Monday, March 31, 2014

Americans Battle For And Against Constitutional Rights: Not For The First Time

Today, the battle seems to contend over the protective value (or lack of same) of the Fourth Amendment (see my posts on the NSA, here). Goodness knows our rights are fragile enough, and our government sufficiently indifferent to them.

But ours is not the first era in which America's government, or one or another part of it, has governed as if parts of the rights-related amendments to the Constitution (chiefly I through VIII, XIII, XIV, XV, XIX, XXIV, XXVI) had never been ratified. One significant example is reconstruction after the Civil War, when not just one but many courts effectively refused to give the federal government the power to compel the state governments to extend the rights amendments to citizens of each state, resulting in a patchwork application, state-by-state, of rights granted and rights denied. In practical terms, the nation's newest citizens at the time... freed slaves... often found themselves back where they started as their citizens' rights were simply refused them. It was, in our perspective at least, a nightmarish time. But it was not the last such denial, and our own time has a "bad dream" quality about it when it comes to citizens' rights.

I am now reading a very rewarding book, The Amendment that Refused to Die: Equality and Justice Deferred: A History of the Fourteenth Amendment, by Howard N. Meyer (1973, 1978, 2000). (I picked up this book used or remaindered, probably a decade ago, intending to read it when I retired. Guess what: I did in fact live long enough to do that.) The book offers a passionate recounting of the history of abolition, then, almost skipping the war itself, hastens onward to the national dysfunction during reconstruction.

A Fool's Errand - cover
Among other things, Meyer points us to some original sources some of which are easy to find on the web today, e.g., the books of Albion W. Tourgée, introduced in the wiki as "an American soldier, Radical Republican, lawyer, writer, and diplomat" and a "pioneer civil rights activist." (Remember, "radical Republican" in those days meant something almost diametrically opposite to what the phrase connotes today.) Tourgée's book, A Fool's Errand: By One of the Fools is available online, partly in facsimile and partly in HTML text, by Documenting the American South at UNC... next on my historical reading list after Meyer's book (which itself is available literally cheaper than dirt at Amazon; I know for certain, because Stella bought some potting soil for tomato plants this week). Maybe the next time you order something else from Amazon you could drop a few cents (literally) on a copy of Meyer's book. Tourgée's book is available, the whole text, at the link above, for free. Isn't the web wonderful?

Ah! Another Spring In South Texas, And Everyone Is Breathing Mexico...

Agricultural burn, 2013
You may think I neglected to finish that last phrase, and should have said something like "breathing Mexico's Spring air." You wouldn't be wrong, but that rendering wouldn't tell the real story. Here's an excerpt from a forecast page on TCEQ's air quality site, a page that changes daily but not greatly at this time of year (you may skim; detailed reading is not necessary):
Monday 03/31/14
Smoke and haze from Mexico and Central America should return to South Texas this afternoon and evening and could raise the daily PM2.5 AQI into the "Moderate" range in the Brownsville-McAllen area. Elsewhere in the state, moderate winds and low incoming background levels should help to keep air quality in the "Good" range.

Tuesday 04/01/14
Smoke and haze from Mexico and Central America should continue in South Texas and should spread northward into Central Texas and southeastern portions of West Texas. The daily PM2.5 AQI could reach "Moderate" levels over most of the area along and south of a line from Port Lavaca to Temple to Abilene to Sanderson. Winds should be strong enough to generate blowing dust in parts of far West Texas and the Panhandle but the duration and intensity are not likely to be enough to raise the daily PM10 AQI beyond the "Good" range. Elsewhere in the state, moderate winds and low incoming background levels should help to keep air quality in the "Good" range.

Wednesday 04/02/14 Outlook
Smoke and haze from Mexico and Central America should cover South, Central, and North Central Texas, mainly along and west of a line from Port Lavaca to Bonham and along and east of a line from Del Rio to San Angelo to Abilene to Wichita Falls. The daily PM2.5 AQI could reach "Moderate" levels over most of this area. Winds should be strong enough to generate blowing dust in parts of far West Texas and the Panhandle which could raise the daily PM10 AQI into the "Moderate" range in the El Paso area but elsewhere the duration and intensity are not likely to be enough to raise the daily PM10 AQI beyond the "Good" range. Elsewhere in the state, moderate winds and low incoming background levels should help to keep air quality in the "Good" range.

Thursday 04/03/14 Outlook
Smoke and haze from Mexico and Central America should cover most of the eastern half of the state in the morning and could raise the daily PM2.5 AQI to "Moderate" levels over much of this area, mainly along and east of a line from Laredo to Kerrville to Mineral Wells to Gainesville. A cold front should push the smoke out of most of Central and North Central Texas by the evening. Winds should be strong enough to generate blowing dust in parts of far West Texas and the Panhandle and blowing dust could raise the daily PM10 AQI into the "Moderate" range in the El Paso and Lubbock areas. Elsewhere in the state, moderate winds and lower incoming background levels should help to keep air quality in the "Good" range.
I probably should have made that blockquote soot-colored...

As KHOU-TV Channel 11 summarized it in the Spring of 2013,
HOUSTON -- The smoke and haze in the Houston area is coming from agricultural burning in Mexico, according to KHOU 11 News Chief Meteorologist.

The air has reached unhealthy levels for sensitive people in Pasadena, Deer Park and southeast Houston. ,,,

Then KHOU offers "... a fire [sic] of the Mexican fires and smoke." I don't think I really need one; the air is already bringing me more than I want. But if you click through to the Navy map, you'll see that in varying degrees the air in most of the US is affected. There's no preventing it; Mexican farmers have been clearing land this way for at least all of my life.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Young People Turning Dem? (Yawn...)

According to Catherine Thompson at TPM,

A Gallup poll released Friday found that over the last eight years the average gap in favor of the Democratic Party among young adults has been 18 percentage points. Last year 53 percent of young Americans identified with the Democratic Party or said they leaned Democratic while 35 percent aligned themselves with the Republican Party, Gallup said.

The poll cites the racial and ethnic diversity of today's young adults as a major reason youth are likely to prefer the Democratic Party.

A decade or two ago such news would have filled me with hope for America's future. Today? not so much. What, if anything, gives you hope? Today, as an American, nothing political gives me any hope. What can possibly overcome the corporate contributions to both parties, which, according to (Center for Responsive Politics), turned approximately equal, Dem=GOP, in 2008 and more to Democrats, Dem>GOP, in 2010?

And it isn't going to get any better, unless somehow the Citizens United decision is overturned by constitutional amendment, an event I do not foresee within my lifetime, if ever.

Have a nice day!

We Are Pissed-Off! We Have Liftoff!

As of this morning, the new TV works on all broadcast channels, and, every bit as important, our old DVD‑VCR works and plays through the TV. This was our minimum goal; we can live without the two missing features for a while: a working connection to the wireless headphones (though they work fine plugged into a stereo we already had) and the ability to record video from the air. I am greatly relieved, and as suggested in the post subject, I believe our frames of mind will be greatly improved.

Samsung 39" DTV
Regarding the optical digital adapter for the wireless headphones: Best Buy, where we bought the headphones, does not carry it; BB online carries it but has been out of stock for a long time, Radio Shack carries one like it but is out of stock, and even the manufacturer cannot sell one to us. I consider it fraud on BB's part to have sold us those headphones for use with that TV, never even mentioning the need for an adapter, but IANAL, and I am in too good a mood to fret about it.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Fifth Circuit Court Upholds Texas's Draconian Abortion Law

 Just... read about it at FDL. I am too angry to write.

Also this... "Murder this abortion doctor"? Doctors' names and addresses, sometimes on "Wanted"-style posters, including information on a doctor in Wichita, Kansas where Dr. George Tiller was murdered, are again being distributed by an anti-choice group. These people have proved before that they, not the doctors they intimidate, are the true murderers. Take their threats seriously.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Kennedy Assassination ‘Con’ ’Spiracy

The PBS show NOVA frequently evokes mixed reactions from me: on the one hand, I love shows with scientific and/or technological content; on the other, NOVA seems at times to have an ax to grind. Tonight's show in Houston was billed as containing "new" forensic evidence shedding light on the Kennedy assassination. As I watched, I realized I had seen the episode or one very much like it several years ago, and knew the conclusion: that the Warren Commission got it right... one assassin, three shots, one bullet through Kennedy and Connally, no shot from the grassy knoll (decades later I wondered if the late Progressive editor Erwin Knoll, who occasionally appeared as the token liberal on the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, was any relation to Grassy), yada yada yada. No real news from a years-old segment.

Well, almost no news. Sometimes I actually watch as the credits roll, and this was one of those times. The episode was sponsored in part by the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation, the same David H. Koch who is on the board of WGBH, PBS's Boston station that produces so much science content, including... you guessed it... NOVA; one of the Koch brothers currently infamous for effectively funding the founding of the Tea Party.

IMHO, that fact alone renders every expert who participated in the ballistics experiments shown in the episode highly suspect. And could the rebroadcast of that episode years after it was made be an attempt to improve D. Koch's public image as he is under attack by progressives who want him off the WGBH board? YMMV. I was never much of a Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorist back in the day, but I may have to do some more thinking...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Obama Calls For End To NSA Bulk Phone Data Collection

... right away. Real soon now... just one more 90-day period, period. Right; yeah, sure.

A lot of proposed versions of this change are floating around, from almost nothing to an outright ban, so I presume the worst, least restrictive version will pass Congress, Obama will cave, and NSA... as they are wont... will ignore it and go back to secret bulk collection.

NYT has become so restrictive of viewing articles that I may have to stop using them as a primary source, but here's a tip: if you get the dialog box insisting that you register, try hitting Reload (in Firefox on a PC that's F5) and as soon as you see most of the text, frantically hit Esc five or six times in a row. I don't know how long or how often this works, but when it no longer does, NYT will have to do without the free advertising of many blogs posting free links to its stories. My patience is almost at an end.

Just to annoy a recalcitrant source, I'll quote one small thing that caught my attention:

In recent days, attention in Congress has shifted to legislation developed by leaders of the House Intelligence Committee. That bill, according to people familiar with a draft proposal, would have the court issue an overarching order authorizing the program, but allow the N.S.A. to issue subpoenas for specific phone records without prior judicial approval.

The Obama administration proposal, by contrast, would retain a judicial role in determining whether the standard of suspicion was met for a particular phone number before the N.S.A. could obtain associated records.

 NO. For the record, I am NOT down with the idea of anything but a court order authorizing a search. There's this thing I have about the Fourth Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Nothing less will do.

PS if you've run out of your daily character count at NYT, you can get at least the basic AP version of the story at TPM.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Consumed By Consumer Electronics

Stella bought a TV last Thursday, not entirely on impulse (we had discussed the possibility off and on) but not after deep research on the subject, either.

To the good, she bought a Samsung 39", choosing that size because it was the smallest that had a headphone jack (sound insulation between rooms in this old house is negligible) and the brand because both of us had shopped enough to appreciate the picture quality of the newer Samsung TVs... the only thing that looks better is Sony, at a considerably higher price.

To the bad, she bought it from Best Buy. That has turned out to be a major mistake, one that I myself could have made just as easily.

Not quite this disastrous, but...
Yesterday we began setting it up. Since then, it has consumed all of my last two days, and both my and Stella's evening yesterday as we returned to the store to buy a cable for our old DVD/VCR (which we were assured by two of the sales staff would in fact work with the new TV) and to ask questions about the pair of wireless headphones Stella bought for those late sleepless nights each of us occasionally suffers. (Hey, it's part of getting old.)

Every sales staffer who talked to us from two different Best Buy store locations, in person and on the phone, told us at least one false item. I'll save you the agony; I don't have the strength to repeat it all now. But the staff, notwithstanding their passably good attitude, were either abysmally misinformed about their products, or lying through their teeth to clinch the sale. When I am bamboozled by salespeople, I really feel old.,, old and angry.

The short version of the conlusions:
  • Plugging the headphones into the TV requires both a digital-to-optical adapter and an optical cable. I have to wonder about the likely lifespan of that (expensive) optical cable, but I don't have to wonder right away, because the store does not sell them... as we were not told at the time of purchase of the headphones... and also not immediately later. Not until we phoned a national last-ditch BB help line did we learn: they can be obtained only online.

  • Our six-year-old DVD/VCR can play into the new TV only through a $20 cable group (and that's the cheaper one), and cannot record from the TV but must have its own converter box (the one we were using before).

Of those two facts, only part of the latter was told to us by the salesman; he sold us the cable group.

Oh, and we make do with broadcast TV; we don't have cable. And the alleged high-quality indoor antenna we bought about 7 years ago really doesn't work very well with this TV, perhaps because we rearranged the whole den to suit the new, larger TV. So it's probably Roku or Aereo for us before it's over; we don't really have an ongoing household budget for a (so to speak) rich selection of cable channels. But that can wait.

Stella had a few calm moments late this evening after some long, animated (!) conversations with sales staff and help lines on the phone, and said that if she had known what would be involved, she would never have bought the damned thing. I have to agree. Both of us have mostly bought computer equipment from Micro Center, where the technical staff seems fairly competent and gives accurate answers to at least basic questions on the equipment they sell and service. That's not the case at BB.

Remember when buying a computer was a vastly more complicated procedure than buying a TV? Those were the days... the days of long ago!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

What? My Church Is Suing The NSA?

Strictly speaking, no, but one of its congregations (the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles) and the Unitarian Universalist Association's social services/activism arm (the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee) are joining in a group of 22 organizations represented legally by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in suing the NSA for violation of the organizations' First Amendment freedom-of-association rights and, separately, the claims by NSA that the aforementioned lawsuit does not require preservation of possible evidence more recent than the original Bush administration NSA spying cases, leading to reasonable speculation that the NSA has in fact destroyed such evidence in cases pending for several years.

I am sorry to be so mistrustful, but I would put absolutely nothing past those (expletive)s... nothing. Destruction of evidence in a pending lawsuit? ¡No problemo! Spying on a church? Why the Hell not? after all, they're only Unitarians. And lying about it all? Lying is their stock in trade. Anything... that's what they would do, and probably did do.

Friday, March 21, 2014

'Corporate Religion': It's Bad For Business, And Of Course For Civil Liberties

Emily Martin and Jennifer Pizer at TPM engage in some serious reflection on what it would mean if corporations were allowed to defy laws based on their purported "corporate freedom of religion": it's not a pretty picture. Consider, they say, what would happen if the Supreme Court were to rule in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, allowing them effectively to overrule the ACA requirement that employer-provided insurance plans must offer women access to contraception at zero co‑pay:

The proponents of the Arizona bill explained in interviews that they introduced it so that businesses could refuse to provide service to gay or lesbian customers. But the bill itself never mentioned sexual orientation; the primary thing it did was change Arizona’s existing religious exemptions law to vest corporations, partnerships, and other for-profit businesses with religious rights. In doing so, however, the bill would have given these for-profit businesses a license to ignore many state and local laws if the businesses claim the laws burden the business’s religious beliefs, unless applying the law in question to the business in that particular circumstance is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling state interest.


In other words, if Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood win with this argument, the Supreme Court will have reinterpreted longstanding federal law to adopt at the national level a key goal of Arizona’s bill, empowering corporations across the country to discriminate against their customers and employees in many contexts based on the corporation’s ostensible religion, whether or not that discrimination would otherwise be illegal. As a result, if the Supreme Court decides an arts and crafts chain is capable of religious beliefs and thus can have a religious right to deny its employees insurance coverage for birth control, then airlines might be able to assert a religious right to pay men more than women, bakeries could assert a religious right to deny employees insurance coverage for vaccinations, hotels might be able to assert a religious right to refuse rooms to customers based on race, and restaurants could assert a religious right to refuse to serve gay couples. 

Given the national furor when the Arizona legislature passed such a proposal, it would be troubling indeed if following Governor Brewer’s veto, the Supreme Court rejected decades of settled federal law to provide a corporate right to discriminate in the name of religion. Arizona’s governor did the right thing by recognizing that SB 1062 represented a radical and divisive approach that was wrong for the state, as did legislatures in Mississippi and Kansas when they set aside similar bills. The Supreme Court should not reshape federal law to craft a similarly radical and divisive rule for the nation.
(Note: the bill referred to is a recent Arizona bill to vest corporations with religious freedom; it was vetoed by Governor Brewer.)

At least two other states have abandoned their attempts to pass such a law, in part because, civil liberties aside, it would be really bad for business. And indeed it already has been bad for Hobby Lobby's business: Stella's multimedia artworks (like the one that recently won a place in a juried exhibit, one called "Freedom of Speech" which overlooks our workspace right now) require a variety of craft materials, and she has stated that she will no longer trade with Hobby Lobby until they relinquish their claim to a corporate "freedom of religion" and its application in dodging duly passed laws. One customer gone... how many more will depart in the face of such a draconian change in the meaning of personal freedoms?

AFTERTHOUGHT: some may ask whether I am accusing the CEOs of these corporations of operating in bad faith... claiming corporate freedom of religion as an excuse to discriminate against customers and/or employees in matters that have little if anything to do with religion. Yes, I am... and yes, they are. And if the Supreme Court lets them get away with it, so is the Supreme Court.

'Redstate Women' Is Republican Crony Astroturf... And Its Leaders Are Not All Women

Good grief. If Democrats put together a group called "Blue State Women" to support gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, one could reasonably expect, at a minimum, that the prime movers in the group would be women. Republicans feel no such commitment to truth. Via Daniel Strauss of TPM, we have the details from the venerable Texas Observer. "Redstate Women," MFA!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Six Catholics, Three Jews To Decide Cases Involving Contraception

Here. Let's just say I'm not worried about the three Jews. And I am absolutely certain that three of the Catholics (Roberts, Scalia and Thomas) will rule based on their personal religious beliefs, clear precedent be damned. Can those of us who support the Affordable Care Act's requirement that employer-provided health insurance plans must provide women's contraception with no co‑pay rely on the other three Justices, also all Catholics, to rule based on their understanding of law?

Just who runs the country, anyway? I even like Pope Francis, but I do not believe he should have six votes on our Supreme Court in matters of women's rights.

CNN Anchor Don Lemon: Advances 'Black Hole' Theory Of Lost Maylasian Plane

BLACK HOLE Military Surplus
Here I use the word "theory" in the casual sense, meaning "crack-brained notion that no sane person would consider for even two seconds." But Catherine Thompson of TPM reports Lemon's conjecture, which he himself admits is "preposterous," as... well, as preposterous:

[Lemon] read out tweets that compared the mystery to "Lost" and "The Twilight Zone" before asking Mary Schiavo, a former U.S. Department of Transportation inspector general, to weigh in on the black hole theory.

"That's what people are saying," Lemon said. "I know it's preposterous — but is it preposterous you think, Mary?"

"Well, it is. A small black hole would suck in our entire universe so we know it's not that," Schiavo said. "The Bermuda Triangle is often weather. And 'Lost' is a TV show. So I think -- I always like things for which there's data history, crunch the numbers. So for me those aren't there."

"But I think it's wonderful that the whole world is trying to help with their theories and I absolutely love their theories," she added.

Australian officials said early Thursday that two large objects which may be debris from the plane were spotted a four-hour flight away from that country's southwestern coast, so perhaps Lemon and his panelists will have some more concrete evidence to pore over on Thursday night's show.

(More likely, they will pour concrete over any actual evidence...)

Both the appropriately-named Lemon and Ms. Schiavo are more evidence, if we need more, that journalists should refrain from speculation about scientific matters. I am soooo glad I don't watch much TV "news" ...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What Has The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Ever Done For Me?

The CFPB is actually working! Via Bill Moyers, from Erika Eichelberger at Mother Jones, here is a list of 10 things the CFPB, brainchild of now Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), has done to protect you from various sorts of finance industry fraud. Read the list; one or more items may apply to you.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Republican Lifeguard

Mike Luckovich, via Daily Kos (who reprints by permission) tells us how the Republican lifeguard sees things.

ALSO: Tom Tomorrow (also via DKos, also by permission) knows what kind of woman uses birth control.

Monday, March 17, 2014

70-Year-Old Man Threatens To Shoot Cop With Cane — According To Cop

So of course the cop shot the 70-year-old man. Eric Lach of TPM:

What every cop understandably fears
(NOT the incident described here)
York County, S.C. deputy Terrance Knox fired at Bobby Canipe after mistaking Canipe's cane for a shotgun, according to the Associated Press. Knox had pulled Canipe over for an expired tag, and the dashcam video shows Canipe pulling over quickly after Knox put on his lights and siren. Canipe then gets out of his truck, and reaches for his cane in the truck bed. Knox can be heard yelling as Canipe swings the cane and points the end of it in his direction.

Knox ran up to Canipe after shooting him. According to the Associated Press, another officer arrived a few minutes after the shooting, and at that point Knox began to sob.

"I promise to God I thought it was a shotgun," Knox said.

Gawd, I hate incidents like this.

My ancient '94 Chevy is low-slung, presumably to give it a sporty look. Getting out of it is a real challenge for me. Typically I have to open the door as wide as possible, swing my legs out (assisting my prosthetic right leg with both hands), reach back and grab my cane, prop the cane between the inside door handle and the ground, grip the steering wheel and seat back with my hands behind me, push hard to propel myself out of the car into a standing position and grab the cane before I fall over. I came close to the "fall over" part a few times before I worked out this procedure. It's reliable, but ugly... it's much harder than getting out of even a low easy chair. My point is this: when a cripple exits a car, s/he has at most a couple of seconds to locate the cane and stabilize.

There's not a lot of margin for error, and social pleasantries from a cop are unlikely to get an instant response until the cripple is stable on his/her feet. I understand that the cop is "twitchy" at the possibility of being greeted with a gun, but that doesn't change the cripple's reality in managing to comply with the cop's directive to get out of the car with hands visible.

The York County sheriff offered this bit of wisdom:
"Watch the action of the walking cane," Bryant said during a news conference Wednesday. "The question is, at the time this officer pulled the trigger, did he feel like his life was in danger? I can say this. Any reasonable officer would have felt that way. … I would have had to take the same action he did."

Right. And any reasonable cripple expects to die the moment the cop orders him/her to exit the car. It's a horrible situation.

In this case, the man with disabilities survived and is "expected to recover," whatever the hell THAT means. Next time the outcome could be different.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

‘Dragnet Nation’

Bill Moyers interviews Julia Angwin about her book, Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance. Angwin, less for personal reasons than for protection of her sources as a journalist, made an attempt to, so to speak, drop out of her exposure to the constant government and private sector data mining to which every American (yes, overwhelmingly, such exposure is an American phenomenon, because other major democracies offer their citizens legal protection) is subjected.

The short version of her conclusion of how you can come closest to dodging the data miners (acknowledging there is no way to avoid them altogether): CHANGE YOUR PASSWORDS, frequently and relentlessly, and I might add, not according to any system or fixed schedule. I know exactly one person among my friends IRL and OL who actually does this with real commitment, and I suspect s/he comes as close as any living American to being beyond the reach of the data miners. I am not that person. My commitment varies with what I perceive is my actual liability if I am hacked; that's the basis on which I decide how often to change any given password. And I am committed to choosing good passwords in the first place. But I am certain I am in hundreds if not thousands of commercial databases, if for no other reason than that a disabled person can't afford not to avail him- or herself of the sheer physical convenience of, say, shopping on Amazon. It's a trade-off I make, somewhat reluctantly but premeditatedly. Be sure you make similar decisions about your own exposure. The realities of both law and connectivity are against you, but you may as well minimize your liability as best you can.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Question And Answer On American Economic Policy

Reading Stiglitz's The Price of Inequality, I came to the following realization:
Q: What does Superman have, that the Federal Reserve
     is in sore need of?
A: Supervision.
Here's how Stiglitz puts it:
... It is evident now [2012] that the Fed failed to maintain economic stability — and after the crisis, it failed to restore the economy to health; it is evident, too, that the economic doctrines on which its policies were based were badly flawed. No policy is without risk. But the policies chosen by the Fed forced the brunt of the risk to be borne by homeowners, workers, and taxpayers, while the upside was captured by the banks. There were other policies, with other risks, in which the rest of our society would have fared far better, and the banks worse. We need to recognize that a central bank's decisions are essentially political: they should not be delegated to technocrats, and they certainly can't be left to those who disproportionately represent one of the vested interests.
From The Price of Inequality, p.254.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Backup Success

The new WD "My Book" 2TB drive is installed and working. My life is backed up. My toilet isn't. Life is good!

Prior to the demise of the pocket-sized WD Passport that I used for backup until it quit last week (see post before last, below) after six or seven years of very satisfactory performance under not infrequently adverse conditions, I used GNOME's "Déjà Dup" backup utility provided with Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. Déjà Dup had several IMHO significant shortcomings, and I was looking to replace it: Déjà Dup produced specially formatted files that gave no access to individual backed‑up files except through... you guessed it... Déjà Dup. There was considerable debate in reviews of Déjà Dup, and even on the comment thread in the Ubuntu free s/w archive, about whether restoring individual files even worked right: some people claimed it restored an entire directory, possibly with disastrous collateral damage to files other than the one intended for restoration. Most annoying of all, there was no facility of any sort for browsing the contents of a Déjà Dup backup... the backup was just a humongous gigantic file. Not good!

Installing the WD "My Book" involved learning more than I ever intended to know about how Linux tracks filesystems. Why? Because WD provides tools for purchasers using a PC or a Mac. There's no problem seeing the drive or its contents in recent versions of Ubuntu Linux... the familiar Windows NTFS format works like a champ... but if you want the out-of-the-box main partition to auto-mount, you have to give some minor cryptic instructions in some files Linux knows to look for. Mother Web will tell you how to tweak those files, but I regret to generalize by saying that not all Linux adepts are the best writers of English in the computer biz, and comprehending exactly what to do takes a fair amount of browsing and trying. In any case, the one-and-only partition on this drive (as shipped) auto-mounts on bootup just fine now, and can be used just like any other. The thing is pretty fast, too.

So I moved on to the backup conundrum. The problem has two extremes: one is faced by sysadmin's with dozens or hundreds of machines networked in an assortment of ways and probably mixed on the network with PCs and/or Macs. There are expensive commercial solutions for that extreme. On the other extreme is the home user with one or a couple of PCs or Macs to back up. Apparently, WD supplies decent tools for that purpose which you can install from the drive. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a WD backup utility for Linux.

After a bit of browsing and reading, I decided what I needed was not so much a formal backup tool as a snapshotting-synchronizing tool, something that copies all files in specified folders of your internal HD to the backup device the first time, then refreshes/synchronizes that backup each time you run it again, copying only the files required to accomplish that. That gives you the effect of a series of full snapshot backups, without the overwhelming disk space requirements that such a backup would impose. And folders and files look just like the originals... you can browse them with the most ordinary of apps, or, of course, navigate them with the snapshotter... it is its own browser.

In short, my choice was "Back in Time" ... a tool apparently originally developed for the Mac, then redeveloped for Linux by using several common system utilities wrapped in a convenient graphical interface. Serious Linux virtuosos might view it with contempt for all I know; people who can tap complicated scripts exactly suited to their own needs probably don't need Back in Time. But I am no script virtuoso, and on my worst days, I'm kinda lazy... so Back in Time will do the job for me. Tonight I tried it out for the first actual backup, backing up everything under /home/myusername. Even with two versions of all my photos and a bunch of other junk, it took well under 30 minutes for the initial (full) backup. Subsequent ones should be much quicker.

(Sorry; no pic of the drive. It's butt-ugly.)

Zombie-Eyed Granny Starvers; Greedy-Handed Kiddie Slavers

Conservatives are reaching new depths in their insistence upon outright cruelty to children and old people. Some version of the meme has always been part of the conservatives' creed, but it's getting worse.

Everyone remembers Charles Pierce's famous labeling of Paul Ryan as a "zombie-eyed granny starver" in August 2012 in the run-up to the presidential election for Ryan's proposals regarding Social Security and Medicare in his "budget." Pierces' reaction:
Paul Ryan is an authentically dangerous zealot. He does not want to reform entitlements. He wants to eliminate them. He wants to eliminate them because he doesn't believe they are a legitimate function of government. He is a smiling, aw-shucks murderer of opportunity, a creator of dystopias in which he never will have to live.
Conservatives' fondest dream
And most people remember Newt Gingrich's November 2011 proposal that schools fire their janitors and hand brooms to kids enrolled in the free lunch program, a recommendation subsequently echoed by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) as recently as December 2013.

For reasons beyond my comprehension, a commitment to absolutely no redistribution of wealth is important to many conservatives. I am thinking of an old friend of mine who used to say, "TANSTAAFL," an acronym from possibly the 1930s made famous by s/f author Robert Heinlein in 1966. You could almost see my friend raise his index finger in the classic gesture of quoting a wise proverb... at least I think it was his index finger... as if the acronym were holy writ.

In any case, "no redistribution" is absurd: the very people who advocate it loudest are the same people who would be howling in outrage if it were enforced upon their wealth. Look, folks: the whole friggin' world is a free lunch. Life is a free lunch: you didn't earn it, it just happened to you. For most wealthy people, wealth is a free lunch: that's the consequence of living in a society that legally protects most inheritance from parents to children.

So don't give me that "TANSTAAFL" nonsense! And stop starving grannies and slave‑driving children, right this minute!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Right Tool For The Right Job... On The Wrong Workbench

This week, my ancient and venerable WD external HD, a cute lil' thing intended for my pocket when traveling with my laptop back in my working days, gave up the ghost. Though I am no longer a road warrior and don't even own a working laptop, I've been using the pocket HD for backup, so something had to be done about its demise.

Stella headed for Best Buy today to pick out a TV (one of those also almost quit this week; it will show some channels but not others... its been a bad week for electronics in Our House), so I rode with her, thinking to buy a similar pocket-sized HD. Given that I work (if you can call it "work")  exclusively at home now, I used that fact to liberate me from tiny and likely fragile devices, getting a much more ordinary external HD, again a WD because I've had good luck with them. I thought $99 for a 2TB drive wasn't bad. Hey, 2TB holds a lotta snapshots!

Instructions and setup s/w that comes with such things is inevitably of only two flavors: Windows and Mac. Use them with a Linux box? Suuuure; just be sure you know all the right config files to tweak manually. Linux these days handles NTFS filesystems with no sweat... again, if you know the right tweaks.

But I didn't. What should have been a 15-minute install took more like 3 hours because I had to learn how Linux thinks about filesystems to get all the permissions set right manually first, then change several boot files that do the same thing during a system start. I got it mostly right the second time I tried.

But as the venerable Troxel once said, the first 90% of the job takes 90% of the time, and the last 10% of the job takes the other 90% of the time, and so it did. (Troxel is an old colleague of mine who looks almost exactly like Charlie Pierce, and has politics almost exactly the inverse of Charlie Pierce. 'Nuff said.)

I rendered my system unbootable only twice, and only one of those times... the second... did I not understand the improvised fix with which I made it work. Everything is hunky-dory now. All I have to do is mess with all my backup scripts to reflect the change in drive name and folders...

The Most Tragic, The Most Sickening Thing You Read Today

... may be this article by Stuart J. Murray and Dave Holmes at truthout about the growing perversion of the justice systems of the US and Canada. Canada, f'chrissake... the place a lot of us Americans considered absquatulating to around 1970 in preference to being sent to Viet Nam... is now the home of a justice system as cruel as, if not crueler than, our own.

One of the cruelties inflicted by both systems is the death penalty, born again in the US in 1979. States that execute people are lately having difficulty finding suppliers of drugs for lethal injection. Rather than give up lethal injection, states are... experimenting. They're creating cocktails of drugs never used before to execute humans. Some of them don't... quite... do the job, for a half hour or so after injection. And what a half hour that is! Read the article; I can't bear to spell it out here. Our nation's founders and the framers of its Constitution are no longer around for me to ask whether this sort of thing is what they had in mind when they formulated the Eighth Amendment, but in my opinion it's so cruel and unusual it's damned close to torture. I hate to say it, but a firing squad is bound to be less cruel. If you think the death penalty is appropriate for some crimes, I doubt this is the implementation you had in mind. If it is exactly what you have in mind, please seek professional psychological help immediately.

Then there's the privatized prison system, the sheer anonymity of the machinery of death, the "sovereign" state power over life and death turned into an impersonal process for which no one is responsible. Murray and Holmes attribute it to neoliberalism; maybe so, I wouldn't know... there's no "neo-" in my liberalism. Murray and Holmes:

... In some respects, then, the frenzy to shore up and exercise state power over life might be understood as the dying gasps of the sovereign in the face of a rapidly decentralizing authority. Increasingly, heads of state are no more than symbolic figureheads, the vassals of free-market ideology, deregulation, economic forecasts and corporate lobbies. Life-and-death decisions are no longer "sovereign," in the classical sense, but emerge almost anonymously and are recommended, as it were, and required by the system itself - the effects of technologies, forecasts, statistical estimates, securitization and risk management strategies. It is this logic that underpins the prison-industrial and mental health complex, as corrections and psychiatry find themselves subject to wider stakeholder "interests."

Within this context, state-sanctioned killing takes on a different guise. It is no longer the sovereign prerogative simply to take life, but rather, we are faced with a power that exposes life to death, to neglect, to hunger and poverty, to the loss of dignity, to destitution and precarity. In official political rhetoric, this is not "killing." On the contrary, it is argued that austerity measures, securitization, criminalization and mass surveillance are meant to protect life, to foster it, to prolong it. Death gets figured as a passive consequence, as merely "letting die": collateral damage or negative externalities in political economies of scale. ,,,

("Precarity"... wonderful word which I didn't know before. Look it up.)

So much for executions conveying a warning to other would-be criminals: it's all just the process of the state; move along, nothing to see here. The point seems to be not so much crime prevention, or even vengeance, as a demonstration that literally everyone is vulnerable, that the machine will get you sooner or later. The impersonal nature of this "justice" is not the premeditated objectivity of law, but the indifferent cruelty of the machine of state. Murray and Holmes describe a case in which the sheer dehumanizing nature of treatment of one 19-year-old prisoner drives her to commit suicide, apparently with no serious attempt on the part of prison employees to intervene. Life is sacred? really? To these people, it seems life is... indifferent.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to go there. To the extent America has taken on that soulless character already, we need to do every possible thing to reverse it... or else nothing, nothing whatsoever, can help us.

Monday, March 10, 2014

GOP: ‘Hold It! The Next Man That Makes A Move, The [Doctor] Gets It!’

GOP borrows a line from Bart
... except the GOP House, unlike Bart in Blazing Saddles, has about zero chance of getting away with their ploy.

What are they trying to do? They're trying to fund the "doc fix" ... i.e., avoid the 24 percent pay cut to Medicare doctors already scheduled to go into effect automatically on (I am not making this up) April 1... by diverting funds intended for the next year's worth of the Obamacare individual mandate. Yeah, that's what I thought. It'll never work... Democrats in the Senate and of course Obama himself would never go along with it, so House GOPers are really pointing that gun at their own heads, in the person of doctors... who are typically among the GOP's most steadfast supporters!

While we're into movie quotes, here's mine in reply: "Go ahead... make my day!"

Friday, March 7, 2014

Lots Of Links On The CIA-Senate Story — UPDATED

... and some other important issues. REALLY important issues.

UPDATE: now we get word from Time Magazine via Kevin Gosztola at FDL that the CIA has asked the DoJ to investigate Senate staffers for alleged removal of documents on a CIA-SSCI-shared computer, and for that purpose DoJ is using the FBI:
The Justice Department has been asked to investigate whether Senate staffers improperly obtained and removed documents from a CIA computer system at a joint facility created by the CIA and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), TIME has learned.
Well, at this rate, as one agency spies on and leaks about another that spies and leaks in turn on another, we don't need to worry that something is being hidden from the public, do we? I'm rather enjoying this!

Those Overpaid Teachers [/snark]

My first instinct was to send this post by sboucher at Kos to my parents, both of whom were schoolteachers. Unfortunately, they are beyond the reach of my email. You may find it amusing, especially if you're a teacher.

Quote Of The Morning

Eric Lach of TPM quotes Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, on Rep. Darrell Issa's (R-Hunger) cutting off of Rep. Elijah Cummings's (D-MD) mic in a House Oversight Committee meeting which Issa chaired:
That can't be a protocol of this institution. When I saw Darrell Issa in action yesterday, I thought back of all my years here, and I think he has brought this to an unbearable crescendo. It has to stop.
Indeed it does have to stop...
Just watch as every musician, pro or amateur, in the room cringes in pain at the sheer ignorance of a construct such as "brought this to an unbearable crescendo." Yes, everyone knows what he meant, but things do not "come to a crescendo"; ask your child's music teacher. (While you're at it, ask him or her to dinner...)

(H/T Mustang Bobby.)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

SCOTUS Declines To Review Farmers Branch Immigration Ordinance Case — Lower Courts' ‘Unconstitutional’ Verdict Upheld

Dianne Solis at Dallas Morning News:
The U.S. Supreme Court brought closure Monday to the seven-year legal battle in Farmers Branch over a local ordinance that sought to ban landlords from renting property to people who are in the U.S. unlawfully.

The high court declined to review a lower-court ruling that declared the ordinance unconstitutional.

The measure was never enforced, but it fractured the suburb of about 29,000 residents and saddled its budget with more than $6.1 million in legal expenses. Bills of more than $2 million are pending. Payment was stalled by three different appeals.

Farmers Branch is a town near Dallas/Ft. Worth. Such ordinances have popped up in various parts of the country, with circuit courts ruling variously. Some had hoped the Supreme Court would grant cert and resolve the matter nationwide. No luck, at least not in this case.

The latest ordinance called on all prospective tenants to prove they are in the U.S. lawfully as part of obtaining a $5 residential occupancy license. Tenants and landlords who violated the ordinance would have faced a Class C misdemeanor charge.


Several lower courts ruled against the city ordinance, saying immigration policy was a federal issue. In New Orleans, at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the city received a split decision that largely went against the ordinance.

Hispanic legal groups including MALDEF brought suit against the ordinance. Courts ruling against the ordinance explained, as one would expect, that immigration policy is a federal matter, not state and (certainly) not local. Many Hispanic American citizens also objected on the basis that because of their appearance they would repeatedly have to prove their citizenship in circumstances in which whites and African Americans would not. I know a few Hispanic Americans well enough to understand that such things are not merely theoretical; they actually happen to most Hispanic Americans.

I really wish the Supreme Court had taken the case. Such cases are an utter waste of human emotional energy and financial resources, and they need to be brought to an end. At least this should settle the matter for Texas.

(H/T Charles Kuffner for his steadfast blogging through the length of this interminable case.)

Prescription Meds The US Imports From China Are Under‑Inspected

Even I don't take THIS many...
night-cat at Daily Kos tells a chilling fact: China consistently ignores the US FDA's request for visas for more US inspectors to check out Chinese manufacturers of prescription medicines. This would be less scary if there were not a history of Chinese manufacturers substituting ineffective or even dangerous active ingredients in medications that actually made it through the supply chain and into US pharmacies. If you take generic meds... I certainly do; who has money for name-brand meds... please read this article.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

CIA Caught Allegedly Hacking Senate Staffers

Hey, the gummint is all just one big happy family, right? DSWright at FDL:
...according to a report by McClatchy.

The CIA Inspector General has reportedly made a referral to the Justice Department related to CIA misconduct for monitoring staff at the US Senate who were working on a report on the CIA’s torture program. The spies were spying on Congress.

Remember, the national security state just wants to keep you safe and is not on a power trip.

The McClatchy piece by Jonathan S. Landay, Ali Watkins and Marisa Taylor is cautiously guarded about whether wrongdoing did or did not occur. Presumption of innocence, ya know. (He... hehehe... HAHAHAHAHA!) Even so, there is this assertion:

The development marks an unprecedented breakdown in relations between the CIA and its congressional overseers amid an extraordinary closed-door battle over the 6,300-page report on the agency’s use of waterboarding and harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists held in secret overseas prisons. The report is said to be a searing indictment of the program. The CIA has disputed some of the reports findings.

Damn, I'll bet they have!

Your tax dollars at work...

AFTERTHOUGHT: I suppose I should be clear about precisely what I'm objecting to here, though I suspect you know. The CIA has no business spying on Americans in America, and especially no business spying on Congress; such acts are wildly outside the mission. I understand that every nation today has to have a spy agency, but I hope that ours can spy ON BEHALF OF America, not ON America.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Paul Krugman Debunks Paul Ryan's Poverty [Trap] Crap

Paul Krugman addresses the mysterious magic of Paul Ryan's "poverty trap." First, Paul Ryan:
...we don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.
As if being given a hand up, being prevented (along with their spouse and kids) from starving to death, turns impoverished people into lazy louts who do nothing but sit around and live off government unemployment checks. Somehow, only poor people who get money from the government behave this way; members of the 1% as identified in Stiglitz's book (see post below) would never be lazy in exchange for the millions dished out to them through various mechanisms! (Read the book.) But as Ryan tells it, the poor are congenitally lazy, because the energetic and devoted workaholics are never poor, never mind the evidence to the contrary. And surely he's right, except for one thing...

It's all utterly political bullshit. All of it.

Krugman follows through, first with a table of annual hours worked by adults in various countries (the US blows away the other dozen nations in hours worked), and then with a chart that displays generational earnings elasticity (i.e., economic mobility between generations) versus income inequality within that nation's society:

Krugman's chart of inequality for the US and 12 other nations
Note where the US sits at the extremes of maximum inequality and minimum mobility. Note also that the many nations that offer their citizens better social welfare programs (equivalents of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, etc.) exhibit both less inequality and more intergenerational mobility.

So much for Rep. Ryan's truly stupid, ideologically driven conjecture about what social insurance programs do to willingness to work large numbers of hours and the possibility of a child's out-pacing a parent's economic class...

Joseph Stiglitz's The Price Of Inequality Is Required Reading

Joseph E. Stiglitz's recent (2012) book, The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future, is a book about America's and Americans' current economic status that all Americans ages, oh, 15-85 should read. As you'll find at the link, Amazon offers it in paperback for under a sawbuck. (Do you know what a sawbuck is? Look it up if you're too young to have heard the term.) Or if you're like me and want to spend even less on it, go to your public library: system-wide, HPL has 10 print copies and one audio CD; I placed a hold on one of the print editions and it came to me in under 2 days. 

Did I mention that this book is a must-read for every intelligent, caring adult American?

Stiglitz visits many topics related to inequality: how inequality across American society is no accident but rather a result of a set of conscious policy choices, choices which at least in principle could be made in ways that have more egalitarian results, but which probably won't be pursued, absent pressure from sources not yet clear to me about a third of the way through the book. Sources of inequality... corporate and individual rent-seeking, tax policies favoring the well-heeled, disguised government gifts in one form or another, government institutions' often misconceived responses to the various bubbles the American economy has encountered (housing, tech, etc.), globalization in various forms, and financial deregulation... are all examined in terms of their consequences for the top 1% and the rest of us. If you're like me, you've run across all of these in print at one point or another, but never all together in one place; let me tell you, they have a powerful impact in combination that no one of them packs singly.

Did I mention that this book is required reading?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Robert Reich: 'The Real Job-Killers'

House Speaker John Boehner says raising the minimum wage is “bad policy” because it will cause job losses.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says a minimum wage increase would be a job killer. Republicans and the Chamber also say unions are job killers, workplace safety regulations are job killers, environmental regulations are job killers, and the Affordable Care Act is a job killer. The California Chamber of Commerce even publishes an annual list of “job killers,” including almost any measures that lift wages or protect workers and the environment.

Most of this is bunk.

Almost right: actually, ALL of it is bunk.

I often accuse Republicans of living in the last century, but this is proof that they live in the last decade of the 19th century. Why that particular decade, over a century before our own time?

Model T
That's easy. Henry Ford reincorporated a previous venture as Ford Motor Company in 1903. For all his personal failings (adamant opposition to unions, for example), Ford was smart enough to pioneer the five dollar workday, a wage vastly higher than other companies offered for similar work, a wage that enabled his employees to become his customers.

... and always low wages?

And in America's economy, that is the secret to a profitable enterprise: if every employer pays a living wage. In America as everywhere else, those closest to the bottom of the heap in income will take any increase in that income and promptly spend it on life's necessities. It was true for Ford Motor Company over a century ago. Why should it not be true of Wal‑Mart today? Rumor has it that even Wally‑World is considering the possibility that their workers are also their customers and should be paid more, though I'll believe it when I see it.

I am following Robert Reich's lead in emphasizing the only aspect Republicans seem to give a damn about— increased profits— rather than the humanitarian aspect of having a healthy, well-fed, well-paid workforce as the seed of a customer base. If you want more on that subject, please do as I am doing: read Joseph E. Stiglitz's The Price of Inequality. Even HPL has a couple dozen copies; you should be able to find it in your own local library. I have a feeling I'll be writing more about this book. For an excerpt published in Vanity Fair in 2012, see here.

'The Intercept' Continues Publishing The Results Of Their Genuine Journalism

This time it's Dan Novack, writing about "DOJ Still Ducking Scrutiny After Misleading Supreme Court on Surveillance" — it's getting to the point that a poor persecuted DOJ hack can't hide anything from the new online journalists. Oh, for the old days of ABC and Fox, when they could do anything and depend on its not being reported... [/sarcasm]

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