This week everybody was talking about funding Homeland Security
Late Friday night, Congress avoided a shutdown of the Homeland Security Department by passing a one-week continuing resolution. So we get to do the whole thing over again this week.
As in previous shutdown confrontations, the Senate passed a "clean" bill funding DHS for the rest of the fiscal year (through September), without attaching any riders rolling back President Obama's executive actions on immigration. The Senate bill almost undoubtedly would have passed in the House, ending the crisis, had Speaker Boehner allowed it to come to the floor. According to CNN, doing so might have sparked House conservatives to oust him as Speaker, but National Journal says no.
Conservative rhetoric says they are "defending the Constitution" by trying to reverse President Obama's "lawless" re-prioritization of immigration enforcement. In fact, the administration studied the legal limits of executive action and made a strong case that it was staying within them, as I outlined in November. The rhetoric is another example of what I described in "A Conservative-to-English Lexicon":
Like the Bible, [the Constitution] means whatever conservatives want it to mean, regardless of its actual text.Conservatives jurisdiction-shopped to find a federal judge who agrees with them, so there is an injunction temporarily halting Obama's executive actions. Slate's Eric Posner gives it "little chance of withstanding appeal". If conservatives truly believed their rhetoric about constitutionality, they could let the conservative majority on the Supreme Court handle it.
and Net NeutralityA little over a year ago, the headlines were saying that net neutrality was dead, killed by an appeals-court ruling. If you read the ruling, though, things still seemed up in the air. As I wrote at the time:
The gist of the court ruling is that the FCC has classified cable companies as information-services providers, but that its net-neutrality rules regulate them like telecommunications carriers. So the FCC’s net-neutrality rules can’t stand. But — and this is the observation that snatches victory from the jaws of defeat — it’s totally within the FCC’s current powers and mandate to just reclassify the cable companies. So net neutrality is dead. But if the FCC wants to revive it, all they have to do is issue new rules.And that's what they just did: reclassified internet providers as utilities, like the telephone companies. Now, I don't want to minimize how courageous that was, given the amount of money and influence Verizon and Comcast have been throwing around. But it was always within the FCC's power.
So now we have net neutrality rules again, and the same court decision that threw out the old rules defends the new ones. The non-profit Mozilla Foundation celebrates "a major victory for the open web", and Ezra Klein explains what that means.
and the Keystone PipelinePresident Obama vetoed a bill that would have given the government's go-ahead to the Keystone Pipeline, but he did it on procedural grounds:
Through this bill, the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest.So don't get excited that Obama has finally taken a stand on the pipeline; he hasn't. He's just said it shouldn't be approved this way.
My position on the pipeline hasn't changed since I wrote "A Hotter Planet is in the Pipeline" two years ago: We can't burn all the fossil fuels without doing catastrophic damage to the climate, so some will have to stay in the ground. The tar sands whose product Keystone would transport are good candidates.
The case for Keystone revolves around the number of jobs it would create. Estimates vary, but the important thing to realize is that the vast majority would be temporary construction jobs that might last six months to a year, plus some other jobs for people providing services to those temporary workers (who would probably eat a lot of Big Macs before they moved on). Politifact assessed Van Jones' claim that the pipeline would provide only 35 permanent jobs, and judged it to be true. On the other hand, the risk of oil spills and groundwater contamination will be permanent, as well as the environmental damage from the carbon released.
The hardest thing to assess about projects like this are the net effects. For example, in the absence of a pipeline, probably less oil will be recovered from those fields to begin with. (The last oil produced from a field is typically the most expensive; whether it gets pumped out at all depends partly on transportation costs.) That's how the pipeline relates to leaving oil in the ground.
But the oil that is recovered will be transported some other way. Those other ways have their own environmental downsides, and their own employment upsides. The 35 long-term pipeline jobs might be outweighed by the lost railroad and trucking jobs, making the pipeline a net job destroyer. But it's also hard to guess how many train-car accidents a pipeline would prevent, and what their environmental impact would be.
In a sane world, you could imagine a deal that allowed everyone to save face: Keystone in exchange for environmental concessions elsewhere. Michael Bloomberg outlines one deal. May Boeve explains why it would be a bad deal. But neither has an answer for the "sane world" problem.
and Netanyahu's speechIt's happening today, maybe as you read this. Vox gives the background.
and Bill O'ReillyBill O'Reilly's defining characteristic is his lack of self-awareness. He stands in his yard and throws stones without ever noticing the glass house behind him.
So when NBC's news anchor Brian Williams got into trouble for telling tall tales about his past reporting experiences, O'Reilly pounced, misrepresenting Williams' exaggerations as being part of his live reporting, and implying that Williams was reporting falsely for ideological purposes:
When hard news people deceive their viewers and readers to advance a political agenda, that's when the nation gets hurt.[To be fair, O'Reilly didn't make the Williams-is-a-lying-ideologue charge in so many words. He just segued directly from this abstract statement to the Williams scandal, as if the two had something to do with each other.]
Well, it turns out that O'Reilly also tells tall tales about his past reporting. The biggest exaggeration concerns a demonstration in Buenos Aires in 1982, when Argentines were upset by their government's surrender in the Falklands War. Nobody else considered the demonstrations that big a deal; fellow CBS reporter Eric Engberg described is as "the chummiest riot anyone had ever covered". But O'Reilly has described Buenos Aires as "a war zone", and often uses that mischaracterization to justify claiming that he has "been there" in combat.
His specific retrospective claims about that day -- that police fired live ammunition into the crowd and killed many people -- are contradicted by the news coverage at the time and by the accounts of everyone else who was there.
But of course O'Reilly is not going to admit -- or even recognize -- that he did anything wrong, or that he did precisely what he condemned Williams for doing. Instead, he claims that evidence supports him (when in fact it does no such thing), and that the issue is not his personal dishonesty, but an attack on all of Fox News because "Fox gives voice to conservatives and traditional people". That makes it an us-against-them issue, not a Bill-is-a-serial-liar issue, so it calls threats and intimidation against journalists who try to investigate.
And of course Fox News is going to stand by him rather than suspend him as NBC did Williams. Columbia Journalism Review draws the obvious conclusion:
And that, in turn, demonstrates an even more general principle: Moral standards are just lower on the Right. To give a second example: Eliot Spitzer's upward-trending political career ended within days after it came out that he had seen a prostitute. A similar scandal was just a blip for David Vitter, who continued in the Senate and was re-elected. And there is no liberal-media-star parallel to Rush Limbaugh's drug history.Fox has made clear that it doesn’t see itself bound by the same rules of public accountability it calls on other news organizations to uphold.
Once the idea got broached that O'Reilly makes exaggerated claims, other examples have followed: hearing the gunshot when a JFK-assassination witness committed suicide, and seeing the execution-style murders of Salvadoran nuns.
and you also might be interested in ...RIP, Leonard Nimoy. May your legacy live long and prosper. Also dead this week: Earl Lloyd, basketball's Jackie Robinson.
Thursday, Senator Inhofe (R-Exxon-Mobil) proved global warming is a myth by throwing a snowball while speaking to the Senate. Vox described it as "the dumbest thing that happened on the Senate floor today" and performed the thankless task of explaining rationally why Inhofe is wrong.
Sometimes these kinds of incidents make me mad, but this time I'm just embarrassed. This is the Senate of the United States of America. My country has put complete idiots in positions of power.
The American Family Association has created a "Bigotry Map" to identify "groups and organizations that openly display bigotry toward the Christian faith." The icons mark atheist groups, humanist groups, "anti-Christian" groups, and "Homosexual agenda" groups.
This is just a screen capture. The original is much fancier, allowing you to zoom in or out and click on icons to identify the groups closest to you. (I'm right between Lowell Atheists and GLSEN New Hampshire. AFA seem to have missed the Concord Area Humanists; I'm sure my friends on the steering committee will be miffed.) Friendly Atheist comments:
Not a single one of the atheist/Humanist/LGBT rights groups that I can see on the map have ever supported violent acts or taking away rights from Christians. They’ve always been on the side of tolerance and inclusivity. They want non-Christian beliefs to be treated by the government the same way Christianity is treated, with no group getting special privilege. This is how desperate right-wing groups are to show the fictional marginalization of Christians. They think criticism is the same as bigotry. They think neutrality is the enemy.The map is also an example of privileged distress: As a group becomes less dominant and has less power to lord it over others, that slippage feels like persecution. I mean, imagine if the government starts to treat Jesus' birthday with the same respect it shows to, say, Buddha's or Krishna's. What's next? Death camps?
Evangelist Franklin Graham, Billy's son, says on Fox News that the White House (along with several unspecified European governments) has been "infiltrated by Muslims". But he can't name any.
Every year around this time, Pastor Kenneth Swanson's 2012 radio rant against buying Girl Scout cookies (because he claims the Scouts promote lesbianism) shows up in my Facebook news feed. This year, it got me wondering what Rev. Swanson has been up to lately.
On Feb. 20, he interviewed Rev. Marion Clark, whose new book The Problem of Good: when the world seems fine without God explores the disturbing conundrum that non-Christians aren't constantly doing evil, and may even be nice people.
SWANSON: There are a lot of unbelievers -- neighbors, co-workers -- they're nice. They're nice people. How do you explain that, Marion?
CLARK: Well, that was the question that really troubled me. And I'll say that the problem of good, which you're talking about, troubled me more than the problem of evil. Evil exists; it's out there. But what kept tripping me up were my nice neighbors, nice family members, people who -- I would hate to say it -- were nicer than I was. And yet they were unregenerate. And how could that be?How indeed? It's like seeing the inverted image of Greg Epstein's Good Without God.
Male privilege explained:
And a young man explains men's responsibility for preventing sexual assault