yesterday with President Vladimir Putin.

Putin was hosting an annual “question and answer” TV program, where he purportedly “takes questions from the public.”  One of the questions was from Edward Snowden.

Snowden asked whether Russia spies on its citizens.  Putin, incredibly, answered “no.” (The video is below.)

There is so much wrong with this.

Snowden, you’ll recall, sought exile in Russia after being sought by the US for espionage.  And while one can appreciate that, if you’re on the run and Russia is one of the few countries on the planet that will take you, then Russia it is, Snowden crossed the line yesterday, as he has done before.

Wrong time to be giving Putin a bear hug

Snowden appears on Russian television to ask President Putin a softball question in the middle of the Ukrainian crisis.

Snowden appears on Russian television to ask President Putin a softball question in the middle of the Ukrainian crisis.

It’s one thing to be a whistleblower, wrapped in the flag. It’s another to aid our country’s adversaries.  And at the moment, Putin is the bad guy, and Snowden gave him a big bear hug on national TV in the middle of a growing international crisis.

The United States – and much of the world – is in the middle of a huge effort to isolate Putin in the hopes of saving what is left of the Ukrainian nation.  Putin has already invaded and annexed Ukrainian Crimea, and Russian agents are now sowing civil discord in eastern Ukraine, in the hopes, the thinking goes, of fomenting a civil war that would “necessitate” Russian intervention to “save the day,” and conveniently annex Ukraine’s industry-rich eastern province.

The last thing anyone who claims to care about human rights and civil liberties should be doing at this moment is giving aid and comfort to Vladimir Putin.  But that’s exactly what Snowden did.  He didn’t just “ask a question.”  He knew the stakes for Putin, for the US, for Europe, and most importantly, for Ukraine, and chose to buttress the Russian president while diminishing the American one.  It was incredibly poor timing by someone who, if “perhaps” politically tone-deaf himself, has ample advisers in America who know a thing or two about politics and PR.

Snowden must have known Putin would lie, and was lying

Not to mention, how could Snowden ask Putin such a ludicrous question that he knew Putin would lie about?  As Eli Lake at the Daily Beast documents, Russian domestic spying puts America’s to shame.  (And you’ll note in the article that even Snowden’s usual defenders are somewhat tepid in their support of his appearance on Putin-TV.)

“I think it was ridiculous,” says Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russia’s security services who is also a professor at New York University. Andrei Soldatov, a Russian journalist who has broken major stories on the Russian intelligence service, the FSB, and is a Daily Beast contributor, was only slightly more charitable. “Putin never directly lies, he just tells half truths and his answer was a half truth,” he said. “In terms of what is going on inside the country, he was not correct. We have all signs of mass surveillance. My view is Russian surveillance is much more intrusive than what you have in the United States.”

But the FSB has far more power to eavesdrop on Russian and foreign citizens than the FBI or the NSA. In practice, according to Soldatov, the FSB has a back door into every server belonging to Russia’s telecom companies and Internet service provider. Snowden himself exposed a program known as PRISM that provided these so-called back doors to the NSA in the United States. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence last year published court records that showed in some cases the collection of Internet traffic targeted at foreign nationals inadvertently collected the Internet traffic of U.S. citizens for whom the agency had no warrant.

But in Russia, there is no special court or even a parliamentary committee to check the FSB’s work in the first place. “The interception is conducted by the ISP internet provider and not the law enforcement agency in the United States,” Soldatov said. “In Russia interception is conducted by the FSB directly. They have remote access to all Internet service providers and all telecom companies and they don’t have to even ask permission to view any of this data. While the NSA has collected all call records to search themselves, the FSB can actually listen to the content of phone calls without a warrant. Nobody would ask for this warrant because the ISP has no security clearance to see the warrant.”

Snowden’s “whistleblower” defense no longer holds up

I had concerns about Snowden from the beginning.  The fact that he went in to the spy business and was shocked to find that actual spying takes place, struck me as more bizarre than naive.  It just didn’t sound credible that anyone qualified enough to work at the NSA didn’t realize that the NSA was involved in some pretty hairy stuff.

In response to Edward Snowden's question as to whether Russia spies on its citizens, Putin lies.

In response to Edward Snowden’s question as to whether Russia spies on its citizens, Putin lies.

But let’s take him at his word, maybe Snowden was shocked by all the spying he suddenly found at America’s #1 spy agency.  Then another shoe dropped, that blew Snowden’s “shock and awe” defense out of the water: Snowden leaked the details of US spying on Russia.  That disclosure had nothing to do with the civil liberties of Americans, which supposedly is the issue motivating Snowden, and it’s supposedly the reason Snowden isn’t releasing any documents about Russia’s spy program, or any other antagonist of the US – because his goal is protecting American citizens, not ratting on the Russians.  So how exactly did Edward Snowden protect American citizens when he divulged the details of how the US spied on Russia’s leaders?  And while it’s fine for some to allege that Snowden’s revelations were no surprise to the Russians, so no harm no foul, the why did he do it at all?  We’re to believe that Snowden stole highly-classified documents in order to expose  US spying on Russia that everyone already knew we were doing?  That’s not whistleblowing.  That doesn’t even make sense.

Then, Snowden did it again.  This time leaking the details of US spying on China. Ditto to the fact that this disclosure did zero to help the civil liberties of Americans, and thus doesn’t explain why Snowden refused to leak the “crimes” of any country but America and its ally, the UK.  If Snowden truly cared about civil liberties – and his revelations about US spying on Russia and China suggest otherwise - he’d care about those liberties in Russia and China too.  And he doesn’t.

It’s also odd that Snowden thought it wise to leak the details of US spying on these two countries in particular.  China, and now Russia again, are two of America’s top competitors in the world, if not the top competitors – economically in the case of China, and strategically in the case of both. Though Russia is severely weakened as compared to its Soviet heyday, the Ukraine debacle proves that Russia can still cause serious damage when it wants to.  And if the Ukrainian crisis escalates, and Russia cuts off energy supplies to Europe, get ready for some rather fragile economies to plummet, and possibly take the rest of us along with them.  Shoring up the national security of Russia and China vis-a-vis the United States is not in the national interest of the United States, or of this country’s citizens.  So why did Snowden steal those documents from the NSA at all, if part of his overall intent wasn’t to simply harm the United States?

But some make the argument that Snowden didn’t just stumble upon the offending documents.  Rather, they say, Snowden took the job at the NSA with the explicit intent of finding noxious classified material to leak. And if that’s the case, then he might not be a whistleblower at all.

How can you be a whistleblower if you take a job with the intent of leaking classified documents that you don’t yet know exist, about a program you’ve not yet even heard of?

Per se Snowden didn’t know about the to-be-leaked programs before he got to the NSA, otherwise he wouldn’t have needed to join the NSA to get the documents about the programs in the first place. If Snowden already knew about the noxious programs while working at Booz-Allen, he could have gone public then and there. It sounds like Snowden joined the NSA, went in blind, had already chosen to become a whistleblower before finding any wrongdoing, and simply hadn’t yet found the appropriate whistle.

And that doesn’t make you a whistleblower, or a hero.  It simply makes you a guy looking for a fight.

UPDATE: Snowden has responded, via an op ed in the Guardian, to the criticism he’s been getting for the Putin appearance.

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