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  • How Bernie Sanders Learned to Be a Real Politician

    Sometime in the late 1970s, after he'd had a kid, divorced his college sweetheart, lost four elections for statewide offices, and been evicted from his home on Maple Street in Burlington, Vermont, Bernie Sanders moved in with a friend named Richard Sugarman. Sanders, a restless political activist and armchair psychologist with a penchant for arguing his theories late into the night, found a sounding board in the young scholar, who taught philosophy at the nearby University of Vermont. At the time, Sanders was struggling to square his revolutionary zeal with his overwhelming rejection at the polls—and this was reflected in a regular ritual. Many mornings, Sanders would greet his roommate with a simple statement: "We're not crazy."

    "I'd say, 'Bernard, maybe the first thing you should say is 'Good morning' or something,'" Sugarman recalls. "But he'd say, 'We're. Not. Crazy.'"

    Sanders eventually got a place of his own, found his way, and in 1981 was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont's largest city—the start of an improbable political career that led him to Congress, and soon, he hopes, the White House. On Tuesday, after more than three decades as a self-described independent socialist, the septuagenarian senator launched his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in the Vermont city where this long, strange trip began. But it was during Sanders' first turbulent decade in Vermont that he discovered it wasn't enough to hold lofty ideas and wait for the world to fall in line; in the Green Mountains, he learned how to be a politician.

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  • Ted Cruz's Iowa Chairman Spent $250K to Stop People From Voting

    Ted Cruz's presidential ambitions may well live or die with the Iowa Republican caucuses. In recent years, the Hawkeye State has served as the launching pad for candidates courting social conservatives, handing caucus wins to Rick Santorum in 2012 and Mike Huckabee in 2008. The Texas senator hasn't been too subtle in his attempts to claim the same mantle. Cruz announced his campaign in March at Liberty University—founded by Jerry Falwell, the late televangelist who once suggested 9/11 was God's punishment for homosexuality and abortion—and during an initial trip to Iowa for a "Faith and Freedom Coalition" conference Cruz argued for allowing Christian symbols in public spaces. But perhaps his best play so far has been snagging former Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz to be his state chairman there, considering that three years ago Schultz was a prominent supporter of Santorum, who is about to announce his 2016 presidential bid.

    By tapping Schultz, Cruz also tied himself to Schultz's leading cause: trying to restrict voting under the guise of combating voter fraud. During his four years as secretary of state, Schultz spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to unearth evidence of fraud but ended up finding little and being cited for the mismanagement of public funds.

    Schultz was a little-known political figure in 2010, when he vaulted from two terms on the Council Bluffs City Council to be elected secretary of state. At 31 years old, he was the youngest person ever to hold that title. It was a small campaign, with just $100,000 spent on his Republican primary contest and the general election. He campaigned for tightening up Iowa's voting procedures, creating strict photo ID laws, and scaling back the state's same-day voter registration policy.

    Thanks to a Democratic majority in the state Senate, Iowa held off on passing any sort of photo ID voting requirement. Schultz may have failed to get that measure past the state Legislature, but on his own he went to great lengths to prove that voter fraud was a menace to the state's electoral system.

    He spent more than $250,000 to fund a full-time investigator tasked with uncovering voter fraud. The investigator produced only six successful prosecutions during two years on the job. A 2014 report issued by Schultz's office recorded only 117 suspected cases of illegal voting during a two-year period, 27 of which led to charges. Yet Schultz's investigation inadvertently showed that the system shuts out almost as many legitimate voters, as the report noted that 20 ex-felons who should have been allowed to vote were turned away from the polls.

    Schultz paid for that investigator with funds provided by the federal government's Help America Vote Act, a 2002 law intended to make access to the ballot easier, not more restrictive. In 2013, the state auditor's office sent a letter to Schultz suggesting that he may have been misusing those federal funds—fighting voter fraud wasn't on the list of approved uses for this money—and the auditor recommended that Schultz come up with a plan to repay the funds.

    Schultz took other steps to restrict voting. Shortly before the 2012 election, he tried to purge state voter rolls of more than 3,500 people who he claimed were illegal voters after his office checked their names against national immigration databases and supposedly determined they weren't citizens. Iowa judges repeatedly rejected this move as an illegal overreach of Schultz's powers, and civil rights groups objected that his methods would sweep out legitimate voters alongside those who weren't eligible to vote. The legal process dragged on for years. Resolution didn't arrive until this past March, when Schultz's successor as secretary of state, Republican Paul Pate, dropped an appeal to the state Supreme Court that Schultz had initiated.

    Schultz framed his voter fraud fight as a necessary step for Republicans who want to enact conservative policy. "There are a whole lot of issues that we care about, abortion, gay marriage, a whole lot of social issues that we care deeply about," Schultz said at a 2013 conference in Iowa, caught on tape by ThinkProgress. "But you have to start caring about voter ID and election integrity as well, because if you don't have that, you'll never be able to make a difference in any other issue you care about. Never. Because they will cheat! They'll cheat. And we need to make sure we stop them."

    Instead of seeking reelection as secretary of state in 2014, Schultz ran for an open congressional seat. He was the favorite of the conservative base in that race, but the once-rising star of the party finished third in a field of six candidates in the GOP primary. After that, Schultz lowered his ambitions and won a race to become Madison County attorney in November.

    Cruz's views on voter ID don't seem far off from Schultz's. In 2013, while the Senate was debating a comprehensive overhaul of the country's immigration laws, Cruz introduced an amendment that would have allowed states to require "proof of citizenship" photo ID laws. That same summer, Cruz applauded the Supreme Court's decision to strike down key parts of the Voting Rights Act, a decision that has opened the floodgates for voter-suppression laws across the country.

    By snatching Schultz away from Santorum, Cruz has boosted his appeal to Iowa social conservatives, especially those who share the notion that voter fraud is a real and present danger.

  • Is Marco Rubio This Eccentric Billionaire's New Pet Project?

    An eccentric billionaire with a sculpted goatee and a penchant for daredevil feats, Larry Ellison isn't quite Tony Stark, but he's close. The founder of software giant Oracle partly inspired Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man character. And like Stark, he's made a hobby of championing fanciful ventures. According to Politico, Ellison has found his latest challenge: getting Marco Rubio into the White House.

    Ellison will hold a June 9 fundraiser for the Republican senator at his Woodside, California, estate that will feature a $2,700-per-person VIP reception and photo op with the candidate and a dinner for supporters who have raised more than $27,000 for Rubio's presidential campaign. It's not an official endorsement, but having the world's fifth-richest person in his corner would be a coup for Rubio, particularly as his fellow Floridian Jeb Bush gobbles up donations from the Sunshine State's wealthiest Republicans at a record pace. Ellison, 70, is worth an estimated $54 billion. (His income in 2013, when he was still Oracle's CEO, broke down to about $38,000 per hour.)

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  • California Farmers Have Agreed to Water Cuts. What Exactly Does That Mean?

    As California endures its fourth year of grueling drought, officials are getting more serious about mandatory water cuts. Gov. Jerry Brown imposed the state's first-ever water restrictions last month, ordering cities and towns to cut water by 25 percent. But the vast majority of water in California goes not to homes and businesses but to farms, which so far have suffered minimal cuts.

    On Friday, the state's Water Board approved a deal with farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in which some farmers will voluntarily reduce water use by 25 percent in exchange for assurances that they won't suffer reductions later in the growing season. "We're in a drought unprecedented in our times," said Board Chair Felicia Marcus on Friday. "The action we're announcing today is definitely unusual, but we are in unusual times."

    Here's a primer on how farms are using water now, who holds rights to it, and what restrictions may come next.

    How much water do California farms use? Farms consume about 80 percent of the state's water supply, and use it to grow half of the fruits and veggies that are produced in the United States. Almonds and alfalfa (cattle feed) use more than 15 percent of the state's water.

    What are water rights? Water rights enable individuals, city water agencies, irrigation districts, and corporations to divert water directly from rivers or streams for free. The rights are based on a very old seniority system: "Senior" water rights holders are the first to get water and the last to suffer from cuts. There are two primary types of these senior holders: Those who started using the water before 1914 (when the water permit system was put in place), and "riparians," who own property directly adjacent to streams or rivers. Water rights often, but don't always, transfer with property sales.

    Who are senior water rights holders? Senior water rights holders are the corporations, individuals, or entities who either staked out the water before 1914, when the state started requiring permits and applications for water; those who live directly adjacent to a river or stream; or those who have bought property with senior water rights. This system made sense in the era of pioneers settling the Wild West: As the Associated Press recently put it, "Establishing an early right to California water was as simple as going ahead and diverting it. Paperwork came later. San Francisco got the Sierra Nevada water that turned its sand dunes into lush gardens by tacking a handwritten notice to a tree in 1902." Today, there are thousands of senior water rights holders; most of them are corporations, many of which are farms. The holders include utilities company Pacific Gas and Electric, the San Francisco water agency, a number of rural irrigation districts, and Star Trek actor and rancher William Shatner.

    What water cuts were announced Friday, and what's coming next? The Water Board announced that it would accept a voluntary deal in which riparians in the 6,000-acre Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (shown in the map below) would reduce their water use by 25 percent, or fallow 25 percent of their land. In exchange, the Water Board promised them that they wouldn't suffer cuts in the coming year. There are about 1,000 water holders in the area who could be candidates for the deal, which will be enforced by a combination of a complaint system, satellite imagery, and spot checks.

    In addition, the Board will announce mandatory curtailments to other senior water holders next week for the first time since the 1970s. The Board is still figuring out the location and percentage of these cuts.

    So before Friday's cuts, farmers were just using as much water as they wanted? Well, not exactly. Farmers with "junior" (post-1914) rights in the San Joaquin and Sacramento River basins, home of the normally fertile Central Valley, were ordered to stop using the river's water a month ago. But the regulations are enforced by the honor system and reported complaints; so far, only a fifth of junior water holders in the area have confirmed that they are complying.

    The Department of Water Resources has also made substantial cuts to the state's two major water projects—a system of aqueducts, dams, and canals across the state that distributes water from water-rich Northern California to the water-poor Central Valley. Growers who use water from the Central Valley Water Project are only receiving 20 percent of their allocated water, and farmers of the State Water Project aren't receiving any at all.

    All of this has led more and more farmers to rely almost exclusively on groundwater, but it's undeniable that the drought has led to less farming overall: Last year, five percent of irrigated cropland went out of production, and officials expect that number to rise this year.

    What is groundwater, and how much of it are farmers using? Groundwater is the water that trickles down through the earth's surface over the centuries, collecting in large underwater aquifers. It's a savings account of sorts—good to have when it's dry but difficult to refill—and it wasn't regulated until last year, when Gov. Brown ordered local water agencies to come up with management plans. The water agencies are still in the process of implementing those plans, and in the meantime, no one knows exactly how much groundwater is being used. We do know this: Groundwater usually makes up about 40 percent of the state's total freshwater usage, but lately, the state has been running on it. It made up 65 percent of freshwater use last year, and may make up as much as 75 percent this year. As a result of overpumping, the land is sinking—as much as a foot a year in some areas—and officials are worried that the changing landscape threatens the structural integrity of infrastructure like bridges, roads and train tracks.

  • These Are the Jobs Robots Will Take From Humans, According To Researchers With Jobs?For Now

    The coming robot invasion is suddenly a hot topic again. This week, Fresh Air interviewed Martin Ford, whose book Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future was just reviewed in the New York Times by Barbara Ehrenreich. The Harvard Business Review published a long article with advice for protecting your career from super-smart robots. And NPR's Planet Money has been producing a series of stories on how machines are getting really good at doing tasks from serving food and writing news articles to reading emotions.

    As MoJo's Kevin Drum, who's been following this rapidly emerging trend for while, explains, by 2030 or 2040 we could see a major economic shift in which robots and computers start to make significant chunks of the human workforce obsolete: "When the robot revolution finally starts to happen, it's going to happen fast, and it's going to turn our world upside down."

    So just how worried should you be that a bot or app is about to force you into early retirement? Planet Money made a nifty tool that spits out the chances that your job may soon be done by robots or computers. Some selected results:

    Telemarketers: 99.0% chance of being automated

    Umpires and referees: 98.3%

    Cooks: 96.3%

    Manicurists and pedicurists: 94.5%

    Roofers: 89.7%

    Janitors: 66.3%

    Massage therapists: 54.1%

    Programmers: 48.1%

    Historians: 43.9%

    Judges: 40.1%

    Actors: 37.4%

    Dancers: 12.7%

    Writers: 3.8%

    Chief executives: 1.5%

    Foresters: 0.8%

    Preschool teachers: 0.7%

    The numbers, based on a 2013 study by an economist and a machine-learning prof from Oxford, are all over the board. In general, jobs that require negotiation, creativity, and people skills tend to have a lower chance of being done by a robot. So dancers and preschool teachers can sleep easy. As can CEOs, who will no doubt find a way to provide essential oversight of the new 24-7, benefit- and bathroom break-free workforce.   

    Some of the findings seem to push the bounds of what we're currently willing to let machines do. Robocalling people during dinnertime, sure. But will we really see a robot ump calling the 2040 World Series? In theory, a computer can call a strike more accurately than a person, but what's the fun in shouting "Get your vision algorithm debugged!" at a camera behind home plate? 

    Only a mindless machine would read these as precise probabilities. "The researchers admit that these estimates are rough and likely to be wrong," Planet Money concedes. Now if only there were a machine that was good at analyzing data to make reliable estimates…

  • These Photos of Sea Creatures Soaked by Oil in California Will Break Your Heart
    Volunteers fill buckets with oil near Refugio State Beach. Michael A. Mariant/AP

    On Tuesday, an oil pipeline burst near Refugio State Beach west of Santa Barbara, California, sending an estimated 105,000 gallons of oil onto the beach. Up to a fifth of that oil is believed to have reached the ocean, Reuters reports.

    Now, volunteers and private contractors are racing to clean up the oil. About 6,000 gallons have been collected so far, according to the AP. But damage has already been done. At least two pelicans have been found dead, and five more pelicans and one sea lion were sent for rehabilitation. Biologists have also found many dead fish and lobsters. Local officials have closed the beach at least through Memorial Day, and possibly for "many weeks" after that, one scientist at the scene said.

    A young female sea lion affected by the Santa Barbara oil spill receives treatment from the SeaWorld California animal rescue team. Rex Features/AP

    The company that owned the pipeline, Plains All American, has one of the country's worst environmental safety records. An analysis by the Los Angeles Times found that the company's rate of incidents per mile of pipeline is more than three times the national average. A spokesperson said the company deeply "regrets this release," but it remains unclear what penalties it could face for this latest accident.

    It could be years before the full impact is truly understood, since damage to the ecosystem can sometimes take a while to manifest. Five years after the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, biologists are still tallying the damage.

    Here are some of the latest images coming in from the scene:

    Refugio State Beach Santa Barbara News-Press/ZUMA
    A small crab covered in oil Troy Harvey/ZUMA
    Two whales surfaced near an oil slick off Refugio State Beach. Michael A. Mariant/AP
    A dead lobster covered in oil on the shoreline Troy Harvey/ZUMA
    Clean-up workers remove a dead octopus from the beach. Mike Eliason/ZUMA
    Crews from Patriot Environmental Services collect oil-covered seaweed and sand. Michael A. Mariant/AP
    A helicopter coordinates ships below pulling booms to collect oil from the spill. Michael A. Mariant/AP
    Clean-up workers monitor the site of the underground oil pipeline break. Michael A. Mariant/AP

  • How Scott Walker and His Allies Hijacked the Wisconsin Supreme Court

    For three years, Wisconsin prosecutors have been investigating whether Republican Gov. Scott Walker broke campaign finance laws as he battled a 2012 recall effort sparked by his push for a law that undercut the power of public-sector unions. Prosecutors allege that Walker and his aides illegally coordinated with conservative groups that were raising money and running ads to support Walker and his Republican allies. At least one group at the center of the probe, the Wisconsin Club for Growth, has gone to court to stop the investigation. Its fate now rests with the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which will rule any day now on whether the inquiry can proceed.

    But there's a rub. Two key targets of the investigation—the Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state's leading business group—have spent more than $10 million since 2007 to elect a conservative majority to Wisconsin's top court. Given their involvement in the investigation, and the Wisconsin Club for Growth's position as a party to the case, good-government advocates question whether the four conservative justices elected with the help of these two groups should be presiding over the case.

    The Wisconsin Club for Growth and WMC did not make direct contributions to the campaigns for these justices. Instead, they poured millions into so-called independent issue ads that clearly conveyed messages that supported these campaigns. And in an odd twist, due to lax recusal guidelines—which were adopted at the urging of one of these conservative outfits—these justices on the state's high court are not compelled to sit out a case involving these two groups.

    The Wisconsin Club for Growth and WMC are top players in a years-long undertaking by Walker and his allies to create a conservative majority on the Supreme Court that is friendly to conservative policies—an operation that has included spending millions on ads, ending public campaign financing for Supreme Court elections, rewriting the court's ethics guidelines, and amending the state's constitution. This effort has led to one of the most partisan and dysfunctional judicial bodies in the country, a court with liberal and conservative justices who won't appear together in public. And it could well end up benefiting the conservative groups under investigation should the jurists they helped elect rule the probe should stop.

    "This large amount of money and special interests has impacted the workings of the court, the reputation of the court, and how it's interacting internally," says former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske, who served on the court from 1993 to 1998.

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  • Does Mike Huckabee Know Where the Ark of the Covenant Is Buried?

    Harry Moskoff wouldn't immediately strike you as the guy to discover the true location of the Ark of the Covenant, the chest that supposedly once held the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written. He was born in Canada, studied jazz at Berklee College of Music, worked in IT, and started a company that specialized in copyright infringement claims when he moved to Tel Aviv 10 years ago. But in his free time, the ordained rabbi has dabbled in biblical archeology, poring over ancient texts and contemporary works, in search of any unturned stone that might help him track down the ark.

    "I came up with a theory via Maimonides as to where the ark is located, which I later discussed with rabbis and archeologists in Israel," he told the Times of Israel in 2013. "It was a Jewish Da Vinci Code type project." His grand theory? It's been in Jerusalem all this time, buried underneath the courtyard of the Temple of Solomon. To promote his discovery, in 2013 he made a sci-fi movie called The A.R.K. Report.

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  • Moving Photographs of Japanese American Internees, Then and Now

    In early 1945, the federal government started to open the internment camps where it had held 120,000 Japanese Americans for much of World War II. Seven decades later, photographer Paul Kitagaki Jr. has been tracking down the internees pictured in wartime images by photographers like Dorothea Lange (who photographed Kitagaki's own family—see below).

    So far, he's identified more than 50 survivors, often reshooting them in the locations where they were originally photographed.

    Seven-year-olds Helene Nakamoto Mihara (left, in top photo) and Mary Ann Yahiro (center) were photographed by Lange as they recited the Pledge of Allegiance outside their elementary school in San Francisco in 1942. Both were sent to the Topaz Internment Camp in Utah. Yahiro (right, in bottom photo) was separated from her mother, who died in another camp. "I don't have bitterness like a lot of people might," she told Kitagaki.

    Dorothea Lange
    Paul Kitagaki Jr.

    Lange photographed 19-year-old Mitsunobu "Mits" Kojimoto in San Francisco as he waited to be sent to the Santa Anita Assembly Center in Arcadia, California. "We were being kicked out of San Francisco," he recalled to Kitagaki. "It was kind of shocking, because as you grow up you think you are going to have certain rights of life, liberty. And to be sitting there was very disheartening. I was really wishing that somebody would come and save us. We were citizens, but now we were not."

    Kojimoto volunteered for the army and received a Bronze Star for his service in France and Italy. "I felt, I'm going to volunteer," he said. "Why not?…We were behind barbed wire, and we should put our best foot forward and volunteer." 

    Dorothea Lange/UC Berkeley Bancroft Library
    Paul Kitagaki Jr.

    In one of the best known photographs of Japanese American internment, 70-year-old Sakutaro Aso and his grandsons Shigeo Jerry Aso and Sadao Bill Aso wait to be deported from Hayward, California, in 1942. "When I look at the picture, I can see my grandfather realized that something terrible was happening and his life was never going to be the same again. That was the end of the line for him," Bill Asano told Kitagaki about his grandfather. His brother, Jerry Aso, agrees: "So, [grandfather's] dream of coming to the United States, his dream of making a life, his dream of having his children working in this business, to support them all were totally dashed."

    "My parents and my grandparents seldom talked about the internment experience, even though I know that it was a searing memory," said Aso. "And I think because it was so searing, that they didn't want to talk about it. But I think also, also the idea that, if you try to explain the unfairness of the whole situation, the explanation itself kind of falls on deaf ears."

    Dorothea Lange
    Paul Kitagaki Jr.

    Below, seven-year-old Mae Yanagi before being sent to the Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno, California, where her family spent several months in a horse stall before being shipped to a camp in Utah. The Yanagis left their home and nursery business in Hayward, California, in the care of a businessman. "When we got back, it had been sold," Mae Yanagi Ferral told Kitagaki. "It was there, but somebody else was living there. We didn't talk about it." Her father had to start over as a gardener in Berkeley. "He had the most difficult time with the relocation and he never accepted the premise that they were doing it for our benefit. For many years he was very angry. My father felt the injustice of the interment, and my older siblings really felt the injustice of it. We just didn't say anything about it."

    Dorothea Lange/UC Berkeley Bancroft Library
    Paul Kitagaki Jr.

    Harvey Akio Itano was interned in 1942, forcing him to miss his graduation from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was awarded the school's highest academic honor in absentia. In the summer of 1942, he was allowed to leave Tule Lake War Relocation Center to attend medical school. Itano went on to help discover the genetic cause of sickle cell anemia while working with Dr. Linus Pauling at Cal Tech in 1949. He also worked as the medical director of the US Public Health Service and as a pathology professor at University of California, San Diego. In 1979, he became the first Japanese American to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences. He died in 2010.

    Dorothea Lange
    Paul Kitagaki Jr.

    "We should be careful not to incarcerate whole groups of people, as they did," Anna Nakada told Kitagaki. "We need to be very wary of that.” As a girl, Nakada was photographed during a 1945 performance at the Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah. After the war, Nakada became a master of ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. Internment, she reflected, "displaced our family in kind of a positive way rather than negative. It didn't drag us down. In fact, it gave us some chances."

    War Relocation Authority/California Historical Society
    Paul Kitagaki Jr.

    Kitagki located former Boy Scouts Junzo Jake Ohara, Takeshi Motoyasu, and Eddie Tetsuji Kato, who had been photographed during a morning flag raising ceremony at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. "I didn't feel anything until later on," said Ohara, who later became a pharmacist. "I got kind of angry, because of all the experiences that we went through, the losses, not for myself but for the parents and the older guys that had already graduated high school. You start to think about those guys." After Takeshi returned home, he became an electrical engineer. "I think for us young guys it was not too bad," he said. "They fed you, they clothed you. It's just the persecution from you being the enemy, that's the only thing that would bother you."

    Pat Coffey/War Relocation Authority/UC Berkeley Bancroft Library
     Paul Kitagaki Jr.

    Ibuki Hibi Lee stands in the exact location in Hayward, California, where she and her mother waited to board a bus with their belongings 70 years earlier. Her parents, Matsusaburo Hibi and Hisako Hibi, were artists who documented life in their internment camp in Utah. "You have to think of camp from the view of injustice," Lee said. "And it was really an injustice to Japanese Americans and those who were citizens. It had to do a lot with economics, racism and politics."

    Dorothea Lange
    Paul Kitagaki Jr.

    Lange photographed Suyematsu Kitagaki and Juki Kitagaki as they sat with their children, 11-year-old Kimiko and 14-year-old Kiyoshi, at the WCCA Control Station in Oakland, California, before being detained in May 1942. In the photo, a family friend hands Kimiko a pamphlet expressing good wishes toward the departing evacuees. The Kitagakis were later sent to the Topaz Internment Camp in Utah.

    More than 60 years later, Paul Kitagaki Jr. joined his father and aunt outside the same Oakland building where they had been photographed with his grandparents. From left to right: Agnes Eiko Kitagaki (his mother), Kimiko Wong (his aunt), Paul Kiyoshi Kitagaki (his father), Sharon Young (his cousin), and Paul Kitagaki Jr. 

    Dorothea Lange
    Paul Kitagaki Jr.

  • Here's the Best Stuff from Edward Snowden's Reddit "Ask Me Anything"

    In the midst of the Congressional debate about mass surveillance and a Senate filibuster of a vote on the Patriot Act, it might be easy to forget how we got here. Arguably, none of would be happening if not for Edward Snowden, the erstwhile National Security Agency contractor who rocked the world when he leaked a trove of documents exposing the US government's spying and surveillance operations.

    Snowden took questions on Reddit during an AMA ("Ask Me Anything") on Thursday. The whole thing is worth a read, but here are some highlights:

    On Sen. Rand Paul's filibuster of the Patriot Act's renewal:

    It represents a sea change from a few years ago, when intrusive new surveillance laws were passed without any kind of meaningful opposition or debate. Whatever you think about Rand Paul or his politics, it's important to remember that when he took the floor to say "No" to any length of reauthorization of the Patriot Act, he was speaking for the majority of Americans -- more than 60% of whom want to see this kind of mass surveillance reformed or ended.

    On the American public's apparent apathy about the NSA snooping revelations:

    Jameel probably has a better answer, but we know from very recent, non-partisan polling that Americans (and everyone else around the world) care tremendously about mass surveillance.

    The more central question, from my perspective, is "why don't lawmakers seem to care?" After all, the entire reason they are in office in our system is to represent our views. The recent Princeton Study on politicians' responsiveness to the policy preferences of different sections of society gives some indication of where things might be going wrong:

    Out of all groups expressing a policy preference within society, the views of the public at large are given the very least weight, whereas those of economic elites (think bankers, lobbyists, and the people on the Board of Directors at defense contracting companies) exercise more than ten times as much influence on what laws get passed -- and what laws don't.

    On why people should care:

    Some might say "I don't care if they violate my privacy; I've got nothing to hide." Help them understand that they are misunderstanding the fundamental nature of human rights. Nobody needs to justify why they "need" a right: the burden of justification falls on the one seeking to infringe upon the right. But even if they did, you can't give away the rights of others because they're not useful to you. More simply, the majority cannot vote away the natural rights of the minority.

    But even if they could, help them think for a moment about what they're saying. Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say.

    A free press benefits more than just those who read the paper.

    On what people should do if they want to push for reforms:

    The first thing is to correct misinformation whenever you see this topic being debated. For example:

    Supporters of mass surveillance say it keeps us safe. The problem is that that's an allegation, not a fact, and there's no evidence at all to support the claim. In fact, a White House review with unrestricted access to classified information found that not only is mass surveillance illegal, it has never made a concrete difference in even one terrorism investigation.

    Some claim the Senate should keep Section 215 of the Patriot Act (which will be voted on in two days) because we need "more time for debate," but even in the US, the public has already decided: 60% oppose reauthorization. This unconstitutional mass surveillance program was revealed in June 2013 and has been struck down by courts twice since then. If two years and two courts aren't enough to satisfy them, what is?

    A few try to say that Section 215 is legal. It's not. Help them understand.

    The bottom line is we need people everywhere -- in the US, outside the US, and especially within their own communities -- to push back and challenge anybody defending these programs. More than anything, we need to ordinary people to make it clear that a vote in favor of the extension or reauthorization of mass surveillance authorities is a vote in favor of a program that is illegal, ineffective, and illiberal.

    On whether kids should pursue careers in cryptography:

    Yes, but good luck keeping tabs on them as teens.
    "Where have you been?" "Out." "If you don't tell me, I'll just check your ph-- Oh."

    On the potential of coming back to the states one day (the questioner said, "I hope so!"):

    Me too. The White House has been working on that petition for a couple years, now, and the courts have finally confirmed that the 2013 revelations revealed unlawful activity on the part of the government. Maybe they'll surprise us.

    On whether he actually saw John Oliver's penis:

    ( Í¡° ͜ʖ Í¡°)

    On what he misses about the United States, and specifically, if he misses pizza:

    This guy gets it.

    Russia has Papa John's. For real.

    (follow up): What are your favorite toppings? I like Pepperoni, Bacon, and Tomato, but my go-to Papa John's order is Pepperoni and Pineapple with extra sauce.

    Snowden: Nice try, FBI profiler.