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United Shades of America Visits San Quentin

CNN's new series, United Shades of America with comedian and social commentator W. Kamau Bell, airing on Sunday evenings is worth watching. Two episodes aired last night: one on the KKK and one on San Quentin.

In the KKK episode, Bell meets with a grand wizard of the KKK. Their conversation is quite awkward.

The second episode, where Bell goes behind the walls of San Quentin (but not death row) to interview the prisoners and staff and show that the human side of the inmates, is very well done.

Props to both CNN, for commissioning a series that focuses on our over-reliance on prison, and to Bell. In the San Quentin episode, Bell skillfully uses humor to gain the confidence of the inmates, who otherwise I suspect would not be so have been so candid and cooperative in their interviews. [More...]

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Sunday Open Thread

Everybody's got talent. In Vietnam, voting is open for "Vietnam's Got Talent" on its You Tube channel.

Check out Nguyen Trọng Nhân, a 9 year old boy drumming to Bon Jovi's "It's My Life." The song starts at 1 minute 10 seconds in, and after a sound glitch and some pretty non-impressive vocals by the singer, the boy takes over for the rest of the song. At around 2 minutes in, he really comes into his own. By 2 minutes and 15 seconds, he owns it. There's also an adult drummer, but he can't match the kid drummer. In the last 30 seconds, the adult drummer does a solo finale, but then Trọng Nhân closes, and he knocks it out of the park. The Judges' reaction is priceless. [More...]

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Malia Obama Headed to Harvard, After a Year Off

Malia Obama will be going to Harvard in 2017. She graduates this June and will be taking a year off before college, which Harvard encourages students to do.

Harvard encourages admitted students to defer for one year to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way. The student must not enroll in a program at another college that would grant that student a degree.

I wish that policy existed when I was graduating from high school. Or from college. I don't think it would have made much of a difference in the long run if I became a lawyer at 25 instead of 24. And having a year off to travel or volunteer would have been fun.

Malia wants to be a filmmaker. The Obamas have been good at keeping their daughters out of the limelight. I don't recall reading about either of these intern/apprenticeships she served: [More...]

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Obama and the White House Corres. Dinner

President Obama made the most of his final White House Correspondents' Dinner last night. While he probably can't take credit for the content of the jokes (written by others), he did a great job delivering them. He really had the timing down.

Obama and the jokes were funny and entertaining, especially about Trump, Cruz and Kasich. Here are some of the funnier ones.

Larry Wilmore gave the comedy monologue. I didn't care for him. He wasn't funny, just insulting. [More....]

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Saturday Open Thread

Republicans are convening in Burlingame, CA this weekend. Updates here. There were Trump protests and a few arrests. Trump and Kasich spoke (Kasich is staying in.) Cruz and Fiorini will speak tomorrow.

Trump said it would be nice for Republicans to unify, but if they don't, he will still win and he doesn't much care:

Could I win without it? I think so, to be honest, I think so," he said. High-profile Republicans such as Jeb Bush, he continued, may not support him in the general, but he brushed that off as a minor issue. "Big deal, like I care. OK?"

"Again, ideally, we're going to be together," Trump said. "I think I will win even if we're not together. I mean there are some people, I honestly don't want their endorsement. I just don't want it ... It's not going to have any impact on whether or not we beat Hillary Clinton. It's not going to have any impact. But most of the party has to come together."

[More...]

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ISIS Releases Nasheed Video "Blood for Blood"

ISIS news of note this week: Al-Hayat Media, ISIS' official media arm, has released a new "nasheed" video featuring child fighters. It's called "Sang Pour Sang" (Blood for Blood). The children sing in French, but there's an English and French option for viewing the words. The point of the video: to warn the U.S. and its allies that revenge for the airstrikes is coming.

Via Belgian researcher and analyst Pieter Van Ostaeyen, here are the words in English. He has also posted the video here. [Heads-up, there are graphic images of bombing victims but with one exception that I saw, no victims of ISIS killings. The exception is a very small still image of someone being beheaded in the frame accompanying the words "to slice necks". So if that will upset you, don't watch the video. I'm writing about the video because I think it's important to know what ISIS says it believes. In order to defeat your enemy, you first must understand it. ( The Art of War.)][More...]

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Trump Unplugged in California: Advocates Torture

As the media focuses on the Trump protesters at his rally last night in Orange County, CA, I hope it doesn't overlook what Trump is saying -- to cheers of his supporters. For one thing, he's back to advocating torture. The LA Times reports on what it calls his "raw" performance.

Donald Trump put his roughest edges on display Thursday night in Costa Mesa as he opened his California primary campaign with a raw performance highlighting his hard-line views on illegal immigration and torture while trashing an array of rivals.

He criticized Ted Cruz for not supporting torture: [More...]

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Accused Planned Parenthood Shooter Found Incompetent

A state psychologist has concluded that Robert Lewis Dear Jr., accused in Colorado's Planned Parenthood shootings, is incompetent to stand trial (unable to assist in his own defense and understand the nature of the charges and consequences.)

Dear faces 179 counts — including eight charges of first- degree murder — for the Nov. 27, 2015, attack at the Colorado Springs clinic. The 57-year-old is accused of killing University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Police Officer Garrett Swasey, Ke'Arre Stewart, 29, and Jennifer Markovsky, 35.

If the Judge agrees, Dear, Jr. will be sent to the State Hospital for treatment to restore his competency. At an earlier hearing, Dear, Jr. announced his guilt.

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The Will of Bernie

Bernie Sanders and his wife Jane seem to think that the Democratic nomination isn't about nominating a Democrat. (scroll down to 7:45 am entry.) They think non-Democrats should be allowed to dictate who the Democratic nominee should be:

In an interview with MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Thursday, Jane Sanders noted that Bernie Sanders won Rhode Island on Tuesday, which was an open primary, allowing independents as well as Democrats to vote for her husband.

"If you close the primary and you only have people who have been in the Democratic Party for years, what you are doing is effectively shutting the door on the millions of people that Bernie has brought in to the political process during this election," she said.

This isn't rocket science. There's a Democratic nominee and a Republican nominee. The Democrats nominate a Democrat and the Republicans nominate a Republican. If an outsider wants to participate, he can run as a third party candidate after being nominated by that party. [More...]

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House Committee Passes Bill Requiring Women to Register for Draft

A House Committee has passed a bill requiring women to register for the draft upon turning 18.

Women would be required to register for the military draft under a House committee bill that comes just months after the Defense Department lifted all gender-based restrictions on front-line combat units. A divided Armed Services Committee backed the provision in a sweeping defense policy bill that the full House will consider next month...

Total defense spending package in the overall bill: $602 billion.

War is not the answer. Either is the draft (which we haven't had since 1973.)

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San Bernadino Shooter's Brother Charged With Marriage Fraud

Syed Raheel Farook is the older brother of San Bernadino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook. Syed Raheel, the elder brother, served in the U.S. Navy from 2003 to 2007, with distinction, earning medals in the "Global War on Terrorism." He is married to Tatiana (Chernykh) Farook. Tatiana has a sister named Mariya Chernykh. The sisters are from Russia and emigrated here. Mariya is married to Ernesto Marquez, who was charged with providing guns to Syed Rizwan Farook and marriage fraud. The Government alleges he paid Mariya Chernykh to marry him and the marriage was a sham marriage. They never lived together.

Now the Government has charged Mariya, Syed Raheel and Tatiana with marriage fraud conspiracyincluding making false statements under oath . The conspiracy charge carries a maximum 5 year sentence. There are a total of five counts to the indictment. According to the FBI, Syed and Tatiana took staged photos of Enrique and Mariya's wedding and lied to the FBI.[More...]

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Supreme Court Hears Ex-Gov. McDonnell Bribery Case

Reuters reports the Supreme Court seems inclined to toss the bribery conviction for former VA Republican Governor Bob McDonnell (short backgrounder from trial here):

During the one-hour argument, several of the eight justices signaled that McDonnell's acceptance of $177,000 in luxury gifts and sweetheart loans from a businessman seeking to promote a dietary supplement did not constitute a criminal act.

They voiced concern that the broad interpretation of U.S. anti-corruption law used by federal prosecutors could criminalize numerous commonplace actions by politicians.

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Wednesday Night Open Thread

Donald Trump laid out his foreign policy agenda today. It's being bashed by Republicans and Democrats alike. On the car radio, the CNN commentator I happened to hear criticized everything about it, from his halting delivery (his teleprompter skills are apparently not ready for prime time) to his use of the slogan "America First" (a throwback to the much criticized 1930's isolationist policy).

Trumpís use of an expression so dated and discredited reflects his willingness to dip into the past for catch phrases that, no matter their historical baggage, can still appeal to voters.
More on that era at the New York Times here. (The CNN commentator said the America First policy led us into WWII (a view espoused here) showing that Trump doesn't even understand the phrase.

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright rips his points apart on Twitter. Former Trump rival Lindsay Graham: [More...]

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Sanders Campaign Lays Off Hundreds of Workers

Is the Sanders' campaign taking its final breaths? The Sanders campaign has laid off hundreds of workers. Sanders today insisted he's still in the race.

Sanders told supporters at a rally at Purdue University in Indiana Wednesday that he was "in this campaign to win and become the Democratic nominee," and said, "If we do not win, we intend to win every delegate that we can so that when we go to Philadelphia in July we're going to have the votes to put together the strongest progressive agenda that any political party has ever seen."

Interestingly, Politico, which first reported the story, doesn't use his exact words and conveys a different impression to the reader, adding the word "primarily." [More...]

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Imagining a Hillary-Trump Debate

Listening to Donald Trump "soil himself yet again" (as one CNN commentator put it last night) in his extended personal attack on Hillary Clinton during his victory tirade, I couldn't help but wonder what a debate between the two of them would look like.

How do you respond to someone who calls you "crooked", a criminal, unfit to be running for office, lacking in stamina, having nothing going for her but gender, etc?

Trump really is uncouth. I can't remember a candidate for national office in my lifetime who made personal attacks like these against an opponent. Sometimes you just want to take a shower after listening to him. And when he's not being uncouth, he's using bizarre statistics and exaggerating his importance. [More...]

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