Friday, February 12, 2016

You Say You Want A Revolution? More Evidence Trump is Pranking the GOP

by Nomad

It took me a long time to take Donald Trump seriously. Just about the time, I became convinced he was a genuine candidate, he goes and opens new doubts.

Believe it or Not?
After quite a bit of deliberation on the subject, I was finally persuaded that Donald Trump was actually a serious candidate. 
It wasn't easy to accept this. 
Just by his appearance alone, he cuts a somewhat comical figure. That's not his fault, okay. I get it. Sometimes bad hair days can last decades.

Whatever you think about him personally, you have to admit, he makes his liabilities work to his advantage. Being an unorthodox candidate- not carefully groomed by handlers or by professional stylists- is doubtless one of his main selling points. 
He is who he is and he doesn't give a frick what other people think. He owes his position to nobody but his people. Only a billionaire can think like that nowadays.

There's a hitch, however.
That might work for a celebrity or a private citizen. But as a candidate for the highest office in the nation, most voters require a tad more than what Trump is selling. 

Some people might actually look for a bit of substance. Not the majority, maybe, but a few. Besides mindlessly repeating how well-loved he is, there's very little serious policy and no clear path to how we will all get to be great again. 

Later after listening to his rallies, I began a new line of rationalization. That was the sneaky possibility that he was a Democratic plant, sent in to destroy the last vestiges of the Republican Party. 
It wouldn't take much to bring the whole edifice crashing down. Look at the other candidates, all of them are equally unfit to be president. Some cynics would say they are unfit to hold any office at all. 
So, with people like Cruz and Rubio and dread-inspiring JEB!, Trump's peculiar candidacy tends to blend in and not seem so odd at all. But really, it is.
Up until he seriously considered running for president, his past views were unmistakably liberal. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

How Anti-Terrorism Software Has Become a Threat to Human Rights and Democracy

by Nomad

One hacker's explosive information leak revealed the dark side of surveillance software and companies that sell them.  It sends a warning about authoritarian regimes using anti-terrorism software to target opposition and human right activists.  

In early July last year, a hacker who went by the name of Phineas Fisher claimed responsibility for an astounding information dump. 

The Hacking Team Dump
In all,  500 GB of client files, contracts, financial documents, and internal emails of Milan-based surveillance company called Hacking Team were made available to the public. 
The company sells sophisticated computer surveillance software to countries around the world, some nations with very doubtful human rights records.
It’s unclear exactly how much the hackers got their hands on, but judging from the size of the files, it’s certainly a large collection of internal files. A source who asked to speak anonymously due to the sensitivity of the issue, told me that based on the file names and folders in the leak, the hackers who hit Hacking Team "got everything."
So basically, a hacker hacked the Hacking Team. In doing so, he walked away with vital and incriminating information including emails between employees, a list of customers, which included the FBI. 
He or she also managed to find the source code of the surveillance software itself. The whole kit and caboodle.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Michigan Laws and the Less-Discussed Sins of Sodom

by Nomad

Despite a host of serious problems in the state, the minds of the Republicans in the Michigan Senate were focused on passing a dubious anti-sodomy law. But what is the truth behind the Biblical story of Sodom? Who are the real Sodomites?

Michigan and SB219
With so many things going wrong in that state, you'd think Michigan legislators would have their hands full. You'd think they would have no problem finding serious issues to tackle. 
However, you'd be wildly incorrect.  

Last week, legislators decided that it was much more concerned with the sex practices of its citizens than with those boring issues. The state Senate passed SB 219 that, as one critic says, "effectively reaffirms the state's unconstitutional law making sodomy a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison."
If the person is already a sex offender, violations are punishable by life in prison. 
Michigan is one of more than a dozen states that still have sodomy bans on the books, despite the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas declaring them unconstitutional.
The Court's decision in the Texas case ruled that intimate consensual sexual conduct was part of the liberty protected by substantive due process under the 14th Amendment. As Wikipedia explains: 
Lawrence invalidated similar laws throughout the United States that criminalized sodomy between consenting adults acting in private, whatever the sex of the participants.
Nobody told the Michigan legislators, it seems.  
While most people see this as primarily directed at gay couples, the laws criminalizing oral and anal sex can apply to both same-sex or different-sex couples. 
This law was deceptively attached to laws protecting animals from abuse. It should be mentioned that one progressive blog, Eclectablog, claims that this isn't an anti-sodomy law at all but a law designed to "prohibit convicted animal abusers from adopting another animal for five years." In that case, it is merely a badly-written law. Here's the sentence that has raised objections:
A person who commits the abominable and detestable crime against nature either with mankind or with any animal IS guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment for. not more than 15 years
The rather old-fashioned phrase, "the abominable and detestable crime against nature" in this context would certainly be a sexual crime presumably with an animal. In short, the crime of bestiality.

However, lawmakers inexplicably added the phrase "either with mankind or animal" which then changes the meaning to unnatural sexual acts, the classic definition of sodomy. If the state had repealed its old sodomy laws, it would be much easier to dismiss this as just a poorly-written law.

Since 2014, the Republicans in Michigan have held a strong majority in the State House and Senate. They can do whatever they want without much opposition.
Pandering to the Christian Right has now, critics say, devolved into enforcing baby-making sexual practices at a state level. Strictly speaking, every other form of sex could be considered "unnatural." (Even sex using contraceptive is technically unnatural.)

But if sodomy is the thing that really captures the imagination of the Michigan Republicans, then perhaps they should delve a little deeper in the story of the Sodomites and why, according to the Bible, God decided to destroy them.  

Monday, February 8, 2016

Irrespective of Circumstances: Pro-Life Rubio Thinks Abortion Shouldn't be an Option for Rape Victims

by Nomad

GOP establishment might be banking on Marco Rubio but his total-restriction views on abortions actually represent a mere 19% of the American people.  

Last year a Gallup poll suggested that a narrow majority of Americans (51%) felt that abortion should remain legal under certain circumstances. Twenty-nine percent, however, said that abortion should be legal under all circumstances. 
The lowest percentage of the respondents (19%) said that abortion should be illegal under any and all circumstance. Ordinarily, this absolute limit refers to conditions where the mother's life is in danger or pregnancy following a rape or incest. 

That absolutist restrictive poition has always been the extremes of the pro-life movement. In fact, the SCOTUS' Roe vs. Wade decision originated from a rape case. (The ruling, however, did not revolve around that particular circumstance.)
On Sunday, the GOP establishment's latest hope, Marco Rubio revealed that, if elected- he would only very reluctantly sign a anti-abortion bill that provided an exception for rape and incest cases. 
His position pits the candidate against a full 81% of the American electorate.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Rejecting Stagnation: Why a Progressive Ideology is Really What America's All About

by Nomad

In a world impatient for change and for development, what's so wrong about a progressive superpower?

Candidate JEB expressed a complaint commonly heard among the conservatives about the progressive mentality.
The progressive and liberal mindset believes that to every problem there is a Washington, D.C. solution.
Unlike a lot of rubbish endelessly repeated in the Republican ranks, JEB's remark is not entirely untrue. Too often too much faith is put in government to resolve all problems and immediately.
But is the alternative- of doing nothing and ignoring a problem- really any better? 

The Cancer that Ate America?
It strange to hear conservatives use the idea of progress as a kind of insult. Easily outraged Glenn Beck, back when he still had his gig at Fox News, once called JEB's brother and former President George W. Bush a progressive. (The nerve!) 
And yet, George Bush thought of himself as a “compassionate conservative." So perhaps the label is based more on one's perspective.

In the twisted mind of Glenn Beck, progressive ideology is a "cancer that's eating at America" and anybody who might think differently is "evil." Progressives are little better than Nazis, These are things he has actually claimed, at least.

The term progressive is often associated with change of a "radical" kind. As we all know, a radical is a dangerous person. Radicals blow up buildings and call for the overthrow of governments. A radical ideology is one that cannot be argued with. Compromise is not possible with radicals because a radical is not willing to respect anybody with a different opinion.

Of course, what could be more radical a policy than cutting health care for millions of Americans, eliminating environmental regulations that ensure clean air and clean water? What could be more radical than privatizing or cutting Social Security for seniors who depend on this assistance for their survival?
Shutting down the government solely on the basis of a ideological principle seems pretty radical to me. 

Beck wouldn't be the first person on the Right to use the term progressive in such a way. For quite some time now, according to conservative media, a progressive has been a very very bad thing to be.
Yet that view seems to run counter to so many ideas that America was actually built upon.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Why GOP Complaints about Pharma Price-Gouging of Vets is a Hypocritical Smokescreen

by Nomad

One Republican complaints against a drugmaker's price-gouging may be applaudable. As long as you have only half of the facts. 

In yet another example of mainstream media failing to properly inform the public, we can point to CNN and its posting of US Rep. Jeff Miller's op-ed piece. The article demonstrates how, when critical information is left out of a story, the news becomes nothing less than a lie.

The subject of Miller's piece is price-gouging by pharma companies, particularly when it comes to medication for veterans. The company in question, Gilead Sciences, has been scrutinized on several occasions in this blog. (here, here and here)

In his article, the Congressman for Florida's First district writes:
If not for the service and sacrifice of those who have worn the uniform, the United States would not be the extraordinary place it is today. Unfortunately, this concept seems lost on the people at drugmaker Gilead Sciences.
Whenever we try to qualify patients by who "deserves" life-saving treatments more, we run into ethical questions. It is all in keeping with Republican efforts to be percieved as actually caring about veterans.
The record tells a different story. In fact, the GOP has a fairly dismal record when it comes to veterans. Last year, the House Appropriations removed more than $1.4 billion from President Obama’s proposed 2016 budget. As one source notes:
As a result of the cuts, it was estimated that 70,000 fewer veterans would be able to receive needed care.