OMG There’s a Leftie Google Group!

Does the FBI know?

A low-profile Google Group used by over 1,000 state and national leftwing leaders and activists has been discovered thanks to Wisconsin’s open records law. A Media Trackers inquiry into the actions of a University of Wisconsin professor turned up records and communications from “Gamechanger Salon,” an online community that provides a forum for leftwing activists and leaders to share tactics, strategies and opinions.

Operating as a closed Google Group, much of what the network does is unavailable for public review. However, a document listing the network’s membership and a policy manual describing the mission and ground rules for the entity were accessible when Media Trackers discovered a non-password protected link in the emails obtained through an open records request of a University of Wisconsin professor.

Media Trackers also attempted to join the group but our request to join was denied.

My next question is, on what planet would this be the least bit scandalous or shocking? Yes, there are closed Google groups. I’ve belonged to some in the past, including one where we talked about leftie politics, although none are active any more. Another one was for religious leftie political activists. Depraved, huh?

Just because the groups were secret doesn’t mean we were planning anything illegal. It’s just nice to be able to schmooze with like-minded folks without having discussion threads broken up by right-wing trolls. One of the closed Google groups, for a group of freelance writers, morphed into a closed Facebook group, which is better because it doesn’t clutter up my email inbox so much. We vent a lot.

So again, on what planet is a closed Google group of leftie activists and policy wonks somehow shocking? On Planet Wingnut, of course. Here’s what Sourcewatch has to say about Media Tracers:

Media Trackers is an investigative non-profit launched in 2011 in Wisconsin, sponsored by American Majority, to “dig up dirt on the left” rather than continuing to be “on the receiving end of damaging stories developed by liberal groups such as Media Matters and the Center for American Progress.” American Majority’s Drew Ryun “envisions a state-based network of similar non-profits.” So far, Media Trackers “has gotten considerable in-state pick-up on quick-hit videos and pieces aimed at what it says are errors, hypocrisy or offensive behavior by labor unions and their Democratic allies.”

And these super sleuths have discovered a closed Google group. I bet they’re waiting for their Pulitzers even now.

Media Trackers also published the Google group’s policy manual, which clearly describes a group that’s about sharing ideas and views among colleagues.

On Planet Wingnut, of course, anything lefties do is, by definition, evil. So lefties are not to be allowed private conversations. We must be publicly monitored at all times. And don’t doubt that if these whackjobs ever had complete control of the government they’d probably make us all wear monitors and register with the government as public menaces, because Freedom.


NRA Sets a Low Bar for “Responsible”

Katherine Hoover, newly married and five months pregnant, died Sunday from a gunshot wound to the head. The fetus died also.  On Saturday Hoover and her husband were visiting a friend who showed them his gun collection. A .22-caliber revolver fired, resulting in Hoover’s death. Police are still investigating, but so far they are saying the shooting appears to be accidental. It’s unlikely any charges will be filed.

Once again, we see that gun deaths are not treated the same way as other deaths. If you kill someone while driving a car negligently, in most states you could be convicted of manslaughter. This is true of Florida, where Hoover lived. In many states, if you leave a small child home alone you could face felony charges even if the child is not physically harmed. But if an adult leaves a loaded firearm somewhere a child might reach it, and a child dies as a result, that’s just an accident. Too bad.

Small children really shouldn’t be left alone, of course. But you may have heard of the recent story about the South Carolina mother who was arrested for allowing her nine-year-old to play in a public park while she was at work at McDonald’s.  By all accounts the child was fine. Last year in South Carolina a three-year-old died in his own bedroom while he and his sister were playing with a pink handgun that looked like a toy. No charges were filed. The shooting was an accident.

Guns may not kill people, but apparently guns can get to places children can reach all by themselves.

And it may very well be that the adult whose negligence was responsible lives with grief and loss for the rest of his or her life. And it may very well be that person will never leave a loaded gun within a child’s reach ever again. But this never seems to deter the next bozo who gets somebody killed.

I agree with Tom Levenson:

The NRA, ammosexuals, and all their enablers in politics and the media tell us that the term “responsible gun owners” has actual meaning.  It doesn’t, as this case demonstrates .  I’ll update this post if it turns out that Mr. DeHayes faces actual consequences for taking another person’s life, but until then, I’m going to vent:

Responsible means that whatever happens with your gun is your fault.  Period.  You accidentally discharge it and no-one gets hurt? How’s this:  big fine, confiscate the weapon involved, lose the right to bear arms for a year for the first incident, forever if you repeat.  Someone gets hurt or dies?  Jail. Civil liability.  Loss of gun rights for life.  That’s responsibility.

But of course, I dream.  That’s not how we roll.  Instead, we’ll just water the tree of liberty with a newlywed, and celebrate life by burying her fetus — and wait (not long) for the next red harvest.

I would add that if the NRA or Open Carry Texas or any other 2nd Amendment absolutist organization actually cared about responsible gun ownership, they’d support holding people responsible for gun negligence. But, of course, they don’t.

Open Carry in DC: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

A federal judge ruled that the ban on citizens carrying handguns in public in the US capital is unconstitutional.

In a 19-page opinion, Judge Frederick Scullin ruled on Saturday that “there is no longer any basis on which this Court can conclude that the District of Columbia’s total ban on the public carrying of ready-to-use handguns outside the home is constitutional under any level of scrutiny.

I take it that in DC one still can’t openly carry assault weapons to shop at Home Deport or stand in line at family fast-food restaurants, so where’s the fun? But while I don’t want to see anybody shot — seriously, not even Darrell Issa — something in me wishes the beltway politicians did have to mingle with random citizens they don’t know personally who are openly armed with big, scary weapons.

Long range, high caliber weapons. Clearly visible. Carried by strangers who may or may not be sane and who may or may not like you. How does that feel, Mr. Big Shot Politician?

One suspects some of them might rethink their positions on 2nd Amendment issues. Or else they will openly display what weenies they really are by writing some kind of special rule that provides open carry can be banned in D.C. but nowhere else.

Rotting From Within

Anna Bernasek writes in the New York Times that the typical American household is worth a third less than it did ten years ago.

The inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992 in 2003. Ten years later, it was only $56,335, or a 36 percent decline, according to a study financed by the Russell Sage Foundation. Those are the figures for a household at the median point in the wealth distribution — the level at which there are an equal number of households whose worth is higher and lower. But during the same period, the net worth of wealthy households increased substantially. …

…For households at the median level of net worth, much of the damage has occurred since the start of the last recession in 2007. Until then, net worth had been rising for the typical household, although at a slower pace than for households in higher wealth brackets. But much of the gain for many typical households came from the rising value of their homes. Exclude that housing wealth and the picture is worse: Median net worth began to decline even earlier.

“The housing bubble basically hid a trend of declining financial wealth at the median that began in 2001,” said Fabian T. Pfeffer, the University of Michigan professor who is lead author of the Russell Sage Foundation study.

Hm, who became President in 2001? Wait, it’ll come to me.

Meanwhile, the Dumbest Man on the Internet links to this article under the Headline “OBAMANOMICS IN ACTION: Typical US Household Worth One-Third Less Than Under Bush.” And he wasn’t the only rightie who commented without bothering to read the article. The Derp: It burns.

It doesn’t surprise me that this particular decline began in 2001. I remember looking at the incoming Bush Administration and fearing the nation was doomed. And I also remember the headlines were full of bad news about the economy before September 11. The financial crisis of 2008 (who was President then, do you remember?) accelerated the decline, of course.

Via Digby, see What caused the wealth gap?

David Atkins presents the Four Responses to Record Inequality. In brief:

  1. “There is a broad recognition within the progressive left that the wheels are increasingly coming off the train that propelled the 20th century economic model.”
  2. “Those in the neoliberal/center-left camp do believe that modern inequality is a problem, but that this too shall pass and we can trudge along as usual after a recovery. . . . This is delusional thinking, but extremely commonplace—particularly among wealthier liberals.”
  3. “Then you have the center-right. They take rational market theory as an article of faith, believing with religious fervor that if the labor and capital markets are allowed to act unimpeded, then both labor and capital will find a comfortable, fair and balanced price. No amount of evidence can convince them that both human life and dignity are priced incredibly cheap on the open market, or that that late 19th century was not, in fact, the model of a moral or economically functional society.”
  4. “Finally, there is the far right. These are the True Believers: the ones who not only buy into the center-right line, but also the raw Objectivism of Ayn Rand and Fox News … In this view, the only inequality that matters to them is redistributive taxation to ‘others’ in society.”

As much as we may crab about the far right, it’s really the centrists, left and right, that are in the way of addressing this crisis. They’re the ones who dominate news media and who have the real power in Washington. Progressives have little power or voice.

How Come I Never Got the Benefit of the Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations?

Sorry for the whiny headline. It’s just that I’m going from wondering how one gets a paying job as a glorified caption writer (although Benny Johnson was sacked; good luck finding another gig that sweet, dude) (update: on second thought, he’s an old Breitbart alum. Wingnut welfare will provide.)  to wondering how come there’s always plenty of money to pay “experts” who don’t know what they’re talking about? Especially conservative “experts”? Well, OK, I know what the answer is, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wallow in the injustice of it for a while.

The buzz from the Right this week was the rebirth of “compassionate conservatism.” The original was never more than an empty slogan, of course, but like good little courtiers the pundit class mostly pretends that’s not true and take it seriously.

Paul Ryan is being praised even in some center-leftie corners for his new anti-poverty ideas. Basically, unlike some of his previous plans, he does not wish to help Americans who are falling behind by taking away their shoes and breaking their feet. Instead, he proposes to treat them all like lazy children so they’ll shape up.

This is most obvious when you look at the portion of Ryan’s draft that has attracted the most scorn, the idea that poor people, if they want to use government programs, should sign a “contract” that would outline various steps and benchmarks they’d be responsible for — or else suffer the consequences of undefined “sanctions.” What kind of steps and benchmarks these are, Ryan doesn’t say, which is perhaps a gesture toward his beloved subsidiarity (the Catholic belief that authority should be devolved as much as possible), albeit one that is particularly hollow within the context of a policy that quite literally would have government agents micromanaging poor people’s lives. The point is, however, that Ryan assumes poverty in America cannot be adequately addressed by doing seemingly obvious things like giving people money or creating well-paying jobs that tackle vital public needs, but that it instead requires the poor to learn from a government-provided surrogate parent how to wrest themselves free from that dreaded “tailspin of culture” Ryan’s previously warned us about.

However, this doesn’t mean the poor will get to keep their shoes.

Every year or so Paul Ryan comes up with a glossy new plan to deal with poverty or spending on social programs. The plans never go anywhere, but they’re not really intended to: They’re designed to make the Republican Party (and Mr. Ryan himself) appear more thoughtful than it actually is on these subjects.

The one he released today is somewhat better than previous efforts, in that it doesn’t propose massive cuts in overall spending (unlike his House budgets), and would even increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, one of the government’s most successful anti-poverty programs. Democrats have also embraced a larger credit, although unlike Mr. Ryan, they would pay for it by raising taxes on the rich rather than slashing federal nutrition programs that Mr. Ryan thinks are a waste of money.

But the lack of seriousness in the plan is demonstrated by its supposedly big idea: It would combine 11 of the most important federal poverty programs into something called an “opportunity grant” that would be given to the states to spend as they see fit. The eliminated programs would include food stamps, what remains of the welfare system (known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), Section 8 housing vouchers, and low-income heating assistance, among others.

So, depending on where you live, it’s your state that will confiscate the shoes and break the feet. Gotcha.

Shorter Paul Krugman: Paul Ryan is still full of crap. Do read the whole column, though.

Elsewhere, via mistermix, the very exasperated Matt Bruenig takes apart the allegedly serious conservative intellectual Reihan Salam for misstating basic facts about how anti-poverty programs work. Again, do read the whole thing.


Excuse me while I grumble for a bit.

There seems to be a fad of sorts going on about plagiarism — people picking through the work of other writers looking for writing that appears to have been copied and pasted from somewhere else and then making a big deal about it. There’s software that makes that easy, I understand.

The New Republic published an expose of Chris Hedges a few weeks ago that was fairly damning, for example. Some of the examples were whole paragraphs word-for-word, which is obvious plagiarism, although I felt some of the other examples were brief and not word-for-word, and those were more ambiguous.

As Chris Hedges is someone whose work I admire, this was disappointing. It was particularly galling to see Hedges use the work of other contemporary working writers without attribution, because we contemporary working writers are an underpaid and under-appreciated crew, and recognition by a “name brand” like Hedges could boost a career. And such recognition wouldn’t have cost Hedges anything.

Now somebody’s going after Buzzfeed’s Benny Johnson, whom I never read. I looked him up, and it appears he mostly does Buzzfeed-style articles that are clever photo-stories; good for a few seconds of diversion but not that meaty. Here’s an example; apparently Buzzfeed actually sent the guy to Fort Hood to produce this, so I assume the photos are original and not ripped off Flickr. But maybe someone should check.

So the guy is mostly just writing photo captions, and even that isn’t original? And how do these people get jobs as writers? When there are tons of genuinely talented and hard-working scribes writing for pennies a word and struggling to keep the electricity bill paid?

But like this guy, I’m less outraged that a glorified photo-caption writer’s compositions turned out to be tweaked pastes from Wikipedia than I am about the way so many commercial websites assume everything on the Web is fair use. Many times I’ve found entire articles of mine from here and from republished without my permission, without linking back to the original, sometimes without attribution. Even if there is attribution, what I’m paid by depends in large part on the number of page views my articles receive, so somebody republishing my stuff to drive traffic to his site literally is taking money out of my pocket.

Really, people, what’s so hard about links? I don’t mind if people quote even big chunks of my articles, as long as it’s clear what they’re quoting and as long as there’s a link to the original. Links are good. Links are my friends.

The other issue, though, is that sometimes these plagiarism examples are a tad iffy, too. If, for example, Wikipedia says “On March 6,1872, Amelia Jones ate ten pounds of turnips” and then another writer posts that “Amelia Jones ate ten pounds of turnips on March 6,1872,” is that actually plagiarism? How about — Ten pounds of turnips were consumed by Miss Amelia Jones on March 6, 1872. There were ten pounds of turnips, see, and then this Amelia Jones dame comes along and eats them on March 6, 1872. It was 1872, on March 6, when the remarkable Amelia Jones consumed ten pounds of turnips. But if the details of the consumption of the turnips are just an aside, and not something you want to emphasize or linger over, you may want to just stick to the plain facts. In that case anything you write is going to be pretty much the same thing Wikipedia says, even if you never saw the Wikipedia article. Sometimes similarity is a coincidence.

Some of the examples of Johnson’s alleged plagiarism strike me as being a tad anal; the example regarding Ted Kaczynski, for example, is a stretch. The two excerpts are not word for word; they are restating the same facts. There is no copyright on facts.

On the other hand, this Johnson guy was caught copying and pasting wholesale from Yahoo Answers to write his photo captions, which is much more pathetic than copying and pasting from Wikipedia. Wikipedia articles can be skewed and selectively written to reflect the biases of the authors, but at least it’s pretty reliable about basic facts. I will check with Wikipedia for the date of a historical event or how some famous person’s name is spelled, for example. But Yahoo Answers isn’t reliable even for that much.

But it’s also the case that if one is under the gun to produce thousands of words a week to make a living (not that Johnson wrote that much), pasting something into one’s document with the correct names, dates and other facts from another source and then rewriting it in one’s own words is a great time-saver, and I’m sure all of us do that sometime. All that matters is that the end result is original composition.

I also hear complaints about people plagiarizing themselves, or pulling sentences and sometimes whole paragraphs out of their own older work and re-using it in something new. To me, that is not plagiarizing; that is recycling. If the work is my own intellectual property I can do whatever I want with it. If something is substantially taken wholesale from an older piece I’ll say so, but if it’s just a short paragraph in an otherwise new composition I probably won’t. If the old paragraph says exactly what I want to say I don’t see the point of taking the time to write another one. Why is that a big deal?

When G. F. Handel needed a first choral movement to his oratorio Israel in Egypt, he recycled an older composition, the “Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline.” He made no changes to the music itself. He tweaked the words just a little and gave it a new title, so that instead of mourning Queen Caroline it mourned the death of the Old Testament Joseph, the guy with the fancy coat. The oratorio was a box office bomb, but not because of the recycled chorus, I don’t think, although it may have been a factor.

Handel was infamous for recycling musical themes from other composers, actually. When he did that he gave the music his own original twists and flourishes and usually improved it. And in his day a composer in Italy might not be immediately aware he’d been copied by a composer in Britain. If there’d been an Internet back then Handel would have been buried under lawsuits, however.

But before the modern era it was not at all unusual even for the great composers to work melodic themes from other compositions by other composers into their own work without going out of their way to let the audience know they had done that. And this was perfectly acceptable, as long as it wasn’t copying from another composition note for note.

All this is to say that while I sincerely hate it when writers rip off other writers, let’s apply some sense to how we define “rip off.” Creative people riff off each other all the time, and always have. Perhaps we should neither a borrower nor a lender be, but am I a bad person if I don’t tell you I just quoted Shakespeare’s Hamlet?

Update: Dylan Byers points out that BuzzFeed’s content largely consists of “repackaging funny things found on Reddit,” according to Adrian Chen.

The Christian Right Is Dangerous

I posted on the religion blog about Why the Christian Right Is Dangerous after reading this by Amanda Marcotte. It does seem that the extremist wing of the Christian Right is growing bigger and crazier. The “home schooling” and “school choice” movements are particularly worrying. The number of American children being home schooled has grown from 850,000 students in 1999 to  1,770,000 students in 2013. Not all of those children are being kept out of school for religious reasons, of course. But we could easily be growing a subculture of badly educated religious fanatics who could become increasingly violent as they become more estranged from the rest of us.

Karen Armstrong defines fundamentalism in a broad sense as a reaction against and rejection of modern Western society. Fundamentalists, in different ways, all attempt to establish enclaves of pure faith that shut out any other views. Those they come in contact with who aren’t “them” must be either shunned or assimilated. And in time, if that doesn’t work, they must be eliminated.

Two chapters in Rethinking Religion are dedicated to religious mass movements and religious violence. These chapters propose that the two factors always present in violent mass movements are a holy cause — defending the faith against those they think are its enemies, in this case — combined with a fanatical grievance, or the belief they’re the ones who are the victims. You see this in violent Islam, in the violent Buddhists in Myanmar, and also in mass movements that are not expressly religious.

The Christian Right in America is obsessed with the belief that they are being persecuted. This has been true for a long time, but it’s becoming more and more obvious. And they clearly have a holy cause. I think we would be very naive to assume that widespread religious terrorism can’t happen here — except around abortion clinics,of course, which for some reason is not supposed to count.

Thomas Ricks Moves Left

He’s not turning into a card-carrying leftie, assuming we carried cards, but Thomas Ricks writes that he realizes the country is just plain not working and he finds himself leaning toward center-left ideas.

I have again and again found myself shifting to the left in major areas such as foreign policy and domestic economic policy. I wonder whether others of my generation are similarly pausing, poking up their heads from their workplaces and wondering just what happened to this country over the last 15 years, and what do to about it.

And then he lists several areas of policy and social issues in which he feels the “conservative” approach just hasn’t worked, or made things worse, and now a more left-ish approach seems more harmonious with reality. Do tell.

One might ask, Why didn’t you notice this before? Because the U.S.Right has been crazy extremist for years. Is it that it’s just now sinking in that the country is dysfunctional? Is it that their own finances are hurt? Is it that the Right’s famous ability to cover over the craziness with correct messaging has been slipping?

Please also read Digby’s Texas gun nuts’ scary ritual: How hatred of a president turned profane. She begins by taking us back to November 22, 1963 —

The morning of Nov. 22, the Dallas Morning News featured a full-page ad “welcoming” the president to Dallas. After a preamble in which they proclaimed their fealty to the Constitution and defiantly asserted their right to be conservative, they demanded to be allowed to “address their grievances.” They posed a long series of “when did you stop beating your wife” questions asking why Kennedy was helping the Communist cause around the world. Here’s an example:

WHY has Gus Hall, head of the U.S. Communist Party praised almost every one of your policies and announced that the party will endorse and support your re-election in 1964?

WHY have you banned the showing at U.S. military bases of the film “Operation Abolition”–the movie by the House Committee on Un-American Activities exposing Communism in America?

WHY have you ordered or permitted your brother Bobby, the Attorney General, to go soft on Communists, fellow-travelers, and ultra-leftists in America, while permitting him to persecute loyal Americans who criticize you, your administration, and your leadership?

WHY has the Foreign Policy of the United States degenerated to the point that the C.I.A. is arranging coups and having staunch Anti-Communists Allies of the U.S. bloodily exterminated.

WHY have you scrapped the Monroe Doctrine in favor of the “Spirit of Moscow”?

MR. KENNEDY, as citizens of the United States of America, we DEMAND answers to these questions, and we want them NOW.

You get the drift. And you probably recognize the tone. The subject may have changed somewhat but the arrogant attitude combined with the aggrieved victimization is a hallmark of right-wing politics even today.

Digby brings this up because the Texas Open Carry herd has been staging regular demonstrations at the cite of the assassination.

Travelers from other nations who come to Dealey Plaza to pay their respects are undoubtedly startled to see yahoos carrying guns and passing out extremist literature very much like the literature that was distributed in Dallas in the fall of 1963. In most places in this world such contempt for national hallowed ground would be frowned upon by decent people. But in America, armed men and women marching around spouting hatred for the president at the very spot where a former president was assassinated is business as usual. We are “free” here to carry guns in public and dare others to argue with us. But that doesn’t make it any less vulgar and profane to do it in a place of national grief — and what should be a monument to right-wing ignominy.

I was only 12 years old when President Kennedy died. I know there were people who didn’t like JFK and especially did not like Bobby Kennedy. But I honestly had not remembered his being accused of being soft on Communism.

I’m not sure exactly how these articles go together, but I feel that they do.

Counting the Obamacare Beans

I want to call your attention to Obamacare in an import-export regional economic modeling view by Richard Mayhew at Balloon Juice. It begins:

Obamacare is many things. One of which is an interesting natural experiment in determining whether states shooting themselves in the foot makes it harder or easier to walk than states that don’t shoot themselves in the foot.

He then goes on to explain in a wonderfully wonky-snarky way that the states denying Medicaid expansion are hurting themselves financially.

Unsurprisingly states that expanded Medicaid are seeing uninsured rates drop dramatically as well as more robust local economy as they are now receiving an “export” cash flow of .5 to 1% of gross state product from the federal government. That will spin out to four or five local jobs in “secondary” industries from each job in healthcare that is being created or sustained by Medicaid expansion. Non-expansion states are seeing cash outflows in increased taxes or lower Medicare Advantage payment rates without any corresponding cash inflow. Their hospitals are still seeing high numbers of uninsured patients as other compensating funds have been cut. They are in trouble.

He also says,

Finally, if Halbig is upheld by the Supreme Assholes, we’ll quickly see half the states that would be screwed do the Gaba two-step of buying a new web domain name to use as a splash page and then getting the summer IT intern redirecting visitors from that splashpage to These states would see no change, while the Confederacy and Great Plains Republican base states would take multi-billion dollar hits in order to save $200 for a domain and a redirect.

this was interesting to me, because a guy at the Washington Examiner predicted something else–

The (currently delayed) requirement for larger businesses to purchase insurance for their workers or pay penalties is triggered in cases in which at least one employee obtains government subsidies to purchase insurance. In states where subsidies cannot be distributed, the penalties won’t apply. Therefore, a ruling against the government in Halbig could set up a scenario in which businesses want to flock to states with federal exchanges as a way of getting around the employer mandate.

I don’t doubt that some states actually would refuse to set up a domain, and would then sit back waiting for all these employers to stampede across their borders on the promise of cut-rate employees. Whether that would actually happen I do not know. I am inclined to think that a business that would go to the expense of relocating just to go cheap on employees is not necessarily the kind of employer who will help build a better future for your state, but that’s me.