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Mitt Romney's Latest Excuse for His 47-Percent Remarks Is a Doozy

Mother Jones - September 30, 2014 - 11:15am

Mitt Romney explains his 47-percent remark, Take 23.

During a recent sit-down with the New York Times' Mark Leibovich, the former GOP presidential nominee—who seems to be almost flirting with the possibility that he just might consider pondering a presidential run in 2016, maybe—took yet one more stab at explaining the comments that put his political career in jeopardy. And this time he's blaming the rich guy who posed the question.

But first, let's look at Romney's evolving explanations for why he told a private gathering of $50,000-or-more donors that nearly half of Americans believe "they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them" and that "my job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

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Brian Powell: Laura Ingraham Blames Gender Equality And "Political Correctness" For White House Security Breach

Media Matters - September 30, 2014 - 10:55am

Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham responded to an intruder compromising security at the White House by suggesting "political correctness" played into the Obama administration's decision to hire a female Secret Service agent to guard the entrance, comparing the decision to the nomination of Julia Pierson as the first female director of the agency.

Reports surfaced on September 29 that a man who leapt over the fence of the White House made it all the way into the East Room before being apprehended. Some reports, based on comments from Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), suggested the intruder confronted and overpowered a female Secret Service agent inside the White House entrance.

Ingraham zeroed in on the reported presence of the female Secret Service agent on the September 30 edition of her radio show, comparing the selection of a female agent to that of Julia Pierson, the first female director of the Secret Service, saying, "You get the sense at some point that it's the 'first' that's more important than the common sense."

INGRAHAM: They brought in a woman, first female director -- remember the Obama administration loves firsts. You get the sense at some point that it's the first that's more important than the common sense.

What works -- let's do what works best, ok? Is it to have a woman there or is it just to have a really strong person there? A big, hulking person. Female, male, I don't care. But you get the sense that the first is what really drives their -- floats their boat. They want to be historic. They want it to be an historic appointment, instead of thinking, 'gee, maybe we just need the best people.'

Earlier that morning, on Fox News' Fox & Friends, Ingraham said "political correctness could have been a factor here."

INGRAHAM: The idea that this guy could get in, and then overpower an agent, who I guess was female -- and there are a lot of female agents that are really strong and large. I mean, you do get the sense at some point that political correctness could have been a factor here, right? Because the new female director, who's going to be questioned today, Julia Pierson, came in after that Colombia prostitute scandal with the Secret Service. She's gonna face tough questions. She was a proud career civil servant -- 30 years with the Secret Service. But you do get the sense that with this administration that all these decisions about who gets what position and where they're stationed -- political correctness comes into the decision-making, and this is no place for political correctness. The strongest, biggest, best people have to be at the front of the White House always.

Ingraham's comments about gender come on the heels of her show last week, in which the host suggested that teaching young girls to dress modestly is an important step toward avoiding objectification, misogyny, and date rape.

Eric Boehlert: A Cop Killing And A Beheading: How Fox News Picks And Chooses Its "Terrorism" Targets

Media Matters - September 30, 2014 - 10:21am

Fox News is increasingly fixating on the gruesome workplace beheading last week in Moore, Oklahoma by a recent Muslim convert, suspect Alton Nolen. Perhaps sensing a way to once again fan its patented flames of Islamophobia while simultaneously blaming President Obama for being indifferent to the threat of terrorism, Fox is treating the murder as a national story with sweeping political implications.

Sounding the jihadist alarms, Fox News and the right-wing media are eager to label the ghastly crime an act of Islamic terror. Law enforcement officials, however, aren't in the same rush, , noting that the attack came immediately after Nolen was fired and stating that they've yet to find a link to terrorism. While that story continues to play out, it's worth noting that an actual act of political terror remains in the news. It's just not a priority for Fox.

On the night of September 16, 31-year-old marksman Eric Frein was allegedly laying in wait outside the Blooming Grove police barracks in northeastern Pennsylvania, preparing to assassinate state troopers. Shortly before 11 p.m., Bryon Dickson was shot and killed as he walked towards his patrol car. Moments later, as he approached the barracks to begin his overnight shift, trooper Alex Douglass was shot and seriously wounded by a bullet fired from a .308-caliber rifle.

Described as a  "survivalist," Frein disappeared into the Poconos Mountains woods where he's been hiding ever since, eluding law enforcement and its massive manhunt, which includes hundreds of law enforcement officers with assistance from the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Considered "extremely dangerous" and possibly armed with an AK-47, officials were forced to close local schools in fear Frein might attack again. Lots of businesses in the area were ordered to stay dark, and some U.S. mail deliveries were suspended out of fear postmen might be exposed as possible targets for the shooter.

And what was the possible motivation for the killing spree?

"He made statements about wanting to kill law enforcement officers and to commit mass acts of murder," state police commissioner Frank Noonan warned the public at the time. Another official noted the shooter has a "longstanding grudge against law enforcement and government in general" dating back to at least 2006.

A friend was even more explicit.  "He was obviously a big critic of the federal government," a friend name Jack told CNN. (The friend did not give his last name.) "No indications of really any malice towards law enforcement in particular. Most of his aggression was (toward) the federal government."

Sounds like homegrown, anti-government terrorism, right?

"We have a well-trained sniper who hates authority, hates society, hates government, and hates cops enough to plug them from ambush. He's so lethal, so locked and loaded, that communities in the Pocono Mountains feel terrorized," wrote Philadelphia columnist Dick Poleman. "He kept camouflage face paint in his bedroom. He toted the AK-47 on social media. He collected, according to the criminal complaint, "various information concerning foreign embassies.""

But turn on Fox News and you don't hear much about Eric Frein from the channel's high-profile hosts. You don't hear much about the anti-government zealot who murdered a cop, while trying to assassinate two. And you don't hear evening hosts diving into Frein's background trying to figure out what sparked his murderous streak.

There's simple no interest.

We Spend $68 Billion a Year on Intelligence Agencies—and They Don't Really Work

The Nation - September 30, 2014 - 10:20am
Tom Engelhardt

US intelligence has been blindsided by the rise and spread of ISIS to the collapse of the Iraqi army.

Intel Community Dusts Itself Off and Casually Shows Obama Who's Boss

Mother Jones - September 30, 2014 - 9:49am

A friend brings to my attention this New York Times piece:

By late last year, classified American intelligence reports painted an increasingly ominous picture of a growing threat from Sunni extremists in Syria, according to senior intelligence and military officials. Just as worrisome, they said, were reports of deteriorating readiness and morale among troops next door in Iraq.

But the reports, they said, generated little attention in a White House consumed with multiple brush fires and reluctant to be drawn back into Iraq. “Some of us were pushing the reporting, but the White House just didn’t pay attention to it,” said a senior American intelligence official. “They were preoccupied with other crises,” the official added. “This just wasn’t a big priority.”

He comments:

Look, if you publicly throw the intel community under the bus, they're going to come back at you. They have better access to the press. They have careerists with longstanding media relationships that they know how to work and how to shape their stories....Plus, you're giving Republicans wonderful fuel for their absolute strongest subject — bar none — national security: Obama is fighting (insert intelligence community / generals / Secret Service / other military service), more than ISIS.

The idiocy of picking this fight in public is pretty unnerving frankly.

There's not much point in dwelling on this forever, but Obama's comment blaming the intel community for misjudging ISIS absolutely blanketed every news outlet in the country last night. It really does make you wonder what's going on over in the West Wing. Was Obama's comment on Sunday just a dumb mistake? Does he really have contempt for the intelligence community? Did he somehow think he could get away with blaming them and not getting any blowback? Or what?

Chart: Half of All Income Goes to the Top 10 Percent

Mother Jones - September 30, 2014 - 5:15am

We'll be posting a new chart on the current state of income inequality every day for the next couple of weeks. Our last installment looked at stagnating middle-class incomes.

Today, we look at both sides of the income split and how they've traded places. For the first time in a century, the top 10 percent of Americans control more than half of all income. If this trend persists, predicts economist Thomas Piketty, their share will rise to 60 percent by 2030.

Source: Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty (Excel

Illustrations and infographic design by Mattias Mackler​

An Aid Worker in Syria Told the US Where to Bomb ISIS. Now They're Hunting for Him.

Mother Jones - September 30, 2014 - 5:00am

Last Friday, Oscar Bergamin, a Swiss humanitarian aid worker helping refugees in northern Syria, wrote a tweet that included 18 digits. They were the coordinates of a bunker near the Turkey-Syria border that had been seized by members of ISIS, the self-proclaimed Islamic State that's terrorizing large chunks of Iraq and Syria. The tweet caught the eye of ISIS-affiliated accounts on Twitter, which sent out a barrage of threatening messages to Bergamin, warning that they were "coming for Mr. Aid Worker," and that he would be beheaded. (Two weeks ago, ISIS beheaded British aid worker David Haines and holds another British aid worker, Alan Henning, hostage.)

Bergamin, the president of a Swiss humanitarian aid organization called Ash-Sham CARE, says that the bunker he tweeted about is "no secret at all" and can be seen from miles away. He says he intentionally shared the bunker's location so that the US military might destroy it.

The day before he tweeted the coordinates, Bergamin was perched outside the bunker, taking photos and watching out for civilians. On Twitter, he asked the US Central Command and "all followers" to "just blow it away!" Bergamin tells Mother Jones that a "fit of cynicism" prompted his messages. With as many as 18,000 refugee families are trapped just beyond the bunker, he felt helpless and angry at ISIS.

The ISIS bunker on the Turkey border. Oscar Bergamin

After his tweets, Bergamin received death threats over Twitter in clear, direct English, forcing him to make his account private. Some ISIS accounts have tweeted pictures of his LinkedIn and Twitter accounts and pictures of him, claiming that Bergamin is a CIA agent who needs to be killed. Bergamin is not disclosing his current whereabouts for his own safety.

Following Bergamin's tweet and the ongoing US air offensive against the Islamic State, Twitter accounts connected to the group have issued a media blackout and have clammed up about its movements and locations.

Bergamin founded Ash-Sham CARE in November of 2011 along with "a group of concerned people especially worried about the appalling humanitarian situation in Syria." The group focuses on providing emergency humanitarian assistance, primarily in northern Syria. According to Bergamin, the group is "largely unnoticed by the public" and receives little funding. Though its team is small, he says it has built an excellent network throughout Syria.

Located at the Turkish border on the eastern side of the Euphrates River, the bunker was held by the Free Syrian Army before ISIS. Bergamin says that "there are almost every day clashes there between Kurds and ISIS" near the bunker and that the area has been basically unreachable since ISIS took the town of Jarabalus and massacred many civilians in January. Prior to the siege, Bergamin's organization, provided aid to five camps for internally displaced persons in the city. The bunker currently blocks the way to the camps.

Bergamin now admits that the tweets may not have been a good idea, and that his anger and frustration may have gotten the better of him. Humanitarian groups tend to remain neutral in war zones; the International Red Cross's fundamental principles of humanitarian work include impartiality and neutrality.

Other Twitter users have questioned Bergamin, telling him that he has put lives at danger by provoking ISIS. "Giorgio" wrote to Bergamin, "your tweet is being used by IS affiliates on twitter to prove that aid workers aren't peaceful people, hence can be hit," to which Bergamin replied "Unfortunately."

Bergamin notes that while he gave ISIS an opportunity to lash out at aid workers and journalists, the coordinates of the bunker are not especially secret at all: He pulled its location from Wikimapia. "Reactions show ISIS has been waiting for something like this," he writes in an email. "I am neither a spy or working for CIA. It's as if I send the secret coordinates of the Eiffel Tower in Paris…it's ridiculous." 

Melting Antarctic Ice Is Causing an Actual Shift in Gravity

Mother Jones - September 30, 2014 - 5:00am

This story originally appeared in Slate and is republished here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Gravity—yes, gravity—is the latest victim of climate change in Antarctica. That's the stunning conclusion announced Friday by the European Space Agency.

"The loss of ice from West Antarctica between 2009 and 2012 caused a dip in the gravity field over the region," writes the ESA, whose GOCE satellite measured the change. Apparently, melting billions of tons of ice year after year has implications that would make even Isaac Newton blanch. Here's the data visualized.

To be fair, the change in gravity is very small. It's not like you'll float off into outer space on your next vacation to the Antarctic Peninsula.

The biggest implication is the new measurements confirm global warming is changing the Antarctic in fundamental ways. Earlier this year, a separate team of scientists announced that major West Antarctic glaciers have begun an "unstoppable" "collapse," committing global sea levels to a rise of several meters over the next few hundred years.

Though we all learned in high-school physics that gravity is a constant, it actually varies slightly depending on where you are on the Earth's surface and the density of the rock (or, in this case, ice) beneath your feet. During a four-year mission, the ESA satellite mapped these changes in unprecedented detail and was able to detect a significant decrease in the region of Antarctica where land ice is melting fastest.

The new results in West Antarctica were achieved by combining the high-resolution gravity field measurements from the ESA satellite with a longer-running but lower resolution gravity-analyzing satellite mission called Grace, which is jointly operated by the United States and Germany. Scientists hope to scale up this analysis to all of Antarctica soon, which could provide the clearest picture yet of the pace global warming is taking in the frozen continent. Current best estimates show that global seas could be as much as 50 inches higher by century's end, due in large part to ice melt in West Antarctica.

Previous research with data from a third satellite, CryoSat (also from ESA), has shown ice loss from this portion of West Antarctica has increased by three-fold since just 2009, with 500 cubic kilometers of ice now melting each year from Greenland and Antarctica combined. That's an iceberg the size of Manhattan, three-and-a-half miles thick.

Police Want to Get Rid of Their Pentagon-Issued Combat Gear. Here's Why They Can't.

Mother Jones - September 30, 2014 - 5:00am

An officer with the Chelan County Sheriff's Department in central Washington is offering me a tank. Three of them, actually.

"We really want to get rid of these," Undersheriff John Wisemore says. "We've been trying to get the military to take them back since 2004."

The tanks came from a vast Defense Department grant program that has furnished American police arsenals, at no charge, with $4.3 billion worth of combat equipment leftover from two foreign wars. The tanks are amphibious, capable of firing 107-mm mortars—and not remotely useful to Wisemore's rural police department. But the county can't seem to unload them. Back in June, Wisemore got an email from a Defense Department liaison promising to explain how Chelan County can get rid of the tanks. Then, nothing. Until further notice, Wisemore says, "they're just going to sit there."

In the past eight years, the Pentagon grant program has loaned local law enforcement some 200,000 ammunition magazines, 94,000 machine guns, and thousands of armored vehicles, aircraft, land mine detectors, silencers, and grenade launchers—all at the request of the local agencies themselves. But images of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, of police in military gear cracking down on peaceful protesters, have turned many communities against a program critics say has eroded the line between police officers and soldiers. Recently, in response to the local outcry over aggressive policing tactics, San Jose, California's police department announced plans to return its mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle (MRAP), and the Los Angeles school system police department has agreed to return its three grenade launchers.

Even before police militarization made the news, hundreds of police departments were finding that grenade launchers, military firearms, and armored vehicles aren't very useful to community policing. When Chelan County police officers requested one armored car in 2000—the request that landed them three tanks—they pictured a vehicle that could withstand bullets, not land mines. Law enforcement agencies across the country have quietly returned more than 6,000 unwanted or unusable items to the Pentagon in the last 10 years, according to Defense Department data provided to Mother Jones by a spokeswoman for Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who has spearheaded a Senate investigation of the Pentagon program that is arming local police. Thousands more unwanted items have been transferred to other police departments.

But some agencies have found the process of getting rid of unwanted military gear next to impossible. Agencies can't return or trade equipment without Defense Department approval, and because the Pentagon technically still owns the equipment, they can't sell it.

According to interviews with state officials running point between the Pentagon and police, the Defense Department prefers to leave equipment in circulation whenever possible. "It's a low-cost storage method for them," says Robb Davis, the mayor pro tem of Davis. His town is trying to shake its MRAP. "They're dumping these vehicles on us and saying, 'Hey, these are still ours, but you have to maintain them for us.'"

Police departments, in most cases, bear the costs of shipping the equipment to its new home. Making things more difficult, as the Defense Department reevaluates the program this fall, the agency temporarily closed the portion of its website that allows police departments to request returns. (The website will reopen on October 1.) The decision has prevented the San Diego school district police department from returning an 18-ton MRAP the department received in April, says Ursula Kroener, a police spokeswoman. In fact, Kroener adds, the Pentagon halted returns partly because so many law enforcement agencies are clamoring to return their equipment. Neither the California point person for the Pentagon grant program nor the Defense Logistics Agency, the division within the Pentagon that oversees the grant program, responded to requests for comments on the site closure.

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Here's Why Obama Fumbled on the Economy Last Night

Mother Jones - September 29, 2014 - 6:17pm

Paul Waldman asks us to imagine what's going to happen the next time there's some kind of Islam-inspired terror attack on American soil:

The news media would amp up the fear to levels we haven't seen in the last decade, encouraging everyone to look for sleeper cells lurking down at the Piggly Wiggly. Republicans would of course unite behind President Obama in our time of mourning—kidding! They'd go on TV to denounce him for being so weak that the evildoers struck us in our very heart, and proclaim not only that the blood of the victims is on the hands of every Democrat, but that more attacks are coming and we're more vulnerable than we've ever been. Dick Cheney would emerge snarling from his subterranean lair to warn us that this is only the beginning and we really need to start bombing at least five or six more countries. Senator Lindsey Graham, who has already said about ISIL that "this president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home," might just tear off his shirt and scream, "We're all gonna die! We're all gonna die!" right on Fox News Sunday.

Now bear with me a for a moment. Here's a seemingly unrelated story about Sam Brownback's effort to spur economic growth in Kansas by lowering taxes on the rich and cutting back on welfare:

As he runs for reelection, Brownback is finding that what he once called a “real live experiment” in red-state governance is struggling to produce the benefits he had promised....In an interview on his way to Dodge City — where he would sign legislation creating a “National Day of the Cowboy” — Brownback said he regretted referring to his plans as an experiment. But he defended his tenure, saying it represented a Ronald Reagan-style approach to governance that eventually would rebuild Kansas’s economy after a long slide.

“I wish I could take that back, because I don’t consider this an experiment,” he said. “So many people on the left really want this to fail. . . . This is a long-term strategy to make us more competitive.

Democrats and Republicans are both good at some things and bad at others. One of the things that Republicans are good at is making—and repeating over and over and over—firm predictions about the outcomes of their policy preferences. If you fail to wage eternal war in the Middle East, there will be a terrorist attack in the United States. If you lower taxes, the economy will improve. Etc.

These are easy things to understand for voters. And guess what? Eventually there will be a terrorist attack. Eventually the economy will improve. So when those things happen, Republicans have a nice, simple story already planted in the public mind that allows them to take credit or place blame for it.

Democrats are not so good at this. President Obama fumbled last night on 60 Minutes when he tried to take credit for the improved state of the economy compared to when he took office. Partly, of course, this is because the economy is only in so-so shape. But it's also because Democrats have no simple, pre-digested narrative. They never said—over and over and over—that if we passed a stimulus bill, the economy would improve. Or that if we rescued GM, the economy would improve. Or that if we raised taxes on the wealthy, the economy would improve. Instead, Democrats had sort of a dog's breakfast of policy choices that they endorsed, but never made into a centerpiece of a claim about economic recovery. So now, when the economy is recovering, nobody really gives them any credit.

Now, this may be a more honest way of conducting our affairs. Most government policies really do have only a modest effect on economic growth. Likewise, most government policies have only a modest effect on the chances of someone eventually pulling off a terrorist attack. But honest or not, it means voters don't associate Democrats with much of anything. They don't give them credit for improving the economy, for example, or for preventing terrorist attacks. And honest or not, it's political malpractice.

George Zimmerman's Family Describes Living in a Paranoid World of Color-Coded Threats

Mother Jones - September 29, 2014 - 4:05pm

In an incredibly absorbing article in GQ, the family of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who was acquitted after fatally shooting an unarmed black teenager, discusses its attempts to "rebrand" while living in paralyzing fear.

The Zimmermans' stories, which are both simultaneously tragic and bizarre, show a family eager to move on from the April 2012 "incident" in which George killed Trayvon Martin. They're also struggling with debt and paranoia:

They watched the movie Argo to learn how to live like CIA. Code names for everyone. No mail delivered to the house. No visitors. No talking to the few neighbors they had. No long phone conversations—keep it short and vague to outwit surveillance. Never discuss your whereabouts via phone or text. Keep a weapon close by at all times. Robert slept with his gun. Still does.

And in case someone—or multiple someones—decided to mount an attack on the house, the Zimmermans pre-packed their own "go-bags" filled with everything they would need to flee in a rush, as well as what they called "footballs"—like the one President Obama has with the nuclear codes—that contained laptops, cell phones, and other essential electronics.

They also memorized a color-coded threat-ID system. Code blue: Law enforcement at the door. Code brown: Draw your weapons. Code black: Come out guns blazing.

The Zimmermans wonder if a reality show starring George or a sit-down with Fox's Sean Hannity will restore their name. In an upsetting and absurd twist, George's brother Robert, the family's most vocal member, describes hoping to cash-in on their newfound infamy with a show inspired by the Kardashians. He rationalizes: "Like, use the shit you've got."

Read the full feature here.

Report: Secret Service Lied About White House Fence Jumper

Mother Jones - September 29, 2014 - 3:41pm

Omar Gonzalez, the White House fence-jumper from earlier this month, apparently surprised the guard at the front door because a nearby alarm box had been muted:

After barrelling past the guard immediately inside the door, Gonzalez, who was carrying a knife, dashed past the stairway leading a half-flight up to the first family’s living quarters. He then ran into the 80-foot-long East Room, an ornate space often used for receptions or presidential addresses.

Gonzalez was tackled by a counter-assault agent at the far southern end of the East Room. The intruder reached the doorway to the Green Room, a parlor overlooking the South Lawn with artwork and antique furniture, according to three people familiar with the incident.

Secret Service officials had earlier said he was quickly detained at the main entry. Agency spokesman Edwin Donovan said the office is not commenting due to an ongoing investigation of the incident.

So....they just lied?

On a related note, I wonder who the whistleblowers are that have been feeding all this stuff to WaPo's Carol Leonnig? Not that it matters, I suppose, but I'm curious about whether it's folks who are appalled by the security lapses or folks who have some other kind of axe to grind.

The Supreme Court’s First Decision In Its New Term Is A Decision Making It Harder To Vote

ThinkProgress - September 29, 2014 - 3:20pm


On Monday, the Supreme Court returned from its summer vacation for the “Long Conference,” the day when the justices consider the backlog of petitions asking them to hear cases that built up while they were away for the summer. Yet, despite the fact that the justices typically face hundreds of petitions that they must consider during this conference, five of them still found time on Monday to make it harder for Ohio residents to cast a vote. In a 5-4 decision that divided entirely along partisan lines, the Court allowed cuts to Ohio’s early voting days to go into effect. Notably, this decision came down just 16 hours before polling places were set to open in that state.

Monday’s decision is not particularly surprising. Earlier this month, a federal trial judge halted changes to Ohio’s early voting procedures that cut the number of early voting days by a week, including one Sunday before election day. This decision was upheld by an unusually liberal panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. All four of the judges who previously considered this case are well to the left of the Supreme Court’s five Republican members.

As Judge Peter Economus, the judge who initially suspended the voting changes, explained in his opinion, the reduction in early voting days were likely to disproportionately impact African American voters. Many black churches conduct “Souls to the Polls” events that encouraging churchgoers to vote after attending Sunday services, and removing an early voting day on a Sunday reduces the opportunities to conduct these events. Additionally Judge Economus discussed empirical evidence demonstrating that “a greater proportion of blacks not only cast [early] ballots than whites but do so on early voting days that have been eliminated by” the new voting schedule.

This impact on African American voters matters because the Voting Rights Act provides that “[n]o voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision in a manner which results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” Although the Supreme Court did not explain why it was reinstating the cuts to early voting in its order on Monday, the Court’s Republican members struck down another provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, so they do not have a record which suggests particular sympathy to this law’s goals.

As SCOTUSBlog’s Lyle Denniston points out, “[t]he practical effect of the [Court's recent] order will mean at least early voting will not be allowed this week — a period that supporters of early balloting have called ‘Golden Week.’ That permits voters to register and cast their ballots on the same day.” It is possible, albeit unlikely, that the Court could issue a subsequent order that would have the effect of restoring some voting days closer to election day.

The post The Supreme Court’s First Decision In Its New Term Is A Decision Making It Harder To Vote appeared first on ThinkProgress.

BYU Students Fight For The Right to Grow Beards

ThinkProgress - September 29, 2014 - 3:02pm

Amelia Rosch is an intern for ThinkProgress.

CREDIT: Shutterstock

A group of Brigham Young University students have taken to bicycles to protest the school’s decade-long ban on beards. Last week, a group of around 50 students held a “Bike for Beards” event, where they rode around a statue of a clean-shaven Brigham Young and wore a mix of fake and real beards. The event culminated with the students revealing a petition asking the school to reconsider the policy.

BYU’s honor code, which dates from the 1940s, has specific rules for male facial hair, saying that hair must be “trimmed above the collar, leaving the ear uncovered. Sideburns should not extend below the earlobe or onto the cheek. If worn, moustaches should be neatly trimmed and may not extend beyond or below the corners of the mouth.” Under the code, beards are not allowed. Students are able to obtain exemptions to the policy, and the process involves getting a doctor’s recommendation, getting a new student ID and annually resubmitting the request. BYU’s honor code website does not give examples of appropriate exemptions to the policy, but the health center’s website says that certain skin conditions can lead to an exception, and outside sources have said that involvement in theatrical productions can also give students an exception.

BYU students have questioned the ban in the past. In the 1971, then-university president Dallin Oaks argued that the ban was necessary because beards could be connected to “protest, revolution and rebellion against authority. They are also symbols of hippie and drug culture.” Students involved in the current protest argue that beards no longer have those connotations. Several years ago, a student tried to survey student opinion on the rule, and the school took down the survey.

This is not the first case of BYU students questioning the honor code rules in recent years. This summer, Keli Byers, a BYU sophomore, published a piece in Cosmopolitan speaking out against the school’s policy against sexual activity. In her piece, Byers said that policy hurts women who have been sexually assaulted and that “BYU needs to know that it’s OK for women to be sexual, and it’s not OK to punish them for it.” In 2007, the school changed its policies for LGBT students, following both requests from students and outside groups. The original policy said that “any behaviors that indicate homosexual conduct, including those not sexual in nature” violated the honor code and could lead to possible expulsion; under the revised policy, students cannot be punished for sexual orientation but “homosexual behavior or advocacy of homosexual behavior” is still punishable. In 2012, a group of students at BYU produced a “It Gets Better” video, despite the possibility of expulsion and excommunication.

Students at other religiously-affiliated colleges have also spoken out against policies and decisions that they find outdated. At Wheaton College, which was named the third most LGBT-unfriendly college in the country this year, students have created the group OneWheaton to support LGBT students and protested the decision to have Rosario Butterfield speak on campus. Eastern University and George Fox University have both started groups similar to OneWheaton, while Seattle Pacific University officially recognized a club that discusses LGBT issues last year.

The post BYU Students Fight For The Right to Grow Beards appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Pro-Choice Group Calls Out Governors For Being ‘Obsessed’ With Abortion

ThinkProgress - September 29, 2014 - 2:54pm

This May 3, 2014 file photo shows Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaking in Milwaukee. Defeating Republican Gov. Scott Walker and electing Democrat Mary Burke will be a top priority for the pro-abortion rights group EMILY’s List, its spokeswoman Marcy Stech said Tuesday, May 13, 2014.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps, file)

NARAL Pro-Choice America, a national organization that supports expanding access to women’s health services, recently targeted the anti-abortion records of Republican Govs. Sam Brownback (KS), Rick Scott (FL) and Scott Walker (WS). Campaign mailers that circulated on Monday described the trio as obsessed lawmakers who led crusades against reproductive rights rather than focusing on issues affecting their constituents. The six-figure mail campaign included photos of the governors with the word “Abortion” emblazoned across their brains in bold black letters.

CREDIT: Courtesy of The Huffington Post

“Seven in 10 voters support a woman’s right to choose and yet, despite the longstanding need for attention to the economic conditions in all three of these states, these Governors have spent a substantial part of their terms figuring out how to deny women access to vital health care,” Sasha Bruce, the group’s senior vice president for strategy and campaigns, told the Huffington Post. “We know the more voters learn not only about their extreme positions but, equally as important, also their misplaced priorities they are less likely to support them.”

As the campaign mailers show, the trio of gubernatorial lawmakers has strongly opposed laws that protect a woman’s right to choose if she wants an abortion. In June, Scott signed 94 bills into law, including one that shortened the time frame for abortions by two weeks. The legislation known as House Bill 1047 banned abortions at 23 weeks of gestation. Last year, Walker signed a bill banning doctors that didn’t have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals from performing abortions. Under the law, women would also have to undergo an ultrasound beforehand.

In 2012, Brownback signed an anti-abortion bill that would exempt doctors from medical malpractice suits if they withhold information in an effort to prevent an abortion. The sweeping legislation would also require women to hear the fetus’ heart and take away tax credits from abortion providers and eliminate deductions for the purchase of abortion-related insurance coverage. In what some considered a bizarre portion of the Kansas measure, doctors would also be required to tell women about the risks of breast cancer associated with abortions, a connection that medical experts say doesn’t exist.

Similar battles for reproductive rights are unfolding in other states: 90 percent of Texas’ abortion clinics face closure after the passage of restrictions that criminalizes abortion after 20 weeks and imposes harsh regulations on abortion providers. A law that passed in North Carolina earlier this year requires clinics to meet the same standards as surgical centers. It also allows healthcare providers to deny abortion care on religious grounds.

While it has yet to be seen whether the six-figure campaign will have any impact, there’s still some cause for worry among members of Brown, Scott, and Walker’s campaign teams. Last year, NARAL and Planned Parenthood issued a similar attack against Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, another staunch opponent of reproductive rights. That fall, women came out for McCauliffe by a margin of nine percentage points, allowing him to clinich victory over Cuccinelli.

The post Pro-Choice Group Calls Out Governors For Being ‘Obsessed’ With Abortion appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Can a chilling New York Times story help spark new dialogue on end-of-life care?

Columbia Journalism Review - September 29, 2014 - 2:50pm
The New York Times is on a roll these days when it comes to the aging beat, and Nina Bernstein’s article last Friday was a tour de force that deserves a CJR laurel. Chronicling the relationship between a daughter and her elderly father at the end of his life, Bernstein describes how screwed up the long-term care system really...

These Insane Photos Show What the Hell Is Happening in Hong Kong

Mother Jones - September 29, 2014 - 2:35pm
Hong Kong riot police fire teargas at protesters early on Monday, September 29. Wally Santana/AP  

Hong Kong—usually an orderly finance haven—erupted over the weekend as police used teargas and pepper spray to break up a three-day student sit-in that occupied the central business district. Thousands of protesters have deployed umbrellas to protect themselves from the chemical attack—some people are dubbing it the Umbrella Revolution—and have even picked up the hands-up "don't shoot" gesture from protests in Ferguson, Missouri

The protests were the culmination of a campaign organized last year by the student group "Occupy Central," calling for free elections and more autonomy for Hong Kong, which is controlled by the Communist Party in Beijing.

At issue are assurances China made to Hong Kong when it took the reins back from Britain in 1997. Under the so-called "one country, two systems" deal, Hong Kong was allowed to keep its common-law system and enjoy greater rights than those on the mainland (where news of the protests has been aggressively censored). By 2017, Hong Kong residents hoped they would be able to elect their own chief executive—the top representative of their so-called Special Administrative Region. But now, China appears to be reneging on the spirit of its deal. President Xi Jinping has firmly rejected open nominations for candidates, and says they will continue to be vetted by a central committee in Beijing.

The government's crackdown has been unsuccessful in dispersing the protesters, who are still out on the streets—and solidarity marches are taking place in cities around the world, including Ferguson. Here's a wrap-up of photos from the weekend.

Police pepper spray activists who forced their way into the government headquarters on Saturday. Apple Daily/AP   Protesters block a police bus on one of Hong Kong's major thoroughfares. Vicnent Yu/AP   Students are using improvised defenses against teargas and pepper spray. Wong Maye-E/AP   Riot police face down protesters. Kyodo/AP   The student-led demonstrations expanded throughout Hong Kong on Monday. Wong Maye-E/AP   Umbrellas. So many umbrellas. Wong Maye-E/AP   A pro-democracy protester refuels in the city's Mongkok district on Monday. Vicent Yu/AP   Protesters flood the central financial district on Sunday. Vincent Yu/AP   Here's why the umbrellas. Vincent Yu/AP

West Virginia Plans To Frack Beneath Ohio River, Which Supplies Drinking Water To Millions

ThinkProgress - September 29, 2014 - 2:33pm

An aerial view of the Ohio River between Jeffersonville, Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky.

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Nine citizen and environmental groups are urging West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to reconsider his plans to let companies drill for oil and natural gas underneath the Ohio River, citing concerns that drilling and fracking could contaminate the drinking water supply and increase the risk of earthquakes in the region.

In a letter sent to the governor this month, the coalition of Ohio- and West Virginia-based groups said Tomblin’s Department of Environmental Protection has not proved that it can adequately protect the Ohio River, which supplies drinking water to more than 3 million people. The groups cited drilling currently taking place in a state-designated wildlife area, which some have complained is unacceptably disrupting the nature preserve, and a chemical spill in January that tainted the drinking water supply for 300,000 people.

“The well-documented deficient enforcement capability of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Oil and Gas has been on public display for years,” the letter reads. “How are we ever to believe that the state has the political will, technical capability and community commitment to guarantee that adequate controls, timely supervision and, when needed, ruthless enforcement would occur on well pads that close to the Ohio River?”

On Friday, Tomblin’s administration opened up the process for companies to bid on oil and gas leases located 14 miles underneath West Virginia’s section of river, which also acts as a natural border with Ohio. The bids would allow for companies to use the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to stimulate the wells.

State Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette told the Associated Press that drilling would be necessary because “budgets are very tight.” Indeed, the AP pointed out that the state has already received a $17.8 million bid from Triad Hunter LLC, which would also include 18 percent in royalties for the state on the oil that’s extracted.

It remains to be seen how big of a risk to the drinking water supply fracking would pose to the Ohio River. As Burdette told the AP, some leases under the Ohio River date back 25 years — though it’s likely that those wells used conventional drilling, and not fracking. Environmental advocates worry that fracking poses a bigger risk to water supplies than conventional drilling because of the chemicals used in the process, and the large amount of contaminated wastewater it produces. Science on the issue has been all but definitive, and the EPA is currently in the process of conducting a study that would clarify the technique’s impact on drinking water.

For the coalition of groups opposing the practice, though, drinking water is not the only concern. In their letter, the groups said that there is a fault line located near West Virginia’s proposed drilling site, and that drilling would increase the risk of earthquakes in the region. Though drilling itself is not linked to quakes, scientists have found evidence “directly linking” earthquakes to wastewater injection, a process widely used during fracking to dispose of large amounts of wastewater underground.

“Where one state decides to drill should never put residents of their own state or another state in harm’s way,” the letters reads. “The exploitation of limited natural gas resources under the river could degrade our water quality, reduce the recreational and aesthetic value of the river, and cause health problems for millions of people.”

After the Ohio River bidding is done, West Virginia commerce officials reportedly said the state would look to other river tracts and a wildlife management area for further drilling.

The post West Virginia Plans To Frack Beneath Ohio River, Which Supplies Drinking Water To Millions appeared first on ThinkProgress.

National Science Foundation: Record California Drought Directly Linked To Climate Change

ThinkProgress - September 29, 2014 - 1:59pm

NSF: “The drought crippling California is by some measures the worst in the state’s history.”


A Stanford study funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) confirms a growing body of research that finds “The atmospheric conditions associated with the unprecedented drought in California are very likely linked to human-caused climate change.”

The NSF news release, headlined, “Cause of California drought linked to climate change,” explains:

Climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University and colleagues used a novel combination of computer simulations and statistical techniques to show that a persistent region of high atmospheric pressure over the Pacific Ocean–one that diverted storms away from California–was much more likely to form in the presence of modern greenhouse gas concentrations.

Unprecedented droughts often combine a reduction in precipitation with higher temperatures that increase evaporation, leaving soil parched. As the NSF notes in this case, “Combined with unusually warm temperatures and stagnant air conditions, the lack of precipitation has triggered a dangerous increase in wildfires and incidents of air pollution across the state.”

We know, of course, that global warming is making heat waves longer and stronger and more frequent, which in turn makes droughts worse everywhere. But climate change is also causing reduced precipitation in many regions, such as the Mediterranean and southwestern United States. This double whammy from carbon pollution means we’ll be seeing more and more dangerous record droughts.

California’s 3-year drought has reached epic proportions. The L.A. Times reported last week, “Drought has 14 communities on the brink of waterlessness.”

Here’s the most recent Drought Monitor for the state:

So what is the proximate cause of the reduced precipitation over California? New studies suggest that increases in sea surface temperatures are not the cause of the drying. The NSF study, however, explains:

Scientists agree that the immediate cause of the drought is a particularly tenacious “blocking ridge” over the northeastern Pacific — popularly known as the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, or “Triple R” — that prevented winter storms from reaching California during the 2013 and 2014 rainy seasons.

Blocking ridges are regions of high atmospheric pressure that disrupt typical wind patterns in the atmosphere.

The NSF study analyzed “the period since 1948, for which comprehensive atmospheric data are available.” Researchers “found that the persistence and intensity of the Triple R in 2013 were unrivaled by any previous event.” Stanford’s Bala Rajaratnam then “applied advanced statistical techniques to a large suite of climate model simulations.”

Finally, researchers looked at two sets of models — one set that duplicated the current climate, in which carbon pollution is warming the atmosphere, and the other set in which carbon pollution levels were comparable to those just before the Industrial Revolution.

The researchers found that the extreme heights of the Triple R in 2013 were at least three times as likely to occur in the present climate as in the preindustrial climate.

They also found that such extreme values are consistently tied to unusually low precipitation in California, and to the formation of atmospheric ridges over the northeastern Pacific.

Prof. Rajaratnam concluded, “We’ve demonstrated with high statistical confidence that large-scale atmospheric conditions similar to those of the Triple R are far more likely to occur now than in the climate before we emitted large amounts of greenhouse gases.”

This matches the finding in an April study that “there is a traceable anthropogenic warming footprint in the enormous intensity of the anomalous ridge during winter 2013-14, the associated drought and its intensity.” The lead author of that study, Dr. Simon Wang of the Utah Climate Center, told me in an email earlier this year, “I personally think that the debate over global warming leading to stronger blocking has passed. The ongoing challenge is how we predict WHEN and WHERE those blocking will happen and affect WHICH region.”

Indeed, as I’ve reported, scientists a decade ago not only predicted the loss of Arctic ice would dry out California, they also precisely predicted the specific, unprecedented change in the jet stream that has in fact caused the unprecedented nature of the California drought.

In fact, a growing body of evidence — documented by Senior Weather Channel meteorologist Stu Ostro and others — that “global warming is increasing the atmosphere’s thickness, leading to stronger and more persistent ridges of high pressure, which in turn are a key to temperature, rainfall, and snowfall extremes and topsy-turvy weather patterns like we’ve had in recent years.”

Bottom Line: Human activity has made droughts longer and stronger in many places, including California. If we continue on our current path of unrestricted carbon pollution, we will be sharply increasing the chances of civilization-threatening mega-droughts here and abroad.

The post National Science Foundation: Record California Drought Directly Linked To Climate Change appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Damning Photos From Hong Kong Protests Cause China To Block Instagram

ThinkProgress - September 29, 2014 - 12:30pm

Pro-democracy protesters face-off with local police Sept. 29, blocking roads to financial and government buildings across Hong Kong in protest of Beijing’s decision to limit democratic reforms.

CREDIT: AP/Wong Maye-E

As pro-democracy protests exploded over the weekend in Hong Kong, Instagram users in China are finding they can’t access their accounts after the government blocked access the photo-sharing site Monday.

Photos and videos of the masses gathered in Hong Kong’s Central Square immediately went viral on social media, drawing international scrutiny to the riot police force’s use of tear gas and pepper spray against peaceful demonstrators. Instagram was shut down within hours of protesters getting tear gassed. But the crackdown only galvanized protesters, attracting more supporters to the streets.

Media censorship watchdog sites and local observers reported on Twitter and other social media that the site was blocked.

China has a history of shutting down news and social media outlets during political unrest. Instagram had remained relatively untouched until Monday’s ban in response to Hong Kong protests, The Washington Post reported.

The protests were sparked by Beijing’s recent decision to block democracy efforts in Hong Kong. But with half of Hong Kong residents against China’s new plan, protesters responded with sit-ins blocking road access to areas of the city, and attempts to spread news and garner support through Instagram. Over 9,000 pictures depicting the clash with police were posted under the hashtag #OccupyCentral, among others.

Beautiful photo that put tear in my eyes. From #Klafmann fb page. https://t.co/VA6jYvloYv #occupycentral pic.twitter.com/zqjMBiWQc0

— Yu-Hey Sze (@852syh) September 29, 2014

Multiple tear gas rounds fired once more as ppl on LegCo side retreat.First aiders move into the cloud @occupycentral pic.twitter.com/paoR0JBBmL

— Tom Grundy (@tomgrundy) September 28, 2014

China has a similar law, in addition to widespread Internet surveillance and censorship. During previous periods of unrest, Chinese authorities blocked Gmail and restricted certain search terms, like “Tianenmen Square” or “Jasmine Revolution.” Still, Chinese citizens have found ways to circumvent the censors.

As populist movements rely more on social media to organize and get the word out, online censorship and surveillance has increased. According to a report from democracy watchdog agency Freedom House, about 30 percent of countries restrict online speech. During pro-democracy protests in Turkey earlier this year, the government blocked access to Twitter, though protesters were able to circumvent the ban with little difficulty. Russian President Vladimir Putin is reportedly considering cutting off the country’s Internet access entirely during protests and war times. The country already has a strict law in place that requires bloggers and social media users to register with the government if they have a strong following or popular post.

The post Damning Photos From Hong Kong Protests Cause China To Block Instagram appeared first on ThinkProgress.


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Bill Moyers presents "United States of ALEC," a report on the most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of -- ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.