Friday, November 29, 2013

No Black Friday For Us — But It Was A Close Call

Stella and I, as a matter of principle (not to mention a matter of sanity), don't shop on Black Friday. We are fairly relentless in our determination not to do so.

But when I started to back up my bills-paid file to a probably five‑year‑old external laptop‑friendly (i.e., tiny) hard drive, I found that it was unresponsive. Ruh‑roh!

The drive was plugged into an external USB 2.0 hub, on which the power light was cheerfully bright; the drive itself was powered from the USB hub over its one and only cable, and its light was similarly bright. A reboot didn't help. Unplugging/replugging the drive cable from/to the USB hub didn't help. With a big sigh, I contemplated the possibility that I would have to go against my principles and head for Micro Center on Black Friday (shudder).

Suddenly I realized something looked funny about the whole apparatus. Where was the signal cable from the computer to the USB hub, which usually goes into the back of the hub? Sure enough: it was plugged into the big box, but not into the hub! The connector on the hub end is one of those square-shaped USB connectors, good and sturdy, the kind that doesn't simply fall out on its own, and indeed it never has fallen out before. I looked on the floor beneath my feet... sure enough, there was the cable with the connector! Plugging it in restored the external HD, and I could do my backup.

The connector surely had some help unplugging itself. I don't know if the help's name was Esther or Lily; I suspect Lily, but I really can't pin the deed on either of them. Hey, it's the day after Thanksgiving, and they're wonderful cats; there's no way we would deprive them of their treats on a holiday for such a minor offense!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Oops, sorry, BB, I meant...

Whatever T-bird you share today... turkey or Tofurky™ or in our case, tandoori veggie... gave a great day!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Top Secret Strategy Document: NSA Wants More Legal Surveillance Power

James Risen at NYT:
Officials at the National Security Agency, intent on maintaining its dominance in intelligence collection, pledged last year to push to expand its surveillance powers, according to a top-secret strategy document.

In a February 2012 paper laying out the four-year strategy for the N.S.A.’s signals intelligence operations, which include the agency’s eavesdropping and communications data collection around the world, agency officials set an objective to “aggressively pursue legal authorities and a policy framework mapped more fully to the information age.”

... “The interpretation and guidelines for applying our authorities, and in some cases the authorities themselves, have not kept pace with the complexity of the technology and target environments, or the operational expectations levied on N.S.A.’s mission,” the document concluded.

... the paper also outlined some of the agency’s other ambitions. They included defeating the cybersecurity practices of adversaries in order to acquire the data the agency needs from “anyone, anytime, anywhere.” The agency also said it would try to decrypt or bypass codes that keep communications secret by influencing “the global commercial encryption market through commercial relationships,” ...

... provided by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden ...

... Several inquiries are underway in Washington; Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the N.S.A.’s longest-serving director, has announced plans to retire; and the White House has offered proposals to disclose more information about the agency’s domestic surveillance activities.

That old Fourth-Amendment hater; I'd let him retire all right... retire to a prison cell.

(The article also contains a link to the strategy document itself.)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Will Supreme Court Create A 'Citizens United' Allowing Corporations To Circumvent Obamacare Birth Control Mandate, Claiming Religious Freedom?

Does a corporation resemble an individual human being in having protected freedom of speech, including freedom to make effectively unlimited campaign contributions? In Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court ruled in effect that yes, corporations do have free-speech rights.

How far does this concept go? Does a corporation have freedom of religion, the religion of course being that of the owner, including the freedom to refuse to comply with the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act? A divided D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled earlier in this month that corporations do have such a right (The Hill's Regwatch blog has a good summary; Kaiser Health News has links to many articles about the ruling).


Which one has a religion?


Today, the Supreme Court hears the case. I don't mean to sound cynical, but I think I know how that will come out.

Back in the Saint Ronald Reagan era, before federal courts including the Supreme Court became so thoroughly dominated by men (sic) nominated by Republican presidents, conservative friends and colleagues (I actually had a couple of conservative friends back then) complained about something they called "agenda‑based adjudication," a process by which courts ruled in ways that allegedly favored a particular (Democratic) political agenda. It was never clear that that actually took place, but that was the allegation.

Today, there is no room for doubt that agenda‑based adjudication is as real as any other basis on which controversial issues are decided in the Supreme Court. At some point, by the look of it, not only will corporations have the rights of individuals, but only corporations will have such rights. It's a truly sorry trend.

UPDATE: according to Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog, "The Court did not expedite the briefing schedules for the new cases, so presumably they will be heard in March."

AFTERTHOUGHT: Shouldn't the six (6) Catholics on the nine‑member Supreme Court all recuse themselves, as every one of them has presumably the same religious aversion to contraception as the plaintiff?

Monday, November 25, 2013

'Texas Has The Best Politicians &c' — Rep. Steve Stockman (R) Has Some Secrets

Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX)
You know the old saying. And Eric Lach of TPMMuckraker outlines a few of Stockman's secrets related to his income in 2011-12, while Will Tucker at the Houston Chronicle's blog Texas on the Potomac exposes Stockman's repeated failure to report his business ties and sources of income as required of members of Congress by federal law. In addition, the few and sparsely filled in forms which Stockman has submitted have been filed nearly a year late. The whole thing stinks. If there's nothing illegal going on, then Stockman is going to great lengths to hide his legal activities, based on just the small amount that has been documented so far. Here's a small snippet from Tucker's blog post (Lach links to a Chronicle investigation, but you have to be a Chron subscriber to read it; the blog post, on the other hand, is open to the public):
Rep. Steve Stockman has failed repeatedly to disclose business affiliations that stretch from Texas to the British Virgin Islands on his Congressional financial disclosure forms, an investigation by the Houston Chronicle shows.

The Houston Chronicle’s latest investigation published Sunday reveals that Stockman, since his bankruptcy in 2002, created a number of businesses, some of which remain active but were not reported on Stockman’s financial disclosure form as required by federal law.

That form itself was filed nearly a year late—Stockman didn’t disclose his assets or business affiliations in 2012, as required by federal law. The form attributes $350,000 earned by Stockman in 2011 and 2012 to “Presidential Trust Marketing,” an unexplained entity with a name similar to one of Stockman’s assumed names in Harris County: Presidential Trust. ...


Stockman, who is from Clear Lake (think: the NASA area), is back in office in a newly created gerrymandered congressional district after over a decade out of Congress. It is obvious that little about him has changed in the intervening years. Many of us felt back then, and still feel now, that Texas was, and would be again, far better represented in Congress if Stockman would simply vanish into the void. I at least would be just as content to see him vanish into a prison cell.

Republicans: Explain To Me Again How Your Ceaseless Filibusters Are Not Because Obama Is Black

Sahil Kapur of TPM presents some stats on the use of the filibuster against presidents' nominees from Eisenhower through Obama (so far).
  • Against the nominees of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford, the filibuster was never used.

  • Against Carter and Reagan, the filibuster was used twice against each president.

  • Against nominees of Poppy Bush, the filibuster was never used.

  • Against Clinton, 9 times. Against Baby Bush, 7 times.

  • Against Obama... so far... 72 (seventy-two) times.

Once again, explain to me how it's not because Obama is Black. Better stand back with your nose beyond my arm's reach with your lame-assed excuse...

The filibuster has always been a thorn in my side. Even when it was not anti-Democratic, it was certainly always antidemocratic. It may occasionally have prevented Jefferson's frequent‑revolution solution, serving as an escape valve when one party did something utterly outrageous against the other. But 72 times against Obama in about five years? As often as I oppose Obama, his policies, his appointments... that record of filibusters against his nominees is plain and simple racism. And Senate Republicans who employ the filibuster against Obama about as often as they breathe... they are plain and simple racists.

End of story.

Blogger's Proactive Censor

At least three of you (Enfant, BadTux, c) left comments in the past week which Blogger saw fit to dump in the spam bucket. Apologies. I can see how NSA might have pressured Google into whacking comments critical of NSA from overseas readers, but two of you are American citizens presumably commenting from within the US ("stateside," as old-timers used to call it). My apologies. The comments have been restored, but I doubt I will have time to answer them today; I need to spend a couple of hours applying for a Medicare supplement. Maybe tonight...

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Terms Of The Contract

Stella loves campy old (and new) Christmas movies. One of the broadcast networks... I believe it was Ion Television, though I'm not certain... offered several in a row this evening. When I checked in on Stella, she had just finished watching one of them and was settling in to watch another.

I am not unsympathetic. Stella has a demanding job that would fill me with a craving for vacuous entertainment, so I accommodate her need as best I can. Between the two movies, I poked my head into the room and told her that if she needed me, she would find me poring over the terms of the contract for our relationship, trying to find out if there really is a sanity clause... <grin_duck_run />

Boehner Fails, Falls Upward, Successfully Enrolls In Obamacare

Josh Marshall, editor of TPM:
Late last week Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) made a big show of trying but failing to sign up for Obamacare because of the notoriously buggy website. (Actually he appears to have been using the DC exchange site.) He even did a special tweet noting his hopeless situation. Not terribly surprising given the frustrating experiences so many have had.

Actually, it turns out he had successfully enrolled and got a call confirming that about an hour after his tweet. But it gets better.

According to Scott MacFarlane, a reporter for the local NBC affiliate in Washington, reports that a DC Health Care exchange representative actually tried to contact Boehner by phone during the enrollment process but was put on hold for 35 minutes, after which time the representative finally hung up.
Boehner is really a royal son-of-a-bleep, isn't he?

AFTERTHOUGHT: last week, I had a 100% successful encounter with a different federal government website, and I now have a Medicare card in my pocket. Yes, I made two phone calls to the SocSec-Medicare help line, but both were content-related, as the website itself worked flawlessly. Boehner's experience just goes to show that if you want government to fail, it can be made to fail. My experience shows that it doesn't have to.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty Years Without JFK

Mrs. Perry, Tenth Grade geometry teacher, elderly, rail-thin, probably homely even when she was young, systematic in her approach to her subject... just what you want in a geometry teacher, not distracting but commanding for those of us who loved math... was exceptionally somber when she entered the classroom fifty years ago today, making sure all of us were settled and quiet before directing our attention to the PA for an announcement. The principal announced... the principal never made any announcements, but that day, he did... that the President had been shot.

Before geometry class was over, the principal announced that President Kennedy was dead.

Nothing has been the same since then. Camelot faded, distressingly quickly. Americans of that era liked to think that their government did not depend on any one person for its continuity, its ability to function, even its spirit. We were right about two out of three of those matters. There was no coup attempt. Johnson, apart from his tragic obsession with the Vietnam war, was a competent and craftsmanly president, with some significant and genuinely liberal credits to his name. But Johnson didn't have the magic.

Now, fifty years later, presidents, though probably themselves still the targets of assassination attempts, are better known as the perpetrators of assassinations by proxy.

And in one way or another, America after Kennedy has been bereft of spirit for 50 years. I'm afraid it's not coming back.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Just for balance, Chomsky eschews hero worship in favor of almost cynical views of Kennedy in real life. He's right, of course; no president in real life could match Kennedy's heroic image. But damn, we could surely use a few heroes today...

Thursday, November 21, 2013

BOOM! Senate Goes Nuclear On Filibuster Rules

About damned time, IMHO... here's TPM's Sahil Kapur:
After years of threats and warnings, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and his Democratic majority on Thursday executed the "nuclear option" to eliminate the filibuster for executive branch and judicial nominees, except for the Supreme Court.

Fifty-two Democrats voted against upholding the filibuster rules after Republicans again blocked cloture on the nomination of Patricia Millett to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Democratic Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Mark Pryor (D-AR) voted with Republicans to sustain the filibuster rules.

"Republicans have routinely used the filibuster to prevent President Obama from appointing his executive team or confirming judges," Reid said on the Senate floor. "We're burning wasted hours and wasted days between filibusters. I could say instead we're burning wasted days and wasted weeks between filibusters. ... It's time to change. It's time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete."


"Is the Senate working now? Can anyone say the Senate is working now?" the majority leader said before the vote. "I don't think so."

The "Reid Rule," as supporters are calling it, does not affect the minority party's ability to filibuster Supreme Court nominees or legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) fumed at Reid's decision, accusing him of trying to change the subject from Obamacare and "cook up some fake fight over judges." He argued that "by any objective standard, Senate Republicans have been very, very fair to this president" when it comes to letting him appoint his nominees.
Excuse me, Mr. Minority Leader, but... bullshit. Time after time, the GOP has filibustered Obama's nominations, offering no substantive complaint about the nominee, filibustering for no other reason than that it was Obama who nominated him/her.

Regular readers know I am not particularly fond of Obama, and I have not always been fond of his nominees, either. But McConnell's whining and grousing notwithstanding, tradition is that presidents have been served by the officials they have nominated, typically (though not always) of their own party, the filibuster being reserved only for the most extremist of individuals, the deliberate sharp stick in the eye, the person nominated for no other reason than to create discord. Whatever else he has done, Obama has not nominated people for the purpose of pure aggravation of Republicans. But Dog knows Republicans have filibustered his nominees for pure aggravation of Obama, not for any substantive flaw in the nominees.

I regret only that Reid waited so painfully long to trigger the H-bomb. And Republicans? They can go suck on corkscrews until the points come out the backs of their necks.

ASIDE: the bomb in the picture above was accidentally (!) dropped near Albuquerque in 1957, very nearly taking out the city and an air force base ^[added] with its conventional explosives alone^. At least we can be relatively confident that Reid's nuke was no accident.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Supreme Court Refuses 5-4 To Block Texas Anti-Abortion Law While Challenge Is Heard By Fifth Circuit

Jessica Mason Pieklo, senior legal analyst at RH Reality Check:
Late Tuesday afternoon, the Supreme Court refused to intervene in the battle over HB 2, Texas’ massive omnibus anti-abortion law. The 5-4 ruling refusing to reinstate a lower court’s injunction blocking the hospital admitting privileges portion of the law not only lets that provision remain in effect, it sets the stage for a future battle over the question of just how much access to abortion services a state can cut off before rendering the right to abortion meaningless.

The ruling came in response to a November 4 emergency petition filed by abortion providers with Justice Antonin Scalia, asking him to temporarily block the Texas law while the case proceeds on appeal. On October 28, following a three-day trial, a district court permanently blocked the admitting privileges portion of the law. But on October 31, following an emergency request by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the law to take effect while the appeal continued. The Fifth Circuit is the only federal court to allow this kind of law to take effect. District courts in Alabama, Mississippi, Wisconsin, and North Dakota have all blocked similar laws. [Bolds mine. - SB]

Just for clarity, this is not the final word on the case. The Supreme Court has only intervened as far as allowing the law's challenged provision, the hospital admitting privileges requirement, to take effect while the case is heard before the Fifth Circuit. However, as Ms. Pieklo explains, quoting Justice Breyer:
The dissent also hones in on a key point underlying the fight over HB 2. Abortion opponents are able to accomplish through targeted clinic closures what they may not be able to do via judicial opinion: effectively overturn Roe v. Wade by rendering abortion impossible to access. “By putting Texas’ new law into immediate effect, it instantly leaves ’24 counties in the Rio Grande Valley … with no abortion provider because those providers do not have admitting privileges and are unlikely to to get them’ and it may substantially reduce access to safe abortions elsewhere in Texas,” Breyer wrote. “The longer a given facility remains closed, the less likely it is ever to reopen even if the admitting privileges requirement is ultimately held unconstitutional.” [Bolds mine. - SB]
We therefore have the effect of judicial process without ever having the due process itself. Time, tide and the progression of pregnancy wait for no man or (more to the point) woman; as a result of this ruling, some women will have unintended children, pregnancies leading to birth which, under Roe, the women were legally entitled to terminate. Worse, some women will surely die of pregnancies gone horribly wrong, with no way to terminate them. The blood of those women is on the hands of the Texas Legislature, Governor Perry and Attorney General Abbott... and the federal courts, if they insist on allowing this law to take effect while its constitutionality is being challenged.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Ed Kilgore at Political Animal has some clarifying thoughts.

Promises, Promises

Sahil Kapur at TPM:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday threatened to "go nuclear" on filibuster reform in his strongest terms yet, one day after Republicans completed a triple-filibuster of President Barack Obama's most high-profile judicial nominees.

"I'm considering looking at the rules," said the Nevada Democrat. "All this [talk of the] sacred nature of the filibuster -- I think what we need, and the American people want, is to get things done around here. I'm not talking about changing anything dealing with the Supreme Court or dealing with basic legislation. I am talking about executive nominations."

"I'm at the point where we need to do something to allow government to function," he said. "The obstruction we've seen in the last five years is nothing like we've ever seen before. ... This is not how democracy is supposed to work, or function, and the American people are sick of this."

Goddamnit, Harry, stop blathering about it and do it. It is well past time we allowed a majority to govern again.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Wal-Mart Holds Food Drive - FOR ITS OWN EMPLOYEES

Via Lawyers, Guns and Money (which I really must blogroll), Ashley Lutz at Business Insider tells us YAWMS (Yet Another Wal-Mart Story):
A Cleveland Wal-Mart store is holding a food drive — for its own employees.

"Please donate food items so associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner," reads a sign accompanied by several plastic bins.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer first reported on the food drive, which has sparked outrage in the area.

"That Wal-Mart would have the audacity to ask low-wage workers to donate food to other low-wage workers — to me, it is a moral outrage," Norma Mills, a customer at the store, told the Plain Dealer.

A company spokesman defended the food drive, telling the Plain Dealer that it is evidence that employees care about each other.

Do I really need to say more?

I have not shopped in a Wal-Mart for something over 15 years that I am sure of, probably more like 20 years. This kind of thing is the reason. YMMV.

Hawaii State Rep.— Jesus Christ, He's A Democrat— Goes Around Smashing Homeless People's Possessions With A Sledgehammer

The minimum that should happen to Tom Brower is that he should be ousted from the Democratic Party, permanently, for life. But apparently, in Hawaii, homeless people are sufficiently unpopular that no one files a formal (criminal) complaint against him, and of course no homeless person is in a position to do so. By his own reckoning, Brower has smashed up about 30 shopping carts full of homeless people's personal belongings. And AFAIK he's still a State Representative, Dog help us all.

Homelessness in Houston reached its historical peak (to the best of my knowledge) during Saint Ronald Reagan's presidency. In those days I traveled by bicycle every day. My route to and from work took me mostly along one of the bayou hike-and-bike trails on the banks of Brays Bayou. The bike trails are routed under the street-level bridges of major streets over the bayou. In that era, on each end of each bridge, under the bridge but off the bike trail, one homeless person camped out (occasionally more, but usually only one). They never bothered anyone that I know of; some of them occasionally waved to me as I cycled past. And of course they were not visible to traffic on the street itself.

Some of these homeless people had alarm clocks beside their sleeping bags. Think for a moment: the likeliest explanation is that they were employed, but nonetheless homeless.

I don't know if this is happening again in Houston during our Not-So-Great Recession. But if it is, I think wanton, deliberate destruction of a homeless person's property is at least completely morally unacceptable, whether or not it is illegal. As to Brower, I would wish to see him jailed, but if he were jailed, he'd have a roof over his head and a guaranteed meal, which is more than the misfortunate human targets of his malice have.

(For photos and a YouTube video, follow the link to Think Progress. I can't bear to post the gut-wrenching stuff on my site.)

(H/T Atrios.)

National Security Task Force Sets About Collecting TML

That would be "Too Many Logos" ...

Risking my life in jail by quoting a snippet from an AP article by Eileen Sullivan at TPM,
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The National Security Agency reported its own violations of surveillance rules to a U.S. intelligence court and promised additional safety measures to prevent similar missteps over and over again, according to more than 1,000 pages of newly declassified files about the federal government's controversial program of collecting every American's phone records during the past seven years.

According to court records from 2009, after repeated assurances the NSA would obey the court's rules, it acknowledged that it had collected material improperly. ...

So many phone calls... so little time to collect them and lie about doing so...

Monday, November 18, 2013

'Stealth Attack': Jen Sorensen Illustrates New State Anti‑Abortion Laws For ACLU

Click the following excerpt image to see the (actually fairly long) "infographic":

Sorensen's graphic includes an excellent caricature of Texas State Senator and announced Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, Texas-blonde big hair and all! Thanks to Ms. Sorensen for her superb work.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Krugman: European Economy Doing Worse Than In Corresponding Period Of The Great Depression

... and Krugman has a simple chart to prove it. The alacrity with which European "austerians" jumped on the first signs of recovery from today's Great Recession is in itself dismaying, but the fact that they may well be killing that recovery in their moralizing determination to apply austerity is downright depressing:

You may be able to fool Mother Nature, but you sure as hell can't fool John Maynard Keynes...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Universal Health Care In The Land Of Aus

An Aussie physician describes Australia's system. Their system for every citizen is called Medicare. This doc has a few comments about America's system as well.

Please read this. If you're Aussie, you'll sigh in relief. If you're American... well, heaven help you, because often enough your government won't, and often enough, neither will the private insurance industry or the private health care industry. Geographically and metaphorically... Australia's Medicare is half a world away from America's.

Sen. Graham Bolsters His 'Conservative' (Anti-Choice) Creds, Introduces Abortion Ban Bill

Cracker gestures: to Hell with women!
Sen. Lindsey Graham ("The Cracker", R-SC) has introduced a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, 4 weeks earlier than the 24 weeks guaranteed by Roe v. Wade. If the bill seems familiar, it's because the House radical caucus passed it last year. Susan Erdreich at TPM has details.

Graham calls his bill the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" — a mouthful that tells you (and presumably Graham's base) all you need to know about the bill. What it doesn't tell you is that according to the Guttmacher Institute, as referenced in Erdreich's article, "88 percent of all abortions occur in the first trimester. Of the remaining 12 percent, less than half--approximately 5.3 percent--occur after the 16th week of pregnancy."

Most late-term abortions happen for damn good reasons: the mother's life is at risk, or the fetus's survival chances are nil, or the fetus has severe deformities that could not be determined by tests until the late 2nd trimester. Those late-term abortions that are performed are expensive, risky and difficult to obtain because, thanks to anti-choice laws and court rulings, most doctors will not perform them... so they are sought and performed only because they are urgently necessary.

But that isn't good enough for Sen. Cracker. He has to ban abortions which are constitutionally protected according to Roe v. Wade. For him, as for most of his base, it can only be about establishing his domination over women. If women do not have reasonable control of their bodies, they are not full-fledged equal citizens of the United States. That inequality is exactly what Sen. Cracker and his base seek... and what we must proactively oppose.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Myth Of 'Makers And Takers': Conservatism As Fiction

Joshua Holland, senior digital producer for, book author and radio host, thoroughly debunks the fundamental conservative notion that Americans are divided into "makers" — hardworking, self-sustaining people who create the goods and services that drive the American economy — and "takers" — lazy bums who live on government subsidies of various sorts and never contribute to the economy.

Not surprisingly, to me at least, that entire notion, the one at the core of present-day American conservatism, turns out upon serious study to be utter bunkum, total fiction in practically every way.

Read Mr. Holland's opus and learn the ways in which virtually every American is at one time or another in his or her life a maker, and at another time or even at the same time a taker. If conservatives were not so busy patting themselves on the back, congratulating themselves unjustifiably for being the only makers, perhaps they could assist the rest of us in accommodating in our social structure the fact that everyone makes and everyone takes.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Juan Cole Offers 'Top 10 Ways To Really Honor Veterans'

Cole speaks his mind... and reminds us that many recent and current GOP actions are truly harmful to veterans. Take your blood pressure meds before you read his list... that is, if your benefits still pay for blood pressure medication.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Moms' Gun Control Group Intimidated By Open Carry Group — In Texas, Of Course

Tom Kludt at TPM:
A small meeting for a gun control group in Texas was disrupted on Saturday by dozens of armed, pro-gun advocates, some of whom were photographed kneeling in a parking lot and brandishing their weapons.

According to a statement from the gun control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, four of its members were meeting inside the Blue Mesa Grill in Dallas when the confrontation took place.

The group said the confrontation was carried out by members of an organization called Open Carry Texas. The statement said that nearly 40 armed men and women, including some with semi-automatic rifles, arrived in the parking lot outside the restaurant after learning of the small gathering on Facebook.

(Bolds mine. AP photo of the gun-totin' Texans available at TPM. - SB)

"A well regulated militia..." begins the Second Amendment to our Constitution. That's almost a description of this open-carry group: I don't know that they're particularly "well regulated," but it's plain to see they are "malicious."

Veterans Day

Bill Bates, SWTSTC Lineman
Bill Bates, Editor, College Star
Bill Bates, Graduate
Lt. SG William Bates, USN
It is hard to believe that these pictures of my father, presented (I believe) in time order, span a period of less than about 10 years, from his college days to his service in W.W. II. War does things to people... if it doesn't kill them outright. Dad grew up in a terrible hurry, and coming from his family, he was never immature in the first place.

To all the American men and women who have grown up in a hurry through military service in our (IMHO) far too many wars, in generations past and in my own lifetime... I lift my glass to you. You have my thanks. May the heretofore endless wars at long last come to an end.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Strictly From Hunger


School Throws Out Student’s Breakfast For Being 30 Cents Short

By Bryce Covert on November 8, 2013 at 11:15 am

Barber Middle School in Dickinson, Texas threw out a student’s breakfast because his account was short 30 cents, according to ABC affiliate KTRK.

TANSTAAFL School District
The student receives reduced priced meals, but they are paid for by an account that his mother, Jennifer Castilleja, puts money into. While the school gives warnings when accounts are low, his family must have forgotten to replenish it, but rather than letting her pay it later in the day, Castilleja says the school told her the money would have to come before her son could get breakfast. The cafeteria threw his lunch in the trash. ”There were kids all around him,” his mother said. “I think he may have been a little embarrassed and [upset] and, of course, hungry.”

(Bolds mine. - SB)

Some days I'm not sure whether I'm more ashamed to be a Texan or more ashamed just to be human. These people make me ashamed of both.

Bragging Language, Mountain Language

I am still reading the first chapter (first of 61 chapters) of Scahill's new book, Dirty Wars, and have come to a few paragraphs about Cofer Black, who is full of braggadocio to his CIA agents about how they are going to kill Osama bin Laden, how they'll bring his head on a pike to alleged President Bush. We all know how that worked out. But this led me to contemplate the following question and answer:
Q: What language is spoken by a head on a pike, in the mountains?

A: Pike-Speak, of course!
<grin_duck_run />

Krugman: America's Economy 'Mutilated'

America is doing this to itself, says Krugman in his column, "The Mutilated Economy": our government is refusing to spend the money it would take to reduce unemployment, increase demand and, in general, prime the pump... refusing in the name of responsibility to our future, while doing things which compromise that very future.
Long-term unemployment — the number of people who have been out of work for six months or more — is four times what it was before the recession.
Read it and weep. This does not have to be happening. And we all know whose fault it is.

Worst Economics-Related Pun Of The Week, By Paul Krugman

Of course it's... The Confidence Ferry [sic]!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Chris Hedges On 'The Criminalization Of Journalism'

Jaisal Noor, producer for The Real Network News, interviews the always plain-spoken Chris Hedges. I started to say "the indefatigable Chris Hedges," but honestly, Hedges looks as tired as I feel these days. It must be a terrible burden that he carries, largely on our behalf and for our education. Be that as it may, Hedges addresses the detention... face it, the criminal arrest... of David Miranda by British officials at London's Heathrow Airport, charging him with "espionage" and "terrorism" — i.e., journalism embarrassing to officialdom on both sides of the Atlantic. The interview is published both as a video and in print; it is worth viewing both forms. A couple of quotations:

NOOR: So, Chris, let's start off by getting your response to the British government accusing David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, who often collaborates with Greenwald, of, quote, espionage and terrorism and saying those were some of the reasons why they held him for hours on end at Heathrow without letting him speak to his lawyer or anyone else.

HEDGES: Well, they didn't just told him. They seized all of his electronic equipment--his computer, his phone--because they were looking for some of the files that [Miranda's partner Glenn] Greenwald has been using to publish his stories that were leaked by Edward Snowden. And this is just part of the criminalization of journalism which has taken place not only within the United States but within countries like Great Britain as well.

NOOR: Britain doesn't have the same safeguards for journalists as places like the U.S. do. ...

HEDGES: Well, there aren't any safeguards left within the United States as well. ... the security and surveillance state has the phone--all of the electronic communications of every journalist in this country. They've used the Espionage Act aggressively seven times, the last time being against Snowden, to make sure nobody does talk to the press to expose the inner workings of power.

So we once had, at least legally, more protection as journalists than were provided to journalists in Great Britain. But all of it's gone up in smoke, both here and there. ...

NOOR: Now, the NSA and its defenders, they cite 54 terrorist plots they have been able to supposedly thwart due to this massive spying. But a recent report by ProPublica found that the NSA was only able to provide evidence in four of those cases. Why do you think the NSA is not providing additional evidence for those remaining 50 cases?

HEDGES: Well, because they're lying. ...

What's interesting is that a lot of times when they lie, they get caught because of courageous whistleblowers like Snowden who expose their [lies]. ...

Please read and/or watch the rest. The interview is short and to the point.

A mere few years ago I began to wonder whether the United States could survive the beating it has taken at the hands of Americans who truly do not care for its founding principles as long as they control the nation's power... Dick Cheney, the PNAC gang, Karl Rove, etc. I don't wonder anymore: in the words of Leonard Cohen, "The war is over. The good guys lost." The Bill of Rights... especially the First Amendment's freedom of speech and press... is nothing but pen-scratchings on parchment; there is no substance to those freedoms in the era of presidents George W. Bush Dick Cheney and Barack Obama. To parody the title of another Hedges book, war is a farce that gives the U.S. beatings.

It was great while it lasted. I feel I owe an apology to Thomas Jefferson and to my father, both of whom did their damnedest to create and then preserve a nation where things were done right — thank goodness neither of them survived to see what my generation has done to it.

AFTERTHOUGHT: A couple of days ago I began reading Jeremy Scahill's new book, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. I have not read Scahill's other book, but I am reminded by his first chapter of Jane Mayer's The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals, a book which I went out and bought (used, of course) *after* I finished reading the library copy. One difference: the Scahill book is immense; you could use it to exercise your arms, pumping pulp instead of pumping iron. But the content is just as depressing as Mayer's excellent work. I may not be able to finish it...

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Medicare Application: One Small Step For A Man...

... hardly a giant leap for mankind, but at least one man has taken one step toward getting into the Medicare system. I ran into only one technological glitch in the application process: I had to pause my sign-up to ask Stella a question about our current insurance; when I came back to sign in again, there was a mysterious obstacle. When the help line called me back (better than waiting on the phone for the advertised 55 minutes), I explained the problem. Try again, they said; although I had already tried three times, I did as they asked, and it worked. I'm guessing there was something keeping my previous session alive, though for the (session) life of me, I couldn't have told you what it was. Perhaps it had to do with the partial Social Security sign-up one must do even if signing up only for Medicare.

One recommendation to anyone else about to face for initial sign-up: don't try to learn everything before you try to do anything. It isn't possible; it is exasperating, and it isn't necessary. I tried yesterday only to end up a basket case; I abandoned the attempt for the day. If you try reading the entire "Medicare and You" pamphlet as an introduction, you'll end up screaming in frustration. Being led by dialogs through the process today worked pretty well when I got around to trying it. And there appears to be no penalty for not having all your ducks in a row before you start the process: they'll tell you what they need that you've forgotten.

Now I have to decide on some options and pick a plan. I have an idea, but I'm waiting for some info from Stella's brother, who just went through the same process. I'll let you know what happens.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Person Unclear On The Concept — That Would Be Keith Alexander

In one of Glenn Greenwald's presumably last pieces for The Guardian, he points to a Politico article and a TechDirt video in which Alexander... well, here's Greenwald:
... the NSA's director, General Keith Alexander, actually demanded Thursday that the reporting being done by newspapers around the world on this secret surveillance system be halted (Techdirt has the full video here):
The head of the embattled National Security Agency, Gen Keith Alexander, is accusing journalists of "selling" his agency's documents and is calling for an end to the steady stream of public disclosures of secrets snatched by former contractor Edward Snowden.

"I think it's wrong that that newspaper reporters have all these documents, the 50,000 – whatever they have and are selling them and giving them out as if these – you know it just doesn't make sense," Alexander said in an interview with the Defense Department's "Armed With Science" blog.

"We ought to come up with a way of stopping it. I don't know how to do that. That's more of the courts and the policy-makers but, from my perspective, it's wrong to allow this to go on," the NSA director declared. [(Greenwald's) italics]
An American military leader is looking for a way to suppress journalists doing their jobs — is it OK for me to forget Godwin now?

Post-Election Headline Of The Morning: Is It Spousal Abuse?

Headline in the Houston Chronicle online:
Wife beats husband in Maine municipal election
I'm sure it happens every day...

... but not usually at the polls.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Texans: Tuesday Is Election Day — Vote!

Raise your Voice - Vote!
Texans... Tuesday Nov. 5 is Election Day. If you're a Houstonian, it's your chance to shape City Council. Wherever you are in Texas, it's your one rock to throw at the State Board of Education. Don't waste the opportunity... vote!

Be sure to bring your voter registration AND your driver's license, to appease the goddamned Governor and the goddamned GOP. If your names don't match on those two documents, you may be able to vote by signing an affidavit, which the election judge at the poll should provide you (though you may have to harass a GOP election judge to get yours). Do NOT be intimidated! If you are registered to vote, you have a right to vote!

(This post will float to the top through Tuesday. Newer posts may appear below.)

Church Of The Holy Phallus

Daily Kos (along with doubtless a lot of other sites) offers this pic of the Christian Science Church in Dixon, Illinois:

The photo is from Google Maps. The church was built around an old oak tree (no word on whether a yellow ribbon was tied around it) and apparently it doesn't look phallic from the ground. Even so, the church elders have announced their intention to place a "fig leaf" on the church. I do wonder what that will look like...

UPDATE: this reminds me of an incident in Redmond, WA and some doggerel I wrote about it in March 1998:

3/11/1998 (AP) ... U.S. District Court Judge Michael Telesca
ruled Feb. 19 that Ontario, N.Y. had the right to deny Sprint's
application to erect three 150-foot towers. Sprint had filed
the suit when its plans were rejected. Just last month,
Redmond, Wash., residents objected to a U S West proposal to
mix the high-tech with the holy. The company wants to build
a steeple for Trinity Anglican Church that would house six
wireless-telephone antennas. ...


For blocks around, you hear the sound,
The church's neighbors bawling:
They love the spire but not the wire,
The steeple's one true "calling."

This line to God won't get the nod,
Well, not from Redmond's people,
Their secret fear? That God will hear
Your phone sex through their steeple!

- SB the YDD

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Is The CIA Freelancing? Juan Cole Examines The Possibility

Juan Cole:
Pakistan: North Waziristan (yellow)
The CIA drone strike in North Waziristan yesterday killed 25 persons and targeted a high-level meeting of the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan or TTP). It finally killed TTP leader Hakimu’llah Mahsoud of the large and important Mahsoud tribe in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) of northern Pakistan. ... [Mahsoud's killing] was confirmed by the TTP ...

The deadly attack comes only weeks after Mahsoud said in an interview that he was ready for peace talks with newly elected Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, over the objections of TTP hard liners. ...

This context for the drone strike has to raise the question of whether John Brennan, head of the CIA, is deliberately attempting to forestall Pakistan-TTP peace talks and is determined to prevent Nawaz Sharif and Obama from cementing a strong relationship. Pakistani officials are talking about a ‘sabotaging’ of the talks. ...

The TTP will certainly launch reprisals... The Pakistani public is bracing itself for attacks.

(Bolds original by Cole. Red is emphasis by SB.)

Is there any possibility that Brennan is acting without direct authorization of President Obama?  Does he have that little control of his department heads? I understand there are some aspects of CIA and NSA operations that have to be independent of direct control by the executive branch, but this one seems to me to bear specifically on a matter of foreign policy, of which one would think a president would keep close personal control.

Thanks to Edward Snowden, we know there are aspects of our government that are run by the NSA. Are there also aspects of foreign policy that are not merely implemented through the CIA but are actually established by that agency? Or is Obama, as so often seems the case, content to let his appointees do whatever they think best, even in cases where their actions may lead to war?

A Regular Vegetarian Option In A Public School Cafeteria? What A Concept!

Well, OK; it's in New York, specifically, in Queens. But apparently it's more popular than anyone ever expected, let alone predicted. I wonder how long it will be before the same cattle ranchers' association that tried to shut down Oprah Winfrey when she commented on mad cow disease gets cranked up about this...

Setting Your Clock

Post this notice in your hall:
It is really, truly Fall;
You’ll receive a nasty shock

- SB the YDD

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Friday, November 1, 2013

DC Circuit Strikes Down Obamacare Birth Control Mandate

In yet another instance of pure partisan politics manifesting itself on the federal bench, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the Obamacare requirement that employer-provided insurance must offer women coverage for birth control. From Julian Hattem at The Hill's RegWatch Blog:
A federal appeals court on Friday struck down the birth control mandate in ObamaCare, concluding the requirement trammels religious freedom.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals — the second most influential bench in the land behind the Supreme Court — ruled 2-1 in favor of business owners who are fighting the requirement that they provide their employees with health insurance that covers birth control.

Requiring companies to cover their employees’ contraception, the court ruled, is unduly burdensome for business owners who oppose birth control on religious grounds, even if they are not purchasing the contraception directly.

“The burden on religious exercise does not occur at the point of contraceptive purchase; instead, it occurs when a company’s owners fill the basket of goods and services that constitute a healthcare plan,” Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote on behalf of the court.

Judge Brown
Janice Rogers Brown is a George W. Bush appointee, presumably paying off the man and the party who elevated her to the federal bench. But put aside that all justice is politics in this awful age. The ruling interests me not only for its consequences (how many business owners will suddenly get attacks of Catholic conscience and opt out of insuring their female employees on a footing equal to male employees) but for its implied assertion about the nature of protected religious freedom.

Let me pose a parallel example. I oppose war under almost all circumstances, arguably on religious grounds; therefore, under this court's reasoning, I should be able to decline to pay the share of my federal income taxes that underwrites the U.S. military. How well do you think that would work out for me?

Law has to be about actions, not beliefs. Religion is intrinsically about beliefs. Whatever I believe about war, it is no violation of my First Amendment rights to tax me to pay for the US Army just as everyone else is taxed for that purpose. I can pick and choose what I believe as a matter of religion or conscience. I cannot similarly pick and choose what taxes I pay. Those businessmen aren't even being asked to pay for the contraceptives; the government will do that. They just want, allegedly as a matter of religion, to decline to participate altogether.

If this decision stands, I want my tax exemption, as surely as those Catholic businessmen get their exemption from authorizing... not purchasing; the government does that and not the business... contraceptives for employees. In all fairness, neither of us should get the break; otherwise, no law involving government funding of any activity unpopular with any religion, or opposed by anyone's conscience, could ever be sustained.

I'm sorry; there's no way a government could operate on that basis. If these Catholic businessmen are prepared to violate the law as a matter of civil disobedience and uncomplainingly go to jail to sustain their conscientious objection, I might have some respect for them. Otherwise, make 'em comply like everyone else.

Hungry Kids, Hungry Breadwinners — Congress Talks And Talks

Welcome to America, where "if you're poor, it's your own fault":
WASHINGTON (AP) -- More than 47 million Americans who receive food stamps will see their benefits go down starting Friday, just as Congress has begun negotiations on further cuts to the program.

Beginning in November, a temporary benefit from the 2009 economic stimulus that boosts food stamp dollars will no longer be available. According to the Agriculture Department, that means a family of four receiving food stamps will start receiving $36 less a month.

The benefits, which go to 1 in 7 Americans, fluctuate based on factors that include food prices, inflation and income. The rolls have swelled as the economy has struggled in recent years, with the stimulus providing higher benefits and many people signing up for the first time.

As a result, the program has more than doubled in cost since 2008, now costing almost $80 billion a year. That large increase in spending has turned the program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, into a target for House Republicans looking to reduce spending.

Quick... somebody ask Chris Christie
what he thinks!
Seriously, obesity is often a consequence of poor diet, which in turn is often a consequence of poverty. Pasta is cheap. Potatoes are cheap. Beans are, well, sort of cheap. If the budget for SNAP is whacked again, and poor families have $36 less a month to buy food, it's going to be more pasta and less of any complete protein source... if meat is expensive, try dairy protein sources and you'll find they're no cheaper than meat.

Of course, this will harm kids the worst: developing bones and brains need a balanced diet most of all. So much for GOP "family values..."

Fifth Circuit Overrules Yeakel, One-Third Of Texas Clinics Can No Longer Perform Abortions

I can't say this was unexpected, but it is certainly unwelcome. Here's Chris Tomlinson at TPM:

... but not in Texas
A panel of judges at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled Thursday evening that Texas can enforce its law requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital while a lawsuit challenging the restrictions moves forward. The panel issued the ruling three days after District Judge Lee Yeakel determined that the provision violated the U.S. Constitution and said it serves no medical purpose.

The panel's ruling is not final, and a different panel of judges will likely hear the case in January. But in the meantime, Texas clinics will have to follow the order. Twelve of the 32 clinics in Texas that perform abortions don't have doctors who have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, meaning they won't be able to perform the procedure, though they can provide other services.

In its 20-page ruling, the appeals court panel acknowledged that the new provision "may increase the cost of accessing an abortion provider and decrease the number of physicians available to perform abortions." However, the panel said that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that having "the incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion cannot be enough to invalidate" a law that serves a valid purpose, "one not designed to strike at the right itself."

If this ruling is affirmed in January, make no mistake about its impact: women will DIE because of it.

Americans who have not lived in Texas have no idea of the distances involved; 32 clinics were really less than minimal coverage of the state already. For many poor women, a clinic 100 miles away might as well be on Mars.

I could cruelly hope that wives and daughters of federal judges would be among those who die of the effects of this ruling. But since it achieves its effect primarily by placing abortion beyond the financial reach of many women, I will save my breath. I could less cruelly hope that the other panel that rules on the lawsuit will rule the other way, but with a largely partisan federal judiciary... GOP presidents having appointed radicals to the bench; Democratic presidents Clinton and Obama not having used their appointments to balance the courts... that would not be a rational hope on my part.

So to hell with them all, GOP radicals and wimpy Democrats. The blood of the women who die is on their hands.

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