“I don’t know if he was there to kill me”

I don’t know if he was there to kill me.

Monday night I was sitting in a hotel lobby in downtown Des Moines with my back to a wall of windows, my eyes fixed on the TV, my attention wholly focused on early caucus results. I didn’t notice until he was standing right next to me, much closer than is ordinary or comfortable. When he started he speaking it was like he was picking up in the middle of sentence, finishing a conversation we had begun earlier, but I couldn’t remember ever meeting him.

“…So what is it that you teach?”

“I am a professor of political science.”

“My wife is a professor of communications.”

“Does she teach here in Iowa?”

“What I want to know is how you got credentialed to be on MSNBC.”

I am not sure if it is how he spat the word credentialed, or if it is how he took another half step toward me, or if it is how he didn’t respond to my question, but the hairs on my arm stood on end. I ignored it. Told myself everything was ok.

“Well. It is not exactly a credential…” I began.

“But why you? Why would they pick you?”

Now I know something is wrong. Now his voice is angry. Now a few other people have stopped talking and started staring. Now he is so close I can feel his breath. Before I can answer his unanswerable question of why they picked me, he begins to tell me why he has picked me.

“I just want you to know why I am doing this.”

Oh – there is a this. He is going to do a this. To me. And he is going to tell me why

RTFA. Please. This creep is one of thousands, millions of self-deluded Americans who says they aren’t bigots, sexist. And he thinks he isn’t at all intimidating. Except when he want to be intimidating.

I’ve volunteered as bodyguard a number of times BITD. The big burly dude in a leather jacket who looks willing and able to break the arms off any creep who believes threatening activists with death is OK. Actually, my prime task was being willing to put my own body in the way if the threat seemed real and imminent. And that was OK with me.

But, the scumbags who sincerely believe their religious and/or political ideology justifies mortal harm to other civilians are nothing less than terrorists. No difference between them and ISIS. Especially if their God or the political idol they worship says they deserve heavenly reward for their violence.

RTFA. I’m an old and cranky geek, now – but, I wish I was there beside Melissa. That sucker wouldn’t have gotten away.

Look at gerrymandering on a map – then take it out of the hands of Congress

Click to enlarge

President Barack Obama spent the last chunk of his 2016 State of the Union Address talking about how to “fix our politics.” His first solution? Stop gerrymandering, the shaping of congressional districts to guarantee electoral outcomes. “We have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around,” he said.

At least one geographer has heeded Obama’s call to action. Using data from the US Census Bureau, Alasdair Rae, a geographer and urban planner at Sheffield University, built maps of every congressional district—all 435 of them—to show just how screwed up they really are. When Rae maps them individually, removed from the context of their surrounding districts, you can really see the extent of the problem. “There are some shapes that are quite egregious,” Rae says.

The worst offender? “North Carolina was and is often used as the archetype,” Rae says. His map shows the state’s 12th district undulating northwest to southeast like an eight-bit snake. Now, technically gerrymandering is against the law—unless topography gets in the way, districts are supposed to be contiguous regions. But the 12th…well, look at it. Its irregular blocks of land all connect, but only at their corners. Legislators call this “point contiguity,” and when you see it on a map, you can bet something dicey is going on…

Rae’s maps alone won’t end gerrymandering. But the ease with which he made them might hint at some weapons in the fight. In Florida, for example, when the Supreme Court ordered the congressional map redrawn, the trial court ignored legislator ideas in favor of a proposal from Common Cause and the League of Women Voters. In Virginia, after the state supreme court found a district unconstitutional, the court’s special master received proposals from anyone who was interested — crowdmapping! — in coming up with a new version. Today, at least five more states have ballot initiatives calling for independent commissions to take over redistricting from political parties. “If you want to get equal and fair representation in Congress or in any legislative body,” Rae says, “then sometimes you’re going to have to draw some weird shapes on maps,” The fight against gerrymandering is the purplest of purple issues. It’s not Republicans versus Democrats, but voters—and mapmakers — versus both.

Canadian courts, Canadian politicians, are more courageous than American – on this issue. As people became more outraged over politicians playing the gerrymandering game, a movement started in Manitoba grew into a federal change. Change over to an independent body.

Given the usual American states rights crap, it will probably take us another few decades to achieve that level of reason. But, we must if we are to achieve anything approaching democratic representation.

Judge rules FBI illegally denied freedom of information act requests

The FBI unlawfully and systematically obscured and refused to answer legitimate requests for information about how well it was complying with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a Washington DC court found…

US district judge Randolph D Moss ruled in favor of Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD student Ryan Shapiro, finding that the government was flouting FOIA, a law intended to guarantee the public access to government records unless they fall into a protected category. Moss found that the FBI’s present policy is “fundamentally at odds with the statute”…

The bureau shot down requests for information so regularly and thoroughly – sometimes saying that records were unavailable, sometimes that they didn’t exist, sometimes that it could neither confirm nor deny the existence of records – that Shapiro and his co-plaintiffs asked for more information about the process by which they had been so often refused.

And those requests for clarifying information were categorically denied on the grounds that any information about the FBI’s reasons for denying previous FOIA requests were by their very nature secret.

Shapiro and his fellow plaintiffs contended that the government often acts in bad faith and was trying to shield itself from scrutiny as broadly as possible. In doing so, they said, it had stretched the law to breaking point by including harmless documents in the broad categories of material it refuses to hand over or discuss…

❝“The FBI does nearly everything within its power to avoid compliance with the Freedom of Information Act,” Shapiro said. “This results in the outrageous state of affairs in which the leading federal law enforcement agency in the country is in routine and often flagrant violation of federal law.”

Justice Department spokesman Bill Miller said, blah, blah, blah.

Terrorism, any of the fear and trembling categories are all acceptable reasons for breaking the law. Sacrificing constitutional freedoms on the altar of national security. Whether the politicians keeping chairs warm in Congress or the White House call themselves conservative or liberal.