Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Criminalizing Dissent: Kevin Gosztola Interviews Will Potter

Here. It's worth your time to read. The comments may also be worth your attention, as is often the case on FDL.

AFTERTHOUGHT: the "dissent" being criminalized is not only political dissent but also environmental activism. The EffBeeEye hates us all, not just anarchists, though their recent efforts have sought people distributing "anarchist" literature. The days of J. Edgar may be returning, if indeed they ever departed. Do read Gosztola's interview.

Ivy Leaves Update

Following up on a recent post... my fence is still standing. The ivy still covers one end of it. And demolition equipment is hard at work... on the house diagonally, not directly, behind mine. Gawd, I hope they didn't get the wrong house...

UPDATE: The demolition equipment has moved on to the house directly behind me. Apparently, the new house sits on lots for two old houses. Such is gentrification, in neighborhoods with highly desirable locations. It will happen to Our House (which isn't really our house) someday.

The Full-Blown Bat-Doodoo Crazy Nut-Job 'Originalist' On The US Supreme Court

That would be Antonin Scalia. From a ThinkProgress transcript of a Fox News Sunday interview of Scalia by Chris Wallace on subjects related to the Aurora tragedy, Scalia hinted at the possibility that hand-held rocket launchers could be protected under the Second Amendment:
WALLACE: What about… a weapon that can fire a hundred shots in a minute?
SCALIA: We’ll see. Obviously the Amendment does not apply to arms that cannot be hand-carried — it’s to keep and “bear,” so it doesn’t apply to cannons — but I suppose here are hand-held rocket launchers that can bring down airplanes, that will have to be decided.
WALLACE: How do you decide that if you’re a textualist?
SCALIA: Very carefully.
Inevitably, in response to that statement by a Justice on our nation's highest court, someone will undertake to try exactly that... using a hand-held rocket launcher to bring down an aircraft, perhaps arguing that it belongs to drug-runners and that "Scalia says I have the right!"

Some days, I feel like moving to another country, if I could only find one in which the weapons laws are saner. At the rate they're changing in the US, that may not be hard.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Dems Draft Platform Containing Marriage Equality

For all my reservations about today's Democratic Party, at least now they're on record, even if belatedly. It's not sufficient, but it was certainly necessary.

BTW, the platform committee vote was unanimous... as it should be.

Watching The Ivy League Leave

My backyard neighbor is about to replace his house with something presumably more upscale. More power to him; that option isn't open to most of us in these times, and he seems a decent guy. The old house is scheduled for demolition today. That includes knocking down the wooden fence that separates our two yards; it will be replaced after the demolition of the old house and before construction begins on the new one. This could be a noisy morning!

I am not sentimental about a fence. Our side fence fell down in a windstorm a few months ago; its replacement suits me just fine. But I am fond of the ivy growing on the back fence; it looks as if it has been growing there for most of the 60+ years since this house was built. Bye-bye, ivy!

I have been assured that none of the demolition and construction will impact our back yard at all. I have asked them to take particular care that they do not bring down the power lines and comm lines, all on poles in back. I expect no real problems, but if I'm going to be gone from the blog for longer than a day, I'll try to post a note here from the local public library 1½ blocks from here.

UPDATE: Well, OK, it isn't really ivy...

Federal Judge Blocks Obama's Birth Control Rule
In Colorado

Federal district judge John L. Kane (view him in a video here from the IAALS) made apparently the first federal ruling against the birth control coverage requirement regulation promulgated by the Obama administration in association with the Affordable Care Act. Various earlier suits attempting to block the regulation have failed; even this ruling is very limited in scope and temporary. Sahil Kapur of TPM has the following to say:

A federal district judge in Colorado issued a temporary injunction permitting Hercules Industries, an air-conditioning company based in the state, not to abide by the rule until the courts reach a decision on the merits of the case. The business owner, a Catholic who opposes contraception, argued that the mandate violates his religious liberty.

Carter-appointed Judge John Kane ruled (PDF) that Hercules raised serious enough questions about the validity of the mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to be given injunctive relief. The 1993 law says the government may not “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” — that laws that clash with religious freedoms be justified by compelling government interest and be narrowly tailored to meet that interest.

Kane made it clear that the temporary injunction only applies to Hercules.

Watch the video of a short interview for an impression of the judge, a Carter appointee. Kane advocates in a calm voice for substantial if not radical changes to the American legal system. I'm in no position to evaluate his proposals, but I think they should serve as context for this ruling.

I'll be brief. In my opinion, freedom of religion entails freedom from religion, a view which has been shared by many Americans for two centuries. Otherwise, we'll have Catholic business owners and a gaggle of bishops from the USCCB imposing the whole damned bag of tricks on everyone else using their considerable funds and the American legal system to accomplish the imposition. Saying "you're infringing on my religious freedom because you require someone else (not me) to pay for an employee's birth control" is an offense against the whole notion of religious plurality on which America is founded. If this ruling survives appeal... and it might... don't think I won't resist as best I can.

AFTERTHOUGHT: When I was 30, I spent a summer teaching at a musical institute in Austria, a country which has no separation of church (in this case Catholic) and state, even in principle. At one point, the government of the state of Steiermark paid a large number of institute participants, faculty and students, to produce a performance of an ancient Catholic mass by an Austrian composer in a cathedral. We were told there was nothing unusual in government funding for such an event. Does the notion of such an intermixture of government and religion offend you as an American? Me too. Austria isn't my country, and Austrians can do what they want with it, but having seen the alacrity with which the Catholic Church jumps at chances to involve itself in national governments, I do not want that to become common in America.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

TBTF-Man Has Come-To-Jeebus Moment

According to Robert Reich, Sanford Weill, the individual Reich says is more responsible than anyone else for Wall Street banks' "too big to fail" status, has finally got religion and thinks TBTF is a bad idea... after he has already cashed in, of course:

[Sanford] Weill created the business model that Wall Street uses to this day — unleashing traders to make big, risky bets with other peoples’ money that deliver gigantic bonuses when they turn out well and cost taxpayers dearly when they don’t. And Weill made a fortune – as did all the other executives and traders. JPMorgan and Bank of America soon followed Weill’s example with their own mega-deals, and their bonus pools exploded as well.

Citigroup was bailed out in 2008, as was much of the rest of the Street, but that didn’t alter the business model in any fundamental way. The Street neutered the Dodd-Frank act that was supposed to stop the gambling. JPMorgan, headed by one of Weill’s protégés, Jamie Dimon, just lost $5.8 billion on some risky bets. Dimon continues to claim that giant banks like his can be managed so as to avoid any risk to taxpayers.

Sandy Weill has finally seen the light. It’s a bit late in the day, but, hey, he’s already cashed in. You and I and millions of others in the United States and elsewhere around the world are still paying the price.


"Summertime... and the livin' is eeeeeasy..." if you live by banksters' rules.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Regulate Guns And Shooters Like Cars And Drivers

Flintlock Replica
Via Michael Moore, who himself holds some shooting certifications from the NRA, the suggestion comes from Carl Gibson of US Uncut (no, it's not that he's uncut, but that the group he works for takes direct action to see basic social services uncut until "corporate tax cheats pay up" ... damn, there are gonna be a lotta disappointed pr0n-seeking googlers visiting this post).

Gibson's simple suggestion... regulate guns like cars... makes a great deal of sense to me, and infringes on no one's Second Amendment rights. Gibson proposes that gun owners be required to obtain renewable licenses after passing tests, carry liability insurance and have their guns inspected yearly... just like cars. No one seems to go ballistic over such requirements in order to exercise their equally significant right to drive, so there should be no insane outrage over similar provisions in law regarding use of an equally deadly device, right? right?? Oh... right... the Right.

Friday, July 27, 2012

FDR's 'Second Bill Of Rights'

Again from l'Enfant de la Haute Mer, a good example of how a real president exhibits concern for his or her people. The link is to Enfant's trilingual presentation of FDR's 1944 State of the Union address, translated when necessary by Enfant herself. For convenience I'm taking the original English version posted at The American Presidency Project at UCSB, so there may be minor differences here and there. The following excerpt is FDR's list of a "second Bill of Rights" which he believed Americans, indeed all free peoples, should accept and act to bring to fruition. Without further ado, here's FDR:
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. "Necessitous men are not free men." People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:
  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America's own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

'One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others'

... and we're not talking Sesame Street here. Via l'Enfant de la Haute Mer in comments, we have an article by Lee Drutman at the Sunlight Foundation comparing Mitt Rmoney's taxes... the very small amount he has graciously condescended to let us know about them [/snark]... to those of other recent presidents, starting with Poppy Bush in some cases and Saint Ronald Reagan in others. Several aspects are compared and presented:
  • a scatter plot of adjusted gross income against effective tax rate;
  • a simple bar graph of capital gains taxes,
  • a chart of the length in pages of the presidents' tax returns.
See Drutman's article for the actual graphs.

The most striking is the adjusted gross income vs. tax rate. Rmoney has the highest AGI of any president listed, and also the lowest effective tax rate, so much so that the income axis had to be extended above $20 million just to show Rmoney's income. No president in recent history comes close: the second largest were Obama's 2007 and 2009 incomes, bracketing $5 million, and most of the other presidents hover around... I kid you not... zero, presumably the result of hiring a good accountant to do the adjusting.

Rmoney's capital gains income, for the two years for which the amount is publicly known, again blows out the top of the chart. Again, perhaps the other presidents hired better tax accountants. Do you believe that? Me neither. Rmoney had no earned income at all, again for the two years we know anything about. It must be nice...

Finally, the length of the returns. Again, for the two years King Rmoney has deigned to tell us about, his returns are in the vicinity of 200 pages and 100 pages; at a glance and without calculating, I'd say the median length from Reagan through Obama is around 20 or 25 pages. Again, Obama takes second place in the dead tree division (unless he submitted electronically).

Tell me this: how can a man as rich as Rmoney even remotely begin to identify with the challenges facing the typical middle-class American family, let alone a poor one? I do not begrudge Rmoney his wealth (though the way he acquired it would do credit to a Star Trek Ferengi), or all the homes, planes, yachts, cars and whatever other toys he owns. But the presidency is not a toy, and no one should buy it just because s/he can. Rmoney's insensitivity to the lives of ordinary Americans is only one of many ways in which he is completely unsuited to be president.

We have had one president in the past century who at least to some degree overcame his family's extreme wealth to become an effective president at a time of economic disaster at least as great as in our own time. That was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and I think I can say without reservation: Mittens, you're no FDR.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Texas Has A New Law Against Bullying...

... and the ACLU, which has worked tirelessly on this issue across the nation including in Texas, has the details for parents and students. Are you being bullied? is your child being bullied? is your child afraid to go to school? It doesn't have to be that way!

Mitt Rmoney And The 'Soviet' Threat

From Evan McMorris-Santoro of TPM we learn that three members of the Rmoney campaign, including Rmoney himself, have now publicly criticized Obama for foreign policy issues involving "the Soviet Union." I know there are many cosmological theories today involving a "multiverse" of multiple parallel universes, but I'd settle for an answer to a much smaller question: what planet do these people live on?

Seriously: since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, the GOP has cast about for a comparable bugbear to instill fear and loathing in the American people, and one would think that terrorists would fill that role today. But... no. They miss the days of the Soviet Union, when scaring the American people was as easy as displaying a bleeding red map. These people may live on the same planet we do, but they have not adapted their minds to the current era. While they recite formulaic denunciations of Obama's "Soviet Union policy," the rest of us have a real world to deal with. You want to know what terrorizes me? That's simple: Mitt Rmoney in a role in which he wields political power as well as financial. Now that's scary!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Greece: Germany Determined To Punish 'Wastrels'

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism, in a post about the increasing massive failure to solve the "EuroCrisis," points to Germany's apparent determination in the face of the continuing downward spiral of Greece, a spiral which Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras compares to the American Great Depression, to force Greek acquiescence to continued severe austerity measures not so much as a solution but as a punishment for imagined bad behavior. Here's Smith's assessment:
But as conditions in Greece become even more desperate ..., German threats are becoming more dire:
“If Greece doesn’t fulfill those conditions, then there can be no more payments,” German Vice Chancellor Philipp Roesler told broadcaster ARD yesterday, adding that he is “very skeptical” Greece can be rescued and that the prospect of its exit from the monetary union “has long ago lost its terror.”
The immediate trigger is inspectors from the Troika are due back in Greece this week to “assess” progress towards meeting targets. Since there is no way for a patient in an intensive care ward to stave himself back to health, it is not at all obvious how Greek leaders can convince their new economic lords and masters that they can do the impossible. The Wall Street Journal sets forth the critical dates over the coming months:
But without a green light from the troika, Athens risks being cut off from badly needed aid and could run out of cash as early as August. It has sought emergency funding from Europe to cover a looming bond redemption in late August.

Greece faces a much more important deadline in September, when international creditors are due to make their next aid payment, which they delayed in June as the elections played out. Extending the deadline could require even more aid to support Greece while it delays more cuts.
An unnamed EU source told Der Spiegel [Greece] won’t reach its goal of lowering government debt to 120% of GDP by 2020 (quelle surprise!). The article states that falling short means Greece would need €10 billion to €50 billion more in funding, which the IMF and certain Eurozone governments (read Germany) will nix.
Smith then examines the economic and political consequences of various courses of action from the perspective of a number of major players; please read those in the original. Smith's conclusion sounds about right to me:
It’s hard to foresee how this ends, but if the powers that be are balking at another €10 billion to €50 billion for Greece, they will not pony up the hundreds of billions that many analysts see as necessary for Spain. The Eurocrats are running out of runway, and there’s no sign of a Plan B. If we didn’t all have a stake in the outcome, this would make for great theater.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Gun Ownership As An Individual Right:
The Consequences

ellroon at Rants from the Rookery posted a video of Bill Moyers expressing his thoughts on the theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado:

Several years ago the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment confers (or at least confirms) an individual right to "keep and bear Arms," separate and apart from the need for "[a] well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state". Let me turn you over to Wikipedia for the applicable recent Supreme Court decisions:
In 2008 and 2010, the Supreme Court issued two Second Amendment decisions. In District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess a firearm, unconnected to service in a militia[1][2] and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. In dicta, the Court listed many longstanding prohibitions and restrictions on firearms possession as being consistent with the Second Amendment.[3] In McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 3025 (2010), the Court ruled that the Second Amendment limits state and local governments to the same extent that it limits the federal government.[4]
Whether those cases were rightly decided or not, a lot of Americans, most presumably not militia members (that's another entire post), avail themselves of the right. It's difficult to compare numbers by year because the surveys do not use consistent counting methods, but it appears from Wikipedia that gun ownership ranged from roughly 36.5% to a peak of 50% of households in the mid 1980s, declining since then to a figure difficult to determine from the wiki. As only 11% of households report engaging in hunting... my maternal grandfather's primary if not only use for his rifles and shotguns... most of those guns are kept for other, largely unspecified purposes. Altogether, as of 1994, Americans owned about 192 million guns. The distribution by region is not too surprising: the East South Central States... Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee... have a 60% ownership rate, while the Northeastern United States... Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, plus New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania... have a 25% ownership rate. In my opinion this difference probably largely reflects an urban/rural difference. But considering the political volatility of the subject, if you want different numbers, you can surely find them somewhere on the Web. I'll stick with Wikipedia and its sources.

Let's move on to the real question: in what numbers are we killing ourselves and each other with guns? Wikipedia again: In 2007, gun deaths in America comprised 17,352 suicides and 12,632 homicides, for a total of 31,224 gun-inflicted deaths. (ADDED: I wonder about those 1240 uncategorized deaths.) I find it interesting that suicides exceed homicides by several thousand: with guns readily available, Americans kill themselves with guns more often than other Americans kill them with guns.

I'd like to tell you a personal story, originally posted in a slightly different form on ellroon's comment thread.

In my lifetime, my father owned one gun, a low-powered rifle. He bought it long after I left home, at the insistence of my demented mother (I mean the word "demented" literally, as a doctor's diagnosis, not as an expression of my opinion) when she began "hearing things." Dad stored the gun in one closet and hid the ammo in a secret place apart from the gun. As far as I know, he never fired it or even loaded it but once, to test that it worked, again to satisfy my mother's sense of security. (Dad had plenty of firearms training in his youth, courtesy of the U.S. Navy.)

After both my parents had died, I sold the mobile home, complete with the rifle, to their next door neighbor, who already owned at least three rifles. He seemed competent and sane, and selling him the gun did not significantly increase his potential for mayhem if he went crazy.

So: what did I learn from my parents about gun ownership? This:

You have to be demented to think your safety is increased by owning a firearm.

As a dutiful son, I still practice what I learned from them.

My Futile Gesture

I voted today
in a
Democratic primary
in Texas.

Can you spell "futile gesture," children?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sally Ride (1951-2012)

First American woman astronaut in space, scientist with several advanced degrees, educator and inspiration for millions of women in the sciences and the few in the space program... Ride was all those and more. She died at age 61, of pancreatic cancer. (Aside: Stella is the same age: though to all appearances she is healthy, it really gives me pause to think.) Ride will be much missed. Thanks and R.I.P., Dr. Ride; all of us admired you, both who you were and what you did.

Where We Stand: Charters, The Commons, Rights And Liberties, Discussed At Length By Noam Chomsky

Here. Reserve a good half hour, maybe more, to read this broadly conceived and very substantial article. H/T Michael Moore for hosting this excellent presentation.

Your Tax Dollars At Work: DARPA Funds
Network-Hacking Power Strip

Just... read about it. Here. I've got to go throw up. (H/T ellroon.)

AFTERTHOUGHT: After a couple minutes, I thought of some possibly benign uses for such a device, e.g., to find obvious holes in the security of a system you are newly responsible for. But you'd still be taking an awful chance, just hooking it up, even with the boss's approval. And... what if there's a manufacturer's back door? or a No-Such-Agency back door? You could find yourself with a lot of visitors!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Republicans: Pushing Medicine Into The 19th Century

Republican Surgeon's Kit

Paul Krugman, in a short post called What You Don't Know Can't Heal You, examines the teabagger House of Representatives' proposed ravages of the Affordable Care Act Health and Human Services funding bill:
Austin Frakt looks at the Republican health legislation, and finds (quoting a report from AcademyHealth) that
[I]t completely eliminates the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (Sec. 227), and prohibits any patient-centered outcomes research (Sec. 217) and all economic research within the National Institutes of Health (Page 57, line 19).
And remember the hatred aimed at comparative effectiveness research.
Health care is one of those disciplines in which the invisible hand of the market, likely as not, raises its invisible middle finger at us all. The market cannot determine rational behavior here, and omitting the necessary research... which only the government has incentive to do, on behalf of the citizenry... is sure to drive an irrational, profit-obsessed, dangerous outcome. Only actual knowledge of outcomes of treatment approaches, as determined by actual research by people trained in performing that research, can tell us whether a given approach is worthwhile or just a waste of patients' money. Doctors are not gods who can simply "know" these things, however vast their professional experience. I cannot imagine that even insurance companies, rapacious as they are, think that this knowledge-free approach is a good idea.

But ranting radicals in today's House... I won't dignify their position by calling it "conservative," because it isn't and they aren't... would discard (indeed, forbid!) the government's support of medical-care quality research and medical economics research.

I suppose it would be useless to remind them that one of the stated goals of our Constitution is to "promote the general Welfare," and I suppose they consider it utter folly to acknowledge that that "general Welfare" includes establishing the validity and cost-effectiveness of medical treatments. The GOP War on Science knows no bounds.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

ACLU Challenges Government Classification Of Every Word Detainees Speak In Gitmo Trials

What's classified in a Gitmo detainee's trial? No less than every word spoken by a detainee. Yep. Everything a defendant says is presumptively classified, notwithstanding the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of a "speedy and public trial." So much for the "public" part! Read what Pro Publica's Cora Currier documents for us. Here's Currier on the ACLU's action:


The ACLU filed a brief in May saying that the government’s order of presumptive classification and the forty-second delay [in the livecast of trials to American news agencies] violate the public’s right of access to the trial. The ACLU’s motion takes issue with the idea that the government has declared detainees’ “personal knowledge of their detention and treatment in U.S. custody” classified. Their exposure to classified information was forced upon them, the ACLU states, in CIA detention and interrogation programs that are now outlawed.

The ACLU argues that an executive order on classification signed by Obama in 2009 says in part that, in order to be properly classified, information must be “under the control of the United States Government.” The ACLU’s brief challenges whether that authority could be extended “categorically to human beings under the government’s control.” [emphasis in original]. The ACLU also argues that the detainees were not in any kind of contractual relationship which would make them liable for the classified information they were exposed to.


It's just another battle in the bipartisan war on rights and liberties.

Once again, we need to remind our leaders that the Bill of Rights is written to apply to all persons, not just citizens. That fact and five bucks will get you a frappuccino at Starbucks...

Stella's Birthday!

I may not be around much today... my lady love and I have some celebrating to do!

The Great American Drought Of 2012

Dr. Jeff Masters will tell you about it. Under some very reasonable assumptions, "the July 2012 drought is second only to the great Dust Bowl drought of July 1934 in terms of the area of the contiguous U.S. covered by moderate or greater drought." You might even think it was a symptom of global climate change. But... oh, look, Al Gore wants to take away your guns and place you on death panels! [/snark]

Friday, July 20, 2012

Sadie Enters This World

Best wishes to NTodd, Ericka and young Samuel on the birth of Sadie! Happy day! (I suppose for Samuel's sake I could post the song Sister Sadie... nah; too obvious.)

'Lesser Evilism'

Adgita Diaries (presumably Michael or Trace; the post is unsigned) points us to a post by Andrew Levine at CounterPunch, who offers us Better Than Lesser Evilism, Version 2012, a long and systematic examination of the choice facing every American voter who stands to the left of today's much-mutated Democratic Party. It is worth at least skimming this article, not that it will change your mind, but it may inform your decision.

I am persuaded that, by my criteria, Obama is in fact the lesser evil, and I shall close my eyes and vote for him on that basis... after which I shall go home and wash my hands. I have tried hard to muster any enthusiasm for the man... he is, after all, an excellent speaker... but in the long run, I have concluded that in 2008 I was taken in by a very slick marketing package, and that Obama does not have the seed of greatness in him, ready to sprout any moment now. He doesn't, and it isn't.

However, they have absolute gotten to me with the "who else ya gonna vote for" argument. Obama appears to be reasonably solid on a woman's right to choose abortion, and appears determined to trump attempts by fundamentalist crazies and Catholics to interfere with widespread distribution and use of contraceptives in America. He seems at least persuadable on many environmental issues, and does not believe that a scientific response to global climate change is somehow a Communist plot. His record on civil liberties is execrable, worse than GeeDubya Bush's; that's why my hands will need washing after I vote for him for the office of Assassin-in-Chief.

I will not fault anyone who decides not to vote for Obama. But I will remind everyone that a Rmoney presidency, especially if he has at any time a GOP-dominated Congress, could well spell the beginning of the end, a true and unmitigated plutocracy in which all of us who are now citizens will effectively be, at best, wage slaves, and at worst, a starving mob.

I'd say the choice is yours, but the more I read, the more I wonder if that is really so. Nonetheless, if I have only one rock (vote), I have to cast it, and in my long tradition of purely strategic voting, I have to cast it for Obama. Dog help us all in the next four years.

Good News: Courts Dismissing Challenges To ACA Contraceptive Rule

Sarah Lipton-Lubet at the ACLU Blog of Rights:


Just one day after a federal court in Nebraska threw out a lawsuit brought by seven anti-Affordable Care Act attorneys general, a federal court in D.C. did the same in a case filed by a religiously affiliated college. On Wednesday, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit filed by Belmont Abbey College (the first of the two dozen challenges to the birth control rule).

This isn’t the first time that Belmont Abbey College has thumbed its nose at federal laws designed to stop discrimination against women in health care.  In 2009, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concluded that the College was discriminating against its employees based on their gender because it withheld coverage for prescription birth control, which only women use, while providing insurance coverage for other prescription drugs. But as far as we know, the college is still resisting the EEOC’s decision and has yet to come into compliance. So it came as no surprise when it challenged the administration’s contraception rule, despite the fact that the rule is on solid legal footing, while the college’s claims are bogus.

If Belmont Abbey had its way, as jams pointed out in comments a couple of days ago, its male employees could still get their Viagra, but its female employees would be deprived of birth control.

If this is intended by the College as civil disobedience, it's a damned poor example: it forces people who don't hold the expressed opinion to put themselves at personal risk for that opinion. I propose that the College be assessed a small fine, starting at, say, $5.00 a day the first day, doubling every day until they come into compliance. Ultimately, the fact is that ACA is the law, and we don't get to decide which laws we obey and which we ignore, without incurring penalties.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ann Rmoney And 'You People'

From an ABC interview of Ann Rmoney, as reported by Igor Bobic of TPM:

“We’ve given all you people need to know and understand about our financial situation and how we live our life,” she said.
Take that, peasants! "You people" have no right to ask us royal personages for details provided by all presidential candidates for several decades. We are not amused!

I am really sick and tired of the plutocratic arrogance of the American "nobility" regarding their roles in government. We damned well have a right to information about people we hire to serve us in public office. Mrs. Rmoney may as well get used to it. And get over herself. And get over her attitude.

Here We Go Again - House GOP Tags Must-Pass Bill With Anti-Contraceptive Rider, Threatens Shutdown

If you had told me when I was a young man that one day, one of America's major political parties would repeatedly introduce amendments to must-pass legislation attempting to make contraceptives less available to women, I wouldn't have believed you. If you had told me during or after the Clinton presidency that the GOP would one day threaten not one but two government shutdowns as blackmail in the run-up to an election, I'd have laughed you out of the room. Yet that is exactly what's happening. Sahil Kapur of TPM informs us of the GOP insanity:


House Republicans renewed their effort Wednesday by advancing a measure through the Labor-HHS appropriations subcommittee with a rider to roll back President Obama’s contraception mandate. Authorized by the Affordable Care Act, the rule requires employer-provided health insurance plans to cover contraception without co-pays, with carve-outs for churches and religious non-profits. Republicans on the panel defeated a Democratic amendment to strip the provision, suggesting they’re willing to pick the fight.


Senate Republicans have clearly indicated their preference for avoiding the fight altogether, and extending funding for government programs through the election at levels the parties agreed upon during last August debt limit fight. Under pressure, the House GOP leadership appears to be warming to that idea, lest they be held accountable for inciting a government shutdown weeks before Election Day.


Republicans took a beating earlier this year after their failed push to roll back Obama’s contraception rule in its entirety, a battle that yielded significant gains for President Obama among women voters. The GOP eventually backed off, recognizing the toxicity of the issue. ...

Just another battle in the GOP War on Women...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Internet Defense League Launches Tomorrow

Do you give a damn whether private corporations with unfriendly agendas prevail upon their lackeys in Congress to give them effective control over the Internet? Do you care whether SOPA/PIPA and its descendants impose ridiculously stringent restrictions on your web sites' content? You do, and you do? Great! Sign up to be part of the Internet Defense League. Before you sign up, take a look at their list of early institutional members; I think you'll feel you're in good company.

Here's a selection: Mozilla, WordPress, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), FightForTheFuture, reddit, CHEEZburger (!), Open Technology Institute, ... just go look for yourself, so I won't have to type dozens of links. And yes, your doggerelist is a member; I signed up many weeks ago.

Oh, and for members (free to sign up... donations accepted, of course), there are all kinds of cool logos for your site, including the cat face in the sidebar here.

Newsy Video On DISCLOSE Act Followup; Another On ACLU And Family Lawsuit Over Awlaki Death

Derek Hamm of Newsy Community has requested in an email that I embed a video they have made on the DISCLOSE Act failure. Instead, I'll refer you to the Newsy site for the video. It's a good video, but I'm trying to spare some of my lower-bandwidth readers, and I've already posted several videos still on this current main page, so you can watch it over there instead.

UPDATE:  I am indebted to newsy.com for informing me of the lawsuit by the ACLU and the family of Anwar Al-Awlaki against the US government for the assassination of Awlaki and his 16-year-old son in a targeted drone strike. You may recall from my earlier posts that Awlaki was an American citizen not engaged in any battlefield action against American troops at the time of his assassination, and therefore should have been captured and put on trial for any alleged acts of terrorism. Instead, his name was added to President Obama's "kill list," and with no trial, no arrest and not even any showing of probable cause, he was assassinated. As I've said before, this is as un-American as it gets; our nation's founders are surely turning in their graves.

The New Undue Burden On Voters

Ryan J. Reilly of TPM:

More than 10 million potential voters in states with voter photo ID laws live over 10 miles from an office which issues such identification more than two days a week, according to a new report from the Brennan Center.

Of that group, 500,000 do not have access to a car or another vehicle, according to the report. While many of those individuals may already have identification, the report argues that such a burden discourages individuals from exercising their right to vote.

“The result is plain: Voter ID laws will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of poor Americans to vote,” the report states. “They place a serious burden on a core constitutional right that should be universally available to every American citizen.”

If there were a Hell (and regular readers know I dismiss the notion as highly improbable), there would surely be a special place in it for Republicans who spend their money and their efforts suppressing the vote of people less fortunate than themselves.

NOTE: the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law has done outstanding work in the areas of voting rights, campaign finance reform and constitutional protection in these parlous times. They will be on the blogroll soon, as a resource for us all on those issues.

Rmoney's Secret Taxes And The American Economy

Paul Krugman offers two current hypotheses... guesses, really... about why Rmoney refuses to release his tax returns:

... (There are two competing theories about his tax stonewalling. One is that he had one or more years of zero taxes. The other is that he actually made a lot of money in 2009, because he shorted the market. We may never know which is true.)
It doesn't matter to me what Rmoney's income was, per se, but it does matter very much how he obtained the money and whether he paid anything remotely resembling a fair share of taxes on it. As long as he refuses to release his tax returns, I have to assume two things:
  • Rmoney obtained the money legally but through various shady dealings,
  • He paid proportionately less in taxes than the proverbial "nail lady."
But Krugman, in the same post, talks about the real reason the American public stands divided, and it has nothing to do with Obama's allegedly "attacking capitalism." First, after-tax income from 1979 to 2007 grew in the first four quintiles, with increases ranging from roughly 20% to 50% (the growth was roughly proportional to the income level), while in the same period, the income of the top 1% grew by nearly 300%. Second, starting in about 1980, i.e., the Saint Reagan era, median family income began decoupling from average household income and, even more importantly, from productivity, such that the fruits of the productivity gain overwhelmingly went to the wealthiest, not the workers who created it. (When the average increases and the median doesn't, it means rich people are getting richer relative to everyone else.) To me, this has a real 19th- and early 20th-century flavor to it: Gilded Age II, here we come here we are. I'm sorry, but that is simply unjustifiable. Please see Krugman's charts, based on CBO data.

And Rmoney wants to double down on the policies that made all this happen. If Rmoney is elected, or if the GOP manages to steal yet another one for yet another wealthy scion of another powerful family, this is what we'll see much more of. I'd say "it's your choice," but as much effort as the GOP is putting into voter suppression, I don't know that it actually is your choice. One can hope... and fight... and vote.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Joyful Flashmob In Sabadell

H/T an old colleague of mine, N.M., in an email... best viewed full screen, if your computer and connection can handle it:


From SFGate, a hostile editorial (op-ed? not clear):
D.C. Democrats are pushing the Disclose Act again. Disclose stands for Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections. The ACLU and National Right to Life Committee oppose this bill because they fear it would chill free speech. As far as the anti-abortion group is concerned, Disclose stands for "Deterring Independent Speech about Congress except by Labor Organizations and Selected Elites."

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., frames this year's bill, which failed to win a floor vote in the Senate on Monday, as a reform made necessary by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision to allow independent expenditure campaigns to spend unlimited money from corporations, plutocrats and unions.

For once, I find myself opposed to the ACLU position. If spending truly were speech, chilling campaign contributions by identifying contributors might have a chilling effect on free speech. But the Roberts Court notwithstanding, spending is not speech: inequalities in campaign spending are surely the most corrosive influence on actual free speech by natural humans (not corporate entities, and not PACs or SuperPACs) of any in the long history of campaign abuses. Historically, the party that spends the most money on advertising (usually negative advertising, but put that aside for now) is the party that wins a given office, and historically and at present, that party is almost certainly the GOP. What could be more inimical to free speech regarding a partisan contest than effectively unlimited "speech" (i.e., spending) by Republicans and severely limited "speech" (i.e., spending) by Democrats? They should have renamed the Citizens United decision the "GOP Victory Assurance" decision. However imperfect the DISCLOSE Act may be, the notion that we can merely do nothing about this inequity and yet continue to call ourselves a representative democracy is ludicrous.

I'll revisit this topic, but right now I have other responsibilities.

Greece: Could Syriza Win?

Ari Paul, reporting for The Nation, examines the possibility:

Greece’s new center-right government is set to impose fresh austerity measures in the fall, including further privatization of utilities, railways and ports. With unions already angry over wage and pension cuts, more work stoppages and demonstrations are expected. Three ministers have already resigned their posts, including a deputy labor minister who said the ruling coalition has no intention of keeping its campaign promise to renegotiate with the Troika (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund), which had insisted on more austerity as a condition of continued aid to avert bankruptcy.

The government is already unstable. With labor’s help, the people could bring it down, observers say, giving the once-marginal Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), the biggest opposition group in Parliament, a chance of forming a labor-backed government opposed to the Troika’s demands.

Paul then examines the relative strengths of Pasok (the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, the traditional party of labor in Greece) and Syriza (which Paul refers to as the "radical left"), the difficulty of persuading labor voters to switch their votes, the likelihood of strikes and work stoppages, etc. ... things which hardly ever happen in America due to the weakness of our labor movement, but which are more common tools in Europe.

As usual, I am in no position to comment on the desirability of such a change, but I'm sure l'Enfant will tell us.

As MA Gov, Rmoney Raided State Environmental Funds To Pay For Football Rally

From Mike Ludwig of Truthout...

Forget tailgating, Mitt Romney went all out when the New England Patriots went to the Super Bowl in 2005. Romney, then governor of Massachusetts, diverted $45,000 from the state's Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to hold a send-off rally for the [Patriots] football team ...

Five days after the rally, four high school students were struck by a pickup truck in the West Roxbury neighborhood of Boston. School officials blamed the accident on poorly plowed roads. Governor Romney blamed the DCR ... and quickly fired DCR Commissioner Katherine Abbott ... .

Surely the word "Recreation" in the department name is not intended to mean "pro football rallies." But this wasn't Rmoney's first run-in with the DCR; read the linked article. Here's another assessment...

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a nonpartisan alliance of local, state and federal environmental resource professionals, places at least some of the blame for the accident on political games and Romney's decision to divert public funds to pay for the Patriots' rally. The group says the fiasco is a prime example of Romney's "take-no-prisoners" management style ...

"He approached governance like a hostile takeover and this resulted in gutted agencies, crippling reorganizations and poor morale among workers," said New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a former enforcement attorney with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). ...


(Bolds mine.) Please read the rest. Rmoney as governor consistently, one might say relentlessly, acted to the detriment of the environment and of public employees. How could anyone justify putting somebody in charge of government and the environment who detests the whole notion of government and doesn't give a good damn about the environment? Of course that doesn't work: it was never intended to work. In our era, the GOP sees its sole mission as making sure government doesn't work. And they're distressingly good at it.

There's only one solution. Charge Rmoney with misappropriation of state funds; convict him; dump him in a jail for a few years ($45,000 is almost certainly a felony). That would, at least temporarily, spare the nation's forests, lakes, rivers etc. the wanton destruction Rmoney would surely bring.

One Of Colbert's Best

David Taintor of TPM quotes pseudo-conservative comic Stephen Colbert as saying that Obama, in campaigning against Rmoney's business record, is “hellbent on making the word ‘Bain’ synonymous with a source of harm or ruin.” Really? Hmmmm...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Journalism Outsourced, Pseudonymized

This story is all over the place. Well, no, it's not in "hyperlocal" sections of local newspapers, and it isn't under fake bylines; that would be telling on itself. The practice is the outsourcing of local news by local publications; the company, Journatic, is used by some major large-city dailies including Chicago Tribune and yes, to my regret, the Houston Chronicle. Here's Mark Coddington of Harvard's Nieman Journalism Center:, to pick one of hundreds of articles, mostly because it has good links:


The Chicago Tribune just outsourced its hyperlocal TribLocal sections to Journatic, and it began investigating Journatic’s work for fake bylines. The Chicago Sun-Times, Houston Chronicle, and San Francisco Chronicle also reported fake bylines on Journatic stories in their papers, and the Sun-Times and the newspaper chain GateHouse ended their contracts with Journatic, though GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram reported that those contracts expired before the fake-byline story came out. Journatic’s CEO sent a memo rallying the troops and declaring that its aliases would be discontinued.

The revelations pointed toward a larger discussion over how to do the tough work of making local journalism sustainable, summarized well by NPR’s David Folkenflik. Northeastern journalism professor Dan Kennedy said operations like Journatic’s “pink slime journalism” are a function of the fact that local journalism is difficult and expensive to do well, though the solution will ultimately come from the bottom up, not from cookie-cutter approaches. Free Press, meanwhile, urged us to demand better out of local news.

Coddington goes on to quote people who actually think this is a good thing, or inevitable given the economics of the news business, or some other claptrap. Personally, I think it's just plain dishonest. If they're going to outsource local news to nonlocal writers, and pseudonymize the purported journalists' bylines, how are they any better than a thorough and careful blogger, that "evil" [/snark] individual whom mainstream journalists are always condemning?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

One Nation Under Surveillance: FDA Spies On Its Own Scientists

Mordor - Total Information Awareness
From the NYT, we learn that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) engaged in a "wide-ranging surveillance operation... against a group of its own scientists", using "an enemies list of sorts as it secretly captured thousands of e-mails" to everyone from Congress to journalists and the president:

The agency, using so-called spy software designed to help employers monitor workers, captured screen images from the government laptops of the five scientists as they were being used at work or at home. The software tracked their keystrokes, intercepted their personal e-mails, copied the documents on their personal thumb drives and even followed their messages line by line as they were being drafted, the documents show.

The extraordinary surveillance effort grew out of a bitter dispute lasting years between the scientists and their bosses at the F.D.A. over the scientists’ claims that faulty review procedures at the agency had led to the approval of medical imaging devices for mammograms and colonoscopies that exposed patients to dangerous levels of radiation.

A confidential government review in May by the Office of Special Counsel, which deals with the grievances of government workers, found that the scientists’ medical claims were valid enough to warrant a full investigation into what it termed “a substantial and specific danger to public safety.”

It seems very likely that the FDA's actions were worthy of reporting. But nothing could so effectively reinforce the mostly false image of scientists as brilliant in their field of study but naive about political matters as those scientists' allowing their external communications to be spied upon.

A few simple rules of thumb would probably have allowed the scientists to continue undetected and unimpeded: use your own personal equipment to send the emails, not something your employer's IT department supplied to you; don't use your employer's network to transmit the emails; obtain and use your own personal privacy keys to encrypt the email; don't make copies of files onto removable media. Yes, all of that makes whistle-blowing considerably more inconvenient, but if you're going to do it at all, you may want to exercise at least that much common sense and good judgment.

(H/T Mustang Bobby.)

Detention And Rendition Under Obama

While I was at Pro Publica (which is now on the blogroll), I noticed that Cora Currier and Suevon Lee have posted a collection of The Best Reporting on Detention and Rendition Under Obama. When I've worked my way through the articles they link, I'll post anything regarding matters of usual interest on this blog, particularly civil liberties and human rights.


Peter Maass and Megha Rajagopalan at Pro Publica provide us with details of how your cell phone can easily be the subject of warrantless location tracking: many of the 1.3 million law enforcement requests for called numbers and location information last year alone were warrantless. To me, that bears the stench of being forced to testify against oneself.

Maass and Rajagopalan conclude by suggesting we drop the term "cellphones" as no longer adequately describing their multiplicity of functions. Call them "trackers," they say. Excuse me, my tracker's ringing...

You Don't Know About LIBOR?

Avedon Carol points us to this Pro Publica article as a starting point. Of course, if you want a blow-by-blow, the signature blog on the issue is Matt Taibbi's.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Tax-Cuts-For-The-(1%,99%) Election

Paul Krugman calls it "The Class Warfare Election", and who am I to deny it. Please look at Krugman's chart, comparing the change in effective tax rates under an Obama presidency and under a Rmoney presidency, according to their own proposals. This isn't rocket science, and it isn't about whether Obama is an OK guy compared to Rmoney. (He isn't, based on his civil liberties record alone. But please look at Krugman's chart.)

Obama would raise taxes on the 95th percentile of income, with modest tax increases by income. Rmoney, starting with the 20th percentile of income and moving upward, would cut taxes for everyone, more or less in direct proportion to their income, the highest-income folks getting the highest percentage cuts. Such a plan means, inevitably, cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid aid to states, and other safety-net programs to pay for those tax cuts for the wealthy. It's a sort of "reverse Robin Hood" program... rob the poor; give to the rich. And this is only what the two candidates have openly announced.

Here's Krugman's conclusion:

So like it or not, we have an election in which one candidate [Obama] is proposing a redistribution from the top — which is currently paying lower taxes than it has in 80 years — downward, mainly to lower-income workers, while the other [Rmoney] is proposing a large redistribution from the poor and the middle class to the top.

It's your choice. You can't control what either candidate does in the international sphere, or what Obama does regarding civil liberties... probably about what Rmoney will do. So what are you going to vote on? I'm going to vote on two things: economic policy and women's rights. YMMV, and I won't criticize you if it does. But those two issues are sufficient to tip the scales for Obama, in my opinion. Yes, I hate having a choice like that.

Judges Question Texas Voter ID Law

A panel of three federal judges (one each appointed by GeeDubya, Bill Clinton and Obama) asked tough questions during closing arguments in the trial examining whether the law is discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act.

This law, a solution to the nonexistent alleged problem of rampant voter fraud, was the GOP-dominated Texas Lege's idea of how to make a red state even redder, but if the questions of the panel are any indication, they may be thwarted in that attempt.

While the political machinery of Texas, gerrymandered to hell by the likes of criminal Tom DeLay and his successors, may lean toward GOP victories, Texans in general are not necessarily overwhelmingly conservative, especially the ethnic communities. If everyone who lives here were permitted to vote without undue burden, portions of the state might turn blue... and apparently the GOP knows that. Stay tuned, and don't assume we're going to lose.

Robert Reich: What's At Stake In The 2012 Election

Reich explains the radical Right's four-point plan to change the fundamental nature of America from representative democracy with wide public participation in policy decisions into something downright unsavory:


Friday, July 13, 2012

'I Said I'm Not Concerned About The Very Poor...'

The title quote is, of course, from Mitt Rmoney.

I received an email today from the Harris County Democratic Party which contained a statement that "nearly 30% of Houston’s population lives below the poverty line," I did some searching, and allowing for the expected political exaggeration, the figure is probably about right. In the 2010 Census, the number seems to have been between 19% and 22%, depending on whose word you take, with the brunt of the burden falling on young adults ("26.1% of those under the age of 18"), the elderly ("14.3% of those 65 and older") and people of color. That was two years ago, and I'm sure things have not gotten better since then.

One of my favorite mystery/crime fiction writers is Sara Paretsky, whose novels star a woman private detective named V.I. Warshawski, a child of Chicago's South Side. Paretsky's works appeal to me enough that I own most of her novels, despite my living a block from a public library. At present, I'm reading Paretsky's novel Blacklist, which is set in the period immediately following the 9/11 horrors, and depicts characters many of whom are obscenely wealthy and one of whom is a poor Arab boy in Chicago, accused, apparently falsely, of terrorism because he let his visa expire and... well, the cops needed to show they were doing something about terrorism in those insane times... excuse me, these insane times. Paretsky's determination to write such a novel came from a personal experience of falling under suspicion when a woman saw her working on her notes for a novel and mistook the notes for actual plans for a terrorist act. The essay about that experience used to be online, but apparently she has turned it into a book, Writing in an Age of Silence, in which Paretsky "explores the traditions of political and literary dissent that have informed her life and work, against the unparallelled repression of free speech and thought in the US today." As you can tell, and as best I remember the web version of the essay, Paretsky doesn't spare the lash when confronting political repression.

Why bring Paretsky into this? That's easy: she contrasts rich and poor in her novels with an acerbic style apparently born of experience... of the low end; even the best and most successful crime fiction writers seldom experience wealth. Her character V.I. is highly aware, moment to moment, of the class distinction that requires much of her and demands little or nothing of the wealthy people she encounters in her detective work.

In my days as a musician, I worked for several dozen rich people; for better or worse, they are a primary source of demand for live chamber music and can afford to hire groups for their social events small and large. On the whole, I found these wealthy people to be polite to me (if somewhat patronizing), and a few of them even thought it was important to pay me on time. [/snark] But by and large, even the politest among them were utterly certain that I, along with everyone else who entertained or fed their society events, existed solely for their benefit. I have never personally been poor... my parents came damned close one year, but Dad found work in time to prevent us from bottoming out... but it is very easy for me to understand how Mittens is "not concerned about the very poor." He doesn't have to be. He doesn't even have to identify with them emotionally. As in Lily Tomlin's Phone Company skits, his attitude is "We don't care. We don't HAVE to care." And the best evidence from his years at Bain Capital demonstrate that uncaring outlook. Personally I think that is a grievous flaw in a potential president.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Listen to Sara Paretsky reading from one of her essays... this is well worth your time!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

OMG - O My Godwin!

TPM's Evan McMorris-Santoro:

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) on Thursday simultaneously apologized for and doubled down on comments he made last week equating the IRS with the Gestapo.

LePage told Vermont weekly Seven Days that he understands why his claim about the IRS — voiced after the Supreme Court upheld the health care law — offended some.

LePage then "apologized" to every ethnic, racial and national group of American citizens under the Sun, and then, astonishingly, reaffirmed his original comparison:

“What I’m trying to say is that the Holocaust was a horrific crime against humanity and, frankly, I would never want to see that repeated,” he said. “Maybe the IRS is not quite as bad. Yet.”

LePage explained that the connection between the Holocaust and “Obamacare” comes from what he called “rationing” contained in the law:

If this passes muster under Godwin's Law, then, even though Mike Godwin is very much still alive, please count me as a follower of the "Godwin is Dead" movement.

Right To Inspect Ballots Does NOT Conflict
With Right To Voter Privacy

BlackBoxVoting.org (the ".org" is important; there are other unaffiliated "BlackBoxVoting" sites with different top-level domain extensions) points to several states in which either election officials or state courts are denying citizens' requests to examine original ballots, asserting that doing so violates voter privacy. Both rights are intrinsic in America. Quoting from the linked article:
RIGHT TO INSPECT - The public, in exercising its right to self govern, and under principles of Freedom of Information, has a right to examine the original evidence (the ballots) to authenticate reported results in elections.


RIGHT TO SECRET BALLOT - The public also has a right to a secret, anonymous ballot.
At ground, there is no actual conflict between these rights: ballots from an election, paper or electronic, may be stripped of identifying information and published for inspection and (presumably) verification by interested parties.

But some states, e.g., Washington state on 21 occasions, have denied many requests by citizens to inspect ballots. And New Hampshire's 2003 Right-to-Know law included a provision, apparently never discussed publicly, explicitly exempting ballots.

Colorado has a different kind of problem: officials have been placing unique bar codes on individual ballots, allowing someone with the key to learn how any individual voted. So much for the privacy of the ballot! The judge in the Colorado case has threatened a gag order on proceedings, an act guaranteed not to inspire confidence.

Here's my personal interest in the matter, even though I don't live in one of the named states:
One voting machine vendor, Hart Intercivic, has been especially brazen about printing unique bar codes on each ballot, a dead cinch for stripping out data on how you voted with absentee voting. Hart dominates most Colorado counties (where absentee voting is approaching 50% of all votes), and Washington State, which is now 100% vote by mail.

Hart InterCivic manufactured the voting machines used here in Harris County, TX (i.e., a large part of Houston). The Hart InterCivic system was chosen by a Republican county clerk some years back. Word has it that all electronic voting system manufacturers are owned by Republicans; I have not personally verified that, but it's a troubling assertion if true. Mind you, I have no objection to Hart's voting machine interface; it's very straightforward and uses a finger dial instead of a touchscreen. But there's the same problem with the system as with any electronic system: its software inevitably stands between the "ballots" and the person wishing to examine them.

And those bar codes... those are news to me. You know how everyone says you should vote absentee because that way there's a paper ballot in case of a "recount" (word used with reservation)? Well, here's a counterbalancing reason not to do that: your ballot privacy is utterly gone.

Some people have said I have an unreasonably negative opinion of the Republican Party (just because I despise every policy it espouses, I suppose). But my biggest complaint has nothing to do with policy positions: it is that the GOP acts in ways that are antidemocratic (small-d) every chance it gets. And this is one of those chances.

Democracy is meaningless if the votes are manipulated: deleted, diluted, whatever. It's also meaningless if votes are individually identifiable, so that people can be threatened (or bribed) based on how they actually voted. And it's meaningless if independent organizations are prohibited from examining the cast ballots to verify the election results (which is trivially always the case with e-voting systems).

You want democracy, for real, not just the appearance? Paper ballots, with a strict chain of custody and a counting process involving representatives of all interested parties, are still the way to go, after more than two centuries of use. Take all your electronic voting systems to the middle of an ocean and deposit them in the deepest trough you can find. I understand fish don't care if their votes are secret and properly counted.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

'Beyond Outrage'

That's the title of Robert Reich's current book, but today I want to point you to Reich's blog. Reich is on fire these days. Here are the last few posts; if you have time, read them all:
I came to admire Reich during and immediately after his days as President Clinton's Secretary of Labor. The condensed version of that episode: Reich really didn't fit in. He was too committed to the truth and to the well-being of the nation to toe the Clinton line; eventually he moved on. He is now a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley, where I suspect he is a good deal more comfortable. Politics aside, Reich is a brilliant economist and, in my opinion, a gifted teacher. I hope you enjoy his posts, if "enjoy" is the right word when the subject matter is so depressing.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Warmest Year

That would be 2012, the warmest year in the US in recorded history. Let David Dayen at FDL tell you about it.

UPDATE: NTodd, in comments, points us to an article at MediaMatters, Why George Will Is Wrong About Weather And Climate, which contains graphics that should clarify matters for all but the most stubborn climate change deniers. The short version is that the climate trend rides atop the weather cycle, so that extreme individual weather events, whether or not a given event can be attributed to climate change, become more frequent over the years as climate changes. Lately the frequency of such weather events has leaned disproportionately toward heat events rather than cold events, and the change in frequency of heat events has accelerated in a very small number of years, as shown in this government chart borrowed from the linked article:

Will these events become even more frequent over the course of this century? The following map, taken from the government report Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, answers with an emphatic yes:

Confronted with this projection, deniers can either dispute the science (usually by finding contrarians willing to go on record saying things far from the consensus opinion among climate scientists), dispute the magnitude of the effect (harder to do every year, as shown above) or shrug and say "It's not our problem," meaning "We won't be alive by then; let our children deal with it." Most of the deniers I have encountered are on the political right, with everything that entails including the typical arrogant self-assurance; it occurs to me that they may also have financial motives to keep things just as they are until it's too late... if it isn't already too late.

Welcome to our world: created by idiots, maintained by imbeciles and led by morons. A bit more intelligence would be very helpful about now...

What's For Breakfast? Southern-Fried America

There seems to be a newfound interest in the South lately, and in how its history affects America's politics and race relations today. On the whole the news is not good, at least if you believe in human equality and republican (as opposed to Republican) government. These two stories are a good starting point (H/T Fallenmonk; see link below):
  • Sara Robinson at AlterNet: "Conservative Southern Values Revived: How a Brutal Strain of American Aristocrats Have Come to Rule America"
  • Fallenmonk (who is himself a liberal Southerner): "The South Has Risen Again"
You'll have to look elsewhere if you want a link to Asshole Ted Nugent's assertion that we'd all be better off if the South had won the Civil War. For the record, he did say something like that, but I'm not going to link to it.

The problem is that the consequences of slavery, an institution that never should have been permitted to arise in a self-proclaimed free society (Robinson's post contains a good explanation of how it did arise), have never been fully dealt with. I could hope that when heretofore racial minorities become, in aggregate, the majority, maybe we can make some headway, but I just don't see it happening in states like Texas, which is already "majority minority." (How I hate that phrase! But it is current usage.) And nationally, old-style Southern thinking, some of it done by Southerners and some not, is leading the nation somewhere many of us perceive as straight to Hell. Here's Robinson:

For most of our history, American economics, culture and politics have been dominated by a New England-based Yankee aristocracy that was rooted in Puritan communitarian values, educated at the Ivies and marinated in an ethic of noblesse oblige (the conviction that those who possess wealth and power are morally bound to use it for the betterment of society). While they've done their share of damage to the notion of democracy in the name of profit (as all financial elites inevitably do), this group has, for the most part, tempered its predatory instincts with a code that valued mass education and human rights; held up public service as both a duty and an honor; and imbued them with the belief that once you made your nut, you had a moral duty to do something positive with it for the betterment of mankind. Your own legacy depended on this.


Which brings us to that other great historical American nobility -- the plantation aristocracy of the lowland South, which has been notable throughout its 400-year history for its utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain “order,” and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God.

Well, yes. And today's racists, who are by no means exclusively confined to the South and are often very conservative in other aspects of their sociopolitical views, are gaining power, in an apparently intentional effort to transform the United States into something other than what it had evolved to be. Authors like Robinson avoid talking about the nation's origins, in which many of the founders were themselves slaveholders. But That was Then, and Now Everything is Different... Except in the South. If that were true, we would face a much smaller problem. But it isn't, and we don't.

I always remember an experience I had when I was 22 years old, right out of college, working for Texas Instruments in their Software Branch. (The Software Branch was about hardware, and all the other branches were about hardware... it was, and probably still is, the nature of TI.) The company contracted to construct a control system for a major radio station and network headquartered in NYC. Having worked on developing TI's general-purpose control software, I was assigned to adapt it for use by the network. I was to work with a guy named Kevin, sent from NYC to Houston for the duration of the project. Kevin was, like me, a man of lower-class origins. Unlike me, Kevin was an unrestrained racist, and he felt that because he was in "the South" (I could spend a paragraph attacking the concept that Texas is really the South, but I won't), among the white men who dominated the Software Branch, he could freely voice his racist tendencies. He just assumed I would agree with him. I couldn't fight back; it was worth my job to have fought back. So I bit my tongue, tapped my code and somehow got through it. Perhaps I'd have responded better if I had had a few years in the field and a reputation that enabled me to walk out the door and find another job right away. But all that came later. In my solo contracting career, I had the luxury of not putting up with racists, but not in that first job.

It is very important that every person of good will, anywhere in America, who participates in the effort to overcome America's latent (and sometimes blatant) racism, not make automatic assumptions about individuals based solely on their region of origin. If you do that, you'll be wrong more often than right... and you'll damage your cause more than you can imagine. Give us a break. Many of us are pedaling as hard as we can, fighting against obstacles you may understand intellectually but not viscerally. Do not oversimplify the obstacles we face: it doesn't help us, and therefore it doesn't help us to help you.

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