On Terror and Whistleblowers, Trump Doesn’t Undermine the Obama Legacy, He Fulfills It

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Over the last few years terrorism and crime have been all over the news. You would be forgiven for assuming they are on the rise, but they’re not. After a large drop at the beginning of the decade, terrorist attacks around the world are about where they’ve been for the last 10 years. Despite a small uptick in murders, violent crime is still at record lows since the early 90s.

After the rash of police shootings since 2014 (both from and against), a meme emerged that rang true.

Reported hate crimes may be up slightly in some places, but overall crime is still extremely rare and lower than it has been in decades. We just see it more often, on the news, on Facebook, on YouTube. It’s not worse, it’s just more visible.

The same is true for President Trump’s actions compared to President Obama’s, on a few issues. Yes, Trump has already proven himself an incompetent, dangerous charlatan. But on a few things he’s just a more explicit version of Obama.

Another Study Shows Gerrymandering is Not Why Republicans Win

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Every two years the House elections don’t go the way partisans think they should. Every two years partisans on the losing side place the blame on gerrymandering, the purposeful drawing of district lines to achieve a specific outcome. Every two years there is a new study showing that gerrymandering is not the problem. So here we go again.

Jowie Chen and David Cottrell, of University of Michigan and Dartmouth respectively, published a study (PDF) just before the election last year showing that gerrymandering has almost no effect on the overall makeup of the US House of Representatives. Previous studies have shown a significant or minor one, but Chen and Cottrell easily point out the flaws in most of those, especially in how they create a control group. This new study eliminates those inherent biases by using computer models to create a number of different nonpartisan district maps.

As a baseline, they used the 2008 election results at the precinct level.

We map the votes of these precincts to Florida’s 484,481 Census blocks according to population and then aggregate the votes into a set of 15,640 similarly-populated square polygons so as to produce a geographically-precise spatial grid of the state. These 15,640 “squares” of the grid are then used as the building blocks for the districting simulations.

The computer then chooses precincts at random to begin each district and adds more contiguous precincts until a district-size population is reached.

More Evidence the Destruction of the Death Star Was a War Crime

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One of the most fascinating genres of pop culture commentary over the last few years is the Empire apologia from the Star Wars universe. This surprising cult of contrarianism postulates that the Jedi and the rebellion they support were actually the bad guys - the equivalent of religious fanatical terrorists causing mayhem for the Galactic Empire, which was just trying to ensure peace and order for its citizens.

Well, apart from the inhabited planet-destroying, I suppose. (But there’s even a defense of that.)

President Trump Thinks Government Stealing Your Stuff is a Power Worth Threatening Over

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State senator Konni Burton didn’t wake up yesterday planning to be the target of a presidential threat, but she may have gotten one anyway. Given the president’s temperment I suppose it’s only a matter of time before he gets around to us all individually.

The Fort Worth Republican, who replaced Wendy Davis after her star-crossed gubernatorial campaign, recently introduced a bill in the Texas Senate to require a criminal conviction for civil asset forfeiture by state or local departments.

Civil asset forfeiture is the practice of law enforcement agents confiscating personal property during an investigation of a crime, sometimes just a traffic stop. In most jurisdictions the department in question is free to keep and/or sell that property for their own use or budget-padding needs. Proponents argue it eliminates property used in the commission of a crime, like a crack house or smuggling vehicles, but if no conviction is secured, then no criminal justification exists for the forfeiture.

It sounds like a heinous practice, so surely it must be rare, only used in extreme circumstances or against the most evil criminals, right? In fact, for just 2015, the total value of property seized by the feds ($5 billion) was more than victims nationwide lost from actual burglary ($3.5 billion). And that doesn’t even count state and local forfeiture, which would push the total much higher.

A Muslim Ban by Any Other Name

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Please, literally any other name…

What would you call a law that prohibited the use of the seven most common hunting rifles and handguns for safety reasons but exempted knives? An honest person would call it a gun ban.

What would you call an order under Obamacare that banned seven different types of meat for health reasons but exempted tofu and fish? An honest person would call it a meat ban.

What would you call an order by China that prohibits visitors from the United States and six other majority Christian nations but specifically exempts non-Christians from those nations? An honest person would call it a Christian ban.

But if the President of the United States orders a 4-month halt on visas from seven majority Muslim nations but specifically exempts non-Muslims from those nations, everyone to the right of Lindsay Graham is apoplectic if you say it’s banning Muslims.

And that’s what it does. Period.

A Muslim ban does not have to ban all Muslims or even say the word “Muslim” to do so. The “assault weapons ban” signed by Bill Clinton exempted all guns owned before it was enacted and many new guns based on other criteria. We still call it an assault weapons ban.

Pence Becomes First Ever VP to Address March for Life - And It Was Worth the Wait

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It took 44 years, but a sitting Vice President has finally spoken at the annual March for Life rally in Washington, DC. The event kicked off today to a crowd of many thousands on the National Mall, and Vice President Mike Pence was on hand to deliver a rousing speech in person. He is now the highest ranked government official to ever speak at the event since its inception in 1974, the year after the Roe v Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

President Trump himself is expected to give a remote address from the White House tomorrow, as previous presidents, Reagan and George W Bush, did before him.

Pence’s speech, which briefly descended to boilerplate campaign rhetoric, was otherwise pitch-perfect on the central issue of the day. He highlighted the many ways “life is winning”, with abortions steadily declining nationwide, and pro-life legislation advancing in many states over the last decade.

Though the progress of the pro-life movement is vital (literally), the reasons it has succeeded are just as important, and Pence highlighted them exhaustively.

Trump Arrogantly Declared His Inauguration a National Holiday - Just Like Someone Else

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The internet outrage machine kicked into high gear this week when President Trump declared his inauguration day a National Day of Patriotic Devotion. The order itself is fairly inoccuous.

There are no greater people than the American citizenry, and as long as we believe in ourselves, and our country, there is nothing we cannot accomplish.

The level of arrogance required to declare your own inauguration a national holiday, though, is astounding. Unsurprisingly, it reminded many of third world despots.

Obama’s Legacy: Drug Warrior-in-Chief

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As the sun sets today on President Obama’s two terms in the White House and dawns on incoming President Trump’s first, the “legacy” pieces have already started flowing. Most of them are, of course, glowing, noting his transformational moves in many areas, like LGBT protections and healthcare. But on criminal justice and civil liberties issues where he had the chance to be equally radical, he’s been at best a nudge and at worst a reactionary.

Barack Obama, leader of the “Choom Gang” of potheads in high school, could have literally ended the War on Drugs, at least federally. He could have been the example to show that drug use in and of itself is harmless for the vast majority of people, especially marijuana. Drug abuse is a scourge to be treated as a health care issue, but not moderate recreational use, and certainly not with a federal paramilitary war costing billions every year and incarcerating hundreds of thousands of men and women.

Although not directly in control of it, the president can request that the various departments with relevant oversight change the classification of marijuana and other drugs. As political appointees, the heads of those departments answer to the president and can be replaced by more ameanable yet still qualified candidates if they don’t perform to his satisfaction.

This is not about Meryl Streep

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But she tried her best to make it that way.

Just like Trump himself is often praised at being a master troll, getting people to attack him for things that end up showing their own weakness instead, Meryl Streep accepted her Cecil B Demille Lifetime Achievement Award last night at the Golden Globes by attacking the president-elect, his supporters, and their very culture. She knew that anyone riposting her would be attacked by hordes of online fans as mysogynist, xenophibic, etc etc etc.

So this is not about her. She is an immensely talented actress, and by all accounts a gracious and generous person. It’s about what she said, how nauseatingly predictable it all was, and the entitled, tunnel-vision worldview that fostered it.

The speech began by pointing out all the talented, foreign-born actors at the awards show. The ability of Hollywood to attract the best and brightest from around the world to become Americans, on screen if not by law, is truly a remarkable microcosm of the overall immigration system.

Streep used it instead to pretend that the incoming Trump administration has an actual plan to “kick them all out”. Fact check: Pants on fire. Hugh Laurie accepted an award earlier in the evening and joked that he was proud to accept the award the last time they would be handed out, since an organization called the Hollywood Foreign Press probably wouldn’t be around much longer in Trump’s America.

Poll shows support for Obamacare repeal, reporting spins instead

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After the newly sworn-in Senate voted last night in the first procedural move to pass a budget that (never balances but) repeals Obamacare, the news is awash in stories of agony and warning.

52 million people have preexisting conditions that wouldn’t be coverable without it! Even though no one wants to scrap preexisting coverage.

20 million people have gained insurance coverage under the law! Actually, most of them have been through Medicaid, a welfare program, not even subsidized exchange insurance.

And now a new poll seeks to add a clever spin to the anti-repeal campaign.

Kaiser Family Foundation, a health policy and polling organization, has a new report out showing that 49% of adults support repeal of the law, while 47% oppose. It’s a close result that’s technically within the margin of error. But that’s not good enough for Kaiser, or the Huffington Post, which both reported the result differently.


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