Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A distant ship's smoke on the horizon

On Virtually Speaking Sundays, Dave Johnson and Gaius Publius discussed the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) and the sheer greed and corruption that drives our current political and economic disaster. Great discussion of how our leaders are orienting policy around feathering their own nests and letting the rest of us drown.
Some background reading:

"TPP: The Coming Fast-Track Trade Outrage"
"How Modern Economics Is Built On 'The World's Dumbest Idea'"
"Cohen Declines to Testify in SAC Insider Case"

Gaius Publius, "How Nancy Pelosi Saved the NSA Surveillance Program"
Glenn Greenwald, "Democratic establishment unmasked: prime defenders of NSA bulk spying: One of the worst myths Democratic partisans love to tell themselves - and everyone else - is that the GOP refuses to support President Obama no matter what he does. Like its close cousin - the massively deceitful inside-DC grievance that the two parties refuse to cooperate on anything - it's hard to overstate how false this Democratic myth is. When it comes to foreign policy, war, assassinations, drones, surveillance, secrecy, and civil liberties, President Obama's most stalwart, enthusiastic defenders are often found among the most radical precincts of the Republican Party."

"80 Percent Of U.S. Adults Face Near-Poverty, Unemployment: Survey: WASHINGTON - Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream. Survey data exclusive to The Associated Press points to an increasingly globalized U.S. economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend." (There's a good, short video to go with that story, if you want to watch it on the page.)

"Manning Found Not Guilty of Aiding the Enemy, Guilty on 19 Counts" - This is all Espionage Act crap, and that's a law that, of course, should be repealed. Potential time for the 19 counts could be 100 years; anything more than time served would just be more evil, of course, but it's all evil either way. This shouldn't happen at all. And I noticed this in the story: "In a legal filing last week, Manning's defense attorney David Coomb's requested a mistrial on all charges relating to the embezzlement of government property in violation of a federal statute after Judge Col. Lind allowed the prosecution to alter the charges relating to that statute after legal arguments had already been made. The government sought to change the legal language, asserting Manning stole 'databases' instead of specific records from those databases. The change is legally significant to the case, and since Coombs had already made his arguments, he cannot retroactively change his questioning or arguments in the five counts of theft Manning has now been convicted of. Coomb's renewed the motion for a mistrial July 25." Just one outrage after another.
Sam Seder talked to Firedoglake's Kevin Gosztola on The Majority Report [YouTube video clip] about the terrifying threat to press freedom this prosecution represents.

Warren Buffett's son Peter has met The Charitable-Industrial Complex.

RJ Eskow on "Banknado: Yes, we know the 'Sharknado' craze ended about ten days ago. The sci-fi movie's premise of tornadoes filled with deadly sharks has probably passed its cultural sell-by date. But we'll use the metaphor anyway, because it's just so apt: Wall Street's a whirlwind filled with predators descending on a hapless population."

I was amused to see Atrios making Kenneth Pollack, of all people, his mid-week Worst Person In The World. Wow, that's a name I haven't heard in a while. I mean, who cares anymore what Kenneth Pollack has to say after he worked so hard to start another war in Iraq? Well, apparently, Brookings still does, and Pollack still dreams of repeating exactly the same mistakes. Yes, there was a faint possibility that, if under certain very specific circumstances, we had invaded Iraq and gone with a Marshall Plan style of rebuilding, we might have had a good outcome in Iraq. Trouble is, there was not and is not anyone in leadership who would even consider such a policy - and that's assuming you really think war is the best way to roll the ball toward democracy. But democracy is the last thing these guys are interested in building.

In comments to the previous post, ifthethunderdontgetya responded to Obama's complaint about Republicans pushing austerity by saying, "Does anyone remember who was President way, way back on February 18, 2010?" Maybe Obama doesn't - as Ted Rall observes, he seems to have Disassociative Political Identity Disorder.

The logic of internet censorship

Howard Dean shilling for the health care industry.

Saw this in one of KagroX's #gunfail tweets: "JFK Assassination: Did A ‘Second Shooter' Secret Service Agent Accidentally Shoot Kennedy?"

If starships had skeletons

How Michael Whelan created the cover for Words of Radiance

A conversation between two church signs

New Yorker cartoon favorites

Jack Kirby double-page spreads

Trailer for Daria's High School Reunion

Craig Ferguson at the Doctor Who panel at ComicCon
Creepy Scottish Guy with Matt Smith

"Comfortably Numb", New York session

Sunday, July 28, 2013

More good news and bad news

The Amash-Conyers amendment would have been a blow to the NSA's spy-on-everyone schemes, and it got 94 votes from Republicans. But "the Democrats didn't come through - and by a 217-205 margin, the House killed his amendment." Nevertheless, losing by only 12 votes is a win - it shows the consensus on leaving this program in place is nowhere near solid enough to keep it safe. And maybe if Congress members start getting calls from constituents about why they should all have supported it, those 12 votes can be found next time around. And make no mistake, it's going to be easier to get Republicans to vote against a program that is associated with Obama (while he is still in office) than it will at any other time, but that's just what makes it hard to get enough Democrats to do the right thing.
A bare majority of the House killed the amendment. But it did so in a way that bucked up the NSA's critics, convincing them that they could win. "The side of transparency and openness is starting to put some points on the board," declared Sen. Wyden in a speech this week. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was something "virtually no one had heard of two months ago and now the public asks me about it at the barber."

Wyden's little joke was loaded. After next week, members will spend a month in their districts. The NSA's critics expect the issues they work on to smolder through August, right in time for a "second wave" of bills. California Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat, is ready with a bill that would create a "public advocate" for the FISA court, someone who'd argue for the public when the court was asked for a warrant. Vermont Sen. Pat Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has readied a bill to move up the "sunset" of FISA reauthorization from December 2017 to June 2015. There's no grand strategy for passing these bills. But there's no grand strategy for stopping them. There's something quite panicky and ad hoc, something that Amash, Wyden, and 200 other odd members of Congress are no longer moved by.

Sam Seder and Cliff Schechter talked about how Nancy Pelosi pushed hard against this amendment on The Majority Report.

* * * * *

Atrios on Thieves: "Pretty sure that if I break into your house , steal all of your stuff, and then sell it then I'm going to go jail. But I'm not a bank, so laws actually apply to me."
"Ohio Woman Wants Her Stuff Back After Bank Steals From Wrong House." (The trouble with the television story is that it ends with the quote from an unnamed bank vice president claiming "the bank is trying to come to terms with Katie, and they hope to have things resolved very soon." Obviously, if this were the case, there would have been no story. They broke into her house and stole her stuff and act like she's got a lot of nerve expecting them to make it up. The indifference of the police is a story in itself, too - oh, it's not a problem if a bank sends someone who can't figure out how to use his GPS to just randomly break into houses, steal the contents, and change the locks.)

"Under a cost-saving plan by the U.S. Postal Service, Americans moving into newly built homes will not have mail delivered to their doors and will instead have to trek to the curb or neighborhood cluster boxes."

Obama pivots from his pivot from his pivot from his pivot on building the economy vs. deficit reduction.

Ezra Klein acknowledges that "There's no such thing as 'the center'" - that is, as the term is used, to imply something middle-ground in the American polity that is represented in Congress by "moderate" thinkers. But's not middle-ground at all, it's stuff that most people hate. He doesn't quite put it that way, but: "What unites the policies Martin names [as away from the center] is that they're really, really popular." But of course, that's not the center they mean - they mean the Centers of Power. And those people are winning, as usual.

"U.S. Asks Court to Limit Texas on Ballot Rules" - A section of the Voting Rights Act that wasn't struck down by the Supremes allows the DOJ to step in whenever any jurisdiction appears to be suppressing voter participation. They should do this a lot.
Ari Berman, "North Carolina Passes Country's Worst Voter Suppression Law."

"NSA Says It Can't Search Its Own Emails: [...] But ask the NSA, as part of a freedom of information request, to do a seemingly simple search of its own employees' email? The agency says it doesn't have the technology." Yeah, right.

"Lasting Damage: A Rogue Prosecutor's Final Case [...] It's worth it, then, to appreciate the impact of Stuart's career in greater detail, how the misconduct took place, how it has complicated the continuing pursuit of justice, and how the consequences of Stuart's misconduct still linger, years after the man himself was exposed and disgraced."

Senators want a Cone of Silence on their stupid tax ideas: "Is this what it's come to in the Congress? Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont) and his Republican counterpart, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) have promised their committee colleagues that their tax code suggestions will be kept under lock and key for the next fifty years, allowing them to offer policy without being under the watchful eyes of the voting public. They're hoping to get more input from the rest of the boys club if they promise to hide the identities of those making the policy suggestions."

"Judge Orders Police To Return $1 Million Seized Based On Drug Dog Sniff" - Sniffer dogs have a remarkable record of being able to sniff out your money, and then the cops just take it away from you.

"Halliburton Agrees To Plead Guilty To Destruction Of Evidence In 2010 BP Spill, Pay Maximum Fine: On Thursday, the Department of Justice announced that Halliburton had agreed to plead guilty to criminally destroying evidence in the investigation of the BP Gulf oil spill in 2010. The company 'signed a cooperation and guilty plea agreement,' will pay the maximum fine of $200,000, and undergo three years of probation."

Why Nate Silver was fired from The New York Times - because he was objective rather than "objective".

"Study: KXL Pipeline Would Raise U.S. Gas Prices: Consumer Watchdog, a nationally recognized nonprofit consumer group, has reviewed corporate, industry and government data and found that pipeline developers and the Canadian government intend to use the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to raise the price of Canadian tar sands oil on the global market by shipping oil directly to the Gulf. This would raise U.S. gas prices in the Midwest by up to 40 cents a gallon."

"An elite hacker who was due to demonstrate how heart implants could be hacked has died unexpectedly in San Francisco."

"John Lewis Receives a Hero's Welcome at Comic-Con" - With the publication of a comic about the civil rights activist, the man who is now a member of the House of Representatives has become a superstar among many comics fans.

Jane Austen on the money - specifically, the back of the new ten pound notes.

A 'Wooden' Version of Beethoven's Ninth: "As we explore in our Journeys with Beethoven book, the Japanese are uniquely obsessed with his 9th symphony and every December thousands gather to play and sing the "Ode to Joy" all over the country. But here's something unique: making 167 theramins inside those Russian wooden dolls "sing" it."

Joss Whedon said a lot of interesting things in his Q&A at ComicCon, with good news for fans of his work and some interesting insights scattered along the way, but around the 54-minute mark he answers a question about his economic philosophy: "... And, you know, we're watching capitalism destroy itself right now, and ultimately, all these systems don't work. I tend to, you know, want to champion the working class because they ARE getting destroyed. I write about helplessness. Helplessness in the face of the giant corporations and the enormously rich people who are very often in power giving those people more power to get even more power. We are turning into tsarist Russia, okay; we are creating a nation of serfs. ..."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"That'll never happen"

I was listening to Digby and Dave Waldman (KagroX on Virtually Speaking Sundays, talking about the filibuster "showdown", and I was thinking about how much harder it would be for them to pull this stuff off if the ceiling on number of constituents per House representative was 30,000 or less the way it was supposed to be. And then I was thinking about how much easier it would be for a candidate to actually personally attend block parties in every neighborhood in the constituency (and even doorstep a significant number of people) to make their case to voters and answer questions. And then I thought about what sort of questions people might want to ask about our current situation, and then I tried to imagine how a candidate who was trying to be honest might explain how fake the whole "filibuster" issue has been.

As both Jay and I will take every opportunity to mention, the filibuster is being used to cover up the fact that neither party wants to pass good legislation and both parties want to pass bad legislation. And since the Democrats currently control the Senate, they really need the filibuster as an excuse for why they have to allow one poison pill after another into legislation that might otherwise have been, well, at least better, if not completely different good legislation.

Of course, we'll be told that good legislation will "never happen", that it's not politically feasible. And, of course, it isn't, as long as we keep electing neoglibs like Barack Obama who fervently wish to avoid good legislation. Which, naturally, is what I immediately thought of when I saw Elizabeth Warren dealing with just that "reasoning". Of course, Warren can only get so far, but it does seem lately that more and more people are refusing to fall for the "reasons" why good things can't happen.

Other background reading from the show:
Digby on Scalia on judicial activism and Nazis
Digby with Grayson's amendment to a bill that clearly quotes the Constitution - something he's been doing a lot lately that gets bipartisan support.

* * * * *

"Papantonio: Bartlett Decision Gives Pharma Free Pass To Kill" - What a corporatist Supreme Court means to your right to have your day in court.

"Court: Chevron Can Seize Americans' Email Data [...] Last month, a federal court granted Chevron access to nine years of email metadata - which includes names, time stamps, and detailed location data and login info, but not content - belonging to activists, lawyers, and journalists who criticized the company for drilling in Ecuador and leaving behind a trail of toxic sludge and leaky pipelines. Since 1993, when the litigation began, Chevron has lost multiple appeals and has been ordered to pay plaintiffs from native communities about $19 billion to cover the cost of environmental damage. Chevron alleges that it is the victim of a mass extortion conspiracy, which is why the company is asking Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft, which owns Hotmail, to cough up the email data. When Lewis Kaplan, a federal judge in New York, granted the Microsoft subpoena last month, he ruled it didn't violate the First Amendment because Americans weren't among the people targeted. Now Mother Jones has learned that the targeted accounts do include Americans - a revelation that calls the validity of the subpoena into question."

"Secret court lets NSA extend its trawl of Verizon customers' phone records: Secret court lets NSA extend its trawl of Verizon customers' phone records."

Barry C. Lynn, "Estates of Mind: The answer to America's techno-malaise is to force big corporations to compete more. And to open their patent vaults"
This actually goes rather well with Sam Seder's interview with Robert McChesney on The Majority Report. They were talking about media and how the internet is now having an anti-democratizing effect, in contrast to what everyone expected from it, but it all dovetails with the kind of monopoly capitalism (not a free market!) we have now.

"'Crack baby' study ends with unexpected but clear result [...] Now, after nearly a quarter century, the federally funded study was ending, and the question the researchers had been asking was answered. Did cocaine harm the long-term development of children like Jaimee, who were exposed to the drug in their mother's womb? The researchers had expected the answer would be a resounding yes. But it wasn't. Another factor would prove far more critical."

Paul Rosenberg has moved on to Scalia in his series on the Structure of Lies in Conservative Jurisprudence, and he's up to Scalia's Judicial Scam - In Detail-Part 2.

Atrios picked Ray Kelly, of whom Obama spoke so highly, as the first Worst Person in the World* this week. Alex Pareene did a nice job taking Kelly apart piece by piece.

"Not Even Silicon Valley Escapes History: A revolution began here. And this is what is left over."

"Cameron cracks down on 'corroding influence' of online pornography." Even if there was a shred of evidence that pornography was causing any problems, I still wouldn't say they were the real corroding influence in Britain today. Tory/NewLab/LibDem policies, however....

"Long Overdue Pardon To Be Issued To Alan Turing - Father Of Modern Computers And Convicted Homosexual."

Alas, Smith and Jones, on The Beatles.
RIP: Mel Smith, 60.

Thank you, Helen Thomas, 1920-2013.

Motion filtering and IQ

Iodized salt and IQ

Casey James, "Need Your Love So Bad," live, because my friend Regina really digs him.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

God only knows it's not what we would choose to do

Jay Ackroyd provides a little background for this week's (heartily recommended!) Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd, where he, Stuart Zechman, and Joan McCarter discussed the aristocracy and the filibuster. Over at Eschaton, he provides links underscoring Stuart's (frequent) point that the people who secretly decide your medical bills should be higher than you can afford are the Providers:
A recurrent question is why US health care prices are so much higher (pdf) than the rest of the OECD, even though the US system ranks in the bottom third of most measurements of effectiveness. Part of the answer is the skimmers, the third party gatekeepers who take money out, but don't put health care services in. Another part of the answer is that Medicare prices are set by a committee of providers, in secret triannual meetings which are used to set provider reimbursement rates for the industry as a whole:
On the last week of April earlier this year, a small committee of doctors met quietly in a midsized ballroom at the Renaissance Hotel in Chicago. There was an anesthesiologist, an ophthalmologist, a radiologist, and so on - thirty-one in all, each representing their own medical specialty society, each a heavy hitter in his or her own field. The meeting was convened, as always, by the American Medical Association. Since 1992, the AMA has summoned this same committee three times a year. It's called the Specialty Society Relative Value Scale Update Committee (or RUC, pronounced 'ruck'), and it's probably one of the most powerful committees in America that you've never heard of.

The purpose of each of these triannual RUC meetings is always the same: it's the committee members' job to decide what Medicare should pay them and their colleagues for the medical procedures they perform.

And then the government accepts this official price-fixing and passes the costs on to you - two or three times.

* * * * *

One nomination of significance that the GOP were blocking, and have now finally stopped blocking, was for Richard Cordray as director of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. That could be pretty important. It's interesting that Lindsay Graham suddenly decided they were wrong to block him.

Dean Baker explains to Wonkblog after their misleading piece on Obama's crummy trade deals that, "The Trade Deals Are Complicated Because They Are Designed to Serve Special Interests [...] The reason there are a zillion moving parts is because the Obama administration went to the oil and gas industries to ask how they can use the trade agreement to get around environmental restrictions on drilling. It went to the food and agricultural industries to ask how they could get around food safety rules. It went to the pharmaceutical industry to ask it how it can use these deals to increase patent protections and jack up drug prices. It went to the entertainment industry and asked how it can use these deals to strengthen copyright enforcement and require Internet intermediaries to take responsibility (and incur expenses) to help enforce copyrights." That and the fact that the deals are being conducted in secret because they are monstrously anti-democratic and will make life in America even more horrible.

Radley Balko has an article in The Wall Street Journal, "Rise of the Warrior Cop." Did you know that the Department of Education - the Department of Education! - has a SWAT team?

Bruce Schneier in The Atlantic on Mission Creep: When Everything Is Terrorism: "NSA apologists say spying is only used for menaces like 'weapons of mass destruction' and 'terror.' But those terms have been radically redefined."

"The Drone That Killed My Grandson" killed a 16-year-old American citizen while he, his cousin, and a few other people were eating dinner at an open-air restaurant. His grandfather still wants to know why.

Oops! We accidentally bombed Florida. Well, aren't drones a boon to American security?

David Dayen, "Elizabeth Warren's new fight: Why even the Tea Party backs it! [...] Again, members of both parties actually agree on this point. Brown and Vitter have teamed on capital regulation, while Warren has John McCain, who offered his own Glass-Steagall restoration during the Dodd-Frank debate in 2010, as a co-sponsor. Key regulators who pushed through the increased leverage ratio, amid much big-bank resistance, include Federal Reserve governor Daniel Tarullo, appointed by a Democrat, and FDIC vice-chairs Jeremiah Norton and Thomas Hoenig, appointed by Republicans. Across the ideological spectrum, from the Tea Party to MoveOn, Americans want to stop forever the perverse situation where banks can rack up private profits but put losses on the taxpayer. If rallying around Glass-Steagall restoration helps move more people to act, that's a choice worth making.

Dave Johnson says "Conservative Is Not An Ideology - It Is Corruption."

RJ Eskow says, "McDonald's Accidentally Served Up a Minimum Wage 'McManifesto' [...] Get this: The new employee website, co-created with Visa, helpfully suggests that people who work for this Fortune 500 corporation begin the financial planning process by taking a second job."

"A Spoiled KBR Demands More and More From the Army [..] Jim McElhatton, in an excellent article in the May 5 Federal Times, highlights the classic case of this phenomenon: the Army's treatment of KBR on the LOGCAP III contract. This contract, which provided services for troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations from 2001 to 2011, is the Army's largest service contract ever. KBR was paid over $38 billion for providing this support. Now that the contract is over, KBR is claiming it will cost at least $500 million to perform "close-out" activities under the contract. Knowing KBR's proclivity to throwing political and legal tantrums for years, the Army has asked KBR for a fixed price to perform these actions. KBR refuses to work under this contract that can control costs and instead, wants an open-ended contract which will cover all of their costs plus a profit. KBR, as described in the Federal Times article, has filed suit in the Federal Court of Claims on this issue." I love that they're saying they need 15 years for close-out on a ten year contract, and they won't be nailed down on how much it will really cost.

I was going to ignore the whole issue of Richard Cohen's latest foray into demonstrating his racist credentials, but Ta-Nehisi Coates has a good piece on "The Banality of Richard Cohen and Racist Profiling," and a guest op-ed in the NYT on Obama's going out of his way to associate himself with a rabid racial profiler, in "Raising the Wrong Profile."

Did squeamishness about this picture cover up the truth about Trayvon Martin's death?

Have I mentioned election fraudster Hans von Spakovsky lately? Jane Mayer did a nice little profile of him in The New Yorker last year, if it helps refresh your memory.

How Jerry Falwell helped fund the Sacramento Lambda Community Center

Remembering Phil Ochs with Amy Goodman (and part 2) on the film, and interviewed on KQED in 1966.

Takes 1-8 of "I Saw Her Standing There"

The separated tracks of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"

Pink Floyd, "Us and Them, live, 1988.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I don't stand the ghost of a chance

Yes, the main headline here in London is that it's hot. In Maryland, this would be a normal summer's day, of course, but in Maryland, we had air conditioning. My plan for tomorrow is to stand under water a lot.

Digby: "Over the week-end Melissa Harris-Perry delivered one of the most fatuous commentaries yet about the NSA spying revelations. She snidely exhorted "Ed" Snowden to "come home" so that she can stop talking about him and move on to more important topics. Evidently, despite the fact that she commands four hours a week on her own show and many more as a frequent guest on various MSNBC panels, she has no agency and cannot choose what stories to discuss. As long as "Ed" refuses to face the music and submit himself to federal prison, probably for life, she will not be able to talk about the information he revealed [...] I just watched a half hour bloc of MSNBC and FOX News and the coverage of the NSA leaks this morning was almost exactly the same. I guess bipartisan comity is possible after all ..."

"Cargill Flouts Law to Secretly Build Land Bank in Colombia: Cargill, the world's largest food company, has been secretly amassing land from small farmers in eastern Colombia, despite a law prohibiting the practice. When the two countries signed a free trade agreement last year, Cargill emerged as the owner of 52,574 hectares where it grows corn and soybeans. The small farms in the isolated high plains of Vichada department in eastern Colombia were given to poor peasants in the 1990s under a scheme to convert 'wasteland' in an area that had become a stronghold for the lucrative cocaine trade. Colombian law prohibits any one person or entity from owning more than one 'agricultural family unit' of this land in an effort to diversify land ownership in a country where most land is owned by a small wealthy minority." (Thanks to ksix.)

"Nations Buying as Hackers Sell Flaws in Computer Code [...] ReVuln specializes in finding remote vulnerabilities in industrial control systems that can be used to access - or disrupt - water treatment facilities, oil and gas pipelines and power plants."

So this German guy tells his Facebook pals that, in the name of the NSA Spy Protection League, they should join him for a walk to observe them in their natural habitat at the local US army spy center. Naturally, he quickly got got lots of visits and phone calls from the cops and state security offices. (via)

I guess I'm as shocked as a lot of people are at the idea that a guy with a gun can stalk a kid and shoot him and walk away, but according to Jeralyn, it sounds like it might have been a bit more complicated than the headlines indicate. One issue to keep in mind is that many people have pegged the prosecutors as (a) having over-reached with their charges and (b) doing a generally lousy job of presenting a case. And it's not just FOX news saying so.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, in "On the Killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman," says the verdict was correct.
Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas say, "Blame the law."
Amanda Marcott, "George Zimmerman Shouldn't Have Had A Gun."
Charles Pierce, "What George Zimmerman Can Do Now"
Meanwhile, compare and contrast:
"'America's Justice System Is a Joke': Athletes Respond to Trayvon Martin Verdict"
"What Athletes' Response To The Zimmerman Verdict Says About Race And Class In America"

"My New Hero, Kathleen Kane aka Destroyer of Democracy [...] The ACLU and 23 citizens have filed a federal district court suit challenging Pennsylvania's 1996 statute defining marriage as between 'one man and one woman' and banning recognition of same-sex marriages from other states. And AG Kane has refused to serve as the state's defense..." (via)

Meanwhile, in the case of an actual destroyer of Democracy, Paul Rosenberg continues his series on The Structure of Lies in Conservative Jurisprudence with "Lying in the confirmation process & beyond: John Roberts, Pt. 3 [...] Each of these sorts of activities is directly detrimental to the rule of law, injecting elements of random, arbitrary, and capricious decisionmaking into the entire body of American jurisprudence, and giving the lies to Roberts' claims about the sort of self-restrained justice he would be. If the Supreme Court itself were subject to judicial review, these are precisely the sorts of decisions that would be routinely over-ridden. They are not acts of law, but acts against law. While there might, conceivably, on some rare occasion be reasons for taking any one of these actions individually, it should always be possible to give compelling reasons why. The motivating need should fairly scream out from the pages of any decision taking one of these extreme actions. But these are patterns, not isolated examples, and no such reasons are ever given."

Bloody hell! Tampons of mass destruction confiscated by Texas Republicans. See, I can't think of any reason for them to do this other than to try to alienate voters.

"The Federal Reserve helped fund the D.C. Metro system. Wait, what?"

Much as I'd just like to humorlessly shove David Cameron into a chair and shout at him for an hour about how if there were jobs for all these unemployed people we'd all know about it because most of the people in this country would be getting desperate calls from headhunters begging us to come work for them, but since no one actually wants to pay people for all the work that needs to be done, his rattling on about how cutting benefits will send people back to work and save money (ha!) is just more evidence that he is either incredibly stupid or a complete lying bastard or both - [take a deep breath] - much as I'd like to do that, I can't help but be charmed by the telling fact that he can't even peg a parody Twitter account when he sees one. Not charmed by Cameron's cluelessness, of course, but by it providing Edinburgh Eye with an excuse to quote some of the fake tweets from the purported Ian Duncan Smith account. Like: "My salary is £65,000 a year. After petrol, food and housing are deducted I'm only left with £65,000 a year. I deserve a pay rise."

I was reading a so-so article I won't bother to link when I was startled by this image. Yeah, it seems like something that would have happened back in those days, but I have no memory of ever seeing this episode, even though, in retrospect, it wouldn't have been that show without at least one such scene. I can hear their voices in my head and everything, but I just don't remember it.

Singing the Lesbian Blues in 1920s Harlem

Cartoon: Picasso's Blues Period

It's been a tough few days, you probably need something like a Nerdy, sexy, dirty, funny lovesong on a uke to cheer you up.

Chet Baker, Let's Get Lost

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Got their soul up on a shelf

Scheduled panelists this weekend on Virtually Speaking Sundays are Joan McCarter (McJoan) and David Dayen (dday). Listen live or later (stream or podcast).
On Virtually Speaking Thursday, Gauis Publius' 5 Questions to Dave Johnson and RJ Eskow at Netroots Nation.

Commenter ksix points to an article by RJ Eskow that could be called "What's the matter with California?" Because: "One key to Obama's 'evolution' can be found in Thomas Frank's 2004 book, What's the Matter with Kansas? In it, a frustrated Frank argued that conservatives had persuaded heartland Americans to vote against their own interests by using social issues like gay marriage and abortion. His arguments resonated with a lot of liberals. Many of my friends expressed anger, frustration, and even contempt for the way 'values voters' (as Republicans called them) repeatedly undermined their own economic needs in the voting booth. Is it their turn? Politicians are winning liberal hearts and minds on social issues, while at the same time embracing a corporate political agenda based on ever-greater wealth for the few and increasing austerity for the many."

Apparently, Walter Pincus has now become a part of The Washington Post horrorshow. The Post has always managed to maintain a staff of good reporters, although those numbers are dwindling, and I guess Pincus is getting old and that means it's time to stop being a reporter and start being another op-ed page mouthpiece for the establishment. I mean, they still haven't replaced Broder, and Pincus has always had decent reportorial credentials - just the right laurels to rest on. So, he has been enlisted as part of the attack team against Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden. Glennzilla reports. Atrios comments: "Pincus's Greenwald broadside seemed like a lazy reprint of an oppo dump." Yes, it certainly had that feel.

"Secret FISA Court Widens Power Of NSA To Spy On Us All: In other words, since theoretically almost anyone might possibly be guilty of anything, it's not really an unconstitutional policy that makes a joke of the 4th Amendment to gather data on everyone -- with the blessing of a secret court, accountable to no one:" But that's just the point - if you want to get someone, you can always find something hidden somewhere, and that's useful for oppressive governments that want to discredit detractors (or bang-up personal enemies), which is what the 4th Amendment is precisely meant to prevent. And maybe they do use it for that sometimes, although I think right now it's just another security state cash cow, since it doesn't actually work to prevent terrorism.

Atrios points us to a Success in fighting wage-theft: "After Outcry, McDonald's Franchise Drops Compulsory 'Payroll Debit Cards' [...] Outrage has been building over payroll debit cards - fee-laden prepaid bank cards that some businesses now use to pay their workers - since the Times Leader reported on June 17 that Natalie Gunshannon of Dallas Township, Pa. had sued the McDonald's where she worked for making the cards compulsory. The cards are loaded with sneaky fees that leave workers essentially paying the bank for access to their wages. [...] Under the onslaught of negative press, there have been steps in the right direction - the McDonald's franchise where Gunshannon worked has now said that it will offer all its employees the option of a paper check or direct deposit, in addition to the card. Previously, according to the lawsuit, only managers had that choice." This isn't the only example of wage-theft we have to fight, of course, but we need to watch out for all of them.

Good interview in Salon with Radley Balko about our militarized police force: "So when you arm a cop like a soldier, when you dress ‘em like a soldier, when you tell ‘em to fight in a war and then send ‘em out into a neighborhood that he has no stake in and doesn't consider himself a part of, you get a very antagonistic, us-versus-them relationship between the officer and that community. I think that is really pervasive, and the rise of the stop-snitchin' movement, whatever you think of it, shows there are entire communities in this country that are more afraid of police than they are of the people that the police are supposed to be protecting them from. That is a pretty terrible development."

What she said about Obama in Ireland.

Did Florida accidentally ban computers and smartphones? Oops!

On Tuesday, surveillance cameras in the center of the city of Utrecht were decorated with colorful party hats to celebrate the 110th birthday of George Orwell.

Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) force-fed under standard Guantanamo Bay procedure
American Extremists: "Food for thoughtlessness"

"British newspaper barred from revealing details of Prince Charles's political meddling."

Finally, the Truth About Casablanca

Weekend Special: What If A Cricket Fan Had To Suddenly Announce A Baseball Game?

Bonnie Raitt, live

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city

This week's guests on Virtually Speaking Sundays are Marcy Wheeler and Cliff Schecter.

I'm thinking people who serve in elective office should have a ceiling on their income - in office and thereafter - that reflects the median income of ordinary Americans. Maybe then they'd pass legislation that made life nicer for ordinary Americans. Alas, they're the ones who'd have to pass that legislation. (Here's PolitiFact debunking false claims about Congressional pensions and, on the way, telling you how they currently work.)

This comment by JaaaaayCeeeee on one of Krugman's blog posts charmed me with it's turns of phrase, such as "weapons of mass financial destruction". It also linked to a Brad DeLong post introducing Krugman's with, "Why I have shifted to thinking that in the long run the current downturn will turn out to have been a bigger deal than the Great Depression." Maybe because Krugman says: "So how does this end? Here's a depressing thought: maybe it doesn't." Maybe both of these guys are starting to tumble that no one at the top is trying to avoid hitting the wall of the Iron Law, a direct result of failing to regulate for a better outcome..

It looks like Snowden is getting invites from Venezuela and Nicaragua, and there will likely be more - if he can get there.

"NSA recruitment drive goes horribly wrong [...] Attending the session was Madiha R Tahir, a journalist studying a language course at the university. She asked the squirming recruiters a few uncomfortable questions about the activities of NSA: which countries the agency considers to be "adversaries", and if being a good liar is a qualification for getting a job at the NSA." And not just her.

"Warren Mosler, a Deficit Lover With a Following" - I'm almost as startled to see an article introducing Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) to readers of the NYT's Business section as I am by the fact that I found it in a tweet from Ezra Klein saying "The world would be a better place if the Modern Monetary Theorists had the influence of the hard money cranks." Not that the NYT didn't try to make him seem a bit kooky, or anything....

David Dayen experienced A Revealing Episode in DC Groupthink when he was asked to write an article, wrote pretty much what you'd expect him to, and had it rejected for failing to fall in line with the conventional "wisdom" of the Very Serious People. Alas, he doesn't tell us who thought they could hire dday and get Thomas Friedman.

Atrios raises the subject of a guaranteed minimum income. I've always been for it. Watching for that article in USA Today. (Once, this idea was not as far-out as you might think.)

This is Alan Grayson's 4th of July Message To Blue America, but what I liked was the quote in the graphic: "This is not North Korea. This is not Maoist China. This is not East Germany. This is the United States. If we put the word 'Freedom' on our stamps, then we should put it in our lives, too."

"Frederick Douglass Was Asked To Speak At A July 4 Celebration. It Didn't Go So Well..." Watch Danny Glover's reading.

"Scientists discover tiny solar panels that create themselves."

Gil Scott-Heron Explains 'The Revolution will not be Televised'.

This is a rather touching and wonderful clip of Dustin Hoffman on the epiphany he had over Tootsie. (Tootsie trailer.) (Tootsie's revealing speech.)

Political cartoon

"DC Entertainment's Vertigo Reveals Details Surrounding Neil Gaiman's Highly Anticipated Return to THE SANDMAN."

Iain Banks gets his own asteroid (H/T Jim Palmer.)

RIP: Thomas M. Disch, 1940-2008. I had dinner with him once, but I can't honestly say I knew him well enough to talk about him as an individual. It's an outrage that caring for his partner took everything they had and made survival seem impossible. Anger at the meanness of American health policy applies, of course.

Lovin' Spoonful

Thursday, July 4, 2013

When are you coming back?

We love democracy so much that we're supposed to cheer on a military coup. OK. Kinda makes you wish everyone would just shut up, doesn't it? The days are gone when I found Obama's Mr. Smoothie routine any less ominous than Bush's bluster. On the other hand, Athenae certainly has a way with words, doesn't she?

Monsanto buys world's largest mercenary army - the one formerly known as Blackwater: "A report by Jeremy Scahill in The Nation revealed that the largest mercenary army in the world, Blackwater (later called Xe Services and more recently 'Academi') clandestine intelligence services was sold to the multinational Monsanto. Blackwater was renamed in 2009 after becoming famous in the world with numerous reports of abuses in Iraq, including massacres of civilians. It remains the largest private contractor of the U.S. Department of State 'security services,' that practices state terrorism by giving the government the opportunity to deny it." [Update: Check comments below for clarification on this.]

"Making $7.75 an Hour, and Figuring There's Little to Lose by Speaking Out [...] Mention long odds to these workers and they lead you back to the mathematics. They bob along the poverty line in an impossibly expensive city. What's to lose? Ms. Simon, still dressed in the black KFC shirt with 'The Original Original' logo, shakes her head when asked if she's worried about annoying her employer. 'I have no lies to tell,' she says. 'This is just my life.'"

Digby asks, "What if the people running our secret programs are idiots? [...] "I have wondered since this whole thing began why nobody in the agency has lost his job or why Booz Allen has not been stripped of its agency contracts. Did nobody think that hiring hackers to hack might result in being hacked themselves? Is it even possible to truly guard against this? The article implies that they were shocked to find out that these highly skilled computer nerds might be smart enough to skirt whatever security they had in place. Which means these agencies and companies are being led by morons."

At Naked Capitalism:
Why Have Student Loans At All? Let's Get the Burdens of Debt off College Students' Backs - And Make Wall St. Pick Up the Tab
"Summer Rerun: Why Don't Americans Take More Vacations? Blame It on Independence Day" - I actually disagree with the conclusions of this piece. I think it's that our oligarchy has just slipped into power more cleverly, and anyway, most other countries are small enough that their leaders would have a lot more trouble staying away from the mobs with the pitchforks and torches. The fact that politicians and their scribes say Americans don't want good working conditions does not mean the American people don't want it. A majority even supports unions (and wants to be in one).

Watch Robert Greenwald's Koch Brothers Exposed in full, for free.

From the Democracy NOW! headlines: Pentagon Blocks Access to Guardian Website Articles on NSA
Edward Snowden's surveillance leaks were first published by The Guardian. The Pentagon has now confirmed it's blocking access to the Guardian website at U.S. military facilities around the world. The ban apparently covers Guardian articles related to NSA surveillance, not the entire website as a whole. It also extends to other news websites that report The Guardian's revelations.
" I guess this means the US military is now officially "the enemy" who must be blocked from getting this information.

Transcript from Democracy NOW!, Chris Hedges Defends Snowden's Heroism in the Face of a Growing Smear Campaign: "If there are no Snowdens, if there are no Mannings, if there are no Assanges, there will be no free press.""

I liked the blurb for Radley Balko's book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces. It would actually make a more honest and informative blogpost on the subject than anything you will read in The New York Times.

Not sure about these other definitions, but Tom Englehardt is right that it's really a Global War on You (GWOY).

Apparently, the story "Key US-EU trade pact under threat after more NSA spying allegations" was not received with pleasure by the US government.

Have some banned book news and views.

Thomas Jefferson on religion ("As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurian.")

Oh, thank goodness: "The franchise model is slowly dying in London."

Little Girls Engineer Their Own Toys to Take Over the Pink Aisle In This Goldie Blox Ad.

Dave Langford reports: "The tiny publishing house Ansible Editions has assembled all the late Algis Budrys's more than 150 Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 'Books' columns in three volumes. He'd wanted this work to appear under a title that was some variation of Benchmarks, his award-winning 1985 collection of criticism from Galaxy. Thus AE began with Benchmarks Continued in late 2012, and finished the job with the simultaneous publication on 1 July 2013 of Benchmarks Revisited and Benchmarks Concluded. Buy now! Act without thinking! Or if you must think, see descriptions and preview links at"

Art by Debra Miriam Blake

The original photograph for this photoshop competition is rather wonderful all by itself.

At the bottom of this post full of entertaining links is the fan-made fake 50th anniversary special Doctor Who trailer - in 3D. Nicely done, go find your funny specs.

Spoilers for Game of Thrones. Or not.

Where to eat

Suddenly I had this urge to listen to Bloomfield play, and of course, that meant Super Session.

Martha and the Vandellas

Monday, July 1, 2013

Idiot Wind

[In a departure from our usual practice, this is a photo of what happened when the local Baby Hurricane found the drawer where her parents keep the party streamers. I get hours of pleasure from other people's children.]

This week's panelists on Virtually Speaking Sundays were Avedon Carol, Digby, and Culture of Truth. We talked about how Sharia Law was passed in Ohio, and about the Supreme Court's bizarre behavior, especially radical jihadi Roberts.
David Cay Johnston talked about debt peonage and neo feudalism. on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd.

* * * * *

The other day I got a begging email from Campaign for America's Future telling me that Darrell Issa's report about the IRS was a put-up job - which is true - but including this warning:

Last Friday, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell accused the administration of a "coordinated effort to stifle free speech" as part of a "culture of intimidation."
This struck me as a classic example of how the right-wing starts the ball rolling in de-legitimizing legitimate criticism by using it for the wrong thing. Anyone who has watched the treatment of Occupy, whistle-blowers, and good investigative journalists knows that there really is a coordinated effort to stifle free speech being led by the administration that includes Bradley Manning levels of intimidation. But here we see the Republican Senate leader using those words to describe something that (a) the administration had nothing to do with and (b) didn't even happen in the first place.

The Republican leadership is, of course, just as committed to depressing democracy and stifling free speech as anyone in the White House is, so they aren't going to attack Obama for doing things that actually help accomplish that.

But isn't it funny how this quote from McConnell is being used by a Democratic group to discredit the very idea that there's a policy of stifling free speech being orchestrated by the White House? Why, it's almost as if Darrell Issa came up with this clever plan to make the very accusation sound demented.

The insane Republican leadership and the insane "centrist" Democratic leadership work very hard to protect each other so that they can all continue, in concert, to do things that most of the people in the country oppose.

* * * * *

They don't want you to know this, "But a mid-June poll of Texas residents showed that a majority of Texans oppose the abortion ban bill. The poll, conducted by the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, found that 51 percent of Texans opposed the bill. Sixty-three percent of respondents said that Texas has enough abortion restrictions already, and 52 percent said they think that abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Seventy-four percent, including a majority of Republicans and Independents, felt that private medical decisions about abortion should not be made by politicians."

I worry a lot about how the Supremes have been using the "standing" issue to reject important cases. What some people don't understand about why Glenn Greenwald's and Jeremy Scahill's scoops are so important is not that it is something none of us knew, but rather that we now have documentation demonstrating that everyone has standing to bring suit - something the court had previously tried to deny. But these are precisely the grounds on which the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was overturned. Here's Paul Waldman on "Why the Prop. 8 Decision Should Make Liberals Uneasy. (Understand, though, that it is entirely legitimate to say that the plaintiffs had no standing on Prop 8 - because they didn't. What's worrying is that the Supremes have had a habit lately of using this issue even where it is clearly inappropriate.)
Ari Berman on The Supreme Court's Constitutional Hypocrisy. Even Richard Posner (!) can't find any legitimate jurisprudence in the striking down of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).

Here's a Supreme Court decision no one was paying attention to, but John D. Echeverria at The New York Times says it was "A Legal Blow to Sustainable Development . The court handed down a decision on Tuesday that, in the words of Justice Elena Kagan, will 'work a revolution in land-use law.' While that may sound obscure, the decision in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District will result in long-lasting harm to America's communities. That's because the ruling creates a perverse incentive for municipal governments to reject applications from developers rather than attempt to negotiate project designs that might advance both public and private goals - and it makes it hard for communities to get property owners to pay to mitigate any environmental damage they may cause."

"Don't Forget That the Supreme Court Just Allowed Workplaces to Become More Hostile [...] In the first case, Vance v. Ball State University, the court ruled workers only are protected against a supervisor who has the power to make 'significant change in [your] employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits' or if the company ignores the fact a supervisor without this power is engaging in harassment. This very narrow definition of "supervisor" makes remedying harassment more difficult and ignores the reality that many supervisors without hiring and firing power have the ability to make an employee's life much more difficult. The second case, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, eliminated so called "mixed motive" retaliation claims under existing anti-discrimination law. Employees who pursue discrimination claims now will have to prove that discrimination was the sole thing on their boss's mind when they were fired or demoted. Previously, discrimination only had to be one factor involved in punishing an employee and bosses were required to reveal what they were thinking at the time of the punishment. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out in her dissent, that standard is almost impossible to meet, since few people in the real world are motivated by a single cause."

"Americans Hate Their Jobs, Even With Office Perks" - It's hard to like a job where your boss is a jerk and your contributions are not recognized, even if you do have free access to the tennis court.

Passing the DREAM Act would have been a good thing, but the immigration bill they are talking about now is very definitely not the DREAM Act and no one should be sorry when it fails. Seriously, if they wanted to pass a good bill, they could, but what they've drawn up is one that will really make things worse.

McClatchy: "Memories of Stasi color Germans' view of U.S. surveillance programs: "BERLIN - Wolfgang Schmidt was seated in Berlin's 1,200-foot-high TV tower, one of the few remaining landmarks left from the former East Germany. Peering out over the city that lived in fear when the communist party ruled it, he pondered the magnitude of domestic spying in the United States under the Obama administration. A smile spread across his face. 'You know, for us, this would have been a dream come true,' he said, recalling the days when he was a lieutenant colonel in the defunct communist country's secret police, the Stasi." Someone fixed Obama's famous campaign cheer, too: "Yes we scan."
Also at McClatchy, a cartoon on the SCOTUS decision on Voting Rights.

Charlie Rose interviewed Alan Rusbridger and Janine Gibson, Guardian editors, about the NSA spying story, Snowden, and the importance of the story. My favorite part was right at the end where Rusbridger says he thinks Snowden felt comfortable contacting Greenwald because he is a lawyer, and he's "incredibly technical and careful", and therefore was most likely to treat it seriously.

Ted Rall: "PRISM Takeaway: Are We Citizens or Serfs? Should Obama Resign?"

"Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream: In America, the rich are getting richer. Isn't that great? Doesn't that mean there's lots more wealth to go round? Or is it good news for the rich but very bad news for the poor? 740 Park Avenue, Manhattan, is one of the most exclusive addresses in the world, home to some of the richest Americans, the 1% of the 1%. Ten minutes to the north, across the Harlem River, is the other Park Avenue, in the South Bronx. Here, unemployment runs at 19% and half the population need food stamps. The American Dream of equal opportunities and hard work says you can be born in the Bronx and end up at 740. But is that dream still true? The film argues the super-rich haven't just bought the exclusive addresses - they've bought the whole system and they're running it for themselves. Watch the full documentary now - 59 min"

LarryE on the Supremes and the right to silence: "This decision is the product of diseased minds prepared to twist logic and law into any shape necessary to say "cops and prosecutors win" - and it is an outrage."

"Scandal and skulduggery at the Vatican: 'It's like the end of the Berlin Wall,' said a high-ranking Vatican official last week after an invisible financial barrier marking the legal separation between the Vatican and Italy was breached for the first time. According to officials at the Bank of Italy, the Institute for Works of Religion - the Vatican's own offshore bank - has for years been allowing organised criminals, even terrorists, to launder money with impunity."

Here are some photos from the Wendy Davis filibuster. But to get there I clicked on a blogad that used this image, and all I could think was, "What's wrong with this picture?"
"Is Ann Richards Smiling in heaven?"

Can you pass the Louisiana voter literacy test? (via)

Commenter ksix recently tipped us to an old article about how Adolph Ochs got his hands on The New York Times that's worth a look if you ever entertained the fantasy that it is, or was, a liberal newspaper: "How did Ochs, a virtual bankrupt from Chattanooga, persuade Wall Street to set him up with the moribund New York Times? Answer: The financiers were anxious to keep the paper alive as a Democratic voice against the populist Democratic candidate for president, William Jennings Bryan, who was stirring the masses with that speech about the Cross of Gold. Ochs bought a fine new suit, set up a fake bank account as reference, and persuaded J.P. Morgan and others to bankroll the purchase." (It would also be nice if all members of the Washington press corps, before they were ever allowed to write about anything, were locked in a room and forced to write over and over the reason why the NYT blew the Watergate story: "Bureau chief Max Frankel had been assured by his tennis partner Henry Kissinger that the White House was not involved.")

40 years ago, Jane Elliot taught her students about discrimination and privilege.

Just Fun Stuff - 8,000 beads on a chain do a really interesting thing.

Surf Monkeys, "Skyscraper Blues" (You can buy some here.)

Psychedelic Furs, "President gas"

"Idiot Wind", live at Fort Worth, 1976 (audio w/ photo montage).