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When the Greens Showed Up in Maine

In November 2013, J. Clifford wrote here about a Green Party that complained about ballot access but wasn’t running candidates.

In November 2014, the Maine Green Independent Party ran 13 candidates for state legislature — an impressive feat for a party with very few members and zero corporate support.  It’s true that none of those candidates won, but you can’t fault Maine’s Green Party for failing to give it a good shot.  As I traveled about the state this year I saw Green Party lawn signs, especially promoting candidates Alice Knapp and Asher Platts, dotting the landscape.  A neat graphic design, featuring Maine’s iconic moose as a historically-relevant alternative to the donkey and elephant, graced campaign materials.

Americans are not currently inclined to give Green candidates much of a chance; given that hostile environment, I’m inclined to give strong credit to the candidates who did choose to stick their necks out and provide active advocacy for an alternative vision.  Thanks, Maine Greens.  Your efforts this cycle make me think more about finding a way to support you actively in the next cycle.

Ben Carson Thinks He Is Being Fingered By God To Be President

A couple of weeks ago, in response to an article we wrote pointing out the connection between Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson and a Christian fundamentalist secret society that calls itself The Family, John Philip Souza the Fourth, the director of the ethically questionable super PAC raising anonymous cash to encourage Carson’s campaign, came by Irregular Times and told us that the Ben Carson for President campaign certainly is not filled religious zealots.

After that, members of the Run Ben Run political team started writing that they support Ben Carson because they need a presidential candidate who accepts that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and believes in Creationism rather than evolution through natural selection.

Of course, someone might point out that it’s Ben Carson, and not all his religious extremist associates, who is seeking election as President. So, shouldn’t we judge Ben Carson’s campaign according to what he does himself?

Well, okay, let’s do that. Today, we have news that Ben Carson believes that God is fingering him. Seriously. Asked whether God has grabbed him to demand that he run for President, Carson replied, “I feel fingers.”

Remembering that the last U.S. President who believed he was chosen to lead by God was the disaster-prone George W. Bush, Americans would do well to be wary of Ben Carson’s delusions about the Hand of God.

Coalition Releases Software To Protect Against Government Spying

Yesterday, a coalition of groups including Amnesty International, Digitale Gesellschaft, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Privacy International announced the release of Detekt, a piece of software that can detect many of the spybots used by the NSA, other governments, and corporations to track people’s online activity.

detekt spyware protectionDetekt won’t work on all computers, and the governments and corporations that use computers to spy on people will surely come out with new spyware to evade Detekt. Still, it’s a start.

If you think your computer may have been targeted for surveillance, give Detekt a try.

Republicans Against Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush for President in 2016? Some people are saying that the Republican presidential nomination is already wrapped up, long before the primaries have even begun. They say Jeb Bush is a sure thing. However, some Republicans are determined to see anybody but Bush in 2016.

“He is too moderate for the Republican base,” says Nixon protege and professional firebrand Pat Buchanan.

Daniel Larison, senior editor at The American Conservative, writes of Jeb Bush that:
“He doesn’t seem likely to offer any new ideas.”
Republicans Against Jeb Bush- “He will have been out of office for over a decade by the time the voting starts.”
– “Like his brother when he ran for president, Jeb Bush has no foreign policy experience to speak of, and to the best of my knowledge he has never shown much interest in the subject.”
– “Considering the state that the last Bush left the GOP in, there can’t be very many Republicans that want to turn to that family a third time for leadership.”
– “The last thing that Republicans need is to contest another election in Bush’s shadow.”
– “I can see the slogan now: ‘Vote for Jeb Bush–he’s not as incompetent as his brother!'”

Republican columnist Michelle Malkin protests against Jeb Bush’s “top-down” efforts to “bamboozle” Republican voters, decrying his “phony” “crony contracts, big-government and big-business collusion masquerading as ‘reform.'” She calls him “tone-deaf, ethics-blind”, and “phony-baloney”. “And remember,” she warns. “Astro-turfing runs in the Bush family.”

How far will the Republican rebellion against Jeb Bush go? We don’t know, but we’re happy to encourage it along its path with this Republicans Against Jeb Bush bumper sticker.

517 Days Since Barack Obama’s Broken Petition Promise on Edward Snowden

In case you were wondering, it’s now been 517 days since a petition to pardon Edward Snowden surpassed the required 100,000-signature threshold to receive a response from President Barack Obama on his “We The People” official government petition page.  Back then, Barack Obama had been posing as the transparency president.  The responsiveness president.  The justice president.  He pledged to communicate regarding all petitions making it past 100,000 signatures.  But then it turned out that he was acting behind the scenes as the warrantless surveillance president, and once Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing made the whole illegal affair transparent to the American people, it became quickly clear that President Obama would be having none of that transparency or responsiveness business any longer.  So the president promptly began ignoring petitions he didn’t like, including the petition to pardon Edward Snowden — which, if you think about it, kind of undermines the whole idea of submitting a petition in the first place.

Outside the White House, nobody seems to care about this any more.  We’re moving on… to what future?

Roll Call: Who In Congress Voted In Favor Of Opening Private Medical Records To Big Government?

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4082, legislation that will, if it is passed by the Senate and signed into law, force researchers to share the private medical information of American citizens with the federal government.

H.R. 4082 requires that any scientific study that is used to inform policy decisions at the Environmental Protection Agency must reveal its complete raw data to the government, or it has to be tossed out.

Raw data in scientific studies related to human health frequently includes information not just about people’s medical conditions, but also their drug and alcohol use, personal income, and even sexual behavior. This information is, in the form of raw data, often linked to research participants’ real names.

Should the federal government know about Americans’ sexual habits? Should it have information about their private medical treatments? 237 members of the U.S. House of Representatives think so. They voted in favor of H.R. 4082 yesterday.

The Republican Party keeps saying that it’s against big government, so you might think that it was the House Republicans who voted against H.R. 4082. In reality, almost all of the representatives who voted for H.R. 4082 were Republicans. Only one Republican had the decency to vote against this big government intrusion into Americans’ private medical records: Chris Gibson.

The Republicans were the ones who came up with H.R. 4082 in the first place. They gave it a nasty name, too: The Secret Science Reform Act – implying that the personal information of people participating in medical research should be made open to everybody to look at.

This provision was designed as a poison pill to bring the work of the EPA to a halt. The Republicans in Congress understand that the idea of exposing the private lives of people who volunteer to participate in medical research is so unethical that no researchers would ever agree to the new terms dictated by H.R. 4082. In fact, in most circumstances, it is against the law for medical researchers to share their raw data.

The Secret Science Reform Act was designed to prevent the federal government from having access to medical research, and to stop regulations designed to protect the American people from threats to their health. The legislation would bring our country back to the days when our waters were toxic, consumer goods were loaded with poisons, and the bald eagle was on the verge of extinction – all for the sake of corporate profits.

Not ALL of the blame for this congressional assault against Americans’ health, data privacy, and scientific integrity goes to the Republicans, however. Eight House Democrats joined the Republicans to vote for H.R. 4082. Their names are:

John Barrow
Jim Costa
Henry Cuellar
Jim Matheson
Bill Owens
Collin Peterson
Chellie Pingree
Nick Rahall

Chellie Pingree?!? I thought she was supposed to be a liberal. She ought to know better, but perhaps Representative Pingree simply sees the way the wind is blowing, and is happy to go along with the rising tide of right wing politics in America, health, privacy and science be damned.

secret science reform act

7 Reasons to Distrust Patriotic Snowmen

This week I received an odd piece of mail — one of those solicitations asking for a donation to some cause while providing a small, token gift. That strategy came from social science research indicating that the provision of a small gift leads to the feeling of obligation, which in turn leads to a higher likelihood of monetary extraction from the mass mail blast greater charitable donation. This time, the token gift was a set of address labels featuring a patriotic snowman. The snowman, smiling a big smile and sporting a bigger hat, waved a bright American flag.

Well, I didn’t like that, I could tell you, but I hoped it was an anomaly. Perhaps this was just one single, solitary American-flag-waving snowman. That we could all deal with. But no. A quick search reveals that we are veritably surrounded by patriotic, red white and blue snowmen:

Patriotic Snowmen -- Why?

What are we to make of this? I just don’t trust appearances, I tell you. You might think that these are jolly, patriotic, America-loving, red-blooded Snowmen ready to bake apple pies and die for their country, but I. Don’t. Think. So. There’s something shifty, dishonest, and downright treasonous about these snowmen in Yankee Doodle’s clothing. Think about it:

1. Where are they from, in the first place? Not from around here, I can tell you that. They probably blew in from the Canada to the North, or worse, from the West, where Yellow China lies, without a passport, undocumented, illegal, even. You never see a snowman press “1” for English!

2. Obviously didn’t work for their clothing.

3. Scarves are kind of French.

4. Cold heart, warm _____? Hide the womenfolk.

5. With eyes made out of coal, they increase our dependence on foreign sources of energy.

6. Something sinister always lurks behind a frozen smile.

7. The hats remind one of Charles Dickens.

At least they’re white. But I smell a plot, I tell you, and we’ll have none of this Tiny Tim nonsense around here. This is America! Fifth Column Snowmen, go back to San Fransokyo where you belong.

Thanks To Bill Nelson, Even Watered-Down NSA Reform Won’t Take Place

Yes, it’s true that the George W. Bush and Barack Obama oversaw a massive spying program through the National Security Agency, seizing huge numbers of private communications involving Americans who are suspected of no crime whatsoever, but that’s all been reformed since then, right?

Wrong

In response to the revelations of Edward Snowden that the NSA is engaged in widespread electronic surveillance against Americans as they use the Internet and cellular data networks, President Barack Obama proposed a set of extremely weak reforms that would have allowed the NSA spying program against Americans to continue. These weak reforms were codified in a piece of proposed legislation called the the USA Freedom Act.

The USA Freedom Act was passed by the House of Representatives back in May, but as all good citizens know, passage of legislation in just one house of Congress isn’t sufficient for a bill to become a law. Legislation needs to be passed by the Senate and House, and then be approved by the President – unless a veto-proof majority in Congress is secured.

Yesterday, the USA Freedom Act was finally considered in the Senate, but was blocked by 42 senators who thought that even this watered-down set of reforms was too much. That group was mostly Republican, but included one Democrat – Senator Bill Nelson.

Thanks to Bill Nelson, the U.S. government is going to keep on spying on Americans’ electronic communications – without reform.

What Kind Of Person Would Kill A Lavender Plant?

This morning, I walked out my front door to discover that sometime last night, a lavender plant, nearly a decade old, had been ripped out of the ground and thrown onto the sidewalk.

lavender roots

To me, this is an abhorrent act. A lavender plant provides flavor for food, blossoms for the eye, and nectar for bees. Lavender doesn’t harm anyone, and I am unable to understand why someone would seek to destroy it.

I’ve replanted what is left of the roots. There are a few green shoots remaining at the base after last night’s rude yanking. However, even if the plant survives the transplantation, it will take quite some time for it to return to its former size and strength.

Ben Carson Creationism Would Lead Back To A Violent Past

Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who retired from medicine in order to take up a career as a right wing commentator on Fox News, only to retire from Fox News in order to become a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, likes to talk about “our Judeo-Christian values” as if everyone in America has “Judeo-Christian values” (and as if Jewish values and Christian values can be smashed together as if there are no differences).

Among the planks of Carson’s Christian campaign for President that Run Ben Run chooses to overlook is his advocacy for Creationism. Ben Carson accuses scientists who accept the development of life through natural selection of spreading immorality, and calls evolution a rival faith to his Christian Creationism. “Carbon dating and all of these things really don’t mean anything to a God who has the ability to create anything at any point in time,” Carson writes.

With this zealous fundamentalism, Ben Carson has inspired the formation of a Super PAC, gathering shadowy money from anonymous donors on his behalf. That Super PAC, Run Ben Run, isn’t content to advocate for public policy solutions, but is supporting the adoption of Creationism as part of a new Christian national identity. The Super PAC writes, “To embrace the theory of evolution takes as much faith as it does to believe in creation. A LAW OF SCIENCE states that things left to themselves “tend to go from order to disorder”. If a person finds a smart phone in the woods, who doesn’t check to see who made the phone? Is it an iPhone? A Samsung? Nobody thinks that the phone evolved over time. Rather, if it were there for a long time it would deteriorate and ultimately would not function at all. How much faith does it take to believe that the most complex ecosystem and system of life imaginable just happened to evolve by itself from some amoeba?”

The people at Run Ben Run don’t seem to understand that science isn’t really structured, as religion is, around laws that must never be broken. Instead, science proposes explanations for natural phenomena, and then tests them. So, a scientist someone talks about “laws of thermodynamics”, such as the idea that systems tend toward entropy, that scientist is actually just talking about a testable suggestion that, if it doesn’t match reality, should be rejected. The fact is that the natural world exhibits many systems in which increasingly organized systems derive from the fundamental physical characteristics of our universe. If you don’t believe this, I ask that you review the curriculum of the Big History Project, which addresses this specific concept.

Aside from the scientific illiteracy of Ben Carson and his followers, Americans may be shying away from Carson’s extremist Christian ideology because it brings back uncomfortable memories of what happened the last time Christianity was allowed to control government in America. The first set of laws for the Massachusetts Colony declared that any son who failed to obey his father would be executed, any person who failed to practice Christianity would be put to death, and anyone who committed an act of blasphemy would be killed by the government.

When Ben Carson talks about getting elected President so that he can lead America in “returning to our Judeo-Christian values”, this is the sinister legacy he invokes: Death to all who refuse to believe his Gospel.

ben carson for ayatollah

Ben Carson for President Tweets … A Deluge or a Trickle?

Earlier this week, J. Clifford used Google Trends, a tracking of search engine volume, to assess the success of Ben Carson’s self-paid infomerical over the weekend of November 8-9. To follow up on that assessment, I decided to look at the volume of Twitter posts with the text “Ben Carson for President” since that weekend. The results:

Ben Carson for President Tweets on Twitter, November 10 to November 18 2014

Just in case you’re wondering, those digits stand for single tweets, not thousands of tweets. Clearly, what we’re talking about here is a trickle, not a deluge.

P.S. During the same period, 23 articles appeared in the news media featuring the phrase “Ben Carson for President.” That’s 3.1 Tweets per news article published. The current broadcast media hype surrounding Ben Carson’s candidacy is not leading to social media support.