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Time For Diane Rehm To Retire

Yesterday, NPR talk show host Diane Rehm confronted U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders with something that could derail his 2016 presidential campaign. “You have dual citizenship with Israel,” Rehm said.

It was an astonishing moment – because what Diane Rehm said wasn’t true at all. Senator Sanders does not have dual citizenship with Israel. He was born in the USA.

The idea that Bernie Sanders has dual Israeli-American citizenship is just another stupid right wing conspiracy theory spread on the Internet, equivalent to the rumors that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, not in the United States. Behind both rumors is bigotry. In the case of Obama, the rumors were racist, meaning to imply that no one with African ancestry could be trusted with the White House. In the case of Sanders, the bigotry is anti-Semitic, implying that Sanders can’t be trusted because he is Jewish, rather than Christian. All Jews, the conspiracy suggests, are really Israelis at heart, and as foreigners, will betray the United States the first chance they get.

When Senator Sanders explained to Rehm that he doesn’t have dual citizenship at all, Rehm retorted that she had proof. “I understand from a list we have gotten that you were on that list,” she said. A list? That’s a play straight out of the McCarthyist handbook.

The truth is that this supposed list is a fraud. When she was confronted at the end of her radio show, Diane Rehm admitted that she got her information from a comment on a post on Facebook.

People listen to Diane Rehm’s nationally-broadcast radio show because they believe that Rehm has the intelligence and wisdom to do careful research about the people she interviews, with a staff to support her efforts. That Rehm doesn’t even bother to fact check information she finds in comments on Facebook shows that this belief in Rehm’s integrity and intelligence is not well-founded.

A radio show that repeats bigoted, outlandish rumors found on Facebook as if they are fact has no place on NPR. It is time for Diane Rehm to retire.

Rick Santorum’s Worry Record on Same-Sex Marriage

In 2015, Rick Santorum is running for the Republican nomination for President of the United States.

In 2006, Rick Santorum took to the floor of the Senate to argue for S.J. Res. 1, a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would expressly outlaw any definition of marriage other than heterosexual coupling. Then-Senator Santorum asked a series of questions about what might happen if same-sex couples were allowed to marry:

“Will speech against same-sex marriage be allowed to continue unfettered?

“Will anyone be able to again say that marriage should be between a man and a woman without being branded a bigot?

“Will a minister be able to preach from I Corinthians 6:9 that the unjust and immoral such as adulterers, prostitutes and sodomites will
not inherit the earth?

“Will our local Catholic Charities lose their tax-exempt status if they do not bend their religious faith to the new norm?

“Will a rabbi or priest be forced to preside over same-sex marriages in order to continue to be able to consecrate traditional marriages?

“The scope of the ramifications of this debate are unclear, but there is no doubt that very serious issues arise. As Maggie Gallagher noted
in her article, “Marc Stern is looking more and more like a reluctant prophet: ‘It’s going to be a train wreck,’ he said ‘A very dangerous
train wreck.'”

Now that same-sex marriage is legal for a majority of the country, let’s check off Rick Santorum’s scary list of outcomes and see if they came to pass.

“Will speech against same-sex marriage be allowed to continue unfettered?” YES. Speech against same-sex marriage contrinues, unfettered by the law. The only thing is, more and more people disagree with that speech, and are feeling free to say so:

Pew Research Center. May 12-18, 2015. N=2,002 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.5.

“Do you strongly favor, favor, oppose or strongly oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally?”
May 2008, June 2008, April 2009, August 2009, April 2012, June 2012: “… allowing gay and lesbian couples …”

Favor Oppose Unsure/
% % %  


57 39 5  


49 41 10  


54 39 7  


51 42 8  


49 44 8  


49 40 11  

6/28 – 7/9/2012

48 44 8  


48 44 9  


47 43 11  

2/22 – 3/1/2011

45 46 9  

8/25 – 9/6/2010

43 47 10  

7/21 – 8/5/2010

41 48 10  


39 53 8  


35 54 11  


39 52 9  


40 52 8  


38 49 13  


35 57 8  


27 65 8  

“Will anyone be able to again say that marriage should be between a man and a woman without being branded a bigot?” Well, NO, but that’s because people don’t have the right to not be called a bigot. More and more people are deciding that discrimination against gay people is bigoted, and they’re calling it bigotry, and they’re calling to the people who continue to call for discrimination bigots. So what? See “Free Speech,” above.

“Will a minister be able to preach from I Corinthians 6:9 that the unjust and immoral such as adulterers, prostitutes and sodomites will not inherit the earth? YES. Ministers continue to be able to say whatever they want. Everyone else continues to be able to disagree with them.

“Will our local Catholic Charities lose their tax-exempt status if they do not bend their religious faith to the new norm?” NO. The Catholic church continues to oppose same-sex marriage as an article of faith (which means “special religious thingy we don’t have to justify with facts or logic”), and continues to hold tax-exempt status.

“Will a rabbi or priest be forced to preside over same-sex marriages in order to continue to be able to consecrate traditional marriages? NO. This simply hasn’t happened.

Rick Santorum wasn’t speaking from the Republican fringes back in 2006. He was representing the mainstream of Republican political predictioneering. Looking back from the vantage point of 2015, it’s clear that Santorum didn’t have a clear vision of the future then. Will Republicans reject or embrace the new set of doomsday predictions Rick Santorum is offering today?

House Democrats Fail To Block Amendment Banning License Plate Surveillance Cameras By Department of Transportation

Yesterday, the appropriations bill for the Department of Transportation passed the U.S. House of Representatives – but not without many amendments. My mind was caught by a particular amendment offered by Darrell Issa which passed with a vote of 297 to 129.

The amendment bans the Department of Transportation from purchasing any cameras “for the purpose of collecting or storing vehicle license plate numbers.”. The placement of cameras for reading license plate numbers has aroused strong civil liberties concerns, as the FBI has been using these cameras to feed into a system that is capable of tracking where Americans go in their cars, even when they are not suspected of any crime. Such use is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment’s limitation of search to that approved by a warrant specifically noting the people to be searched. Cameras that automatically photograph license plates and upload the photographs to computers that can automatically read the license plate numbers and store the information are creating a huge number of permanent security checkpoints on roads across the country.

license plate reader camera

“Increasingly, all of this data is being fed into massive databases that contain the location information of many millions of innocent Americans stretching back for months or even years,” explains ACLU staff attorney Catherine Crump. The Department of Homeland Security has, in the past, requested these records for its own purposes, without any search warrant.

An extra layer of interest in this amendment comes when we consider who supports the amendment and who does not. Representative Issa himself does not have a strong record of working to protect civil liberties. Furthermore, most of the U.S. Representatives who voted against the Issa amendment were Republicans. Like Issa, the Republican Party in general has a record of approving the federal government’s attacks on the Fourth Amendment’s protections from unreasonable search and seizure. Only 19 House Republicans voted against the Issa amendement.

The Democratic vote was split, with 110 voting against the Issa amendment and 72 voting in favor of it. Both liberal Democrats and right wing Democrats were on both sides of the vote.

So, what’s going on with this amendment?

Last year, a similar amendment to Transportation funding was passed by the House, though it does not appear to have made it into the final funding bill to be passed into law. That amendment was introduced by Louisiana Republican John Fleming, though, not by Darrell Issa. Fleming used civil liberties arguments to justify his amendment, saying, “In the wake of the revelations about NSA data collection, Americans are now learning that police cars and traffic cameras are similarly accumulating a picture of their lives….Just like phone metadata, this geo-location data with time stamps can be used to reconstruct intimate details of our lives, who we visit, where we worship, from whom we seek counseling, and how we might legally and legitimately protest the actions of our own government.”

Last year, as this year, the majority of Democrats voted against the amendment to ban the Department of Transportation cameras from capturing or storing license plate numbers across the USA. In opposition to that bill, Representative Tom Latham offered the weak protest that the legislation could be used to block the purchase of cameras used for purposes other than surveillance that might only accidentally take photographs that include a license plate number. That objection clearly doesn’t apply to the Issa amendment this year, which states that cameras are banned if they are purchased for the “purpose” of capturing or storing license plate numbers.

So, why are so many congressional Democrats consistently opposed to legislation that would protect Americans from unconstitutional search and seizure, and why do most congressional Republicans support it, when they have demonstrated such strong contempt for constitutional rights in other occasions?

The text of any debate that may have accompanied yesterday’s vote has not yet been released by the Library of Congress, and corporate journalists are not yet reporting on this amendment. So, for the time being, this vote is a mystery. When more material becomes available, however, I’ll do what I can to clear it up.

Foreign Nationalism

In the United States of America, July 4th is Independence Day. A month in advance, department store shelves are stocked with various nationalist items…

Pro-American Nationalist Messages, Made in China

… all of which are made in China. The inexpensive prices of these trinkets, given the immense expense of their transportation, suggests sweatshop labor.

Exactly whose independence is being celebrated on this day?

Skylock Introduces Us To The Idiotic Side Of The Internet Of Things

Longtime readers of Irregular Times know that, as card carrying tree-huggers, we are big supporters of bicycling as an alternative to driving a car. Even we must admit however, that there are downsides to a bike-centered lifestyle.

Take, for example the keys that fit into traditional bike locks. They’re bulky and heavy, coming in at at least three quarters of an inch long, not quite a tenth of an inch thick, and perhaps two whole ounces. What a burden! What’s more, traditional bike locks come with two keys to keep track of – one to carry with you, and a backup in case you lose the first. So many keys are confusing and add clutter to our lives!

What is a bicyclist to do?

Have no fear, intrepid peddler. We are living in the dawning of the age of the Internet of Things (which was originally called the Internet of Stuff). So, now you can just add an Internet Thing to your bicycle, and all the muss and fuss will be taken care of for you.

skylockWhereas the traditional, old school bike lock system came along with a big, heavy two-ounce key that you had to slip into your pocket or onto your key ring, with a backup just in case, with the new Internet-connected bike lock named Skylock, you don’t need a key at all! You just need a smartphone, with a special app that unlocks the Skylock. That smartphone is about 50 times bulkier and heavier than a traditional bike lock key… which doesn’t really feel so good in your pocket if you’re pedaling a bike, but hey… you don’t need a key!

Instead of having to worry about a key to carry and its spare, with Skylock, you have just the one smartphone, so that, if you lose the smartphone… well, um… you could always call a friend and ask to borrow a smartphone, except… well, um… your phone is missing, but you could always just hop on your bike to see where you might have left your smartphone, except… well, um… your bike won’t move, because it’s all locked up.

Oh dear. All of a sudden, the convenience of the Internet of Things doesn’t seem so convenient.

Skylock seems like one of those products that’s a piece of engineering in search of a rationale. I’ve never met a bicyclist who has expressed a burning desire for a lock that is connected to the Internet. However, I have met many young startup enthusiasts who have been searching for a new way to embed communications chips in ordinary objects in order to make a fortune.

Bicyclists like to go the distance, taking their wheels out into the countryside, up hills and down into valleys. In other words, bicyclists taking a road trip are rather likely to end up in places where cell coverage isn’t strong, and where there aren’t many easily available electronic plugs for recharging a smartphone. Its nice that Skylock comes with a little solar panel to keep it charged, but it still won’t work unless it’s paired with a smartphone, so bicyclists using the Skylock are not only forced to take a smartphone with them everywhere they go, but they will become stranded if their smartphones run out of power. If bicyclists should happen to lock up their bicycles in one of those areas where cell service isn’t strong, well, they’ll be out of luck then too.

On the upside, Skylock will, using its nifty Internet Of Things sensors and mobile connectivity, notify your social media friends if you should get into an accident, such as getting hit by a car, or riding off the edge of a cliff… unless, that is, the electronic components of the Skylock happen to get damaged in the accident. So, Skylock will really only send alerts to your friends if you have relatively harmless little wipeouts while on the road – the kind that don’t require medical attention, but would be embarrassing if your friends found out about them.

Also, Skylock can make your bike ownership a social thing, so that you can just give your friends your Skylock password to let them ride your bike whenever they want, just by walking up to your bike, and clicking on the app to disable your lock. This, Skylock insiders tell us, does not make your bicycle at all vulnerable to theft by hackers, because of… you know… stuff. I mean, who ever heard of hackers breaking into secure servers?

Skylock will be selling for $249, which is actually more money than many people pay for the bicycles that the Skylock is supposed to protect from theft. For that reason, engineers are now working on the Skylocklock, a second lock which will prevent the theft of the Skylock.

Senator Rick Santorum, Not Exactly Leaving Science to the Scientists

Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum, 2015, on how religious people worried about global warming should shut up and “leave science to the scientists”:

“The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think that we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists… When we get involved with political and controversial scientific theories, I think the church is probably not as forceful and credible.”

Senator Rick Santorum, 2004, backing up his religious concerns about abortion with reference to science:

“Yet even this week, Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand, a pediatrician at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and a witness in the
Nebraska case, testified that the procedure would cause “severe and excruciating” pain to the fetus. He said, ‘What we have noted from studies of premature infants is that they have a much lower threshold for pain, meaning they are more sensitive to pain than the full term infant. In fact, some types of pain are three times greater sensitivity in the pre-term baby as compared to the full term neonate.'”

Senator Rick Santorum, 2003, backing up his religious concerns about abortion with reference to science:

“If you look at the polling data now on abortion, Roe v. Wade is on the edge; it is not where the American public is. One of the reasons
for that, I happen to believe, is medical science. I saw a TV commercial the other day of what I think is called the 4-D sonogram, where you can actually see these 3- or 4-D images–I don’t know what they are–but color images of a child in the womb.”

Gumming Up The Wolf Hunt Pipeline

This weekend saw the biggest anti-pipeline protest in Minnesota history, organized by Tar Sands Resistance. It’s not just about the Keystone XL pipeline. Many other pipelines are being planned to bring crude oil from the Alberta tar sands into the United States to be processed and then sold for burning, creating the risk of massive pollution of our earth and water, and the certainty of the release of huge amounts of toxins and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The new expanse of pipelines is being created with the same old level of liability funding for the oil spills that will inevitably result.

There were a variety of predictably themed signs at the protest: Honor the Earth, Climate Action Now, and Great Lakes & Tar Sands Don’t Mix.

The signs that struck me the most, however, seemed off topic at first: No Wolf Hunt, and What Happens To The Water And The Wolves Happens To People.

no wolf hunt minnesota

What does wolf hunting have to do with crude oil pipelines? An industrial perspective will see no connection, but an ecological perspective will.

Ecologically, all living things within an ecosystem are connected through a series of complex interactions. We humans are not exempted from these connections. When human beings put a pipeline through a wilderness, and the pipeline corrodes and leaks crude oil into streams and rivers, the diversity of life that ecosystem is degraded. When human beings kill all the top predators in an area, and herbivores begin to reproduce with greatly reduced restraint, the diversity of life in that ecosystem is degraded.

Pipelines and wolf hunts are symptoms of a larger problem – the dominance of industrial thinking over ecological thinking in our culture. This isn’t just a problem for wildlife. Humans suffer as well. Thus, Howling For Wolves points out that “A healthy wolf population supports healthy habitat for wildlife and humans.

The saddest thing of all is that so many humans have built lives so separated from the ecology of their surroundings that they don’t even recognize the difference between a healthy habitat and what they see outside their windows.

No, There Is Not Poo On 60 Percent Of Toothbrushes

MyFox Chicago writes: “GROSS: Your toothbrush probably has feces on it”. RawStory writes that your toothbrush “probably has poop on it”. On the Huffington Post, we find the headline “Your Toothbrush Likely Has Poop On It”.

The storyline is simple: Scientists did a study of the toothbrushes of people who live with other people and share bathrooms, and found that 60 percent of toothbrushes have human shit on them, and most of that shit doesn’t even belong to the people who are brushing their teeth. MNT Knowledge Center writes that “more than 60% of toothbrushes were contaminated with fecal matter – most likely from other bathroom users”.

Get the message? Your toothbrush is poopy! Panic!

toothbrush fecal coliform pooOk, actually don’t panic. Try thinking instead.

These articles, and thousands of others printed by journalists this last week, refer to the results of a study presented at the latest meeting of the American Society for Microbiology. That source should tip people off that the frightening headlines about feces on toothbrushes are actually referring to something a bit more subtle.

Look at the original press release from the American Society for Microbiology, and you’ll see that the research didn’t actually measure fecal matter in toothbrushes. Instead, the researchers measured fecal coliforms – bacteria that often life in feces – that were on the toothbrushes.

The trick is that fecal coliforms are not found exclusively in people’s shit. They are found, as this study suggests, living on toothbrushes. They are also found on people’s smart phones. Coliform bacteria live on computer keyboards and in coffee mugs and kitchen sinks. Kitchen cutting boards have twice the amount of fecal coliform bacteria as toilet seats. Fecal coliform live in shoes and TV remotes and lamp switches and

Fecal coliform bacteria also live in men’s beards. A lot of men grow beards these days, and when men with beards brush their teeth, their toothbrushes touch their beards, and can become contaminated with coliform bacteria in this way. It doesn’t mean that there’s shit on the toothbrush.

Coliform bacteria are all around us – even in the air and water. That’s what you get when you’re on a planet full of living things. If you can’t deal with that, you might try sterilizing yourself on the Moon – but you’d probably get sick as a result, as you wouldn’t have the beneficial microorganisms that we rely on to keep us healthy.

More Evidence of Racial Discrimination, this time in Academics

Our reader Frank has left comments issuing a challenge for Irregular Times and Irregular Times’ readers to provide “ONE EXAMPLE” of evidence pointing to “white privilege” and discrimination against black people in America. Earlier this week, I named and provided references to not one but six research studies that document discrimination against black people in controlled field experiments (also known as “audit studies”) in which actual auditors or paper applications are paired in a way so that the only difference between them is racial identity. Over and over again in these six research studies, statistically and substantively significant results indicate that among equally qualified pairs of applicants, white members of the pairs are more likely to receive positive treatment than black members of the pairs.

Frank is still working at responding to the first of the six research articles, and I don’t mean to rush him through his work, but I would like to add a seventh piece of research. This is another recent field experiment, the results of which were published in the peer-reviewed journal Psychological Science in 2012. In that paper, authors Katherine L. Milkman, Modupe Akinola, and Dolly Chugh (professors of management at the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia Business School and New York University respectively) describe research in which they sent e-mails to 6,548 professors in all doctoral-level graduate programs in the United States. These e-mails featured requests to meet “next Monday coming from fictional people describing themselves as interested in applying to those graduate programs. The fictional applicants’ requests were of comparable written quality, differing only by names, which were selected to strongly indicate racial and gender identity. In their research results, requests by otherwise equivalent applicants with strongly typical white and male names received positive responses 26 percent more often than applicants with non-white and non-male names, indicating both racial and gender discrimination.

Boycott The Boycott Of The Boycott!

Some Americans claim that the USA has a special, enduring partnership with Israel, and that we should stand with the Israeli government no matter what. Others point out that the government is engaged in human rights abuses. To protest those human rights abuses, these people are engaging in boycotts of Israel.

U.S. Representative Brendan Boyle finds those boycotts of Israel intolerable. So, he has introduced H.R. 2645, a bill to compel the Thrift Savings Fund to divest from any company that participates in a boycott of Israel.

H.R. 2645 is a boycott of the boycott of Israel.

The Thrift Savings Fund is a savings plan for federal government employees. But what if some government employees don’t want their money to be used as an economic threat against companies considering joining in the boycott against Israel?

They can boycott the boycott of the boycott, by refusing to contribute money to the Thrift Savings Fund.

If you don’t like me suggesting this plan of action, well, I suppose you can protest this article by boycotting Irregular Times.

$314 Million to Fight the Russians Before 2020

Senator Rob Portman of Ohio took explained this week why the military contractor General Dynamics needed an extra $314 million: to fight the Russians before 2020.  His floor remarks:

“The big news when I was over there was that there was a road march being conducted by the 2nd Calvary Regiment through Central and Eastern Europe. The 2nd Calvary Regiment is in Europe, but they were taking this road march through Central and Eastern Europe. This was taking
their Strykers, which is the only permanently stationed U.S. armored vehicle in Europe, on roads and through small towns–towns that fear an
increasingly aggressive Russia on their doorstep….

“Their weapons systems are, frankly, inadequate to meet their potential mission requirements if they are called upon. They need a more powerful
gun. They need to replace their .50-caliber machine gun with a 30-millimeter cannon. The soldiers understand that. The Army understands that.

“The Army has already identified this requirement, and prior to the deteriorating situation in Europe, they slated to field this improved weapons systems to these Strykers starting in 2020. So they knew it was a problem. They knew they had to address it. Then we saw this deteriorating situation in Europe caused by Crimea’s being annexed and now the situation on the eastern border of Ukraine.

“The soldiers manning these Strykers today know that 2020 is just too far in the future.”

And so Rob Portman proposed, and so the U.S. Senate passed, an amendment appropriating $314 million to the military contractor General Dynamics to upgrade Stryker fighting vehicles ahead of schedule. Ahead of schedule means that “the first such specially equipped Stryker could be deployed within 18-months after the contract is awarded, according to the release,” which means that the $314 million will be spent to deliver the Stryker upgrades in 2018 instead of 2020. A third of a billion dollars goes to General Dynamics so that the United States can better fight Russia in a ground war in 2018 instead of in 2020.

In case you were wondering, only 6 of the 61 Senators who just voted to throw a third of a billion dollars at a military contractor to move up a ground war with Russia by two years have also cosponsored legislation to increase the federal minimum wage to a livable level. Better a contract for a fictional war overseas than real benefits at home.