Thursday, May 21, 2015

Senate Clears TPP Fast Track For Obama, Republicans

The Senate just voted the required 60-vote majority to strip itself of most of the power it intrinsically had to forge a satisfactory deal on the mysterious, secretly negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. With fast-track in place, Congress can vote the TPP up-or-down, but cannot amend it, essentially making an international trade organization a fourth all-powerful branch of the US federal government.

So... do we get to see the contents of the TPP now? Or is this secret law still secret? And...

Who really runs the "democratic" government of the United States of America? Right... I don't know, either, but it damned surely isn't "we the people"!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Guardian Reports Environmentalists Say Shell Strategy Risks Catastrophic Climate Change
Leaked internal Shell documents reveal Shell believes temperature will rise 4°C, then 6°C above today's

Terry Macalister at The Guardian reports that internal Royal Dutch Shell business planning documents have been revealed which show that Shell knows its current plans will cause Earth's surface temperature increase to exceed by 2 to 4 degrees Celsius the internationally agreed-upon maximum of 2°C, the level above which global climate change could easily run out of control. Shell has not yet publicly admitted that its production plans assume this larger temperature rise. Until the matter of this known deception is resolved, I recommend we do not believe any public statements by Shell. I suppose we should have known that one or more big oil companies would make matters as difficult as possible.

Monday, May 18, 2015

‘Twin Peaks,’ Ten Freaks (Actually, Nine): Bikers Killed In Brawl In Waco Restaurant Parking Lot

AP via TPM:

WACO, Texas (AP) — A shootout among rival biker gangs at a popular Texas restaurant left nine people dead and 18 others injured, a police spokesman said on Sunday, sending panicked patrons and bystanders fleeing for safety.

The violence erupted shortly after noon at a busy Waco marketplace along Interstate 35 that draws a large lunchtime crowd. Waco, Texas police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said eight people died at the scene of the shooting at Twin Peaks restaurant and another person at a hospital. He told the Waco Tribune-Herald that the nine killed were all members of biker gangs.

Yes, there's a reason people call that city "Wacko" ... though I don't believe the city is to blame for this exceptionally violent crime. What does surprise me is the biker gangs: when I was a youth of about 30, the bikers I knew were, by and large, ordinary contributing members of society who liked to dress tough and make loud noises as part of their weekend recreation. Though I never rode, I used to go for Sunday morning breakfast at one of the local eateries favored by bikers, which at the time was called Phil's; despite hundreds of cycles parked outside and even more rough-clad bikers chowing down inside, there was simply no trouble from the biker groups... I wouldn't call them "gangs" because I saw no evidence of any criminal behavior. They even politely queued up and waited for their tables, ate their gigantic platefuls of bacon, sausage, eggs, potatoes and very greasy dinner rolls ("these are the times that fry men's rolls," I used to say, though never to them), donned helmets (well, many of them did), got on their bikes and left with a roar that sounded like Indy cars at a race track... all without making trouble. How the times have changed!

I suppose the latest biker sticker reads, "If you ain't Harley, you ain't shot, or knifed, or bludgeoned..."

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Just How Bad A Presidential Candidate Is Jeb Bush?

Ask Joseph Wilson. And then stand back; it's a long list and a blistering one...

(leans right)
(BTW, I believe TPM's headline got the answers mixed up, but I'm not sure.)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Jailed For Filming The Police While Black
Held 44 hours without charge in an overstuffed, unsanitary cell

It's pretty clear: Baltimore is a really bad place to be simultaneously Black and an activist. The fact that Geremy Faulkner was doing nothing even remotely illegal did not prevent his detention, not merely "along with" miscreants but "instead of" actual violators of law. What did Faulkner do that drew police attention in the first place?

Geremy Faulkner, who turned 18 in February, was videotaping police interaction with looters and bystanders last Monday afternoon at Baltimore’s Mondawmin Mall when he was arrested along with 250 others in the city that day. He spent the next 44 hours in jail, crammed in a small holding cell with as many as twelve men with no beds, no blankets, no pillows, intermittent water (the pipes spewed brown water that the guards suggested they avoid drinking), inadequate food, and no access to an attorney.

He was never charged with a crime.

Please read the rest of Karen Houppert's article at The Nation, linked above. Read it even if you already have "outrage overload" today. View the photo of Baltimore cops. And if you're in Baltimore, pay attention: the life you save may be your own, no matter what you are doing tonight or will be doing tomorrow.

Rand Paul: Rights And Liberties For Me... But Not For Thee, Not If You Are Female

Are any women out there thinking Rand Paul might be the presidential candidate for them, based on his emphasis of the often-mentioned "right to be left alone" by the government? If so, you'd better read what Zoë Carpenter at The Nation has to say:

“The right to be left alone is the most cherished of rights,” Kentucky senator and presidential aspirant Rand Paul said over the weekend in San Francisco. He was there to sell himself to the young tech elite as a civil-liberties crusader; the only candidate willing to take an uncompromising stand against government surveillance. He cares so deeply about privacy that he’s planning to filibuster the renewal of parts of the Patriot Act.

"What every woman really needs is
one of my fingers." - Sen. Rand Paul
But the leader of “the leave-me-the-hell-alone coalition” is simultaneously, albeit more quietly, arguing that women should have little privacy in their healthcare decisions. “The government does have some role in our lives,” Paul said at a summit organized by the anti-choice Susan B Anthony List in April, by which he meant making abortion illegal. Paul describes himself as “100 percent pro-life.” Along with all of the other Republican presidential candidates he supports a bill that resurfaced this week in the House that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Oh, yes: Rights for him; no rights for you. Women of reproductive age, take note...

Why Do GOPers Hate Trains?

Why indeed?

What an Amtrak locomotive looks like... intact

Amtrak Budget Axed By 20% the Day After Crash

The Real News interviews Matt Taibbi about that very subject: why are congressional GOPers unsupportive of railroads? Watch the video on the linked page for his answer.

This handsome logo was introduced in 1969,
long after my father had abandoned
railroad work for schoolteaching.
(Full disclosure: after returning from W.W. II and being honorably discharged from the US Navy, my father, after working a couple of odd jobs, found his first sustained employment in the railroad freight business, directing the loading and unloading of trains for Missouri Pacific at their warehouse in Houston. I don't have any warm fuzzy feelings for the railroad, but in that part of my childhood I came to see that, trucking and air freight notwithstanding, the railroads are an essential part of America's business infrastructure. So to that extent I suppose I could be called "biased" in opposition to dismantling or neglecting the rail network... though I would call it a policy position on my part rather than mere unsupported prejudice.)

Friday, May 15, 2015

B. B. King (1925-2015)
B. B. is gone — but the thrill of his music is certainly NOT gone

B.B. King with Lucille
Stella is the serious blues fan at Our House. When the news of B. B. King's passing at the ripe old age of 89 was announced, I had to comfort her with the undeniable fact that he had a good, long run marked by many musical and other successes, and also reportedly leaves 15 children, 50 or so grandchildren, Little Kids Rock, Inc. and at least one famous Gibson guitar named Lucille... a life and a legacy anyone might envy. Stella got that far‑away look in her eye that usually means, "But... I thought he would live forever!"

Of course, no living creature can do that, especially not those like King (and me) who are afflicted with diabetes, who inevitably are said to die of "complications of" that disease. I can infer from his longevity that he must have had his malady well under control — no doubt his harmony as well... <grin_duck_run />

R.I.P., B.B. We'll miss you.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

2nd Circuit In ACLU v. Clapper: NSA Went Far Beyond Congressional Intent In Applying PATRIOT Sec. 215

Many of us have said this all along, and now the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has confirmed it: what the NSA has done in accumulating telephone records purportedly under the PATRIOT Act Sec. 215 went far beyond what Congress authorized when it passed that law. As Andrew Crocker at Electronic Frontier Foundation (via Informed Comment) said,


... The court completely rejected the government’s secret reinterpretation of Section 215 that has served as the basis for the telephone records collection program. ...

I personally regard all secret law and secret interpretation as invalid, if for no other reason than that it is not possible to comply with a law or interpretation to which one does not know the text.

AFTERTHOUGHT: please read Crocker's article in detail. This is a stronger decision than I thought at first. One can only hope it survives the Supreme Court in that Court's current partisan configuration.

Interior Approves Shell Plan To Drill Arctic Starting In July

Servicing the Public
for Over 100 Years
In what can only be called an ill-considered but well-hidden hand‑job for Shell, the Department of the Interior announced on Monday its approval of Shell's plan to drill in Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Ocean, beginning almost immediately: July. The approval is conditional on Shell's obtaining all legally required permits to drill (a virtual certainty), authorizations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (surely already a done deal) and all required Biological Opinions under the Endangered Species Act (I'm afraid I don't know what this means, but I do know it is surely no obstacle to what one of the world's largest megacorp's wants to do). The precipitousness of implementation deals a blow to all organized efforts to prevent the drilling or mitigate the inevitable damage both to the environment in the Arctic and, perhaps more significantly, to the global climate. (Do you think they even noted your signature on an online petition opposing this action? Me either.)

The Earthjustice article linked above has a good summary of the damage such drilling could easily cause:

... The project Interior approved today is bigger, dirtier, and louder than any previous plan, calling for more sound disturbances and harassment of whales and seals, more water and air pollution, and more vessels and helicopters. It also runs the risk of a catastrophic oil spill that could not be cleaned in Arctic waters.

The company’s accident-filled efforts to drill in 2012 demonstrate that neither Shell nor any other company is ready to drill in the Arctic Ocean. Shell proved that again just last month when its Discoverer drillship was held in port due to pollution control failures. Drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean also takes us in the wrong direction on combating climate change.

I have done contract IT work for Shell (more than a decade ago; I would not accept such work today) and I knew some of the people involved in designing the more ambitious drilling projects. Those at Shell are neither better nor worse than typical in the industry, but it is the nature of things that they appear to be self-assured to the point of arrogance about the outcomes of their work, in deep water and/or extreme weather. What could possibly go wrong? (*cough* BP Deepwater Horizon *cough*) Apart from that,  as of a couple years ago, it looked as if all the big oil companies, including Shell, were partnering with one of two Russian companies, both of which have bad track records regarding safety and environment.

Shell Kulluk Rig Damaged, Mar. 2013
(credit: National Geographic)

I'll let you know if I find any letter-writing campaigns or petitions to sign, but I suspect it's a done deal.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

TPP Fast-Track Fails Crucial Senate Vote

Wow; who knew (aside from Harry Reid) this would happen! Here's Yves Smith:
Fast Track Authority for Toxic Trade Fails Key Vote in Senate

From Reuters:
Legislation giving U.S. President Barack Obama authority to speed trade deals through Congress failed a crucial procedural test on Tuesday, delaying a measure that may be key to President Barack Obama’s diplomatic pivot to Asia.

In a setback to the White House trade agenda, the Senate voted 52-45 – eight votes short of the necessary 60 – to clear the way for debate on the legislation, which would allow a quick decision on granting the president so-called fast track authority to move trade deals quickly through Congress.

I am glad I am not a White House Laundry worker, because I'm certain Obama soiled his underwear over this...

(H/T Enfant, in comments to previous post.)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Clearing The Desktop

In fact, in Ubuntu Linux 12.04 with the Gnome 3 shell, the default desktop is completely clear, and many of us keep it that way in the interest of sanity. So I'm speaking only metaphorically...

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day: Irma Hurley Bates

Before Mom lost everything to Alzheimer's disease, she was an excellent mother, a respectable singer and a damned fine English teacher. Anything I know about grammar and spelling, I owe to her. Anything I misspell or botch grammatically, the errors are most certainly my own; Mom would have known the proper spelling or grammatical construct.

Mom (1922-1990) grew up on a family farm in the red clay part of East Texas. Her entire family put the lie to the stereotype of farmers lacking in education or erudition. Some of them even had Master's degrees; Mom had "only" a Bachelor's, but used it to good effect, teaching English in parts of Texas in which Spanish was frequently the language spoken at home by her students. Of course she spoke Spanish.

Oh, yes, Mom was a Democrat for many of the same reasons I am today; she lived in an era in which "Democrat" was more or less synonymous with "liberal." I was a very lucky child.

(Much of this post is excerpted from a post on my original blog in 2007. The picture is a snapshot of a studio photo which I have only on paper, and I don't have a working scanner at the moment. Yes, Mom really was that strikingly beautiful... it's easy to see how as a college student she attracted the attention of the football star who later became her husband and my father!)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

‘Soft Summer Breeze’ — Eddie Heywood (Piano Solo), Or The Diamonds (Male Vocal Quartet)

Eddie Heywood, 1946
Music from my childhood! This song was #11 on the charts in 1956 when I was 8 years old. My parents, who loved to dance (slow dancing or jitterbug) somehow came by a 45 RPM record of songwriter Eddie Heywood soloing on his own too-cute love song, and I later somehow heard it on a cover by The Diamonds, a male vocal quartet typical of the time. One of my early play-by-ear efforts was an attempt to memorize Heywood's solo in the second chorus... I didn't yet have the technique to play it, but damn, it certainly was fun trying.

Through the miracle of YouTube, this charming bit of early music (heh) can be found online. First, Heywood; second, The Diamonds:

Oh, yeah; I almost forgot: lyrics!

♫ Once... I Had... A Secret Law... ♫
The Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Environment

NOT the logo, but should be...
If I have been absent from the blog a lot, it is because I've been reading Naomi Klein's prizewinning book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. The book is utterly essential reading for anyone who calls him- or herself an environmentalist, but I'd be the last to deny it is challenging reading on several levels. Especially on point regarding the environmental consequences of the TPP are two chapters: chapter 9, Blockadia: The New Climate Warriors; and chapter 10, Love Will Save This Place: Democracy, Divestment and the Wins So Far. It may be possible to read these chapters independently without starting at the beginning of the book; I'm not sure because I so strongly feel you should read the entire book.

Leaders of TPP member states
(courtesy Wikipedia))
Reading the chapters led me to pursue more information on TPP on the web. Goodness knows there's both a lot of it, and not enough of it: the damned thing is being written in secret, from the public of the involved nations and (in America) from Congress, by 600 people who might politely be called corporate lobbyists... no environmentalists involved. But someone leaked an early version of specifically the environmental section of the draft, WikiLeaks published it in January 2014, and a team assembled from Sierra Club (SC), World Wildlife Federation (WWF) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) published an analysis (.pdf), also in January 2014. This is surely not the final version, but it does include a comparison of two earlier versions of the environmental chapter. Believe me, it isn't pretty!

For background, you might want to read about the two decades of NAFTA, the only major trade agreement in town at the moment, and see how that has worked out. Back to TPP, here's a recent TechDirt article of possible interest, mostly about how the US thinks it can get around TPP's provisions... yes, the ones for which no one has been permitted to know the text... and an op‑ed by Sarah Rose at SFGate urging that TPP not be fast-tracked.

The whole thing sucks little green dog dicks. And I doubt we can stop it; TPTB have shown little interest in what the public thinks in any nation involved. But we have to try: democracy already means little enough, and IMO we are obliged to give it some help.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The National Noose

"Good mourning, 'murka; I'm George Stephanopoulos. We lead with DeflateGate, DeflateGate and Tom Brady, Tom Brady and DeflateGate. [Puff piece on Brady... can you say "puff piece" about a QB?] Next, after these interminable messages, we'll tell you about the commercial plane forced to land because of smoke in the cabin, the earthquakes in northern Texas absolutely positively caused by a tornado not by fracking, ISIS online recruitment of youth in 'murka, scary storms in California (complete with a huge red spot on our ABC map to make them even scarier), and we'll probably close with a cuuuute kitten or puppy or baby, or maybe a courageous disabled person or injured 'murkan soldier. Now a word from those who bring all of that into your living room..." [/satire]

OK, maybe it wasn't Stephanopoulos, maybe that isn't quite what the announcer said, and maybe DeflateGate wasn't the very first story, but the prioritizing of DeflateGate over air travel hazards, earthquakes in an unusual place, terrorists among us and dangerous weather in America's dryest state was as real as it ever gets on the national noose... hey, am I growing cynical in my old age?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Texas GOP Legislator Who Loathed Women

Yes, I know: there are quite a number of those. But I think Matt Shaefer (R-Tyler) may take the prize. Here's Leslie Salzillo at Kos:
Last week in Texas, a Republican lawmaker proposed an amendment so outrageous, that even some of his own GOP colleagues were repulsed. Andrea Grimes, with RH Reality, reports:
Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) put forward an amendment that would make it illegal to terminate a pregnancy after 20 weeks, even if a fetus “has a severe and irreversible abnormality,” effectively forcing families with wanted, but unsustainable pregnancies to carry to term at the behest of the state and against the advice of their doctors or their own wishes.
What would cause a lawmaker to want the government to inflict more emotional pain onto an already grieving family, in addition to adding a major health risk to the mother? Does he not realize a woman can easily die of sepsis by carrying a nonviable fetus?
Schaefer said that suffering is “part of the human condition, since sin entered the world.”
Oh, for fucksake! Where do these people come from? More importantly, how do they hide their vile and odious ignorance long enough to get elected?

For fuck's sake indeed. I've observed over the years that when something like this happens to a male GOPer legislator's own wife (probably to the wife of any male GOPer, legislator or not), they address it in the obvious way: they carve out an exception for the women in their own family. No needless suffering or serious medical danger for their womenfolk; oh, no...

Wal-Mart Has Done Many Bad Things, But Not This One

This is from Ahiza Garcia at TPM:

Wal-Mart issued a statement Monday to TPM dismissing "rumors" that tunnels were being built by the U.S. military beneath closed stores in an attempt to launch a takeover of Texas.

"There’s no truth to the rumors," Wal-Mart spokesperson Lorenzo Lopez told TPM via email.

The tunnels are part of a series of conspiracy theories surrounding "Jade Helm 15," a military training operation set to take place later this year in seven Western states. The conspiracy theorists have said the operation may be part of a covert attempt to takeover Texas and other states.

Maybe Wal-Mart would have gotten more attention if the announcement had been made by Lorenzo Lamas...

But seriously, folks, if the US Gummint took over Texas, there would be one fewer state in which Wal-Mart "employees" could use Medicaid, and you know the 'publicans wouldn't do anything to harm their buddies at Wally World... unless of course they could make a profit by doing so...

‘Politically Driven Science’ And The GOP-Driven US House Of Representatives

Emily DeMarco at Science Magazine poses the question: Under what circumstances would the US House of Representatives hold a committee subpanel meeting on alleged malfeasance in a scientific matter, but neglect to call even one single scientist to appear before the subpanel... not even any of the scientists accused of misconduct?

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX)
"Darn laxative failed again..."
Representative Louie Gohmert (R–TX) is worried that scientists employed by the U.S. government have been running roughshod over the rights of Americans in pursuit of their personal political goals. So this week Gohmert, the chair of the oversight and investigations subpanel of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee, held a hearing to explore “the consequences of politically driven science.” Notably absent, however, were any scientists, including those alleged to have gone astray.

Right... we should have known that omission would have been the (ir)responsibility of Rep. Louie "Goober" Gohmert (R-TX). What a guy. He'd be entertaining if he weren't so dangerous as he climbs the political ladder. And I think this committee needs a formal slogan, perhaps this one: "It must have been an oversight..."

Monday, May 4, 2015

Music For Monday — Bill Evans: Peace Piece

Even without America's endless War on Everything and Everyone, Monday is a shock to the system after a weekend (whether restful or raucous). This piece by one of America's greatest musicians ever, the late Bill Evans, may be just what you need:

Need more? Listen (offsite) to the works by Erik Satie that were surely Evans's inspiration for the Peace Peace... different meter, different degree of dissonance, but very much in the same spirit: the three Gymnopedie.

Blissed out yet?

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