The problem for Wall Street, [Ken] Langone, [Tom] Perkins and the rest [of the billionaires] is that the old ruses are exhausted. Americans are increasingly aware about how they fixed the game, how they rigged the rules to make out like bandits, and how they blew up the economy and got bailed out, while the rest of the country took it in their teeth. — They keep invoking Hitler and Nazis and the threat to the 1 percent, but their folly is feeding the populism they fear. As former President John Kennedy warned, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” - Robert Borosage, "The Plutocrats Take To The Barricades"

(Earlier banner quotes)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

American Veteran? Need Urgent Medical Care? The VA Often Can't / Won't Help You

Via Firedoglake, we learn from CNN that at least one VA (Phoenix) has two waiting lists, one real and secret, one fake and public. Many vets never make it to the head of the real list to receive care... they die before they do.

Having worked in various institutions in the Texas Medical Center (not including the VA) over a period of more than 20 years, I've known a lot of VA employees... clinicians and researchers, medical staff and support staff. Virtually every one I've talked to voices frustration, usually quietly for fear of their jobs, at the managerial and political malfeasance that ultimately leads to results such as those in Phoenix. It is not the fault of the medical and research staffers; they're doing everything they can to make it work. But it's a herculean effort in the face of insurmountable barriers.

He survived the IED.
Will he survive the PTSD?
How about the VA?
The political obstacles are often overwhelming. When not only Republican administrations such as the deplorable Bush 43 administration but also Democratic administrations such as Obama's insist on involvement in multiple simultaneously active wars and practices that lead to long-term disability in huge numbers of troops after their service in those multiple wars, coupled with elected executive-branch officials (Cheney, for instance) who themselves have "other priorities" than military service and thus have no goddamned clue what combat in today's wars can lead to for individual troops... when you face and unsuccessfully attempt to deal with both of those phenomena... you end up with a view at the highest levels that troops sent into combat are, in a word, disposable, and there is no hesitation in disposing of them when they come back home in a state of utter medical ruin.

This is not right. Not right at all. All presidential administrations from Ronald Reagan's forward through the present one should be ashamed of themselves.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Cat Ballou Balloon


Lily has begun to look rather... inflated...

I have some new batteries for the same old camera. They aren't Eneloop, but they are a variety of NiMH technology specifically designed to maximize battery shelf life, so with any luck, I will be taking more pictures in the coming weeks.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Whatever else I may gripe about, I can't complain that Lily is uncooperative. She sat still for three flash shots, the camera no farther than 18" above her... and slept through it all.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

SCOTUS Reverses Sixth Circuit In Michigan Affirmative Action Case

... effectively allowing Michigan voters to keep the state constitutional amendment which prohibits the use of race as a consideration in determining university admission. The decision is here. The ruling was 6-2, with Roberts, Kennedy, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Breyer voting to reverse, Sotomayor and Ginsburg dissenting, Kagan not participating.

I'm afraid I'm not enough of an armchair lawyer to opine on the breadth or narrowness of this opinion; I invite the very few attorneys who read this sorry blog to offer their insight in comments.

NOTE: SCOTUSblog's live-blog of the opinion offers this:
The plurality opinion stresses that the case is not about the constitutionality or the merits of race conscious admission policies in higher education. Rather, the question concerns whether and in what manner voters in a state may chose to prohibit consideration of such racial preferences.

Monday, April 21, 2014

DNI Clapper Issues Directive: All Intelligence Community Employees Forbidden To Speak To Press

Kevin Gosztola at FDL:
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has issued a directive that prohibits all employees of the intelligence community from speaking to the press.

Signed on March 20, it establishes a policy on “contact with the media,” which leadership in intelligence agencies believe will “ensure a consistent approach for addressing media engagement across the intelligence community and mitigate risks of unauthorized disclosures of intelligence-related matters that may result from such contacts.”

It does not differentiate between classified and unclassified information. Any detail pertaining to an “intelligence-related” matter, if disclosed to a member of the media, is “covered” by the policy. However, the policy apparently does not “apply to contact with the media in connection with civil, criminal or administrative proceedings.”

Emphasis mine.

Note that all employees... not just agents handling classified material... are forbidden to speak to the press. Note also that the press is broadly defined, and most certainly includes internet publications such as blogs. And finally, note that all communication about any intelligence-related matter, even if it is unclassified, is censored by the policy. It appears to me as if this lessens or perhaps eliminates outright the whole concept of something from an intelligence agency that is unclassified, unless it is administrative or related to legal actions.

In these parlous times of consistent over-classification, often obviously for purposes of CYA rather than security, such a policy is obscene. The American public deserves better. This policy provides critics (and I am emphatically a critic) with a good argument for shutting down the three-letter agencies altogether... not that we would be so fortunate as to live to see that happen.

Moyers Interviews Krugman On Piketty

There is nothing I can, or need to, add to this dialogue. Think long and hard about whether this is where you wanted your country to go over the past 30‑40 years... and the evidence is that it's going to get worse for decades to come. Inequality will come to define us as we head into the 21st century with such unimaginable inequalities of wealth and income, quite possibly the greatest ever in recorded history. I cannot help thinking most Americans cannot justify this to themselves... not even Republicans. (Then again, I've thought that before, and been wrong about what GOPers are willing to inflict on the rest of America. The difference this time is that Democrats are playing the oligarchy game too, seeking campaign funding from a handful of wealthy donors who expect to get what they pay for.)

My next task: find a copy of Piketty's book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, either at the library or on sale at a serious discount. After all, I am not among the 1%...

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Read And Watch: Influence On Yer Feral Gummint's Policies? You Ain't Got None!

Not yours... belongs
to the wealthiest 1%
jbade at FDL and Cenk Uygur and a couple other guys including one named George Carlin on YouTube tell us how it is: Influence by Economic elite? Check! Influence by lobbies and PACs? Check! Influence by people near median income? That's a big negatory, good buddy!

Uygur gives a good summary of the "oligarchy" business. How about that... we're a lot like Russia. And things have been getting steadily worse... more unequal wealth distribution... for at least the past 30 years or so. Are you surprised? Really?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Robert Reich: Comcast-Time Warner Acquisition A Danger To American Democracy

The new monopolist
In an arena where there is scarcely any competition now, such an acquisition would leave us with only a couple of broadband internet suppliers and effectively one (1) cable company. As democracy today depends utterly on broadcast media and internet communications of various sorts, any concentration of the supply of either internet or cable TV services risks a dangerous possibility... likelihood, one may say... that the supplier will use its near-monopoly status to control what Americans see of their government, and at what speed it is delivered to them.

Robert Reich points out that far from being good for American consumers (as the merging parties claim), such a merger/sale would give Comcast and Time Warner the ability to control data and video content in the way transporters of physical goods controlled physical merchandise available to American consumers of those goods, and at what cost, before 1890, when the Sherman Antitrust Act was passed. Each major technological shift offers new opportunities for would‑be monopolists, and hence demands new law to put a stop to such manifestations of greed. The 1890 law is no longer effective; we need a new one.

As noted earlier, democracy is a scarce commodity in America today, just as it was in the First Gilded Age when Sen. John Sherman proposed a solution to at least the problem of overlarge firms that controlled their various markets in the late 19th century. Now, in the New Gilded Age (I think the term applies, don't you?), we need some brakes on the new kinds of market-controlling technologies and techniques, not to mention the new giveaways by the Supreme Court. It is time to tighten up: blocking the Comcast‑Time Warner merger is a good starting point.

Digby's Rule For Success In Today's America: Find The Right Young Wealthy Philanthropically Inclined Aristocrat... And Brown‑Nose Him Or Her

Sadly, Digby is probably right about this. Her exploration of the subject is nonetheless well worth reading. She starts with a quiet invitation to the White House offered to 100 young aristocrats... I can't find a better word for them; they're heirs to great estates who are likely to engage in major philanthropy as they come into their various family fortunes... and frankly, as I am reading the indefatigable Michael Moore's autobiography, Here Comes Trouble, and I see no other direct path for someone born to limited means (as Moore was) to pursue great things, I suppose I have to recommend Digby's course of action to today's bright but poor youth.

More and more (Moore and Moore?), I realize America is, as the Princeton study found, no democracy, clearly an oligarchy and, unsurprisingly, has an aristocracy. Fight it, but if you're old like me, get used to it; it's going to take more than the rest of my life (and possibly more than the rest of America's) to change. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Krugman: What The Financial Industry Takes And What America Doesn't Get In Return

Krugman's title, Three Expensive Milliseconds, refers to a tunnel being bored through the Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania for the purpose of running fiber‑optic cables which will cut the time it takes trading information and instructions to travel between New York's stock markets and Chicago's futures markets... by three milliseconds. That's right: 0.003 seconds. This tunnel will carry, not people in cars, or freight on rail or in trucks, but bucks on wings, for the exclusive benefit of America's masters of the universe... the financial industry. And the financial industry does great things for... um... well, in any case, probably not you and not me; read Krugman's discussion on that issue.

...  made visible!
In the past 20 years, aside from the broker who handled my tiny investment account before he retired comfortably, I have met two people in the high end of the finance industry. Both were startlingly young. One was going back to college so she could get in on the gravy train. The other one was already rich... dripping, filthy rich, no apologies. I can't say either one displayed exceptional virtues that made them worthy of excessive wealth. They would probably tell me about that invisible hand, and how it pointed its finger at them. I would agree, except that the same hand seems to have pointed a different finger at me and 99.999% of Americans.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gabriel García Márquez (1927–2014)

If you haven't read journalist and prizewinning Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez's fiction, you probably don't understand the reality of a goodly portion of the Latin American population. The wiki has a good summary of his life and work. There is literally nothing like his fiction, and good English translations are available for some of it. Start with One Hundred Years of Solitude and possibly Love in the Time of Cholera; those are (deservedly) his best-known works in the anglophone world. R.I.P., Gabriel García Márquez.

Big Surprise! [/irony] America Is An Oligarchy – Princeton Study

Via pajoly at Kos, a quote from the Princeton study [.pdf]:

The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.

So we're now an oligarchy. Sounds about right to me. Were we ever a representative democracy? You tell me...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pulitzer-Winning WSJ Columnist: GOP Should Nominate Ron Rand Paul For Prez, Because They Need Another Nationwide Landslide Loss

First, last names reversed?
Who says irony is dead in today's high-level journalism? Not WSJ columnist Bret Stephens: he urges the GOP to nominate Sen. Rand Paul (R‑Hunger) for president, "[L]et's get it over with," he says, launching into a catalog of Paul's very public flaws. But, concludes Stephens, it won't matter:
And so [Paul] should be [nominated]. Because maybe what the GOP needs is another humbling landslide defeat. When moderation on a subject like immigration is ideologically disqualifying, but bark-at-the-moon lunacy about Halliburton is not, then the party has worse problems than merely its choice of nominee.
Remember, you heard it first from the WSJ. And no one could be more macho than a man named "Bret"!

(H/T Tom Kludt of TPM.)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Jonathan Schell (1943—2014)

Schell speaks to Occupy, 2012
One of the most inspiring journalists/book authors on international affairs and peace has died. He died late last month and I somehow missed it. Jonathan Schell deserves this memorial by Tom Engelhardt, vastly better than anything I could hastily post.

When I was a young man, possibly 35 years ago, Schell influenced many of my own emerging views. My thanks to former colleague and now blogger Anne Buchanan for introducing me to Schell's work all those years ago.

(H/T Michael Moore for directing me to Engelhardt's obituary.)

Friday, April 11, 2014

NSA Has Known About, Used Heartbleed Bug For Years

Via the same Steven D post linked below, we learn from Bloomberg, which has two unnamed sources, that the NSA has been using the Heartbleed bug for a couple of years to gather "critical intelligence."

The NSA of course denies doing any such damned thing. Of course, loyal Muricans should always believe what they say. Yeah, right.

So the NSA's notion of patriotism when it finds a major vulnerability affecting many of the large internet services and their customers is to a) keep a lid on it, and b) exploit it.

I can't tell you what I think should be done with the NSA, but it may involve a corkscrew...

Elections In Miami-Dade Are A Real Pisser

Hunter at Daily Kos explains the messy details, in the post "Miami-Dade blocks voters standing in line from using the bathroom". As the lines in Miami-Dade  sometimes require six hours standing to vote, this effectively disqualifies many people from voting even if they have a voter certificate, an ID and anything else the Florida GOP may see fit to require in a given year.

Not my 2012 polling place, but similar
I remember the 2012 primaries. I voted early, choosing the Fiesta Mart at Kirby and Main, where I also frequently shop. The place was packed. At the time, I was first beginning to notice the problem that would ultimately cost me my foot. The queue of voters snaked through every aisle from the International section to the side of the store nearest Main... between 10 and 15 times across the store, front-to-back. After I voted, I could scarcely walk at all, or even stand, for about three days. I'm sorry, but in a representative democracy that is serious about representing the whole of "we the people," a cripple should not have to cripple him- or herself further just to be able to vote.

People who have to use the bathroom more frequently are similarly disabled. In some cases, medications can induce the problem as they solve a more serious problem; I know this because on the advice of my doctor I just started taking such a medication. It's no fun, but it beats croaking. Republicans, ask yourself: just how much do you hate disabled people? That much? Well, f^<k you too!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Heartbleed Vulnerability

Test your domain's vulnerability here. Read Bruce Schneier's post here; follow his links. Gain some perspective from xkcd here. Know that according to an alleged expert on NBC News this evening, there isn't much the client (user) can do. Sleep as well as you usually do tonight... I plan to.

UPDATE: that easy peace of mind doesn't apply to maintainers of web servers. For them, PC World has a pretty good summary of what they can/must do.

(H/T Steven D at Booman Tribune.)

Navy Research Lab Makes Carbon-Neutral Gasoline From Sea Water For Between $3 And $6 A Gallon

Sea water? Sea water! The US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has developed and patented (!) the process, and powered a model airplane with the result. How would it work on a larger scale? Well, first you build a nuclear-powered gasoline factory vessel...

Gasoline factory???

Actually, I have to temper my mockery with the possibility that a cleaner version of the process could be developed. But I am confident based on the Navy's experiments with powerful sound waves that kill whales and dolphins that the Navy will not bother with any damned environmental cleanup. I doubt the oil companies are quaking in their boots quite yet.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

William Boyce: Symphony #4

Notwithstanding the name "Symphony," this is theater music.

From the YouTube post:
This "symphony" is one of eight by Boyce - all of which are really overtures for various theatrical productions. - It was composed in 1751 for a musical entertainment called "The Shepherd's Lottery".
To my ear, Boyce is the most Handel-like composer other than Handel himself: the lines are spacious; the voicings mostly open. Boyce is a few years later (1711‑1779) but clearly he made no attempt to be on the cutting edge of style for his time. This performance by "The Consort of London" (to all appearances, not the group once led by the late lamented David Munrow) is neither spectacular nor deficient. It's cheerful, rollicking English baroque music; grab yourself a drink and a snack, imagine you're sitting in a theater, lean back and enjoy the "play"!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Sleepless Night, Exhaustion, Anger... Fear... After Reading This Article

... by Peter Van Buren at Tom Engelhardt's site. Why should anyone who does not himself or herself fly (as I pointedly do not) be driven to fear and anger by an article about Rahinah Ibrahim's experiences with the no-fly list? Many, many reasons, many egregious flaws in the way the entire executive branch of America's government works (I almost said "our" government, but I am increasingly convinced it doesn't belong to us anymore), its virtually total abnegation of our hard-won civil liberties, a creeping (and creepy) onset of the usual manifestations of totalitarian techniques apparently in daily use by all the three-letter agencies (not least NSA, CIA and FBI), ... oh, yes, there's plenty to give one a sleepless night or a few nightmares in this story, despite the obvious mitigating factor that no one involved died as a result of it... yet. Here's Van Buren, near the end of the piece:

A common trope for those considering the way the National Security Agency spies on almost everyone everywhere all the time is that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. If your cell phone conversations are chit-chats with mom and your emails tend toward forwards of cute cat videos, why should you care if the NSA or anyone else is snooping?

Ask Rahinah Ibrahim about that. She did nothing wrong and so should have had nothing to fear. ...

Sad as it may be, the Ibrahim case is a fairly benign example of ordinary Washington practices in the post-9/11 era. Ibrahim is going about her life at peace in Malaysia. Her tangle with the United States seems to have been more a matter of bureaucratic screw-ups than anything else. No one sought to actively destroy her. She was not tortured in a CIA black site, nor left for years in a cage at Guantanamo. Her case is generally seen as, at worst, another ugly stain on the white wall we imagine we are as a nation.

But the watch lists are there. The tools are in place. And one thing is clear: no one is guarding the guards. You never know whose name just went on a list. Maybe yours?
Yes, maybe mine, at least. Maybe the name of any American who has proactively pursued a living, working meaning for the rights- and liberties-bearing texts in our Constitution and its amendments, any American who regularly speaks out, attends the occasional public protest in the post‑9/11 era, contributes money and/or effort to civil liberties organizations such as ACLU, EFF, more than a hundred other American groups (listed here and here), and perhaps forty other groups worldwide, distributed among the nations that claim liberties as part of their mandate (listed here). Yes, maybe their names.

Maybe yours?

Reading Howard N. Meyer's book on the Fourteenth Amendment (see the post about it a couple days back), I have come to realize that America has treated its constitutional liberties "[m]ore honoured in the breach than in the observance." Time and again, matters of liberty and equality have been taken to court, sometimes to the Supreme Court, a ruling made which may or may not reflect the liberties in the Bill of Rights plus the 13th, 14th, 15th, 19th and other amendments, and those rulings utterly and completely ignored, defied, spat upon in actual practice. It is disgusting and discouraging, and I do not see evidence of things getting better, certainly not within our lifetime and possibly not before our likely national collapse some time in the next half-century or so in the face of global climate change. The actual prospect for liberties looks pretty bleak to me, and our nation's founders are probably spinning in their graves.

Your Comments On This Blog

My Blogger settings allow anyone to comment on this blog, even Anonymous or an empty name field, without entering any kind of word or number. That means I can't stop you from comment-spamming. It's the price I pay for the openness; some of my commenters have said they like the lack of hassle. So be it. But I can and do take steps to minimize any exposure your spam may receive to the world...

If you comment anonymously (or with an empty name), Blogger puts your work straight into the spam folder. This happens automatically; I didn't have to do anything to make it happen. Once in a while I open the spam folder and, without looking at the contents, delete everything there. Your comment is visible on the web for a duration of perhaps three seconds. Or less. Google Search very likely will never see it. If you're spamming to boost your page ref counts, you're really wasting your time.

If you comment with a name I haven't seen before, your comment goes into the moderation folder. I look there about every week or two, or month or two, or not; it isn't a priority for me. But if you're real (e.g., if I've seen you on other blogs I visit) and you offer a salient comment, I will engage you. If not...

Once in a while, I turn off incoming comments for a day or two. This is as random as I can make it. Please do visit again, unless you're the repulsive vaguely meat-like stuff in a funny-shaped can opened with a key...

Static Pages (About, Quotes, etc.)

No Police Like H•lmes

Current and Recent Reading and Viewing

• King, Laurie R., Mary Russell series.
—. The Beekeeper's Apprentice.
—. A Monstrous Regiment of Women.
—. A Letter of Mary.
—. The Moor. ...
If you are unfamiliar with Ms. King's Mary Russell series of Holmes novels, please do yourself a favor and begin with the first, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, and just keep going. If you have female children of the right age, you may want to introduce them to these books; Ms. Russell is a splendid role model for someone who would become a strong, intellectual, adventurous woman. King's prose is beautiful, too. Highly recommended!
• Rennison, Nick. Sherlock Holmes: The Unauthorized Biography.
Rennison weaves the scant information Conan Doyle provides on Holmes's background into the fabric of the stellar lights of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with such convincing detail that one could almost believe Holmes was an actual historical figure. If you like reading British biographers (face it; Americans write biography wholly differently) and you have a passion for Sherlock Holmes, you will very likely enjoy this book. As in eating a Dagwood sandwich, it helps to take it in small bites at a time.
• PBS Masterpiece - BBC. Sherlock, Season 3. Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman.
Sunday 1/19/2014, Premiere, "The Empty Hearse".
Sunday 1/26: "The Sign of Three".
Sunday 2/2, "His Last Vow".
Need I even comment on this?

I imagine people, especially Sherlockians, will either love this series or hate it. I am inclined to take each episode at face value, as a sort of parody of the traditional Conan Doyle Holmes story model, having (in my opinion) very little obligation to conform to that model as long as it does not deliberately poop on the basic conventions Doyle established. The setting is either present day or near future (some of the technology, and the reference to hardware Holmes apparently has installed in contact with his brain, lead me to call it the future), and many of the human elements are right out of Doyle: Holmes, who has just returned from his "dead" period, is an absolute a(bleep!)hole to Watson; Mrs. Hudson starts out talking to Watson, who announces he is recently engaged, as if he is surely gay; Watson is played (to type) as not the brightest bulb on the string, etc. My advice: do watch, but just sit back and enjoy the fireworks, the effects, and the unsubtle humor. I've read that women find Cumberbatch very good-looking; perhaps some men will as well.
• Douglas, Carole Nelson. Irene Adler series.
—. Good Night, Mr. Holmes.
—. The Adventuress (formerly Good Morning Irene)
—. A Soul of Steel (formerly Irene at Large)
—. Another Scandal in Bohemia (formerly Irene's Last Waltz) ...
Here's Dr. Watson (i.e., Conan Doyle) on Irene Adler:
To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler... yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.
Carole Nelson Douglas, perceiving the memory of Adler as anything but "questionable," frames a series of mystery novels in which Adler is the detective, accompanied by her own Watson, Penelope "Nell" Huxleigh, Adler's husband Godfrey Norton is the strong male lead, and Holmes appears only incidentally. Adler is granted an astonishing but undeniably plausible variety of skills to ply in her role, and her background as an American opera diva contributes to the stories in an entertaining way. Douglas has done us a real favor in fleshing out this character, who is only once mentioned in the Canon but deserves and receives a much deeper treatment in Douglas's books.
• Millett, Larry. Sherlock Holmes in Minnesota series.
—. Sherlock Holmes and the Red Demon
—. Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders
—. Sherlock Holmes and the Rune Stone Mystery
—. Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Alliance
—. The Disappearance of Sherlock Holmes
Millett writes a flavor of Holmes novels that I call either "American Sherlockiana" or "Sherlockian Americana," take your choice. Either way, the series comprises novels in which Holmes and Dr. Watson have an adventure involving America, which nation to all appearances Conan Doyle himself admired. Millett sets his stories in Twin Cities in Minnesota, adds his own detective, Shadwell Rafferty, a barkeep with an analytical mind, and lets loose with a series of five adventures well worth your time. I read these years ago, but they have been recently re-released; see Millett's web site at the link above.