Thursday, August 28, 2014

Your Tea: Flavored With... Pesticides? Including Even Long-Banned DDT?

Clarissa A. León at Alternet:
Tea time is supposed to be a time to relax and regroup, but it could be one of the riskiest moments of the day. At least, that’s according to a new study released by Greenpeace earlier this month [.pdf] that found a number of popular tea brands contain high doses of pesticide residues. Some teas even tested positive for the long-banned DDT.

Say, will it poison Tea Party folk? or are their brains already too toxic?

Tea - the toxic brew!
The teas cited in the Greenpeace report are from India and (yes, ellroon, add it to your list; it's in a similar Greenpeace report from 2012) China. I drank a lot of tea in my twenties and thirties, but ever since I became a contract IT professional, coffee has been my drink of choice, and necessity... most American tappers of code, apart from those of Asian or direct British Empire heritage, are a lot less interested in tea. I, at least, am never happier than when I've just located a new source of really good coffee, as I did this week. I'll bet a follow‑up study shows pesticide in coffee too...

(H/T BrandonJ at FDL.)

A Presidential Candidate I Could Vote For — With A Clear Conscience

(Click for larger image)
Who else but Sen. Bernie Sanders! Apparently Sanders is contemplating a Democratic primary run against Hillary Clinton. It's not clear in how many states he would appear on the primary ballot; many states have erected unbelievably high financial obstacles to prevent independents from doing just what Sanders apparently intends to do.

Sanders is not a Democrat but an independent who has for years decades caucused with Democrats in Congress. It is very unlikely he could beat Hillary in a Democratic primary. But if he could force her to take positions even one millimeter to the left of her Wall-Street-driven propensity, that would be a very good thing indeed.

Run, Bernie, run!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Town Of Greece, NY Adopts Exclusive Council Meeting Invocation Policy — No Atheists, No Religions Not Common In Town

Sahil Kapur at TPM:
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court gave its blessing to local governments that want to open their public meetings with religious prayer.

It was a victory for the town board of Greece, N.Y., which stressed that it was fighting not just for Christian prayer but for the right of all people express their views regardless of their faith. In a 5-4 ruling along ideological lines, the Court ruled against the Jewish and atheist plaintiffs, who argued that the practice violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Less than four months later, the town of Greece has adopted an invocation policy that excludes non-religious citizens and potentially shuts out faiths that aren't well-established in the town, according to a top secular group.

Seeking to "avail itself of the Supreme Court's recognition" that government prayer is constitutional, the new policy restricts opening remarks to "assemblies with an established presence in the Town of Greece that regularly meet for the primary purpose of sharing a religious perspective."

Translation: atheists and agnostics need not apply. And unless the board clerk decides that your faith has an "established presence" in the New York town of fewer than 100,000, you may not deliver an invocation.

So... all religions are equal, but some are more equal than others. I don't know the status of UUs, but I have a feeling I would not be asked... nay, not be permitted... to say the invocation at a Greece, NY town board meeting.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution is dead; long live the Establishment Clause. And you know that not a damned thing will be done about it. I mean, what do you think you're going to do about it? pass a constitutional amendment? [/irony]

Monday, August 25, 2014


The more the news comes in, the worse it looks. Here is a reasonable summary, with a CNN video. Here is a map. I am waiting anxiously for California friends and bloggers to check in, but I suspect those in the affected area may have other things to do, and may not have net connections... I won't assume the worst about them until I hear it definitively. Everybody please take care.

The Real Bad News: Methane

I awoke this morning from a nightmare of witnessing the crash of an airliner. The real nightmare threatens a lot more people: methane vents are bubbling from the floor of the Atlantic off the East Coast.

Gotta go get my car fixed; gotta keep doing my two cents worth to pollute the atmosphere...

Friday, August 22, 2014

‘Lachrymator’: Banned In Warfare, Used Freely By Police

That's right: the most common lachrymator (also spelled lachrimator) known as tear gas is banned in international treaties as a weapon of war, but various Missouri police departments (along with many others) use it to "keep the peace," i.e., suppress demonstrations. msmolly at FDL provides a few details.

The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention explicitly exempts domestic law enforcement use of tear gas, pepper spray etc. from its prohibition under the terms of the treaty. What nation insisted on the inclusion of that provision? The United States of America, of course. Our powers-that-be have been planning this kind of thing for a long, long time.

U-S-A! U-S-A! Welcome to the land of the free and the home of "if you know what's good for you, you'll confine your protests to staying home and quietly writing letters."

Examples of Police Use of Tear Gas
USA, Ferguson, MO
In the first three examples, I admit I don't know what prompted the police to use tear gas; it could have been genuine riots... or not. But in Ferguson, MO? Apart from the inevitable agents provocateur, are there even enough people in Ferguson to foment a riot? Police are to all appearances determined to suppress African American protest of the killing of Michael Brown; it is hard to put a positive spin on their use of a toxic chemical on demonstrators.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Just as things begin to settle in Ferguson, there is now a web site (sorry; no link from here) where you can contribute money to the officer who shot Michael Brown. I do not approve, but I am not surprised: if "no good deed goes unpunished," I suppose no bad deed goes unrewarded.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Daily Kos On A Roll

... as Kos's team is every day, but even just the Ferguson, MO posts are a tour de force:
It's a grim day for the citizens of Ferguson, but a good day for the Kossacks.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

‘If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother’ — Robin Williams

In one of his famous improv's, waving an imaginary psychoanalyst's cigar in the air, Williams said it on one of Charlie Rose's interviews (2002 or remembrance this week; you'll have to find it yourself) and it went by so fast I almost missed it. But it was simply too good not to record for posterity.

UPDATE: Stella says Marlo Thomas quotes Williams as saying this in a short biography in one of her books. Don't know which book; Stella returned it to the library. Growing Up Laughing.

Missouri Has Gone Mad

... or so I gather from The Nation's Steven Hsieh's article "St. Louis Police Arrest Nine Protesters Demanding Justice for Michael Brown". Among the nine arrested... a 90-year-old woman, wearing a T-shirt captioned "Only Human". That's more than you can say of those St. Louis cops. Oh, and the charge? "Failure to disperse." It's kind of hard... indeed, impossible... to protest when you're dispersed.

AFTERTHOUGHT: the protesters' demand was that Gov. Nixon withdraw the 1000 National Guard troops from Ferguson. A state's National Guard is a military organization, not a police force. Draw your own conclusions.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Missouri Highway Police 'Detain' Three More Journalists

This is getting to be a regular thing. From Catherine Thompson at TPM:

They forgot to show
the handcuffs...
Echoing the arrests of the Huffington Post's Ryan Reilly and the Washington Post's Wesley Lowery earlier this week, three reporters said they were briefly handcuffed and detained by police. Other reporters said officers threatened them with mace, while one radio reporter caught an officer's threat to shoot him on tape.

Three journalists -- Neil Munshi of the Financial Times, Robert Klemko of Sports Illustrated and Rob Crilly of the Telegraph -- tweeted that they were briefly detained and handcuffed by Missouri highway police Capt. Ron Johnson. Munshi emphasized that the three of them were held by police but were not arrested.

(Bolds mine. - SB)

"[H]eld by police but not arrested"? WTF does that mean? If you are held by police and handcuffed, you ARE arrested.

Please note the new category below, yet another in the "War on" series we see so often these days... and most of the warring seems to be done by cops. Back in my childhood, my father occasionally invited a friend who was a policeman into our home, still in uniform at the end of his shift; today, I'd be very circumspect about following my late dad's example.

$4 Million Spy Software Spies On Computers In Many Nations Including US

Jeff Larson and Mike Tigas at ProPublica:
Software created by the controversial U.K. based Gamma Group International was used to spy on computers that appear to be located in the United States, the U.K., Germany, Russia, Iran and Bahrain, according to a leaked trove of documents analyzed by ProPublica.

It's not clear whether the surveillance was conducted by governments or private entities. Customer email addresses in the collection appeared to belong to a German surveillance company, an independent consultant in Dubai, the Bosnian and Hungarian Intelligence services, a Dutch law enforcement officer and the Qatari government.

The leaked files — which were posted online by hackers — are the latest in a series of revelations about how state actors including repressive regimes have used Gamma's software to spy on dissidents, journalists and activist groups.

It's more than just your government spying on you, though they almost certainly are as well. If you or your company ever had any secrets, you probably don't now. Or maybe you have need of someone else's secrets, and also have $4m to spare...

You know, not that long ago, when I said this sort of thing was happening, people called me a nut‑job. Maybe they were and are right about that, but universal surveillance is very real.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Flee The SWAT

It probably won't do you any good... if they come to you, you'll probably end up dead anyway... but it's all you've got in these days of militarized police forces (see previous post for an example).

Matthew Harwood at TomDispatch examines the growing phenomenon of police as militarized invasion force... that's what SWAT has become in the course of the past three or four decades, growing from its origins in the 1960s as an attempted answer to the most extreme situations law enforcement can face into a quasi-military home invasion force, used mainly for serving drug warrants and equipped with the best equipment and vehicles the Pentagon can offer.

MRAP, Queensbury, NY
Bill Moyers features Tom Engelhardt featuring in turn Chase Madar on The Criminalization of Everyday Life, confronting more or less the same subject and featuring a photo of an MRAP vehicle guaranteed to terrorize (word used advisedly) any innocent citizen into staying home... where s/he is, as Harwood indicates, still not safe from the militarized invasions of the police who now own this formerly military vehicle.

A short passage from Harwood's article drives home the point:

In 1984, according to Radley Balko's Rise of the Warrior Cop, about 26% of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 had SWAT teams. By 2005, that number had soared to 80% and it’s still rising, though SWAT statistics are notoriously hard to come by.

As the number of SWAT teams has grown nationwide, so have the raids. Every year now, there are approximately 50,000 SWAT raids in the United States, according to Professor Pete Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies. In other words, roughly 137 times a day a SWAT team assaults a home and plunges its inhabitants and the surrounding community into terror.

And you thought your primary danger of being shot full of holes came from the criminals. What goes around, comes straight at us; the US has terrorized the people of other nations with these weapons for decades, most recently in preemptive, invasive wars, and now the remaindered weapons from those same wars are driving into our neighborhoods and shooting up our own children. Welcome to America!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Ferguson, MO Cops: Fascist Guns In The (Mid)West

Boomers: remember the days of our youth, when cops were often called "fascist pigs"? Well... they're baaaack! Ferguson, MO police seem to have declared as their enemies not just Blacks... not just Whites... but journalists in general. Two journalists covering the whole sorry business in that ugly little town (Ryan J. Reilly of Huffington Post; Wesley Lowery of Washington Post) were told to leave a McDonald's where they were working and sipping coffee, and when they didn't clear out fast enough (or through the right door), the cops arrested them.  They were not charged... hey, who needs charges if you're arresting "bad" people? Read the reporters' tweets during the incident at the link above.

It's really hard to justify this kind of crap, but from at least the Occupy movement forward, it's been happening more often. Maybe having the Pentagon donate (or sell cheap) its crowd control equipment to a remarkable percentage of the small-town police forces in America is deleterious to free speech, public protest and similar activities we once held to be America's protection against loss of civil liberties. Or maybe these cops in particular are just fascist pigs...

The ACLU has launched an investigation of militarization of America's police forces; goodness knows there's no shortage of material to investigate. Here is the summary, and here is the report (.pdf), titled "War Comes Home." IMNSHO, if military equipment is available to city police forces, inevitably, police operations will more and more come to resemble military operations... and history shows the path after that.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) reminds us in a tweet, "This is America, not a war zone. The people of just want answers. We all want answers." Indeed we do, and we'd better get some good answers soon. Meanwhile, if you love your democracy (what's left of it), don't give your police force MRAVs MRAPs and drones. And don't... ever... encourage police to arrest journalists.

Clarification: only the second photo above, of a crowd of protesters keeping their hands in plain sight, is from Ferguson. The police photos are representative of the transformation of police operations into military operations.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Atlas Drugged: Krugman On The New Rise Of Libertarianism

Krugman handily debunks the libertarian myth that seems to be on the upswing in the GOP. Don't believe bad fiction; attempts to realize bad fiction can only result in bad reality. That doesn't mean it can be ignored while it is still a staple of right-wing political demagoguery...

(H/T Josh Marshall.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams (1951—2014)

Maybe suicide; officials aren't sure yet. There's nothing I can say, except that most of us will miss his antics on screen and off. To all appearances, he was a troubled man; let us hope he rests in peace.

(As a testament to his popularity, just search Google Images on his name and note the number of pics of sizes suitable for computer desktop images. I thought about it, but no, as fond as I am of Williams's work, kitty Esther retains her place on my desktop.)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission Proposes Allowing Alcoholic Beverage Sales At Gun Shows

It's AP, so the quote here must be very short...
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas could start allowing alcohol sales at gun shows provided they don't allow live ammunition or let buyers take possession of their weapons at the events.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission announced the proposal Friday. It will hold a 30-day public comment period before any change is made.

Guys with Guns

Guy with More Guns

Drunks with Guns???

The recipe is simple: Guns... Gun nuts enthusiasts... Booze... Shake vigorously in a closed container. What could possibly go wrong?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Birthday Blues

"Yesterday was my birthday; I hung one more year on the line..." (Paul Simon) The year and the birthday were my 66th, and it was a helluva beginning to the new year of being me:
  • I received a dumbphone I ordered through Amazon, a used Samsung Propel functionally identical to the one I was using until four buttons quit on it about a week ago. I'd have considered a smartphone, but peripheral neuropathy renders all those finger gestures for scrolling, paging and zooming very nearly impossible for me. Friend Catherine, by accident or by design, gave me an Amazon gift certificate of just about the amount I paid for the "historical instrument" from one of Amazon's many affiliate cell phone vendors. Then, because I hadn't recently backed up the old phone's memory to the SIM card and because that old phone's buttons weren't working, I had the privilege of staying up most of the night entering my personal contact list into the new one. It surely seems as if I end up doing that a lot...
  • At the crack of dawn, I picked up a few groceries for Stella, who can drive OK now but still has to get around on a rolling walker. When I got home and was easing a few inches at a time into my parking space, my foot slipped off the brake, jammed itself between brake and accelerator and rammed my car into the closed garage door, crunching it pretty thoroughly. That not being enough of Dog's little joke for the day, I found I was unable to remove my foot from where it was wedged between the pedals, sending the engine racing like crazy. I reached for the shift to put it in neutral. The cranky old transmission promptly reversed my action, putting itself right back into drive, ramming the garage door again at full power. I suppose I should have reached for the ignition key, but the whole thing took under 3 seconds, and my brain doesn't work at its best at 6:30AM... Now I have a crunched garage door (for which I will owe the landlord) and a thoroughly battered and scraped left front fender (which may be something I can live with; I haven't tried it yet).
  • Once I stopped shaking and determined that I personally was not injured at all (not even a scratch or a bruise), the rest of the birthday was pleasant enough. Stella and I went to Star Pizza, my usual choice for a birthday meal. Then we went to one of the Half Price Books™ stores which Stella was able to navigate even on her walker. I came home with two used CDs (yes, I still keep most of my music on those damned old things) and an assortment of fiction already found, bought and wrapped by the ever‑amazing Stella (every one was perfectly suited to my taste). At night I entered the aforementioned contact list. Somehow I felt really old...
  • One last detail, a perfect ending to an imperfect day: I received word from SSA that an award has been decided upon and I should receive notification by snail mail very soon. Whew!
Happy Birthday to any other early August-born bloggers. I hope yours went smoother than mine... <sigh />

Monday, August 4, 2014

Separate And Emphatically Unequal: Court Rulings Using An ‘Undue Burden’ Test, With Clinics In An Adjacent State, To Restrict Access To Abortion

Please read author/activist Robin Marty's article at TPM, "Is One Key Anti-Abortion Attack Beginning To Fall To Pieces?" (There's no need for me to repeat its extensive content, and it's too complex to summarize effectively.) You'll learn about the latest attempts to legislate de jure obstructions to abortions, access to which women are constitutionally guaranteed by Roe v. Wade, and possible changes in federal court responses to various "no undue burden" assertions used in recent decades by courts seeking grounds on which to vindicate various new state anti-abortion laws.

This is surely a risky business... but so is the whole process since Roe more than 40 years ago. Women's constitutional rights absolutely should not depend upon the votes of one or two federal district courts determined by a woman's state of residence, or (more recently) upon the religious affiliation of two-thirds (6 of 9) of the Justices of the US Supreme Court. But they do. The more such state laws are passed... the more federal district court rulings that validate those laws... the more women of reproductive age have a very real chance if living into a second era in which their constitutional right to control their own reproductive status is willfully destroyed by one or more of five aged men on SCOTUS. Ladies, keep your eyes open... and be prepared to take your arguments to the streets if nothing else works. In a just world, America should be faced with a simple choice: an uncompromising protection of the rights of ALL its citizens irrespective of gender, or a coordinated response to restrictions which brings America's male-dominant society to its knees. A baldfaced compromise of the civil liberties of half the American public is wholly unacceptable.

I will restate my fundamental principle on the matter: Every child a wanted child; every birth a healthy birth; every decision regarding a woman's reproductive status and health a decision affirming wholeheartedly the woman's own position. No exceptions!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

ACLU Files Suit Against DHS Alleging Secret Policy Denying Citizenship To Muslim Immigrants

Kevin Gosztola at FDL explains:

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of five Muslims allegedly denied American citizenship because of a secretive policy a Homeland Security Department’s immigration agency operates. The program grants the government broad discretion to designate those applying for citizenship as “national security concerns.”

According to the ACLU’s filed complaint [PDF], the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has engaged in the “unlawful delay and denial of plaintiffs’ applications for citizenship and lawful permanent residence [LPR] under a secretive policy” known as the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CAARP) [sic - should be "CARRP" — SB]. The policy has allegedly barred USCIS from upgrading plaintiffs’ immigration status and violated the Immigration and Nationality Act.

USCIS has declined to voluntarily make public information related to its policy of designating people as “national security concerns.” In fact, if a person is designated a “national security concern”—and this can happen because of “innocuous activity and associations, and characteristics such as national origin,” there is no notice provided to applicants that they have been taken off an “adjudication track” and will not be approved.

Between 2008 and 2012, more than 19,000 people, who were from Muslim-majority countries or regions were subjected to CAARP.

[Bolds mine. - SB]

I guess the French gal in the harbor is no longer quite so ready to "lift [her] lamp beside the golden door" ...

I advocate for no religion. If I am anything, I am UU. But Americans should be able to choose their faith for themselves without interference from the government. And potential Americans should not be blackballed from immigration or citizenship merely for espousing any particular religion. This is classic guilt by association: "many terrorists are muslim, therefore all muslims are terrorists." This kind of faulty reasoning is an infringement on everyone's liberties, and it needs to stop... now.

Friday, August 1, 2014

In 24 Years, Texas GOP Governor Candidates Have Not Learned One Simple Fact: Rape Is No Joke

Republicans talk ceaselessly about "freedom 'n' democracy," but for women, under Republican rule, there is no freedom, not even freedom from violent personal assault:
Here's Planned Parenthood's assessment (NOTE: link goes to Facebook):
In 1990, Clayton Williams "joked" about rape while campaigning against Ann Richards. You might think that a few decades would be enough to teach politicians not to make light of rape, but that sadly isn’t so. This November there’s a collection of men running for state office who think that politicians know better than women – even victims of rape – about what decisions are best for them. This is why we organize. This is why we fight to #StopGregAbbott
Twenty-four years after Clayton Williams's infamous gaffe, Republicans are more determined than ever to wrest total control of women's bodies away from those women, right down to the most personal decisions a woman can make. A woman who votes for Greg Abbott is voting for her own enslavement. Save your personal rights instead: vote for Wendy Davis.

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