Saturday, January 31, 2015

Senate Passes Keystone XL Pipeline, Obama Threatens Veto

So far, the dirty hands
are not the President's

So... which of the President's desired shiny objects will he trade that veto for? You know that's going to happen: Keystone XL is a done deal, but Mr. Obama is a politician of some skill. For what, precisely, will he trade his signature, the favor the fossil fuel industry desires, probably the dirtiest pipeline ever proposed? Or will the GOP-ruled Congress take the choice out of the President's hands altogether by attaching the bill to some must-pass legislation?

DSWright and a lot of the regular commenters at FDL discuss the possibilities. Here's a hint: the possibility that Obama really means to veto and make it stick is not seriously discussed.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Texas GOP State Legislator: The Solution To Guns In Schools Is More Guns In Schools, And Teachers Shooting Students Bearing Guns

That tumbling noise you just heard was my late father, a secondary school educator and former Navy gunnery officer in W.W. II, rolling over in his grave. The provocation for his spinning was probably this bill introduced in the Texas Lege, probably by legislators like this one. From Catherine Thompson at TPM:
Texas Aggie pistol
Legislation filed last week in Texas would allow teachers to use deadly force in order to protect school property, the Houston Chronicle reported.

State Rep. Dan Flynn (R), who's previously fought to roll back concealed handgun license requirements, filed the Teacher's Protection Act authorizing educators to use deadly force to protect themselves or another person on school grounds.

The bill would also authorize the use of deadly force to protect school property and shield any teacher who uses deadly force from prosecution should they cause injury or death.

Texas law already offers immunity from discipline to teachers who use "reasonable" force against a student, according to the Chronicle. State law also allows any adult to carry a firearm in a school with the principal's permission.

My father knew firsthand the most likely result of introducing guns into the school environment: once, using his Navy training, he disarmed a mentally disturbed girl who brought a loaded gun to school with the intention to shoot (at least) the principal. She got as far as the administrative offices before my father spotted the outline of her gun in a coat pocket.

Lest you make some invalid assumptions about him, Dad was not shy about guns. In his old age, he owned a rifle for hunting and a shotgun to display in the presence of the occasional burglar who sought entry to his trailer. The weapons with which he had the greatest familiarity 40 years or so earlier were mounted on a W.W. II troop landing ship on which he was the fire control officer; some of those guns were large enough that a man could theoretically crawl inside. (A woman could as well, but no woman would be that much of a damned fool.)

With all that background, training and experience, Dad was utterly determined to keep guns out of the public schools in Texas. I don't know if he testified about such matters to the Texas Lege, but he appeared before legislative committees quite a few times about other matters, so I assume he spoke to them about concealed-carry guns as well. If Dad were alive now, his views on guns would be very unpopular in his home state.

It is already hard enough to capture the attention of intelligent, well-prepared, recently graduated schoolteachers who might want to work in what anyone smarter than a fish would understand is a difficult and sometimes dangerous position at any wage, let alone poverty wages. Compelling teachers to be responsible for firearms in their classrooms, for preventing felony theft, for using deadly force against students, is too damned idiotic even to contemplate in the Texas Lege chambers, let alone in real life in actual schoolrooms full of hormone-saturated pre-adults. But I've often said that Republicans are too dumb for words...

Young White Female Seattle Cop Pepper Sprays Older Black Man Walking Past Her In MLK Day March, Talking On His Cell Phone

I can hardly believe my eyes. To this have we fallen: A line of Seattle police monitors passing marchers at an MLK Day event, apparently some sort of (obviously peaceful) protest. The young white woman cop turns from checking someone's sign on a stick and handing it back to him, instantly shrieks at the orderly line of marchers to "get back" (at least I think that's what she's shouting), and without pausing to await action by the crowd on her command, pepper-sprays the line, squirting several people and dousing an older Black man talking on his cell phone, who reacts in obvious pain:

I watched this clip perhaps a dozen times to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing, and wound up thinking, "Jeebus on a crutch! To what depths have we plunged?"

I'm sorry, but "I was scared of the big n[BLEEP!]r walking toward me" is simply NOT an adequate excuse. At a minimum, this policewoman needs some training, and the City of Seattle should pay the man his medical expenses and probably compensate him for his pain and suffering as well.

And most of all... we have to put a stop to the "cops can get away with anything" mentality that seems to prevail throughout the nation these days. Otherwise, people outside America might think we are uncivilized or something. 

(H/T Ahiza Garcia at TPM.)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

How Will The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Affect Prescription Drug Prices?

A bargain price... only 1 arm, 1 leg!
That question has a simple answer (.pdf) from Public Citizen, and it will not be to your liking, unless you are heavily invested in Big Pharma. Remember, the partnership will be international, so if you're in the US, e.g. in New England, and getting your drugs from Canada, you will probably be deprived of gaining any advantage via that option (which I believe is not legal even now for US citizens).

Have a nice day! [/sarcasm]

(H/T Robert Reich.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Justice Stevens Offers Six Constitutional Amendments

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, perhaps sensing the severe but reparable harms done to the Constitution by our current Supreme Court, forged in rulings by the nut-jobs appointed to the Court by Republican presidents (sorry; you can't legitimately blame "both parties" for this one), offers, in a book, Six Amendments that might help repair some of the damage. I can't imagine these amendments succeeding in the period of congressional insanity in which we live, but I agree the effort needs to be begun, in hopes that at least some of them can be accomplished by, say, our grandchildren.

NOTE: the link to the OCLC info for this book provided in the Kos article linked above apparently has the wrong ISBN; try searching your local library's online catalog for the title. Here is such a link for Houston Public Library's copies of Stevens's book. I just placed a hold on a copy, but the library appears to have many copies, and I was immediately placed at the head of a queue for one of them. (I was not so lucky with Thomas Piketty's book; I started at 74 and have finally, after many months, reached 8th in the queue.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

NLRB: McDonald's Responsible For Franchises' Violations Of Workers' Rights

I missed this in December when it first was announced. This is from Low Pay is Not OK:
On December 19, 2014, just a few weeks after [Low Pay is Not OK's] biggest fast food strike to-date, the National Labor Relations Board made a groundbreaking ruling: McDonald’s can no longer hide behind their franchisees and will be held responsible for violations against the rights of their workers.

The ruling states:
[NLRB's] investigation found that McDonald’s, USA, LLC, through its franchise relationship and its use of tools, resources and technology, engages in sufficient control over its franchisees’ operations, beyond protection of the brand, to make it a putative joint employer with its franchisees, sharing liability for violations of our Act. This finding is further supported by McDonald’s, USA, LLC’s nationwide response to franchise employee activities while participating in fast food worker protests to improve their wages and working conditions.

McDonald’s has long claimed no responsibility for working conditions — placing all the blame for bad practices on the franchisees. But the NLRB made it clear that the McDonald’s corporation is the real boss, and it’s up to them to take responsibility and treat their workers fairly.

Read more about the historic ruling here [at NYT].
Over the years, Stella and I have occasionally driven through the line at a local McDonald's to satisfy our sweet tooth with a McCafe™. We prefer Starbucks's Frappucino™, but the McDonald's product is cheaper and very few Starbucks outlets have a drive‑thru.

Mickey D feels Rosie's muscle
(organizing really works!)
But that has changed over the past year. First, McDonald's appeared to have no intention of negotiating a wage higher than the legal minimum, until LPisNOK began organizing its workers. Then McDonald's workers went on strike for better pay; about 500 workers at many franchises around the country were actually arrested for doing so. (That is the point at which I stopped trading with McDonalds altogether.) Then there was a credible report that a McDonald's in South Boston fired 10 workers because they didn't “fit the profile” of the store; all 10 workers just happened to be Black, and management made statements that can only reasonably be construed as confirming that the workers were fired because of their race. (Follow the link; read the statements for yourself.) McDonald's Corp. declined to make any effort to compel the store to rehire the workers, claiming franchises make those decisions independently. Hence the NLRB case and the ruling that the corporation can't hide behind its franchises in matters of violations of workers' legal rights, such as firing people because of their race.

Stella is not a vocally aggressive labor rights advocate like me, but she does put her money where her heart is, and has a strong sense of fairness. I've noticed she has silently stopped going to McDonalds now. For her as for me, as for the workers, enough is enough.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Abe Lincoln: The Only American Ever To Have Said More Things After He Was Killed Than He Said While He Was Alive

I caught told a whopper
that was THIS long!
Gov. John Kasich (R-Stupid) educates us on one of Lincoln's... ah... "later" quotes.

Rand Paul To NH Repubs: SocSec Disability Is A Scam; Recipients Are Malingerers

Josh Marshall, head honcho at TPM, tells you everything you need to know about GOP plans to whack Social Security:

Paul the Younger; Paul the Snot-nosed
Speaking to Republican presidential primary voters in New Hampshire, [Sen. Rand] Paul said that most Social Security disability recipients are in fact malingerers and scofflaws who have no business receiving benefits in the first place.
"The thing is that all of these programs, there’s always somebody who’s deserving, everybody in this room knows somebody who’s gaming the system. I tell people that if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn’t be getting a disability check. Over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club. Who doesn’t get up a little anxious for work every day and their back hurts? Everyone over 40 has a back pain."
As Michael Hiltzik explains here (and others have in other publications), as a narrowly factual matter these claims are demonstrably false and by a huge margin. Even if you think that severe anxiety disorders and chronic back problems aren't real disabilities, they don't make up anywhere that number of recipients. But the headline isn't really the point. It's the subtext. The score rather than the libretto. The point is that this is taxpayer money for people who don't want to work, people complaining about everyday problems that most of us get by with no problem as an excuse to get a government check.

(Bolds mine. - SB)

Marshall then points out that the whole zero-sum nature — retirees vs. disabled competing for the same dollars — is manufactured by proudly self-proclaimed libertarians like Sen. Paul. The whole idea is to shrink the funding of SocSec for everyone.

I'd like to see either of the Pauls, father or son, try to earn an honest living in a fair labor market. Even better, I'd like to see them try to earn a living under the very restrictions they have placed, or will have placed, on SocSec recipients. I'd bet on the granny-starvers to starve their very own selves under those conditions. And I'd just laugh and laugh.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Eugene Robinson: ‘What Is The GOP Thinking?’

Please read his WaPo op-ed. There are several things he presents that I haven't seen explicitly said elsewhere. Here's a tiny sample:

At least there are some in the [Republican] party who recognize how much trouble Republicans make for themselves by breaking the armistice in the culture wars and launching battles that cannot be won. It looks as if the nation will have to stand by until GOP realists and ideologues reach some sort of understanding, which may take some time.

Indeed. There's scarcely any point in getting worked up about all the stunts the GOP is pulling this week. The only one that might have real consequences is McConnell's threat to eliminate the possibility of filibustering a Supreme Court nominee, and it's not clear to me that he would win that one hands-down.

Robinson again:

You might think the [anti-abortion] demonstrators already had reason to cheer. The abortion rate is at “historic lows,” having dropped by 13 percent in the decade between 2002 and 2011, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The main reason is that there are fewer unwanted pregnancies, which suggests logically that if Republicans really want to reduce abortion, what they should do is work to increase access to birth control.

Every time I've pointed this out to a rank-and-file Republican, s/he has waved hands in the air and ranted about some other imaginary cause for the reduction in the number of abortions. I know people need to pat themselves on the back for how effective their political stunts are, but American opinion on abortion in the four decades since Roe has been all over the map, and it's a simple fact that if you're not pregnant, you don't need an abortion.


At issue, apparently, is that, in making exceptions for abortions of pregnancies resulting from rape, the [failed House] bill specifies that the rape must have been reported to law enforcement. This restriction cannot help but bring to mind the grief Republicans suffered in 2012 over Senate candidate Todd Akin’s appalling attempt to distinguish between “legitimate rape” and some other kind of rape.

Republicans need to recognize... c'mon, it isn't that difficult... that any time they attempt to compromise a woman's ability or legal permission to obtain an abortion when she has been raped, they are only confirming in the public's mind that they, GOPers, truly are waging a War on Women.

The problem for Republicans is, as Robinson points out, that whenever they win big in an election, the entire radical-conservative faction of the party (and it is a faction; not all Repub's are like that) runs out and screams and shouts in its intention to punish not only Democrats but also moderate Republicans for their reasonable recognition that, one, some abortions are inevitable in a just society, and two, they probably can't force everyone to do what their most conservative wing would like. Reality is a b!t<h, ain't it, GOPers?

‘How Do We Save Roe?’

Wrong question, says American University government professor Chris Edelson. I agree wholeheartedly. If we wish to save an American woman's right to choose abortion, we'd better adopt a more constitutionally sound basis on which to argue it. (Sarah Weddington posited a similar approach in her book, A Question of Choice.)

Read Mr. Edelson's article, carefully, perhaps twice through. He doesn't argue strategy; we must adopt one appropriate to the task... but he does assert a simple constitutional basis, not in an implied right of privacy (always a dicey, nonspecific argument in constitutional terms) but rather as a First Amendment freedom-of-religion matter. Think about it; you may agree.

Bill Would Strip Citizenship Of ‘American Terrorists’

Digby, first quoting TPM inline:
Two arch-conservatives unveiled legislation on Friday to revoke the U.S. citizenship of anyone who seeks to join a group designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization.

The Expatriate Terrorist Act, offered by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), amends the Immigration and Nationality Act so as to deny an American passport to — or strip the existing citizenship of — an individual
whom the Secretary has determined is a member, or is attempting to become a member, of an organization the Secretary has designated as a foreign terrorist pursuant to section 12 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 13 U.S.C. 1189).
"I believe these American terrorists have voluntarily renounced their citizenship upon taking an oath to a foreign terrorist organization (FTO)," King said in a statement.
In case you are wondering why this is considered necessary, I'm guessing it's so that they can deny Americans their rights under the constitution. I would hope that it isn't possible to do this before they are convicted of anything (under the constitution) but once they are, I guess they could be sent to Guantanamo after President Huckabee expands it.
Great... you could be stripped of citizenship without even a trial. And seriously... can an ex post facto application of the law be far behind? An American citizen joins an organization, e.g., an Islamic charity; then the State Department (or FBI?) declares it a terrorist organization...

Friday, January 23, 2015

Even House GOP Women Could Not Abide GOP's Anti-Choice Legislation

Sahil Kapur at TPM, yesterday:
Facing a rebellion led by women in the party, House Republican leaders abruptly pulled legislation on Wednesday night to ban late-term abortion, unable to reconcile differences over language involving rape.

Instead the GOP decided to hold a vote on a measure seeking to outlaw taxpayer funding for abortion on Thursday, the day of the annual March For Life, a massive anti-abortion rally in Washington.

The original legislation would have banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a move polls say Americans support. The language that caused the chaos required women to report a sexual assault to the authorities in order to seek medical treatment to terminate a pregnancy.

(Bolds mine. - SB)

This is getting altogether out of hand. Is this what a majority of Americans support? Isn't sexual assault indignity enough? How much more must the government force on women?

Any woman (particularly any young woman) who votes for a Republican for Congress after this crap is utterly nuts, of the self-hating variety.

Could GOP Turn Social Security Reallocation Into A Yearly Crisis Like The Debt Limit?

Dylan Scott at TPM:

House Republicans have been transparent about their intentions of using the new rule to force a debate on changes to the program, while advocates and Democrats warned that the rule could lead to benefit cuts. But there is another possibility: Republicans could pass a short-term reallocation that would set up another shortfall a few years down the road -- and one that could arrive under a new Republican president.

It would in theory turn Social Security reallocation into something akin to the debt ceiling of the last few years: A formerly routine accounting move that the GOP is now trying to use as a leverage point to advance conservative proposals. Advocates told TPM that it was a scenario they were taking seriously.

"Just as with the debt limit, Congress could require regular short-term action, keeping a climate of crisis and requiring new legislation frequently," Nancy Altman, co-director of Social Security Works, told TPM. Advocates are pushing for a clean reallocation, which is projected to keep both funds solvent until 2033.

Just before the last election, the GOP answer was apparently "NO" ... they wouldn't substantially whack Social Security; there was ample political support for the 80-year-old program across the political spectrum. But there's nothing like winning an election to turn mild-mannered GOPers into raging, raving, right-wing demons. And apparently, post-election, this proposal is doing exactly that.

How many of you would side with "Granny-Starver" (Rep. Paul Ryan) in favoring an evisceration of Social Security for people who have diligently paid into the system all their working lives? Remember, it's not a gift: we earned it. The often-mentioned "contract across generations" only works if each generation in turn acts in good faith to make it work.

Damn these GOPers to Hell, I did my part. I can't begin to say what I would do if they don't do theirs.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Not Yet Back To Good Health

I don't know what it will take to shake this cold, not to mention some aspects of my usual medical problems which are demanding attention. At a minimum, I need another few days of rest. A trip to the doc is probably also in order.

And I need this !@#$%^&* band-in-a-brain (see previous post) to STFU, no matter what its source.

AFTERTHOUGHT: It occurs to me that many people may not recognize "band-in-a-brain" as a sideways ref to Band‑in‑a‑Box™ accompaniment s/w by PG Music. Recommended... BiaB is about as much fun as you can have playing with yourself.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Band-In-A-Brain, Wetware Beta 0.1

This damned cold (yes, it's ongoing) has provided me a fascinating experience. Almost anyone who writes original music or song arrangements to fit the band they have at hand knows the utility of listening to potential passages in his or her "mind's ear," that wonderful facility of the human brain that stores, reproduces and transforms music (or any other sound) in ways that allow one to try things out before writing out parts for the band. I've done that quite a few times back in my performing days... and of course baroque music, like jazz, expects some aspects of both accompaniment and melodic material to be improvised on the spot.

The phenomenon that appeared in my mind this week is something more than that, and I've never experienced it before. My brain (apparently, presumably) composes a piece of music, then renders an arrangement for my ear, specifically, my left ear, to hear, with all the harmonies but with a very limited repertoire of tone colors, as if drawn from the patches available on a very limited synth. The arrangement literally plays itself. If there were a reason to do so, I suppose I could transcribe it out on staff paper, but IMHO the world doesn't really need any new 18th-century music, so I won't. Still, it's fascinating to listen to this "band-in-a-brain"; the most fascinating part is that it surprises me on a regular basis. We've all been told again and again that the human brain is highly parallel, far beyond anything we regularly build in commercial hardware; I suppose this is just another example of that: one part of me composes new music and synthesizes it for another part of me to listen to.

Is there any utility to this? Well, there would be, if I were still a working musician. I could use it to try out continuo (accompaniment) parts while I am away from the keyboard. But you're right... it's pretty useless to me in this stage of retirement. Still, it was quite a surprise to learn what my brain can still do.

There's just one problem. Once it gets going, the band-in-a-brain rarely takes a break...

UPDATE: curiouser and curiouser: the band-in-a-brain is playing 17th-century-style canzonas a la Gabrieli, Dario Castello, etc.; folks songs including Home on the Range; and what sounded a bit like a suite of Christmas carols fully arranged for small string orchestra; then some Forties swing... I AM NOT CRAZY; I really am hearing this! We've all heard rumors of people's receiving signals on their dental bridgework; well, I have plenty of bridgework...

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Last week was Stella's turn at the community cold/cough. This week it's my turn. If Stella's experience is typical, it lasts about two weeks. I'm not absolutely dead, but I doubt I'll be blogging very much. Thanks for your patience.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

So — What's In The New FY 2015 Federal Budget, And What Does It Do To Financial Regulations?

See how your money flies!
Sharmini Peries, executive producer at The Real News Network (TRNN), interviews Gerry Epstein, codirector of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at UMass Amherst:
PERIES: So, Gerry, let's begin with what you see as changes as a result of this budget to Dodd-Frank rules and legislation.

EPSTEIN: Well, it's outrageous what is going on. The Republicans and the Democrats are negotiating this huge budget bill, as you described, in order to prevent another government shutdown, which is an admirable thing to do.

But, of course, when this happens, people try to sneak in all kinds of irrelevant sort of wish-list bills in--provisions into these bills. And one of the most outrageous ones is the banks have stuck in a provision that's going to [blunt (?)] one of the most important aspects of the Dodd-Frank legislation, which, as you said, was designed to reduce the chances of another big financial crisis, and therefore it was designed to reduce the chances that the taxpayers would have to bail out these massive banks.

A provision of the Dodd-Frank that they're repealing by sticking this into this budget bill was designed to prevent the big banks from speculating using derivatives. These derivatives are these complex financial instruments that they use to speculate to make billions of dollars. But when they turn south, they caused Citicorp and Bank of America and these other big banks to virtually go bankrupt, and then the government bailed them out.

So the Dodd-Frank bill said, look, financial institutions can engage in these kinds of complex derivatives speculation if they want, but banks that are supported by the government through FDIC insurance, through deposit insurance, and through having access to the Federal Reserve bailouts and so forth, they can no longer engage in this kind of speculation. ...

And now they see the chance to get into this big must-do bill, and it's going to gut even further the Dodd-Frank legislation and make it much more likely that these big banks could start speculating or continuing to speculate, and it makes it much more likely that the taxpayer is going to have to bail them out again. ...

EPSTEIN: Well, first of all, they don't need to be doing this. There are all kinds of other institutions that can do it. But second of all, that's not how they use the derivatives. They use the derivatives to speculate on commodities. They use derivatives to speculate on municipal bonds, as we saw in Detroit. They use derivatives to cheat their customers. They use derivatives to cheat homeowners when they write these mortgages and pack them into these complex products, like collateralized debt obligations. And they do it with subsidized funds. That is, when these big banks that have deposit insurance and that they know the Federal Reserve will bail them out if they get into trouble, they get to borrow money more cheaply. Therefore, they get to speculate using cheaper money. They make much more profits. They pay their CEOs and their rainmakers millions and millions of dollars each year. And then, when things go bust, we have to bail them out.

Read the whole thing; see the whole sorry scam. As CSN&Y sang in "Deja Vu," we have all been here before. Remember the S&L scandals and bailouts from about 1986 to 1995? Who paid for that? (Hint: it wasn't the scandalous S&Ls themselves!)

Now the banks want to do it all over again. Now that there's no distinction between commercial banks and investment banks, the whole of Wall Street is one big criminal enterprise... backed by your tax dollars, if this bill passes and is signed into law.

Better start stuffing those mattresses, folks...

Blogger wendydavis at FDL quotes Lambert Strether at Naked Capitalism:
What could go wrong? The bottom line here is that the legalities and the contractual relations and whatever moral commitments were made don’t really matter. What does matter is that whenever there’s a big pot of money lying around that theoreticallly should go to working people — say, retirement funds, but it could be anything — Congress can retrade whatever deal put the money into the pot, and years after the fact, too. Oh, and workers lose the right to challenge the cuts in court. Nice!

Nice indeed. Nice screw job, from Wall Street to your ear...

Is Obama Preparing To Join With Republicans In Cutting Social Security?

The short answer, via Dylan Scott at TPM: Obama won't say:
When House Republicans signaled last week that they would provoke a fight over Social Security in the next two years, progressive stalwarts like Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren decried the action, with Brown alleging the GOP wanted to "set the stage to cut benefits for seniors and disabled Americans.”

Who's our friend?
Neither one!
But notably silent on the Republican stance, which prevents what has been a routine transfer of revenue between the retirement and disability funds, upping the chances of a crisis for the latter in late 2016, was the Democratic official who might actually be at the table if conservatives succeed in forcing negotiations in the next Congress: President Barack Obama.

TPM asked multiple times last week for the White House's position on the House action, but never received a formal response, a stark contrast to the loud public pronouncements of Brown, Warren, and others. It also invokes the uneasy relationship between the White House and Social Security advocates, who were dismayed by Obama's willingness to accept cuts to the program during the 2011 grand bargain talks with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

(Bolds mine. - SB)

I live mostly on Social Security retirement benefits. Forced to retire five years early by the Baby Bush recession, I was inevitably compelled to begin using my carefully accumulated retirement savings for living expenses long before I anticipated having to retire. But I wasn't too worried: not only had I saved for the rainy day that arrived early and just kept raining, but Social Security retirement benefits had my back, so to speak. I had paid into SocSec all my working life (actually, all but the 10 years I worked for the State of Texas), supporting earlier generations in their retirement years in the good-faith understanding that younger generations would, in part, support me in my own "golden" (yeah, right) years.

But as we all are discovering, the "contract across generations" was never based on anything more substantial than good faith... and our current government officials, in both parties and at least two branches, seems ready and willing to break faith with me and everyone like me. Why? Good question; the best answer I can come up with is a combination of "because they can" and "because it better serves the exceedingly wealthy," who provide elected officials with the obscene amounts of money they need to run for office.

Fv<k them all, and fv<k the horses they rode in on. If we can disrupt this vicious cycle, we certainly should do so. And if we can't... well, there's no telling what a hungry person will do, is there?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

You Don't Have To Think Highly Of Mumia Abu-Jamal...

... to understand that this proposed Pennsylvania law, the "Revictimization Relief Act," is at best a terrible idea and at worst quite possibly unconstitutional. (Among other things, the proposed wording strongly suggests imposing prior restraint on the speech of former convicts AND newspapers that write about them.) Then again, if you frequent my site, you know I usually don't approve of laws that grossly compromise due process or free speech, or are targeted broadly at people selected more or less at the discretion of a court which is not necessarily the court that initially bears the responsibility of trying the criminal matter.

Read Kevin Gosztola's post linked above. See how you feel about vesting in (say) Judge Judy the powers this law would confer over just about anybody to prevent them from speaking on certain subjects (including their own due process in a criminal matter), or a third party publishing in (say) a newspaper a quotation from or a discussion about a person so restricted. If that thought unsettles your stomach when this proposed law is applied to a convicted criminal or even a defendant, just think what it would do to you if the judge applied it instead to a state legislator, a city council member, etc. The proposed law doesn't appear to be designed to prevent such usage.

For me personally, the worst thing about this proposed Pennsylvania state law (yes, it's been introduced by a GOPer; who else?) is that it will give the Texas Lege ideas...

Friday, January 9, 2015

Paul Krugman, ‘Voodoo Time Machine’

Krugman on Republicans' reaction to "the sharp increase in American economic growth that, we now know, began last spring":

... So what would [Republicans] say?

Well, I didn’t see that one coming: They’re claiming credit. Never mind the fact that all of the good data refer to a period before the midterm elections. Mitch McConnell, the new Senate majority leader, says that he did it, that growth reflected “the expectation of a new Republican Congress.”

The response of the Democratic National Committee — “Hahahahahahaha” — seems appropriate. I mean, talk about voodoo economics: Mr. McConnell is claiming not just that he can create prosperity without, you know, actually passing any legislation, but that he can reach back in time and create prosperity before even taking power. But while Mr. McConnell’s self-aggrandizement is funny, it’s also scary, because it’s a symptom of his party’s epistemic closure. Republicans know many things that aren’t so, and no amount of contrary evidence will get them to change their minds.

At least Mr. McConnell didn’t do what many of his colleagues have done when faced with inconvenient facts: resort to conspiracy theories.

(Bolds mine. - SB)

Things Republicans Know
This is a fundamental difference between the D's and the R's. D's may occasionally claim a GOP policy is worse than in fact it is (an error that is more and more difficult to commit as the GOP evolves into a virtually dictatorial organization); R's, on the other hand, are absolutely certain that anything good that happens in America is a direct consequence of, and only of, their radical policies. "Epistemic closure" indeed... and on the whole, disgusting.

Two Hostage Situations In/Near Paris Linked — Officials

ABC News has a summary; also a live link. Apparently the brothers want to die as martyrs. Some nearby schools are being evacuated; some are sheltering in place. Matters are volatile at the moment; I hope by the time you read this, it will be all over. Oh, the times we live in...

UPDATE 10:50AM CDT USA Today reports:
PARIS — Two suspects wanted in the deadly terror attack on a satirical newspaper were killed in a police assault Friday north of Paris that coincided with an assault at a second hostage standoff at a kosher supermarket in the capital, according to multiple news sources.

Cherif Kouachi, 32, and his older brother Said, 34, who had been cornered in a printing warehouse in the village of Dammartin-en-Goele, were killed in the operation, according to multiple news sites, including CNN, Le Monde and the AFP news agency,

Not many details at the moment. I don't have any details on the second hostage situation, but I haven't stopped looking.

UPDATE a few minutes later: the brothers' hostage is safe.

UPDATE another few minutes later:  the male hostage-taker at the kosher supermarket is dead; his girlfriend is still being sought. Putting aside the aversion of my youth to quoting (or having anything to do with) VoA, that is where I saw it first...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

‘Charlie Hebdo’

Terrorists in Paris have attacked Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper which had the [sarcasm] unmitigated gall [/sarcasm] to satirize radical Islam. Two Three masked gunmen, operating with what was called trained military precision and AK‑47 assault rifles, killed 12 people in the newspaper's office, four of them cartoonists who were famous for their lampoons of Islamic subjects, one, the editor of the newspaper. ABC has reported, about an hour or two ago as I write this post, one suspect has surrendered; the other two are at large. Survivors of the attack reported that the terrorists named aloud each person as they killed him or her.

Much to my dismay, the words "terrorist" and "terrorism" have been used in the US to describe any and all kinds of people who attack anyone for any reason, sometimes even to describe political enemies. This is not such a misuse: this is truly terrorism. The gunmen shouted "Allahu akbar" and the equivalent of "We have avenged the prophet Muhammad." They are probably armed and doubtlessly dangerous, wherever they are tonight. The US is not exempt from threats, by these individuals or others associated with them.

One danger is the readiness of some Americans to malign all Muslims for the acts of radical Islamic organizations. Right after 9/11, I knew some Muslims in our apartment complex who quickly emigrated to another country where one had relatives, anticipating the kind of hateful, irrational response the US government mounted under [sarcasm] President Dick Cheney and Vice President George W. Bush [/sarcasm]. I also knew a former friend of Stella's who was prepared to accuse anyone he thought insufficiently Christian (me, for example; I'm a Unitarian Universalist and indeed I am not a Christian) of being a radical Islamist, deserving of imprisonment and/or assault by any red-blooded American.

How can we persuade fear-riddled people, American or French or any other nationality, to refrain from indulging their deepest prejudices against people different from themselves, especially religious people? Intransigent religious extremists are, indeed, among the most dangerous people in the world, and some of them do indeed engage in organized terrorism — but every major religion in the world has such people among their devout followers, and it is simply unjust to assault the nonviolent, more conventional adherents of those faiths. If followed by citizens of every nation and adherents of every religion, that way lies chaos.

Then there's the fundamental matter of free speech. Since the US Supreme Court came to have six (6!) Catholic members, I have given those Catholic Justices a lot of grief in print. Most of my Catholic friends understand my concern with such a ⅔ religious majority on the Court, even if they disagree with me... what about the tiny minority of American Catholics who would be ready and willing to do violence to me for expressing my concerns publicly?

I cannot offer to retract anything I've said, any more than the staff of Charlie Hebdo could retract the sometimes scathing satire that is (was?) their stock-in-trade.

This cannot end well.

My heart is with the French people, and especially the loved ones of the victims of the terrorist attack, on this horrifying day.

ADDENDUM: The gunmen have been identified as French nationals. Heaven help the great nation of France...

(And all this is happening on the birthday of my late, much lamented father, Bill Bates. [sigh /])

114th Congress Starts With GOP Bang: Shot Fired At Social Security Disability

Geezer Bandit steals Congress
Hey! All you ancient white well-off geezers who voted these damned Republicans into Congress... what are you getting for your trouble? In the long run, Dog only knows. But on the first day... the first goddam day of the 114th Congress... you get this, according to Dylan Scott at TPM:

The incoming GOP majority approved late Tuesday a new rule that experts say could provoke an unprecedented crisis that conservatives could use as leverage in upcoming debates over entitlement reform.

The largely overlooked change puts a new restriction on the routine transfer of tax revenues between the traditional Social Security retirement trust fund and the Social Security disability program. The transfers, known as reallocation, had historically been routine; the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said Tuesday that they had been made 11 times. The CBPP added that the disability insurance program "isn't broken," but the program has been strained by demographic trends that the reallocations are intended to address.

The House GOP's rule change would still allow for a reallocation from the retirement fund to shore up the disability fund -- but only if an accompanying proposal "improves the overall financial health of the combined Social Security Trust Funds," per the rule, expected to be passed on Tuesday. While that language is vague, experts say it would likely mean any reallocation would have to be balanced by new revenues or benefit cuts.

(Bolds mine. - SB)

Yep, that's the GOP we know and loathe: anything that doesn't benefit exclusively ancient white geezers (or religious nutjobs), they're opposed to it. And now, thanks to the ancient white geezers, they have the power to kill some of it.

As soon as the previous election established control of Congress, the New Deal was as good as dead. It was too much to hope for that the major stabilizing factors of American society and its government... Social Security retirement and disability, Medicare, etc. ... would not be used as bargaining chips by the raving right‑wing GOP. SSDI happens to be the first, but you can bet it won't be the last.

Remember, you disabled geezers: you did it to yourself.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Americans In Poverty By The Numbers: Bad, Getting Worse

Greg Kaufmann (Center for American Progress; The Nation, lists a couple of dozen numbers depicting poverty in America, often comparing the most recent figures available with those of a decade or more ago. The short version: American poverty is bad and getting worse. Astonishing numbers of American families live in poverty; even more astonishing numbers of Blacks, Hispanics and female heads of households live in poverty. Notwithstanding the words of Paul Ryan (R-Hell), federal antipoverty programs actually can and do make a difference; in this context, Social Security retirement and disability are also antipoverty programs (remember that when Mr. Obama and his Republican buddies start blathering about any sort of "grand bargain" that would compromise SocSec).

I have never lived in poverty, though my father and mother came damned close when I was a child: later in my adolescence, Dad often reminisced about the Christmas in my childhood in which we had $3.00 (three dollars) left in the bank. The times and policies of both the federal government and many employers were kinder than they are today, and we didn't have a Republican Party full of Paul Ryans from the pits of Hell, trying their damnedest to toss people straight into poverty. My family's experiences are a good example of the possibility of a whole society of people, of many different levels of income and wealth, all living life adequately fed and clothed, none suffering abject hunger, all adequately medically cared for. But for that to be the sustainable state of America today, our leaders have to stop lying about what it costs to secure a minimum healthful livelihood for everyone... and the extremely wealthy must be stopped, the sooner the better, from buying our government for their own purposes, which usually involve making themselves even wealthier. To provide the best for anyone, America must provide an adequate life for everyone. It's that simple.

People Unclear On The Concept: Maryland Pol Forbids Reporter To Use The Pol's Name

Somebody, and I will indeed mention his name, is a bit unclear on at least one basic concept of public service:
Councilman Kirby Delauter of Frederick County, Maryland lashed out on Saturday at a reporter for using his name in an article without his permission.

In a Facebook post, Delauter slammed reporter Bethany Rodgers of the Fredericks News-Post "for an unauthorized use of my name and my reference" in an article over the weekend.

"So let me be clear," he continued, apparently addressing Rodgers, "do not contact me and do not use my name or reference me in an unauthorized form in the future."

Rodgers responded, telling the council member that reporters are not required to seek a public figure's permission before using his or her name.

Delauter responded with a threat: "Use my name again and you'll be paying for an Attorney [sic]."

I have a few words for Kirby Delauter. Mr. Delauter: you are an asshole. You do not even have Louie Gohmert's distinction of being an entertaining asshole. Your attitude makes me sorry I live on the same planet with you... but most of all it makes me grateful you do not represent me in any government body. You are just an asshole, no more, no less possibly much less. Delauter you rant, dedumber you sound. Do your district a favor: go home and never show your face in public again.

(See linked post for a screen-grab of the FB exchange, and a photo of an asshole.)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

What Helps The American Worker The Most?

A lot of things help. A good union helps, in a particular craft or trade, or in an entire industry. A political climate favorable to fair negotiations between workers and their employers; it doesn't happen automatically... it must be aggressively pursued, in part through politics, whatever you may think of politics. And... this doesn't get mentioned nearly often enough: workers in an industry (or workers in a broad category of industries) need a good think tank analyzing every aspect of that industry with an eye toward improving the workers' status in the industry or category.

Who was that hirsute man?
I was introduced to EPI, the Economic Policy Institute, many years ago through the blogging of labor economist Max Sawicky. Then he vanished (not really) into some sort of employment which required him to abandon his blog MaxSpeak, dedicated to the substance of EPI, for... something else; I'm not quite sure what. In any case, as of last June, MaxSpeak reappeared, with Max as feisty and intolerant of (yet full of) bullshit as ever, exploring the relationship (effective or otherwise!) of EPI and current politics. Meanwhile, EPI itself never let up in its effort to analyze (using real facts; what a concept) and expose the good, the bad and, uh, whatever else it came across, usually from the perspective of labor, where "labor" was working people, joined and organized or otherwise. Here is EPI's own summary of its recent accomplishments... no mean list, IMHO.

American labor has suffered from a large dose of St. Ronald Reagan, who was as ready as any other "conservative" to manufacture whatever "facts" were required to espouse whatever position he and other self-proclaimed conservatives had already decided to promulgate, mostly to the detriment of working folk. For workers, having an analytical association of economists not wholly owned by The Powers That Be proved utterly essential to survival among the lies served up to the public by people for whom "Keynes" rhymes with "pains" and not much else. Today there are several such think tanks; EPI is one of the oldest and is an aggressive survivor. If you're not familiar with them, Mother Google is your friend leading you to some initial points. Go. Explore. Dig through the accretions of piles of bullshit; find out what's really going on. Maybe it isn't all hopeless after all!

Tesla Gigafactory In Nevada Aims To Be A Game‑Changer In EV Market

Here's a very short excerpt from Juan Cole's article on Tesla's announcement of a new factory in Nevada:

Clean Technica points out that the battery-making factory is on track to reduce battery prices by 30% by 2017, making EVs indisputably cheaper than fossil fuel-driven internal combustion, at less than $100 per kilowatt hour. (Of course, if externalities are taken into account, like the cost of environmental disruption caused by global warming, EVs are already far, far cheaper than gasoline engines. Moreover, if coupled with rooftop solar panels, i.e. with free fuel, their pay-off time is even quicker and households can cut tons of CO2 emissions each year). [Bolds mine. - SB]

Not only will the gigafactory lead to cheaper auto batteries, it will also lead to better battery storage for home solar panels so you can store solar power and use it at night.

Roadster (source: Wikipedia)
This is a companion to some steps Tesla has already taken, such as releasing their patents open-source fashion for "good faith" use. Needless to say, any activist environmentalist would love to switch to driving a Tesla exclusively with no delay and no annoying considerations like high price standing in the way of doing so: technologies available, open-source, to other makers and batteries actually capable of use in a practical EV combine to raise the rate at which the transition can happen considerably.

The thought of living long enough to replace my late father's 20-year-old (!!) Chevy with a practical EV at a cost I can manage is a very appealing notion. Elon Musk seems to change the level of the whole game not less often than once a year or so. Watch this space!

Friday, January 2, 2015

R.I.P. Mario Cuomo (1932 — 2015)

Governor of New York 1983–1994, son of Italian immigrants, steadfast Democrat of the old school (i.e., unapologetic liberal advocate for social justice), great orator, consistently reluctant to pursue our nation's highest office, Cuomo may have been the last American politician with an unreservedly liberal philosophical inclination.

This AP article and this wiki between them summarize his life. They literally don't make 'em like him anymore.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Charles P. Pierce at Esquire, one of the most eloquent political writers alive today, sees Cuomo a bit differently: one might almost summarize Pierce's appraisal of Cuomo as "ineffectual." What can I say: a man who at least twice turned down the opportunity to run for President as candidate of a major party, and once turned down a nomination to the Supreme Court by the most popular president of the late 20th century (no, I do NOT mean St. Ronald), left himself open to Pierce's legitimate assessment.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Notwithstanding all my bellyaching in the post below, maybe 2015 will be spectacular for all of us!

Static Pages (About, Quotes, etc.)

No Police Like H•lmes