Friday, March 27, 2015

Remember how last night we were talking about right-wing zillionaires and energy giants buying control of our cash-hungry nonprofits?


Do you want to know who made this lovely little documentary about Serge Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes possible?

by Ken

This is another of those stories you couldn't make up.

Last night I wrote a post called "'Why are science museums in bed with science deniers?' (actor-activist Mark Ruffalo)," which I had finished far enough ahead of time (an hour, and maybe even a few minutes more) that by the time it was posting, I was enjoying an episode of DCI Banks on my local PBS station. Somehow I had never seen an episode of DCI Banks. That was nice.

Afterwards, though, I figured that was enough lolligagging. It was time to dip back into the real world, or at least my version thereof. That meant dragging myself back to the computer. Sigh.


In last night's post, I noted that not only actor-activist Mark Ruffalo but everyone else who asks, "Why are science museums in bed with science deniers?" --
knows the answer: $$$$. That's right, almight dollars. Right-wing plutocrats have 'em, and nonprofit orgs of every stripe need 'em, more often than not desperately.

And the lucky-ducky institutions that cash those checks are quick to assure us that the money doesn't influence the way they perform their functions, no sir! And with that assurance we can all rest easy, right? Except that pretty much every day we read new, usually well-documented charges that, on the contrary, nonprofit institutions and media are giving their right-wing zillionaire donors quite a bit of "consideration."
I proceeded to recall my horror at the renaming of Lincoln Center's longtime New York State Theater as the David H. Koch Theater, even as I understood why somebody was more than happy to pocket the truckload of Koch cash that came with the deal. Then I wrote:
Considering how big a business the "development" (i.e., fund-raising, not to be confused with the "development" of anything actually cultural or artistic) arm of the nonprofit world has become -- one often gets the feeling that the "development" teams have become more important at many orgs than the teams that actually do stuff -- it's not hard to understand the appeal of free-floating $$$$. Small orgs, no matter how high-minded, are in a terrible position to turn away any potential donor, and large orgs now have such an overwhelming need for $$$$ that they feel they have no choice but to go where the $$$$ are.


One last thing I did before rechaining myself to the computer: I checked to see what might be on the tube -- something I could leave on in the background while I pecked away at the computer. I noticed that as a post-DCI Banks filler, to get them up to 11:00, Channel 13 had some sort of little show about the legendary dance impresario Serge Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. I guess because it was a mere half-hour thingie (some sort of documentary, I assumed, but a half-hour documentary?) that I didn't immediately pay much attention. But after a bit more searching I decided to just let the thing, Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced with Music, narrated by Tilda Swinton, run while I pecked away.

Now dance isn't my field, but music is, and because of the composers Diaghilev collaborated with, Ballets Russes was approximately as important to 20th-century music as to 20th-century dance, and again, since dance isn't my field, I figured I could stand to know more about him and his company, and also to see what there might be to see. Given the half-attention I was paying while pecking, I had the feeling that it was in fact quite a terrific 26-minute production -- I only wished I'd watched more carefully, and maybe somehow had the presence of mind to record it.

I did at least have the presence of mind to be watching at the end, for the credits -- to find out just what this thing was, with maybe a view toward tracking it down somewhere, somehow. Imagine my surprised to ciscover that it was a film made in conjunction with an exhibition that was presented at the National Gallery of Art from May to October 2013, called (what else?) Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced with Music. Later, armed with this information, I was able to track down the YouTube version of the film atop this post.

I learned one other thing from the credits -- that the thing was made possible by ExxonMobil and Rosneft (which I discovered is described on Wikipedia as "the leader of Russia’s petroleum industry and the world’s largest publicly traded petroleum company"). Now I'm not saying this is a bad thing, necessarily. I'll bet it was a swell exhibition, "organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in collaboration with the National Gallery of Art, Washington."

Why, look just at the film that the exhibition left behind. (Yes, go ahead, look at it!) And I'll bet the exhibition wasn't cheap to put on. Do we really think it could have been, or at any rate would have been, put on without access to somebody's deep pockets? A quick show of hands, people. Everyone who would have picked up the check for the project, raise your hand.

Now that we've taken care of business, feel free to enjoy the film if you haven't already done so. Courtesy of you-know-who.

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Do Electoral Considerations Sometimes Trump Party Ideology? They Sure Did In Yesterday's Paid Sick Leave Vote


Johnson found something else to stick to his guns over

The Senate has been debating the 2016 budget for the last few days. Actually, what they've been doing is voting on amendments. Yesterday, for example, the rejected Bernie Sanders' amendment that would have raised the minimum wage. It failed 48-52, every single Democrat voting YES and all but two Republicans-- Susan Collins (ME) and Rob Portman (OH)-- voting NO. I guess Republicans figure their voters don't care about the minimum wage.

Almost all the Democratic-sponsored amendments were defeated. Almost. Patty Murray introduced one that passed pretty handily, despite dogged opposition for hard core right-wingers like Ted Cruz and most of the Confederates. Murray's amendment establishs a deficit-neutral reserve fund for legislation to allow Americans to earn paid sick time. After some vote switching from Republicans who will have to face the voters in 2016, it passed 61-39. Again, all the Democrats voted YES, but this time, they were joined by 16 Republicans. Some of those 16 are from blue and blue-leaning states where the sick leave legislation is very popular. It may be contrary to Republican "values," but several endangered senators who will be facing the voters next year, crossed the aisle and voted with the Democrats.

That list included Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Richard Burr (R-NC), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mark Kirk (R-IL), John McCain (R-AZ), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Pat Toomey (R-PA). Hilary Clinton is looking a huge wins in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wisconsin and New Hampshire, a very good chances to score in Ohio, and competitive races in Arizona and North Carolina. Toomey and Johnson actually voted NO and then switched their votes! Other Republicans who may have a tough time with reelection battles in 2016 but who stuck with GOP anti-worker ideology included Roy Blunt (R-MO), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Dean Heller (R-NV). And all the senators talking about running for president in 2016 voted NO-- Ted Cruz (R-TX), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Marco Rubio (R-FL). Hillary Clinton backed the legislation. “The absence of quality affordable childcare is a very big factor in limiting and sometimes ending women’s participation in the workforce," said Clinton. "The absence of paid leave is a strong signal to women and particularly mothers that the society and our economy don’t value being a mother... If we did more for childcare and we did more on paid family leave, particularly for new mothers, we would be sending the right signals." Tough argument to debate outside of backward areas of The South!

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Oil Trains: Industry Lobbies for Weak Rules While Derailment Fires Rage


A CSX Corp train burns after derailment in Mount Carbon, West Virginia pictured across the Kanawha River in Boomer, West Virginia February 16th, 2015. Photograph: REUTERS/Marcus Constantino (click to enlarge; source)

by Gaius Publius

I made a comment recently, with respect to Obama's legacy "wants" coming into office, that one of them was:

3. Plentiful oil and gas, along with passage of the Keystone Pipeline (KXL).

and that the Keystone part of that was mooted "by the many mini-Keystones and by oil trains." (You'll notice, at least for a while, that this "want" has been achieved — that the U.S. has plenty of domestically produced carbon, ready to be turned into emissions. That won't last long.)

Here's more information about those oil trains. If you live near a town with train tracks (who doesn't), and especially if you live near the tracks themselves, you may want to check this out.

Top 10 Questions About Oil Trains

Todd Paglia at Huffington Post Green has an excellent explainer and "uptodate-er" about oil trains, including how often they explode, how safe the new "safer" cars are, and what it takes to put out the fires. He starts (my emphasis):
On Friday, March 6, while an oil train explosion in Illinois was still sending flames and black smoke into the air, railroad agents were in Washington, DC lobbying to weaken new train safety standards. Safer brakes are "extremely costly..." they told White House officials, and explained in great detail why speed limits are impractical. Like the auto industry resisting seatbelts, the rail industry is on the wrong track when it comes to safety.

In the last month, there have been six derailments of crude oil trains in the U.S. and Canada -- three of them ignited, sending flames and mushroom clouds hundreds of feet into the air. Luckily, these were in relatively remote locations and no one was killed.

These disasters are not an aberration -- oil train traffic is skyrocketing, which means more derailments and more explosions. The oil and rail industries hope to increase further the amount of crude oil barreling down the tracks in the coming years. Before that happens, ForestEthics has some questions we'd like to see the Obama administration ask the army of lobbyists who are trying to push the bar on safety even lower than it already is[.]
Some of those questions, with the writer's answers:
When did trains start exploding?

Rail transportation of crude oil is growing rapidly and dangerously -- from fewer than 10,000 carloads in 2008 to nearly half a million in 2014 -- for two reasons: Bakken oil from North Dakota and Canadian tar sands. The North American boom means oil companies are trying to frack and mine more of this extreme oil, crude that is high in carbon, difficult and expensive to produce, and dangerous to transport.

Are cities and towns with rail lines safe?

With the exception of Capitol Hill (the rail industry seems to be sparing Washington, DC) most routing is done specifically throughout cities and towns. No, the oil and rail industries are probably not purposely targeting us, it's just that the rails in populated places tend to be better maintained and rated for heavier cargoes. The sane thing to do would be to stop hauling crude oil if it can't be transported safely. A far distant next best is to make these trains as safe as possible and require rerouting around cities and water supplies.

What is the government doing?

Not nearly enough. While 100-plus car trains full of an explosive crude roll through our towns, the U.S. government is barely moving, bogged down by nearly 100 of Washington's most expensive K-Street lobbyists. In fall 2014, ForestEthics, Earthjustice, and the Sierra Club sued the Department of Transportation to speed up new safety standards on oil trains. We called the trains an imminent danger to public safety. The federal government responded by once again delaying their decision on new rules that have been in the works for years.

What is the slowest speed at which an oil explosion could happen?

An oil tank car can catch fire and explode in an accident at zero miles per hour. Assuming a slightly raised rail bed, an oil car that tips over while standing still (this can and has happened on poorly maintained rails) will strike the ground going approximately 16 miles per hour -- more than fast enough to breach the tank, spark, and ignite if it hits a rock, a curb, any hard protrusion.
Other questions he answers are:
  • Do firefighters know when and where oil trains are moving?
  • How do you extinguish oil train fire?
  • The older oil cars are definitely unsafe, what about the newer ones?
  • We know that Bakken crude explodes; does tar sands explode?
  • Do I live in the Blast Zone?
  • What's the solution?
Of the rest, you might definitely want to click through to read about those Blast Zones. You can also check out your town's exposure at this link.

Oil Trains, the Future of Carbon Transport, Are Everywhere

Oil trains are more and more prevalent. I recently traveled from Chicago to Detroit by rail to attend Netroots Nation. It seemed we were stopped every half hour so that an oil train could pass — we could see the long line of tanker cars as they moved next to us before going ahead. As bad as Keystone (and all the mini-Keystones) are, an expanding network of exploding oil trains is no safe alternative.

Can we burn our way to energy security? (source)

Obama's, Hillary Clinton's (yes), and the nation's determination to "drill ourselves to energy security" — a false security, by the way — guarantees more and more spills, explosions, fires and fracking-caused disasters. Maybe someday we should just ... stop.

Nellis Solar Power Plant at Nellis AFB (source)

After all, we have that technology too, don't we?


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Patrick Murphy Isn't Enough Of A Democrat To Get The Florida Senate Nomination


I had an interesting call from an old friend at the DSCC this week. DSCC Chair Jon Tester and his top staffers wondered if they could get Alan Grayson to back down from a primary against Patrick Murphy. The meeting, though, went in an entirely different direction. "He's certainly a more impressive figure than Murphy." No one even tried talking him out of running. "Listening to him made me dream of a Senate with more than just one Elizabeth Warren." Grayson is exploring his options; he may run but hasn't decided yet. Blue America started a Draft Alan Grayson ActBlue page this week.

Patrick Murphy isn't fit to get the Democratic Senate nomination in Florida. He hasn't done anything for anyone other than for Wall Street since he beat Allen West. Murphy is an overly-entitled, spoiled brat from a wealthy Republican family and was a Republican his entire life-- though an opportunistic one who saw a shot to switch parties and get into Congress by taking on the very polarizing Allen West. Since his election, he's consistently been one of the worst Democrats in Congress across every issue. Right now, according to ProgressivePunch's crucial vote score for the current session, he's tied with Blue Dog Collin Peterson for 4th worst-voting Democrat in the House. The only Democrats with worse scores than Murphy are Brad Ashford (another "ex"-Republican, now a Nebraska Blue Dog), Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX, Bush's favorite Democrat), and the odious Gwen Graham (D-FL).

Its not easy to run statewide in Florida is you're not a big supporter of Social Security and Medicare. Murphy has been an enemy of both programs and is frantically scurrying to cover his tracks and try to paint himself as a champion of seniors. One of the very first things he did after beating West was to co-found the right-of-center United Solutions Caucus, which pushes the GOP agenda under the guise of bipartisanship. Murphy's top priority in the caucus was to gather naive sign-ons for a letter indicating a willingness to cut Social Security benefits as part of some anti-working family "Grand Bargain." His pitch was to tell colleagues that CURRENT seniors on Social Security would be safe and that the cuts would only effect future recipients.

Ironically this was going on at the same time that Alan Grayson was circulating the Grayson-Takano letter that in no uncertain terms pledged to oppose any budget deal that cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits, current or future. Here's the best of example of Patrick Murphy's leadership since being elected-- the bipartisan letter to wreck Social Security:
The United Solutions Caucus was formed by freshmen members of the 113th Congress as a bipartisan call to address our country's great fiscal challenges and end governing by crisis. Today, as the government is shut down and the debt limit looms ahead, we renew our call for Congress to address our challenges head on and solve this crisis with a long-term solution.

...United Solutions Caucus Statement of Principles:

The 113th Congress House Republican and Democratic new members are troubled by the fiscal crisis facing the country, with burdensome debt and trillion dollar annual deficits, which affect economic growth for all and healthcare assurances for our seniors. Members of our class implore the President and Congress to address this serious challenge now. In recent years, Congress has lacked the political will to come together and find solutions. The freshman members of the 113th Congress believe now is the time to work together.

We call upon leadership to no longer accept piecemeal solutions and to work toward finding long-term solutions to avoid financial collapse like Greece and other European countries. The bi-partisan freshmen members, as noted below, come to the table with mutual understanding and without personal agendas or political gamesmanship.

We affirm the following actions to secure the fiscal health of our nation: 

Strengthen and Preserve Medicare and Social Security-- While protecting current recipients and seniors, we must reform the Medicare and Social Security’s long-term financial obligations by addressing rising health care costs and changing demographics. The goal is to make sure these essential programs meet our obligations to our seniors and ensure that these bedrocks are available to future generations, while reducing our long-term deficit and debt issues.

  ...Cutting spending-- While some spending cuts have already been made, we must look for additional savings moving forward to further reduce spending, while seeking to protect the programs that are crucial to our future health as a nation.

  ...We believe that a bipartisan effort encompassing these needed reforms will yield a prosperous future for our country, while making good to today’s seniors who are counting on the federal government to fulfill its obligations. We are committed to a new era in Congress where bipartisan solutions are the norm. We are dedicated to working with leadership to help bring these solutions to reality. The common good of the country demands good faith negotiation, compromise, and immediate and significant action.
Murphy consistently votes with Boehner on a nearly all contentious core issues. If he wants to run for Marco Rubio's Senate seat, he should run in the Republican Party where he won't have to sugar coat his reactionary ideas. Democrats have a perfectly good optioning Florida for this race-- Congress' best Member: Alan Grayson. If you'd like to encourage him, please do so on this page.

Yesterday, Grayson questioned several generals at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee regarding the cost, lack of exit strategy, and use of overwhelming force in the fight against ISIS. He seems to have gotten one of them to admit there is no exit strategy, something no other Member of Congress has been able to accomplish. Murphy doesn't question authority figures at committee hearings; he doesn't know how. In fact, the only things he's shown any aptitude for is golfing and sucking tainted money out of lobbyists and Wall Street banksters.

UPDATE: Fishing... For Dolphins

Patrick Murphy is hosting a 2-day fundraiser for fat cats in Miami starting tonight. The itinerary includes two fishing trips tomorrow. That's nice-- except Murphy says they will be fishing for dolphins. You can change your party registration but some things about being a lifelong Republican can never be washed away!

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

"Why are science museums in bed with science deniers?" (actor-activist Mark Ruffalo)


The link in Mark Ruffalo's tweet is to the above-referenced petition, organized by a new outfit called The Natural History Museum, which "is free from ties to the fossil fuel industry, calls out climate science deniers and culprits obstructing action on climate change, and actively champions the just transition to a sustainable and equitable future."

by Ken

Actor-activist Mark Ruffalo isn't the only one wondering, "Why are science museums in bed with science deniers?," but earlier this week Mark was putting the question out with a vengeance. Of course he, like everyone else who poses the question, knows the answer: $$$$. That's right, almight dollars. Right-wing plutocrats have 'em, and nonprofit orgs of every stripe need 'em, more often than not desperately.

And the lucky-ducky institutions that cash those checks are quick to assure us that the money doesn't influence the way they perform their functions, no sir! And with that assurance we can all rest easy, right? Except that pretty much every day we read new, usually well-documented charges that, on the contrary, nonprofit institutions and media are giving their right-wing zillionaire donors quite a bit of "consideration."

Now I understand why, for example, whoever pocketed that pile of Koch cash forged ahead with the renaming of what was for decades Lincoln Center's New York State Theater as the David H. Koch Theater. Because, after all, they got to pocket that pile of cash. So you see, I understand. Nevertheless, as someone who has I logged a ton of evenings in the State Theater since it opened, I can report that I haven't set foot in the joint since the rechristeneing. (In the interest of proper disclosure, I should note that I probably hadn't been inside the building for a while before the renaming, probably since I gave up trying to find anything on the NYC Opera schedule -- back when there was a NYC Opera -- that seemed worth my time and money. At the moment I can't actually think of any event whose pleasures I've denied myself because I won't, you know, set foot again in that goddamned building. Sometimes these things just work out.)


Considering how big a business the "development" (i.e., fund-raising, not to be confused with the "development" of anything actually cultural or artistic) arm of the nonprofit world has become -- one often gets the feeling that the "development" teams have become more important at many orgs than the teams that actually do stuff -- it's not hard to understand the appeal of free-floating $$$$. Small orgs, no matter how high-minded, are in a terrible position to turn away any potential donor, and large orgs now have such an overwhelming need for $$$$ that they feel they have no choice but to go where the $$$$ are.

To get back to the immediate case, that of science museums taking money from science deniers, one thing the museums have known for ages is that we Americans love our dinosaurs. And if you've got dinosaurs and any notion of how to monetize your assets, then the formula is simple: Dinos = $$$$. They can bring in paying customers and paying donors. Including, it seems, PR-conscious energy mega-industries.

If you go to the link for the Natural History Museum's petition, you'll find the following appeal (emphases in the original):
The world’s top scientists, including several Nobel Prize winners, just released an unprecedented letter calling on science and natural history museums to cut all ties to the fossil fuel industry.*

The letter comes on the heels of recent news that Smithsonian-affiliated scientist Willie Soon took $1.25 million from the Koch brothers, Exxon Mobil, American Petroleum Institute and other covert funders to publish junk science denying man-made climate change, and failed to disclose any funding-related conflicts of interest.

In particular, the letter points a finger at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (D.C.) and the American Museum of Natural History (NY), where David Koch is a member of the board, a major donor and exhibit sponsor.

Oil mogul David Koch sits on the board of our nation’s largest and most respected natural history museums, while he bankrolls groups that deny climate science.

Sign this petition to the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History: It’s time to get science deniers out of science museums. Kick Koch off the board!

We’ll deliver this message and the list of signatures to the American Museum of Natural History before their annual board meeting the first week of April. Then we’ll do the same at the Smithsonian before their board meeting in June.


Why don't we just take a look at it?
To Museums of Science and Natural History:

As members of the scientific community we devote our lives to understanding the world, and sharing this understanding with the public. We are deeply concerned by the links between museums of science and natural history with those who profit from fossil fuels or fund lobby groups that misrepresent climate science.

Museums are trusted sources of scientific information, some of our most important resources for educating children and shaping public understanding.

The Code of Ethics for Museums, adopted in 1991 by the Board of Directors of the American Alliance of Museums, states:

“It is incumbent on museums to be resources for humankind and in all their activities to foster an informed appreciation of the rich and diverse world we have inherited. It is also incumbent upon them to preserve that inheritance for posterity.”

“Museums are grounded in the tradition of public service. They are organized as public trusts, holding their collections and information as a benefit for those they were established to serve…Museums and those responsible for them must do more than avoid legal liability, they must take affirmative steps to maintain their integrity so as to warrant public confidence. They must act not only legally but also ethically.”

We are concerned that the integrity of these institutions is compromised by association with special interests who obfuscate climate science, fight environmental regulation, oppose clean energy legislation, and seek to ease limits on industrial pollution.

For example, David Koch is a major donor, exhibit sponsor and trustee on the Board of Directors at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and the American Museum of Natural History. David Koch’s oil and manufacturing conglomerate Koch Industries is one of the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Mr. Koch also funds a large network of climate-change-denying organizations, spending over $67 million since 1997 to fund groups denying climate change science.

When some of the biggest contributors to climate change and funders of misinformation on climate science sponsor exhibitions in museums of science and natural history, they undermine public confidence in the validity of the institutions responsible for transmitting scientific knowledge. This corporate philanthropy comes at too high a cost.

Drawing on both our scientific expertise and personal care for our planet and people, we believe that the only ethical way forward for our museums is to cut all ties with the fossil fuel industry and funders of climate science obfuscation.

With concern,

[The letter is signed, as of the time of writing, by 54 scientists, from climatologist James Hansen, former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, to Andrew S. Johnson, a research scientist at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience. See the list with the posted version of the letter.

[Potential signers are invited to e-mail "with your full name, scientific credentials, and affiliation (past or present) as you’d like it listed."]


In a Washington Post "In the Loop" item on the scientists' letter and the petition, Colby Itkowitz highlighted the link between the Kochs and the two giant museums directly in the line of fire:
David Koch, the billionaire conservative donor and executive vice president of Koch Industries, donated $35 million in 2012 for a new dinosaur hall at the Smithsonian’s Natural History museum. He had previously given $15 million to the museum’s hall of human origins that is named for him. In New York’s museum, he donated $20 million to the dinosaur wing that is also named after him.
And Colby got some responses. First, from the Smithsonian:
Randall Kremer, spokesman for the Smithsonian Natural History museum, said both exhibits deal in great detail with the impacts of climate change. And that Koch, and others on the board, are well aware of that.

Kremer told the Loop that they wouldn’t be supporting the museum if they “did not understand the science behind our public programs.” (The Smithsonian has been unequivocal in its belief that climate change is manmade.)
And then from KochWorld:
[David] Koch did not respond directly to the letter, or his opinion on climate change, but Ken Spain, Koch’s managing director for external relations did send the Loop an e-mailed statement:

“David Koch and the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation have pledged or contributed more than $1.2 billion dollars to educational institutions and cultural institutions, cancer research, medical centers, and to assist public policy organizations. Mr. Koch remains committed to supporting these causes.”
As Colby notes, there's a lot of interest in just "how much the Kochs support climate change deniers," although I think she's pretty much missing the point when she describes this as "a popular topic for Democrats hoping to vilify them." Is it really so hard to grasp that this is really and truly not a matter of political tit-for-tatting? (Yes, apparently it is.) She does report, though, that "several Democratic senators wanted to investigate whether fossil fuel companies, including Koch Industries, were funneling money to groups trying to discredit climate change," and that "the Kochs’s lawyer said that information was protected by the First Amendment."

That last link, by the way, is interesting. It includes a letter from Mark V. Holden, Koch Industries senior vice president, general counsel, and secretary, to Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Edward Markey (D-MA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), in response to their inquiry for information "about Koch Industries' payments made in support of scientific research and scientists, as well as support for other efforts related to climate change, if such payments have been made."

Here's what Senior VP Holden had to say:

. . . The activity and efforts about which you inquire, and Koch's involvement, if any, in them, are at the core of the fundamental liberties protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. To the extent that your letter touches on matters that implicate the First Amendment, I am sure you recognize Koch's right to participate in the debate of important public policy issues and its right of free association. These rights have been recognized by the United States Supreme Court.

In reviewing your letter, I did not see any explanation or justification for an official Senate Committe inquiry into activities protected by the First Amendment.

Under the circumstances, we decline to participate in this endeavor and object to your apparent efforts to infringe upon and potentially stifle fundamental First Amendment activities.
As you can see, the counselor, who holds a J.D., class of 1988, from Catholic University Law School, writes a nice lawyer-letter -- except maybe for that phrase about "matters that implicate the First Amendment." I didn't go to law school, but myself, I would be more likely to say something like "matters that involve" or "invoke" the First Amendment. But "matters that implicate the First Amendment"?

Maybe, though, now that the Right has taken up the First as its next-to-favorite amendment, it's not surprising to learn that the shysters of the Right regard it as something to be "implicated." Well, I suppose if the First Amendment gets too deeply implicated, it can always evoke the Fifth Amendment. If corporations have person-like rights, don't constitutional amendments?

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Value Watch: Wow, $15 (instead of $30) for three empty bottles!


What a deal! Just to be clear: "Bottles are sold empty ready to be filled with your favorite sauce!" Hey, you'd pay $30 for a deal like this, wouldn't you? Well, you can get it for only $15 -- that's right, for three (empty) 1.25-oz bottles! And note the "stainless steel carabiner for easy clipping."

by Ken

Okay, I'm going to have to call a timeout on this, if not actually whistle a foul. I'm going to go with the more restrained course of action in recognition of the fact that I'm cheap. I could fall back on the more polite-sounding "frugal," but "cheap" is probably more descriptive. So I have to allow for the possibility that some inner cheap-compulsion is driving me in pursuit of this story -- the very same cheap-compulsion that drove me to click through on this offer to verify that my eyes were seeing what they were claiming to see. (Especially now that I've finally gotten new glasses. Don't even ask what the experience of buying new glasses is like for a cheap person.)

Just to be clear, I need to know: They weren't really selling a set of three empty bottles, were they?

Bulletin: They were.

And at the price, you'll probably want to stock up both for your own use and to give as gifts. To, you know, the people you would want to gift with the gift of empty bottles. (Draw up your list carefully, though. The "fine print" of the deal specifies: "Limit 25 per customer." This is definitely going to involve you in some empty-bottle triage.) So here's the deal:

3-Pack of Empty Sriracha2Go Bottles

Sriracha lovers, your life just got a whole lot spicier... Sriracha2Go is a must-have for every sriracha lover. With S2G, you'll never worry about a sriracha-less meal again. No matter where you go, no matter what time of day, sriracha will be by your side. Simply fill your empty S2G bottle with your favorite sriracha and clip it to your keychain, slide it in your pocket, or toss it in your purse - you're now set to add sriracha to your breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between. Worried about depleting your S2G stash? Don't be! Just refill your bottle and continue eating your sriracha-loving heart out.

Get 3-pack for just $15, shipping included.

• Bottles are sold empty ready to be filled with your favorite sauce!
• BPA Free and TSA Approved!
• Flip top, leak proof cap
• Easily refillable and reusable
• Stainless steel carabiner for easy clipping
• Container holds 1.25 ounces
Of course the possibilities become endless when you consider that you don't have to put sriracha in your Sriracha2Go bottles -- especially not all three of them! (Or all 75 if you max out on the deal limit.) These empty 1.25-oz vessels are awaiting "your favorite sauce!" (The exclamation point is important here, I think. You wouldn't want to go filling your precious bottles with any old non-exclamatory slop. Of course if you did put something other than sriracha in one or two (or all three, or all 75) of the bottles, I think it would be fairly important to label them, so you'd have to supply your own, say, adhesive tape to scribble on, and this might detract from the aesthetic pleasure of the design.

Just remember where you heard about it.

P.S.: Oh, you want a link?

I thought about it. I don't think so. Unless you really want it.


"Five Eyes," Global Spying & Deep State


You can vote for the puppets, but not
for the puppeteers (image source)

by Gaius Publius

On the one hand, this is old news, in the sense that we knew it had to be true anyway. On the other hand, here's yet more evidence that the NSA does indeed, according to one of its own slides, "sniff it all, know it all, collect it all, process it all, exploit it all."

There's a global network of what appears to be both satellite- and cable-sniffing stations, identically outfitted with nearly identical instrumentation, trained on our global communications networks, sniffing it all, collecting it all (etc.) — and sending it all back to the NSA for processing. Five nations are involved in the project — the U.S. and U.K. (natch), plus Canada, New Zealand and Australia. These are the "Five Eyes" mentioned in the report.

Satellite- and cable-sniffing station in New Zealand
preparing to phone home.
Credit: Tim Cuff/
New Zealand Herald/
AP (click to enlarge; source)

There are multiple sources in this reporting — The Intercept, New Zealand's Sunday Star Times, the New Zealand Herald among them. I'm going to quote John Queally's piece in Common Dreams and let you click deeper if you're interested in more. The ultimate source for this is ... Edward Snowden (natch), but there's been followup, especially regarding New Zealand's involvement, which spotlights the entire operation.

Common Dreams (my emphasis):
A new batch of Snowden documents offer[s] an unprecedented look into the close relationship of the surveillance agencies of the so-called "Five Eyes" nations and how a close look at a secretive base in New Zealand reveals new details about a global network of listening stations are operating to fulfill the NSA mantra on communications data which says, "Sniff it all, collect it all, know it all, process it all and exploit it all."

Reported on Saturday by The Intercept in the U.S. and the Sunday Star-Times in New Zealand, the documents offer a detailed look at the "alien-like" station located in Waihopai Valley [of New Zealand] and reveals who and what kind of information the station targets, its inner workings, and how its operations link to an international network of spy facilities run by the other so-called "Five Eyes"—comprised of the intelligence agencies of the U.S., U.K., Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

With names like "Jackknife," "MoonPenny," "Scapel," and "LadyLove" – the Five Eyes maintain enough listening bases around the world to capture the bulk of the entire planet's digital and telephonic communications.
Here's a look at that network of communications "sniffers":

According to the reporting, each of these bases is relatively identical and all of the information collected at the various sites is sent back to the NSA via a series of databases controlled and monitored by the agency.
Here's what the New Zealand leg of the operation does:

(Click to enlarge; source)

As the source article says, "The documents, provided by US whistleblower Edward Snowden, reveal that most of the targets are not security threats to New Zealand, as has been suggested by the [New Zealand] Government." Note the one long path back to DC and the NSA. And hold that thought about the targets not being security threats. It has other implications.

NSA Is Getting Both Cable and Satellite Data

About my statement at the start, about both satellite- and cable-sniffing, The Intercept says:
Last year, The Intercept reported that the New Zealand agency was planning a secret project to tap into Internet data flowing across undersea cables. The Waihopai base focuses on gathering data and communications from another source — vacuuming them up as they are being transmitted through the air between satellites.  
The New Zealand station is pictured near the top of this piece. Again, these stations are reportedly similarly outfitted with U.S.–supplied equipment.

Deep State and Those "Targets" — Who Else Wants That Spy Data?

So, New Zealand listens to all communications between and among its neighbors. Look at that last image above one more time, then ask yourself — how else could "all communications" within that region be used?  Back to the New Zealand Herald:
GCSB [New Zealand's spy agency] directs its spying against a surprising array of New Zealand's friends, trading partners and close Pacific neighbours.
I think we're starting to sniff out something for ourselves. If the Western world's spy agencies are "collecting it all," that makes those agencies a strong nexus of power in the real world of power (Deep State*), as opposed to the world of power voters imagine exists.

Here's an example of NSA as a node of power in the "network of networks" that comprises Deep State. If NSA has spy data on all FISA and SCOTUS judicial nominees — and there are reports that they do — would they use it just to make sure that NSA-friendly candidates make it through, or also use it to make sure that easily blackmailed candidate get through as well? What would you do if you were the "control it all" freaks running NSA? Would you "stoop" to blackmail? If yes, would you use what you know to set up blackmail opportunities? And if yes yet again, how easy would it be to execute that plan (he asked rhetorically)?

If NSA (an agency of the Pentagon, don't forget) is a node of power in Deep State, there must be others. NSA can't itself be running the country, certainly not alone. There are whole areas it has no interest in. So what about the billionaires — what's their relationship to NSA and Deep State? What's their place in this "network of networks"?

To answer that, go back to New Zealand and its spying. Look one more time at the graphic above. Who in New Zealand would like to get their hands on all that spy data? Remember, these are New Zealand's trading partners being spied on. How about the Big Money people who keep the current New Zealand government in power in the first place? Would they want a look at, even have regular access to, that data?

This isn't an accusation, just a recognition of the existence of a local New Zealand–specific opportunity. Now take that recognition to the U.S. How interested would Big Money be in NSA-collected data, spy data on our own "trading partners" and competitors, if they could get at it regularly? New York banks, let's say; Exxon and Mobil; Apple, Google and Microsoft; Walmart; a host of very-big-money others.

Heck, how about Koch Industries — or Chinese corporate partners (Foxxconn, say) to U.S. firms like Apple. Is NSA helping them? In exchange for what?

Big Money clearly has a controlling hand in how the world is run. That part we can see. Is the nexus of billionaires that comprises Big Money, whether "left-leaning" or "right-leaning" (whatever that even means for the money-obsessed), already working with NSA behind the scenes? If so, how? (And if not, why not? It would be madness, billionaire malfeasance, not to be.)

NSA and Industrial Espionage — Who's Really in Charge of What?

The flow of information can't just be one way — from Microsoft to NSA, for example. After all, NSA and the Five Eyes nations have much they can offer in trade. Is it likely they do engage in these trades, perhaps regularly? The likely answer is: Yes, of course. A cursory look turned up this in the Guardian:
NSA accused of spying on Brazilian oil company Petrobras

Accusations that NSA is conducting intelligence-gathering operations that go beyond its core mission of national security  

The US National Security Agency has been accused of spying on Brazil's biggest oil company, Petrobras, following the release of more files from US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The latest disclosures, which aired on Brazil's Fantástico news program, have led to accusations that the NSA is conducting intelligence-gathering operations that go beyond its core mission of national security – often cited as the key distinction between the agency and its counterparts in China and Russia.

The revelations are likely to further strain ties between the US and Brazil ahead of a planned state dinner for president Dilma Rousseff at the White House in October. Bileteral relations have already been muddled by the earlier release of NSA files showing the US agency intercepted Brazilian communications and spied on Rousseff and her aides.
Which led Reuters to publish this, quoting Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff:
NSA spying on Petrobras, if proven, is industrial espionage: Rousseff
Reports that the United States spied on Brazilian oil company Petrobras, if proven, would be tantamount to industrial espionage and have no security justification, Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff said on Monday.

Brazil's Globo television network reported on Sunday that the U.S. National Security Agency hacked into the computer networks of Petrobras and other companies, including Google Inc., citing documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The report came as Brazil is preparing to auction rights to tap some of the largest oil finds in the world in recent decades, deposits trapped under a salt layer off its Atlantic coast. State-run Petrobras, Brazil's largest company and a source of national pride, made the discoveries in recent years and will be a mandatory partner in developing all of the new deep-sea fields.
At some point, all of these dismissible "dirty tricks" add up to a fundamentally different picture of the world than the one we hold.

For example, how about this as a possibility? What if the President doesn't run the U.S. government in any way that matters to the real holders of power (Deep State)? Evidence: A NSA whistleblower said in 2005 on national television that he once had the NSA order to spy on Senator Barack Obama "in his hand." How would such an order be used? Has this revelation been re-reported anywhere that matters? Does knowing about this order change your picture of the "network of networks" that may comprise the real government of the U.S.? I have to say, it does mine.

I'm going to follow this up in the months ahead. It's an interesting world. I have a picture of it that I haven't yet written about, but will.

*Deep State: The part of the government that can’t be touched by the political process (my definition, explained here, or see the cartoon at the top of this piece.)


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Budget Battle-- The Losers Are America's Working Families, Of Course


Yesterday the House defeated the Progressive Caucus's People's Budget... again. It was a budget put together as a roadmap to do the job of uplifting ordinary American working families-- and doing so in a fiscally responsible manner. Conservatives easily beat it back without breaking a sweat, 96 to 244. More than half (51.5%) of the Democrats in Congress voted for it and it was the most votes the CPC budget ever got (even though the Democratic caucus is smaller). 

It certainly is not the kind of budget that would please the paymasters of the American political system. The big losers: the 1% and the special interest parasites who thrive on the life's blood of working people. By ending unfair tax cuts to the very rich, the People's Budget was meant to finance a robust program of public investment that would create as many as 8.4 million sustainable jobs. Among the 86 Democrats who voted against it were the slimy bribe-taking characters we have been warning you about: worthless garbage like Pete Aguilar (New Dem-CA), Jim Himes (New Dem-CT), Jim Costa (Blue Dog-CA), Gwen Graham (Blue Dog-FL), Steve Israel (New Dem-NY), Brad Ashford (Blue Dog-NE), Kyrsten Sinema (Blue Dog-AZ), Cheri Bustos (Blue Dog-IL), Lois Frankel (FL), Donald Norcross (NJ), Ann Kuster (New Dem-NH), Patrick Murphy (New Dem-FL), Ron Kind (New Dem-WI), Scott Peters (New Dem-CA), Sean Patrick Maloney (New Dem-NY) and-- look what the cat dragged in-- Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, eagerly running as the Establishment candidate for the open Maryland Senate seat against Donna Edwards, who, of course, did vote for the People's Budget.

Had the budget passed and been signed into law it would have addressed education by funding debt-free college and universal Pre-K. It allocated $820 billion for desperately needed transportation and infrastructure improvements and would have ended the draconian cuts to food stamps. So how would all this spending be paid down?
Taking the ax to corporate welfare, especially for fossil fuel conglomerates and their unconscionable subsidies

Taxing polluters

Taxes on families earning over a quarter million annually would have risen slightly to Clinton-era rates

Finally ending the mortgage interest tax deduction for yachts and vacation homes

Closing the “trust fund loophole” for the children of billionaires

Taxing (0.07%) the Too Big to Fail banks on assets exceeding $50 billion
Just before yesterday's debate, The Hill published an OpEd by Jan Schakowsky contrasting the sharp choices Congress is looking between the Republican proposals and the People's Budget.
The GOP budgets proposed in Congress would cut about $5 trillion over the next decade. The overwhelming burden would fall on programs that boost working families: education, Medicare and Medicaid, college aid, job training, medical research and rebuilding roads and bridges. Tens of millions of Americans would lose health insurance and millions more would lose food stamps or be priced out of college.

Republicans push these devastating cuts as a path to a balanced budget. But their budgets have been widely panned by experts as being based on “magic asterisks.” While they’re comfortable putting the squeeze on working families who will be most affected by these cuts in benefits and services, they refuse to ask corporations and the wealthy to contribute one thin dime to the effort. In fact, not one tax loophole is closed by their budgets.

Instead, the House GOP’s proposed budget would give bigger tax cuts to the wealthy, blowing a $1 trillion-plus hole in the budget over the next decade, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Not surprisingly, neither Republican budget details their top priority: tax reform that would result in an even bigger giveaway. That’s because the public doesn’t support their wish list and because their numbers don’t add up.

Their goal of reducing the top tax rates paid by the rich and corporations by about one- third will cost another $3 trillion, based on the plan they offered last year. Republicans have proposed no credible plan to pay for those tax breaks. The average millionaire would cut his tax bill by $200,000. And it would do nothing to end the scandal that hugely profitable corporations-- General Electric, Boeing, Verizon and scores of other companies-- paid no federal income taxes over a recent five-year period.

In stark contrast, the “People’s Budget: A Raise for America”-- authored by the Congressional Progressive Caucus with assistance from the Economic Policy Institute Policy Center-- invests in our nation in a robust, straightforward way. It would create millions of- jobs, repair our crumbling roads and bridges, make college affordable, improve our schools and other community services, and get us to full employment in two years.

Where does the money come from? No “magic asterisks” here-- wealthy households and big corporations are finally asked to pay their fair share.

Corporations would no longer get a tax break when they shift jobs and hide profits offshore. Income generated from investments primarily owned by the wealthy would no longer be taxed at a lower rate than income earned from weekly paychecks. Wall Street gamblers would pay a tiny tax on all their wheeler-dealer trading. Millionaires and billionaires would pay somewhat higher tax rates (but still lower than they did during most of the Reagan administration).

Average Americans are hungry for this kind of responsible reform. They know the tax code is stacked against them in favor of the well-off and well-connected. In a recent Pew Research Center poll, over 60 percent of respondents said their top complaint about the tax system was that corporations and the wealthy don’t pay their fair share, while only 27 percent were most concerned about their own tax bill.

Budgets are about choices. Republicans have chosen in their budgets to further enrich the wealthy and corporations at the expense of workers, children, veterans, seniors-- the whole broad American family. In contrast, the People’s Budget gives all of us a reason to mobilize around a vision for our future that will expand opportunities for everyday Americans.
Alex Law, the progressive running against corrupt South Jersey Machine congressman Donald Norcross, was disappointed-- if not surprised. This morning he told us that Norcross, "yet again has shown his commitment to protecting special interests over protecting real people. Yesterday, he voted with Republicans against the CPC People's Budget despite the fact that it included important pieces such as raising wages, better child care programs, significant investment in our decaying infrastructure, comprehensive corporate tax reform, student loan reform, environmental protection, and campaign finance reform measures. These are all central tenants of my progressive campaign, and I would have proudly voted to support this legislation if I were in Washington."

Ted Lieu (D-CA) called the budget a "powerful, profound statement of American values and vision... [that] charts a bold course of economic growth for America. [It] recognizes that the middle class is the true engine of our nation’s economy by giving working Americans a well-earned and long overdue raise with paid overtime and guaranteed sick and parental leave...The CPC Budget is aptly named; it is an economic plan that creates jobs, expands health security and guarantees a dignified retirement for everyone in America. I am proud to support the CPC People’s Budget.”

If you think it was bad enough that 86 conservative and corrupt Democrats voted against the CPC People's Budget yesterday, there were also 22 Democrats who voted against the official Democratic budget Van Hollen put forward, primarily New Dems, Blue Dogs and other cowardly fake Democrats who home to GOP positions. Perfect example: Patrick Murphy of Florida, a lifelong Republican opportunist disguised-- vaguely-- as a Democrat and eager to get into the Senate.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Supreme Court takes a (small) stand in favor of pregnant women, and it's (real) news


Peggy Young with her daughter Triniti, now seven

"The U.S. Supreme Court sided with a woman who was faced with the choice to either work her labor-intensive job during pregnancy at the United Parcel Service or go on unpaid leave without benefits. In an opinion issued Wednesday morning, the justices ruled 6-3 that Young should at least be given a full opportunity to make her case in court that she was not given the same accommodation as other employees considered injured or disabled."

by Ken

They didn't do all that much for the petitioner. In fact, you could describe it as what most observers would have considered the very least they could, in good conscience, have done. Be that as it may, though, it counts for something that the Roberts Court -- with, in fact, Chief Justice "Smirkin' John" Roberts voting in the minority -- ruled today, in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals erred in refusing to allow Peggy Young to present her case to the court that UPS had violated the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act by refusing to allow her to go on "light duty" during her pregnancy.

Still, the High Court at least did that much. As Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in an opinion joined by the three other moderate justices and Chief Justice Roberts, "Ultimately the court must determine whether the nature of the employer's policy and the way in which it burdens pregnant women shows that the employer has engaged in intentional discrimination." (Kind of amazingly, Justice "Sammy the Hammer" Alito also sided with the plaintiff, accounting for the 6-3 vote, but had to offer a concurring opinion to explain how you get to that point in Hammerland. I assume you don't need to be told who the left-behind "3" are.)

Let's let ThinkProgress's Nicole Flatow summarize the case:
Young was tasked with lifting boxes as heavy as 70 pounds in her job as a UPS worker. When she got pregnant, her midwife recommended that she not lift more than 20 pounds, and wrote a note asking her employer to put her on light duty. Had Young been written a similar note because Young broke her arm carrying boxes, or suffered from a disability, UPS would have put her on what is known as “light duty.” But UPS wouldn’t do it for Young on account of her pregnancy. The alternative was to take unpaid leave without medical benefits.
It shouldn't come as a titanic shock that the Fourth Circuit said "F.U." to the plaintiff. There's been personnel movement since the late Sen. Jesse Helms was forced to give up his guardianship of Big No. 4, but his spirit still hovers over it. And the mighty Fourth decided, as Nicole puts it, "that granting 'light duty' to Young would give pregnant employees an advantage over other other employees and that Young didn't suffer pregnancy discrimination," and couldn't for the life of it think why the bitch plaintiff should be allowed "to go to trial and prove all the elements of her claim."

That's the "oops" the High Court today declared on the Fourth Circuit.

"The Pregnancy Discrimination Act," Nicole explains (links onsite),
prohibits employers from treating pregnant women differently from other employees who are “similar in their ability, or inability, to work.” The act was passed in response to rampant mistreatment and misperceptions of women workers. But these misperceptions persist, even as women now make up about half of the workforce and a large proportion of them will either leave the workforce at some point to have a child, or may be viewed as a woman with the potential to one day leave the workforce for that reason.

In fact, complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging pregnancy discrimination have only increased, prompting the Commission to remind employers recently that they still can’t discriminate against pregnant women.

As a group of women’s advocacy groups and law professors pointed out in their brief, a ruling against Young would have harmed the women most in need of pregnancy discrimination protection — those in “low-wage jobs and traditionally male-dominated occupations who are most likely to experience temporary conflicts between the physical effects of pregnancy and job requirements,” and who already experience disproportionate discrimination, according to recent statistics.
Which brings us to the counter-arguments brought before the Supreme Court. Um, well, and this is kind of embarrassing for the judges of the Fourth Circuit, there don't seem to have been any.
UPS didn’t have many advocates in this case other than the federal appeals court judges. Briefs filed on behalf of state and local lawmakers, national medical associations, the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Solicitor General, and even 23 pro-life organizations defended Young’s right to a work accommodation. They said the Fourth Circuit’s ruling was counter to the intent of anti-discrimination laws, that it was bad for the health of mothers and children, that it was bad for the economy, bad for business, and even could encourage women to get abortions. In all, 11 amicus briefs were filed supporting Young and none supporting UPS.
Then comes one of my favorite touches:
Even the members of Congress who passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act explained that they intended for the act the court was interpreting to protect people just like Young, and that the court ruling against her “ignored the unambiguous mandate of the PDA requiring employees to consider only the ability or inability to work in determining a pregnant worker’s entitlement to benefits.”
Oh my! If the question was what's covered by the PDA, and you know, it kind of was, then you might think the case should have been open-and-shut. As long as you bear in mind that this Court only considers the actually expressed intent of Congress that actually expressed intent reinforces the justices' personal blind prejudices.

Nicole notes that today's ruling, "as expected by many advocates," was "rather narrow in its holding," and it's not just that the ruling gave Peggy Young nothing more than the right to make her case in court. In addition, the ruling --
took into account neither a 2008 change to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, nor new 2014 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines that bolster protections for pregnant women. What’s more, UPS announced since Young’s lawsuit that it would change its policy going forward and allow workers to stay on the job performing light-duty work.
But the ruling is important nevertheless.
[T]he National Women’s Law Center’s Emily Martin told ThinkProgress earlier this year that any ruling for Young would help many pregnant women. “Even if the law has changed, it will only make it easier for those women,” Martin said. A recent survey by NWLC found that many women who felt they needed to alter their work duties or take more frequent breaks still fear requesting those accommodations.

What’s more, the ruling comes as a sigh of relief to many who worried about what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg referred to as the court’s “blind spot” on women’s issues. In 2007, the court’s five conservative male justices rejected Lilly Ledbetter’s fair pay lawsuit, in a decision later overturned by an act of Congress. In 2011, they turned back the largest-ever class of women alleging gender discrimination by Wal-Mart. And in 2013, that same voting bloc held that many corporations get to decide when their female employees should have access to contraception. Commenting on this blind spot, Ginsburg said in an interview recently, “[T]he justices continue to think and change so I am ever hopeful that if the court has a blind spot today, its eyes will be open tomorrow.”
Well, in this case two of the Court's right-wing extremists went off the reservation. (Note that "Slow Anthony" Kennedy, wearing his right-wing-extremist robe, stayed behind, as the sole support for the Scalia-Thomas axis.) That counts for something, no? If only for a day.

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Positive vs Negative-- The Story Of Progressives vs Conservatives... At Least On Social Media


Last month Arianna Huffington sent a memo to her staffers telling them that Facebook readers are more interested in reading "the stories of people and communities doing amazing things, overcoming great odds, and facing real challenges with perseverance, creativity, and grace" than the kind of negative stories that have often led online. That doesn't cross over the political spectrum, though. As John McDermott explained in Digday yesterday, "For publications that self-identify as conservative, the most Facebook-friendly stories typically have a 'negative' tone."
CrowdTangle analyzed the Facebook page activity for the past 12 months for 16 media companies that self-identify as conservative-- including Breitbart, Drudge Report, Fox News and IJ Review-- and 16 that bill themselves as liberal/progressive-- The Daily Show, The Huffington Post, Salon, Slate and Upworthy, to name just a few.

And the data elucidated some fascinating contrasts regarding what works best for conservative and liberal media companies on Facebook, CrowdTangle CEO Brandon Silverman told Digiday.

...“For conservative outlets, a lot of their biggest posts from the last 12 months were usually about a concrete, perceived injustice and why that meant the audience’s way of life was under some sort of attack,” Silverman said. “They were more specific and more negative. In a lot of ways, the stories were less about celebrating values than triggering the audience to stand up and defend them.”

...“Liberals want to confirm their bias that everything is okay in the world. Conservatives on the outside can only confirm their biases that the world is spinning out of control. If the world is spinning out of control, then a strong case for change is made,” [said Alex Patton, a Republican political consultant].

...“It’s a massive death spiral for public discourse,” Patton told Digiday. “It’s also well known and not new. But it is accelerating due to social media. Both sides use it as a strategy.”

There is one thing both sides of the political media aisle can agree on: The best way to get engagement on Facebook is to play (or pander) to their audience’s emotions.
Is it fair to point to Duck Dynasty actor Phil Robertson as an avatar of the political right? They certainly play him up to the hilt in their own circles and they were proud to present him as one of them at CPAC this year. What kind of stories does ole Phil tell? Well, he's been claiming that liberals like Obama are liars led by Satan and are worse than Nazis. That's certainly playing down to the Republican Party base. Right Wing Watch:
During a prayer rally speech last Friday in which he opined about an atheist family getting raped and murdered, Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson employed remarks similar to the speech he delivered at CPAC earlier this year about how Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, the Japanese Emperor in World War II and ISIS terrorists were all capable of killing scores of people because they didn’t believe in Jesus.

But in his Friday remarks, he added one more group to this list of violent, Satanic evildoers: liberals.

In fact, Robertson said that demon-possessed liberals in America have killed more than Stalin and Hitler, and he even found time to suggest that President Obama is among the liberals championing Satan’s lies in the U.S.:
I gave you four ideologies in the last one hundred years, I see a pattern. You say, ‘why do they do what they do, why is there always murder?’ You know what the scary thing is? The fifth ideology right in behind all of this bunch of stuff we’re dealing with now, has its roots in the United States of America? You know how many they’ve killed? You say, ‘who are they?’ People call them left-wing loons, Bill O’Reilly calls them, political correct crowd, orthodox liberal opinion. You say, ‘what are they famous for?’ They’ve killed 63 million of their own children. 63 million. More than Hitler, more than Stalin. We’re slaughtering ourselves. You say, ‘who is behind it?’ Their father is, he was a murderer, from the beginning, they are slaves to sin, they are controlled by the Evil One. Duh.

Any Jesus with them? No, no. They don’t want Biblical correctness, no siree, they will not touch this, they are trying to get around it, they want political correctness. Well, what is it? What is political correctness? Orthodox liberal opinion in matters of sexuality, race, gender. They’re arguing and debating is there a difference between a male and a female? I’m like, dude, go in the bathroom, take your clothes off and take a look, you’ll figure it out.

Satan was a murderer from the beginning not holding to the truth so there’s no truth in him, when he lies- am I dreaming? Have you ever heard this many lies coming out of Washington D.C. since you’ve been on the earth? Have you ever heard more? You say where in the world is it coming from? They champion perversion, they champion murder, aborting their children and they are champions of lies. I mean I’m listening to them and thinking, ‘dude, what?’

‘Yeah, this bunch here, they’re the kind that clings to their guns and their bibles,’ I’m thinking, yeah, we may need them. How in tarnation do you think we ran the Brits back to where they came from back there 240 years ago? It took guns and it took bibles, right? You better stay with what brought you. He was a murderer from the beginning, there’s no truth in him and when he lies he speaks his native language, the relationship between these guys and Satan. He is a liar and the Father of Lies.

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WSJ: Israel Spied on U.S.–Iran Talks & Shared the Results with Republicans


Looking down the rabbit hole of U.S. domestic politics,
where everything you thought you knew, you don't;
click to enlarge (source)

by Gaius Publius

There are more ways to think about this news than I can count, so I'm just going to present it with more questions than comment afterward. According to a Wall Street Journal article (subscription or login required), the Israeli government spied on U.S. communications in talks between the U.S. and Iran, and then passed what they learned to the President's political opponents in Congress to help those opponents derail the negotiations.

The Journal (my emphasis everywhere):
Israel Spied on Iran Nuclear Talks With U.S.

Ally’s snooping upset White House because information was used to lobby Congress to try to sink a deal

Soon after the U.S. and other major powers entered negotiations last year to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, senior White House officials learned Israel was spying on the closed-door talks.

The spying operation was part of a broader campaign by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to penetrate the negotiations and then help build a case against the emerging terms of the deal, current and former U.S. officials said. In addition to eavesdropping, Israel acquired information from confidential U.S. briefings, informants and diplomatic contacts in Europe, the officials said.

The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said.

“It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on the matter.
The rest of the article notes that U.S. intelligence officials figured it out when their own spying on Israel revealed that the Israelis had information that only Israeli spying on U.S.–Iran negotiations could discover. Another part of the piece notes that, "[u]sing levers of political influence unique to Israel, Messrs. Netanyahu and [Israel's ambassador to the U.S. Ron] Dermer calculated that a lobbying campaign in Congress before an announcement was made would improve the chances of killing or reshaping any deal."

One of those "levers unique to Israel" has to have been U.S. casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who is widely seen as one of the hands behind Netanyahu's speech to Congress, if not the hand.

There's quite a bit of she-said, he-said in the article, with Israel denying everything, from the source of their information to how much was revealed to Republicans in Congress. It's an interesting read. After much good reporting about the aftermath of the Republican invitation to speak — Dermer meets with Joe Manchin, Dermer meets with Dianne Feinstein, and the like — the article closes:
“If you’re wondering whether something serious has shifted here, the answer is yes,” a senior U.S. official said. “These things leave scars.” 
Again, there's good reporting in the article; it's worth a read if this is your area of interest. As bad as the WSJ editorial page is, the reporting is often excellent. The writer of this piece is Adam Entous.

Who Is the Writer's Main Source and What Does That Question Tell Us?

The first question to ask in any piece like this is — Who are the sources and what are their goals? In this case, the primary sources are identified this way:
current and former U.S. officials said
At another point, the attribution is:
said a senior U.S. official briefed on the matter
The second category could easily include the first. At a third point we learn:
“People feel personally sold out,” a senior administration official said.
Note the word "senior." Does this mean the Journal was pitched this story by the White House via a "senior" official as a "designated" leak to punish Netanyahu further? Or did Adam Entous discover all this by himself — against U.S. government wishes — and thus put himself at risk for leaking classified information on his own say-so? I don't know for sure, obviously, but my guess is the former.

Are We Being Interfered With the Way We've Interfered With Others?

That explains the writer's perspective on this story (or at least examines it), and suggests what the White House perspective might be. The article makes clear, says explicitly, that the spying itself is not troubling to the U.S., but sharing the results with Republicans as part of partisan domestic politics is.

Now the second question: If the Israelis are guilty of spying on the U.S. government in order to aid the party out of power — and the Obama administration certainly thinks they are — are we getting payback (or blowback) for what we've done so many times in the past? I won't "go long" here, but the list is almost exhausting — to name just a few, Mosaddegh, Guatemala, Chile, on and on, even to the failed "revolt" in Venezuela. Is at least one nation (Israel) using its espionage service to control our own internal politics?

If Israel is doing to us what we did to so many others — what are the implications of that for U.S. voters and their beliefs about our political processes?

Are Republicans Using a Foreign Spy Service to Obstruct the U.S. Government?

Now look at this from a Republican perspective. Are Republicans using the espionage services of a foreign government to advance their own party-first, party-in-opposition agenda? If true, what are the limits to what they would do (or are doing)? If there are no limits, what are those implications for U.S. voters?

If the Republicans are, in effect, subcontracting their espionage to a foreign power and getting away with it — and at this point the Obama administration is only complaining, not taking more forceful action — what's next for us?

See what I mean? More ways to think about this than I can count. I'll say one thing though. If an American political party is using a foreign government's espionage service for partisan gain, we're in a different world from the one we thought we were in. Hello, Alice.


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