October 24, 2014

Entropy update: baseball

NY Times- On Tuesday night, the first game of the 2014 World Series drew just 12.2 million viewers to Fox, making it the lowest-rated Game 1 on record. Game 2 on Wednesday night fared somewhat better, with 12.9 million people tuning in.

For most of the last century, the start of baseball’s World Series — with its red, white and blue bunting and occasional ceremonial first pitch from the president — was always a major event. The opening game of the Fall Classic has provided some of the country’s most enduring sports memories, including Willie Mays’s over-the-shoulder basket catch (1954), Sandy Koufax’s 15-strikeout performance (1963) and Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run (1988).

But this week, more people watched “NCIS: New Orleans” and “The Big Bang Theory,” and — for that matter — “The Walking Dead,” the cable show about zombies. The audience for “Sunday Night Football,” a regular season game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos, was almost twice that of Games 1 or 2. Even last Saturday night’s college football matchup — Florida State University versus Notre Dame — drew more viewers than either World Series game.

Perhaps the most compelling statement about baseball’s relative standing among American sports fans is this: Last summer’s World Cup match between the United States and Portugal drew 25 million viewers, roughly double that of the World Series opener.

Real economics: no retirement funds for middle class

Time - The average middle class American has only $20,000 in retirement savings, according to a new survey that shows large swathes of the public are aware of those shortfalls and feeling anxious about their golden years.
Wells Fargo surveyed more than 1,000 middle class Americans about the state of their savings plans. Roughly two-thirds of respondents said saving for retirement was “harder” than they had anticipated. A full one-third of Americans said they won’t have sufficient funds to “survive,” a glum assessment that flared out among the older respondents. Nearly half of Americans in their 50s shared that concern.
But perhaps the most startling response came from the 22% of Americans who said they would prefer to suffer an “early death” than retire without enough funds to support a comfortable standard of living.

A speech CSPAN didn't like

 From 50 years of our overstocked archives

Sam Smith

[C-SPAN broadcast in 1999 the first rally in opposition to the Bosnian war with one exception: your editor's speech. C-SPAN even left in the part where a singer announced, "I'm the warm-up act for Sam Smith" but the speech itself was cut. Here's the speech.]

I am a native of this place. You might even call me an ethnic Washingtonian. For two centuries, this little colony of America has been denied the rights called for in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and more recently in the Charter of the United Nations.

At no time during this 200 years, however, has a single bomb been dropped on our behalf. In fact President Clinton and the Congress, now busy saving the Kosovars -- whether they survive to thank us or not -- conspired to remove what little self-government we had on the grounds of a budget deficit worth about the cost of four nights' Belgrade bombing runs. It was the greatest disenfranchisement of African-Americans since the end of post-reconstruction in the 19th century.

You will excuse me, therefore, if I am a bit skeptical about current professions of interest in democracy in distant places. . .

We gather here exactly 31 years and one month after William Jefferson Clinton was reclassified 1-A by his draft board during a war of which he wrote, "I didn't see how my going in the army and maybe going to Vietnam would achieve anything except a feeling that I had punished myself and gotten what I deserved." A lot has happened since then, including, under Clinton, more frequent and gratuitous military incursions into foreign lands than ever before.

To be sure, he merely ices a long trend. By the count of author Bill Blum, since 1945 we have bombed China, Korea, Guatemala, Indonesia, Cuba, Congo, Peru, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Libya, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Yugoslavia.

The most striking exception to the ubiquitous futility of these deadly adventures has been a single unqualified military triumph -- we brought Grenada to her knees.

At what point does the constant reiteration of failed and fatal policy become a war crime and reckless incompetence become grotesque cruelty and tactics of death become -- to use a term used casually these days -- become genocide?

Well, consider this. The Holocaust resulted in some six million deaths. Now here are some other figures:

There were nearly two million killed during the Vietnam war, most by air attacks that dropped twice as many bombs as we did in all of World War II -- nearly one 500-pound bomb per person. One million civilians were killed by our strategic bombing in Japan even before we got to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. More than two million civilians were killed in our bombing runs over North Korea. And one million Iraqi have died as a result of our sanctions.

Add these up and you come to the same figure as the Holocaust. Which is shocking enough until you realize that together, the Holocaust and our bombing raids of the past fifty years represent less than ten percent of all the deaths by warfare in our century.

Trace the American role in this extraordinary violence to its source and you come not upon political extremes, but to the heart of this country's establishment. Contrary to all myths the most deadly place on the American political spectrum is in the center. It is there that a fatal combination of power, machismo, incompetence, avarice and delusions of adequacy has time and again caused murder, mayhem and suffering for those who want only to live their lives in peace and decency. Even the KKK, so often cited as an example of the ever-present danger from extremism, was in fact powerful not because it was extreme but because it was at the precise center of so much of America -- holding political, judicial and law enforcement office as well as hiding beneath its robes. In some towns, lynching parties were even announced in the local paper. . .

We have, of course, been trained to think of our own leaders as normal, sane people. That these destroyers of land, lives and the ecological balance of the earth are wise and honorable men and women engaged in noble and difficult tasks. .

But ask yourself this:

Is it normal to kill millions of innocent people in the name of a freedom they will never live to know?

Is it normal to let the young and the ill suffer so you can support a military budget so huge that $30 billion a year simply can't be accounted for?

Is it normal to lock up nearly two million citizens -- the most of any country ever -- many of them for simply preferring marijuana over such legal drugs as vodka and cigarettes?

Is it normal, because of one's draconian penal system, to remove the franchise from one out of every seven black men?

Is it normal to damage the health of a planet for better 4th quarter profits?

Consider that the use of nuclear weapons as well as other forms of mass destruction presently depends upon the will of a brutal egomaniac in Belgrade, a terminal dipsomaniac in Moscow, and a felonious serial sociopath in Washington. This, my friends, is not normal.

When I was a child in this town, the cruelties of segregation were considered normal. An elite not unlike the one in charge today insisted it was so, just as they told us that if we crawled under our school desks we would be safe from the atom bomb.

Few in power dared tell us that what was said to be normal was actually madness. We had to find out for ourselves. And when we did, and when we discovered that others had as well, things began to get better.

Today we must make this same self-discovery, and learn from those on either side of us, in front of us and behind us, that we are not alone. The elite, including its media, will try to keep us from this news. They will not tell us the biggest secret of our age -- that the widest political, cultural and moral division on earth is not between right and left, east and west, or black and white, but between the peoples of the world and their own reckless leaders.

This weekend some of the latter have come to town and erected a Berlin wall behind which to conceal their deadly work. We on this side of the wall are the resistance. Not just against nukes. Not just against war. But a resistance against all the craven, cruel and corrupt madness of those who lead. And against the apathy and surrender that lets it happen.

Let me suggest a simple platform to replace this madness. That:

We seek to be good stewards of our earth, good citizens of our country, good members of our communities, and good neighbors of those who share these places with us. We seek a cooperative commonwealth based on decency before profit, liberty before sterile order, justice before efficiency, happiness before uniformity, families before systems, communities before corporations, and people before institutions. And that we, unlike so many who profess to lead us, seek to treat our politics, our country and each other with common decency, common sense and with a search for common ground.

So simple. So normal. And yet so far. . . .

At the end of the Second World War, Albert Camus wrote an imaginary letter to a German friend in which he said,

"This is what separated us from you; we made demands. You were satisfied to serve the power of your nation and we dreamed of giving ours her truth."

That is our business today, and every day, until those who lead us make it their's as well -- and no longer hide behind barricades celebrating mindless power, deadly weapons, and corrupt intentions. Until they turn instead to their proper business which is to join us in giving all the lands of this fragile earth their truth.

Pocket paradigms

Even the best politics are a pretty poor substitute for life and the worst politics compound their felony by forcing us to leave the front stoop to do something about them. Our quarrel with the abuse of power should be not only be that it is cruel and stupid but that it takes so much time way from other things -- like loving and being loved, and music, and a good meal and the sunset of a gentle day. In a nation ablaze with struggles for power, we are too often forced to choose between being a co-conspirator in the arson or a member of the volunteer fire department. And, too often, as we immerse ourselves in the terrible relevance of our times, beauty and happiness seem to drift away. - Sam Smith

Is there love off line?

Baltimore Sun - Towson University professor Andrew Reiner is concerned that the desire to be "liked" online has bled into the real-life interactions of some of his students. He wants to change that.

Reiner, a lecturer in English in Towson's Honors College, says students sometimes pretend to send text messages when they are alone out of fear that if they are not constantly connected to their smartphones, they will be seen as losers.

Students in his classes often seem hesitant to disagree with each other, he says — a development he attributes to their need to attract as much approval in real life as they get online. And he believes their careful curation of their identities on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter has made it difficult for them to connect with their peers on a deeper level...

In his course "Alone Together: Finding Intimacy in the Age of Facebook," Reiner, 50, is asking students this fall to explore whether technological advances and social media have left them more isolated from each other and less able to connect in real life.


Word; Journalism

You cannot hope to bribe or twist/Thank God the British journalist/ But seeing what the man will do/ Unbribed, there is no occasion to -- Humbert Wolfe

A journalist is a man who has missed his calling -- Bismarck

Drunkards, deadbeats and bummers -- Harvard president Charles Eliot's description of reporters in rejecting Joseph Pulitzer's offer to endow a journalism school.

Trying to be a first-rate reporter on the average American newspaper is like trying to play Bach's St. Matthew Passion on a ukulele - Ben Bagdikian

Once you want something from them, they've got you - IF Stone on official sources

Being tasered may affect ability to exercise legal rights

Mad in America - After they have been hit by a taser, most people experience a significant diminishing in their memory and cognitive functions for up to an hour, according to an unpublished study discussed in Live Science. The researchers said that the impacts were serious enough to raise into doubt whether people who’ve been tasered will understand their legal rights during any subsequent police arrest.

“In order to give up your right to remain silent, which would allow the police to question you during that custodial interrogation, you have to be able to give a knowing and valid waiver,” Robert Kane, Director of the Criminology and Justice Studies Program at Drexel University told Live Science. “You have to be of sound mind, you have to know what you are doing and you have to understand the consequences of talking to police.”

Good Stuff: Ranked choice voting

Fair Vote:

Since adoption of ranked choice voting, Oakland winners earn more votes: Of the 18 Oakland offices elected by RCV in 2010 and 2012, the winner had more votes than the winner of the previous non-RCV election in 16 of them. This is a common pattern in RCV elections that avoid electing winners in low-turnout June primaries or December runoffs.
Fewer voters now skip city elections: Voters are more engaged in city elections with RCV. Traditionally, a good number of voters skip their city elections, but that number has declined sharply since adoption of RCV. .
Candidates must treat every voter as a swing voter, and make an affirmative case: With RCV, the strongest candidates will need to treat every voter as a potential swing voter. In a vote-for-one system, candidates write off anyone who is settled on another choice. But with RCV, there is a direct incentive to find common ground with such voters to earn a second or third choice.
Scholars find RCV has a clear impact on civility and substance: Fair Vote is part of major scholarly study on the effect of ranked choice voting on the civility and substance of campaigns. Initial findings, summarized here, suggest that RCV is having a big impact. Voters from RCV cities were significantly less likely to report that candidates criticized one another “a great deal” than were voters from non-RCV cities (5% to 25%) and were nearly three times as likely to say that candidates had not criticized one another at all (36% to 12%). RCV city voters were also significantly more likely to indicate that they were "very satisfied" with campaigns, and over 60% of respondents in RCV cities supported the system.
Bay Area voters had more trouble with the first Top Two primary ballots than RCV: The huge majority of voters in Bay Area cities handle RCV ballots well. As one measure, less than 0.4% of voters invalidated their ballots in their first contested mayoral elections with RCV in these cities. But it was another story with the first Top Two primary ballot in June 2012. In that election, more than 1.5% of voters cast an invalid ballot in the U.S. Senate primary in Berkeley and San Francisco, and more than 4.5% of voters did so in the Senate primary in Oakland and San Leandro.

Electing the most representative candidate: There have been dozens of hotly contested RCV races in the Bay Area, including 31 in which there was an "instant runoff" to determine the winner, and five in which the ultimate winner trailed in first choices. In every single election, the winner has been the candidate who defeats all other candidates when matched against them 1-on-1.

Recovered history: The real Clinton story

Things the media forgets to tell you about the Clintons and the state that made them.


Bill Clinton is elected attorney general of Arkansas.

Two Indonesian billionaires come to Arkansas. Mochtar Riady and Liem Sioe Liong are close to Suharto. Riady is looking for an American bank to buy. Finds Jackson Stephens with whom he forms Stephens Finance. Stephens will broker the arrival of BCCI to this country and steer BCCI's founder, Hassan Abedi, to Bert Lance.

Riady's teen-age son is taken on as an intern by Stephens Inc. He later says he was "sponsored" by Bill Clinton.


Hillary Clinton joins the Rose Law Firm.

Apparently because of pressure from Indonesia, Riady withdraws his bid to buy Lance's 30% share of the National Bank of Georgia. Instead, a BCCI front man buys the shares and Abedi moves to secretly take over Financial General - later First American Bankshares -- later the subject of the only BCCI-connected scandal to be prosecuted in the US.

October 23, 2014

War on the Constitution update

Off the Charts   - The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities,  AARP, the AFL-CIO, Consumers Union, and ten other national organizations have written to the U.S. Trade Representative asking that Medicare, Medicaid, and other health programs be excluded from the investor-state dispute settlement provisions of pending trade agreements.

ISDS would give companies a new legal avenue to challenge U.S. pricing and patent policies for drugs and medical devices: the ability to sue the U.S. government before an international arbitration panel that wouldn’t be subject to normal democratic checks and balances.  In our letter, we say:
ISDS . . . would allow global pharmaceutical firms to challenge mechanisms that state legislatures, the Congress and public agencies use to manage pharmaceutical costs in public programs.  For example, a pharmaceutical company could challenge a state’s Medicaid preferred drug list or drug utilization management rules that limit access to a certain drug under specific circumstances.  Reimbursement policies for medicines under Medicare Part B could be challenged.  If adopted, the President’s own proposal to establish rebates under the Medicare Part D program for low-income beneficiaries could be subject to an ISDS challenge.  Simply stated, ISDS would impose an unnecessary risk to government administered health programs by limiting what policy makers can do to keep these programs affordable for taxpayers and beneficiaries.

Links: Action

Action news
How to plan your own Moral Monday
Building peace teams
Cellphone guide for protesters
Why we need history
Corporations that have deserted the US
for tax purposes

Koch Brothers
North Face
Detroit Water Brigade
Moral Mondays
Tar Sands protests
Bad Ass Teachers

Stats: Population growth


Pocket paradigms

We have lost much of what was gained in the 1960s and 1970s because we traded in our passion, our energy, our magic and our music for the rational, technocratic and media ways of our leaders. We will not overcome the current crisis solely with political logic. We need living rooms like those in which women once discovered they were not alone. The freedom schools of SNCC. The politics of the folk guitar. The plays of Vaclav Havel. The pain of James Baldwin. The laughter of Abbie Hoffman. The strategy of Gandhi and King. Unexpected gatherings and unpredicted coalitions. People coming together because they disagree on every subject save one: the need to preserve the human. Savage satire and gentle poetry. Boisterous revival and silent meditation. Grand assemblies and simple suppers. Above all, we must understand that in leaving the toxic ways of the present we are healing ourselves, our places, and our planet. We rebel not as a last act of desperation but as a first act of creation. - Sam Smith


Remember this: many a good story has been ruined by over-verification -- James Gordon Bennett, Founder of NY Herald

Will Californians soon be drinking their own pee?

Slate -The largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere is currently under construction in Carlsbad in San Diego County at great expense. The price tag: $1 billion.

Right now, San Diego is almost totally dependent on imported water from Sierra snowmelt and the Colorado River. When the desalination plant comes online in 2016, it will produce 50 million gallons per day, enough to offset just 7 percent of the county’s water usage. That’s a huge bill for not very much additional water.

... This year’s drought has motivated California to invest $1 billion in new money on water recycling efforts statewide, a much more cost-efficient way of increasing potable water supplies. But reusing purified sewer water for brushing your teeth is not without its own set of issues. National Journal describes the biggest holdup:
The problem with recycled water is purely psychological. Despite the fact the water is safe and sterile, the “yuck factor” is hard to get over, even if a person understands that the water poses no harm...
Every source of fresh water on Earth (rainfall, lakes, rivers, and aquifers) is part of a planetary-scale water cycle that passes through every living thing at one point or another. In a very real way, each and every day we are already drinking one another’s urine.

Earlier this year, the city of Portland, Oregon (in one of the most Portlandy moments in recent memory) nearly drained a local 38-million-gallon reservoir after a teen was caught urinating in it.

Psychologists have found that when cities reintroduce purified municipal wastewater into natural aquifers, streams, or lakes for later withdrawal, public acceptance of the fact that yes-it-was-once-pee improves. Since 2008, Orange County has recharged a local aquifer with billions of gallons of recycled sewage via the largest potable water reuse facility in the world.

Follow the limousines

From 50 years of our overstocked archives

Sam Smith - A thought occurred to me as I sat in my car the other day waiting for a presidential cavalcade to make its way noisily down a Washington street: perhaps we should insist on a bit less protection for our leaders based on the theory that if they felt more endangered they would have more sympathy for the rest of us. And their policies might improve.

After all, the justification behind the hyper security is that the lives of presidents and the like are simply too valuable to risk. The logic of this can be easily refuted by simply listening to one of their speeches. Sooner or later even the terrorists would realize that when it comes to George Bushes, we've got a million of them - and give up in frustration.

Before the Bush regime, I caught then Governor Tommy Thompson down on the Mall during the Folk Life Festival. He was surrounded by Wisconsinites, some of them drunk, some of them merely enthusiastic. I think I spotted the governor's security man but I wasn't certain. In any case no one - unlike much of downtown Washington on a typical day - looked afraid of anything.

Thompson had clearly not yet become accustomed to Washington ways where even the mayor of this city gets a security detail worthy of a small dictatorship fearing an imminent coup.

In the end, a lot of what passes for security is just a matter of culture. There are two basic ways of securing oneself against others: (1) not making them mad at you and (2) defending yourself when they are. What is so striking about our leaders is that they spend so little effort on the first option and so much on the second.

The problem with this is that you not only shield yourself from bullets but from the rest of life as well. And it's worth remembering that no one lives in a medieval castle for protection anymore. It turned out that they weren't as safe as the inhabitants thought.

Recovered history: The real Clinton story

Things the media forgets to tell you about the Clintons and the state that made them.


27 year old Clinton, only months out of Yale Law School, is back in Arkansas eager to run for Congress. Roger Morris writes later, 
"A relative unknown, he faces an imposing field of rivals in the Democratic primary, and beyond, in the general election, a powerful Republican incumbent. Yet as soon as he enters the race, Mr. Clinton enjoys a decisive seven-to-one advantage in campaign funds over the nearest Democratic competitor, and will spend twice as much as his well-supported GOP opponent. It begins with a quiet meeting at his mother's house in Hot Springs. Around the kitchen table, as Virginia Clinton will describe the scene, avid young Billy meets with two of his most crucial early backers -- Uncle Raymond G. Clinton, a prosperous local Buick dealer, and family friend and wealthy businessman Gabe Crawford.

"As they talk, Mr. Crawford offers the candidate unlimited use of his private plane, and Uncle Raymond not only provides several houses around the district to serve as campaign headquarters, but will secure a $10,000 loan to Bill from the First National Bank of Hot Springs - an amount then equal to the yearly income of many Arkansas families.

Together, the money and aircraft and other gifts, including thousands more in secret donations, will launch Mr. Clinton in the most richly financed race in the annals of Arkansas -- and ultimately onto the most richly financed political career in American history. Though he loses narrowly , his showing is so impressive, especially in his capacity to attract such money and favors, that he rises rapidly to become state attorney-general, then governor, and eventually, with much the same backing and advantage, president of the United States

 . . . No mere businessman with a spare plane, Gabe Crawford presided over a backroom bookie operation that was one of Hot Springs' most lucrative criminal enterprises. [And the] inimitable Uncle Raymond - who had also played a pivotal behind-the-scenes role in keeping young Bill out of the Vietnam draft - was far more than an auto dealer. In the nationally prominent fount of vice and corruption that was Hot Springs from the 1920s to the 1980s (its barely concealed casinos generated more income than Las Vegas well into the 1960s), the uncle's Buick agency and other businesses and real estate were widely thought to be facades for illegal gambling, drug money laundering and other ventures, in which Raymond was a partner. He was a minion of the organized crime overlord who controlled the American Middle South for decades, New Orleans boss Carlos Marcello or 'Mafia Kingfish' as his biographer John Davis called him."

Even in Africa....

BLOG African deaths

October 22, 2014

Blackwater agents found guilty in Iraqi civilian deaths

intercept - A federal jury in Washington, D.C., returned guilty verdicts against four Blackwater operatives charged with killing more than a dozen Iraqi civilians and wounding scores of others in Baghdad in 2007.

The jury found one guard, Nicholas Slatten, guilty of first-degree murder, while three other guards were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter: Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard. The jury is still deliberating on additional charges against the operatives, who faced a combined 33 counts, according to the Associated Press. A fifth Blackwater guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, had already pleaded guilty to lesser charges and cooperated with prosecutors in the case against his former colleagues. The trial lasted ten weeks and the jury has been in deliberations for 28 days.

The incident for which the men were tried was the single largest known massacre of Iraqi civilians at the hands of private U.S. security contractors. Known as “Baghdad’s bloody Sunday,” operatives from Blackwater gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians at a crowded intersection at Nisour Square on September 16, 2007. The company, founded by secretive right-wing Christian supremacist Erik Prince, pictured above, had deep ties to the Bush Administration and served as a sort of neoconservative Praetorian Guard for a borderless war launched in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

While Barack Obama pledged to reign in mercenary forces when he was a senator, once he became president he continued to employ a massive shadow army of private contractors. Blackwater — despite numerous scandals, congressional investigations, FBI probes and documented killings of civilians in both Iraq and Afghanistan — remained a central part of the Obama administration’s global war machine throughout his first term in office.

Just as with the systematic torture at Abu Ghraib, it is only the low level foot-soldiers of Blackwater that are being held accountable. Prince and other top Blackwater executives continue to reap profits from the mercenary and private intelligence industries. Prince now has a new company, Frontier Services Group, which he founded with substantial investment from Chinese enterprises and which focuses on opportunities in Africa. Prince recently suggested that his forces at Blackwater could have confronted Ebola and ISIS. “If the administration cannot rally the political nerve or funding to send adequate active duty ground forces to answer the call, let the private sector finish the job,” he wrote.

None of the U.S. officials from the Bush and Obama administrations who unleashed Blackwater and other mercenary forces across the globe are being forced to answer for their role in creating the conditions for the Nisour Square shootings and other deadly incidents involving private contractors. Just as the main architect of the CIA interrogation program, Jose Rodriguez, is on a book tour for his propagandistic love letter to torture, Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, so too is Erik Prince pushing his own revisionist memoir, Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror.

While the Blackwater verdict is an important and rare moment of accountability in an overwhelmingly unaccountable private war industry, it does not erase the fact that those in power—the CEOs, the senior officials, the war profiteers—walk freely and will likely do so for the rest of their lives.

What's happening

Food delivery by tricycles

The hazards of bike law

Philly students protest for their teachers  

A 97 year old scholar describes what it's like to live in an old folks' home

Bottom 90% worse off than in 1987

Washington Post - Once upon a time, the American economy worked for everybody, and even the middle class got richer. But this story has only been a fairy tale for almost 30 years now. The new, harsh reality is that the bottom 90 percent of households are poorer today than they were in 1987.

This is actually a much more dramatic statement than it sounds. While the Federal Reserve has already told us that the median households is worth less now than it was in 1989 -- that's the household right in the middle -- it turns out that everybody but the richest 10 percent of Americans are worst off. That includes the poor, the entire middle class, and even what we would consider much of the upper class.

US deporting asylum seekers

immigration Impact -Human Right Watch  issued a report last week documenting serious flaws in the procedures used to deport noncitizens apprehended at or near the border—flaws that are resulting in the deportation of Central Americans who face serious harm in their home countries. The report is based on interviews of 35 noncitizens detained in the United States or recently deported to Honduras, as well as government data regarding apprehensions and asylum claims obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. One of HRW’s primary findings is that the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, including Border Patrol agents, who are charged with flagging individuals with possible asylum claims are falling short with respect to this critical responsibility.

Most individuals apprehended at or near the U.S. border with Mexico are detained and put through one of two types of summary deportation processes, namely “expedited removal” or “reinstatement of removal” (if the person has been deported previously). These processes allow immigration officers to serve as both prosecutor and judge—often investigating,
charging and making a decision, all within the course of one day. During this process, the CBP officers must inform individuals that if they fear persecution, harm, or torture in their home country, they can seek protection in the United States, and the officers must specifically ask whether the individual has any fear of return. Only those individuals who are flagged by a CBP officer are referred to an asylum officer for a “credible fear interview.” It is during that credible fear interview that an asylum officer conducts a more extensive interview to determine whether the person will be referred to an immigration judge for a full hearing on his or her asylum claim.

Although the report highlights deficiencies in the policies with respect to the credible fear interview, much of the report focuses on the fact that many individuals with valid claims never even make it past the initial screening by the CBP officer. Specifically, HRW uncovered that:
  • Border Patrol agents sometimes failed to inform individuals of the availability of protection;
  • Even where an individual expressed fear of return, Border Patrol agents sometimes failed to refer individuals to an asylum officer for a credible fear interview; and
  • Border Patrol agents “harassed, threatened, and attempted to dissuade [noncitizens] from applying for asylum.”
As the report explains,
“I asked for asylum,” said Jacob E., who fled after being shot and seeing his mother killed for her failure to pay fees to gang member to run her small clothing business. “The officer told me don’t apply, 90 percent of the people who do don’t get it.”

How Watergate almost didn't happen

Sam Smith - The passing of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee has brought back memories of the 1972 break-in at the Watergate and, for me, a story I learned about how the incident almost didn't happen. The Washingtonian Magazine reported a few years ago:

 Across the street in the Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge, a “spotter” for the burglars, Alfred C. Baldwin III, was glued to the TV watching a horror movie, Attack of the Puppet People, on Channel 20—oblivious to the situation developing across the street. Baldwin was holed up in a disheveled seventh-floor room with a window facing the Watergate. If squad car 80 had been in service and pulled up in front of the Watergate with lights flashing, siren wailing, and a uniformed police officer emerging from it, that surely would have pulled Baldwin’s attention away from the horror movie and likely given him time to notify the five burglars via walkie-talkie so they could have escaped and the illegal entry gone unnoticed.
But what the Washingtonian didn't report is why Squad Car 80 didn't show up. A high police department officer later told me that the morning of Watergate, the plain clothes officers  in the precinct had been lectured by their commander for not doing a decent job. They were warned if things didn't improve they would be back on uniformed patrol. At the moment that the Watergate call came in, the officers in Squad Car 80 were cooping (aka drinking coffee and eating donuts) in an alley and didn't respond.  The plain clothes officer filled the gap and changed history in the process.


Paul (Race Horse) Mitchell, 57, of one address right after another, died on the street here yesterday, unexpectedly, and after a long illness, but mostly from two bullet wounds in his chest... The grief, if it may be allowed to pass for that, was dry-eyed enough but it had those overtones of sincerity which lend a definite, if indefinable, dignity to the human spirit on such occasions. This is to say that only one man was really glad the rascal was dead -- and the police were looking for him. -- Harry Gabbett, Washington Post, 1968

September 12, 2001

 From 50 years of our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, September 12, 2001 - Throughout the day came contrasting images of Americans. The indefatigably courageous rescue workers - turned gray and white by pulverized matter. The innocent survivors resourcefully joining hands to follow the one flashlight out of a building or using a cell phone to locate themselves under the rubble. The Washington officials noisily locking the barn door too late and creating a new crisis (of the sort they could understand): a massive traffic jam. The glamorous anchors and TV correspondents, children of Pleasantville II, suddenly discovering that news can be real.

And too often during the day there were the incompetent, mendacious, and terminally hubristic voices of an American elite that had helped create a country so hated that some would kill themselves to define their antipathy. There was Madeleine Albright who five years ago said that killing a half million Iraqi children as a result of the sanctions was worth the price. There was Charlie Rose, listening even more intently than usual to his roundtable of failed, fatuous experts. There was talk of instant revenge, of instant action, talk that echoed that of our generals in Vietnam. We have only failed in quantity and not in quality, they repeatedly told us then.

The Washington Post, as during Vietnam, helped lead the macho masochists. It even published a column by Robert Kaman which declared, "Congress, in fact, should immediately declare war. It does not have to name a country." The rest of the media was not far behind.

Notably absent from the airwaves were Muslim Americans and those who favored resolution rather than retribution. Instead, there was a steady procession of figures who had supported or helped form a foreign policy that has made us the earth's most despised nation, who had insisted that the way to a better world was to arm Israel and anathematize Arabs, who had claimed that the civil liberties we have surrendered over the past two decades would make us safer, and who have told us we must choose between security and freedom and in the end have denied us both. In the face of such overwhelming evidence of their failure, if they did not have the grace to resign, they should at least shut up.

Urban farming in Singapore


Climate change could affect the fall scene

Think Progress - The phenomenon of brilliant red and gold autumn foliage might change due to the large amount of carbon dioxide we put in the atmosphere, and the resulting warmth that carbon traps inside.

The higher concentration of carbon dioxide itself might actually make fall colors brighter, Howard Neufeld, a professor of physiological plant ecology at Appalachian State University, explains in a Tuesday piece in The Conversation, citing research published in the journal New Phytologist back in 2010. But the higher temperatures that result from large atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide could result in longer summers and shorter autumns, thereby delaying the onset of future colorful leaf seasons and causing them to be shorter in duration.

Changing temperature patterns could also cause those colors to come in splotchy — that is, all the trees won’t change at once. “As the climate warms, the finely-tuned timing of the fall’s color display may lose its synchronization,” Neufeld writes, citing research from the Royal Society. “Rather than the well-timed symphony of color that we’re used to now, we might see unsynchronized patches as each species changes over the course of the season.”

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To accept the full consequences of the degradation of the environment, the explosion of incarceration, the creeping militarization, the dismantling of democracy, the commodification of culture, the contempt for the real, the culture of impunity among the powerful and the zero tolerance towards the weak, requires a courage that seems beyond us. We do not know how to look honestly at the wreckage without an overwhelming sense of surrender; far easier to just keep dancing and hope someone else fixes it all.

Yet, in a perverse way, our predicament makes life simpler. We have clearly lost what we have lost. We can give up our futile efforts to preserve the illusion and turn our energies instead to the construction of a new time.

It is this willingness to walk away from the seductive power of the present that first divides the mere reformer from the rebel -- the courage to emigrate from one's own ways in order to meet the future not as an entitlement but as a frontier. - Sam Smith

Recovered history: The real Clinton story

Things the media forgets to tell you about the Clintons and the state that made them.


A federal investigation concludes that Hot Springs has the largest illegal gambling operations in the United States.

Clinton goes to Georgetown University where he finds a mentor in Professor Carroll Quigley. Quigley writes: "That the two political parties should represent opposed ideals and policies. . . is a foolish idea. Instead, the two parties should be almost identical . . .The policies that are vital and necessary for America are no longer subjects of significant disagreement, but are disputable only in detail, procedure, priority, or method. "

Bill Clinton, according to several agency sources interviewed by biographer Roger Morris, works as a CIA informer while briefly and erratically a Rhodes Scholar in England. Although without visible means of support, he travels around Europe and the Soviet Union, staying at the ritziest hotel in Moscow. During this period the US government is using well educated assets such as Clinton as part of Operation Chaos, a major attempt to break student resistance to the war and the draft. According to former White House FBI agent Gary Aldrich Clinton is told by Oxford officials that he is no longer welcome there.

Bill Clinton and his friend Jim McDougal get a job in the office of Senator J. William Fulbright. The Washington Post will later write, "McDougal was interested in making money while Clinton was obsessed with political stature."

After becoming involved in politics, Wellesley graduate Hillary Rodham will order her senior thesis sealed from public view.


Bill Clinton fails to report to his duty station at the University of Arkansas ROTC. Reclassified 1-A on October 30, 1969, as enlistment with Army Reserves is revoked by Colonel E. Holmes.

Leading German journalist claims he was forced to write CIA propaganda under his name

RT, Russia -  German journalist and editor Udo Ulfkotte says he was forced to publish the works of intelligence agents under his own name, adding that noncompliance ran the risk of being fired.

“I ended up publishing articles under my own name written by agents of the CIA and other intelligence services, especially the German secret service,” Ulfkotte told Russia Insider. He made similar comments to RT in an exclusive interview at the beginning of October.

“One day the BND (German foreign intelligence agency) came to my office at the Frankfurter Allgemeine in Frankfurt. They wanted me to write an article about Libya and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi...They gave me all this secret information and they just wanted me to sign the article with my name,” Ulfkotte told RT.

“That article was how Gaddafi tried to secretly build a poison gas factory. It was a story that was printed worldwide two days later.”

Ulfkotte reveals all this and more in his book 'Bought Journalists,' where he mentions that he feels ashamed for what he has done in the past.

“It is not right what I have done in the past. To manipulate people, to make propaganda. And it is not right what my colleagues do and have done in the past because they are bribed to betray people not only in Germany, but all over Europe,” he told RT. “I was a journalist for 25 years and I was educated to lie, to betray, and not to tell the truth to the public.”

Zero Hedge - Carl Bernstein, who is best known for his reporting on Watergate, penned a 25,000 word article in Rolling Stone after spending six months looking at the relationship of the CIA and the press during the Cold War years. Below is an excerpt, but you can read the entire thing here.
In 1953, Joseph Alsop, then one of America’s leading syndicated columnists, went to the Philippines to cover an election. He did not go because he was asked to do so by his syndicate. He did not go because he was asked to do so by the newspapers that printed his column. He went at the request of the CIA.

Alsop is one of more than 400 American journalists who in the past twenty-five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters. Some of these journalists’ relationships with the Agency were tacit; some were explicit. There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services—from simple intelligence gathering to serving as go-betweens with spies in Communist countries.

Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors without?portfolio for their country. Most were less exalted: foreign correspondents who found that their association with the Agency helped their work; stringers and freelancers who were as interested in the derring-do of the spy business as in filing articles; and, the smallest category, fulltime CIA employees masquerading as journalists abroad.

In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations.
Like any good intelligence agency, the CIA learned from its mistakes upon being exposed, and has since adjusted tactics. This is where the concept of “non-official cover” comes into play. The term was recently described by German journalist Udo Ulfkotte, in [his] blistering RT interview. Mr. Ulfkotte was previously a respected journalist for one of Germany’s main dailies, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, so he is no small fry.

“Non-official cover” occurs when a journalist is essentially working for the CIA, but it’s not in an official capacity. This allows both parties to reap the rewards of the partnership, while at the same time giving both sides plausible deniability. The CIA will find young journalists and mentor them. Suddenly doors will open up, rewards will be given, and before you know it, you owe your entire career to them. That’s essentially how it works.

Winners in Afghanistan: Corruption and the drug trade

 Paul Shinkman, US News - Corruption is tearing Afghanistan apart, fueled largely by an illegal drug trade that has reached new highs despite billions spent in U.S. counternarcotics efforts. And the U.S., leading up to a full withdrawal in 2016, does not have a plan to fight it.

These are the findings of two new reports released over the last few days by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, a congressionally mandated government watchdog tasked with overseeing the U.S.-led and funded effort to rebuild the war-torn nation.

October 21, 2014

What's happening

Colorado health officials want to ban marijuana brownies

reports that the European Union sets the poverty level at 60% of median income. That's $30,832 in US.

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Recovered history: The real Clinton story

Sam Smith - One of the ways that politicians running for election handle embarrassing stories is to get them out of the way early.  This may explain Monica Lewinsky, after nearly twenty years of quietude, suddenly coming out with a speech in which she essentially blames it all on the media.  But as the conservative commentator Ben Shapiro correctly notes: 
While it's easy to have compassion for a person who was misled by a powerful person at the tender age of twenty-four, one would think she would have a better perspective on the scandal she was involved in by age 40. Ms. Lewinsky wasn't a victim of cyber-bullying; she was a victim of having sexual relations with a person at or near the peak of power. She became news just as Donna Rice, Elizabeth Ray, Fanne Foxe and many others had before her. Matt Drudge didn't ruin her life just the same way that the Miami Herald did not ruin Donna Rice's life. Drudge simply reported a huge news story.
 Huge it was, but strangely it was but a tiny part of the Clinton story. Tipped off by a progressive student group in Arkansas – no, not a rightwing conspiracy as Hillary Clinton would later put it – I was one of the few reporters who dove into the saga during Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign and even before he had been nominated, I had found  over two dozen issues that had not been adequately investigated which I summed up in a chart in May of that year:

The real Clinton story

Things the media forgets to tell you about the Clintons and the state that made them.


When Bill Clinton is 7, his family moves from Hope, Arkansas, to the long-time mob resort of Hot Springs, AR.  Here Al Capone is said to have had permanent rights to suite 443 of the Arlington Hotel. Clinton's stepfather is a gun-brandishing alcoholic who loses his Buick franchise through mismanagement and his own pilfering. He physically abuses his family, including the young Bill. His mother is a heavy gambler with mob ties. According to FBI and local police officials, his Uncle Raymond -- to whom young Bill turns for wisdom and support -- is a colorful car dealer, slot machine owner and gambling operator, who (except when his house is firebombed) thrives on the fault line of criminality.

Paul Bosson, Hot Springs Prosecutor - In Hot Springs, growing up here, you were living a lie. You lived a lie because you knew that all of these activities were illegal. I mean, as soon as you got old enough to be able to read a newspaper, you knew that gambling in Arkansas was illegal, prostitution was illegal. And so you lived this lie, so you have to find some way to justify that to yourself and, you know, you justify it by saying, "Well," you know, "it's okay here."

Virginia Kelly, Clinton's mother (1923-1994) - Hot Springs was so different. We had wide-open gambling, for one thing, and it was so wide open that it never occurred to me that it was illegal - it really didn't - until it came to a vote about whether we were going to legalize gambling or not. I never was so shocked. 

Hot Springs before the Clintons

In the 1930s, Hot Springs represented the western border of organized crime in the U.S with the local syndicate headed by Owney Madden, a New York killer who had taken over the mob's resort in Arkansas. Owney Madden was an English born gang member who had been arrested more than 40 times in New York by the time he was 21. Madden got the assignment from his boss, Myer Lansky. The plan for Arkansas was modeled on an earlier one in which Governor Huey Long opened a Swiss bank account into which the mob would put $3 to $4 million annually for the right to run casinos in the state. Lansky then moved to Hot Springs where he hired Madden, former operator of Harlem's Cotton Club. According to one account, "The Hot Springs set up was so luxurious and safe that it became known as a place for gangsters on the lam to hole up until the heat blew over."

Hot Springs was where Lucky Luciano was arrested and brought back for trial prosecuted by Thomas E.Dewey. According to one account, "Dewey proclaimed Luciano Public Enemy No 1, and a grand jury returned a criminal indictment against him that carried a maximum penalty of 1,950 years. . . He was arrested in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and extradited back to New York. There, in the New York State Supreme Court he was tried, and on June 7, the verdict of guilty was returned. Eleven days later, he was sentenced to a total of from 30-to-50 years in state prison. It was the longest sentence ever handed out for compulsory prostitution."

The Dice Man - There is evidence that many syndicate groups became involved in Hot Springs. Owney Madden was the overseer of everything and watched out for the New York mob's interests. Morris Kleinman, who was one of the founding gangsters of the Cleveland syndicate spent much time in Hot Springs. It is rumored that the Cleveland boys had pieces of the profits from Hot Springs gambling. Johnny Roselli, an "upper level" member of the Chicago mob was a silent partner in many Hot Springs casinos in the 1940's and 1950's, as was Frank Costello. All of these groups used local operators as "fronts", a system perfected by the Cleveland syndicate in Ohio, Florida, and Kentucky. Since Hot Springs was a very popular tourist spot, the command went out from the different syndicates that there should be no murders carried out in Hot Springs. This would be the rule in Las Vegas too. If bodies littered the streets like in Chicago, it would only hurt business. Also "petty" crimes like burglary and armed robbery were not to be tolerated. If the suckers weren't comfortable, they wouldn't come to Hot Springs.

Owney Madden laid the groundwork for gangsters on the lam to hide out in Hot Springs. The city had a resort-like atmosphere and elegant nightlife, with people coming and going all the time. This was the perfect situation to "hide" mobsters who couldn't be seen in their hometowns. Al Capone would stay at the Arlington Hotel when things got too hot in Chicago….

Fukushima update

Herald, Scotland -    A large swathe of land downwind of the four Fukushima Daiichi reactors smashed by a 15-metre tsunami in March 2011 is so contaminated by radioactivity that it will not be officially safe to return for more than 100 years.

Tens of thousands more who have left their homes outside the most contaminated zone will choose never to return because of the dangers.

... The explosions, meltdowns and leaks at Fukushima Daiichi triggered by an earthquake and tsunami three and a half years ago have hurt Japan deeply, triggering 2.2 million compensation claims, an £8 billion decontamination budget and dozens of legal suits. It’s a hurt that is going to take many decades to heal.

More than 30,000 square kilometres of northern Japan were contaminated by the huge clouds of radioactivity that belched into the air during the accident. More than 80,000 people were forced to evacuate from the areas closest to Fukushima Daiichi, and at least another 80,000 are reckoned to have voluntarily decided to flee their homes.

The official evacuation zone is divided into three different areas. In the least contaminated, furthest away from the nuclear plant, the Japanese government is hoping to allow 32,900 people to return soon.

In the second area there is twice or three times as much contamination, and no immediate plan to lift the ban on living there. But the government is hoping that, after decontamination work and natural radioactive decay, 23,300 people will be allowed home in years to come.

In the third area closest to the nuclear station, radiation levels are so high that experts say it will be more than 120 years before it will be safe for anyone to be allowed back. That means that the 24,700 who used to live there will all be dead before they can go home.

The natural gas leak problem

538 - About a third of the natural gas we consume is delivered to homes and businesses, where it fires appliances like furnaces, boilers, ovens and cooking stoves. To transport this gas, most urban areas have extensive networks of underground pipelines, many of which were built decades ago. Although big leaks are hard to miss (they smell), small leaks can go undetected. How much natural gas leaks out before it gets to the furnace in your basement? Until recently, no one had thought much about this.

But one research group has pioneered the study of urban gas leaks by driving around cities, first Boston and then Washington, D.C., with equipment that can sniff out natural gas leaking from pipelines. The researchers found plenty of leaks: more than 3,000 individual leaks in Boston and nearly 6,000 leaks in D.C. Although few were concentrated enough to be an explosion risk, all leaks warm the climate; natural gas is mostly methane, which has a stronger climate-warming effect than carbon dioxide in the short term, as I discussed in a recent article.

Every utility knows how much gas is being lost; it’s simply the difference between the amount of gas the utility purchases as the gas enters the city and the amount of gas the utility sells to its customers. But the cost of the lost gas is typically charged to the utility’s customers: Each of us pays a little bit on our gas bill to purchase gas that leaks into the atmosphere.

The Washington study assembled data from the 174 largest urban gas distribution systems in the United States and found a wide range of loss rates: 0 percent to 11 percent, with an average of 1.6 percent. (Note that a small quantity of the gas labeled as “lost” could be due to metering errors, rather than actual gas leaks.)

Plugging the leaks would be no small feat — urban gas pipelines across the country are decades old, and are just one of many items on America’s lengthy to-do list of repairs to aging infrastructure. As Andrew Flowers has reported on this site, we can’t afford all of these repairs in the current political and budgetary climate.

The results of the Boston study hint at one way to prioritize efforts to repair leaky urban gas pipeline systems. The Boston neighborhoods with the most gas leaks were also those with the most pipes made of cast iron, which is older and more prone to rust than newer pipeline materials. This suggests that cities with more cast-iron pipes are probably leaking more gas. Replacing these leaky cast-iron pipes would have multiple benefits: Reduced climate effects, increased safety and cost savings for customers.