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Breaking now:

Deputy constables say at least five people have been killed in a shooting in northwest Harris County.

The shooting happened late Wednesday afternoon in the 700 block of Leaflet in the Spring area. The Harris County Precinct 4 Constable's Office says seven people were shot and five of those people were killed.

From Sky 2 aerials, several ambulances could be seen. LifeFlight is transporting at least two people with gunshot wounds.

The suspect is still at large.

Here's Spring in relation to Houston - it's due north of the airport, off of I-45.

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Here's today's opinion from Harris v. Quinn, the case that, it was feared, might destroy the union movement. I urge folks to give Kagan's excellent dissent a read, since it provides a good picture of what happened today.

But there's a part of the the Majority opinion (written by Alito, which is always a good indicator of a bad ruling) that we need to pay close attention to. In Part II.D., Alito lays out a whole string of flaws he finds with Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the precedent from 1977 that, until today, was controlling on the subject.

Here are the phrases that jumped out at me:

The Abood Court's analysis is questionable on several grounds.

The Abood Court seriously erred…

Surely a First Amendment issue of this importance deserved better treatment.

The Abood Court fundamentally misunderstood…

Abood failed to appreciate the difference…

Abood failed to appreciate the conceptual difficulty…

Abood does not seem to have anticipated the magnitude…

In the years since Abood, the Court has struggled repeatedly with this issue.

Abood likewise did not foresee the practical problems…

Finally, a critical pillar of the Abood Court's analysis rests on an unsupported empirical assumption...

All of these statements, taken together, appear to amount to what scholars call "stealth overruling." To be clear, today's actual holding in Harris was fairly narrow, and unions definitely lived to fight another day (I wouldn't say they dodged this bullet, but at worst it winged them). But it won't be long before a challenge to Abood comes up, taking aim directly at the idea that workers who don't join unions should still have to pay for services that those unions provide them (such as contract negotiation and enforcement). And today's majority has very strongly signaled to the District and Circuit courts - as well as any potential litigants that business and anti-worker groups want to find - that it's ready to overturn Abood, and to hell with stare decisis.

All this is to say that two things are much more important today than they were yesterday:

1.  We need to maintain a pro-worker Senate in case of an open SCOTUS seat, and
2.  We need to keep a pro-worker President in the White House next term.

Make no mistake, this is a fight for the future of the Labor Movement. If unions lose agency fees, then free riders can easily overwhelm the system. Rather than fighting to expand unionization or workers' rights, labor groups will be struggling to merely survive.  It's a major threat with very high stakes.


Mon Jun 16, 2014 at 12:38 PM PDT

They'll probably tell Han Tak Lee today.

by JR

Sometime today, when the state of Pennsylvania can get a Korean translator out to the penitentiary, Han Tak Lee will learn that he won in court last week.

Until that happens, it'll be just another day in prison for a man serving time for a crime he didn't commit.

"The law is the means by which fragile, frail, imperfect persons and institutions seek greater perfection and justice through the search for the truth. But the search for the truth is not always easy, and the path to the truth is not always clear. Sometimes we find that truth eludes us. Sometimes, with the benefit of insight gained over time, we learn that what was once regarded as truth is myth, and what was once accepted as science is superstition.

So it is in this case."

- U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin Carlson

In the summer of 1989, a fire broke out in the cabin where Han Tak Lee and his daughter, Ji Yun, were staying.

The pair had come to the woods from their home in New York City because Ji Yun was extremely depressed and withdrawn, and the family's minister had recommended attending this Christian retreat, the Hebron Camp, in Stroud, PA. Earlier in the evening, an intensive, three-hour prayer session - some would describe it as an exorcism, with two ministers restraining Ji Yun to pray over her - had left Ji Yun exhausted and emotionally drained. She didn't want to be there, and she was volatile. She had locked herself in the cabin's bathroom for several hours, and was heard saying the camp would become her "tomb."

Ji Yun Lee
At 3:18 in the morning on July 29, 1989, the Stroud Township Volunteer Fire Department received a call that there was a fire raging at Hebron Camp. At 3:22, they arrived on the scent. They had all the flames extinguished within a half-hour, but by then, Ji Yun had burned to death.

As they firefighters worked, Han Tak Lee sat barefoot on a stone bench, staring impassively and silently.

"Mr. LEE remained almost emotionless and while in view of this officer made no attempts to console his wife when she arrived from New York later that day. Mrs. LEE on the other hand was being escorted to the scene and upon nearing the burnt building almost collapsed and had to be physically assisted from the scene."

- Report of State Trooper Thomas Jones, acting as county fire marshall

Han Tak Lee's trial was a parade of scientific errors and cultural miscommunications.

First, the science: The state's case rested on claims once believed to be absolutely true in fire investigation that were later proven false through advances in fire science. Anyone familiar with the Cameron Todd Willingham case in Texas will recognize many of the same mistakes from that investigation were made in this one - alligator charring, "pour patterns," and glass crazing, to name a few. In 1989, these were all but universally accepted as signs that accelerants were used to start the fire, and thus that arson was committed.

In fact, none of these proved arson. Fire investigators had discovered many of these purported arson indicators when sifting through homes destroyed in the Oakland firestorm of 1991. Those houses were obviously not burned in arsons, but many of the supposed indicators were clearly present. Still, by 1989 standards, the state of the "science" argued that the fire was intentionally set.

...Well, most of the science, at least. Some of the claims made by the state's expert witnesses were simply ridiculous. One state witness claimed to have calculated that the amount of fuel burned and the duration of the fire meant that a large quantity of accelerant was needed. The figure he arrived at was 62 gallons of fuel, plus several extra gallons of gasoline on top of that. That would have resulted in a cabin-sized puddle of several centimeters in depth. On its face, it's absurd, but the jury never heard a strong counter-claim.

Second, the cultural problems: Han Tak Lee's outward stoicism was misinterpreted as indifference. His lack of English-language proficiency meant the investigators were reliant on translators who appear to have been hit-or-miss. Explanations of how men from his culture would respond to family tragedy were never given to the jury. Instead, jurors heard a story of a man so depraved he wouldn't even offer his wife support when she arrived at the scene hours after the fire. Two jurors later said that the depictions of Lee as cold and uncaring were at least as important to their verdict as the scientific testimony.

With these two factors (plus the most damning fact of all in any criminal trial involving a fatal fire - the defendant survived while someone else did not), the district attorney obtained a conviction, and Han Tak Lee was sentenced to life in prison.

Han Tak Lee in 1990, at the time of his trial
"The goal of science is the systematic pursuit of knowledge through the rigorous testing and empirical analysis of hypotheses. In science only those hypotheses whose validity can be empirically proven survive. Through this scientific method, we are assured that the hypotheses that we use to examine events occurring around us have legitimate predictive power. Judged against these benchmarks, there is now substantial evidence which suggests that what was thought to be science in the field of arson investigation in the late 1980's was little more than supposition and superstition."

- U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin Carlson

It's been over 23 years, and despite the fact that the scientific testimony against Han Tak Lee is now recognized to be false, it wasn't until late last week that a court recommended his conviction be overturned. Since this ruling came from a magistrate judge, the federal district judge overseeing the case could ignore the recommendation. Or, accepting the recommendation, the state could appeal, or attempt to retry Mr. Lee (even though the district attorney has admitted that, as much of the state's evidence has been "misplaced" during the appeals, he would not be able to bring a successful prosecution again). Or, just to be spiteful, the D.A. could order Lee to be held for the full 120-day period in the hope that, perhaps, Mr. Lee's advanced age and the stress on his body from decades in prison will lead to the sentence being completed as intended.

But hopefully, Mr. Lee will manage to walk out of his confinement as a free man later this summer, breathing free air for the first time in 23 years, and knowing that his name has been cleared of the ash-colored stain that has wrongly marred it for too damn long.

The story of Han Tak Lee is nothing if not Kafkaesque - being locked up for a crime he didn't commit, surrounded by a language he doesn't understand, in a country that isn't truly his own, forced to fight countless court battles just to have the right to have his case reexamined for actual innocence. The life he has left is very likely to be short, and the enormity of what he lost in the fire has surely taken its toll. But whether he weeps, or smiles, or falls to his knees in prayer, or damns the names of everyone who put him in his situation, I hope that the news that he receives today will at least let a little brightness back into his dark life.

Once someone tells him, that is.

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Remember when Raúl Labrador announced his plans to run for House Majority Leader earlier this week? The Majority Leader is one of the people tasked with uniting the Republican caucus, so this weekend's Idaho Republican Convention, where he was the chairman, should have been a walk in the park for him.

Instead, chaos:

Idaho’s state Republican Party convention degenerated into a fiasco Saturday after attempts to disqualify up to a third of the delegates attending appeared to be succeeding – and the convention ended up adjourning without electing a chairman, setting a platform or doing any of it scheduled business.

“For three weeks I’ve tried to broker a deal to prevent what happened today,” 1st District Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador told Idaho Public Television just after the convention adjourned, but he failed; Labrador was the convention chairman.

“It’s hard to blame all this on Raul Labrador, but on the other hand, this does not strengthen his credentials for a national leadership position, either,” said BSU professor emeritus Jim Weatherby, a longtime observer of Idaho politics.

Far from uniting the deeply divided party, the gathering in Moscow degenerated into dysfunction - though it’s the party that holds every statewide office in Idaho, every seat in the congressional delegation and more than 80 percent of the seats in the state Legislature. It also proved not to be the finest hour for Labrador, whom many looked to as the healer for the fractured party just a day after he announced that he’s running for Majority Leader of the U.S. House; instead, he ended the convention facing jeers and walkouts from his own party members.

The thing is, nobody should have expected Labrador to be in any sort of position to heal the Idaho Republican Party. After all, he's spent much of the past year tearing it apart by backing a primary challenge to the incumbent Republican governor, undermining John Boehner's speakership, and feuding with his fellow Idaho congressman, Republican Mike Simpson.

Still, today's complete implosion under Labrador's supervision was something else. Check out the Idaho Spokesman-Review's "Eye on Boise" blog posts from earlier (excerpts can't really do this debacle justice):

Groans, cheers, parliamentary maneuvers and delays…

Idaho GOP convention degenerating into ‘fiasco’

Idaho GOP in disarray, convention adjourns without any new chairman or platform

Labrador: ‘For three weeks I’ve tried to broker a deal’

‘This does not strengthen his credentials for a national leadership position’

Idaho GOP convention fiasco leaves state’s majority party in disarray

And finally, some quotes from state GOP leaders about the day's hilarity:
"Is it a mess? Yes. That’s my quote." -House Speaker Scott Bedke
"It’s just a fiasco. We haven’t accomplished anything. Trying to disallow delegates? It’s just a mess. I don’t see a lot of unity." -State Rep. Paul Romrell
"Unfortunately I think there was violations of rules right from the very beginning. It’s a sad day for the Republican Party. I think people left here even more disenfranchised. It falls right on leadership of the convention and leadership at the party level." -State Sen. Dean Cameron
Heckuva job, Labby.
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Sometimes things just devolve into silliness. From the NRA's Annual Meeting "Hotel & Travel Information" page:

Looks like a pretty generic conference accommodations page, right? Look closer:
A noun, a verb, and "don't become a victim!"
Beware: Room reservations made through other companies might require you to prepay for your room (versus a one night deposit) and your prepayment might be non-refundable, no matter when you cancel unlike Conference Direct which generally has a fully refundable cancellation policy up to three days prior to arrival. You could also end up at a sold out hotel with no reservation. Some of these other services might even be scams!

Don't become a victim! Book your hotel reservation through Conference Direct, the Official Housing Company of the NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits.

Because nothing says "gathering of responsible firearms enthusiasts" like unrelenting paranoia.

Cliven Bundy isn't alone: the country is still full of people who are convinced that slavery wasn't so bad, and that the "welfare state" (a laughable description for anyone who's remotely familiar with what that term means in other countries that actually do care for their citizens' well-being) is worse than the lash of the whip.

Why is that?

The answer traces back to one of the most transparent attempts at bullshitting people who damn well knew better in American history.

It's called The Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates, by Edward A. Pollard. Pollard was a Virginian, a secessionist, a virulent white supremacist, and an all-around lying asshole. He was the original revisionist: the man who first tried in earnest to remake posterity's view of the Confederacy into a noble pursuit of freedom, as opposed to an abhorrent attempt to deny it.

In 1866, just after the war's conclusion, he published The Lost Cause, which ran for hundreds of pages of essentially one long fabrication. The South didn't really want to secede - it was forced to by the North. Slave-trading wasn't brutal and vicious - it was just another way of showing "their characteristic as a people has always been that sober estimate of the value of men and things." And, most damningly, slavery wasn't really that bad, and slaves were perfectly happy before Yankees started stirring up trouble (what I call the "'Outside Agitator' School of Bullshit").

Here's the paragraph* that, when I heard Cliven Bundy's ridiculous comments, sprang to mind:

We shall not enter upon the discussion of the moral question of slavery. But we may suggest a doubt here whether that odious term "slavery," which has been so long imposed, by the exaggeration of Northern writers, upon the judgment and sympathies of the world, is properly applied to that system of servitude in the South which was really the mildest in the world; which did not rest on acts of debasement and disenfranchisement, but elevated the African, and was in the interest of human improvement; and which, by the law of the land, protected the negro in life and limb, and in many personal rights, and, by the practice of the system, bestowed upon him a sum of individual indulgences, which made him altogether the most striking type in the world of cheerfulness and contentment.

-Edward A. Pollard, "The Lost Cause," 1866 (p.49)

This was one of the finest lines of utter bullshit revisionism ever written, and it worked really damn well. This became adopted as fact for a century throughout the South, thanks to the bold bullshitting of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other groups formed to whitewash the Civil War. It also led to such gems as the claim that thousands of black soldiers fought for the Confederacy, and right-wing complaints that "12 Years a Slave" didn't do enough to depict the "contented slaves" that surely must have existed in the South at the time.

It's this devaluing of the slaves' suffering, and the fabrication of slave-owner altruism, that allows the thoughtless boobs like Cliven Bundy to truly believe that, somehow, government assistance is actually a worse form of slavery than slavery itself.

It's indeed a peculiar institution.

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A good subject line will often make the difference between a successful e-blast and a dud. Every organization with an ounce of sense and a list of over a few thousand names will employ A/B Testing on their subject lines, using small random samples from their mailing list to determine what subject lines generate the best responses. You can learn a lot about a group's list by seeing what subject lines it uses in its email program.

So let's look at what subject lines DCCC's blasts have used over the past month. Here are most of the ones I received from various DCCC programs since 2/20. All capitalization and punctuation is verbatim:

terrible decision
about last night
humiliating loss
shocking defeat
crushing defeat
massive loss
agonizing defeat
painful loss
humiliating defeat
painful loss
debilitating defeat
it's too late
devastating loss
crippling blow
devastating defeat
I'm a little worried
dead in the water:
NEW REPORTS (doomed)
{first_name}: horrible loss
enormous loss
this could be the end:
too damn close:
devastating blow
That's in reverse chronological order, and everything below "about last night" came in BEFORE Alex Sink's loss in the FL-13 special election.

Here's a list of DSCC subject lines from the same period:

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For those just joining us: a chemical spill in the Elk River has tainted the water supply for all or part of nine counties around Charleston, WV, affecting around 250,000-300,000 people and thousands of businesses. Schools are closed, and officials are warning that the water is only safe for "flushing toilets and putting out fires."

Governor Tomblin's press conference, originally scheduled for 1:30, has just begun. I'll post updates as I get them.

Meanwhile, there's no clear indication when the emergency will end:

Water company officials still do not know how long it's going to take remove an unknown amount of a hazardous chemical that contaminated water for potentially 300,000 people.

West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre said the company is still learning about the chemical and how to remove it from the 1,500 miles of pipeline that could be affected.

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MAJOR UPDATE: THE DO NOT USE WARNING HAS BEEN EXTENDED TO ADDITIONAL COUNTIES: The warning now applies to all WV American Water customers in Kanawha, Boone, Putnam, Lincoln, Logan, Clay, Roane and Jackson counties.

I just got the news from Kanawha County Delegate Meshea Poore:
Weatherdude is also following it on his Facebook feed:
If you live in any of those five counties, officials are warning that the water is only safe for flushing the toilet and putting out fires (their words).

From the Charleston Daily Mail:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia American Water customers in a five-county area are being advised not to drink, cook with, bathe in or boil their water after the company's water supply was contaminated by a chemical leak early Thursday.

The warning applied to Kanawha, Putnam, Boone, Jackson and Lincoln counties.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin swiftly called a state of emergency.

Water customers were receiving automated calls with the warning.  

The only safe use for the company's water is to flush down a toilet or put out a fire, Lawrence Messina, spokesman for the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety announced on Twitter Thursday evening.


The water situation arose following a chemical leak Thursday morning at Freedom Industries.

A strong licorice smell that settled over the Kanawha Valley on Thursday morning was determined to be a product from the company's headquarters, located on Barlow Drive just outside of Charleston, said C.W. Sigman, Kanawha County Deputy Emergency Manager.

...The leaked product is 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, which is used in the froth flotation process of coal washing and preparation.

An initial statement from Freedom Industries apparently claimed no health risk to the public, though 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol is a known skin and respiratory irritant.

More to come...

Disclaimer: I am a fundraising consultant for Meshea Poore's congressional campaign in WV-02

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Sat May 04, 2013 at 01:06 PM PDT

A crazy man with a "fighting rifle"

by JR

On March 10th, in the small town of Middlefield, Ohio, James Gilkerson took a right turn too fast onto the State Route 608. Two local police officers--Erin Thomas and Brandon Savage--were patrolling in their cruiser and saw the turn. They pulled Gilkerson over.

Before they could approach his car, he stepped out with an AK-47 holding 40 rounds and opened fire on the officers. Thomas was wounded. The two officers returned fire, hitting Gilkerson. He doubled over in pain and yelled, "kill me!" He stood back up, raised his AK-47 back towards the officers, and started firing again. The officers again returned fire, killing him.

The dashboard camera ran the entire time, and the audio was recorded as well. This footage is now available, though it is extremely graphic, and I wouldn't recommend watching it.

The Cleveland Plain-Dealer released a slide show of items found in Gilkerson's car. In addition to many more high-capacity magazines, he also had literature on corpse disposal, ammunition and explosive manufacturing, a book on homemade weaponry, a book on constructing suppressors, a copy of "Invisible Resistance to Tyranny" (which, according to its Amazon page, promises to teach readers "the many paths of invisible resistance to tyranny - intelligence collection and dissemination, propaganda, support for active operations and, if it should ever come down to it, direct operations against a totalitarian regime"), and a couple of training manuals in gunfighting.

It was one of those last items that stood out to me as I looked through the slides. Specifically, this one:

This manual was recovered along with ammunition and other militant literature from the car of an insurrectionist who attacked police officers in Ohio back in March.
I noticed, as I skimmed past it, the logo on the bottom-right corner.

"Tactical Response"

Tactical Response is the weapons training company run by James Yeager. Mr. Yeager, you might recall, made headlines in January for a web video where he promised to "start killing people" if President Obama pursued tougher gun control:

"James Yeager, CEO of Tactical Response, a Tennessee company that trains people in weapon and tactical skills, claimed in a video posted on YouTube and Facebook that he would "start killing people" if President Barack Obama decides to take executive action to pass further gun control policies, Raw Story reports.

In a frenetic address to the camera, Yeager puts a call out to other gun rights advocates to "load your damn mags" and "get ready to fight" in what he claims will turn into a "civil war" if gun control measures in the country get any stricter."

Transcript: "Fuck that. I'm telling you, if that happens, it's going to spark a civil war and I'll be glad to fire the first shot. I'm not putting up with it. You shouldn't put up with it. And I need all you patriots to start thinking about what you're going to do, load your damn mags, make sure your rifle's clean, pack a backpack with some food in it, and get ready to fight. I am not fucking putting up with this. I am not letting my country be ruled by a dictator. (yelling) I am not letting anybody take my guns! If it goes one inch further, I'm going to start killing people."
Mr. Yeager's permit to carry a concealed weapon was temporarily suspended after that video, but was returned to him last month.

The apparent course book that Gilkerson had with him was for a two-day Tactical Response training program called "Fighting Rifle." Here's the course description from their website:

You know how to shoot your rifle or subgun now let us teach you how to FIGHT with it! This course is far more advanced than any other rifle course you can attend (with the exception of our advanced course) and covers trajectory, battlesight zero, gear set-up, sling configurations, transitions to pistol, use of cover and concealment, practical ready and firing positions, close- and medium-range snap shooting, weapons handling, urban applications, team drills, firing while moving, multiple targets, plus the tactics required to employ this potent tool in combat. Every student leaves this class with empty mags, a red hot rifle, and a smile from ear to ear! This is one of our most popular courses.

This class is great for nearly any magazine fed rifle or subgun and any traditional military style rifle. We will show you how to run your MP5, AR, AK, RPK, FAL, M1A, G3, VZ-58 or whatever weapon you have!

To my knowledge, Tactical Response hasn't made any statements about the Middlefield shooting, not even to comment on the attacker's form and technique. And just because he had what appears to be materials from this course doesn't mean he necessarily received training--I'm confident he could have picked it up from the same source as the other literature in his car, which I assume probably came from a vendor at a gun show or a table at an extremist right-wing rally--but I think it's worth looking into, especially as the course is regularly taught in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

In January, the CEO of this company says he wants "patriots" to "load your damn mags, make sure your rifle's clean...and get ready to fight," because he's ready to "start killing people." In March, someone with his company's training materials from a course on how to better kill people using assault weapons opens fire on police officers with an AK-47 loaded with a high-capacity magazine.

Say what you will, it's a uniquely American story.


I'm an Eagle Scout and former Assistant Scoutmaster who left the Scouting Movement and refuses to contribute to it financially because of its policy of active discrimination against the GLBT community.

A few minutes ago, I received an electronic survey from the BSA regarding their policy of anti-gay discrimination. I'll reproduce the questions below (please especially note the scenarios provided as part of Question 3, and the two options presented in Questions 7 and 8):

Continue Reading

I haven't seen this diaried yet but, if this is accurate--and I expect that it is, given that multiple outlets are now reporting it--then it could well prove to be a huge development:

The Queen will tomorrow back an historic pledge to promote gay rights and ‘gender equality’ in one of the most controversial acts of her reign.
In a live television broadcast, she will sign a new charter designed to stamp out discrimination against homosexual people and promote the ‘empowerment’ of women – a key part of a new drive to boost human rights and living standards across the Commonwealth.


Insiders say her decision to highlight the event is a ‘watershed’ moment – the first time she has clearly signalled her support for gay rights in her 61-year reign.

The charter, dubbed a ‘21st Century Commonwealth Magna Carta’ declares: ‘We are implacably opposed to all forms of  discrimination, whether rooted  in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.’

The article notes that homosexuality is still criminalized in most Commonwealth countries. Having the Queen make a statement against discrimination that encompasses it--even if it doesn't use the word--is a major development.

This comes right on the heels of the British government making big strides towards legalizing gay marriage throughout the UK, with the House of Commons approving the move last month.

And now that the Defender of the Faith has spoken, let's see how the objectors within the Anglican Communion respond to the call against gender and sexual discrimination.

She may not be my queen, but God save her anyway!

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