Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bringing The Snark

The Los Angeles Times op-ed blogger Paul Whitefield had me chuckling with this opening set of paragraphs:

Forget voter ID laws. What this country needs are laws to keep stupid people from voting.

Now, I’m not talking about folks who can’t recite the preamble to the Constitution, or who can’t tell you what the 1st Amendment covers, or how many Supreme Court justices there are. I’ll even exempt those poor souls who don’t know who the first president was, or can’t name the two houses of Congress, or don’t know the name of their representative.

But, if you were to show up at the polls in November, and the poll worker were to ask you “Is President Obama a Muslim or a Christian?” and you answered “Muslim,” then — bzzzzzt — you’d be automatically disqualified from voting, on the grounds you’re just too dumb.


He's referring, of course, to the recent Pew poll which shows even more Republican voters believe Barack Obama is a Muslim than ever before. Of course, even Whitefield admits that one possible reason for that is the respondents were having a spot of fun with the pollsters. Still, that is a bit disheartening.

After my giggles ended, however, I got the point behind the point, which Grade A Snark should always deliver. What difference does it make, really? What if Obama really is a Muslim? So what? Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn) is a Muslim. So? Why should it matter?

I remember more than 50 years ago when my mother and her sisters declared that if the Democrats nominated that Roman Catholic John F. Kennedy for president they'd never vote Democrat again, and as far as I know, none of them ever did, even after JFK's speech indicating he would uphold his oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution. I had hoped we finally got beyond that point. Clearly I was wrong.

Stupid is one thing. Vicious bigotry is something else. Michele Bachman (and folks such as John Bolton) know this, but still have no trouble playing on the fears people were taught to have by the last administration after 9/11. The equation is simple: Muslim = terrorist. Roman Catholic = Vatican control. Mormonism = bigamist cult.

So much for the promise of a new century, a new millennium.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Granny Bird Award: Simpson-Bowles Enthusiasts

This edition of the Granny Bird Award (given from time to time to those who go out of their way to damage elders' rights and benefits) goes to those who continue to support the disastrous Simpson-Bowles "Grand Compromise", including those Democrats who have sold their souls on the issue.

After nearly a year of exposing the Simpson-Bowles report (which did not get the support of the Super Committee of which it was a part) for what it was, a gift to Wall Street, you'd think it would be dead. You would be wrong: vampires and the undead are in this year.

Fortunately, there are still people who are paying attention, people like Michael Hiltzig of the Los Angeles Times who notes that the report always brings to mind that classic cartoon sequence of Wiley Coyote, treading air, as he jumps off the cliff to catch the Roadrunner.

Is it that the debate over when and how to cure the federal deficit has reached new heights of cartoonish inanity? That we are now being treated to finger-wagging about the need to get our fiscal house in order by corporate CEOs like JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon (trading loss $5.8 billion and counting, potential cost to ratepayers from alleged manipulation of the California electricity market $200 million and counting).

Or is it that the remedies for the deficit always seem to involve cutting taxes for the top 1% of U.S. income earners while cutting Social Security retirement benefits (average monthly check: $1,230) for everyone else? ...

...there's still reason for most Americans to fear the deal-making aimed at avoiding the fiscal cliff. For one thing, the debate seems increasingly to be driven by the wealthy, who can be trusted to protect their own prerogatives while declaring everyone else's to be wasteful. Just two weeks ago, a squadron of CEOs and bankers, including Dimon and hedge fund billionaire Pete Peterson, lined up behind a campaign to impose adult supervision on our squabbling Congress. ...

The Simpson-Bowles plan has inexplicably become the starting point for deficit cutters in both parties. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who in 2010 pronounced a draft version "simply unacceptable," more recently has signaled that she'd support it.
[Emphasis added]

Say what?

A plan to cut Medicare costs by forcing the elders to pay for vouchers for care they've already paid for by withholding taxes the past 30 or so years? Pelosi is in favor of such a plan? She'd garner votes in the House for that?

But, again, there's more:

In any environment of serious debate, Simpson-Bowles would be dismissed out of hand. Praised for its sober bipartisan spirit, it's a compendium of flatulent platitudes ("We all have a patriotic duty to make America better off tomorrow than it is today"), vague prescriptions ("cut all excess spending" and "avoid excessive taxation" — as if reaching broad agreement on the meaning of "excessive" is a snap), and the occasional nostrum that earns a "not" on the gonna-happen scale (strip down the mortgage-interest deduction). According to some estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the plan's sample cuts in the tax deductions wouldn't replace the revenue lost to its proposed reductions in marginal tax rates. ...

The single program getting the bulk the Simpson-Bowles plan's attention is Social Security, which in fact contributes not a dime to the federal deficit, and can't by law. Something else is at work here other than deficit reduction: It's a plan to cut benefits to seniors by ratcheting back on inflation protection and sharply cutting the benefit formula for everyone, starting with those whose average lifetime earnings are $9,000 a year.

What's riskiest about Washington's peculiar approach to deficit cutting, which erodes the programs most important to working Americans while preserving those enjoyed by the wealthy, is that it could sap the resolve of President Obama and his Democratic colleagues to end tax cuts on high levels of income while extending them for average and low-income earners.
[Emphasis added]


Once again, this "Grand Compromise" gives everything to the Wall Street Banksters and their 1% owners and nothing to the rest of us. We didn't cause the financial melt-down. Social Security didn't screw up the economy. Why is this set of lies still getting any currency?

Hiltzig has a response to that:

...as much as corporate CEOs and other privileged incumbents claim they're concerned about the future, it's their future they mean.


Maybe it's time we start insisting that our future, and that of our children and grandchildren, the ones who will actually be paying for this nonsense, receive some attention.

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Marge Piercy

(It's time. Again.)

The Low Road

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can't walk, can't remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can't stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction.
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

--Marge Piercy

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Lee Judge / The Kansas City Star (July 26, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Cuban Screech Owl

(Photograph by Steve Winter and published at National Geographic. Click on the link to learn more about this little beauty.)

We Lost (This Round)

(Editorial cartoon by Kevin Siers / The Charlotte Observer (July 27, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge and then please come back.)

I don't always agree with Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times; in fact, I suspect I disagree with him about 60% of the time. I'll tell you what, though: I may disagree with him but I always read what he has to say because I respect him. He doesn't pull theories out of his netherparts to make a point. He presents his evidence fairly and sends me back to examine my own position. In other words, he keeps me honest.

I don't completely agree with his latest column, but he raises some important points. His thesis is that the NRA has effectively squelched any meaningful discussion of gun control after the Aurora tragedy and has done so with patient and effective work over decades. We differ only in the assignment of reasons as to why this happened.

McManus begins his column by pointing out that the NRA didn't always rule the roost. After the assassinations of President Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King, Congress had no problem is passing gun control legislation. But that was then. Things have changed since then, and he traces what those changes involve.

This week, days after a gunman with an assault rifle killed 12 moviegoers in a Colorado theater, neither Romney nor President Obama raised the now-radical notion of reviving the federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. Even the ban's principal author, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), admitted that it was a lost cause for now.

Feinstein blamed the National Rifle Assn. and other gun rights groups for blocking new laws. "They pour a lot of money [into election campaigns], and some people lost office after they voted for the legislation before," she said.

OK, that's the first reason, and I agree with that. The NRA has been assiduously pouring money into their drive to buy Congress and has been quite successful (as Kevin Siers points out).

McManus goes further, however, and suggests that the mood of the public (the electorate) has changed since the 1970s for other reasons as well.

The public doesn't agree with the NRA that gun laws should be eased further — only 11% hold that view, according to Gallup. But on the core issue — the right to gun ownership with only minimal government oversight — the NRA has won the debate.

Social scientists have differing opinions about why public opinion has shifted so remarkably, but one likely explanation is that crime is down. ...

Another probable reason for the shift is a precipitous drop in citizens' confidence in the federal government. In 2011, Gallup found that only 43% of Americans said they trusted the federal government to handle domestic problems, the lowest ever recorded; 49% said they considered the federal government "an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens," the highest ever recorded. When people are that suspicious of federal power, they're wary of federal gun laws too.

Political polarization is also a factor. Gone are the days when the two parties could find middle ground on gun control. ...
[Emphasis added]

Polls seem to indicate that Americans recognize that there really is no reason for private citizens to have an assault weapon. It's not really a hunting weapon (unless one is a really crazed deer-hunter), and it's ineffectiveness for self-defense was demonstrated in the Aurora shooting: the damned thing jammed, which is the principal complaint by troops stuck with the military version of the rifle. It is unlikely that the drop in violent crimes was caused by the presence of those weapons in the general population.

Still, it's hard to dismiss the suspicions of the general public when it comes "self-defense." Since 9/11 I've been harping on the government usurpation of my civil liberties via the Patriot Acts (in its various iterations) and the executive orders bypassing Congress completely when it comes to "Homeland Security." That said, however, I also know that my 9 mm Sigsauer wouldn't be any match for the firepower of the Los Angeles Country Sheriff's Department or the FBI or the local National Guard if the feds decided I was nuisance enough to nail.

However, I still say that allowing those of us who for various reasons have lost a grip on rationality to stockpile those weapons is more dangerous than the government under even the most Orwellian of scenarios. We have other, and in many respects better weapons, to use. We can simply refuse to cooperate. Enough of us doing so could leave a mark.

In the meantime, McManus' conclusion does in fact ring true:

That absence of debate is the best evidence that the NRA has won the argument, at least for now. Obama represents a party whose voters are, on this issue, dissenters from the American majority. Most Democrats, especially urban Democrats, say they still want tougher gun laws, such as a renewed assault weapons ban that would outlaw the 100-round magazine that James Holmes allegedly used to kill the moviegoers in Colorado. But Obama wants to carry independent voters too, and he can read the polls.

For that President Obama should be ashamed. And so should we all.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

Heart Hurt

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (July 25, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge and then kindly return.)

Journalist and documentary film-maker Lisa Biagiotti has a heart-breaking op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times. There's an international AIDS/HIV conference being held in the US and most folks are busy congratulating each other on the fact that we finally seem to have a handle on this dread disease in terms of treatment, and some signs that we may have a vaccine in the pipes to prevent the infection to begin with.

Ms. Biagiotti reminds us that those congratulations just might be a little premature, especially in this country.

The South has the highest rate of AIDS deaths of any U.S. region. It also has the largest numbers of adolescents and adults living with HIV and the fewest resources to fight the epidemic.

The disease there is concentrated largely in poor minority communities. Diagnoses tend to be late and often only after the infection has progressed to AIDS. Treatment is less effective at that stage, and that's assuming it is even available. Thousands of those living with the human immunodeficiency virus are unable to get the medications they need, waiting in limbo for slots to open up in state AIDS drug assistance programs. President Obama recently pledged to eliminate these waiting lists, and I hope he does.

In Mississippi, the AIDS death rate is 60% higher than the national average, and about 50% of the people who know they are living with HIV are not receiving care, about the same percentage of nontreatment as in Ethiopia.
[Emphasis added]

As if the racism and poverty aren't bad enough, those infected face the additional burden of homophobia from within their own family and culture.

I have spent time with and interviewed many black gay men living with HIV in the South, and they tend to tell similar stories. Their families have shamed and shunned them; their churches have condemned them. The schools they attended failed to provide even the most basic sex education.

The culture, they say, has forced them into hiding. Some marry; some have girlfriends. They try to be invisible in a culture that can accept black men as prisoners, drug dealers, gangsters, adulterers, absent fathers — but not as gay.

The underlying problems of stigma, discrimination and homophobia are palpable, and they exacerbate the crisis. One black pastor I filmed urged his flock to see HIV/AIDS as a punishment: "Some say that homosexuality is not a sin," he intoned. "It is. AIDS is God's curse to a homosexual life."

That's a rough road, one that needs to be addressed by all the smiling scientists and sociologists and politicians at that international meeting.

[Note: "deepsouth", Lisa Biagiotti's documentary on HIV in the South, premiered this week. More information on the film here]

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Another Subject We Dare Not Discuss

The Los Angeles Times is currently running a five-part series titled "Beyond 7 Billion" and has to do with the current world population and predictions for future growth and the calamities we may very well face as a result. The first part was published Monday, July 23, 2012. That part serves as a general introduction to the subject and to the upcoming sections. It also contains the links to those sections.

We're at 7 billion now, but there's a very good chance that figure will rapidly increase because so many in the world's population are young and still fertile. Many live in cultures where large families are expected, even demanded, so the growth rate might increase dramatically over the next 15 to 20 years.

According to United Nations projections, the number will rise to 9.3 billion by 2050 — the equivalent of adding another India and China to the world.

That's an optimistic scenario, one that assumes the worldwide average birthrate, now 2.5 children per woman, will decline to 2.1.

If birthrates stay where they are, the population is expected to reach 11 billion by midcentury — akin to adding three Chinas.

Under either forecast, scientists say, living conditions are likely to be bleak for much of humanity. Water, food and arable land will be more scarce, cities more crowded and hunger more widespread.

On a planet with 11 billion people, however, all those problems will be worse.

The outcome hinges on the cumulative decisions of hundreds of millions of young people around the globe. ...

Momentum isn't the only factor in population growth. In some of the poorest parts of the world, fertility rates remain high, driven by tradition, religion, the inferior status of women and limited access to contraception.

Population will rise most rapidly in places least able to handle it: developing nations where hunger, political instability and environmental degradation are already pervasive.
[Emphasis added]

And the problem is even more complicated than that: with climate change beginning to take hold, providing food will be nearly impossible in much of the world.

Now nearly 1 billion people are chronically hungry, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, and at least 8 million die every year of hunger-related illnesses.

By midcentury, there will be at least 2 billion more mouths to feed, and no one can say where the food will come from.

It's not just that the population will be larger. It's that hundreds of millions of newly affluent people, mostly in Asia, will want to add dairy products and grain-fed beef and pork to their diets.

To meet the projected demand, the world's farmers will have to double their crop production, according to calculations by a team of scientists led by David Tilman, a University of Minnesota expert on global agriculture. ...

Most of Earth's best farmland has already come under hoof or plow, and farmers are losing ground to expanding cities and deserts. Soil erosion, chemical contamination and salt buildup from irrigation are despoiling prime acreage.

Climate change will make all of these challenges more daunting. Higher temperatures and violent weather will stunt or destroy crops. Increased flooding will imperil millions living in low-lying regions. More severe droughts could displace masses of people, leading to conflict.

Starvation, hopelessness leading to political instability: these are huge problems and yet I haven't seen any real attention paid to the subject since Paul Ehrlich's book "The Population Bomb" in the late 1960s. Instead, other than shrugs and the maddening intrusion of the Religious Reich on birth control issues, life continues in First and Third World countries as if nothing was wrong.

I know there won't be any easy answers. Mandating "one-child-only families" did cut the birth rate in China, but at a cost which no one seems willing to bear at this time.

I've read the first three installments in this series and intend to read the rest. They each have been well-written with helpful charts and graphs. They each also include the kind of individual stories which show what kind of climb we are facing. I recommend this highly as important reading.

I also commend the Times for publishing the series. I don't often get the chance to say this about my local newspaper, but I sincerely hope it wins a prize for the effort. It would be well-deserved.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mental Health Day

(I'm taking the day off from blogging.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Epic Fail, Again

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (July 23, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image and then please return.)

I've held off posting on the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was that I was both sickened and saddened by yet another senseless tragedy which could have been and should have been avoided. I was also outraged, outraged that this could happen again even though I know it now happens with great regularity in this gun-mad country.

How is it that someone can buy thousands of rounds of ammunition over the internet, can buy full body armor over the internet, and can buy three guns (including an assault rifle) all within the span of a couple of months? Was no one paying attention? Didn't anyone, especially the government, see this as, well, curious and worth looking into?

Yet we are told by those who claim to be serious people that this is not the time to talk openly about gun control. Is there no better time than this? Or is there simply no time at all for such a serious discussion because it might infringe on the rights and feelings of those who think having a lot of guns out in the general population with no controls at all is a good thing?

I suggest that those serious people go read what a very wise woman had to say about the issues raised by this tragedy.

Hecate nailed it in all sorts of ways, even as Joel Pett did. Now it's time for some serious discussion and some serious action.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Michele Again

Last week I posted on Michele Bachmann's wild claims that the government had been infiltrated by crazed Islamic Jihadists bent on our destruction. What I didn't emphasize, and clearly should have, is that her bizarre and outrageous claims were made within the context of her role as a sitting member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence. Yes, her comments were intended to garner votes and (more importantly) campaign funds for her re-election drive, but given the stature of her committee assignment, the effects of her perfidy have a longer reach.

Like Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, Bachmann is clearly determined to ride this wild pony through the election and beyond. It's easy for me, a dirty fucking hippy living on the West Coast, to note the comparison. What made me uneasy is that I wasn't so certain that her constituents and fellow Minnesotans had made the same connection. Well, at least one, columnist Jon Tevlin of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, has made the connection.

Here is what I wrote in a column in December about Michele Bachmann:

"You have to give the Republicans credit for their sense of humor in naming her to the Intelligence Committee, but given Bachmann's difficulty with facts, it's hard to believe they will be handing over top secret information to her. Look for Bachmann to use her position to talk about wild government takeover theories and dubious foreign threats, which she will then refuse to discuss further because they are secret."

That's pretty much what Bachmann has done in her most recent allegations that the "halls of Washington" are crawling with Islamic infiltrators. In her response to Rep. Keith Ellison's concerns about her claims, Bachmann indeed hinted that she might have some secret info, but "nor am I able to get into the private discussions and documentation received by the various House committees ..."

I point out my previous column not to show how prescient I am, but how predictable Bachmann has become in her studied formula to make news: Use half-truths and loose associations to make wild accusations; repeat on friendly, unquestioning media outlets until it reaches mainstream; then run like hell from tough questions and claim everything is "out of context."

For a while, such behavior was comical. But now even Speaker of the House John Boehner, from her own party, has called Bachmann's behavior "pretty dangerous" -- following military hero John McCain's rare verbal pummeling of her on the Senate floor. It is no longer amusing.

Maybe it is something else: Michele Bachmann's Joe McCarthy moment?
[Emphasis added]

One can only hope that her constituents have decided that Bachmann's "sell-by" date has been reached, because her comments have had an impact on US security interests around the world by virtue of her committee assignment. For more on that, I urge you to read Tevlin's entire column.

This is not simply the case of a zealot pushing a sincerely held belief. If it were, the "report" she is relying upon for her assertions would have fewer red flags in it. From Raw Story

As evidence of their claims, the five Republicans cited “The Muslim Brotherhood in America: The Enemy Within,” a ten-part video course produced by the Center for Security Policy.

The movies claim that the “Muslim Brotherhood was helped in its efforts to achieve information dominance over the George W. Bush administration” by Norquist, a Christian. The influential anti-tax activist is also accused of using “various organizations to promote Islamist agendas.”
[Emphasis added]

Norquist a secret Jihadist?


Venal and stupid: Michele Bachmann.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Jenny Joseph


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

--Jenny Joseph

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Kevin Siers / The Charlotte Observer (July 19, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Imperial Moth

(Photo by Ifthethunderdontgetya and published at at his blog. Click on the link for more incredible photographs.)

Don't Bother, They're Here

(Click on image to enlarge to see some of the fine details, then kindly return.)

David Horsey has produced a lot of superb cartoons and posts to accompany them, but this one might be one of his best.

While Michele Bachmann's craziness may have been knocked off the front page by the horrific tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, I'm sure she will return much sooner than later. She's running for re-election, and, as we saw earlier this year, when an election is involved, she's all for grabbing the Queen of the Tea Party Mantle and the headlines.

This has been a week in which someone at the Republican National Committee must have said, "Send in the clowns!" Michele Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh and lesser jesters in the GOP circus were just a few fake noses and a seltzer bottle short of performances worthy of Ringling Bros.

Bachmann was the premier buffoon. The Minnesota congresswoman alleged that a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Huma Abedin, may be a spy for the Muslim Brotherhood. ...

On Wednesday, Sen. John McCain rose to Abedin's defense on the floor of the Senate, not naming Bachmann, but clearly aiming fire in her direction. "When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it," McCain said.

Bachmann’s former campaign manager, Ed Rollins, was just as scathing. "Having worked for Congressman Bachmann's campaign for president," he said, "I am fully aware that she sometimes has difficulty with her facts, but this is downright vicious and reaches the late Senator Joe McCarthy level.
" [Emphasis added]

And it's not just McCain and Rollins who objected to the unwarranted vilification. Even House Speaker John Boehner noted that such attacks were "dangerous." That didn't stop, or even slow Ms. Bachmann. She widened her attack to include another member of Congress from her own state:

Shrugging off criticism from GOP leaders in Congress, Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann broadened her allegations Thursday of Islamic infiltration in the U.S. government, accusing Democrat Keith Ellison of associations with the Muslim Brotherhood.

"He has a long record of being associated with [the Council on American–Islamic Relations] and with the Muslim Brotherhood," Bachmann told right-wing radio and TV show host Glenn Beck.

Ellison, whose Minnesota congressional district borders Bachmann’s, told the Huffington Post that Bachmann’s accusations are totally false. "I am not now, nor have I ever been, associated with the Muslim Brotherhood," he said, echoing the McCarthy-era government loyalty oath.

The exchange came a day after Bachmann was denounced on the Senate floor by Ariz. Sen. John McCain. Earlier Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner termed Bachmann’s allegations “dangerous.” ...

In a wide ranging interview, she called it “my duty” to speak up, and accused the FBI of a “purge” of training materials on radical Islam.

As for Ellison, who has publicly questioned the basis of her allegations, Bachmann said “he wanted to shut it (her call for an investigation) down.”

Bachmann repeated her accusations that Abedin’s family members, including her long-deceased father, associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. But even as she questioned how Abedin could have received a government security clearance, she denied accusing the Clinton aide of being an agent for the Islamic group.

“All we’re doing is asking a question,” she said.
[Emphasis added]

Yeah, right. And in your newly drawn district you need to be sure your constituents are aware of your bona fides. Hopefully, for the rest of the state and the country, your constituents have gotten an up close and personal look at your beliefs and tactics.

In the mean time, Mitt Romney is now faced with another dilemma: what does he do about a base that believes non-Christians have no role in this country. Given the view of many fundamentalists that his own religion doesn't qualify him for sanctification, how does he pacify them? David Horsey wondered the same thing:

The quandary Romney faces and has faced throughout the campaign is that the conspiracy clowns include not just a few members of Congress and a bunch of conservative pundits and celebrities. Their ranks extend to all the folks who believe the same crazy stuff as Bachmann -- a broad segment of voters that just happens to be the base of the party Romney is trying to lead.

Does he dare shut them out at the convention? Or does he let them speak, thereby losing a huge chunk of the popular vote, including those in states that are up for grabs and close. I'm sure he'll be thinking about that as he goes to fund raisers in London with those banksters accused of being involved in the LIBOR scandal.

Popcorn futures are up.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

Enron-ed Again

What is it that makes California such a prime target for monkeying with the power supply? It's size? It's large population? It's lax regulatory agencies? It wasn't all that long ago that Enron manipulated our power, leading not only to power outages but the recall of a governor. Now, according to Michael Hilzig, it's JP Morgan Chase manipulating our power and its cost.

The next time your electricity bill prompts you to curse your local utility, here's another target where you should direct your anger: JPMorgan Chase & Co., which has manipulated the California energy market for its own profit and at a cost to residents and businesses in the state that could be $100 million, $200 million or much more.

That's the accusation leveled by the California Independent System Operator, which has jurisdiction over 80% of the state's electrical transmission. The ISO, a nonprofit corporation controlled by the state government, estimates that JPMorgan may have gamed the state's power market for $57 million in improper payments over six months in 2010 and 2011.

But that could be just the tip of the iceberg: The bank continued its activities past that time frame, according to the ISO. It also says JPMorgan's alleged manipulation could have helped throw the entire energy market out of whack, imposing what could be incalculable costs on ratepayers.

And, sad to say, it's possible that the manipulation was done legally because of the rules in place.

Here's how the game worked:

The alleged scheme involves two related wholesale electricity markets maintained by the ISO. There's the day-ahead market, in which power plant owners place bids to provide power for the California electricity grid in the future; and the real-time market, an auction market through which ISO buys electricity for immediate distribution to homes and businesses.

To give plant owners an incentive to participate in these auctions, ISO guarantees to cover their costs for starting up or running their plants at a minimal level, even if their bids aren't accepted. This is known as "bid cost recovery." ISO rules allow bidders to claim payments of up to twice their real costs.

In simplest terms, JPMorgan submitted bids in the day-ahead market that were so low the firm was certain to be accepted onto ISO's roster of potential electricity suppliers — in fact, they were negative bids, essentially offering to pay ISO to take their electricity. The bidding is overseen by software, not human beings, and the automated program isn't smart enough to distinguish a real bid from a potentially fake one. (Implausible as it may seem, there can be legitimate reasons for a power generator to submit a negative bid, but they don't apply to JPMorgan.) ISO believes that JPMorgan never intended to make that sale, but the beauty of its low bids was that they made it eligible to collect bid cost recovery payments.

The next step was for JPMorgan to make sure that ISO didn't actually buy its electricity, presumably because the profit margin from the bid cost recovery claim was greater than from actually selling energy. So in the real-time market, it priced its electricity so high that ISO wouldn't buy it.

The bottom line, the ISO says, is that JPMorgan's traders never intended to sell it electricity via these bids. The scheme, it says, seems to have been designed purely to capture a bid cost recovery payment the bank didn't deserve, at a rate that was inflated anyway.
[Emphasis added]

The game worked for as long as it did because the computer wasn't designed to catch that kind of behavior. It might have worked even longer if JP Morgan hadn't gotten greedy and got the kind of returns that a human finally noticed. The state ISO changed the rule involved, but the brains at the bank found yet another loophole to take advantage of. And a new game ensued just a few days later.

All of this might have been avoided if Glass Stiegel hadn't been repealed. Banks would be in the banking business, not the power business. And the banks have no reason to back out now because they know the feds will fine them far, far less than they made in the scam.

It makes me want to scream.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

In Your Dreams, David

David Horsey took a vacation in Montana last week, where he helped herd cattle while on horseback. In his first column back, Horsey writes of the vicissitudes of ranching life in areas gripped by drought and what it portends for the rest of us.

In this well-moistened stretch of hills and prairies near the Canadian border, ranchers can afford to wait. Farther south, though, in Wyoming, Nebraska and east to Kansas and Arkansas, ranchers are being forced to sell off livestock prematurely. The summer’s intense heat and the extended drought have dried up water supplies and broiled the grass. With no way to sustain their herds, the ranchers are selling early, losing $200 to $400 on each head of cattle.

Beef production this year is expected to drop by a billion pounds, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, and will continue to fall next year. That means consumers will be paying more for their steaks and hamburgers, even as many ranchers lose their livelihood. This comes on top of the wildfires, killer storms and crop failures resulting from extreme weather, so you would think it might be a serious issue that the candidates for president would want to address. If you were to think that, though, you’d be wrong.

Political campaigns are not geared to tackle daunting problems in rational ways. Manufactured issues rise up, only to be replaced in the next news cycle by another trumped-up outrage. Right now, Mitt Romney and President Obama are engaged in a contest to define the other guy as negatively as possible. Romney’s career with Bain Capital and Obama’s alleged cronyism are prime lines of attack. Beef prices, wildfires, weird weather and the climate change that may be causing it are nowhere on their list of talking points. ...

...it just may be that Gore’s warnings about global warming are coming true. Plenty of climate scientists believe we have reached a tipping point and, within a generation or two, new weather patterns will make ranching and farming impossible in many states.

That dire possibility is surely something worthy of reasoned discussion. Yet, with American politics in its current polarized and frivolous state, it would be easier to corral a renegade cow than to make a presidential candidate talk straight about issues that really matter.
[Emphasis added]

And that, David, is why the American electorate has become cynical and lethargic. Citizens see campaigns such as this one as an elaborate shell game, one that they cannot win or benefit from. And that's just the way our owners want it to be.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Great Suppression

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 7/17/12 by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Click on image to enlarge and then kindly return.)

Florida got a break, of sorts. The federal government blinked and has allowed the state to access a federal data bank on known non-citizen residents.

A year-long stalemate between Florida and Washington ended Saturday when the federal government gave the state access to a comprehensive federal citizenship database, which the state will use to resume an election-year purge of non citizen voters.

After repeatedly refusing, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security agreed to open its database to the Department of State, which oversees Florida’s voter registration system. The state will now cross-check the names of Florida voters against a federal citizenship database known as SAVE, or Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements. ...

Florida has one of the largest immigrant populations of any state, and more than half of the people on the first purge list had Hispanic surnames. Hispanics are considered a crucial voting bloc in the race between Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. It is a third-degree felony for a non citizen to vote in an election.

It's hard to argue that the list should not have been made available to Florida. After all, non-citizens shouldn't be voting in our elections. That's not the point, however. The damage has already been done. Hispanics, African-Americans, the poor, and the elderly have already been intimidated by the highly-suspect crackdown by the Republican-controlled legislature in Florida and other states.

In some states, like Minnesota (for example), voters will have a proposition on the ballot for a constitutional amendment requiring state sanctioned photo id's. People who don't have ready access to the documents required for such cards (again, people of color, the poor, the elderly) will be shut out. They won't even be able to try to fight what is something akin to a poll tax, and most won't bother. The Republicans see this as an easy route to victory.

Over fifty years of the civil rights struggle will be wiped out.

I am ashamed to share citizenship with those yahoos across the aisle.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

It's Getting Dumber Out

(Editorial cartoon by Kevin Siers / The Charlotte Observer (July 16, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge and then please return.)

Poor Mitt Romney: he's having a miserable July and there doesn't seem to be any end in sight. The Obama campaign has been ruthless in its attack on Romney's tenure at Bain Capital and the Romney campaign just can't find a way out of the issue. It doesn't help that the candidate himself keeps issuing sound bites that sound remarkably like whining.

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post has a pretty decent analysis of just what it going on.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney continues to struggle to get out from under questions regarding just when he departed from his job at Bain Capital. And there’s reason to believe that he won’t be able to solve his Bain problem anytime soon.

Politics 101 says that when your campaign is bleeding — and Romney’s camp is bleeding right now — the best way to stop it is to get as many facts out as quickly as possible and then insist that it’s a dead issue and refuse to answer questions on it moving forward.

That won’t likely work for Romney because of the seeming contradictions about when he left the company — and the exotic nature of his financial life.

While most independent fact checkers agree that Romney had no involvement in Bain’s day-to-day operations after 1999, the fact that he was listed on Securities and Exchange Commission documents as chairman and president of Bain creates a fuzziness that allows President Obama’s campaign to continue to hammer away on the issue. ...

That fuzziness was furthered over the weekend by Romney campaign senior adviser Ed Gillespie who said that the former Massachusetts governor had “retroactively” retired in 1999.
[Emphasis added]

Sheesh! A senior adviser offered that as an answer? I'm beginning to wonder if Mitt's judgement in whom to surround himself with took an even bigger hit by that off-the-wall comment. I mean, Ed Gillespie is supposed to know his way around campaigns. I'm not certain after that comment that Gillespie can be trusted to find the men's room for his candidate.

But wait! There's more.

GOP regulars have to be getting nervous at this point. The convention is less than a month away and the election less than four months away. The last thing Republicans want is a candidate badly wounded after Labor Day. And the Bain Capital issue isn't the only one that's tripping Romney up. There's also the issue of his refusal to release tax returns. Bill Kristol, a noted conservative commentator has some "constructive criticism" for his party's candidate:

Political analyst Bill Kristol added on Sunday to conservative criticism of Mitt Romney's failure to release multiple years of tax returns, saying the presumptive Republican presidential nominee should bear the political consequences of his tax record.

"He should release the tax returns tomorrow. It's crazy," Kristol said on "Fox News Sunday." "You gotta release six, eight, 10 years of back tax returns. Take the hit for a day or two."

Kristol also called on Romney to engage in a "serious" debate with President Barack Obama over capitalism and redirect the political conversation back to the president's record on the economy.

At this point, Romney continues to resist. He doesn't think he should have to because Teresa Heinz Kerry didn't release her tax returns (say what? LOL). Of course, he may have good reasons to fear doing so if there are any Bain earnings posted after 2000.

So, I've been complaining about the dog days of the campaign, but it's gotten kind of fun the past two weeks. Unfortunately, none of this helps the electorate out when it comes to seeing/hearing specific plans for the economy, foreign policy, health costs, the environment. I guess that would be asking too much.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Oh, My!

It isn't often that I agree with the Washington Post editorial board, but this is one of those times. In an editorial entitled "Expose the Fat Cats," WaPo came down unequivocally in favor of requiring those groups paying for political ads to reveal the sources of their donations.

AMERICANS WHO are worried about the corrosive power of big money in politics ought to watch what is about to happen in the Senate. On Monday, a cloture vote is scheduled on legislation that would require the disclosure of donors anonymously pumping tens of millions of dollars into this year’s presidential and congressional campaigns. Not a single Republican in the chamber has expressed support for the bill, known as the Disclose Act, meaning it will probably die for this session. It should be interesting to hear how the Republican senators justify this monumental concealment of campaign cash. ...

Until recently, Republicans supported full disclosure. Now that the tide of money is running in their favor, they don’t. Their rationale is that exposure might squelch the constitutional rights of donors. In fact, the court has upheld the constitutionality of disclosure. The Disclosure Act is a reasonable bill that would, among other things, require identification of donors of $10,000 or more to certain organizations that spend money on political campaigns.
[Emphasis added]

Those "certain organizations" are primarily those groups known as 501(c)4 groups, non profit organizations which are supposed to be about "education" and the like, but which in the election cycles since Citizens United, are purely political in nature. Groups like Karl Rove's Global GPS have been have been flooding the airwaves with attack ads designed to bring down Democrats in the House, Senate, and White House. Unlike Super PACs, the 501(c)4 organizations are not required to file reports with the FEC listing their donors, which means tens of thousands of dollars are funneled secretly into the process.

The excuse usually offered is that revealing the donors' names is an unconstitutional infringement on donors' rights to privacy and free speech, an excuse which simply doesn't hold any more water than the claims that these are "educational groups." One of the arguments used by the Supreme Court in Citizens United was that the reporting requirements of the Super PACs provides all the transparency that is required during an election.

The Disclose Act would end that bit of chicanery, which the GOP simply is not interested in, mainly because Republicans are the primary beneficiaries. Like the editorialist states, it will be interesting to see what kind of excuse is proffered to avoid the vote today.

Hopefully, the Democrats use whatever justification is offered as a bludgeon for the next four months.

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Emily Dickinson

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air -
Between the Heaves of Storm -

The Eyes around - had wrung them dry -
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset - when the King
Be witnessed - in the Room -

I willed my Keepsakes - Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable - and then it was
There interposed a Fly -

With Blue - uncertain - stumbling Buzz -
Between the light - and me -
And then the Windows failed - and then
I could not see to see -

--Emily Dickinson

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 7/12/2012 in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Click on image too enlarge. This time it's important, even for those of you with young eyes.)


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Fallow Deer

(Photograph by Mark Bridger, My Shot, and published 7/13/12 at National Geographic.)

Lord Of The Lies

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 7/13/2012 by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Click on image to enlarge and then please return.)

I am still bewildered by the fact that today's politicians don't get that lying is not such a good campaign strategy, even if Fox News and GOP outlets will trumpet their bogus assertions. There are still plenty of people, either working for news outlets or bloggers who care about more than truthiness that will fact check. It's so much easier now with the internet and access to government and newspaper files on line. Yet, the lying continues, sometimes with real consequences. The latest case in point is Mitt Romney's lame-ass response to the Obama campaign's claims that his tenure at Bain Capital led to the loss of US jobs.

Mitt claims that he left Bain Capital in 1999, before jobs were outsourced by his company. Unfortunately, government records seem to reflect something different.

At issue is when Romney left Bain, and whether he was at the helm when it sent jobs overseas.

The documents, filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, place Romney in charge of Bain from 1999 to 2001, a period in which the company outsourced jobs and ran companies that fell into bankruptcy.

Romney has tried to distance himself from this period in Bain's history, saying on financial disclosure forms he had no active role in Bain as of February 1999. Obama has labeled Romney a job killer in hopes of undercutting the Republican's claim that his private business experience gives him the ability to turn around the struggling economy.

But at least three times since then, Bain listed Romney as the company's "controlling person," as well as its "sole shareholder, sole director, chief executive officer and president." And one of those documents — as late as February 2001 — lists Romney's "principal occupation" as Bain's managing director. ...

The SEC documents — which have received modest attention despite being reported in recent days by publications including the political website Talking Points Memo — raise questions about Romney's role at Bain in 1999, 2000 and early 2001. If he turned his full attention to the Olympics in early 1999, as his campaign says, it's hard to square with the Bain SEC filing, two years later, listing his "principal occupation" as the company's managing director and his titles as CEO and president.

James Cox, a securities law professor at Duke University, said the SEC's Schedule 13D forms have always been under legal scrutiny by SEC officials and company executives. He said law firms hired to file such reports — known as "beneficial ownership reports" because they deem who can sell securities — "pay great attention to these forms. I don't find that these parts of the documents are casually reported."

"It's hard for me to believe you could be listed as 'management anything' without it taking up a bulk of your time," said Cox, who had not reviewed Bain's statement on Thursday.

During the years in question — 1999 to 2011 — Bain oversaw investments that either sent jobs abroad of filed for bankruptcy. For example, in late 1999, Bain-controlled Steam International set up overseas call centers, and a subsidiary moved jobs from California to Mexico. In 2000, the Ampad company declared bankruptcy. The following year, so did steel-maker GS Industries — just as Bain made $58.4 million from its investment.
[Emphasis added]

Keep in mind that those SEC documents are filed under penalty of perjury. If Romney was not acting as CEO, Managing Director, and President, then he has committed a felony for filing a false report.

Also keep in mind that Romney still refuses to produce his income tax returns for 2000 and 2001, which just might show earnings from Bain Capital for those years. That would confirm the lies.

In other words, Romney has painted himself into a corner labeled "Liar" and "Dumber Than A Box Of Rocks."

And this from a man who claims he is presidential material.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

The Republicans in the House are having themselves a high old time. Rather than addressing serious issues, they've been play-acting: holding the Attorney General in contempt; passing a bill to repeal "Obamacare;" and, now, going after journalists who publish leaks from government whistle blowers.

Expressing outrage over national security leaks, Republicans on a House Judiciary subcommittee pressed legal experts Wednesday on whether it was possible to prosecute reporters for publishing classified information.

The response was a qualified yes.

"Under certain circumstances, you can see that if someone acting with impunity and knowledge of the consequences goes ahead and publishes it, that is something that I think would be worthy of prosecution and punishment," said Kenneth Wainstein, a partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft who specializes in national security.

The hearing of the crime, terrorism and homeland security subcommittee follows publication in recent weeks in the New York Times and other outlets of detailed accounts about cyber warfare, the slaying of Osama bin Laden and alleged "kill lists" maintained for targeting foreign terrorists. ...

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) suggested that the U.S. attorneys subpoena journalists to determine the names of sources who provide classified information.

"Put them in front of the grand jury," Gowdy said. "You either answer the question or you're going to be held in contempt and go to jail, which is what I thought all reporters aspire to do anyway. I thought that was the crown jewel of the reporter's resume to actually go to jail protecting a source." ...

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said that some leaks revealed abuses, such as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. He questioned why Congress should be so concerned about the current leaks when leaks had occurred in every administration.

Instead of looking for ways to go after journalists, the government should be focused on updating outdated laws like the Espionage Act in a way that will protect journalists and government interests, said Bruce Brown, a partner at Baker & Hostetler law firm.

"What's unfortunate is that rather than grappling with this question in a measured, rationale [sic] way, whenever disclosures are in the headlines then lawmakers have a tendency to latch on to this area," Brown said.

What? Approach an issue in a rational way? Oh, please. We're talking Republicans and we're coming up on an election.

To be fair, it's not just Republicans. The administration is none too pleased with the published leaks and it has gone after whistle blowers with a vengeance. But it hasn't so far threatened the journalists who are the recipients of the leaks.

Apparently the message the Republicans are sending to the media is that journalists should stick to what they do best: covering missing white women, shark attacks, and unedited GOP talking points. Straying from those beats will cause problems for everyone.

In other words, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Frackin' Morons--Redux

It's been hotter than I like it the past few days, so hot I thought about taking the day off from blogging and the internet to spend the day in bed with a full-body ice pack. I don't have a full-body ice pack, so ...

Now, to be honest I have to admit that temperatures in the upper 90sF in SoCal in mid-July is not all that unusual. I'll also admit that the temps here don't compare with the high temperatures of last week in much of the nation. I'm old, however, so I get to kvetch.

Still, the unusual weather the past several months all over the world does give more substance to the already substantial data on climate change, at least to people with more than half a functioning brain. Yet many people still don't get it. They still think we can continue doing what we've done for centuries to provoke the problem. We still depend on fossil fuel, and that, of course, makes the oil cartels and oil companies happy.

David Horsey (whose cartoon heads this post)has a brief but cogent response to this delusion, especially as it pertains to the latest craze, fracking.

A relatively new technology called hydro-fracking is being employed to get at the stuff. Fracking involves pumping huge amounts of water and chemicals into the earth and forcing the oil and gas to the surface. The oil companies, as you might guess, say there is no harm done by this process. Environmentalists claim there is huge potential for pollution. ...

The Keystone XL pipeline project that would deliver the dirty crude from Canada to Houston was to be routed right across the Ogallala Aquifer that underlays a broad area of the Great Plains. President Obama has nixed the plan, at least for now, and Republicans are beating him up for it. They say the pipeline project will create tens of thousands of new jobs and will put America on the path to energy independence.

The Republicans may not have their numbers straight. The State Department, the entity that must give approval to the international project, found that the number of jobs created would only amount to a few thousand temporary jobs and just a few hundred permanent ones. In addition, environmentalists point out that the reason the Canadians want their oil shipped to Houston is so that it can be refined and then shipped abroad. So much for energy independence.

And what does this have to do with the extreme weather we are experiencing? Why is it that climate extremes have tipped from a ratio of one really cold day for one really hot day each year to this year's ratio of seven hots to every cold one? In the words of climate scientists, "This is what global warming looks like." Those climate scientists are also saying, "I told you so." ...

Wise political leaders would be shifting us away from fossil fuels as an energy source because carbon emissions exacerbate the global warming phenomenon. But not only has very little progress been made in that direction, but virtually all Republicans and many Democrats in Congress are determined to exploit the dirtiest reservoirs of oil in the name of energy independence.

That is not independence; that is feeding an addiction.


And yes.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Making It Easy For The Man

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (July 10, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge and then please return.)

I admit it. I've become a real Luddite since I retired. I don't have an iPad, and have no intentions of buying one. I don't have satellite-delivered television or high speed internet. I don't even have a smart phone. I do have a cell phone, an old one by our current standards, but I keep it turned off and use it only in emergencies. I'm retired. I don't need to be "connected."

Still, I find this story more than a little troubling.

Mobile carriers responded to a staggering 1.3 million law enforcement requests last year for subscriber information, including text messages and phone location data, according to data provided to Congress. ...

The number of Americans affected each year by the growing use of mobile phone data by law enforcement could reach into the tens of millions, as a single request could ensnare dozens or even hundreds of people. Law enforcement has been asking for so-called “cell tower dumps” in which carriers disclose all phone numbers that connected to a given tower during a certain period of time.

So, for instance, if police wanted to try to find a person who broke a store window at an Occupy protest, it could get the phone numbers and identifying data of all protestors with mobile phones in the vicinity at the time — and use that data for other purposes. ...

...the Justice Department employs a covert internet and telephone surveillance method known as pen register and trap-and-trace capturing. Judges sign off on these telco orders when the authorities say the information is relevant to an investigation. No probable cause that the target committed a crime — the warrant standard — is necessary.

Pen registers obtain non-content information of outbound telephone and internet communications, such as phone numbers dialed, and the sender and recipient (and sometimes subject line) of an e-mail message. A trap-and-trace acquires the same information, but for inbound communications to a target. ...
[Emphasis added]

In other words, even the lax "rules" of the FISA system need not be followed. The government can simply state that it needs the info and permission is granted, Fourth Amendment be damned.

There's something dreadfully wrong with this picture.

I know that if the government wants to track me, it can simply monitor my emails and internet usage, even if it is on an antiquated dial-up system. But I'll be damned if I'll make it any easier for the "monitoring."

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Say What?

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 7/10/12 in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Click on image to enlarge and then please return.)

I really must be getting old. Try as I might, I could not quite grasp the argument Mitt Romney was making in response to President Obama's push for the limitation of tax cuts to middle class couples making less than $250,000 per year.

Previewing the message that he will bring Tuesday to the swing state of Colorado, Mitt Romney told a conservative talk-radio host that President Obama’s tax cut extension proposal would “kill jobs” and harm the middle class.

“What the president is proposing is therefore a massive tax increase on job creators and on small business,” the unofficial Republican presidential nominee told Virginia-based conservative radio host John Fredericks in a taped interview that will air Tuesday. “Small businesses are overwhelmingly being taxed not at a corporate rate but at the individual tax rate. So successful small businesses will see their taxes go up dramatically, and that will kill jobs.


My understanding is that the tax cut being proposed was on personal income taxes, not on business taxes. That's just for starters. And I'm not so certain that small businesses which are not incorporated are taxed at the individual rate, but even if they are, those businesses also are entitled to deductions for the cost of doing business: the tax is on the net profits. It's hard to follow Mr. Romney's logic on this (assuming, of course, that there is some logic involved). Finally, this is not actually a new tax, but merely a partial extension of a tax cut imposed by George Bush as a temporary measure when the economy started to head south. The tax cuts were supposed to stimulate the economy and give businesses an incentive to stop laying off employees and to hire new ones. We've seen how well that worked.

What I find ironic is that the man who ran Bain Capital, a company which bought other companies, stripped them of their assets, and then laid off the employees or which shipped the jobs overseas, is making this argument. He didn't seem to have much concern for US job expansion back then, did he.

This is also the man who stashes a lot of his money in tax havens outside of the US so he doesn't have to pay any taxes on that money. He doesn't seem to have much concern about the federal deficit at all.

Like I said, I must be getting old.

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Monday, July 09, 2012

Well, How About That

The New York Times finally got around to noticing that groups organized as "non-profits" have been donating to political causes, a real no-no if they want to keep their tax-free status.

Two years after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the door for corporate spending on elections, relatively little money has flowed from company treasuries into “super PACs,” which can accept unlimited contributions but must also disclose donors. Instead, there is growing evidence that large corporations are trying to influence campaigns by donating money to tax-exempt organizations that can spend millions of dollars without being subject to the disclosure requirements that apply to candidates, parties and PACs.

The secrecy shrouding these groups makes a full accounting of corporate influence on the electoral process impossible. But glimpses of their donors emerged in a New York Times review of corporate governance reports, tax returns of nonprofit organizations and regulatory filings by insurers and labor unions. ...

Some of the biggest recipients of corporate money are organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, the federal designation for “social welfare” groups dedicated to advancing broad community interests. Because they are not technically political organizations, they do not have to register with or disclose their donors to the Federal Election Commission, potentially shielding corporate contributors from shareholders or others unhappy with their political positions. ...

Because social welfare groups are prohibited from devoting themselves primarily to political activity, many spend the bulk of their money on issue advertisements that purport to be educational, not political, in nature. In May, for example, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, a group co-founded by the Republican strategist Karl Rove, began a $25 million advertising campaign, carefully shaped with focus groups of undecided voters, that attacks Mr. Obama for increasing the federal deficit and urges him to cut spending.

The Internal Revenue Service has no clear test for determining what constitutes excessive political activity by a social welfare group. And tax-exempt groups are permitted to begin raising and spending money even before the I.R.S. formally recognizes them. Two years after helping Republicans win control of the House with millions of dollars in issue advertising, Crossroads GPS’s application for tax-exempt status is still pending.
[Emphasis added]

The Center for Responsive Politics has been following this trend since the end of February, and has done a remarkable job in compiling a list of such groups. It even has a chart which indicates how much money is involved, the political persuasion of the group, and its disclosure policy.

While the NYT is a little late to the dance, it has at least done a pretty good job in digging out even more information about these groups. For that it deserves some praise. The trick will be for the paper to keep at it, if only to light a fire under the IRS to do some investigating of its own.

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Sunday, July 08, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Langston Hughes


Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

--Langston Hughes

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (July 4, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, July 07, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Anna's Hummingbird

(Photo by Rosemary Taylor and published by National Geographic. This is a nice representation of the little critter that hangs out at my hummingbird feeder and frequently flies up to the window to see what I'm up to.)

Generic Candidates

(Editorial cartoon by Jim Morin / Miami Herald (July 6, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge and then please return.)

No, it's not another post on the Higgs Boson particle, just another post on the presidential campaigns. Like I said on July 2,, we've hit the dog days a little earlier than I would have anticipated. In that post I suggested that the whole thing had become boring and predictable because "both candidates have failed to persuade the electorate of their qualifications because neither has a vision of what it will take to cure what ails us." Things haven't changed in the last five days.

David Lauter suggested that both candidates are playing it close to the vest because they each have become generic candidates in an article he wrote for the Los Angeles Times, which further suggests that neither side's supporters are terribly happy with the way things are playing out.

In his critique of Mitt Romney's campaign, William Kristol, the editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, noted that over the last five elections, Republicans presidential candidates have averaged 44.5% of the popular vote.

A quick check of the statistics shows that over the same period, Democratic presidential candidates have averaged 48.4%. (The remaining 7.1% went to third-party candidates, most notably Ross Perot in 1992 and Ralph Nader in 2000).

Now take a look at Gallup's tracking poll -- Obama 48%, Romney 44%. In other words, as of this week, the two candidates are each drawing pretty much exactly the vote that the average candidate of his party has drawn over the last two decades. They are, in other words, acting as generics -- representing the massed partisan armies on either side of America's political divide.

At least the GOP regulars are trying to do something about it. Republican held states have rammed through laws requiring official state identification cards for voters. This is a clear attempt at vote suppression of groups which traditionally vote Democratic. The Justice Department has filed suit against these laws in a couple of states, and liberal groups have done likewise in the rest, but the election is beginning to loom. That lead Obama is obviously counting on to bring him another four years could easily evaporate.

Further, the latest job report is a dismal one. The country as a whole is still at an unemployment rate of 8.2%. In some states, like California and Michigan, the rate is even higher. The economy is failing to improve for most people and that means the economy is once again the focus of the campaign. Yet Obama has yet to speak in any kind of specific terms what he plans to do to fix things. Romney isn't any better (cutting business taxes and regulations isn't really a plan).

Both men actually are simply generic candidates. If you stop to think about it, I suppose it makes sense. After all, both candidates and their respective parties appear to be in the hip pockets of the same people.

I'm beginning to wonder if I'm getting too old for all of this.


Friday, July 06, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

Some Thoughts On Higgs Boson

I'm not very sociable, but there are people on this planet I would go out of my way to have a beer with. David Horsey is one of those people. His July 5, 2012 cartoon and column provide a pretty good reason why. Yes, both have his trademark snark, but his column raises some pretty serious issues which he deals with in a wonderfully refreshing manner.

The "God particle" -- the Higgs boson -- exists, and that is good news. Without it, the universe would fly apart and we would have much more to worry about than a jobless recovery, immigrants sneaking across the border or the fate of "Obamacare."

On the Fourth of July, after 50 years of theorizing, hard research and sending protons careening into each other at something near the speed of light, physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research announced that they have almost certainly detected a boson. For the uninitiated -- which is about 99% of us -- a boson is one of two elementary particles that quantum theory says make up the universe. The other particles are fermions, also known as matter, such as protons and electrons. ...

The news about the "God particle" is one of those challenging bits of information that can make everything else feel terrifyingly insignificant. It is a reminder that each of us is merely a tiny, carbon-based organism existing for a brief moment on a small planet that, by the scale of the universe, is no more singular than a grain of sand on a beach. We are dust in the wind, utterly inconsequential in the dark expanse of time and space.

At least that's one way to look at it. Another way to see it is that, in all that vastness, only we are aware of the awesome complexity. Only we strive to know and understand. All the rest is mere physical phenomena. What we do in our brief lives on this small planet may be the only thing that matters.

Thus, it behooves us to use our sliver of time well. We can waste it watching "Dancing With The Stars" or we can reach for the stars. We can squander it being petty, cruel, selfish or destructive, or we can be creative, compassionate, kind and just. The Higgs boson may glue this universe together, but we are the ones who give it meaning.


Wise man, that David Horsey.


Thursday, July 05, 2012

Elder Belle's Blessing: Michael Hiltzik

(Photo by Patrice Carlton and published at National Geographic.)

This edition of Elder Belle's Blessing, an award given from time to time to someone who has enhanced the rights or well-being of elders, goes to Los Angeles Times business columnist Michael Hiltzig for his outstanding article detailing the efforts of Wall Street and other members of the 1% to derail Social Security by pitting younger people against the elders and the surprising push-back by that younger generation.

For years now, efforts to set young against old have been linchpins in campaigns to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits and turn those programs over to the private sector. The basic tactic is to portray those programs as giveaways to undeserving seniors that rip off the young; the goal is to turn the ostensibly dispossessed young into an effective political counterweight to reform-resistant elderly. ...

For example, billionaire investor and deficit hawk Peter G. Peterson's charitable foundation has spent millions of dollars in recent years trying to inculcate college students via essay contests, social affairs and curricular materials with the idea that programs like Social Security and Medicare are sapping their patrimony.

And, with the burgeoning deficit caused by the banksters and two wars fought off-budget by the Bush administration, the privatizing ghouls think they've got the perfect opportunity to push their agenda through, led by Alan Simpson:

Recently, the image of generational warfare has gained new currency as an adjunct to panic over the deficit. The talking point is that freewheeling spending today will condemn you youngsters to permanent servitude to a huge federal debt, so it's only proper to cut entitlements now.

Perhaps the most prominent dispenser of this argument is former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), who has toured the country to promote the deficit-cutting plan he and Clinton-era White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles conjured up as co-chairs of President Obama's 2010 fiscal commission.

Their plan would cut benefits sharply for all but the poorest and oldest Americans, reduce cost-of-living increases and raise the retirement age, all of which would essentially transform Social Security from universal social insurance into something resembling a welfare program.

Fortunately, the next generations are no dummies. Hiltzig has discovered and tells us about some groups who actually get what's going on and are fighting back against the distortion and outright lies.

For me, this is the money quote:

"Wall Street and everyone who crashed the world economy has a really strong incentive to get young folks who are struggling to blame older folks who are likewise struggling, and no one will notice that the people pointing their fingers are the real culprits," [Alex] Lawson told me. "But once you get the truth out, young folks are well suited to figure out that the young and the old need to work together for the entire system."

Well done, Michael, and thank you.

Go read the entire column. It's well worth it.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Declaration Of Independence

(Once again, this time with feeling.)

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.


New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samual Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton