Wendy Davis Baratheon

On Tuesday, Texas state senator Wendy Davis took to the floor to filibuster Senate Bill 5, which would restrict abortions to 20 weeks of pregnancy and mandate certain safety requirements for clinics that perform them. She was joined in the chamber by a rowdy mob who, though the filibuster itself failed, succeeded in delaying the vote on the bill until just after midnight, thus negating it and ending the special legislative session.

The filibuster and mob tactics drew national media attention and subsequent fawning admiration. Internet memes were (ironically) birthed. Probably the simplest and most powerful shows Davis with a dragon on her shoulder.

For my non-geek readers, this is an adaptation of Daenerys Targaryen, from HBO’s Game of Thrones. The character is a teenage female who is sole heir to her family’s dynasty and becomes leader of a vast army partly through the power and majesty of her three newly hatched dragons. Whether you agree with her or not, the image and comparison is striking.
Unfortunately, it’s also hilariously wrong. Daenerys suffered through famine and death in the wilderness and freed hundreds of thousands of slaves from bustling slaver ports in the fantasy realm of Essos. Wendy Davis, on the other hand, stood up for a few hours in an air conditioned, well-furnished legislative chamber in order to ensure that the wanton slaughter of viable unborn children would go on unimpeded. 
Actually, there is a much more apt comparison for Wendy Davis in Game of Thrones: Joffrey Baratheon, the uncontrollably violent boy king. Specifically in one episode of the second season, Joffrey orders all black-haired young boys in the city, from infants to teens, slaughtered in order to prevent possible bastard offspring of his late father from challenging his own claim to the throne. The ensuing montage of infanticide is brutal to watch, but that fictional horror doesn’t even come close to what goes on in abortion clinics across the country on a daily basis. Wendy Davis is now the face of this morbid crusade. All that’s missing is the golden antlered crown.

BOMBSHELL STUDY: Twins socially interact in the womb

We already know that fetuses feel pain as early as 17 weeks. We also know that twins in the womb demonstrate physical contact as early as 11 weeks. Mental activity can be detected as early as 20 weeks. But a little-covered scientific study published in 2010 in Italy (noted only in Wired as far as I can tell) concluded that much of the physical contact between fetal twins is actually social and interactive in nature, not just reactive or reflexive.

Newborns come into the world wired to socially interact. Is a propensity to socially oriented action already present before birth? Twin pregnancies provide a unique opportunity to investigate the social pre-wiring hypothesis. Although various types of inter-twins contact have been demonstrated starting from the 11th week of gestation, no study has so far investigated the critical question whether intra-pair contact is the result of motor planning rather then the accidental outcome of spatial proximity. 

Kinematic profiles of movements in five pairs of twin foetuses were studied by using four-dimensional ultrasonography during two separate recording sessions carried out at the 14th and 18th week of gestation. We demonstrate that by the 14th week of gestation twin foetuses do not only display movements directed towards the uterine wall and self-directed movements, but also movements specifically aimed at the co-twin, the proportion of which increases between the 14th and 18th gestational week. Kinematic analysis revealed that movement duration was longer and deceleration time was prolonged for other-directed movements compared to movements directed towards the uterine wall. Similar kinematic profiles were observed for movements directed towards the co-twin and self-directed movements aimed at the eye-region, i.e. the most delicate region of the body. 

We conclude that performance of movements towards the co-twin is not accidental: already starting from the 14th week of gestation twin foetuses execute movements specifically aimed at the co-twin.

There are mounds of scientific evidence to suggest that fetuses are living, feeling, aware human beings very early on in pregnancy. This study seems to be a conclusive flag planted on top of that mound. Anyone who continues to call unborn children a “choice“, a “mass of tissue”, a “growth“, or says that whether it’s life or not is “above my pay grade” should no longer be taken seriously on the issue. The debate is over. The science is settled. A fetus is alive and should be treated as such.

The law-breaking canard against immigration reform

There are lots of well-intentioned conservatives against immigration reform. Then there are simple haters. I’m not sure which group the “law-breaker” peddlers fall into, but they’re really irritating me lately.

When arguing against any type of legal status for currently illegal immigrants, these people claim that since breaking the law was someone’s “first act” in our country, they are apparently forbidden from ever having a meaningful life as an immigrant or otherwise in America. Of course we are a country of laws and our society breaks down when those laws are flaunted, but what about when the laws themselves are…broken?

One argument often used is that since there are over 4 million people waiting to immigrate here legally, we shouldn’t reward the ones that have “cut in line” ahead of them illegally. This also argues for reform. The fact that there are over 4 million people waiting for years to immigrate legally is a point in favor of reform, not against it. We should make it easier for everyone to come here legally, not add more people to the already absurdly long line.

But more simply, the argument that breaking an administrative rule by skirting the immigration system should bar you from any rights and privileges as an American in the future is absurd. We can’t possibly enforce the laws as they are, the numbers simply prohibit it, and the numbers also prove the need for reform.

I realize this is a mostly libertarian argument, so not everyone will agree to it, but it seems like a speeding ticket to me. Speeding itself doesn’t harm anyone. Why is it illegal? Because it increases the potential for harm. Unauthorized immigration itself doesn’t actually harm anyone. Sometimes those who do it also break other laws and do harm, but that has nothing to do with their immigration status. Having this hugely complex immigration process seems as pointless as speed limits. People who intend to break them will do so, while the rest of us will drive at relatively safe speeds for its own sake, not because it’s the law.

There is a fundamental argument about the purpose of the law under this debate. Should the law be massive and confusing in order to prevent any possible negative event, or should it be simple and predictable and have a net positive effect on society?

And when the law itself is bad, should we really punish people for working around it? Where is the line between justified civil disobedience and lawlessness?

SHORTER: When everyone agrees that the law is a mess and needs fixing, why is someone having already broken it an argument against doing so?

Bush > Obama, Officially

Shot:

Chaser:

Americans’ views of former president George W. Bush have improved, with 49% now viewing him favorably and 46% unfavorably. That is the first time since 2005 that opinions of him have been more positive than negative.

Whether it’s because of recent scandals or the favorable passage of time, it is now official: George W Bush is more popular than Barack Obama.

UPDATE: Another day, another three points down for Obama, now at 45% approval on the 3-day rolling average (different than the weekly average shown above). Bush now leads him by 4% instead of 1%.

The Immigration Game

Immigration is to 2014 as Obamacare was to 2010, whether it passes or fails.

After a year of debate, Obamacare was signed into law in March 2010. The resulting outrage swept the Democrats from power in the House and nearly the Senate in the November 2010 midterm elections. Immigration reform may have the same effect on next year’s election, in one of two directions. It will pass the Senate, but its fate in the House is the real question. If it gets full Democrat support and a few Republicans, it will pass the House. It then becomes a GOP target for rallying the base to the midterm election (along with the IRS, NSA, EPA, and other scandals), possibly helping Republicans take back the Senate.

However, if it fails it will have the opposite effect, this time for Democrats. If the GOP stands united against it, and it doesn’t pass the House, President Obama gets to rally his base against the “hateful, bigoted, xenophobic, backwards” Republicans. There’s not much of a chance of Democrats taking back the House in 2014, but an energized Democrat base could at least hold their Senate majority.

So that’s the game. Some even suggest the bill is designed to fail for these electoral reasons. I call myself cynical, but even I’m not that cynical. I think immigration reform is the right thing to do, for many, many reasons, though I don’t think the bill is perfect (is any?). But we’ll never get a perfect bill, and until then millions of people from other countries who just want a better life for themselves and their children are pushed to undermine our legal system. So screw the politics, let’s fix the system.

The NSA excuse only goes halfway

In response to the collective outrage that the National Security Agency collects records on every phone call made in the US every day, the Obama administration has declassified some details about the program in an attempt to explain it and douse the flames. In short, the program is approved by the secret FISA court, reviewed periodically for abuse, and does not actually use the data except when specific threats or information arise. While this might make them, and even some outraged citizens, feel better, it does not make it any less unconstitutional.

The Fourth Amendment states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The administration argues that since they do not actually look at or use the data without probable cause, the program is valid. They are saying that they have probable cause when they do a search on the data. The problem is that they don’t have probable cause when they seize the data. There cannot possibly be probable cause to seize phone records for the entire country. This is by definition unreasonable, and thus prohibited by the Constitution that the congressmen who created the legal authority for, bureaucrats who administer, and judges who sign off on this program swore to protect and uphold.

UPDATE:

The full statement by James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, has one statement that I think deserves extra scrutiny.

The collection is broad in scope because more narrow collection would limit our ability to screen for and identify terrorism-related communications.

Quite simply, too bad. I’m sure there are lots of unconstitutional things the government could do to keep us safe. They still aren’t and shouldn’t ever be allowed to do them.

The Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, a former FBI agent, Mike Rodgers, went even further today and said that we have already thwarted a domestic terrorist attack because of this program. Again, too bad. We could thwart even more terrorist attacks if we quartered soldiers in citizens’ homes or conducted military operations in American cities, but that doesn’t mean we should. Part of the byproduct of living in a free republic is the risk of occasional harm. We formed the federal government to protect our liberties from infringement by others within a framework of laws, not to prevent that harm by any means necessary.

Christie’s gambit

Robert Costa at NRO and others make the case that Governor Chris Christie has sold out the GOP for his own aspirations (?) with his decision to hold a special election to fill Lautenberg’s vacated Senate seat in October 2013 instead of allowing his soon-to-be-appointed interim choice remain in the seat until the end of Lautenberg’s term in 2014. This objection is wrong on both counts.

First, it isn’t necessarily Christie choosing himself (or Democrat electoral chances?) over GOP chances. The only Republican that would be allegedly helped by having the interim appointment serve until 2014 is that appointed candidate, or one Senate seat. Conversely, there are lots of Republicans who could be helped by keeping the extremely popular and charismatic like Democratic nominee, Newark mayor Cory Booker, off the November 2014 ballot. Christie himself will likely inflate GOP turnout in November 2013, which will help Republicans running for the other state offices in that election. Christie won’t be on the ballot in 2014, but had he not made this decision, Booker would be, which would probably have inflated Democrat and specifically black turnout, dragging down other potential New Jersey Republicans running for the House. So yes, he may have traded away Republican chances for one more Senate seat in 2014, but really how good were those chances going to be anyway?

It turns out that with an interim appointed Senator, not very good. And that’s the second part Costa and others get wrong. Having a Republican appointed to Lautenberg’s seat for the next 18 months does not increase the chances of a Republican keeping that seat in 2014. It turns out that interim appointees have a very hard time holding onto their seat in the next election historically. Given that this election would have been against Cory Booker and his +60% approval rating anyway, Christie would be trading 18 months of an extra Republican in the Senate for…nothing really.