Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday Funnies: 3 By Jack Ohman

(Published 6/26/13)

(Published 6/27/13)

(Published 6/28/13)

(All cartoons by Jack Ohman and published in the Sacramento Bee.)


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Bonus Critter Blogging: Red Panda

(Photograph by Mark W. Moffett and published by National Geographic.  Click on link to learn more about this endangered critter.)

He Nailed It In One

I may have taken issue with David Horsey with respect to his postings on the NSA's domestic spying, but I tell you what:  as far as I'm concerned, he has absolutely nailed it with respect to this week's Supreme Court holding on the Voting Right's Act.

From the Los Angeles Times:

By gutting the Voting Rights Act, the U.S. Supreme Court got some of the facts right, but failed to recognize the reality of continuing discrimination against African American voters.

What the court got inarguably correct was that times have changed since the signature act of the civil rights era was passed in 1965. In the Southern states and the other jurisdictions whose voting practices were put under authority of the federal government, black Americans are no longer blatantly barred from exercising their constitutional right to cast a ballot to choose their leaders. In fact, blacks are holding more elected offices and voting in greater numbers than ever.  ...

It is a different type of discrimination, and it may be popping up in different places. Before 1965, black voters were kept from voting in many areas of the South and elsewhere simply because of the color of their skin -- racism in its purest form. What is happening today is that black voters are having their influence on elections suppressed, not strictly because they are black, but because of the way black people vote: They are overwhelmingly Democrats.

As became evident during the 2012 election campaign, Republican officials in numerous states -- not just in the South, but in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania as well -- tried to employ various means to discourage blacks and Latinos from voting. New identification requirements were instituted, voting hours and days were curtailed and polling places in minority communities were hard to find, fewer in number and inadequately staffed. ...

All of this may not be pure racism, but it is certainly politically motivated discrimination. Thanks to the court decision, the federal government has lost one big weapon to fight such discrimination. And thanks to the way certain states and localities have manipulated voting rules and district lines, we have a U.S. House controlled by Republicans who have a vested interest in making sure no new voting rights measure ever becomes law.   [Emphasis added]

As I said, David nailed it.  Absent a way for the DOJ to go after the miscreants, at least  in the Southern states, the discrimination will be able to dilute African American, Latino, and poor people votes. 

But the dilution will also go on in states in other regions as states with Republican-dominated legislatures use the guidelines produced by ALEC to stymy full citizen participation.  Lines to vote in poor and/or minority districts will be long because there aren't enough polling stations with enough machines.  Early voting, longer hours, vote-by mail all will be curtailed.  Gerrymandering of districts will keep the lily-white Republicans in office.

And it will take at least one act of Congress to change all that.  I don't see such change in this Congress, but it does give a good reason to get liberals/progressives to get off their backsides to vote in 2014 for a more responsive government.

It has to start sometime and somewhere.  Let it be now and here.

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Friday, June 28, 2013

Friday Cat Blogging

A Bigger Wall

(Editorial cartoon by Jim Morin / Miami Herald (June 14, 2013) and featured at McClatchy DC.)

The Senate passed an immigration bill yesterday, one that has been in the works for months.  Some moderate Republicans worked with Democrats to craft the bill, and while it's not the greatest, it does provide a framework for those undocumented workers already here to attain citizenship.  In that regard, it's a step forward.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The Senate was on track to approve a sweeping immigration overhaul Thursday, but the landmark legislation has dim hopes in the GOP-controlled House despite drawing significant Republican support with the addition of $46 billion in border security.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has no immediate plans to consider the legislation, in large part because it would provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants in the country without legal status, which his GOP majority opposes. House Republicans are drafting their own bills. ...

Senate Republicans have split over the bill that was crafted by a bipartisan group that included one of their upcoming leaders, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a potential presidential hopeful.

Some see the legislation as important in their outreach to Latino voters, but for many Republicans, the measure's unprecedented “border surge” of drones, troops and fencing along the boundary with Mexico did not convince them future illegal immigration would diminish.

The Senate’s top Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, voted no.

“It’s with a great deal of regret, for me at least, that the final bill didn’t turn out to be something I can support,” McConnell said. “If you can’t be reasonably certain that the border is secure as a condition of legalization, there’s just no way to be sure that millions more won’t follow the illegal immigrants who are already here.” ...

Under the legislation, immigrants would be able to transition to legal permanent resident status with green cards in 10 years, once the border has been bolstered with 24-hour drones, 20,000 new Border Patrol officers and 700 miles of fence, among other measures. They must also have paid fines and fees, know English and be in good standing after undergoing background checks.

Because 40% of the immigrants in the country illegally did not cross borders but stayed on expired visas, a new visa exit system would be required at all major airports.   [Emphasis added]

The sticking point with many Senate Republicans and with most House Republicans is, of course, the idea that some of those already here might receive "amnesty" for the misdeed of entering the country illegally or overstaying a visa.  Even those brought here as young children aren't entitled to the "dream" of being able to stay without fear of summary deportation.

And that border fence?  Well, let's just say that it's one of the few bits of proposed legislation coming out of this Congress that has some actual job creation embedded into it.

Of course, the House Republicans are having none of it.  They intend to craft their own bill(s) which in all likelihood will never even come to a vote if Boehner continues to operate under the Hastert Rule of not bringing up an legislation which will not pass.  Anything more draconian than the Senate bill will not pass.

Still, at least moderate Republicans have something to point at when election time rolls around as evidence of reaching out to Hispanics.  It ain't much, but it's something.

Note:  The text of the bill in pdf is located here.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

What I'm Reading

(Graphic snagged from Mother Daughter Book Reviews.)

It's been a contentious couple of weeks, and I need a breather from posting on all the things that are going on in the world.  As I noted the last time I did a post on my reading habits, after a day of reading newspapers on line and visiting political blogs, I need a break, so I curl up with my kindle and my cat in the evenings and read fantasy.

At the time, I was re-reading Terry Pratchett's Disc World novels and pointed out that what was so satisfying even beyond the satire and hilarious word-play was the notion of a marvelous world co-existing with the mundane world, and sometimes that marvelous world was wonderful and sometimes horrifying.

Now I'm reading a lot of Neil Gaiman.  I've read several of his novels:  Neverwhere, Star Dust, Anansi Boys, and am currently reading a collection of short stories:  Smoke and Mirrors.  Gaiman extends the idea of the marvelous being simultaneous with the mundane to include the ability to move from one to the other.  His protagonists often move from the mundane to the marvelous because that's where they came from.  Sometimes they move because that's where they belong.  In either case, the movement requires an action by the protagonist; he/she can't just passively slide into the marvelous.

His collection of short stories begins with an introduction which notes where each of them was originally published and which give some idea as to the creative process he goes through when writing.  To illustrate his point, he includes a brief story as part of the introduction, the first time I've ever seen that done.

The stories themselves are quirky, filled with unusual (yet plausible) reversals, some humor, and a whole lot of ambiguity. Yesterday morning, at breakfast, I read the story "Changes."  It's about a medical scientist who finds an amazingly successful cure for all cancers.  It involves re-installing the RNA and DNA so that the body can properly defend against the invading cells.  It works, but it has an unusual side-effect.  It reverses the genitals of the patient.  Women who take the treatment suddenly have penises and testes; men labia and vaginas.

Clearly this is disconcerting, but amazingly, that side-effect soon becomes the main selling point for the treatment.  People change their sex quite cheerfully on a regular basis.  This "off-label" use of the drug dismays the scientist who refuses to take the treatment himself when, in his 90s, he develops prostate cancer.  As he dies, he utters just one word.  I'll not give the spoiler, but I promise you it isn't "Rosebud."

Imagine my shock when later in the morning in a very synchronistic moment I hear that the Supreme Court had found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and refused to overturn a California Appellate Court decision on Proposition 8.

That Neil Gaiman is some writer, eh?


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What's A Booz Allen Hamilton?

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 6/13/13 in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.)

So, we seem to know an awful lot about Edward Snowden (except for where he's actually heading), and we're gradually learning a little bit about the domestic spying done under the Patriot Act, but most of us are unfamiliar with the civilian contractor at the center of this all.  With that in mind, I paid a visit to the corporate web page (located here) and learned some interesting stuff.  First, the corporate "mission statement":

We focus in many arenas, including national and international security, economic well-being, health, environment, and public infrastructure. Our deep expertise in technology, engineering, and analytics helps us serve a broad constituency of clients, ranging from cabinet-level departments of the U.S. government to corporations, institutions, and organizations.

Booz Allen’s major clients include global corporations in the health, energy, and financial services sectors, as well as nearly all departments and agencies across the U.S. federal government. These clients face a wide range of complex and pressing challenges such as combating global terrorism, improving cyber capabilities, transforming the healthcare system, improving energy usage, and protecting the environment. ...

As the needs of our clients have grown, Booz Allen Hamilton has responded and expanded beyond the traditional management consulting foundation to meet and exceed those needs.
In civil government, we serve several key areas and clients:

    Financial sector
    Health and human services
    Environment and sustainability
    Infrastructure (transportation, energy, telecommunications)
    Law enforcement and homeland security

    International funding institutions (World Bank, USAID)
    Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

In Defense, we serve several key areas:

    U.S. Armed Services
    Department of Defense
    Joint Commands
    Intelligence agencies
    Foreign military programs of U.S. allies

In the commercial market, we serve these key sectors:

    Financial Services

[Emphasis added]

That's a pretty wide range of clients.  Oh, and they also do "pro bono" work for charitable organizations and they are consistently voted a great place to work.

With that range of clients, you'd expect that the corporation would be doing pretty well.  Oh, the share prices have dropped since Snowden's bomb shell, but according to the financial pages at the site, their revenues are quite healthy. First, fiscal year 2012:

Over the past year, despite a challenging and unpredictable marketplace, Booz Allen’s revenue increased 4.8 percent to $5.86 billion.  In addition, Booz Allen was recently named by Fortune magazine to its list of the “World’s Most Admired Companies,” which complements numerous other awards the firm received last year in recognition of its high standing as a business, employer, and community supporter. The approximately 25,000 people of Booz Allen are proud of these achievements, but even more proud of the trust clients place in the firm, year after year, to help them with their most important missions.   [Emphasis added]
Next, fiscal year 2013:

Booz Allen Hamilton’s Annual Report for fiscal year 2013, “Excellence at Work,” recounts the important role we play helping the federal government and commercial enterprises accomplish their most important work—work that protects our nation and drives our society and economy forward—as well as our thought leadership and corporate citizenship initiatives.   [Emphasis added]

Note:  you can download the full financial reports in pdf format at the sites.

So, there's a brief snapshot of the company which is grinding out the meta data on each and every one of us.

And we're paying for that honor.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

So Very Transparent

(Political cartoon by Yaakov Kirschen and published 6/21/13 at Dry Bones.  Click on image to enlarge and then hasten back.)

Now this is interesting:  the mainstream media has discovered that portion of the White House web site that allows citizens to petition their government to address issues of concern to them.  What provoked the discovery was the petition which demands Edward Snowden be pardoned for any crime(s) he may have committed while blowing the whistle on the federal government's massive domestic spying.

That petition is located here, and will be up for another 15 days.  It has already passed the threshold of garnering 100,000 signatures and those signatures continue to mount up now that Snowden has been charged with espionage.  If you noodle around on that page you will find the rationale for this web site:

The right to petition your government is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. We the People provides a new way to petition the Obama Administration to take action on a range of important issues facing our country. We created We the People because we want to hear from you. If a petition gets enough support, White House staff will review it, ensure it’s sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.

Well, that's the part that the media noticed and they did a little checking, which revealed something we all kind of anticipated.  From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

WASHINGTON — A petition asking President Barack Obama to pardon admitted state secret leaker Edward Snowden has passed 100,000 signatures.

The petition posted on calls the former National Security Agency contractor a "national hero." It says he should immediately be pardoned for any crimes in "blowing the whistle" on classified government programs to collect phone records and online data.

White House policy is to respond to any petition that gets 100,000 signatures within 30 days. The Snowden petition crossed the threshold in two weeks.

The White House wouldn't say when its response will come. But it routinely declines to comment on petitions regarding law enforcement matters, including pardon requests. And the ultimate answer is the administration's pursuit of Snowden on espionage charges.   [Emphasis added]

I think we have our answer.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Meta Data

(Editorial cartoon by Glenn McCoy and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and please return.)

Edward Snowden has begun his journey to avoid prosecution for espionage.  His trip began in Russia, and as of this writing, there is no firm final destination.  That will presumably be the shape of his life, given the rather egregious charge he has been tagged with by the DOJ.

I came across a helpful article at McClatchy DC which clarifies just what Mr. Snowden was talking about.  Keep in mind that all of this is "legal" under the Patriot Act.  I am quoting rather extensively because the technical part is important.

The GPS location information embedded in a digital photo is an example of so-called metadata, a once-obscure technical term that’s become one of Washington’s hottest new buzzwords.

The word first sprang from the lips of pundits and politicians earlier this month, after reports disclosed that the government has been secretly accessing the telephone metadata of Verizon customers, as well as online videos, emails, photos and other data collected by nine Internet companies. President Barack Obama hastened to reassure Americans that “nobody is listening to your phone calls,” while other government officials likened the collection of metadata to reading information on the outside of an envelope, which doesn’t require a warrant.

But privacy experts warn that to those who know how to mine it, metadata discloses much more about us and our daily lives than the content of our communications. ...

“Metadata is information about what communications you send and receive, who you talk to, where you are when you talk to them, the lengths of your conversations, what kind of device you were using and potentially other information, like the subject line of your emails,” said Peter Eckersley, the technology projects director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties group.

Powerful computer algorithms can analyze the metadata to expose patterns and to profile individuals and their associates, Eckersley said.
“Metadata is the perfect place to start if you want to troll through millions of people’s communications to find patterns and to single out smaller groups for closer scrutiny,” he said. “It will tell you which groups of people go to political meetings together, which groups of people go to church together, which groups of people go to nightclubs together or sleep with each other.”

Metadata records of search terms and webpage visits also can reveal a log of your thoughts by documenting what you’ve been reading and researching, Eckersley said.

“That’s certainly enough to know if you’re pregnant or not, what diseases you have, whether you’re looking for a new job, whether you’re trying to figure out if the NSA is watching you or not,” he said, referring to the National Security Agency. Such information provides “a deeply intimate window into a person’s psyche,” he added. ...

A former senior official of the National Security Agency said the government’s massive collection of metadata allowed the agency to construct “maps” of an individual’s daily movements, social connections, travel habits and other personal information.

“This is blanket. There is no constraint. No probable cause. No reasonable suspicion,” said Thomas Drake, who worked unsuccessfully for years to report privacy violations and massive waste at the agency to his superiors and Congress. ...

Drake added that U.S. telecommunications companies are prohibited from publicly disclosing arrangements with the NSA and are protected under the Patriot Act from lawsuits. “They literally have the protection of the U.S. government from any, any lawsuit. The United States is literally turning into a surveillance state,” he said. “This is the new normal.”   [Emphasis added]

I don't think the US is turning into a surveillance state, I think it already is a surveillance state and has been since shortly after the first passage of the Patriot Act, if not before.  And even if we were somehow able to convince Congress to repeal that act and demand to see the records of the FISA court, there will still remain all of that data mined just waiting to be used.

I grieve for this nation.

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sunday Poetry: Carl Sandburg

A Million Young Work Men

A million young workmen straight and strong lay stiff on the grass and roads,
And the million are now under soil and their rottening flesh will in the years feed roots of blood-red roses.
Yes, this million of young workmen slaughtered one another and never saw their red hands.
And oh, it would have been a great job of killing and a new and beautiful thing under the sun if the million knew why they hacked and tore each other to death.
The kings are grinning, the Kaiser and the czar—they are alive riding in leather-seated motor cars, and they have their women and roses for ease, and they eat fresh-poached eggs for breakfast, new butter on toast, sitting in tall water-tight houses reading the news of war.
I dreamed a million ghosts of the young workmen rose in their shirts all soaked in crimson … and yelled:
God damn the grinning kings, God damn the kaiser and the czar.

--Carl Sandburg

Sunday Funnies: 4 Views

(Political cartoon by Yaakov Kirschen and published 6/17/13 at Dry Bones.)

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 6/18/13 by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.)

(Editorial cartoon by Tim Lockley / Biloxi Sun Herald (June 19, 2013) and featured at McClatchy DC.)

(Editorial cartoon by Lee Judge / The Kansas City Star (June 20, 2013) and featured at McClatchy DC.)

As always, click on image to enlarge and then return for the next cartoon.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Bonus Critter Blogging: Hand Fish

(Photograph courtesy Karen Gowlett-Holmes and published at National Geographic.  Click on link to learn more about this newly discovered critter.)

A Somewhat Surprising Outcome

(Editorial cartoon by Jack Ohman and published 6/20/13 by the Sacramento Bee.  Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

As I noted on Monday, there were lots of reasons to expect the House to pass its version of the Ag bill, not the least of which is that some of the congress critters personally benefit from farm subsidies.  There is also the fact that House Speaker Boehner has been adhering to the "Hastert Rule", bringing bills to a vote only when their passage is assured.  That's why I am somewhat surprised by the defeat of the bill this week.

From the Los Angeles Times:

A revolt among rank-and-file Republicans helped kill the farm bill in the House on Thursday, the latest vote to reflect the influence of conservative groups that have often been at odds with the chamber's GOP leadership.

More than a quarter of the Republicans joined with most Democrats to defeat the nearly $1-trillion bill to reauthorize farm subsidies and nutrition programs, legislation that has traditionally been bipartisan.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week that he supported the measure despite a few objections because it would institute some needed reforms.

But prominent outside forces, including the Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America, urged Republicans to defeat it. Both groups oppose farm subsidies, but focused their objections on the cost of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, which made up most of the price tag. ...

"The food stamp program is out of control," said Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), who rode the tea party wave to election in 2010. "It has grown 430% since 2001. And this bill did little if anything to curtail that out-of-control spending."

The Club for Growth has achieved considerable sway over the rank and file because it has spent money to support conservatives in primary challenges. Incumbent Republicans, many in districts that are more conservative since redistricting, now increasingly fear the threat of a primary challenge more than the general election. Both conservative groups said they would use Thursday's vote in considering whether to support incumbents in Republican primaries.

At the same time, fewer Democrats remain in the House who represent districts with sizable rural populations. Just 24 Democrats supported the farm bill. Most Democrats protested the measure, saying that cuts to the food stamp program, known as SNAP, were too deep and would hurt low-income families.   [Emphasis added]

Yes, the wackaloons don't want the poor to eat on the government's dime, even though many of them are poor because of the Great Recession helped along by the government's inaction/misaction since 2001.  But the rest of the GOP shouldn't have minded:  many of its biggest supporters would get their own welfare from the subsidies.  And what about those 24 Democrats?

Well, you can go here and see just how each member of the House voted. And then you can go here and see just how pervasive the Ag-business money is on both sides of aisle.

Of course, the Senate Bill is only slightly better:  the cuts to SNAP are there, they just aren't as deep.

I suppose the failure of the House to pass the bill is a blessing in disguise.  Sorta.  Kinda.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday Cat Blogging

Granny Bird Award: Doctors Who Write Questionable Prescriptions

This edition of the Granny Bird Award, given from time to time by those who adversely affect the rights and benefits of elders, goes to those doctors identified in a recent report as issuing prescriptions for questionable drugs or over-prescribing medications as identified in a recent report noted in the Washington Post.

More than 700 doctors nationwide wrote prescriptions for elderly and disabled patients in highly questionable and potentially harmful ways, according to a report of Medicare’s drug program released Thursday.

The review by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services flags those doctors as “very extreme” in their prescribing and says Medicare should do more to investigate or stop them. ...

The inspector general’s report focused on the prescribing by nearly 87,000 general-care physicians, such as family practitioners and internists, in urban and suburban areas in 2009. These doctors accounted for about half of all the prescribing in the program that year.

The review found more than 2,200 doctors whose records stood out in one of several areas: prescriptions per patient, brand-name drugs, painkillers and other addictive drugs, or the number of pharmacies that dispensed their orders.

Of those, 736 were flagged as “extreme outliers.” Their patterns, the report says, raised questions about whether the prescriptions were “legitimate or necessary.” ...

The cost to the government was enormous in some instances. Medicare paid $9.7 million for the prescriptions of one California doctor alone — that is 151 times more than the cost of an average doctor’s tally, the report says.

Most of this physician’s drugs were supplied by two pharmacies, both of which the inspector general had identified previously as having questionable billing practices.   [Emphasis added]

Whether for fraudulent purposes or because of just plain sloppy medical management, these doctors cost Medicare/Medicaid a ton of money.  At a time when this very important program for elders and the disabled is under attack by all parts of the federal government, such behavior is extremely angry-making and needs to be stopped in its tracks now.  Hopefully CMS and the DOJ will come down hard on the miscreants.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

What A Concept!

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (May 22, 2013) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

It's been a rough couple of years in various spots around the country:  the East Coast (especially the Mid-Atlantic), the Gulf Coast, Tornado Alley, which has been widened because of some horrendous storms.  Whether one chooses to believe in climate change or not, it's hard to deny that some awful problems have arisen all over the nation due to weather related conditions.  This article focuses on the challenge for FEMA and suggests that preparedness is just as important as disaster relief.

Federal efforts to bolster community preparedness for extreme weather events are a fraction of what the government spends on cleaning up the damage from storms, tornadoes and drought, according to a new analysis of federal data by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning Washington think tank.

The report estimated that from 2011 to 2013, the federal government spent about $136 billion on weather-related disaster relief and recovery but only $22.4 billion on a total of 43 preparedness programs, or about $6 in cleanup for every $1 spent on strengthening defenses or preventing or mitigating damage.

A growing body of climate science indicates that the warming atmosphere increases the likelihood of extreme weather-related events. In January, the National Climate Assessment, issued every four years by a federal advisory group, predicted more of the heavier rains in the Northeast, Midwest and Plains that have overwhelmed storm drains and led to flooding and erosion; sea-level rise that has battered coastal communities around the United States; drought that has turned much of the West into a tinderbox. ...

Preparing for disasters is costly, the report notes. For instance, the town of Edna, Texas, built a hurricane shelter big enough to protect its 5,500 residents from 300-mile-per-hour winds. The project cost $2.5 million, 75% of it provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which plans to invest about $680 million to build similar facilities in 18 other states.

The report found that of the $22.4 billion set aside for 43 federal programs aimed at building disaster resiliency, more than half, or $12 billion, was for Agriculture Department programs that foster sustainable agriculture and protect water resources from the effects of drought and floods. The remainder went to agencies such as Defense, Commerce, Homeland Security and Interior. ...

The study found that from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2013, funding for preparedness programs that were not in the Agriculture department fell about $160 million.

The report recommends that a comprehensive assessment be undertaken to get a picture of local preparedness needs. It also recommends that a dedicated fund be created to support community resiliency projects, financed by a small increase in the royalty rate that companies pay for extracting fossil fuels from federal lands and waters.   [Emphasis added]

Whether one believes climate change is a hoax or not, preparing safe places for people to go to during storms and wild fires, building levees and dams in flood prone areas, and protecting land from the degradation of drought and man-made accidents is a smart move and, in the long-run, cheaper  than pouring billions into restoration after the fact.

It just makes sense.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Just A Little Misdirection Play

(Political cartoon by Matt Bors and published at Daily Kos.  Click on image to enlarge.  If you need an even larger image click on link and get the embiggened version there.)

Sometimes reading the newspaper is fun.  Rarely, but sometimes.  This article in the Los Angeles Times made me chuckle.

The White House plans to announce Tuesday that it has improved gun safety in the country by chipping away at 21 of 23 items on an executive to-do list issued in January.
But the progress report will also highlight steps that Congress has not taken, as some of the most significant measures ordered by President Obama will have little effect if lawmakers don’t act to give funding or approval.

Administration officials say there has been progress on several actions taken by Obama under executive authority, including directives to end the freeze on gun violence research and to reduce barriers that keep states from submitting records to the national background system.

They acknowledged, though, that the end to the 17-year ban on research will make little difference until Congress restores funding for the work. In addition, a more thorough database of mental health and criminal history records is valuable only if gun sellers check that database before selling firearms.

“The administration has more work to do,” said one White House official, who talked to reporters Monday on the condition of anonymity, “but Congress must also do its job.”

Getting lawmakers on board for gun proposals has proved to be no easy task. The Senate in April failed to muster the 60 votes needed to pass a measure that, among other things, would have expanded the requirement on sellers to run background checks before selling guns at gun shows and over the Internet.   [Emphasis added]

Getting lawmakers on board is of course difficult:  most of those senators voting no (and I'm talking about both sides of the aisle) are in the pockets of the NRA and the gun manufacturers.  Open Secrets has a handy chart listing them.  And there is no way any such legislation would get past this House, not as it's presently constituted.  The White House has to know that.

So why the decision to release such a report?

Well, gun control of some sort is very popular with most Americans.  The White House has discovered that being spied on by its own government is not so popular, not at all.  So, it was necessary to change the subject, which is exactly what Mr. Obama did.   And it was a pivot that would have done all one-on-one basketball players proud.

Because, of course, we are all morons and can't see what he is doing.

By the way, if you haven't signed this White House petition, please consider doing so.  Let's show the White House that we weren't suckered by the shiny keys.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

He's Almost There

David Horsey almost gets it, if his latest column is any indication.

The National Security Agency's program of scooping up raw data on nearly every phone call placed in the United States should freak us all out – not so much because of what the agency is doing, but because it has the technological capability to do it.

So far, there is no evidence that the government is zeroing in on any phone calls besides those linked to terrorism suspects. Personally, I’m glad our intelligence agencies have that wormhole into the dark redoubts of fanatics who want to kill Americans. As for the vast ocean of telephone calls made by the rest of us, I think we can be pretty certain that no one has the inclination or time to sift through the millions of conversations to find that clandestine call to your secret lover, let alone the last call to grandma or the pizza delivery guy. ...

That national governments are gaining the technological capability to spy on every phone call, text, email and tweet of every person in a country, if not the world, is something new and frightening. Multinational corporations will have nearly the same capacity as well, and major criminal organizations will not be far behind.

Benjamin Franklin said those who trade away a little liberty for safety soon find they have neither. In the post-Sept. 11 world, the trade of liberty for safety has been a continuous transaction. The ominous truth, though, is that technology is radically shifting the terms of the transaction, whether we like it or not.   [Emphasis added]

First of all, much of the capturing of telephone calls and internet comments/emails has been contracted out to a private company.  This company brags about its capacity to sift through those millions of conversations and apparently has been quite successful.  For more on that, David, you might want to check out this post at Eschaton. A multinational corporation has already has that capacity and we're paying for it to assist our government in spying on us.

Secondly, "the trade of liberty for safety" was a bad idea to begin with, and started long before 9/11.  The events of that day just gave the government an excuse to increase the spying and openly charge us for that transaction.  We weren't given any choice in the transaction from that point on.  We were just expected to go along with it because ... terra!

And if we don't like it, whether done by our own government or by multinational corporations, we certainly can do somethings to shut it down, starting with repealing the Patriot Act.

Just because we have the technology doesn't mean we have to use it or allow it to be used against us.  We have the technology to destroy the world several times over with nuclear bombs, yet since 1945 we have refrained from using it.

But, David, at least you're getting warmer.

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Monday, June 17, 2013

This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef

Michael Hiltzig took aim at the pigs who would slash food stamp funding but add to the pockets of agricorps in his latest column.

As a member of Congress, Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) is proud to stand up for the principles of limited government and individual responsibility.

The first-term congressman expresses skepticism about such safety-net programs as food stamps, regarding them as the handiwork of an "oppressive" government that snatches wages from the hands of working people. Helping the poor is better left to individuals and churches, he said at a recent committee hearing in Washington, because then "it comes from the heart, not from a badge or from a mandate."

As a rice farmer from California's fertile Central Valley, however, this same Doug LaMalfa has done pretty well by the "oppressive" federal government. From 1995 through 2012, according to USDA figures compiled by the Washington-based Environmental Working Group, the farm he co-owns with other family members has collected $5.1 million in government crop subsidies. ...

The question for Rep. LaMalfa and his fellow food stamp hackers on the agriculture committee is: Why is it important for government to skip out on aid for families, but pony up for farmers like him?   [Emphasis added]

Why indeed?

At a time of high and prolonged unemployment, programs like SNAP are keeping body and soul together for a lot of Americans, those without access to cushy benefits like members of Congress have.  I guess that doesn't bother Rep. LaMalfa.  It sure bothers me.

What bothers me just as much is the sneaky snaky way he and his confreres have accomplished this.  Go read all of Hiltzig's column to see the details of the maneuvers executed.  It will amaze and disgust.


A pox on all their houses.

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sunday Poetry: ee cummings

i sing of Olaf glad and big

i sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelovéd colonel (trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but-though an host of overjoyed
noncoms (first knocking on the head
him) do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments-
Olaf (being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds, without getting annoyed
"I will not kiss your fucking flag"

straightaway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)

but-though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation's blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skillfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat-
Olaf (upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
"there is some shit I will not eat"

our president,being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died

Christ (of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see;and Olaf,too

preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me:more blond than you

--ee cummings

Sunday Funnies: Variations On A Theme

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution 6/13/13.)

(Editorial cartoon by Glen McCoy (June 13, 2013) and featured at McClatchy DC.)

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (June 12, 2013) and featured at McClatchy DC.)

Click on each image to enlarge and then return for the next cartoon.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Bonus Critter Blogging: Eastern Gray Kangaroo

(Photograph by Nicole Duplaix and featured at National Geographic.  Click on link to learn more about this critter.)

Enough Blame To Go Around

(Editorial cartoon by Lee Judge / The Kansas City Star (June 14, 2013) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then please return.)

Several congresscritters have been lamenting the extent of domestic spying being done and some even claim that they had no idea it was as extensive as it is.  Doyle McManus took a look at a couple of those claims and had some pretty harsh things to say about them.  He used the examples of Rep. Sensenbrenner and Sen. Mikulski who could have educated themselves and then asked the right questions in oversight sessions and didn't.

And there, in a nutshell, is one of the biggest weaknesses in our reliance on Congress to keep tabs on secret programs: Congress often isn't very good at it. The 9/11 Commission called oversight "dysfunctional" and suggested reforms, but Congress turned most of them down.

By law, members of Congress have access to most classified information, but they often have to ask for it. The two intelligence committees hold regular hearings and briefings on intelligence programs, but legislators who aren't on those panels usually aren't included.

And most of them like it that way, according to Stanford's Amy Zegart, who wrote a book about the oversight system, "Eyes on Spies." "Rational self-interest has led legislators … to sabotage Congress' oversight abilities," she wrote. Intelligence oversight is time-consuming, remote from constituents' interests and impossible to talk about publicly, factors that drive most members of Congress away.

To be fair, the intelligence agencies don't make the job easy. They often require members of Congress to ask exactly the right question before giving up an answer — a process former California Rep. Jane Harman calls "20 Questions." "That's a fair criticism," a former top CIA official told me. "Intelligence agencies don't ... open the pantry doors and invite members of Congress to rummage around. It's a natural reflex."   [Emphasis added]

And, as McManus points out, congressional staffers aren't allowed any access to classified information, so the elected officials have to carve time out to do the necessary work to educate themselves.  Still, that's what we elect them to do, what we pay them to do. So when Sensenbrenner and Mikulski complain that the spying goes far beyond what the Patriot Act intended, they need to be mackerel-slapped but good.

Nicely done, Mr. McManus.

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday Cat Blogging

Why We Can't Have Nice Things

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (June 3, 2013) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then boogie on back.)

The cost of health care in this country has come down, but only slightly.  One of the reasons, a big reason, is the cost of prescription drugs, even in their generic form.  David Lazarus examined why this is the case in a recent column.

Generic prescription drugs have to meet exacting standards for ingredients and quality, which you'd think would make them uniformly priced at pharmacies.

But that, of course, isn't the case. Generic drug prices can be all over the map, depending on where and how you buy them. ...

For example, a 90-day supply of the generic equivalent of the cholesterol drug Zocor cost $51.99 at Safeway, $62.97 at Walgreens, $75.99 at Target and $122.99 at CVS. At Costco, however, the price was just $9.99.

The generic equivalent of the hypertension drug Zestril cost $10 at Target, $28.99 at Safeway, $31.99 at Walgreens and $38.99 at CVS. But at Costco, the price again was $9.99.

In fact, Costco's drug prices consistently came in well below those of other leading pharmacies. And you don't even have to be a Costco member to use the company's drugstore. ...

What I'm hearing from these big chains is that drug prices are complicated, so don't go thinking that it's just about who can offer a generic drug for less.

What I'm hearing from Costco is that drug prices are relatively simple, and that it's all about who can offer a generic drug for less.   [Emphasis added]

So why the big disparity?  As to be expected, the pharmacy chains claim  they are available 24/7 for prescriptions (which is not always the case).  And they are closer and more plentiful than Costco, which means there is the brick-and-mortar overhead (there are 3 Costco stores with pharmacies within 8 miles of my home). 

The reason the chains charge more is that they can.  Most, if not all health care policies only pay a portion of the cost of the drugs.  The insurance companies don't have any real reason to complain about the cost and often use companies owned by CVS or Rite Aid to manage their mail-order prescription orders.

For Medicare/Medicaid participants this is an especially expensive problem.  When Medicare Part D was passed, one of the provisions denied the government the right to negotiate with pharmaceuticals on the price of drugs.  The "donut hole" provision has since been moderated, but the pricing of drugs section remains unchanged. 

I'm currently thinking about ways to work around the problem.  At this point, the only one I've come up with is to have the prescribing doctor write a new script every 30 days so that mail-order can be avoided, but I'm not certain even that would work.

Which means that at this point, the consumer is screwed.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Not Exactly

David Horsey has been traveling abroad, most recently in England.  I fear he may have contracted a slight case of cranial-rectal inversion as a result.  In his latest column, he seems to imply that the NSA's intrusion in our privacy is no different than the intrusions of the private sector by quoting with approval from a recent op-ed.

In a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed column, Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, suggested that everyone should relax. Far from being a renegade spy operation, the phone-monitoring program comes with plenty of judicial, congressional and presidential oversight, he claimed.

“Granted there is something inherently creepy about Uncle Sam scooping up so much information about us,” Boot wrote. “But Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Citibank and other companies know at least as much about us, because they use very similar data-mining programs to track our online movements. They gather that information in order to sell us products, and no one seems to be overly alarmed. The NSA is gathering that information to keep us safe from terrorist attackers. Yet somehow its actions have become a ‘scandal,’ to use a term now loosely being tossed around.”

Thanks to the technological revolution, today’s Americans live in a very different world than did previous generations. Privacy is a quaint novelty of the past, and whenever we tap into a telephone or a computer it has become the equivalent of leaving our homes and entering the town square.

If that is something we do not like, the concern goes far beyond the worry that the government may be watching. Everyone may be watching.   [Emphasis added].
No, David, you miss the point, as did Max Boot.  There is a qualitative difference.  I don't have to bank with Citibank or shop at Amazon.  I can choose not to sign up at Facebook and Twitter.  I can even stay away from Google.  If, however, I am going to be on-line, I can be tracked by my own government.

Even if I give up the internet, my telephone records are subject to confiscation by my own government, and I need a telephone. 

My own government is spying on me because it can, not because it is keeping the US safe from terrorist attackers.  And it is assembling records on us all.

That is unacceptable.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013


(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (June 11, 2013) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then please return.)

Right on schedule, the demonization of Edward Snowden, the leaker/whistleblower (take your pick) has commenced.  I expected it from our government.  I did not expect it from some lefty bloggers, of which there are several who have bought into what is clearly designed as a distraction from the real issue, domestic spying by our own government.  Maybe Snowden is an attention seeker or a drama queen.  Maybe his girl friend is a pole dancer.  That doesn't detract from the issue we need to be most concerned about.

If people insist on having a demon to lash out at, there is at least one around:  the National Security Advisor who is supposed to keep Congress briefed, but couldn't quite bring himself to tell the truth about the program.

One of the staunchest critics of government surveillance programs said Tuesday that the national intelligence director did not give him a straight answer last March when he asked whether the National Security Agency collects any data on millions of Americans.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., called for hearings to discuss two recently revealed NSA programs that collect billions of telephone numbers and Internet usage daily. He was also among a group of senators who introduced legislation Tuesday to force the government to declassify opinions of a secret court that authorizes the surveillance. ...

Wyden said he wanted to know the scope of the top secret surveillance programs, and privately asked NSA Director Keith Alexander for clarity. When he did not get a satisfactory answer, Wyden said he alerted Clapper's office a day early that he would ask the same question at the public hearing.

"Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" Wyden asked Clapper at the March 12 hearing.

"No, sir," Clapper answered.

"It does not?" Wyden pressed.

Clapper quickly and haltingly softened his answer. "Not wittingly," he said. "There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect — but not wittingly."

Wyden said he also gave Clapper a chance to amend his answer.

A spokesman for Clapper did not have an immediate response on Tuesday, but the intelligence director told NBC that he believed Wyden's question was "not answerable necessarily, by a simple yes or no." Officials generally do not discuss classified information in public hearings, reserving discussion on top-secret programs for closed sessions where they will not be revealed to adversaries.

"So I responded in what I thought was the most truthful or least most untruthful manner, by saying, 'No,'" Clapper said.   [Emphasis added]
 Now that's an answer which would make Lewis Carroll proud!

Liberals and conservatives alike are finding this whole issue of domestic spying deeply troubling, and that's the kind of bipartisanship I can welcome.  Yesterday, I suggested all sorts of ways to play with the program, among them signing the petition up at the White House.  In just three days it's garnered well over 55,000 signatures.  I suspect that not all those signing are incorrigible lefties.  And a couple of senators from different sides of the aisle are looking for a way to reign in this madness wrought under the Patriot Acts. 

A bipartisan group of senators is introducing new legislation that they say will provide greater transparency of National Security Agency surveillance programs, the first significant legislative response to the revelation of the highly classified telephone and Internet data-collection programs.

The bill, written by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Sen. Mike Lee ( R-Utah), would end the "secret law" governing the programs, the sponsors say, requiring the attorney general to declassify opinions from the secret federal court overseeing surveillance to show how broadly the government views its legal authority under the Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Co-sponsors include Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who has raised concerns about tactics that could infringe on Americans’ privacy rights.

"Americans deserve to know how much information about their private communications the government believes it’s allowed to take under the law,” Merkley said in a statement. “There is plenty of room to have this debate without compromising our surveillance sources or methods or tipping our hand to our enemies. We can’t have a serious debate about how much surveillance of Americans’ communications should be permitted without ending secret law.”   [Emphasis added]

The FISA court, which has a statue of a kangaroo in front of its door rather than Lady Justice, is notorious for rubber stamping whatever the government wants.  The court has maybe denied 3% of the requests for warrants brought to it.  Imposing some actual oversight over that part of the process is a good beginning.

I suggest you email and call your senators and ask them to co-sponsor the bill and then vote for it.  Do both. 

It'll keep that data cloud growing.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Just A Piece of Paper

(Editorial cartoon by Jim Morin / Miami Herald (June 10, 2013) and featured at McClatchy DC.)

Edward Snowden, a twenty-nine-year-old geek, has lit a firestorm across the country, and, potentially, around the world with his revelations on the NSA and its contractor's massive spying operation on Americans.  Members of the Senate and the White House have admitted the operation, but assure us that it's for own good because terrorism.  Right.

From Jon Healey's column in the Los Angeles Times:

Reaction has been predictably mixed and extreme, with Fox News analyst Ralph Peters calling for Snowden to be executed and previous national security whistle-blowers, Ellsberg included, practically calling for a statue to be erected in his honor. Some cyber civil libertarians argue that the revelations should cause heads to roll within the administration because they appear to have lied to Congress about the surveillance; the Electronic Frontier Federation wants Congress to appoint a blue-ribbon panel to "conduct a full, public investigation into the domestic surveillance of Americans by the intelligence communities ... [and] make changes in the law to stop the spying and ensure that it does not happen again."

One interesting question, though, is whether Snowden is entitled to protection as a whistle-blower. The administration argues that its data-gathering efforts on phone networks and online have all fallen within the bounds of the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. In fact, the hoovering of data from phone companies has been done under the auspices of regular orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. If that's true -- and granted, that's a sizable "if" -- Snowden has disclosed things that the government has been doing legally.   [Emphasis added]

So, does that make everything OK?  Hardly.   Conor Friedersdorf points out the flaws inherent in such a rationale in a marvelous article in The Atlantic (and you should read the whole article).

What we know is that the people in charge will possess the capacity to be tyrants -- to use power oppressively and unjustly -- to a degree that Americans in 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, or 2000 could've scarcely imagined. To an increasing degree, we're counting on having angels in office and making ourselves vulnerable to devils. Bush and Obama have built infrastructure any devil would lust after.  [Emphasis added]

I don't know that I consider Bush and Obama angelic in their zeal for collecting clouds of data on us, but at this point it appears they, at least, believe they have the authority to do so.  So does that leave us with no recourse at all?

I'm not sure, but I have some ideas on how to hammer home our disgust.  I recommend a variation of the kingbirding tactic.   They want data?  Then let's give it to them, tons and tons of it.

I suggest you call your congresscritters, all three of them, especially if Verizon is your carrier.  Then I would follow it up with an email to each.  Complain politely about the wiping out of our 4th Amendment rights and urge them to repeal the Patriot Acts.

I suggest you visit political blogs like Hullabaloo and Eschaton several times each hour.  Leave comments voicing your displeasure with our own government spying on us, especially by using an outside contractor.

I suggest you respond to each and every poll you come across on line, like the one which appears in the Times article mentioned above.  If you can, visit it multiple times and vote each time.

And I suggest you sign every petition opposing this gross violation of our rights like the one up at the White House site for citizen petitions.  Especially that one.

Look, what are they going to do to us for our acts of civil disobedience?  Take away all of our birthdays?  I don't think so.

I know I feel better for having done all of these things, and I think you just might as well.

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Monday, June 10, 2013

Maybe We Won't Miss Her

(Editorial cartoon by Steve Sack and published 5/26/13 in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.  Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Michele Bachmann's home town newspaper, points out that Michele has no intention of actually going away.  She's just not running for re-election to her House seat.

Embattled congresswoman Michele Bachmann told Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity in exclusive interview Thursday that she is “not going away” despite her decision not to seek a fifth term.

“There’s just a time when you’ve served, and then it’s time to move on,” the Minnesota Republican said in her first interview since announcing that she is not running for reelection. “I’m not retiring. I’m not going silent. I’m not quitting my public involvement. In fact, I may run for another public office. That could happen.” ...

Given room to expound on her plans, Bachmann told the talk show host, “I’m not going away. I’m not leaving Washington. I’m not leaving the national scene. It’s just bringing a positive solution from a different perch.”

Asked about running again for president, Bachmann concluded, “I’m not taking anything off the table. But that’s certainly not my number one item that I’m looking at right now either. I’m in the game for the long haul.”    [Emphasis added]

So what does all that mean?  Who knows!

It may be that her decision not to run again for her House seat was designed to cool the Ethics Committee investigation and that she has her eye on Al Franken's senatorial seat.  Or the presidency.

Or, and I think this is more likely, she is being given a little Republican welfare.  Her appearance on Hannity's Fox News show may have been designed as a preview for a slot there.  Or she may be moving on to one of the conservative think tanks, joining such luminaries as Jim DeMint.

But if she's not leaving the public eye, than we can't and won't miss her.

I take a little perverse joy out of that.

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Sunday, June 09, 2013

Sunday Poetry: Marge Piercy

(Just a reminder)

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: The Clear Winner

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 6/6/13 in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, June 08, 2013

Bonus Critter Blogging: Lancet Clubtail

Photograph by Ifthethunderdontgetya and posted on his blog.  Click on the link to find more wonderful nature photographs.

About Damned Time!

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (June 6, 2013) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

Southern California Edison, a large electricity supplier for Southern California, has finally decided to permanently shut down the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, and I'm delighted.  The plant has not been in operation for over a year.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The coastal plant near San Clemente once supplied power to about 1.4 million homes in Southern California  but has been shuttered since January 2012 when a tube in its newly replaced steam generators leaked a small amount of radioactive steam, leading to the discovery that the tubes were wearing down at an unusual rate.

San Onofre, one of only two nuclear power plants in California, has been in regulatory limbo for months as the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission weighed a proposal by Southern California Edison to restart one unit -- which was less heavily damaged -- and run it at 70% power in hopes that reduced power would alleviate the conditions that led to the wear. ...

Southern California Edison officials announced their decision in a news release early Friday morning.

"We have concluded that the continuing uncertainty about when or if [the plant] might return to service was not good for our customers, our investors, or the need to plan for our region’s long-term electricity needs," said Ted Craver, chairman and chief executive of Edison International, parent company of SCE.

SCE President Ron Litzinger said in a statement: "Looking ahead, we think that our decision to retire the units will eliminate uncertainty and facilitate orderly planning for California’s energy future.”   [Emphasis added]

 Neither of the two nuclear power plants should have been built in the first place.  Both, including the Diablo Canyon plant built for and run by Pacific Gas & Electric, are located on the coast and near earthquake faults.  Both were built decades ago when there was even less certainty on what to do with the expended nuclear products. 

Southern Californians managed to get through last summer without San Onofre and I'm confident it will get through this summer as well.  People here know not to run appliances during hottest part of the day and to set thermostats closer to 80F than 68F.  And people here don't want any of that waste getting into the wrong hands.

What would be nice is having SoCalEdison use a little creative planning to put in a renewable energy system on the site, one which would take advantage of wave power or wind power.  That might be asking too much if the company is more interested in pleasing its investors than its customers, but we might get lucky this time.

And that would be just fine by me.

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Friday, June 07, 2013

Friday Cat Blogging

But It's Patriotic

(Political cartoon by Ruben Bolling and published at Daily Kos.  CLick on image to enlarge.  If that isn't sufficient, click on link for a readable copy and then return.)

When AP discovered that the feds were collecting the phone and email data from their reporters, it went ballistic.  It turns out that the feds have been collecting data from a whole lot more people than AP employees.  The NSA has gotten records from all Verizon telephone customers.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The massive National Security Agency collection of telephone records disclosed Wednesday was part of a continuing program that has been in effect nonstop since 2006, according to the two top leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“As far as I know, this is the exact three-month renewal of what has been in place for the past seven years," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told reporters Thursday. The surveillance “is lawful” and Congress has been fully briefed on the practice, she added.

Her Republican counterpart, Saxby Chambliss, concurred: "This is nothing new. This has been going on for seven years,” he said. “Every member of the United States Senate has been advised of this. To my knowledge there has not been any citizen who has registered a complaint. It has proved meritorious because we have collected significant information on bad guys, but only on bad guys, over the years."

The statements by the two senators, whose committee positions give them wide access to classified data, appeared to rule out the possibility that the court order directing Verizon to turn over telephone records was related to the Boston Marathon bombings. The order was effective as of April 19, shortly after the bombings, which had sparked speculation about a link.   [Emphasis added]

 Of course there haven't been any citizen complaints.  No citizens outside of the US Senate were aware of what their government was doing.  That's how the FISA court and the Patriot Act works ... in complete secrecy, and a breach of that secrecy is punishable, as Bradley Manning and Julian Assange will attest.

It's secret, but not so secret that our senators weren't aware of the practice for seven years, and none of them complained.  Were they AT&T subscribers or were they too intimidated to complain or didn't they care about the egregious breach of our rights to be free from government intrusion into our private lives?

We live in interesting times: interesting and scary.  Very scary.

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Thursday, June 06, 2013

Still At It

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (June 3, 2013) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then please come back.)

Well, the House is up to its usual tricks, this time with a bill guaranteed to make its bankster and 1%  friends happy.  It may have cost our owners a little money, but, hey!, they got what they wanted. 

From Open Secrets:

Banking industry lobbyists helped members of the House Financial Services Committee craft a bill loosening regulators' oversight of various types of trading, with lobbyists from Citibank playing a large role in the process, according to a report in today's New York Times. Seventy-one of the 80 lines in a bill recently approved by the panel were written with the assistance of lobbyists for major banks, said the report, which is based on emails reviewed by the paper's reporters; two paragraphs were copied from the lobbyists nearly word-for-word.

According to Center for Responsive Politics data, in the first quarter of 2013, members of that committee received more than $1.3 million in donations to their campaigns and leadership PACs from the securities and investment industry and commercial banks. ...

Although the New York Times article cites a growing friendliness between the banking industry and congressional Democrats, the money going to the members of the committee this year overwhelmingly tilted towards Republicans. Seventy percent of the $1.3 million went to GOP lawmakers. Republicans control the House, and thus the committee, and it is not unusual to see the majority party pick up more cash from donors, regardless of the topic or committee.   [Emphasis added]

$1.3 million in just three months:  not bad, eh?  Especially since it is designed to save the "donors" billions. 

Oh, and our Dems on that committee weren't too shy about accepting their share.  I'm looking at you, Maxine Waters.

And people wonder why we can't have nice things.

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Wednesday, June 05, 2013

We're Number 2! We're Number 2!

(Click on image to enlarge and then kindly drag your backside back.)

David Horsey's May 30 column has been sitting on the back burner of my brain pan because I just wasn't quite sure what to do with it.  I mean, is he implying that we've shifted our national focus on a "cold war" from Russia to China?  Or is he simply asserting that because our government has become so dysfunctional we've lost our leadership role?  Or both?  Because it's such a short column, I am quoting it in its entirety, contrary to the rules of fair use.  Hopefully he and the Los Angeles Times will forgive me.

Despite prognostications otherwise, it is not inevitable that the United States will cede its place as the world’s leading nation to China. But if the American political system remains as dysfunctional as it is today, China may rise above us by default.

While China invests in infrastructure, our federal government allows the nation’s highways, bridges and power grid to deteriorate. While China puts a premium on education and research, our national politicians refuse to provide the resources needed to educate a new, diverse generation of young Americans to a level necessary to compete with the world or to keep American laboratories and experimental enterprises functioning at full power.

China is burdened by a stifling one-party political system. Still, decisions get made, action is taken, stuff gets built, things get done.

The United States has a two-party system that is so gummed up by unscrupulous political warfare, unending campaigns and ideological idiocy that it may as well be a no-party system. No party can get anything accomplished because few political leaders have a vision of a common national interest that rises in importance above partisan advantage.

If China wins the future, it will happen because American leaders failed to stay in the game.   [Emphasis added]

It's pretty hard to disagree with any of Horsey's assertions, but I think he has oversimplified things just a tad.

Yes, China has become an economic powerhouse, and, yes, that huge nation has locked in energy and mineral contracts with Iraq, Iran, and Latin America.  But that hasn't been cost-free.  Right now, China is suffering from some huge pollution problems, problems that affect the entire world, not just China.

China is a major exporter to the world, but in most parts of the world, governments have opted for austerity programs to kick-start their economies, programs which, of course, have had the opposite effect.  What happens when other countries can't afford to buy Chinese goods?  Will buying companies in other countries make up for that?  That remains to be seen.

Finally, China has become a creditor nation, especially for the US.  We fought two wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) off-budget under George W. Bush by borrowing huge sums from China.  Unless our economic picture brightens, those loans will remain unpaid.  Then what?

Horsey is right that China is rapidly becoming the number one power in the world, if it isn't already, but our dysfunctional government is only one part of the problem.  And China will be facing its own challenges in both the short and the long term.

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