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Gov’t Financial Surveillance Hit All-Time High in 2013, Reports on Links to Terrorism Fade Away

Did you know that an American’s political career was brought to an end thanks to warrantless government surveillance of their financial activity?

It’s true.  Remember New York Governor Eliot Spitzer?  He was brought down from political office when payments to a prostitute were discovered by government snooping without a warrant or any prior suspicion of wrongdoing on Spitzer’s part.  A warrantless “suspicious activity report” regarding someone else’s financial doings led to a trail that led to Spitzer and Spitzer’s political downfall. Whether or not Spitzer’s extramarital liaisons were proper, the surveillance of Spitzer was constitutionally improper, at least under a literal reading of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution, which declares:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Since the terrorist attacks 13 years and 1 day ago, however, 4th Amendment limits have been shoved aside when it comes to surveillance programs. As Adam Davidson of NPR reported back in 2008, the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 required banks and other financial institutions to step up the number of “suspicious activity reports” sent to the U.S. Government regarding Americans’ financial transactions, and to use a dramatically lower standard for what qualifies as “suspicious” behavior:

Banks monitor every transaction. Every one, no matter how small…. The software is checking to see if maybe that $4 is part of a pattern…. The report goes to a bank’s compliance officer, listing all recent suspicious transactions. Every transaction is given a numerical score…. The computer makes the score based on who is making the transaction, where does he come from, who is he associated with, what else is he up to. Every bank customer has, somewhere, in some computer database, a risk assessment score.

The federal government assumed these powers to spy on your financial doings by appealing to the threat of terrorism.   Let us spy on everybody’s financial doings, they said, and we’ll stop the terrorists.  Until this year, the U.S. Department of the Treasury reported on how many of those “suspicious activity reports” actually had to do with terrorism.  The share was consistently low from year to year.  In 2011, for instance, only 609 of the 1,500,000 suspicious activity reports to the U.S. Treasury had anything to do with suspected terrorism — but regardless, the word “terrorist” or “terrorism” appeared 76 times in the 2011 annual report of the Treasury branch responsible for suspicious activity reporting.

The number of warrantless suspicious activity reports on financial activity in America continues to rise.  New data released by the Treasury Department this year show that in 2013, the number of suspicious activity reports to the federal government rose to a new record high:

U.S. Treasury Data show that suspicious activity reporting -- a form of warrantless surveillance of Americans -- hit an all-time record high in 2013.

This is a bipartisan shame, with increases in SAR surveillance happening under both the Republican Bush administration and the Democratic Obama administration.

What share of these warrantless suspicious activity reports had anything to do with terrorism?  I literally can’t tell you.  Apparently, it’s not politically wise to reveal how little surveillance actually has to do with terrorism — the Department of the Treasury has stopped reporting counts of reports having to do with terrorism altogether.  What the government doesn’t reveal, I can’t report.

Thanks For This Terrible World, You Loving God, Says Chaplain Patrick Conroy

Yesterday, the House of Representatives witnessed a twisting knot of self-contradiction from Reverend Patrick J. Conroy, the government-established, First Amendment busting, Chaplain of the lower house of Congress. Chaplain Conroy prayed:

“Loving God, we give You thanks for giving us another day.”

Thanks to God, for another day. Well, that’s positive, isn’t it? God loves us! What evidence is there of that love? Patrick Conroy explained as he continued his prayer:

“The attention of our Nation is drawn toward a raging tragedy. We are torn by aversion to a repeat of years of military engagement while compelling narratives unfold in so many places around our world.”

Oh dear, how awkward. That all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing god all of a sudden doesn’t seem very loving any more. The world that this god created and continues to control is dominated by war and other forms of cruelty. Another day of a god-given disaster of humanity.

How can we reconcile this inconsistency? The simplest way to overcome this problem is simply to acknowledge what Patrick J. Conroy is unwilling to consider: Maybe all this stuff that priests and preachers tell us about the God who is going to, sometime in the future, make every nasty thing all right, in a mysterious way that none of us understand, is simply a load of made up babble.

patrick conroy bad god

Is Big Pharma Really Conspiring with the Government to Hide An Essiac Tea “Cure for Cancer?”

Is “Big Pharma” engaged in collusion to hide secret evidence showing that “Essiac Tea” is a cure-all for cancer?

Am I the Queen of England?

That’s a flip answer to the claim being made by Teri, who says that a mixture of of plants and roots called “Essiac tea” really works and stops cancer. How does she know this is true, in the face of clear evidence that the “cure” is a sham? She used it once (along with an undisclosed number of other therapies). “Big Pharma doesn’t tell the truth,” says Teri in her description of conspiracy. “People need to research things for themselves. You might be surprised at how many, “natural remedies” really are remedies. Until our gov & Big Pharma get involved. Look at statins, they are snake venom for Christ sake. Or how people with natural red hair process/absorb medications.” Teri claims that Essiac Tea really cures cancer, and that a collusion between the government and “Big Pharma” is covering it all up.

Teri’s not alone in this sentiment. Paul Fassa of “Natural News” has published an entire article titled “Essiac Tea is a Cancer Cure Big Pharma Does Not Want You to Know About.” Fassa also claims that Essiac tea cures AIDS, that HIV is a “man-made” conspiracy virus, that U.S. Naval Intelligence is being used to fight herbal medicines, that world governments have a secret depopulation agenda in which they spreading disease on purpose, and that the government has sneakily burned all the proof in a big fire. This reminds me of a kid I knew once who told me he took a picture of aliens, but was foiled when the aliens stole his camera.

Let’s move beyond flip rejoinders and get serious. There are a number of basic problems with the claim that “Big Pharma” is covering up the supposed miracle Essiac cure:

1. The claims of a “Big Pharma” conspiracy and cover-up regarding Essiac tea never offer specific information about a specific “Big Pharma” coverup, or provide verifiably incorrect information. Teri’s comment is typical, waving vaguely at the notion of an entity called “Big Pharma” without telling you who this “Big Pharma” actually is. And guess how much documentary evidence Fassa provides in his article to actually prove the claim (I’ll give you a hint: the answer rhymes with “Nero”).

2. Small details used to make these accounts sound plausible are clearly false. The only pharmaceutical company that is even mentioned in Fassa’s article is Resperin, a company that Fassa says squelched Essiac tea:

“Caisse made an effort to get the Essiac out into the public light in 1977, a year before her death. She made a deal with a company called Resperin, whom she thought had the clout to legalize her Essiac tea. But Caisse was told she was no longer needed after the agreement. Resperin was actually in the pocket of the Canadian government and medical authorities. So that project vaporized, and the formula seemed destined to obscurity.”

“The project vaporized, and the formula seemed destined to obscurity?” A simple check shows that, far from keeping Essiac tea under wraps, the Resperin corporation has sold and is continuing to sell Essiac tea to the public. The only pharmaceutical company Fassa mentions is actively engaged in promoting Essiac tea, not covering it up.

Another factual claim in Fassa’s article is that “some providers are using irradiated herbs and even replacing sheep sorrel herbs, a common weed declared as illegal for use in Canada, with curly dock, a weed similar to red sorrel. This is critical since it has been laboratory tested and proven that sheep sorrel is the actual cancer cell killer in Essiac Tea.” A quick check reveals many companies in Canada that sell sheep sorrel legally. These shops in Canada are selling the stuff uselessly, because there’s no scientific evidence that sheep sorrel does anything to stop cancer, but they’re selling it nonetheless.

If these claims by Fassa are falsehoods, why should you believe his grander claims?

3. In order to cover up the supposed “truth” that Essiac tea supposedly has been proven to cure cancer, the government and “Big Pharma” would have to censor such research to keep it from getting to the public. But no government or pharmaceutical corporation controls all peer-reviewed scientific journals, or even a significant portion of them. The vast majority of scientific journals are controlled by neither. “Big Pharma” and government simply don’t have the ability to keep high-quality clinical research about a cancer treatment from being published, because there are so, so many outlets for publication these days.

Neither do government and “Big Pharma” have the wherewithal to keep the word from getting out once a publication has been made. No government, and no pharmaceutical corporation, controls the content of the world’s biggest free and open-source database of scientific journals, Google Scholar. Go ahead and search that database for any journal articles describing “Essiac tea” and a “clinical trial”. Oh, you’ll find a few dozen journal articles with those two phrases in them, all right, but none of them describe an actual clinical trial regarding Essiac tea. In fact, most of the articles returned from that search note that Essiac tea has not been shown to work in clinical trials in treating cancer.

4. Some clinical trials for other modes of “alternative” healing regarding cancer have been conducted, and have been published, and do show a positive effect. In contrast to the lack of published clinical trials for Essiac tea, you’ll find that a search for a “clinical trial” regarding the effect of “meditation” on “cancer” returns more than 8,500 journal articles, including many journal articles reporting the results of clinical trials that show meditation can have a positive effect for cancer patients.

No big pharmaceutical corporation makes money off of meditation. If Big Pharma really controls science so profoundly, they would have killed off all the meditation studies and prevented the research results regarding meditation from having been published, wouldn’t they have? And yet there they are, published in all their glory. This is another way in which the “Big Pharma controls everything” claim just doesn’t wash.

5. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, a publication sympathetic to alternative medicines, released a report describing a retrospective non-experimental study of breast cancer patients. That study found no difference between Essiac tea users and non-users in health-related quality of life or mood. Does anyone want to seriously claim that “Big Pharma” and the “government” have a controlling anti-alternative-medicine stranglehold over The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine? Consider that the journal’s Editor in Chief is a certified practitioner of homeopathy and accupuncture before you go too far down that road.

6. A publication in The Internet Journal of Alternative Medicine also notes the utter lack of clinicial trials showing an effect of Essiac tea on cancer. Does the supposed conspiracy of silence extend this far too? Really? Did you know that the Editor in Chief of that publication is head of a complementary medicine research unit? What possible motivation would the journal’s Editor have to hide evidence that complementary medicine works? What shred of evidence exists to show that this journal is involved in such a conspiracy? The answer is that there is not a single shred of evidence to this effect.

6. Is alternative medicine guru Andrew Weill in on the “Big Pharma” conspiracy too? Weill has looked at the evidence and actively tells his patients to stay away from Essiac Tea because it doesn’t work and, worse, can damage internal organs. Have the feds bought Andrew Weill off too? Is there a single shred of evidence to document such a coverup?

The claim that “Big Pharma” and the U.S. government are colluding to hide an Essiac Tea miracle cure for cancer falls flat on its face when you consider the rejection of Essiac Tea cancer cure hokum by alternative medicine researchers themselves. The National Cancer Institute, the Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, the American Cancer Society and Cancer Research UK have meanwhile published articles concluding that Essiac tea just doesn’t work, showing a strong consensus against the stuff.

There are enough real, actual conspiracies in the world to uncover. Making up ridiculously fake conspiracies to promote a fake “cancer cure” that doesn’t really work? That’s nasty, mean and cruel to the people who might actually be fooled in their desperation and buy some of the junk, postponing treatments that work and quite possibly poisoning their bodies in the process. If you are one of the people who keep spreading this “Essiac cancer cure” hoax around the internet then please, for pity’s sake, just stop it.

Nick Rahall Acts To Make It Easier For Coal Companies To Poison West Virginians

Earlier this year, a coal power plant operated by Freedom Industries dumped ten thousand gallons of the highly toxic coal-processing chemical MCHM into the Elk River. The pollution left hundreds of thousands of people in West Virginia without drinking water for an extremely long period of time.

So, what has West Virginia’s U.S. Representative Nick Rahall done about the problem?

He wrote H.R. 5078, a bill that seeks to make it easier for coal companies to dump pollution into West Virginia waters. Yesterday, that bill was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

“I stand with our coal, Rahall said in a triumphant statement celebrating his pro-pollution legislation. Most of the bill’s supporters were Republicans, but Rahall is a Democrat.

Rahall’s infatuation with dirty coal can’t simply be chalked up to his own individual problems, however. The Democratic Party establishment has enabled, and even encouraged, Rahall to promote pollution by coal companies. This year, the House Majority PAC paid for advertisements celebrating Rahall’s work to protect coal companies from reasonable safety and environmental regulations, saying proudly, “Nick Rahall isn’t against coal!”

The House Majority PAC isn’t a fringe player in Democratic Party politics. It’s a central player. The executive director of the PAC is a former campaign director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The operations director is a former Obama campaign staffer, and worked to enforce compliance at the Democratic National Committee. The PAC’s development director was recently Managing Director of Finance and Marketing at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

When Nick Rahall attacks environmental protections in order to serve his friends in Big Coal, he’s got powerful Democratic Party insiders standing right behind him.

Did the “Single Issue” Mayday PAC fund Canvassers on ObamaCare, Gun Rights and Global Warming?

A tip of the hat this morning to Miscellany Blue and DocDawg for breaking the news over the past week that Lawrence Lessig’s Mayday PAC had funnelled $103,000 to Stark 360, a political action committee (PAC) founded at the end of August 2014. This amount was a huge boon to Stark PAC, amounting to 94.5% of Stark PAC’s funding for this reporting period. Whatever the Stark 360 PAC has done in the past month has been made possible by the Mayday PAC.

The Stark 360 PAC’s plan is not hidden. In its prospectus for potential donors, it openly declares that with received funds it will:

  • “Restore the Republican party back to the liberty-loving citizens of New Hampshire”;
  • Promote “Right-to-work” legislation;
  • “Fix Voter Fraud (100K same-day registrants in 2012)”;
  • “Win Governor’s race (1st Millennial Gov and former Chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire)”;
  • “Alliance with a dozen liberty/conservative state PACs and 501c4″;
  • Strengthen “grassroots relationships through the Young Americans for Liberty, The Free State Project, Freedomworks,
    and other NH-based groups.”

Ignore linguistic slips (“right-to-work” equals fewer rights at work) and factual errors (“same-day registrants” are not committing voter fraud). The point is that the Mayday PAC has almost completely funded a highly partisan enterprise to promote a conservative political agenda. Nowhere in the prospectus is the issue of campaign finance reform or the corrosive effect of money on politics ever mentioned. The only use of the words “campaign finance” is to describe in glowing terms the work experience of special adviser Dan Backer on behalf of dozens of PACs and leadership committees inside the DC beltway.

The Mayday PAC declares that it is interested in one and only one issue: spending lots and lots of money in political campaigns in order to… yes, get money out of political campaigns. But as Blue and DocDawg document, the Stark 360 PAC leadership is not only not opposed to big money in political campaigns, but rather has repeatedly and explicitly declared its opposition to any campaign finance reform.


Dan Backer, Stark360’s Treasurer and Special Advisor, was also the victorious attorney in the recent and notorious McCutcheon v FECsupreme court case (the decision that has opened the floodgates to unlimited aggregate contributions to political campaigns)…  Stark360’s chairman, Aaron Day, is himself is a vocal critic of reform measures such as New Hampshire’s SB 120, a bill imposing minor new reporting requirements on New Hampshire PACs which Day disparagingly christened ‘The Incumbent Protection, Racketeering, and Nullification of the 1st Amendment Bill.'”

Miscellany Blue:

“One of the goals identified by Stark 360 in its prospectus is to … return Bill O’Brien to his former role as Speaker of the House. O’Brien leaves no doubt where he stands on campaign finance reform. ‘Every time you hear a Democrat say that we need a Constitutional Amendment to reverse the Citizens United decision,’ he writes, ‘understand what they really want: the government to have the authority to regulate, tax, and deny independent political speech.'”

If you’re left wondering why the supposedly single-issue pro-campaign-finance-reform Mayday PAC would be funnelling money to the anti-campaign-finance-reform PAC Stark 360, you’re not alone.

The Mayday PAC promised it would focus on the issue of campaign finance reform in its activities, avoiding other subjects. “We’re not interested in pushing policies for the Left or the Right,” promised the Mayday PAC in its pitch to potential donors. “Most believe that voters do not vote on the basis of money in politics… The objective of our campaign in 2014 is thus to prove that this view is wrong, by running five campaigns in a wide range of districts on the basis of this issue,” the Mayday PAC declared.

Those were the Mayday PAC’s promises. But what messages were in the literature distributed by Stark 360 and paid for thanks to the Mayday PAC? William Kostric, an associate of the Stark 360 leadership through New Hampshire’s Free State Project, posted an employment message on behalf of the Stark 360 PAC:

“Get paid to Stop Scott Brown! Mayday pac is funding Stark 360 for this local initiative to keep the worst of the worst out of NH. PM me and I’ll give you the meet up location or call 603-260-1258.  — William”

Kostric conveniently posted images describing the work (distribution of literature)…

Work for Stark 360, distributing political literature in New Hampshire

What is that literature? Kostric helpfully posts images of that, too: hundreds of “Stop Scott Brown Signs”…

Stop Scott Brown Signs with lots of political text paid for by the Stark 360 PAC

The text of those signs is important. First, at the bottom (although it’s hard to make out) is the text “Paid for by Stark 360 PAC.” The rest of the text on the sign reads:

In the Sept. 9th New Hampshire Republican Primary, vote for ANY New Hampshire Republican, but don’t vote for Massachusetts Republican-In-Name-Only Scott Brown.

* Received an ‘F’ from the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition and a ‘C’ from the National Rifle Association because he supports legislation hostile to 2nd Amendment civil rights.

* Accepted millions in out-of-state campaign contributions, then voted for billions in government handouts to special interests.

* Voted for RomneyCare as a Massachusetts State Senator, which became the national model for ObamaCare.

* Supplied the deciding vote in favor of President Obama’s federal financial regulation legislation.

* Flip-flopped on man-made climate change.

Learn more at anybodybutbrown.org

The website anybodybutbrown.org, dominated by anti-Obamacare and pro-gun messages and devoid of any call for campaign finance reform, is explicit in declaring that it was paid for by the Stark 360 committee — which, remember, is 94.5% paid for by the Mayday PAC:

AnybodyButBrown.org was paid for by the Stark 360 PAC, which was almost wholly funded by the Mayday PAC

A contemporaneous Campaign finance report for the Stark 360 PAC indicates that only $5500 in the period came from sources other than the Mayday PAC. At the same time, $6000 in contributions to candidates were reported, more than consuming that amount. Roughly $6000 more was spent in legal expenses, $900 on polling, and $28,900 on graphic design, printing, voter services and mailers. It seems that some Mayday PAC funds must have been spent in support of sustaining the Stark360 organization and in support of the literature shown above, which neglects campaign finance issues and instead focuses on promoting a conservative political agenda.

Is the Mayday PAC a willing participant or an unwitting dupe in these shenanigans? I can’t say, but practically speaking it doesn’t matter. If I had been thinking of contributing to the Mayday PAC to fight for campaign finance reform, I’d be putting away my checkbook right now. If I had given to the Mayday PAC in the past, believing the promises about how money would be spent, I’d be asking for a refund.

MayDay PAC Candidate Fails

The MayDay PAC, run by Lawrence Lessig, was established with the idea that it would support ethical reform in campaign finance, by providing enough funding to elect political candidates with integrity to the U.S. Congress. MayDay promised to promote “fundamental reform in the way elections are funded”, helping candidates who would take “small dollar contributions”.

mayday pac failureAs part of this agenda, the MayDay PAC supported Republican candidate Jim Rubens in his campaign to represent New Hampshire in the U.S. Senate. However, the MayDay PAC’s efforts in this regard have turned out to be a double failure.

Failure 1: Jim Rubens wasn’t really a reform candidate. The Rubens for Senate campaign was boosted by Super PACs backed by big-money donors with Washington D.C. insider connections, including a PAC from Virginia that masqueraded as a New Hampshire political organization.

Failure 2: The MayDay PAC was unable to provide sufficient support to enable Jim Rubens to achieve electoral success. Jim Rubens lost yesterday’s Republican Party U.S. Senate primary in New Hampshire, getting only 24 percent of the Republican vote, about half of the number of votes that the victor, Scott Brown, received.

Is it possible for small donations to overcome the corrupting influence of big money in politics? The MayDay PAC’s activities in New Hampshire this year don’t provide any evidence for it.

The Mystery of the Red Eggs

Autumn is near, and so, animals are beginning to prepare for the coming winter. This morning, while looking out the window, I saw something stuck on the outside pane. Looking closer, I saw two patches of tiny red dots, each smaller than the holes in a window screen.

I presume these are eggs. I presume that these are insect eggs, but I’m not sure.

Can anyone, an entomologist, perhaps, solve this mystery, and identify these small objects?

mysterious red eggs

Middle School Kids: Stuck in a Home School Rut? Try a bit of Code.Org

Every day, it seems more and more kids in the crucial middle school years are in the middle of a home schooling situation. Are you one of those kids? Maybe it’s because your parents are so zealous that they don’t want you to hear about ideas outside the family religion. Maybe it’s because you left your public school for a private school that made promises that it couldn’t keep, leaving you in the lurch. Maybe you were in the middle of an awful bullying situation. Maybe you’ve just decided that you’d like to learn independently for a while.

No matter what brought you to a home schooling situation, the reality shared by middle-school-aged kids I know is that home schooling can get really, really boring if it just replicates the same old subjects from traditional public schools. A home school situation best avoids boredom when it stretches for something a little bit different… a little bit geeky.

If you are a desperately bored middle schooler who’s being taught at home, suggest code.org to your parents. Code.org is a completely free non-profit system of interlocking online lessons designed to teach young people how to program computers.

Middle-schoolers, start with the first hour of code:

The first hour feels like a video game, because it uses the “Angry Birds” graphics and sounds to guide kids like you through 20 levels of puzzles with logic “blocks” that are stitched together to make an algorithm (a set of rules that a computer can understand). The obvious goal is to guide the classic red angry bird to the classic green pig. The hidden goal is to teach the fundamental basics of code without scaring a wary middle schooler away:

Hour of Code: Angry Birds teach Kids how to write code

Over time, using a system that even the Ivy Leagues use, graphic logic blocks give way to underlying Javascript code and, before you know it, you’re programming a computer.

If you like what you’ve learned in that first hour of code, ask your parents to check out plans for a K-8 introductory course (about 20 hours of work). If that looks good, there are more advanced middle-school curricula for science-focused programming and math-based programming. And hey, if you’re a pretty smart middle schooler, you might even try out the Exploring Computer Science course, a year-long experience that works with the related Scratch block system.

Good luck, kid. I’ll leave you with a tip: if you really want to sell your parents on the experience, get them to work play through the hour of code themselves.

Fight For The Future, Slowly With Cats

On Wednesday, I’ll be writing an article for Irregular Times, but I’ll be doing it slowly. Every couple of minutes, I’ll get up to grab a cup of coffee, or take a walk around the block, or take a nap. Thus shall you know my power!

Would that work?

Battle For The Net is coordinating an example of this kind of activism. They’re orchestrating an Internet slowdown, which, though it won’t actually slow down the Internet, will simulate what a relative slowdown might look like when Net Neutrality rules are abandoned, allowing Internet Service Providers to give preferential high-speed access to big corporate web sites that pay enormous access fees.

“Cable companies would have the power to discriminate against online content and applications — they could pick winners and losers, shake sites down for fees, block content for political reasons, and make it easier for Internet users to view content the cable companies own,” explains Fight For The Future.

Taking part in the Internet Slowdown protest will be sites like Kickstarter, Foursquare, WordPress, Vimeo, reddit, Mozilla, Cheezburger… Hold on. Cheezburger? As in I Can Haz Cheezburger, the site that delivers Internet memes such as cats and bananas?!?

Is a slowdown of cute kitty memes what will motivate netizens into action? If so, is that a good thing?

internet slowdown cat

Congress Gets Back To Work-Ish

house of representatives askewBefore yesterday, the last time the U.S. House of Representatives took a roll call vote, it was the first day of August. Since then the Republican members of the House have been traveling across their districts to give loud, angry speeches about how President Barack Obama isn’t doing enough to confront the serious problems of our times.

So, when, after a month and a week of summer vacation, the congressional Republicans finally came back to work in on Capitol Hill, we finally had the chance to see what kind of decisive action the GOP would take if it had control of the White House again. We did see action from the House Republicans… of a sort.

Yesterday, the Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives arranged for the passage of three bills:

– H R 5089, to rename a post office in Mulberry, Florida
– H R 5019, to rename a post office in Rochester, New York
– H R 4283, to provide for lawnmowers, weed trimmers, chainsaws, electrical generators, water pumps and batteries for a place near Smith Gulch, Idaho where people like to go fishing sometimes.

Is that the best the Republicans can do to show us that they are a political party prepared to take action?

Voting for President: All About Limiting the Damage?

Since Peregrin Wood explained this Spring why he would no longer support a run by Bernie Sanders for President of the United States in 2016, I’ve been thinking about whether I agree and why. Peregrin felt that Sanders went one step too far by voting to confirm David Barron to a prominent position in the federal judiciary. Barron, you see, wrote the legal opinion asserting that the U.S. government can kill its citizens without proof, without trial, indeed even without arrest.

I agree wholeheartedly with Peregrin that this move by Barron makes the relationship between the U.S. Government and its citizens tyrannical. I agree wholeheartedly that Senator Sanders’ vote to confirm Barron is worthy of condemnation. However, I just haven’t been able to take that last step with Peregrin and condemn a Sanders for President candidacy on that basis.

My thoughts on the subject are not settled, but I find myself gravitating toward the following points:

1. The presidency does not attract saints. Rather, it attracts people who have a desire for power. To run for the White House, you’ve got to be egotistical enough to think either that you really are the best choice to wield the power of that office, or unethical enough not to care that someone else could wield power more responsibly than you. In short, anyone who runs for President is likely a major-league asshole, and anyone who takes hold of the presidency is likely to take actions reflecting that fact.

2. The way that the political system is currently set up, power-mad assholes who make promises to other power-mad assholes with money are most likely to make it through the presidential election process, simply because running for president has become an big-budget industrialized business and those who attract the most money tend to win.

3. Given this, the ideal course of action for citizens as a group would be to change the system so that presidential power is more effectively distributed to other offices (dissuading the most power-hungry of aspirants) and so that elections are not so dependent on fundraising.

4. Until that ideal is achieved, voting for the least assholic of the assholes is a reasonable course of action for an individual citizen.

5. Bernie Sanders is a possible presidential aspirant, so we can presumptively classify him as an egotistical ass, but look at his record and it’s hard for a liberal to deny that he’s the least assholic of the assholes. Given the alternatives — staying home and voting for a bigger jerk — it’s reasonable to vote for Sanders.

These are my thoughts. What are yours?