Blogs

Joe Biden Apologizes For Telling the Truth About ISIS

| Mon Oct. 6, 2014 10:53 AM EDT

If a gaffe is the act of accidentally telling the truth, then Joe Biden pulled off the mother of all gaffes on Thursday:

Speaking at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Mr. Biden said allies including Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates had extended unconditional financial and logistical support to Sunni fighters trying to oust the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.

“President Erdogan told me,” he said, according to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, “ ‘You were right. We let too many people through. Now we are trying to seal the border.’

“Our allies poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against al-Assad,” he said, including jihadists planning to join the Nusra Front and Al Qaeda.

Our Middle East allies went nuclear over this remark, and by my count Biden has now apologized for it at least three times. Maybe more. I'm not sure. All for the sin of telling the truth.

That's not to say Biden should have said this, of course. Diplomacy is shadowy and vague for good reasons. Still, you have to feel for the guy. Of all the things to be called on the carpet for, this is surely the one he deserves the least.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The Supreme Court Just Saved Gay Marriage in Five States

| Mon Oct. 6, 2014 10:12 AM EDT

On Monday, the Supreme Court turned down same-sex marriage appeals from five states—Indiana, Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

From Reuters:

By rejecting appeals in cases involving Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin and Indiana, the court left intact lower-court rulings that struck down bans in those states.

Other states under the jurisdiction of appeals courts that struck down the bans will also be affected, meaning the number of states with gay marriage is likely to quickly jump from 19 to 30.

The decision to decline the cases, which will allow gay marriages to continue, comes as a surprise, as SCOTUS was expected to hear at least one of the cases.

The justices did not explain their rejection to review the appeals. But by declining to hear them, 30 states and the District of Columbia will soon have gay marriage and effectively ends the argument over same-sex marriage both nationally and within the Supreme Court itself.

Since the announcement Monday morning, same-sex couples in the states have already begun marrying.

As Mother Jones previously reported, the appeals asked "SCOTUS to consider whether a state law limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman violates the 14th Amendment. Six of the seven cases also [raised] the question of whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states."

Check Out This Incredible Trove of Vintage Amateur Gospel

| Mon Oct. 6, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Memphis Spiritual Four

Various Artists
The Soul of Designer Records
Big Legal Mess Records

 

With 101 tracks on four discs, The Soul of Designer Records isn't for casual listeners, but it will delight most anyone who partakes. This amazing, irresistible collection chronicles the output of the Memphis-based Designer label, which from 1967 to 1977 served as a vanity press for mostly amateur gospel artists looking to record their own 45s. Despite the artists' nonprofessional status, not to mention the microscopic budgets, the recordings are almost uniformly excellent and exciting, marked by raw, unfeigned passion and stripped-down settings that suggest a church-ified counterpart to garage rock. From Grand Junction to Cora Bell Watkins to the Mighty Blytheville Aires, likable nobodies all, this is one terrific set.

The (Almost) Unabridged Barbara Lynn

| Mon Oct. 6, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Barbara Lynn
The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Real Gone Music

Barbara Lynn

The Complete Atlantic Recordings spotlights Texas-born singer Barbara Lynn, best known for the 1962 smash hit "You’ll Lose a Good Thing." While her tenure with Atlantic Records in the late '60s and early '70s failed to generate major commercial sparks, there's plenty of fine Southern soul (tempered with a dash of Motown) on this 25-song collection. Lynn's husky drawl never sounded better than it does on "This Is the Thanks I Get," "People Like Me" or her previously unreleased version of the Box Tops "Soul Deep." For those who prefer a more concise portion, Light in the Attic Records will release a straight reissue of Lynn's sole Atlantic album at the end of October.

Hong Kong Protesters Give Ground—For Now

| Sun Oct. 5, 2014 7:32 PM EDT

Pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong have begun partially removing barricades blocking entrance to key government offices ahead of a government-issued deadline on Monday morning mandating demonstrators clear the way for normal business to resume.

But according to reports, protestors remain divided, with many still rejecting plans to concede.

Late into the night, about 200 protestors were still present in front of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's office. Some cars were allowed through, including one ambulance that was inspected to ensure no tear-gas cannisters were being carried inside.

Protestors, who are demanding for Leung to step down and to be allowed free elections in 2017, are largely hoping to avoid violent confrontations with police come Monday morning.

"If the government uses force to clear away protesters, there will be no room for dialogue," Lester Shum told reporters, according to the AP.

But Leung warned he was ready to "take all necessary actions to restore social order" and allow roughly 3,000 civil servants return to work.

Watch more below:

Update: By Monday, most of the city returned to work with only a few schools remaining closed. However, barricades and protestors were still present and traffic was snarled throughout. It is unclear if concrete negotiations with the government have been solidified. On achieving their primary goals, one student leader said, "I think it was possible, but now I don't think so because they (the Hong Kong government) don't give any response and China is also very much against this."

The Washington Post Wants Google to Invent a "Secure Golden Key"

| Sat Oct. 4, 2014 10:26 AM EDT

A couple of weeks ago Google announced that Android phones would soon have their contents encrypted by default. The encryption key would be set by the user and Google wouldn't keep a copy. This means that if police get a warrant to search a cell phone, they can't get the encryption key from Google. The owner of the phone will have to cough it up.

This is how search warrants work in every other walk of life, but law enforcement agencies were nonetheless frustrated over Google's new policy. The Washington Post sympathizes with their frustration, and yesterday they mounted a fairly standard defense of the law enforcement position. But then they ended with this:

How to resolve this? A police “back door” for all smartphones is undesirable — a back door can and will be exploited by bad guys, too. However, with all their wizardry, perhaps Apple and Google could invent a kind of secure golden key they would retain and use only when a court has approved a search warrant. Ultimately, Congress could act and force the issue, but we’d rather see it resolved in law enforcement collaboration with the manufacturers and in a way that protects all three of the forces at work: technology, privacy and rule of law.

A "secure golden key"? Seriously? Did they bother talking to anyone more technically savvy than their publisher's nine-year-old grandkid about this?

If you're going to opine about this stuff, you owe it to your readers to do at least a minimal amount of reporting and research about what's possible and what's not. Otherwise you sound like an idiot.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Friday Cat Blogging - 3 October 2014

| Fri Oct. 3, 2014 2:50 PM EDT

We have names! They have not, ahem, been met with universal acclaim, but we're sticking with them. Our little gray-and-white girl is:

  • Hopper aka Gracie aka The Admiral

And our little black-and-white boy is:

  • Hilbert aka Davie aka The Professor aka The 24th Problem

For those of you too lazy to google things, Hopper is named after Admiral Grace Hopper, "the mother of COBOL." Hilbert is named after David Hilbert, a famous German mathematician who has some personal resonance for me and also happens to have a name that begins with H, which makes him a nicely alliterative companion for Hopper. Among other things, Hilbert is famous for a speech in 1900 in which he laid out 23 fundamental mathematical problems, some of which remain unsolved to this day.

It turns out, by the way, that the fastest way to get Hilbert's attention is to pay attention to Hopper. All we have to do is scratch Hopper's chin and Hilbert, somehow, becomes aware of it and comes bounding into the room demanding that we scratch his chin. It's really quite remarkable. He not only has a jealous streak, he apparently has ESP too.

Yet More Crackpotism From the Tea Party Darling in Iowa

| Fri Oct. 3, 2014 1:20 PM EDT

TPM's Daniel Strauss provides us with the latest intel on tea party darling Joni Ernst, currently favored to win a Senate seat in Iowa. Here are her answers to a survey from the Campaign for Liberty in 2012, when she was running for the state legislature:

Strauss naturally focuses on Question 5, in which Ernst happily agrees that Iowa should allow state troopers and local sheriffs to toss federal officials in the slammer if they try to implement Obamacare in their state. This is complete lunacy, but of course no one will take any notice. For some reason, conservative Republicans are allowed to get away with this kind of stuff. There's a sort of tacit understanding in the press that they don't really mean it when they say things like this. It's just a harmless way of showing their tribal affiliation.

However, I'm also intrigued by Question 1. I assume this was prompted by police use of drones, which was starting to make the news back in 2012, but does it also include things like red light cameras and automated radar installations on highways? Does Ernst really oppose this stuff? She might! And maybe it's a big deal in Iowa. I'm just curious.

UPDATE: And as long as we're on the subject of Iowa, Senate seats, and the press, maybe you should check out Eric Boehlert's fully justified bafflement over the national media's infatuation with a crude Republican smear campaign based on transparent lies about Democratic candidate Bruce Braley and his neighbor's chickens. Click here for more.

Is a Major Abortion Showdown Finally In Our Near Future?

| Fri Oct. 3, 2014 12:12 PM EDT

It's been obvious for a while that sometime soon the Supreme Court is going to take on another major abortion case. So far, what's kept it from happening is probably the fact that both sides are unsure how it would go. Nobody wants to take the chance of a significant decision going against them and becoming settled law for decades.

But Ian Millhiser suggests today that this might be about to change. Conservatives have been unusually aggressive over the past four years in testing the limits of the law at the state level, and yesterday the Fifth Circuit Court upheld a recently-passed Texas statute that had the effect of shutting down all but eight abortion clinics in the entire state. Ominously, Millhiser says, the majority opinion went to considerable pains to acknowledge that its reading of the law was different from that of other circuit courts:

That’s what’s known as a “circuit split.”....Judge Elrod’s lengthy citation — which includes one case that was decided three years before the Supreme Court built the backbone of current abortion jurisprudence in Planned Parenthood v. Casey — is an unusually ostentatious and gratuitous effort to highlight the fact her own decision is “in conflict with the decision of another United States court of appeals on the same important matter.” If anything, Elrod is exaggerating the extent to which other judges disagree with her.

That’s a very strange tactic for a judge to take unless they are eager to have their opinion reviewed by the justices, and quite confident that their decision will be affirmed if it is reviewed by a higher authority. By calling attention to disagreement among circuit court judges regarding the proper way to resolve abortion cases, Elrod sent a blood-red howler to the Supreme Court telling them to “TAKE THIS CASE!”

Elrod, it should be noted, is not wrong to be confident her decision will be affirmed if it is heard by the justices. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the closest thing the Supreme Court has to a swing vote on abortion, hasn’t cast a pro-choice vote since 1992. As a justice, Kennedy’s considered 21 different abortion restrictions and upheld 20 of them.

Conservatives, including those on the Fifth Circuit, are increasingly confident that Anthony Kennedy's position on abortion has evolved enough that he's finally on board with a substantial rewrite of current abortion law. And since the other four conservative justices have been on board for a long time, that's all it takes. Kennedy might not quite be willing to flatly overturn Roe v. Wade, but it's a pretty good guess that he's willing to go pretty far down that road.

We are rapidly approaching a point in half the states in America where abortions will be effectively available only to rich women. They'll just jet off to clinics in California or New York if they have to. Non-rich women, who can't afford that, will be forced into motherhood whether they like it or not. At which point conservatives, as usual, will suddenly lose all interest in them except as props for their rants about lazy welfare cheats.

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in September

| Fri Oct. 3, 2014 10:47 AM EDT

The American economy added 248,000 new jobs in September, but about 90,000 of those jobs were needed just to keep up with population growth, so net job growth clocked in at 158,000. That's not bad. The headline unemployment rate ticked down to 5.9 percent, due to a combination of more employment and more people dropping out of the labor force. However, the labor force participation rate stayed about the same as last month, so this jobs report isn't primarily about people giving up on looking for work. It's basically good news.

Overall, this is a much better report than last month's, and to add to the good news, the BLS revised upward the July and August reports by a combined total of 69,000 jobs. The economy still isn't booming, but the past six months are starting to look pretty solid. More people are working and hiring rates are up. Hopefully this will produce some wage gains too in the near future.