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John Bolton Is Too Many Kinds Of Crazy To Be President

Republican retired ambassador John Bolton teetered on the edge of announcing a presidential campaign today, and then backed away from the edge, swaying erratically.

john bolton is crazyBolton’s decision not to run for President is a good thing for our country, but it means the loss of a great deal of entertainment. Bolton would not have been the only Republican extremist to run for President in 2016, but he might have been the most bizarre one. He has a frumpy grumpy kind of right wing outrage that makes him fun to watch, and he’s fond of making categorical statements that are thoroughly unanchored to reality.

For instance, Bolton recently declared that Hillary Clinton “doesn’t have any problem getting to the left of Elizabeth Warren.”

Hillary Clinton to the left of Elizabeth Warren?

As a United States senator, Elizabeth Warren has been an opponent of government surveillance. Hillary Clinton was part of the Obama Administration that perpetrated it.

Elizabeth Warren opposes fracking. Hillary Clinton supports it.

Elizabeth Warren speaks out strongly in opposition to global warming. Hillary Clinton is mostly silent on the subject.

Elizabeth Warren has been an outspoken critic of Walmart’s systematic economic exploitation of poverty here in the United States and around the world. Hillary Clinton was on Walmart’s board of directors.

Elizabeth Warren opposed bankruptcy restrictions that force people to keep repaying enormous college loans even when they have lost their jobs and everything they own. Hillary Clinton voted for them.

Elizabeth Warren is a critic of free trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership. Hillary Clinton supports them.

Elizabeth Warren opposed George W. Bush’s rush to invade Iraq in 2003. Hillary Clinton voted in favor of it.

No, Hillary Clinton is not to the left of Elizabeth Warren. In fact, Hillary Clinton is to the right of most Democrats. John Bolton and his supporters are off so far over on the right wing of American politics, however, that everything on this side of Rush Limbaugh looks Communist to them.

Bill To Somewhat Diminish NSA Spying Passed By U.S. House. Is This Good News?

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the USA Freedom Act, a bill that somewhat restricts electronic spying by the National Security Agency against the American people. The vote was unusually strong 338 in favor, and 88 opposed.

All amendments from the floor were blocked.

The character of that vote should give us pause. Republicans who have vigorously defended spying by the NSA actually voted for this bill. Why?

nsa big brotherJust last week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that the NSA surveillance program is illegal, allowing a lawsuit to go forward that could eventually shut down the program altogether. The passage of the USA Freedom Act might thus be seen as a move to defend the NSA spying program, rather than to meaningfully restrict it.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has expressed strong reservations that the USA Freedom Act may actually allow the federal government to use the NSA program to continue spying on the activities of people in the United States without reasonable belief that the people being spied upon are involved in any criminal activity at all. Furthermore, the USA Freedom Act requires corporations to store data about people’s activities. That data may be accessed without adequate supervision by government agents through purposefully engineered backdoors that are not closed by the USA Freedom Act. What’s more, the mandate of bigger corporate databanks keeping more information about us will encourage expanded corporate surveillance of us, and make us even more vulnerable to hackers.

The U.S. Senate has not yet voted on its equivalent bill, S. 1123, and so there is still an opportunity for senators to improve the legislation, but they will have to negotiate with the House to send a final version to the White House, even if this opportunity is seized.

Given that the history of the NSA surveillance program is thick with deception and coverups, we would do well to regard the passage of the USA Freedom Act, and other proposed reforms, with skepticism. It may be that the passage of the USA Freedom Act leads to a shrinkage of electronic surveillance against people in the United States. On the other hand, it may, like the prohibition of Total Information Awareness by Congress a decade ago, only serve as a cover for continued massive unconstitutional seizure of the most personal details from our private accounts.

NC Audit: 75% of Public Assistance Visits Lack Voter Registration Option, Violating Federal Law

A tip of the hat to DocDawg for bringing the following information to light:

According to federal law, specifically the National Voter Registration Act of 1993,, North Carolina must offer an opportunity for voter registration whenever a person comes to a public assistance office for help. And yet, when the voting-rights activist organizations Dēmos, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Project Vote and Southern Coalition for Social Justice carried out a series of auditing visits to public assistance offices in October of 2014, this is what they found (quoted letter follows):

Field observations confirm that frontline staff at DHHS offices consistently fail to distribute voter registration applications to public assistance clients, as required by the NVRA.

While workers at some public assistance offices described NVRA-compliant procedures, their factual assertions were not supported by interviews conducted with clients exiting the offices. For example, interviews conducted with 196 DHHS clients – who reported that they were eligible to vote and had engaged in a covered transaction – revealed:

  • Three-quarters of interviewees received no offer of voter registration of any kind. Specifically, 146 clients (74.5%) did not see a voter registration question on their forms, were not verbally asked whether they would like to receive a voter registration application, and did not receive a voter registration application.
  • At offices that claimed to distribute voter registration applications to everyone, 74% of interviewees stated that they had neither (i) received an application, nor (ii) declined the opportunity to register to vote, either verbally or in writing.
  • At the four offices that claimed to ask each client whether s/he would like a voter registration application, 92% of the interviewees stated that they had not seen or responded to a voter registration question on their forms, and 93% of interviewees stated that no one had verbally offered them a registration application.

… Significantly, six of the 19 offices (31.6%) lacked even the materials, procedures, and/or infrastructure to comply with the NVRA:

  • Four offices did not have voter registration applications onsite;
  • One office failed to collect any voter registration applications; and
  • One office provided voter registration applications to clients only upon request.

These changes for the worse happened after Republican Pat McCrory took over as Governor of North Carolina. Why would a Republican administration act against federal law in a way that lowers voter registration among the poor? You won’t have to think too hard to come up with an answer.

House Democrats Link Fatal Train Derailment To Republican Blockage Of Transportation Bill

purple congressThis morning, House Democrats held a press conference in which U.S. Representatives Xavier Becerra and Joe Crowley linked House Republicans’ failure to pass a transportation funding bill with a train accident near Philadelphia last night that killed at least six people.

Becerra noted that the Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives has forced transportation funding legislation to wait while Republican legislation to promote right wing social issues has been allowed to take center stage. “We are watching our Republican colleagues,” he said, “return to their social agenda at a time when we are less than three weeks away from watching money for our transportation programs expire… All this time we are using on the congressional calendar to do a social agenda instead of doing the work of the American people.”

Does Your Member Of Congress Support Violence Against Children In Schools?

In the United States the beating of a child by a teacher or school administrator begins every 30 seconds. 19 states still allow teachers and administrators to become physically violent against students. The euphemism they use for teacher-orchestrated violence against students is “corporal punishment”. Hundreds of thousands of American public school students suffer from this practice every year.

Yesterday, U.S. Representative Alcee Hastings introduced H.R. 2268, the Ending Corporal Punishment In Schools Act. The legislation would prohibit any school that has a policy allowing corporal punishment from receiving federal funds. The bill also requires state governments to certify that they have taken action to eliminate corporal punishment in their schools. States will lose federal education funding if they fail to comply.

The U.S. Representatives who have cosponsored the Ending Corporal Punishment In Schools Act are Tony Cardenas, Raul Grijalva, David Loebsack, Jerry McNerney, Eleanor Holmes-Norton, Bill Pascrell, Chellie Pingree, Jared Polis, Charles Rangel, Bobby Scott, Louise Slaughter. All of them are Democrats. However, they represent only 6 percent of the Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

If you are not represented by one of the above members of the U.S. House of Representatives, contact the office of your member of Congress through the switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask my your U.S. Representative isn’t willing to support H.R. 2268, to stand against violence against children in schools.

Catholicism and Irreligiosity in Society; Catholicism and Irreligiosity in Congress

Percent of Americans who indicate they are “Atheist,” “Agnostic,” or “Nothing in Particular” when asked to identify their religion in the 2014 Pew Religious Landscape Survey: 22.8%

Rank of Atheism/Agnostic/Nothing in American religious identifications: #2 (behind Protestant)

Percent of Americans who indicate they are “Catholic” when asked to identify their religion in the 2014 Pew Religious Landscape Survey: 20.8%

Rank of Catholicism in American religious identifications: #3 (behind Atheist/Agnostic/Nothing)

Number of bills before the U.S. Congress featuring the word “Catholic”: 10

Number of bills before the U.S. Congress featuring the words “Atheist,” “Agnostic,” “Irreligious” or “Non-Religious”: 1

Bernie Sanders Vs. Hillary Clinton On Risky Arctic Oil Drilling

Yesterday, President Barack Obama did a big favor for Big Oil, and approved the expansion of risky offshore drilling for crude oil in Arctic waters. This is a big blow to the environmental movement, and as such, something that Democratic presidential candidates should be expected to have some reaction to.

So, what have the two main Democratic Party presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, had to say on the issue of drilling for oil in the Arctic?

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has a long record of opposition to expanded drilling for oil in the Arctic.

In 2001, Sanders voted for H.R. 4, to prohibit drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and then co-sponsored the Morris K. Udall Arctic Wilderness Act, additional legislation to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling.

In 2007, Sanders supported the ANWR Wilderness Act, which would have provided extra protection to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In 2010, Sanders openly criticized Barack Obama’s plans to expand new areas of the Arctic to risky drilling for crude oil, republishing an op-ed that concluded, “comprehensiveness is precisely what the President’s strategy lacks.”

In 2013, Sanders wrote a letter to the Department of the Interior demanding that federal leases for oil drilling in the Arctic be suspended.

How does Hillary Clinton’s position on oil drilling in the Arctic measure up to the record of Bernie Sanders? Jane Kleeb, founder of Bold Nebraska, has warned, “Standing with citizens on risks of fracking, oil trains and drilling in the Arctic are all issues Clinton must address. It is not enough to say you believe climate change exists, we want to know what Clinton is going to do about it.”

Since the news came out yesterday that the Obama Administration is supporting expanded oil drilling in Arctic waters, Hillary Clinton has remained silent. Her presidential campaign appears to either not know or not care about the news.

At this point, however, the familiar narrative, of how Bernard Sanders is more progressive than Hillary Clinton, and Clinton is nothing more than a corporate-owned Republican in Democrat’s clothing, falls apart.

The fact is that, when Hillary Clinton was in the U.S. Senate, she had a record of solid opposition to oil drilling in the Arctic, just like Bernie Sanders has had.

Hillary Clinton voted against allowing drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Record in 2002, and again in 2003 and 2005. Clinton supported the ANWR Wilderness Act, just like Bernie Sanders did.

Though Hillary Clinton hasn’t been outspoken about protecting the Arctic from oil drillers, Bernie Sanders hasn’t been outspoken about oil drilling in the Arctic since he began his presidential campaign either. Like Hillary Clinton, Sanders has remained silent about the news that Barack Obama is supporting expanded oil drilling in the Arctic. Like Clinton, he seems to either not know or not care about the decision.

On the issue of oil drilling in the Arctic, neither Clinton nor Sanders is fatally flawed, but neither candidate comes off as particularly impressive either. Both Sanders and Clinton should be doing more to stand against Barack Obama’s approval of expanded oil drilling in Arctic waters.

Arctic Sea Ice Continues to Show Record Low Daily Extent

On March 19 2015, the National Snow and Ice Data Center declared that sea ice in the Arctic Ocean had reached its high point in its area of coverage (“extent”) for the year, and that this high point was the smallest on record.

Arctic sea ice extent breaks new records with lows in 2015

As you can see by following the blue line in this updated graph of sea ice extent through this month, the days of 2015 continue to establish record low sea ice extents.

Arctic sea ice volume as measured by the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center is not at a record low, but it rivals recent years in a volume that is well below the 1979-2014 average:

Arctic Sea Ice Volume, 2015 and recent years

Praise Bacon!

The United Church of Bacon is centered around the following beliefs:

“Baconists love people of all races, backgrounds, sexual orientations, genders, and beliefs. The divine smell of bacon is bestowed equally on all people (except those who have no sense of smell, for whom baconists feel much pity)”

“We are entirely different from those who worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for we prefer our pasta on top of our bacon, while they prefer their bacon on top of their pasta. But that’s cool. Again, we accept everyone who loves the smell of bacon. Also, bacon is real.”

united church of bacon“The Great Mystery of Bacon is whether it is male or female. Bacon Prophet and Founder John Whiteside has listened closely to frying Bacon and has been unable to determine its gender from the sound of sizzle. He found that the more he turned up the heat, the more aggressive Bacon got. We do not need to understand all mysteries about Bacon to love of the smell of Bacon.”

“We mock all beliefs, even our own. At least Bacon is demonstrably real, unlike God, but some skeptics even question this ‘theory’.”

“Unlike some religions, we don’t get tangled in unproveable supernatural interpretations of goodness that might be manipulated or misinterpreted to justify anything. Just be kind to people while respecting their boundaries.”

“Bacon is our god, but that’s just a term of endearment. We don’t believe that Bacon is actually spiritual, though smelling it is surely a Divine Experience. We also like donuts because they are Holey.”

Would you join the United Church of Bacon?

Corrogan R. Vaughn For Something, With Some Party

When Republican presidential candidates stand up on a stage and compete over who can say the most outrageous things, as they did at a Citizens United conference held this weekend in South Carolina, it looks like a desperate grab for attention. It seems that Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee and the rest don’t care much what other people think of them, so long as they’re being talked about.

corrogan r. vaughnThat attitude, writ small, also seems to motivate the campaign Corrogan R. Vaughn, a Republican candidate for… something. Vaughn calls himself a “faith leader”, but as a politician, he doesn’t demonstrate steady faith in much of anything – not even the office he’s running for.

In 2010, Corrogan R. Vaughn first ran for U.S. Senate, but then switched to running for Governor of Maryland. Vaughn started out that campaign year as a Republican, but then changed his party affiliation to the Green Party before declaring himself an independent.

Six years later, Corrogan R. Vaughn is at it again. He’s back with the Republican Party, and this time, he’s running for President of the United States… or is he? The FEC lists Vaughn as a Republican presidential candidate, but includes his filing papers with the Vaughn 4 US Senate committee. Yet, Vaughn says that he is seeking the to replace U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings in Maryland’s 7th congressional district.

Whatever public office Corrogan R. Vaughn aims for this time around, and whatever political party he will finally align himself with, his ideas are unmistakably nasty. Vaughn bitterly attacks equality between heterosexual and homosexual Americans, writing that, “LIFE! LIBERTY! AND THE PURSUIT Of HAPPINESS in NO WAY gives anyone the right to invoke the perversion of fallen empires like the Roman Empire or Saddam or Gamora.”

Vaughn’s idea of liberty and the pursuit of happiness seems only to include the liberty to pursue the kind of life that Vaughn and his allies in the religious right approve of… and the liberty to listen to Vaughn rant, seeking attention in emulation of better funded Republican candidates.

5 Years After Promising to Release Data on Breatharian Prahlad Jani, Dr. Sudhir Shah Offers … Nothing

Five years ago this month, American newspapers and television stations reported the amazing story of Prahlad Jani, a mystic from the Indian subcontinent who claimed to have lived seven decades without eating or drinking, subsisting as a “breatharian.” Even more amazing, said the news reports, was the research of Dr. Sudhir Shah, who declared at a press conference that in a scientific experiment Jani had gone 15 days without food or water and nevertheless managed to maintain vital signs and metabolic functions within “the safe range” for humans.

The news reports stopped there, and that’s important, because for most people, the “miracle” of Prahlad Jani stops at that point in the story too.  Isn’t it wonderful that these powers have been scientifically proven?  For most of the world, the story has not just been stunted at this supposedly wondrous point, but repeated at that point, too.  Five years later, the Prahlad Jani story is still being bandied about the internet as a sign of the apparent reality of breatharian magic (see here and here and here and here and here for a few examples of the ongoing coverage).

But the story doesn’t stop there.  What those 2010 news reports didn’t mention was the following:

  • Dr. Sudhir Shah a devotee of breatharian Jain religious teachings who declares that the purpose of his research is to not to test breatharian claims, but to show that breatharaian practices are
  • During the experiment, Prahlad Jani was allowed to extensively “gargle” and “bathe.”
  • Prahlad Jani lives in an apartment with a refrigerator. Jani’s followers wouldn’t let journalists open the refrigerator door.
  • No scientific evidence from the experiment was offered at the news conference to substantiate the claims being made.

The last point is the most important: no scientific evidence was offered at the press conference to substantiate the outlandish claim being made. Instead, Sudhir Shah promised that “the claim will be scientifically substantiated after analysis of investigations carried out. All the reports and results will be scientifically analyzed, subsequently and will take some time. The entire study team will meet periodically to discuss the findings and draw valid conclusions.”

It’s been five years since the data was supposedly collected.  There have been five years for analysis and substantiation through peer-reviewed publication. Has any peer-reviewed journal article been published with scientific evidence of Prahlad Jani’s feat? Look for yourself: the answer is no.

Has Dr. Sudhir Shah published any scientific findings from the 2010 experiment on his website? Look for yourself: the answer is no.

It’s been five years.  There’s no support for the claim.  That needs to be said.