Friday, January 31, 2014

Harvard/CUNY Study: Thousands Of Deaths Will Be Attributable To States Refusing To Expand Medicaid

Dylan Scott at TPM:
As many as 17,000 Americans will die directly as a result of states deciding not to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, according to a new study.

Researchers from Harvard University and City University of New York have estimated that between 7,115 and 17,104 deaths will be "attributable to the lack of Medicaid expansion in opt-out states" in a study published in Health Affairs.

"The results were sobering," Samuel Dickman, one of the authors, said, according to the Morning Call. "Political decisions have consequences, some of them lethal."

They projected that 423,000 fewer diabetics would receive medication to treat their disease. If opt-out states had expanded Medicaid, 659,000 women who are in need of mammograms and 3.1 million women who should receive regular pap smears would have become insured, the study found.

"Low-income adults in states that have opted out of Medicaid expansion will forego gains in access to care, financial well-being, physical and mental health, and longevity that would be expected with expanded Medicaid coverage," the authors wrote.

Texas is such a state. Any of us here could be among the misfortunates. How about your state?

This man...

...implements this policy...

...killing THOUSANDS of these people.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hunger — In America

Stella works a half-day on Thursday. (Really? that's what you think? You try to find a full-time job with full benefits in America today.) When she got home, she was pretty hungry, and said, I assume you've already had lunch? No, said I, but I'm not quite hungry yet. Stella went on to prepare something for herself; after a while, I finally felt the urge and heated up some veggie chili (who knew Hormel made a decent non-meat product as well). Now neither one of us is hungry.

That conversation, and that conclusion, are by no means universal in American households today: lunch or no‑lunch is often enough a big deal. Congress just axed food stamps (part of SNAP) for everyone, to save the taxpayers' money... $8 billion of it, as I'm sure Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Hunger) would tell you. That's biiiig bucks, right? Wrong! As Laura Clawson at Daily Kos finds, using CEPR's Responsible Budget Reporting Calculator, that's 0.04 percent of federal spending. A micro‑drop in the feral budget bucket... but all the food some families get to eat. A great trade, eh? Maybe if you're a well-off GOPer it's a great deal, but if you've been pounding pavement for months on end looking for work, that might not be the way you'd put it. These days, cruelty has a name, and its acronym is G‑O‑P.

When I think of hunger due to poverty, I think of my sainted father. Now he and his family experienced genuine hunger in the Great Depression. Dad's father was part of a road‑building crew in Arkansas; Dad used to say that to the extent technological facility is inheritable, mine came from my granddad: reputedly he could disassemble a piece of road equipment in situ on the job, fix it, put it back together and get things going again in a hurry. Unfortunately, I never met my paternal grandfather: he skipped out on his family, his wife and three growing boys. All the boys took part-time jobs at night, but even that was barely enough. Dad described meals at home: if you wanted two chops, not just one, you'd better take both the first time the platter was passed, because the platter was always empty after one time around. Dad got a lot of grief from his brothers (particularly the youngest) for going to college, even though Dad saw to it that the family was never out one penny for his doing so. (As a consequence of his college degree, Dad, when W.W.II came along, entered the Navy at officer level, for which the youngest brother again gave him grief. Some people cannot be pleased.)

Dad gave up his football scholarship after his sophomore year. After that, he skipped a lot of meals in his junior and senior years... and, as he told it, made his best grades ever in that period. That notwithstanding, when he married and started a family of his own, he was determined to see to it that we never went hungry. And we never did. And so far, I still haven't missed any meals for lack of means to pay for them. But who knows what this Great Recession, even if it's truly over, will spell for my declining years. As President Obama ought to understand, but seems not to, hunger is an ever-present danger for a family in an alleged free-market economy, and we have the Koch Brothers and their Tea Party doing their damnedest to make sure that's exactly what we experience.

Here's to food. May you never lack it! May no one ever starve!

A Lot Of Reading Today To Inspire You And To Exasperate You

Pete Seeger
before HUAC
First, via BOHICA at Daily Kos (you all know what BOHICA stands for, right?), we have the late great Pete Seeger's testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1957. The result, which BOHICA takes from the wiki, was this:
Seeger's refusal to testify led to a March 26, 1957, indictment for contempt of Congress; for some years, he had to keep the federal government apprised of where he was going any time he left the Southern District of New York. He was convicted in a jury trial of contempt of Congress in March 1961, and sentenced to 10 years in jail (to be served simultaneously), but in May 1962 an appeals court ruled the indictment to be flawed and overturned his conviction.
And now let's sing a rousing rendition of "Have You Been to Jail for Justice?" I must answer "no"; the late lamented Mr. Seeger could have answered an emphatic "YES"!

Amber, Wendy, Dru Davis
Next, Kos brings us a pair of letters from Wendy Davis's daughters regarding Wendy's parenting skills, much-maligned by... can you believe it?... Bristol Palin. Not surprisingly, Davis's daughters not only love her but have immense respect for her and her parenting. Here's a sample from Dru Davis:
I love that my mom went to law school and was dedicated to both her work and us. Watching her work so hard to achieve something great has been one of the most important lessons in my life. To this day, I watch my mom greeted and hugged by people who love her and are thankful for things she has done for them. I am proud of her for that. Both of my parents made sacrifices to make education happen for all of us, my sister and me included. And both of them have been great role models for what it means to care about people in the world. ,,,
Considering what Bristol Palin turned out to be, specifically, a not-bright Republican daughter of an even-less-bright Republican governor prone to lying her a$$ off, I think the "parenting skills" allegation is being leveled at the wrong politician. Anyone who says Wendy Davis is a bad parent who abandoned her kids can now cease blathering and go straight to Hell.

(Daily Kos is on a roll today. I may have more from them; watch this space.)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Don't Watch The Speech: Read The Transcript

Neither of us in Our House plans to watch the SOTU speech. At his best, President Obama can be an enthralling speaker. But the moment you contemplate the original meaning of the word "enthrall," you'll understand why it is best not to watch the speech.

Forget your real-time response... it's not worth it. Don't be enthralled. Read the transcript and respond primarily analytically, not in the way Mr. Obama doubtless hopes you will respond. You'll notice more details, more choices of word or phrase, more deliberate obfuscations... in other words, you'll come closer to the true content of the speech. It may not be as much fun; it may not be a feel-good experience... but you'll learn something.

It's finally reliably, steadily cold here, by Houston standards, 30°F, with a forecast high of 34°F and a low tonight of 26°F. The seats, backs and arms of the patio chairs are visibly iced over right now. As recently as last weekend, we were comfortably sitting out there, wearing long sleeves, reading... and we probably will be out there again this weekend. But not right now, thank you...

'Angry Birds', Insufficiently Angry People

DSWright of FDL tells us how NSA uses the low security of games such as Angry Birds on cell phones to accumulate information about their users... probably mostly children. If you're worried about whether your neighbor's five-year-old is secretly an al Qaeda terrorist, relax... the NSA has the kid covered. If you think worrying about five-year-olds perpetrating terrorist acts is fucking nuts, you may have reservations about the NSA's "gather info, all of it, on everyone, all the time" attitude.

Pete Seeger (1919 — 2014)

I has a sad. :-( And yet... and yet... what a life he led!

Are you a young person who doesn't know about him? The wiki is a decent summary of his long and fruitful life. Believe me... you could do worse for a role model.

The 113th Congress: A Splendid Argument For MORE Government

Jon Walker of FDL:

Last year we experienced a truly do nothing Congress and it was awful. When Congress didn’t meet its bare minimum requirements the government shut down and the entire economy was threatened. Everything from planning ahead vacations to milk prices becomes problematic.

This year though is shaping up be a do almost nothing Congress. The government funding bill was passed with little fanfare. The farm bill is moving forward. It also looks like the debt ceiling with be raised with only moderate bellyaching and grandstanding from Republicans. Congress is set to do the minimum necessary to keep things running, but nothing more.

America's founders planned for as much as they could in framing our Constitution, but one thing I don't believe they anticipated is monkeywrenching: deliberate misfeasance on the part of one or another political party or faction. At present, the Republican-controlled Congress is in its second session of making government work as badly as possible, perceiving political advantage in the next election in doing so.

Back in the day when I had regular contact with Republicans... that is, when I was doing contract work in the "awl bidness" ... I suffered endless lectures over lunch from people who claimed to favor "less government." Occasionally I would ask them to give examples of the problem they were referring to. Without exception, no one ever mentioned the possibility of monkeywrenching of the sort we see today. But that has become the GOP's sole interpretation of "less government." Mitch McConnell stated at the beginning of Obama's first term that for his Congress, "job one" was to prevent Obama's second term. That having failed, his and other Republicans' "job one" now seems to be to punish Obama... and by proxy, the American people... for Obama's second term. And so they drag their feet (and their knuckles; see Alan Grayson's famous line above). That is the priority of Republican leadership, and far and away the primary source of America's economic problems today. (Obama is not helping matters, but as Stella often says, he's just a Republican in disguise.)

And so the very real economic and other challenges Americans face today continue unaddressed by our government. The clear answer to many of these problems is not less government but more. If Americans want more help from their government, they're going to have to dump the GOP in the next election, particularly the radicals in the House. I'm not placing any bets on that happening.

Enforce The Fourth Amendment Through NSA's Power, Water Supplies?

Norman Soloman at FDL says quite a few states are contemplating just that:
People Power!

Organizers have begun to push for action by state legislatures to impede the electric, water and other services that sustain the NSA’s secretive outposts.

Those efforts are farthest along in the state of Washington, where a new bill in the legislature — the Fourth Amendment Protection Act — is a statutory nightmare for the NSA. The agency has a listening post in Yakima, in the south-central part of the state.

The bill throws down a challenge to the NSA, seeking to block all state support for NSA activities violating the Fourth Amendment. For instance, that could mean a cutoff of electricity or water or other state-government services to the NSA site. And the measure also provides for withholding other forms of support, such as research and partnerships with state universities.

Ah, the good folks of the state of Washington; more power to them!

Congress will doubtless put an end to such bills, but they are a good way to send a defiant message: Americans really, really don't want their own government to spy on them, in bulk, without a warrant. And perhaps it is also a reminder to the NSA that their operation is more fragile than they may realize.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Wealthy In America: Perception And Reality

Josh Marshall, editor of TPM, undertakes to explain the vast chasm between the reality of the lives of wealthy Americans and their own perceptions of themselves as put upon, unjustly condemned, morally superior to people of lesser means, the standard-bearers of the American economy, etc. Marshall addresses the fact that, while President Obama has, in real life, done almost everything the 1% could possibly have hoped for... bailed out their corporations even as those corporations engaged in the most destructive, ineffective economic behavior, declined to prosecute or even investigate those whose actions either verged on or actually engaged in outright illegality in pursuit of ever greater profits... but Obama himself is remembered by Wall Street almost entirely for a half dozen purely political declarations aimed at recapturing his base in election years and scarcely followed up on in his terms of office that followed. Marshall's essays on the subject are to be found in posts titled The Brittle Grip, part 1 and part 2. These can be read independently; if you have time to read only one, read part 2.

Marshall is an interesting middle-of-the-road Democrat, a former blogger who actually succeeded in his ambition to turn his blog into a small but sustainable media "empire" of sorts. Back when he was a blogger and I was a rank-and-file Democrat, I corresponded with him for a year or two. It was simultaneously a rewarding and exasperating experience, much as I imagine those who actually engage Mr. Obama experience when they face him. Marshall understands politics probably as well as Obama, but both seem to have little deep comprehension of the left side of the American political spectrum. Marshall is at least interested in understanding the left as a phenomenon even if he has no desire to participate in it; Obama, on the other hand, seems to perceive the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party as a force to be coped with and manipulated into supporting his own political aims. It is the nature of political analysis versus political office-holding that distinguishes the behavior of the president from even the most supportive journalists, which under ordinary circumstances I believe would include Josh Marshall. But apparently Obama is interested only in the functional support, not in the alignment of philosophical/political positions with his own. This is certain to bring him grief to one degree or another. Marshall's posts on the nature of both the positions and the inevitable conflicts are worth your time to read.

I still find myself not even a tiny bit more aligned with President Obama's sociopolitical views than I was before he was elected to a second term (with my vote, I admit). As surely as Obama will never have the ideological support of the Tea Party no matter what he does or says, he will also never fully gain the ideological support of what the late great Paul Wellstone used to call "the democratic wing of the Democratic Party": Obama is simply too conservative to capture their spirit.
And I am not sure that wing of the Democratic Party can survive the utter neglect it is experiencing in this peculiar Democratic-but-not-democratic administration. As for us unabashed liberals, the good Dog help us all, because Mr. Obama never will.

There! Snow Business, Like No Business, Like No Business I Know...

Remind me: what city am I living in? From NWS:

Tonight Cloudy, with a low around 29. Wind chill values between 20 and 25. Northeast wind around 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.
TuesdayFreezing rain and sleet likely before noon, then a chance of flurries and sleet. Cloudy, with a high near 33. Wind chill values between 20 and 25. North wind around 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New ice accumulation of less than a 0.1 of an inch possible. Little or no snow accumulation expected.
A slight chance of snow, freezing rain, and sleet before 9pm. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 26. Wind chill values between 15 and 20. North wind 10 to 15 mph. Chance of precipitation is 10%.
WednesdayMostly sunny, with a high near 44. Wind chill values between 15 and 25. North wind 5 to 10 mph becoming southeast in the afternoon.
Houston? Nah... yer bullshittin' me!

UPDATE about 10:20pm: it's looking a little better. Still, HISD is closing schools, HPL is closing city libraries; Her Honor the Mayor has voiced her fear that people will manage to get to work and then be unable to get home, and Stella's employer... still hasn't canceled, damn it.

Too Symbolic Of Our Times

Two children, standing next to Pope Francis in a window of the Apostolic Palace, release two doves as tens of thousands of people watch from St. Peter's Square. What happens next is not exactly a symbol of peace in our time...

The Silliest Sherlock Of Them All

If you missed tonight's episode of the BBC-PBS series Sherlock, "The Sign of Three," in Houston this week you have four more chances:
Monday, January 27, 09:00 am on SD8.2

  • Monday 1/27 9:00am channel 8.2,
  • Monday 1/27 9:00pm channel 8.2,
  • Thursday 1/30 10:00pm channel 8.1,
  • Friday 1/31 2:30am channel 8.1

(Episode approx. 1½ hours long; better record 2 hours.)

I kid you not: writers and cast (not least, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman) clearly have a ball rendering this indisputably most ridiculous Holmes story ever written or acted. Dr. Watson's and Mary Morstan's wedding feast, at which Holmes is called upon to give the best man's speech, is transformed into a murder mystery, which Sherlock, through a seemingly endless series of flashbacks, eventually solves. Well worth your time. Take it as entertainment, not hardcore serious sherlockiana. Great fun!

Mary Morstan, Dr. John Watson, Sherlock Holmes

Monday, January 27, 09:00 am on SD8
Monday, January 27, 09:00 am on SD8.2

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Republican Response To SOTU To Be Delivered By Congresswoman Mom Holding Her Two‑Month‑Old

Just read about it; I don't feel like retelling the story. If the kid does what kids often do, we're going to see the truth about the Republican Potty... <grin_duck_run />

It Isn't Good, Norwegian Wood Warning

Dean Baker at Beat the Press (his blog at CEPR) passes on a warning from a Norwegian economist, University of Oslo Professor Marcus Hagedorn, whose study of employment records in North Carolina shows an utter disaster following the election of a Republican governor:
Brad Plummer calls our attention to a study by an economist at the University of Oslo showing that employment in North Carolina plummeted immediately following the election of Republican Governor Pat McCrory. According to the study, whose lead author is University of Oslo Professor Marcus Hagedorn, employment fell by 295,000 or 7.0 percent in the three months from November, 2012 to February, 2013. This plunge in employment was associated with a 5.3 percentage point drop in the employment to population ratio and a 6.3 percentage point decline in the labor force participation rate.

This falloff in employment is far sharper than even the worst period following the collapse of Lehman in 2008. In the worst three month period following the collapse the employment population ratio fell by just 1.1 percentage point, just over one-fifth of the drop seen following the election of Governor McCrory.

Vote for a Republican governor at your own risk!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Marcy Wheeler Offers More Analysis Of The PCLOB Report

Here. emptywheel's assessment begins thus:
PCLOB tells us that the FISA Court approved a new automated query system (versions appear to have been in development for years, and it replaced the automated alert system from 2009) in late 2012 that permitted all the 3-degree contact chains off all RAS-approved identifiers to be dumped into the corporate store at once where they can be combined with data collected under other authorities (presumably including both EO 12333 and FAA) for further analysis.
[extended quote from the PCLOB report; please read at emptywheel's site at the link above]

On December 27, 2012, Jeff Merkley gave a speech in support of his amendment to the FISA Amendments Act that would push to make FISC decisions public. It referenced both the backdoor loophole (which John Bates extended to NSA and CIA in 2011, was implemented in 2012, and affirmed by the Senate Intelligence Committee in June 2012) and the language underlying the phone dragnet. Merkley suggested the government might use these secret interpretations to conduct wide open spying on Americans.
[another extended quote from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR).]
The point, in brief, is that we are being forced to live under a secret law, and that secret law may be in direct conflict with our constitutional rights in the powers it secretly grants to the intelligence agencies. Please note how Sen. Merkley is compelled to tiptoe around the whole issue by stating things as conditionals because he is probably prohibited from stating them outright in a public forum.

Sen. Jeff Merkley
This is not the America I grew up in. That America at least once rejected firmly the secret spying on American citizens undertaken by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI for purposes that were never freely debated by Congress and authorized by the President, purposes whose constitutionality was highly questionable at best. Nearly five decades later, here we are again: different intelligence agency; vastly advanced technology... but the same old bullshit subverting the same rights and liberties of the American people. What is it going to take to put a stop to the American surveillance state? Will I... will any of us... live to see the day it is shut down for good?

AFTERTHOUGHT: To the best of my knowledge, I am no relation to Judge John Deacon Bates, or indeed to any other George W. Bush appointee.

Bruce Schneier: Income Inequality As A Security Issue

Here. Boy, do the tighty-righties poop in their drawers in the comment thread!

Weather Insanity

The temp in Houston, which was just barely freezing, just went down another degree F. The NWS extended the possibility of freezing precip from 9:00 A.M. to noon. Ice on roads is minimal now, but it isn't melting. Many overpasses, both freeways and city streets, are iced over. Houston ISD has closed all its schools, as have many other local school districts. METROlift isn't running. Many METRO buses are delayed. In short, most large institutions in Houston recognize we are simply not equipped to continue business-as-usual in this weather.

Stella's workplace refuses to shut down. It's in the Texas Medical Center. No, it's not a hospital or other medical treatment facility.

I admit this scares me. Stella and I just debated whether there's an overpass of any sort between here and there; I seem to remember one ground-level overpass. But it looks likely she will go in anyway. Keep your fingers crossed...

And it just dropped another degree F while I wrote this...

UPDATE 10:45 A.M. Stella is home. The one door at work that she is able to enter was blocked with yellow tape. She has since received a text that her boss, with whom she was to meet, was unable to come in because of frozen overpasses. I confess I'm very relieved she's home.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

PCLOB Report: NSA Actions Not In Compliance With US Law, May Be Unconstitutional

I didn't know President Obama had created a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) as an alleged watchdog over the intrinsic conflicts between the surveillance state (once primarily the FBI; now mainly the NSA) and our constitutionally protected civil liberties (including, at least implicitly, privacy) embodied, among other places, in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, until today, when PCLOB released a report (.pdf, 238pp). I say "alleged" because the Board voted 3-2 to release today's report along what can only reasonably be called partisan lines: the two NO votes were by former members of the Bush 43 Justice Department, which never met a civil liberty it didn't dislike.

Fortunately for my tired eyes, Bryan of Why Now? has collected, in one post, links to a number of important sources analyzing the report, and I am going to send you to him forthwith. Oh, maybe I'll suggest an order to read the posts and articles Bryan links: BBC, Lambert, Charlie Pierce, and last of all, emptywheel. It is rare indeed that I place emptywheel's material last, but it is a detailed indexed annotation of the report, and unless you read the report itself, you will have more context for EW's annotations if you read the other posts and articles first.

CORRECTION: the PCLOB was created by statute, 42 U.S.C. § 2000ee(c)(1).

You Couldn't Make This Stuff Up — You Don't Have To; Mike Huckabee Does It For You

Daniel Strauss at TPM:

Huckabee: Gov't Shouldn't Help Women Who Can't Control Libidos

Daniel Strauss – January 23, 2014, 1:47 PM EST

Mike "Angel" Huckabee

I think i'd rather fuckabee
Than ever vote for Huckabee!
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) said that the government shouldn't help women who can't control their "libido or their reproductive system" by providing co-pay-free birth control and that Democrats are encouraging women to be "victims of their gender."

Huckabee made the comments during a speech at the Republican National Committee's winter meeting on Thursday.

"If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government then so be it! Let us take that discussion all across America because women are far more than the Democrats have played them to be," Huckabee said.

... et cetera, ad nauseam...

Ah, yes, the GOP: the party of men who hate women and women who hate themselves; the party of men who deny the existence of spousal rape or pretty much any other kind of rape; the party of people who think of sin ceaselessly, but always only other people's sin; the party of men who, seeing anyone else in a bad situation, are just certain they (the other people) would behave worse than that GOPer in the same situation!

In short, the GOP is the party of arrogant scumbags... and Huckabee epitomizes them.

Bush Jr. Admin Officials Running For Office

Via ellroon, from Booman: you thought you were finally done with GeeDubya in 2008? Dream on. Doubtless counting on the American electorate's notoriously short memories, many former Bush administration officials are now running for office. I'll let Booman tell you about it; I'm still disinclined to spoil my day by thinking about it too hard.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

‘Winter Is I-Cumin In, Lhude Sing Goddamn!’

... ancient music, by Ezra Pound, who else.

Last year, Houston did not have even its usual hint of winter. This year, this early, tomorrow night in particular, we are forecast to have only a mild freeze, 29°F, but nonetheless a "wintry mix," with "rain, freezing rain and sleet likely" (all that is from NWS). By Saturday, things return to Houston-normal for the time of year, high-50°s F to low-40°s F. But between now and then we are planning to spend as much time as possible at home. (Stella, unfortunately, has to go to work.) You'd think that at least if we have to have a wintry mix we could enjoy a day of snow... but noooo; all the punishment of winter with none of the reward. Oh well. Probably next year this time we'll see mid-70°s F. Things are crazy, and I'm afraid the crazy has moved in for the duration...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

US DoE To Allow Radioactive Waste From A-Bomb Making To Be Recycled Into Your... Spoons?

From Consortium News (one among many sources):

In something of a stealth maneuver during the 2012 holiday season, the U.S. Department of Energy set about to give every American a little more radiation exposure, and for some a lot, by allowing manufacturers to use radioactive metals in their consumer products – such as zippers, spoons, jewelry, belt buckles, toys, pots, pans, furnishings, bicycles, jungle gyms, medical implants, or any other metal or partly-metal product.

New slogan: Put some extra rads in your morning cereal! This has to be the stupidest thing I've heard proposed implemented in a long time. Who knows; maybe it's safe to expose literally everyone including kids to very low levels of radiation continuously and indefinitely... but why take that chance? The crazy, it burns...

MLK And Morning Miscellany

Some articles about the great man (yes, I'm a day late); some about some not-so-great men and one equally not-so-great woman:
and last and not least,
Paraphrasing the shortest Bible verse, "MLK wept."

Monday, January 20, 2014

‘Though He Might Be More Humble, There's No Police Like Holmes’

A couple of sources attribute that quotation to E. W. Hornung, who was Conan Doyle's brother-in-law and creator of Raffles. Various other versions of the quote go at least back to the early-to-mid-1970s; Mother Google will tell you those.

Recently (perhaps 2011), noted Sherlockian and then-fledgling novelist Dan Andriacco titled his first novel No Police Like Holmes, which I have every good intention of finding and reading shortly. Also recently, I've read Graham Moore's book, The Sherlockian, another mystery novel centered on a murder in connection with a national meeting of the Baker Street Irregulars, a membership-by-invitation-only society of Sherlock Holmes scholars and other serious students.

As the subject quote apparently dates from Conan Doyle's lifetime, and as my own readings of Sherlockiana are at least broad if not deep, I think no one will object if I title my own sidebar entry of Sherlock-related items I've read "No Police Like H•lmes," the '•' to avoid search-engine confusion with Andriacco's doubtless fine work. With luck, this will provide me a place to vent material completely (well, mostly) unrelated to today's unbearable political situation. If it proves easier, or if readers are in the least interested in commenting, I'll probably create another blog. But for now I'll keep it simple... a list of recently read or in-progress Holmes-related works. Give me a day or two to get this going.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Obama's Speech: The Oh-Dash-It-All Of Hope

Bryan points us to five analyses of the President's speech on "reforms" of US intelligence practices. All are worth your time, but if you have time to read just one, read emptywheel's interleaved annotation of the text of the speech itself.

The short version: any hope that Mr. Obama would make substantive changes to NSA practices rather than merely spouting platitudes using all the right words amounts to... Zero. Ain't gonna happen. "Trust me," says Mr. Obama... who then gives us every reason not to do so.

I may have more to say, on this or on other issues. Or I may just hang it up. Now might be a good time to subscribe to my feed; I certainly don't feel like posting daily in the next few days.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

There's Nothing Tea Party, Christian Right Won't Do To Make Abortion Unavailable...

... as Janet Reitman at Rolling Stone tells us, unavailable no matter what the circumstances:
  • even in cases of rape or incest, the old traditional Republican exceptions. Today's self-righteous bastards engage in a collective shrugging of shoulders; they're sure a woman can't get pregnant from rape, and if she does, it must be God's will,
  • even in cases where the woman is medically liable to die if she doesn't have an abortion, no exception there, either.
... and they're happy to make the circumstances such that an abortion is unavailable:
  • even if paid for with private insurance,
  • even if the pregnancy is so recent that it's not yet reached the traditional medical viability age.
  • even if Roe v. Wade acknowledges a constitutional protection nationwide for a woman's right to choose abortion, even far exceeding the relatively reasonable restrictions Roe places on that right,
  • especially if the clinic or its doctors lack hospital admitting privileges,
  • especially if the wingnuts can manage to cause clinics within reasonable driving distances to close down,
  • especially if the Right-wing nutjobs can coerce or browbeat a woman into suffering a plethora of medically needless procedures (transvaginal ultrasounds, etc.)
You say your religion does not oppose abortion, and your insurance would pay for it? That doesn't matter to them, either. The efforts of the Tea Party and the radical religious Right are directed at only one thing: forcing every woman in America to comply with the Right's religious views, not the women's personal religious views... the wing-nuts, in the process, often invoking the First Amendment, which they say protects their "right" to impose their views on other women, even to the point of killing them!

As the battle for preservation of a woman's right to choose abortion (which the Right opposes even under the most dire medical circumstances) moves from the federal courts and Roe to the states and radical Republican-controlled legislatures, the task of pro-choice individuals changes from winning cases in the federal courtroom including the Supreme Court to winning control of the state legislatures in currently GOP-controlled states. In short, we must focus on the chambers of those legislatures and empty them of Republicans. It is highly preferable to accomplish this by election rather than by emptying a different kind of chamber, though the latter is in the style and tradition of the anti-abortion fanatics... I'm referring to their murders of abortion doctors.

I hope we are sane enough not to take it to that extreme even if the right-wing nutjobs take it there. But the incremental legislative removal of American women's rights must be brought to a halt... one way or another. Our goals should be threefold:
  • every pregnancy a healthy event for the mother,
  • every born child a wanted child,
  • every wanted child born as healthy as possible.
There's no reason to settle for less!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Death Threats Against Wendy Davis... In Comments On Texas AG Greg Abbott's Facebook Page!

Kos has the details, including a snippet of the comments containing death threats. I'm sorry, but that's not how we do politics in the USA, not even in Texas. Find the guy and fucking lock him away for long enough to discourage this deeply stupid behavior.

In FL Movie Theater During Previews: Man Texting, Ex‑Cop Tells Him To Stop, Man Throws Popcorn, Cop Whips Out Gun And Shoots Him Dead. 'Stand Your Ground'?

Via BadTux, from Christian Science Monitor:

Florida theater shooting: Will suspect's age open door to ‘stand your ground’?

Curtis Reeves was charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of a man in a Florida movie theater after officials decided 'stand your ground' didn't apply. But his age, 71, could create leeway.


Curtis Reeves, the retired police captain who allegedly shot and killed a man who threw popcorn at him at a showing of “Lone Survivor” near Tampa on Monday, will remain in jail after a judge denied a bond request Tuesday.

Mr. Reeves was charged with second-degree murder after Pasco County, Fla., law enforcement officials considered and rejected the notion that the shooting of 43-year-old Chad Oulson inside the Wesley Chapel, Fla., movieplex was justified under the state’s hotly-debated “stand your ground” law, ...

The possible hitch is that Reeves's age, 71, may create leeway in how much threat is required to make him feel in serious danger. Two things come to my mind:

1) Reeves is a retired cop, and his gun was carried legally. But that should make him less inclined, not more, to resort to firing shots in a theater. I can't imagine most cops would whip out their guns when someone throws popcorn at them, even if they threw the whole bag at them. Good judgment is an absolutely essential ingredient in the makeup of a qualified law enforcement officer.

2) The cop felt mortally threatened, even though he looks like... this?

Jeebus! Why would that man, armed or not, fear any living person?

Face it: "stand your ground" is a flawed law. In at least its most famous application to date (George Zimmerman killing Trayvon Martin), the law seems to require no clear standard of exercise of judgment on the part of the person standing his/her ground. Somehow that needs to be fixed, before we end up with a lot of Floridians dead and a lot of marginally homicidal individuals set free by the law.

You Can't Say Washington, DC Doesn't Have High Standards

Jon Walker at FDL:

D.C. Residents Want Full Legalization

By: Jon Walker Wednesday January 15, 2014 10:28 am

According to a new Washington Post poll, 63 percent of adults in the District favor legalizing marijuana for personal use while only 34 percent oppose legalization. This represents an impressive 17 point increase in support for legalization in just the past four years.

Even among the minority who think marijuana should technically remain illegal there is strong support for dramatically reducing penalties for possession. ... [About 16% of the total - SB]

Together this means 79 percent of the District wants marijuana either legalized or at least decriminalized. D.C. clearly has one of the most pro-marijuana reform electorates in the country.
High government officials were quoted as saying... uh, let me restate that...

Damn it all, I've still never tried the stuff. I hope to live long enough to see it legalized, though by then I probably will already have lost my memory and will not have money for three square meals a day, let alone quality weed. And I'm about a hundred percent certain I still won't want to put anything in my mouth that is lighted on the other end!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Trans-Pacific Partnership — If It Passes, We Are Fucked

Gaius Publius at AMERICAblog introduces a video of Bill Moyers interviewing Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism and Dean Baker of CEPR and Beat the Press (all three individuals are in my blogroll) on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). What is TPP? About all anyone can offer is "known unknowns" about it:

  • It's "NAFTA on steroids" ... 12 nations (see the map at the link above; China is explicitly excluded),
  • Its provisions are being negotiated entirely in secret,
  • When the treaty is presented, it will be fast-tracked through Congress on an up-or-down vote,
  • Its provisions, like those of NAFTA, will override the laws of individual member nations including the laws of individual states of the United States on subjects such as the environment, labor laws, regulations on financial instruments, patent laws, etc.,
  • For US citizens and workers, prices (e.g., prescription drug prices) will go up, wages in virtually every industry touched by the agreement will go down, patent periods will be greatly extended, and virtually all benefits of the agreement will probably go to the top 1%.

All this is "as best anyone knows," because the negotiators ain't talkin', at least not for public consumption, and apparently no one of our viewpoint has any inside information, not even, as you might expect, members of Congress whose committee posts are relevant to trade, etc.

So this thing will be sprung upon us, fully formed, voted up-or-down... and everyone in every nation in the agreement will have his or her life affected, very probably for the worse. No matter what your politics (how you voted) or your job (if you have one), the President and Congress appear to have no interest in what you think. Have a nice day!

DC Circuit: Internet Still Not 'Common Carrier', So FCC Lacks Authority At Present To Mandate Net Neutrality

This could be really bad news... or not. Net Neutrality, a convenient handle for the set of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations, issued in 2010 under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, under which the companies that actually provide the internet to Americans and America-based companies must treat all comers equally (i.e., roughly put, must provide the same services... bandwidth, connectivity and delivery... for the same prices, regardless of content), is in danger of being overthrown in favor of a model in which the largest corporate customers can receive the best services at good prices and the rest of us are left with the dregs... possibly dialup.

Other than the obvious, what is bad about this? There's a good argument to be made that a lot of the internet's contribution to the dramatic technological progress of the past two decades has happened at the fringes, where individuals or small companies have come up with often astonishing improvements in technology or process, in part because those individuals and small companies aren't out-competed for the "raw materials" ... i.e., bandwidth and delivery... by the telecoms themselves, AT&T, Verizon etc. After this ruling, if it survives the inevitable appeal to the Supreme Court, the big telecoms will be able to leave us little folk with inadequate resources, or adequate resources at obscene prices. (Internet access in America is already high-priced by world standards.)

This is not quite a done deal. The appeal to the Supremes is still a possibility, though I don't expect that to help much if at all. But there are still things the FCC could do, changes it could legally make to its own regulations and policies, that would enable it to regulate the internet as what it in fact is, namely, a common carrier. The previous FCC chair, Julius Genachowski, was apparently motivated to serve his large corporate telecom masters... apparently Obama's ideal as well. ("After all, the chief business of the American people is business" could as easily have been said by Obama as Coolidge.) The current FCC chair, Tom Wheeler, seems (according to several writers) to advocate a wait-and-see approach, which isn't much better, if it means ditching the open internet and waiting for the worst to happen. Or perhaps if we can mount an immense, dramatic public campaign, including citizens and small businesses, to pressure the FCC to preserve the open internet, just maybe it can be done. I'm not betting on it, but I'm not... yet... betting against it. Meanwhile, please read Kit O'Connell's linked post and view the attached video. (I don't often complain about fast speech, but these good people strain the limits of my old Texan ears.)

Taking It On The Chin — From One's Own Firearm

Catherine Thompson at TPM:
A similar pistol
A Tennessee man accidentally shot himself in the chin Sunday night while taking off a pair of pants, the Johnson City Press reported.


Rood said a .25 caliber Baretta [sic] pistol in the right front pocket of his pants discharged when he placed the pants on a dresser after taking them off, according to Caldwell.
You can be certain Mr. Rood rued the day. Always remember, children: a lot of dangerous things can happen after you take off your pants. Safety first!

From Vanished ACORNs Great Aches Grow — Using The Budget To Bounce The Rubble

Sahil Kapur of TPM provides us "Five Things To Know About Congress' $1 Trillion Spending Bill." Number 2 (so to speak) is that "Scientific research funding remains historically low." Number 1 has to do with responding to the (possibly legitimate) howls of disabled veterans. But the really super‑duper über‑important budget provision is Number 3: although the much‑Republican‑maligned group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) has been defunct and nonexistent since 2010, it is once again explicitly defunded.

Have GOPers yet offered a budget for a cabinet-level Department of Rubble-Bouncing?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Space: The Final (Commercial/Tourist) Frontier

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo (or VSS Enterprise) is looking mighty good to begin passenger tourist service in 2014. I never would have imagined that, in the span of my lifetime, 1) America's official government space program would dwindle to this point, and 2) an international commercial tourist service (for very wealthy people, of course) would take off. All social commentary aside, I admit I'm impressed.

If you have any doubt that it's truly a commercial venture, watch this, um, commercial for Virgin Galactic. (Scaled for medium large display.)

Friday, January 10, 2014

How American Government's Presumption Of Good Faith Among Opposing Parties May Yet Be Its Downfall

Sahil Kapur of TPM wrote the post that drove me to that thought:

This Supreme Court Case Could Upend The Separation Of Powers

Sahil Kapur – January 10, 2014, 6:00 AM EST

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Monday in a case with potentially dramatic long-term implications for the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches.

The legal question is whether the president may temporarily appoint people to staff executive branch agencies when Congress is not conducting business but also not technically in recess -- known as pro forma sessions. Noel Canning, a business based in Washington State, claims that actions taken against it by the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) are invalid because they relied on the decisions of recess appointees to the board who were put in place during pro forma sessions.

A decision against the Obama administration "would overturn the long-settled understanding of the Recess Appointments Clause, upsetting the equilibrium between the political branches created by our Constitution's framers," said Elizabeth Wydra, the chief counsel for the Constitutional Accountability Center, a liberal legal advocacy group.

Wydra called the lawsuit "ahistorical and myopic."

It is a sign of the times we live in that a decision preserving the historical interpretation of a clause in the Constitution could be advocated by a "liberal legal advocacy group," while supposedly "conservative" elements propose to overturn that traditional interpretation. "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength" ... to which I suppose we may now add, "radicalism is conservatism."

Will this dog hunt?

US Supreme Court, 2013

There is an apparent assumption implicit in the crafting of America's Constitution that all parties are good-faith advocates for their positions and willing to abide by the legitimate result of the legal process. But in the American body politic, there is a kind of person who spends all of his (or occasionally her) efforts in attempts to game the system, sometimes with the apparent intention of tossing a spanner in the works. Unfortunately, some members of our current Supreme Court seem hellbent on assisting those individuals in matters of American government. For example, who would ever have thought up the chain of "reasoning" in Citizens United, were it not for Chief Justice John Roberts's hostility toward the framework of American government as observed by pretty much the whole political spectrum in America... until now?

Prior to the Roberts Court, prior to Citizens United, I'd have felt more confidence that such a decision as Noel Canning is seeking here would be outside the pale. But that was then, and this is now. Yes, this dog may hunt, the Roberts Court may be the hunter, and President Obama may be the prey it pursues.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Long Before Manning And Snowden, COINTELPRO Burglars Now Coming Forward In Public

I never expected to live to see this, but statutes of limitations can be valuable things at times: the burglars who stole the COINTELPRO papers from the FBI in 1971... that's the year I graduated from college (and I'm now officially a senior citizen), the year of America's greatest domestic conflict over Vietnam, the year the NYT also published the Pentagon Papers acquired by Daniel Ellsberg... have come forward with a book about their story. Mark Mazzetti at NYT tells the outline of the story.

The story is accompanied by an NYT Retro Report summary video which is both fascinating and a good introduction if you know nothing about the burglary (and really, who among us knew any of the details). If you are unfamiliar with COINTELPRO, Wikipedia has a decent overview. And I presume if you want the whole story, there's the new book by former Washington Post reporter Betty Medsger, who received the stolen documents and reported on them at the time: The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI. I am hoping the local library has a lot of copies.

I hardly need say that history repeats itself, and no, it isn't mumbling, in Snowden's revelation about NSA activities. I wish I understood the mentality, the paranoia, the utter indifference to privacy and fundamental civil liberties, that allows people like Hoover and Gen. Keith Alexander to do literally every damned thing in pursuit of every scrap of information about everyone they don't like, everyone whose politics they disagree with, hell, literally everyone. It never was national security that motivated Hoover, and it cannot possibly be national security motivating Alexander: they were and are nothing better than obsessive peeping Toms, scandals to the cause of freedom.

(H/T Jesselyn Radack at Kos.)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Krugman Examines The War We Didn't Really Lose: Johnson's War On Poverty

Paul Krugman claims, with considerable justification, that today's political right‑wingers are "still living in the 1970s, or actually a Reaganite fantasy of the 1970s" in which "[p]overty was therefore a problem of values and social cohesion, not money." Hence "[the Right's] notion of an anti-poverty agenda is still all about getting those layabouts to go to work and stop living off welfare." But as Krugman says, "[t]he reality that lower-end jobs, even if you can get one, don’t pay enough to lift you out of poverty just hasn’t sunk in." As far as the Right is concerned, poverty is a sign of moral, not financial, bankruptcy, and must be punished, not alleviated by government.

In other words, America's Right is an organized, well-funded group of utter failures as human beings. If the nation is to survive, the Right must not be allowed to continue to control the agenda: the drastic bimodal nature of wealth in America, particularly, the lack of opportunity to find jobs that pay a living wage and the consequent starvation of whole families, are far more the cause than the result of poverty. Johnson's War on Poverty was in fact won... yes, by proactive government intervention... but the victory has been stolen over the past 3‑4 decades by people who have an ax to grind and who lack common human sympathy. Maybe, like the war for freedom of speech, the war on poverty is one which requires perpetual re-winning. It's time to enlist, if you haven't already...

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Senator Sanders To NSA: Are You The New Hoover FBI?

Sen. Bernie Sanders
That's not how Sanders phrased it. But that is the essence of the question: Is the NSA spying on everyone including Congress and maybe even the President, and is it using the resulting information to extend its own power? That was, after all, the core behavior of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI; are we witnessing a resurrection of Hoover and his nefarious practices?

Yes, says DSWright at FDL — Not only is Sanders asking the right question, but all indications are that the answer is in the affirmative. Quoting from the WaPo's blog The Switch,
"Has the NSA spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other elected officials?"

That's the question Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) put to the National Security Agency's chief in a bluntly worded letter Friday. It seems, however, that the agency cannot categorically say no.


When asked by The Washington Post, an NSA spokesman said that the agency's privacy safeguards are effective at covering all Americans.

"Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons," the spokesman said. ...

In other words... none at all. The NSA is, de facto, Hoover's FBI, writ large; the zombie walks again. And what the NSA does is what Hoover would have done if he had had the technology available to him.

Afterthought: the comment thread on DSWright's post is highly critical of Sanders for asking a stupid question. But the quality of the question was never the point. Of course the question virtually answers itself. But why hasn't Congress used its considerable authority to put a stop to NSA's practices? It's easy to see why the President doesn't halt them; hell, he's likely using the results for his own purposes. But it's more difficult for me to see why Congress is not making a serious attempt to stop NSA's effectively universal warrantless spying. Blanket privacy violations (so to speak) have no legitimate value in the pursuit of good governance. Why not restore the Fourth Amendment to its rightful place protecting Americans, both in and out of Congress?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Robert Reich: The Great (Upward) Redistribution

To make Reich's long story short:

... And 2013 was a banner year for profits.

Robert Reich
Where did those profits come from? Here’s where redistribution comes in. American corporations didn’t make most of their money from increased sales (although their foreign sales did increase). They made their big bucks mostly by reducing their costs — especially their biggest single cost: wages.

They push wages down because most workers no longer have any bargaining power ...

... In the 1950s, over a third of private-sector workers were members of labor unions. Now, fewer than 7 percent are unionized.

All this helps explain why corporate profits have been increasing throughout this recovery (they grew over 18 percent in 2013 alone) while wages have been dropping. Corporate earnings now represent the largest share of the gross domestic product — and wages the smallest share of GDP — than at any time since records have been kept.

Hence, the Great Redistribution.

Merely the workings of the "free market"? First, show me a free market; then maybe you can make that argument. Reich points out the ways in which government has put its thumb on the scales, to the benefit of corporations (hence investors, hence mostly wealthy people) and the detriment of their employees. This may be a zero-sum game, but it is far from a fair game. And it's the worst it's ever been in recorded American history. Just how far can the 1% push matters before the 99% collapses? and what happens then?

Off topic, tonight, Houston is forecast to experience a freeze down to 22°F. This morning, after last night's (apparent) 26°F freeze, the temperature has not exceeded freezing despite a partly sunny morning. The only thing saving us from utter misery is the lack of precipitation. Stella drove to work this morning... standing at bus stops in this weather is to be avoided. I can only hope the lack of rain continues until she gets home.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

♫ Soon It's Gonna Freeze... I Can't Feel It... ♫

NOT one of ours,
not this time...
It's only 64°F right now, but we're headed for what passes for a "hard freeze" in Houston tonight... 26°F. Considering that in Burlington, VT it is forecast to hit only 31°F tonight, I do feel entitled to complain. No one told me it ever froze in H‑town...

Both cars are already winterized, but one would be a damned fool to drive in Houston in raining, freezing, slushy weather, because none of the drivers who have lived here for any period of time remembers how to drive on ice. We're staying home!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Not Beyond Outrage After All

The summary at Kos gives the basics of the cause for my outrage:

US Customs Officials Destroy Musician's Instruments (Updated)

by Land of Enchantment

Too fucking stupid for words. Wanton destruction, and for no useful purpose at all.

Not a lengthy story, but absolutely outrageous. I think this deserves some attention:
Boujemaa Razgui, a flute virtuoso who lives in New York and works with many US ensembles, was returning to base over the holiday when Customs officials at Kennedy Airport asked to see his instruments. Bourjemaa carries a variety of flutes of varying ethnicity, each made by himself over years for specific types of ancient and modern performance.
At JFK, the officials removed and smashed each and every one of his instruments. No reason was given.
An artist's livelihood. A lifetime of skill and craft wantonly destroyed. Perhaps because he's Arab? (He's Moroccan, having moved to New York via Montreal.) It's not like they couldn't have checked that he was a "real" musician!

Additional info available from Arts Journal, Slipped Disc, and again Slipped Disc (with [copyrighted] photos of the flutes).

Mr. Razgui is originally from Morocco, is a Canadian citizen, and has toured the world for a dozen or more years with no problems. Did I mention that to no one's surprise he looks like an Arab?

I have a strange feeling the TSA or ICE agents who did the smashing are not liable to lawsuit. Mr. Razgui is just out a lifetime's painstaking hand-work, with no likelihood of recompense.

Andean Quenas... I own a similar flute,
and many stranger-looking woodwinds
In my youth, when I toured occasionally with The Broken Consort, toting one or sometimes two cases full of truly odd-looking wind instruments, copies of historical originals (imagine what those looked like on X-rays!), I feared such an incident. Nothing ever happened. Sometimes the agent wanted to see the instruments or proof that I owned them in the United States; more typically, they didn't want even that. But that was 1978. And this is now. Welcome to the wonderful world of now!

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