Sunday, June 30, 2013

Wendy Davis's Filibuster Sneakers Being Amazon Review‑Bombed

GOPers have wonderful cognitive facility connecting things that have no real-world association. Now they are writing Amazon reviews of the model of sneakers worn by Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis (D) during her successful filibuster of the draconian and almost certainly unconstitutional anti-abortion bill. TPM's Zoe Schlanger provides a couple of example, one favorable, one not:

Another popular 'review' reads: "I tried on a pair at the local mall and suddenly Texas Republicans started telling me what to do with my genitals. They started explaining reproduction to me like I was a seventh grader. Unfortunately, being male, I had no way to shut the whole thing down. I'm so confused..."

Anti-abortion Amazon 'reviewer' M. Angeli wrote: "I only have one concern about these shoes. The soles are made of rubber and will undoubtedly melt in the fires of hell, which is where people who murder babies will go."

For Democratic ladies who would like to make a fashion statement supporting Davis, the shoes are "a pair of pink and green Mizuno Women's Wave Rider 16s." The shoe's warranty does not include filibuster success, nor protection from the fires of Hell (nor even from Texas summers). But pink and green were my elementary school's official school colors; I've gotta love 'em...

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Blogger Comments Flaky Lately

Blogger is apparently making changes to its commenting mechanism, possibly as part of merging Blogger comments and Google+ comments. I'm a Blogger user but not a Google+ user. Twice this week I've lost outgoing comments, one to ellroon a couple of days ago, one to Bryan just last night. To all appearances, they're gone forever, and the Blogger dashboard is behaving peculiarly and serving exceptions for breakfast today.

My advice: don't write your magnum opus in the comments here, or if you do, back it up somewhere else. We have to live with this fact: every app has bugs, but when Blogger has bugs, it affects millions of people. A word to the wise...

Friday, June 28, 2013

OK, Gay Californians Can Marry Now

The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted its stay on the rejection of Prop. 8. This means the Supreme Court ruling earlier this week applies immediately... even in California. Amazing!

War Houston Is Hell

Tomorrow it is forecast to reach 100°F in Houston inside Loop 610. At night, we're supposed to get a tiny amount of rain, and as a consequence the high on Sunday will be only 97°F. Jeebus, it isn't even July yet! Do you still want to try to convince me the climate isn't changing?

Robert Reich...

... appears to be blogging only on tumblr now. The old blog seems to have a persistent technical problem, so I'm changing the blogroll as soon as I publish this post.

UPDATE 6/30:  Reich's blog is back at; blogroll restored. Sigh.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

‟Don’t Turn On Your Brother... Turn On Your Brother!″

That used to be merely a bad joke in the Sixties, when the sense of "turn on" mutated from "rebel against your brother" to "get your brother high." But that's not what is happening now in the federal bureaucracy, and not just in the apparatus of the security state (FBI, NSA, CIA, etc.), but also in agencies and departments you would never think of as urging their employees to rat out their coworkers whom they suspect of, well, improbably enough, treason (FDA, USDA, etc.).

Digby bases her post, "This really is Big Brother: the leak nobody's noticed" on a McClatchy article, "Obama’s crackdown views leaks as aiding enemies of U.S.." Together, the post and the McClatchy article are among the most deeply frightening things I've read this week, and it's been a week of stuff hitting the fan. Set your coffee down before you read any of it.

(H/T Avedon for the Digby ref. You may not want to inflict this material on any federal employee or contractor via their work email, and I'm not talking about its pr0n content, because there is none. The obscenity is of a different nature, but your friend who works for or contracts for the feral gummint could well get in trouble just for receiving it.)

ADDENDUM: Bryan of Why Now? has a post on a closely related subject.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 today that the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 is unconstitutional. The basis of the decision isn't rocket science; the only amazing things are that a) the Supremes followed through rather than looking for a way to keep the law, and b) they based it in part on a Fifth Amendment equal-liberty argument, which in my naive but not humble opinion, is exactly where it belongs.

Here's Justice Kennedy for the Court:

“DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment,” Kennedy wrote for the Court. “DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal.”

Kennedy’s opinion struck down DOMA in part on equal protection and due process grounds, and in part because marriage is a state issue, determining that Congress lacks a constitutional basis not to recognize definitions set by states.

As often happens these days, Justice Kennedy was the swing vote, the rest splitting along usual conservative/"liberal" lines (sorry for the scare quotes, but there are no genuine liberal justices on the Court today). If anyone tells you the judiciary is the nonpolitical branch of government, point them at... well, point them at just about any decision the Court makes these days, including this one.

This may simply shift the gay marriage battleground to individual state constitutions or laws. Even so, it seems nonsensical to me that a couple that is married in one state can be unmarried in another.

And I can't help having a "sufficient unto the day..." feeling about the law. Good riddance to DOMA. It was bad law from the beginning. It had only two bases, hatred and fear, and no measurable positive consequences for American society... none whatsoever. For those who "lost" this battle, what was the upshot? If you don't "believe in" same-sex marriage, you can still refuse to marry a partner of the same sex as yours. Oh, and by the way, if you're that committed to hate and fear, AFAIC, you can go straight to Hell, and soon would be good.

To my LGBTQ friends who have been unable to marry but wanted to do so... my heartfelt best wishes. Now you have a right... a right protected right there in the Bill of Rights... to marry. Just don't save me a piece of cake with icky sugar‑laden icing...

Everyone Knows It's Wendy! — UPDATED

Wendy Davis
State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-TX) successfully filibustered one of the most draconian anti-abortion bills to appear in any state legislature this year, a bill that would have all but banned abortion in Texas.

Davis spoke for over 11 hours, despite Republican attempts to shout her down and at least one warning for speaking off-topic. What off-topic subject did she address? SONOGRAMS. Yeah, right, sure; that's "off-topic," and all GOP legislators are legitimate sons of their fathers.

The best article I've found on the subject is Charles Kuffner's "Filibusted," but I also received a note from Planned Parenthood that there is a move afoot to run a woman for Governor of Texas. What a concept! Somewhere, the late Ann Richards is grinning from ear to ear...

AFTERTHOUGHT: This is of course not over. Gov. Goodhair can call one special session after another, without end, and GOPers have the votes to pass their Worst Nightmare for Women. But at least the bill is dead for the most recent special session, GOPers have a black eye on the national stage, and Wendy Davis is (quite rightly, from what I've seen of her career over the years) the new star of the Democratic Party, at home and elsewhere. She deserves your thanks... and, if you have the money to spare, your campaign donations.

UPDATE 6/27: Davis says she would, in fact, like to run for statewide office. I'm counting down the seconds before Lush Limpbough calls her a "slut" or a "prostitute" ...

UPDATE 6/27: Goodhair Perry slams Davis in public statement; Davis responds. Of course it's possible Perry is merely responding opportunistically, but it seems equally possible to me that Perry sees Davis as a potential rival in 2014.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Right To Rule — DOGGEREL!

The Supreme Court eviscerates the Voting Rights Act of 1965...
(See previous post.)
The Right to Rule

The GOP proclaims it sport
To take advantage of the Court,
That what the Court (they knock on wood)
Could do, no legislation could.
The GOPers' silent prayer: "How great,
If only Courts could legislate!"

Since Marshall's time, the fact has been,
They can! No matter how obscene
Their transformation of a law...
What once was cabbage, now is slaw.
Five Justices one law can shred...
What once was law, is lately dead.

And so today, Scalia, who
(Alito, Roberts, Thomas too)
Was joined by Kennedy ("the swing")
To rule a sorry, damnéd thing:
The franchise is the right they smote...
"No universal right to vote!"

Thus states and counties pick and choose
Who has the right to vote, and whose
Intent to vote... surprise, surprise...
Was leaning toward those other guys,
And therefore, they must block. You see?
Dem "voters" ... they cannot ID!

- SB the YDD

Astonishing (To Me, At Least): Supreme Court Eviscerates Voting Rights Act Of 1965

You no longer have a right to vote... unless your state says you do. And your county. And your municipality. The right to vote is now enforced in about 13,000 voting districts around the country. Not since 1964 (and earlier) has "separate and unequal" done more damage to participatory democracy. But it's just too bad, say the five conservative Supreme Court Justices in Shelby County v. Holder... you have no constitutional right to vote. So say Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Kennedy. All those people who won't get to vote now? Too bad, so sad... the august body of conservatives on the Supreme Court hath spoken, democracy be damned. Democracy has been damned.

Needless to say, constitutional amendments are being proposed like wildfire. Stay tuned.

What Bill said. Oh, and... those who did this? fuck 'em with a corkscrew.

UPDATE: here is a bit more on Justice Ginsburg's scathing dissent. "Do not go gentle..."

UPDATE: Attorney General Eric Holder, denouncing the decision:
“This is not a partisan issue. This is an American issue,” Holder said, declaring that “the best way to defend a right is to go out and exercise it.”
I can only shake my head and palm my face. You cannot defend the right to vote by going out and voting, if in fact you are not permitted to vote...

Ethics Problems A 'Career-Ender' For Bachmann? Some Think So

Alex Seitz-Wald of Salon tells us all about it. I have my doubts: I've seldom seen a right-wing nut-job go down as the result of an ethics violation; their followers just don't care. If her acts don't rise to the level of outright criminality, I doubt voters will send Bachmann home.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Five Years

That's how long it took... at most... for President Obama to belie himself on warrantless wiretapping. Please read "Obama: No warrantless wiretaps if you elect me" back in January 2008. How quickly things change!

(H/T L'Enfant de la Haute Mer.)

More METROLift Musings

METROLift (for those who haven't visited this site in many moons, that's Houston's public transit system for the disabled) is changing in several ways. I am willing to accept the changes as good-faith efforts to improve the service, however annoyed I may be with the details on a particular day or trip.

For one thing, METROLift is obviously attempting to serve more riders per vehicle trip. On the whole, in principle, I approve: METROLift is, after all, a bus system adapted to the requirements of handicapped people, but a bus system nonetheless, and the more it follows a one-vehicle multiple-riders model, the more it can obtain the advantages of a bus system. There are some limits to the multiplexing... the service still has to pick up riders at their source locations (homes, workplaces, etc.) and drop them at, or very close to, their actual destinations (not blocks away, as buses do)... but modifying the scheduling algorithm has clearly allowed them to serve more passengers literally simultaneously, making better use of their half-bus-sized vehicles and less use of van-sized cabs which often carry one or two people at a time. On the downside, I seem to be living near the beginnings of a lot of routes, so that the half-bus comes to me first or second, then picks up another passenger, and another, and another, eventually drops off those riders at their destinations one-by-one, and finally drops me off after six or eight other stops... not necessarily close to my home or my destination. Yes, they have delivered me on schedule most of the time. Yes, the whole process drives the drivers stark raving crazy. Such, apparently, is the price of providing people with disabilities a service somewhat resembling public transit. It's certainly better than nothing, or pricey cab service, which is all disabled people had before the Americans with Disabilities Act in the early 1990's.

For another thing, I am using METROLift differently. Now I frequently schedule three stops in the course of what for me is a single trip... home A to grocer B to grocer C and back home, or home A to post office D to grocer B and back home. As long as I buy my frozen foods on the last leg of my run, everything works fine. On many days, though, it does involve a lot of waiting for late vehicles.

And I just have to report a recent conversation with a driver...
Driver:(arrives at TIRR)
Steve:(approaches vehicle)
Steve:Hi! "Bates"?
Driver:No, "Stepney."
Steve:"Stephen Bates"?
Driver:"Bates," yes, but it's "Stepney." Uh, "Stephanie."
Steve:My first name is "Stephen" ... "S-T-E-P-H-E-N".
Driver:That's how it's spelled here on the form,
but that's not how you spell "Steven"!
If only someone had been around 64 years ago to tell my parents...

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Espionage And Leaks... And Presidents Who Cannot Or Will Not Tell The Difference

Leak stopper
With the laying of charges of espionage against Edward Snowden, Barack Obama joins Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush in the exclusive group of presidents who have used the Espionage Act of 1917 as a club with which to beat leakers of information that embarrassed their administrations. Kevin Gosztola of FDL, who actually can tell the difference between espionage and leaks, explores the likely consequences if this course of action... so far used by Obama eight times, more often than by all other presidents combined... becomes common practice.

Leak stopper
Gosztola's article is long and thought-provoking, and I will not attempt to summarize it. If you give a damn about whether the American press and media are able to operate to the advantage of an open and democratic American government and a passionately motivated American people, you need to read the whole thing. If you don't, and if Obama succeeds where the other above-named presidents failed in establishing espionage charges as a default brickbat against leakers, you may be literally asking for the consequences Gosztola outlines, quoting Jonathan Alter's words from the latter's book The Promise:
Obama had one pet peeve that could make him lose his cool. It was a common source of anger for presidents: leaks. Complaints about loose lips became a constant theme of Obama’s early presidency. At his first Cabinet meeting he made a point of saying that he didn’t want to see his Cabinet “litigating” policy through the New York Times and the Washington Post. At a Blair House retreat for the Cabinet and senior staff at the end of July he devoted about a quarter of his comments to urging his people to keeping their disagreements within the family: “We should be having these debates on the inside, not the outside.” And during his twenty hours of deliberations over Afghanistan in the fall, he returned repeatedly to the theme. Naturally in Washington nearly every time he got upset about leaks it leaked.

For all his claims that he didn’t want yes-men around him, no one on his staff was brave enough to tell the president that obsessing over leaks was a colossal waste of time. (Aides should have recognized that the age-old problem in Washington isn’t managing leaks, but managing the president’s fury over them.) But it wouldn’t have mattered: leaks offended Obama’s sense of discipline and reminded him of everything he disliked about the capital. He was fearsome on the subject, which seemed to bring out his controlling nature to an even greater degree than usual...
I am increasingly convinced, notwithstanding all of Obama's mitigating virtues, that his essence is the stuff of which totalitarian leaders are made. He needs to be watched closely, and prevented to the extent possible by the counterbalance of other branches of our government from enforcing an un-American discipline on the world of American journalism. Our nation's survival as a free and open society may depend on it.

Journalism, including the release and publication of leaks, is not espionage: it is an essential element in the ongoing battle against the actions of controlling presidents and their governments. It must never be shut down or chilled out of existence by threats, applied through archaic laws, to the lives and freedoms of journalists.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Marcy Wheeler On Government Spying

The inimitable Marcy Wheeler (emptywheel), writing for The Nation, examines "Government Spying: Why You Can't 'Just Trust Us'". Indeed, you can't, and shouldn't. Wheeler examines the almost nonexistent results of spying in preventing terrorist acts since the programs began in the mid-2000s, and argues for repealing the secret laws that make secret broad-brush surveillance of American citizens available to the three-letter agencies. IMHO, this post is worth your time to read.

'Almost Overkill'

That's how Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) described his alternative to Sen. John Cornyn's (R-TX) border security bill, in an attempt to reassure border hawks. The phrase embodies an irony not lost on Mexican-Americans and their Mexican family members, the latter of whom are dying in record numbers in their attempts to cross the border illegally at increasingly dangerous locations.

As of this morning, Corker and Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) announced they were closing in on a deal with the "Gang of Eight" senators (four Democrats, four Republicans) on a bill more moderate than Cornyn's. But nothing is ever simple, and the nut-jobs in the GOP (*cough* Cruz *cough*) want to exact their pound of flesh.

Border wall under construction

The problem is that, as many Texas farmers (including those who are conservative politically) are willing to admit, the arrangement between Texans and Mexicans is advantageous to both. Texans (and other Americans) get their crops picked cheaper; Mexicans make more money than they probably could at home, filling jobs Americans are in general not willing to do themselves. The solution to undocumented migrant workers is somehow to document them and systematize their seasonal appearance in the US, not to build higher border fences and otherwise make their crossing more dangerous.

But I would not bet on a successful outcome from this negotiation. After all, it has considerable Democratic support, and we all know that a Democrat in government is (in the opinion of many GOPers) an illegal non‑alien...

AP CEO Alleges DoJ Intimidation Of Sources By Seizure Of Journalists' Phone Records

Regular readers know I quote as little as possible from an AP story to avoid being harassed. So here is as little as possible from this story:
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department violated its own rules when it secretly seized records for thousands of phone calls to and from journalists for The Associated Press as part of a leak investigation, the head of the company said Wednesday.

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt told a luncheon gathering of journalists and others that the seizure was not only excessively broad, but that the department failed to notify AP in advance of the subpoena, as normally required. Department rules say a delay in notification is justified only if needed to protect the integrity of its investigation. Pruitt said that justification was unfathomable in this case.

Notwithstanding any fundamental guarantees to the contrary, any government has the raw power to manipulate the press's coverage of that government's actions. At some point, if the government exercises a sufficiently draconian influence (e.g., implicitly threatening to reveal a news organization's undisclosed sources to the public or to law enforcement, or implicitly threatening harassment of the undisclosed sources themselves), the press is no longer free to do its job, and the public lacks the ability to obtain information necessary to make intelligent decisions as it must in a free society. Are we there yet in America? I don't know, but it certainly seems to me that this seizure of journalists' communications records is a big step in a very wrong direction.

Has anybody noticed this is happening in a Democratic administration? "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss..."

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

FBI Director Mueller To Congress: Yes, We Do Use Drones Within The US

It seems to me I remember being told the FBI doesn't do this, wouldn't do this, etc.:
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, FBI Director Robert Mueller told lawmakers that his agency currently uses drones for surveillance.


Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) asked Mueller if the FBI uses drones on "U.S. soil."

"Yes," Mueller said. "Let me just put it in context. [In a] very, very minimal way. And very seldom."
Kind of reminds me of the Captain in Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore on his seasickness, his propensity to curse, etc.:
Crew: What, never?
Captain: No, never!
Crew: What, never?
Captain: Well, hardly ever!
Look: our government is systematically lying to us about the nature and degree of actions it is undertaking within our borders, directed at our own citizens, actions which may be in violation of the Bill of Rights. I submit that is unacceptable, even if it happens "[h]ardly ever!" And I strongly suspect it may actually be a bit more frequent than that...

House GOP Stirs Pot, Passes Absurd Anti-Abortion Bill

For GOP Tea Party use only!
When history has passed its inevitable judgment on the actions of the Tea Party-dominated GOP House, it is possible that its verdict will be, "They stirred the pot." Passing manifestly unconstitutional legislation that will not pass the Senate or survive a presidential veto seems a pretty ineffective way to run the nation, but it doubtless riles the base, which actually is the purpose. And hence the GOP House passed the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act." a bill that not only violates a woman's constitutionally protected right to choose abortion, starting at an absurdly early 20 weeks, but goes so far as to state its demonstrably false premise in the world's most awkward bill name.

Well, what do we expect of the Tea Party, anyway? Tea?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Senate Intel Committee Quashes Staffer's Interview On Oversight Process

We all know that when you enter the military, you check your fundamental rights at the door. But who knew the same was true for employees of the U.S. Senate. Brian Beutler of TPM:

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has taken the unusual step of actively blocking a former committee aide from talking to TPM about congressional oversight of the intelligence community. At issue isn’t classified sources and methods of intelligence gathering but general information about how the committee functions — and how it should function. The committee’s refusal to allow former general counsel Vicki Divoll to disclose unclassified information to a reporter was the first and only time it has sought to block her from making public comments, based on her experience as one of its most senior aides, since she left Capitol Hill in 2003.

Please note Ms. Divoll is prohibited from talking even about unclassified information.

The rest of the article does not reflect any better on the Committee. I suppose that's what one expects when the Senate has a committee focused on a topic it doesn't have any of. "Oh, the times, they are a-changin'..."

Monday, June 17, 2013


  • Shorts!
    Senator Schumer has latched onto the priority distraction issue of our century... DRUGS:
    Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Sunday that colleges need to crack down on "academic doping," or the use of stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin as a study aid.

    "There are better ways to pull an all-nighter and stay up. There's coffee, there's things like NoDoz," he told CBS affiliate WCBS in New York. "For somebody to call up and say 'well, my doctor prescribed it at home, send me pills, here's the prescription number...' that's not good enough...If a student gets 100 or 200 Adderall pills, even if they are legitimately entitled, they may lend a bunch to their friends."

    When the economy is in the tank, the public is scared shitless about terrorism, standards of living are rapidly declining for the 99% while the 1% soars far above everyone else... that's exactly the right time to talk about drugs, specifically, about making more drugs illegal. I always knew Schumer (D-NY) was smart, but I never fully realized how much of his smarts resides in his ass...

    How was it Bart Simpson put it? To the obvious tune...
    When I can't stop my fiddlin'
    I just takes me Ritalin
    I'm poppin' and sailin', man!
    Once, and only once, in my college days, I took a prescription strength stimulant, intending to stay up all night doing a blockbuster physics homework assignment. (What's that? Oh... I got the pill from my mother. Doctors handed them out like candy in those days.) I did stay up all night. I also walked around the double‑double block in our neighborhood three times in a row. But I did not get my homework done. Stimulants do not stimulate the intellect, they just keep you awake; most bright students realize that after using them a time or two. Schumer just needs to distract his constituents from the lousy economy that his (and my) political party has every opportunity to fix, but isn't fixing.

  • President Obama's approval rating plunges! Who'd 'a' thunk it... after his IRS is alleged to have targeted conservative groups (yeah, I know; they targeted other groups, too), his DoJ tried an old Republican trick of subpoenaing journalists' communications with sources, and his NSA (? well, whoever's NSA) appears to be surveilling every damned phone call and email and text message originating with or transmitted to an American, a CNN/ORC survey [.pdf] marked a precipitous drop in Obama's approval rating, from 53%-45% a month ago to 49%-51% now. Who knew Americans cared about the little things... taxes, privacy, warrantless searches... See the .pdf for a breakdown by issues.

  • Via Attaturk at FDL, The Guardian reports bad news from Iraq:
    A blistering string of apparently coordinated bombings and a shooting across Iraq killed at least 51 and wounded dozens Sunday, spreading fear throughout the country in a wave of violence that is raising the prospect of a return to widespread sectarian killing a decade after a U.S.-led invasion.
    Pretty soon, their deaths due to firearms will approach America's own...

Saturday, June 15, 2013

And Yet A Gun... Er, I Mean, Again

From TPMLiveWire:

If it's not full, you don't
have enough guns!
A 4-year-old boy is being treated at a hospital for non-life threatening injuries after being shot by a 5-year-old boy on Friday in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

According to WXII 12 News, the child found a gun in a closet and discharged it in what investigators are calling an accident. Police say an adult was present in the home at the time of the incident. The 4-year-old is recovering from a wound to the shoulder at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
(Bolds mine.)

"Have you got a gun in your [closet], or are you just glad to [shoot] me?"

I suppose in North Carolina it's an "accident" when the shot doesn't kill the other kid...

Here, kid, this'll give you a real "shot in the arm..."


Have we skipped an entire generation of parent training in basic firearm safety? Or am I growing cynical?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Gov. Goodhair Goes Nuts With Vetoes

Look what I can do
with my veto pen!
In a post-regular-session veto frenzy, Gov. Perry (R-TX) axed 26 bills from the regular session and several line items (yes, the Texas Guv can do that). Notable are line items providing funding for Travis County (i.e., Austin) public corruption investigations and prosecutions, and the Lilly Ledbetter act aimed at providing equal pay for equivalent work by women. (In Texas in 2012, women earned 85.6% of men's wages on average... earning Texas a fairly high rank nationally, but considering the difference ought to be zero, it's still hard to justify.) Other Perry vetoes included women's health and women's rights bills, as well as several education funding bills.

None of this will cost Perry politically. He and his wealthy handlers have a veritable lock on the Governor's Office. Don't expect any inroads to be made against corruption anytime soon.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Supreme Court Unanimous: Human Genes
Cannot Be Patented

AP via TPM has a few details.

Notwithstanding lower court decisions to the contrary, this is the only result that makes sense. The human genome is as old as H. sapiens, which is several hundreds of thousands of years old by most reasonable scientific estimates. Therefore, neither Myriad Genetics Inc. nor any other business entity or individual can claim to have invented the two genes related to breast cancer, only to have isolated and identified them.

That's a relief. I am glad to know I once again own my genes, or at least that no one else owns them. And to think I thought it was bad when someone in the 19th century managed to patent the telegraph magnet...

Thanks to the Supreme Court, in the picture above,
only the electrical components can be patented

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

iNSAnity Update

Most of these are from TPM:
... and, in the interest of justice, defendants' rights, and fair trials everywhere [/snark],
There was no way, ever, that Edward Snowden could have gotten a fair trial for what he admittedly did. But perhaps if his lawyer is any good, s/he can ply these outrageous statements by members of Congress into a dismissal.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Insert Usual Headline Here

Well, OK, the one atop the article at TPM is "4-Year-Old Boy Accidentally Shoots, Kills Army Vet Father In Arizona," but if you don't like those details, wait a week: without a doubt, it will happen again with different particulars.

This case is about as forgivable as possible: the boy and his father paid an unannounced visit to a friend 90 miles away; the boy found the gun, which was loaded but not locked up, and the rest... including his father... is history.

I don't know that I can even preach at these people. As one who lives with adults and typically has only adult visitors, I occasionally leave dangerous objects lying around... not guns, but kitchen knives, electric hair clippers plugged in near the bathroom sink, etc. ... that would take me a minute or two to remove from the sight of a curious four-year-old. The host was not charged with a crime, and that seems right to me, but I hope it gives him pause, along with other gun owners who read about the incident or see it on the evening news: just how much gun safety is enough gun safety? If we value the lives of children, it seems as if the answer is "more safety than you imagine necessary in your worst nightmare." Unload 'em, folks, and put 'em away when they're not in use... just don't take chances.

(OT, Firefox's spelling checker once again fucked me over, insisting that I use "forgiveable" instead of "forgivable." And once again, it's because some minor automatic update changed the spelling checker setting from en_US to en_GB. I never know just when it will decide to do that, and my intolerance grows every time it does...)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Why The US Government Never Metadata It Didn't Like

I once owned a cell phone like that...
It's pretty clear by now (thanks primarily to a British news org, The Guardian) that the US government not only allows itself to spy on massive numbers of American citizens who are not, as individuals, suspected of any wrongdoing, but also that it collects the data resulting from such spying and analyzes the resulting collection for patterns. With such "data mining" (look it up), the distinction between being highly critical of the government (which I frequently am) and plotting revolution or terrorism (which I am not) becomes unclear to certain kinds of people... often enough the kind of people in our government today.

These people, who include our duly elected President Obama, have a ready excuse asserting the innocuous nature of their surveillance: "We are only collecting the metadata," i.e., the packet wrappers, addressing information, duration of calls, etc., not the content.

As if you couldn't tell a Cadbury Fruit and Nut bar from a Snickers bar by the empty wrappers alone! Give me a break!

Putting aside the apparent fact that NSA, using its PRISM system, is apparently collecting content despite all claims to the contrary, two ACLU leaders, Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, and Ben Wizner, the director of that same ACLU project, writing for Reuters, give us a lucid explanation of why our government would collect "only" metadata. Here's an excerpt:

But any suggestion that Americans have nothing to worry about from this dragnet collection of communications metadata is wrong. Even without intercepting the content of communications, the government can use metadata to learn our most intimate secrets – anything from whether we have a drinking problem to whether we’re gay or straight. The suggestion that metadata is “no big deal” – a view that, regrettably, is still reflected in the law – is entirely out of step with the reality of modern communications.

So what exactly is metadata? Simply, if the “data” of a communication is the content of an email or phone call, this is data about the data – the identities of the sender and recipient, and the time, date, duration and location of a communication. This information can be extraordinarily sensitive. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study a few years back found that reviewing people’s social networking contacts alone was sufficient to determine their sexual orientation. Consider, metadata from email communications was sufficient to identify the mistress of then-CIA Director David Petraeus and then drive him out of office.

... Calls between a reporter and a government whistleblower, for example, may reveal a relationship that can be incriminating all on its own.

Repeated calls to Alcoholics Anonymous, hotlines for gay teens, abortion clinics or a gambling bookie may tell you all you need to know about a person’s problems. If a politician were revealed to have repeatedly called a phone sex hotline after 2:00 a.m., no one would need to know what was said on the call before drawing conclusions. ...


Please read the article: the details, as it turns out, are important.

UPDATE: upyernoz of rubber hose points us to a Slate article by Emma Roller containing a good introduction to Section 215 of the (2005 revised) PATRIOT Act, which is apparently the basis of the NSA PRISM program.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

American Citizen? You Are Probably Not In Jail, But You Are Almost Certainly In PRISM

The Guardian has revealed that NSA surveillance of American citizens is even worse than we expected:
The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.

The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called Prism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says.

(Bolds mine. - SB)

Fourth Amendment, revised version:
"The right of the peephole..."
So, Americans, your government has taken the greatest information sharing tool ever devised by humankind, and turned it into a secret peeping tool. Welcome to 1984. The TVs may not work in both directions in 2013 as they did in 1984, but that's only because there is less information to be gained on citizens by literally looking into their homes than by tracking their use of the Internet. Apparently this has been going on since the middle of the GeeDubya Bush administration, but the Obama administration has done... and as it has made publicly clear, will continue to do... nothing to stop it.

Civil liberties advocates... welcome to the world of your worst nightmares. Activists of all sorts... don't put anything on any Internet service (including, e.g., cloud backups of your hard drives) that you don't want to share with your government's spies. Apparently, since the demise of the old Soviet Union, they don't have enough to keep themselves busy, so they're going to watch us instead.

On the positive side, at least all this draconian spying on citizens has protected us from terrorism. Hasn't it? Oh, wait... [glances in the direction of Boston]

Afterthought: here's a bit more from the Guardian article:

The program facilitates extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information. The law allows for the targeting of any customers of participating firms who live outside the US, or those Americans whose communications include people outside the US.

It also opens the possibility of communications made entirely within the US being collected without warrants.

Apparently, no part of the Fourth Amendment is still viable.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Where You Go Plus Who You Phone Equals Who You Are: Secret Court Order Hands Verizon Records To NSA — UPDATED

It is "only" the metadata, i.e., packet data: the number and location of the phone making the calls. But that data, collected over a period of time, can tell the NSA practically everything it wants to know about you. Here's James Ball in The Guardian:


Discussing the use of GPS data collected from mobile phones, an appellate court noted that even location information on its own could reveal a person's secrets: "A person who knows all of another's travels can deduce whether he is a weekly churchgoer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups," it read, "and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts."

(Glenn Greenwald has more thoughts on what it all means.)

"[A]ll such facts." The NSA can now collect them. (I think it is reasonable to assume it's not just Verizon but at least all mobile phone companies and probably all phone companies in America.) You are where you go; you are who you phone: privacy is dead in America, and you have two presidential administrations to thank for that. The sound you hear is the nation's founders spinning in their graves.

UPDATE: The White House still thinks spying on us all without a warrant is a great idea. Maybe you should flood their mailboxes with letters telling them it isn't.

UPDATE: the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has accumulated a number of informative links together in one of their online periodical newsletters. They have also introduced me to a parody NSA logo, which they may have created...
Yep. That about says it... plugged in, tuned in, turned on and dropped out of public visibility.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Texas GOP Leadership Ready To Perpetrate Yet Another Redistricting Runaround

This is from a letter from the Texas HDCC (House Democratic Campaign Committee). I regret that it's not online for me to link. (I also regret that "online" is not in the Firefox spelling checker's dictionary. Is it too much to ask that Firefox reflect actual American English when I specify "en_US"?):


Governor Perry has called the Texas Legislature into Special Session to address redistricting. Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott are determined to force through redistricting maps before the courts have had a final say on numerous pending claims regarding intentional discrimination and violations of the Voting Rights Act.

The House Select Committee on Redistricting has announced it will hold public hearings across the state. Although notice is short on these hearings, we strongly encourage you to attend one near you.

Hearing dates, times, and locations include:

Thursday, June 6th, 2:00pm
DART Headquarters
1401 Pacific Ave, Dallas TX 75202

Monday, June 10th, 2:00pm
VIA Metro Center, Terry Eskridge Community Room
1021 San Pedro Ave, San Antonio TX 78212

Wednesday, June 12th, 2:00pm
University of Houston - Main Campus
Michael J. Cemo Hall, Room 100D
4800 Calhoun Rd, Houston TX 77004

In addition, the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting will hold the following field hearings:

Thursday, June 6th 9am
Texas State Capitol
Capitol Extension, Room E 1.036 (Finance)
Austin, TX

Friday, June 7th, 5pm
Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi
HRI Conference Center
6300 Ocean Drive, Corpus Christi, TX 78412

Saturday, June 8th 11am
University of Houston - Downtown
Michael J. Cemo Hall
4800 Calhoun Road, Houston, TX 77004

This is an urgent opportunity to organize and help block the rubber-stamping of State House and Congressional maps that do not adequately reflect the tremendous growth in the Latino and African American populations in Texas.

We look forward to seeing you at one of these important Redistricting Hearings.


Travis Brock
Executive Director, Texas HDCC
This is an open, baldfaced attempt by Gov. Goodhair Perry and AG Greg Abbott to circumvent the rulings they know they would get from courts in the various pending redistricting cases.

Texas is already long since a "majority minority" state, the "minority" in our case being Hispanic. Republicans know that. They also know that their prior attempts to bamboozle Hispanic-Americans in Texas into supporting a party whose attitude is "go back where you came from" (really? they want them to go back to San Antonio, Austin, Laredo, Houston, Dallas, etc. etc.?) has failed miserably. The only option the Texas GOP has (other than behaving sanely toward ethnic populations, something they are unwilling to do) is to coerce redistricting Texas into districts not reflective of the actual population of the state. And here we go again.

By my count this is the third time within two decades that Texas Rethuglicans have attempted an end-around forcible redistricting of the state. I've about had it with districts that run from one city to another, strung out along one side of a highway. If you have the opportunity, please attend one of the abovementioned meetings and participate in stuffing this fraud back down their goddamned throats.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

I Agree With Scalia's Dissent: Hell Must Be Freezing Over

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday in a case from Maryland involving the running of a suspect's DNA against a database of DNA collected in earlier unsolved crimes. Maryland law allows such collection, and the Supreme Court upheld the collection and use of one man's DNA in a rape case unrelated to the reason for his arrest. The ruling was a 5-4 decision, with Justice Antonin Scalia offering a strong dissent (rare for him these days) on Fourth Amendment grounds. From an editorial in the Los Angeles Times:

The 5-4 decision affirmed the rape conviction of Alonzo King, from whom a DNA sample was drawn in 2009 after he was arrested for menacing a group of people with a shotgun. When his DNA profile was fed into a database of unsolved crimes, it matched DNA taken from the scene of a rape in 2003. He was charged and ultimately convicted of that crime.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's majority opinion disingenuously suggested that swabbing King's cheek for DNA was reasonable given "the need for law enforcement officers in a safe and accurate way to process and identify the persons and possessions they must take into custody."

But, as Justice Antonin Scalia noted in a devastating dissent, there was no real question about King's identity or, for that matter, his address or date of birth. The real purpose of acquiring his DNA and entering it into a database was to see if King could be linked to other crimes.

In other words, Mr. King was convicted as a result of a computer-driven "fishing expedition" in which a cheek swab taken in connection with a completely unrelated crime was used to connect King with a rape with which, to that point, he had not been charged, or even suspected.

In America, in theory, we may not "round up all the usual suspects" as a means of identifying the perpetrator of a crime. Testing every individual stopped for any kind of violation... threats, thefts, even traffic stops... for DNA matching an unrelated crime for which there is no reasonable suspicion of the individual's perpetration of that crime... is, one would think, a violation of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of "unreasonable searches". One might also think it compels the suspect to testify against himself, giving bodily fluids when there is no reasonable suspicion that the suspect has committed that particular crime. An American defendant's protections in court include a requirement that the charge be laid with great specificity.

This is not about whether rape is ever acceptable. It is never acceptable. No, this is about what means can be used against which individuals to determine who committed a rape. Searching every male who comes into the police department for whatever reason to see if he might, by chance, be a rapist is far outside the pale... or at least it was until this extreme Supreme Court ruling. Our justice system requires a certain order of things: reasonable suspicion, evidence obtained by a warrant based on that suspicion, trial (if the evidence justifies it), conviction, punishment. Skipping steps in this protocol is certain to wreak injustices in some serious cases. What of every other male whose DNA was tested in connection with this particular earlier crime? Where were their Fourth Amendment rights?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Third ^Political^ Branch Of Government

In the past, it was not uncommon to see the Executive and Legislative branches of the US Government referred to as the political branches, said with the strong implication that the Judicial branch was not. These days, the Supreme Court scarcely even pretends not to be political. As a distressing example (distressing to me, at least), consider this article by Sahil Kapur of TPM about the upcoming Supreme Court decisions on cases involving affirmative action:
The Supreme Court is expected to rule soon — possible as early as Monday — on the constitutionality of affirmative action in an important case about the diversity-based admission policies of the University of Texas, Austin.

And some court watchers believe the justices have already tipped their hands on the outcome of the ruling, signaling that they will overturn UT’s policy on narrow grounds this year and quash the core legal basis for affirmative action in an upcoming ruling.

The pending case, Fisher v. University of Texas, is about the validity of UT’s affirmative action policy, which it uses to admit minority students who didn’t automatically qualify for admission by graduating near the top of their high school class. It was brought in 2008 by Abigail Noel Fisher, who alleged that she was unfairly denied admission to the university because she’s white.

With five justices hostile to affirmative action, it’s widely expected that UT’s race-based admission policy will be struck down. The question is whether the Supreme Court will take it a step further and also overturn Grutter v. Bollinger, the landmark 2003 ruling validating the use of race as one of many factors in the university admissions process.

More and more, the Constitution's meaning as applied in legal cases is not a matter of "original intent," nor of textual "ordinary meaning," nor of a dynamic "loose constructionism." Rather, it seems to me, constitutional interpretation by our current Supreme Court is a purely political act, a matter of "whatever I feel like today that advances my [i.e., the Justice's] personal political views." Any notion of the Supreme Court as a nonpolitical body, a counterweight to the intentionally political Presidency and Congress, is very difficult to justify. And the current Supreme Court, as a political body, splits 5‑4 against affirmative action.

Something has been lost, and it has been lost directly as a result of the Republican Party's decision since approximately the Ronald Reagan era to appoint Supreme Court Justices on a purely political basis. As Democratic presidents seem not to be willing to play the game that way... Clinton and Obama have appointed "centrist" (i.e., politically moderately conservative) Justices... we are condemned to a Court leaning further and further to the political Right. Consideration of issues such as affirmative action, once thought to be constitutional matters of fundamental rights, are now regarded as nothing but politics, deserving a purely political resolution by the Supreme Court.

Welcome to our new world order. Enjoy your stay!

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