Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Obama frees Manning

Also Hoss Cartwright and Willie McCovey, but it's Chelsea that we're most grateful for.

President Obama on Tuesday commuted all but four months of the remaining prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the Army intelligence analyst convicted of a 2010 leak that revealed American military and diplomatic activities across the world, disrupted Mr. Obama’s administration and brought global prominence to WikiLeaks, the recipient of those disclosures.

The decision by Mr. Obama rescued Ms. Manning, who twice tried to kill herself last year, from an uncertain future as a transgender woman incarcerated at the men’s military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. She has been jailed for nearly seven years, and her 35-year sentence was by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction.

Under the terms of the commutation announced by the White House on Tuesday, Ms. Manning is set to be freed on May 17 of this year rather than in 2045. A senior administration official said the 120-day delay was part of a standard transition period for commutations to time served, and was designed to allow for such steps as finding a place for Ms. Manning to live after her release.

The commutation also relieved the Defense Department of the difficult responsibility of Ms. Manning’s incarceration as she pushes for treatment for her gender dysphoria, including sex reassignment surgery, that the military has no experience providing.

There will be no such grace for Edward Snowden.

A number of groups have called on President Obama to pardon Edward Snowden, who is currently living in Russia under threat of US espionage charges. Thus far, the president has declined to do so, citing the absence of an active court hearing on Snowden’s charges. “I can't pardon somebody who hasn't gone before a court and presented themselves,” Obama told Der Spiegel in November.

Speaking to the Times after the order, a White House spokesman affirmed the earlier statements, drawing a stark distinction between Manning and Snowden. “Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing,” the spokesperson said.

And we wait for Julian Assange, who said via Wikileaks Tweet just a few days ago that he would turn himself over for extradition if Manning were freed.  Update: Not happening

This piece helps us understand why Obama was moved to grant clemency.

"The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven," Portia famously tells Shylock, who is demanding a pound of flesh from her friend Antonio in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. "It is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes the throned monarch better than his crown."

As the statues of them in Germany would suggest, I consider all three to be heroes and patriots of the first order to democracy and free speech.

The demonstration of those things should recognize no border and encounter no governmental interference or punishment, nor threat of, in their expression.  As we begin a new administration in this country which places little value in transparency and perhaps even less in truth, both our rights and our courage to use them will be tested.  Our first chance to do so is this Friday, all day and everywhere.

Betsy DeVos: worse than we thought

"Dodges Questions" seemed to be the most common description.

-- On campus sexual assault guidelines (also referred to as Title IX) she was noncommittal.

The guidance, which expanded gender discrimination protections on campus to sexual assault and sexual violence survivors, requires every school to have an established internal procedure to handle allegations of sexual harassment and sexual violence. It also says that every time a complaint is filed the school must promptly investigate it, independent of whether or not the crime is reported to the police.

When asked about the guidance by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), DeVos said that she was aware of many “conflicting ideas and opinions around that guidance.”

Much to the chagrin of the survivors in the audience, when further pressed about whether or not she would commit to upholding the guidance, DeVos hedged.

“It would be premature for me to do that today,” she told Casey.

Why in the world would that be?

DeVos has a documented history of donating money to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a group that has opposed legislation aimed at preventing campus sexual assault and even provides legal counsel to students under investigation for sexual assault.

And, to perhaps state the obvious, she also feels comfortable serving under President-elect Donald Trump, who has been accused of sexual assault and sexual harassment many times and even infamously bragged on tape about sexually assaulting women. Later in the hearing, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) asked DeVos specifically about that Access Hollywood tape, and DeVos confirmed that if Trump performed the actions he bragged about — kissing and groping women without their consent — in a school setting, she would consider it sexual assault.

Yeah, on the same day Trump was sued by one of his former Apprentices for calling her a liar about his sexual advances toward her.  That's a tangent we'll leave for another day.

-- DeVos may have dodged the tough questions, but she was also wrong on the easy ones.

Sen. Al Franken asked DeVos to explain her thinking on whether test scores should be used to measure students’ proficiency or their growth. That’s an important, and basic, difference because it affects how schools are labeled as succeeding or failing.

But DeVos had no idea what Franken was talking about.

“I think if I am understanding your question correctly around proficiency, I would correlate it to competency and mastery, so each student according to the advancements they are making in each subject area,” she said to Franken. 

“That’s growth,” Franken retorted, correctly. “That’s not proficiency.” By the time DeVos understood Franken’s question, she had no time left to answer. 

This wasn’t just a matter of mixing up some jargon. DeVos’s response, as well as her reactions to similar questions about the basics of federal education policy, suggested she knows little about what the department she hopes to lead actually does.

Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the committee chairman responsible for shepherding DeVos past these hazards, has severely limited the questioning.  Because the more you get to know her, the less you're going to like her.  The same holds true of her financial disclosures, which were incomplete at the time of this hearing.

(T)he fact that Democrats are protesting that their questions were cut short and that they're still waiting for DeVos to clear her required ethics review feeds into their larger narrative that Republicans are ramming through Trump’s nominees without properly vetting them.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer complained on the Senate floor that the DeVos hearing is “a mockery of the process.”

“They're afraid what the public will hear,” Schumer said. “They're afraid who these nominees represent.”

-- Then there's the outright lies.

Having no experience in public education (DeVos is a conservative billionaire who sends her children to religious private schools), it was up to her to at least prove she was prepared. She wasn’t. And she fell flat on her face in a cringe-worthy session that even Republicans struggled to defend.

At one of her lowest points, DeVos found herself defending Trump’s plan to allow guns in schools by suggesting that they are sometimes used to defend children from grizzly bears.

“I will refer back to Senator (Mike) Enzi and the school he was talking about in Wyoming ... I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the schools to protect from potential grizzlies.”

No. No there aren’t.

As reported, a Wyoming teacher was adamant that it is not school policy to keep guns on the premises to fend off bears.

Audra Morrow, a teacher at Wyoming’s Valley Elementary School from 2004 to 2006, explained to Mic that no guns were necessary to ward off ursids, and that the fence and bear spray were “absolutely” sufficient measures on their own.

“No firearms in our schools!” Morrow wrote. “We do have bear spray but have never had a problem that would require using it.”

The number of bear attacks in North America is 3 deaths per year -- none on school grounds. By contrast, there were over 200 school shootings in the United States in the last 3 years. Bears aren’t the problem, but the right to bear arms may be.

It’s important to remember that DeVos’s comment isn’t just a gaffe, it was a deliberate response meant to justify an unjustifiable position. Having no legitimate defense of Trump’s dangerous plan to remove gun-free zones on day one of his presidency, she fabricated bear attacks.

Appointing people to cabinet level positions who have no experience whatsover in the field is apparently what 'shaking up Washington' looks like.  But as Bernie Sanders pointed out, DeVos' main qualifications for the job are that she and her family have donated somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million to Republican candidates.

“My question is, and I don’t mean to be rude, but do you think if you were not a multi-billionaire, if your family had not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?”

She says yes; the rest of us doubt it.  DeVos is correct, though about her political contributions.

“My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee,” she wrote in Roll Call in 1997. “I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Trump's odds of impeachment and extra scattershooting

-- Short bets on Trump being removed from office involuntarily.

As we roll toward January 20, the bookmakers have also started leaning toward impeachment. The British-based gambling company Ladbrokes Coral opened shortly after the election in November with 3-1 odds that Trump wouldn't complete his term. By November 22 the odds were down to 9-4, according to the International Business Times. Now they're 50-50 that he won't make it through.

Paddy Power, an Irish bookmaker, is even less circumspect about Trump's future in the Oval Office. Right now the company is offering 8-1 odds that Trump will not make it six months (that's about twice the odds they gave Obama getting through his first six months), according to Salon. Now Paddy Power is offering 4-1 odds that Trump will be impeached before he completes his term. (It's worth keeping in mind both that Paddy Power is known for making adventurous bets about everything from endangered species to American politics, and that the bookmaker ended up having to pay out a lot of money when Hillary Clinton lost the election in November, meaning the bookmaker isn't infallible.)

As a disclosure, I am a Paddy Power gambler of low frequency, and while you will miss often, when you hit, it's usually big.  I wouldn't wager a dime betting on Trump's impeachment by this Congress, however, no matter how bad he gets.  Now if you gave me these odds on his resigning from office before his first term is through -- or for that matter, not running for a second term -- then I'd be all over that action.

Trump is a 'thrill of the chase' kinda guy, not so much the kill.  He's going to get tired of the daily grind quickly; he didn't start this charade to serve the public.  Washington is not going to be shaken up all that much as his base vote thinks.  If he can't make money the way he's used to, he'll have to subsist on the delight of terrorizing American corporate CEOs, and that also has limited utility after awhile.  Six months?  I'm betting against.  Four years?  I'm betting heavily in favor.  As a matter of my opinion, he's probably out no later than early 2019, a scant two years from now, so that Mike Pence can organize a run for the White House.  And if the Democrats keep on making the same mistakes -- such as overestimating the value of the DNC with a neoliberal at the helm -- Pence could win in 2020, while having an even larger Congressional majority to work with.  I can see his campaign slogan now: "Trump without the Bull(ying)".

But I'm the guy who thought Hillary Clinton would serve two terms and then Julian Castro would serve two after her, so WTF do I know?

-- Betsy DeVos, who wants to bring God to our public schools -- and vice versa -- faces her Senate panel today.

... (I)n a 2001 interview for "The Gathering," a group focused on advancing Christian faith through philanthropy, she and her husband offered a rare public glimpse of their views. Asked whether Christian schools should continue to rely on philanthropic dollars—rather than pushing for taxpayer money through vouchers—Betsy DeVos replied: "There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…[versus] what is currently being spent every year on education in this country…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God's Kingdom."

It's not just her Dominionism, her Ben Carson-ish lack of experience, and her massive political contributions that are questionable; she has controversies galore swirling about her.  Hope the coals of Hell are stoked white hot for this grilling.

-- The protests, and the number of protestors, are going to outnumber the people celebrating the new president at his inauguration.

Early estimates back in December suggested that Donald Trump’s inauguration would be attended by around 800,000 people, less than half of the 1.8 million people who attended Obama’s first inauguration (in fact, it’s less than the one million people who attended Obama’s second Inauguration). Trump can subtract at least another 18 people from that number, representing the Congressional leaders who refuse to attend the inauguration (including John Lewis).

However, Trump may not even fetch the 800K originally expected. We won’t know official numbers until we actually see them, but we do know that the main spot for the parking of buses in D.C. for inaugural events is RFK Stadium. There, only 200 charter buses have asked for permits on inauguration day. Compare that to the 1,200 bus permits requested for the Women’s March on January 21st. Right now, it’s possible that the protest march actually outdraws the inauguration. Comparatively speaking, Obama’s first inauguration had 3,000 charter bus permit requests, or 15x more than Trump’s inauguration. Obama also had 10 Inaugural balls compared to the three scheduled for Trump.

However, outside of the inaugural events on Friday, the city could see could see even bigger numbers than 800,000 expected to attend Trump’s inauguration, because some expect that demonstrators will add as much as 750K to the total. Hundreds of thousands of protesters are expected in other cities across the nation on Saturday.

It's going to be a big fucking deal this weekend.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The MLK Day Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance joins in the celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today ...

... and ruefully observes that resistance for its own sake over the next four years may be futile.

Off the Kuff thinks that the fight over Dan Patrick's bathroom bill could cause a real and lasting schism between Texas businesses and the Texas GOP.

Dan Patrick and Donald Trump both managed to make news from a certain urological perspective, blogged PDiddie at Brains and Eggs.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme sees the Texas Republican lawmakers on Trump's front lines in the war against our constitution and freedom of the press, while Socratic Gadfly takes note of the opening bell of the Texas Legislature and gets snarky about the first day's events.

Grits for Breakfast has another hideous criminal justice statistic: most TDCJ sexual assault victims are housed in a small number of units, and most are re-victimized by staff there.

Camp Toyahvale at Balmorhea is the scene of a new effort to stop fracking in Texas, and the resisters there have rejuvenated Txsharon at Bluedaze's activist heart.

Ted at jobsanger graphs a poll that shows the public approves of insurance subsidies (like the ones in the ACA) and also a public option (which was not).

The Lewisville Texan Journal's Christina Ulsh reviewed PROOF, a fascinating yet macabre tale of one Texas family by its last surviving member.

Dos Centavos previews two bands performing on Go Tejano Day at Rodeo Houston.

Neil at All People Have Value said that the work of opposing Trump is up to each of us. APHV is part of


More news from around Texas!

Politifact Texas found President-elect Trump's Tweets about Rep. John Lewis' Congressional district "mostly false".

Popehat points out that Texas cops -- specifically a former Harris County Sheriff's deputy -- put the "best" in bestiality. (NSFW)

The Dallas Observer highlights the legal strategy behind the latest anti-abortion bill filed in the Lege, and the Midland Reporter-Telegram (no bastion of liberalism) sees Texas with a big black eye over the so-called 'bathroom bill'.

Better Texas Blog reminds us that the ACA repeal would mean a lot less mental health coverage for Texans.

The Election Law Blog links to Texas AP bureau chief Manny Fernandez in the NYT about the VRA's perhaps-final effort (given AG-designate Jeff Sessions' views) to fix voting rights in Pasadena.

Truthout was on the scene in Big Bend country, more precisely Presidio County, where indigenous American water protectors have halted work on another Energy Transfer Partners (of DAPL repute) fracked-gas pipeline.

In Port Aransas, Naveena Sadasivam of the Texas Observer wrote about a former felon who convinced a federal agency -- and the Texas General Land Office -- to fast-track a barge mooring facility in an ecologically sensitive area.

Kevin Nix argues that the place to look for child predators is online.

Therese Odell recoils in horror from Trump's press conference.

The Lunch Tray shows how the restaurant industry failed to keep its promise to clean up kids' menus.

Juanita Jean "celebrates" the return of Yachting Randy Neugebauer.

Jonathan Coopersmith evaluates President Obama's legacy in science, technology and innovation.

Jerry Seinfeld opened the glittering new Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land to rave reviews of both his clean-cut comedy and the brand new facility, writes CultureMap Houston.

And Pages of Victory surveys the state of his back yard, post-freeze.