May 5, 2015

Race to the bottom: Federal agencies

  • Congress
  • NSA
  • Supreme Court
  • CIA
  • FISA Court
  • FBI
  • Homeland Security
  • Pentagon
  • DEA

Bill Clinton still at large

Politico - Bill Clinton firmly asserted that the foundation he started after his presidency has not done anything “knowingly inappropriate” in accepting foreign cash while his wife was secretary of state.....

His justification for his own $500,000-a-pop speaking fees — “I gotta pay our bills” — and his insistence that his family is held to unfair standards, in an interview aired Monday on NBC, raised eyebrows inside of Clinton world and out.

....The Clintons have periodically talked about having money troubles or downplaying their wealth, despite Bill Clinton being paid nearly $105 million for 542 speeches between January 2001 and 2013, according to the Washington Post.

... A New York Times report also showed that the Clintons reported $371,000 in capital gains between 2000 and 2006, despite Bill’s insistence in the interview that he had “taken almost no capital gains” in the last fifteen years.

Emergency room visits jump despite Obamacare

USA Today - Three-quarters of emergency physicians say they've seen ER patient visits surge since Obamacare took effect — just the opposite of what many Americans expected would happen.

A poll released  by the American College of Emergency Physicians shows that 28% of 2,099 doctors surveyed nationally saw large increases in volume, while 47% saw slight increases. By contrast, fewer than half of doctors reported any increases last year in the early days of the Affordable Care Act.

Such hikes run counter to one of the goals of the health care overhaul, which is to reduce pressure on emergency rooms by getting more people insured through Medicaid or subsidized private coverage and providing better access to primary care.

A major reason that hasn't happened is there simply aren't enough primary care physicians to handle all the newly insured patients, says ACEP President Mike Gerardi, an emergency physician in New Jersey.

"They don't have anywhere to go but the emergency room," he says. "This is what we predicted. We know people come because they have to."

Peak Internet coming?

Daily Mail, UK - In just 20 years, if usage rates continue, all of Britain's power supply could be consumed by internet use.

The cables and fibre optics that send information to our laptops, smartphones and tablets will have reached their limit to send data within eight years, experts warn.

So far, engineers have managed to keep ahead of demand, increasing internet speeds 50-fold in the last decade alone.

The cables and fibre optics that send information to our laptops, smartphones and tablets will have reached their limit.

Experts warn science has reached its limit and that fibre optics can take no more data from a single optical fibre.

The internet companies could always put down additional cables - but that will mean higher bills.

Experts say we could be faced with paying double or will have to put up with an internet that switches off intermittently.

Storing information in large 'server farms', rather than transferring it, would take the strain off the network.

In 2005, broadband internet had a maximum speed of 2 Megabits per second. Today 100Mb-per-second download speeds are available in many parts of the country.

But experts warn that science has reached its limit - and fibre optics can take no more data.

The result, according to Professor Andrew Ellis, who has co-organised the Royal Society meeting on May 11, will be higher internet bills or a cap on internet usage.

States moving away from traditional prison approaches with popular support

Susan K. Urahn, Governing -  The federal prison population has grown nearly 800 percent since 1980 as lawmakers created new criminal penalties, mandated longer sentences and abolished parole. During this period, federal inmates' average time served increased from 15.9 months to 40.1. Taxpayers now spend $6.7 billion each year on federal prisons, with corrections costs growing twice as fast as all other Justice Department spending. Yet a third of the inmates who leave federal prison under community supervision return to custody for violating the terms of their releas...
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While many in Washington are debating how to improve the federal correctional system, states -- in their traditional role as laboratories for innovation -- have moved from talk to action. Since 2007, more than half the states have made research-based policy changes to control prison growth, hold offenders accountable and protect public safety......

Georgia and Oregon revised mandatory-minimum-sentencing laws to give judges more flexibility when imposing penalties. Delaware and Mississippi expanded prison-release policies to allow inmates to earn credits for good behavior or participation in educational or substance-abuse programs. South Dakota and West Virginia created or expanded drug courts to divert low-level offenders from prison into community-based programs. Although the specifics differ from state to state, all of these recent efforts focus states' limited corrections resources on serious offenders while improving community supervision and other interventions for those convicted of lower-level crimes.

These innovative policies have earned overwhelming bipartisan support. Last month, Utah became the latest justice-reinvestment state to pass corrections legislation; only two lawmakers voted against converting all first- and second-time drug-possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors. Nationally, justice reinvestment has received more than 5,700 "aye" votes in state legislatures, compared with fewer than 500 "no" votes. These bills also received strong support from each state's judicial and executive branches.

The results of these and other recent justice reforms are promising. After rising for decades, the total number of state prisoners has leveled off in recent years while crime continues its long-term decline. As illustrated in this Pew Charitable Trusts infographic, crime rates fell more in the 33 states that cut their imprisonment rates over the past five years than in the 17 states that increased imprisonment. The implications for taxpayers are equally encouraging. An independent analysis of 17 justice-reinvestment states by the Urban Institute found that they expect to avert as much as $4.6 billion in corrections spending in the years ahead.

Election commission char all but giving up on reigning in money influence

Associated Press

Large ocean dead zones found off Africa

Independent UK - Swathes of oxygen-deprived water up to 100 miles long, unable to sustain any form of animal life, have been found in the Atlantic, scientists have said.

Researchers of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel in Germany discovered the unexpectedly low oxygen environments several hundred kilometres off the coast of West Africa.

A paper, published in Biogeosciences, describes 100-mile-long eddies of swirling water spinning their way across the Atlantic for months at a time.

Dead zones are usually found in shallow bodies of water, such as lakes and shallow coastlines.

However, the swirling movement of the eddies found in the Atlantic ensures that no water can escape, so the oxygen supply is quickly used up

How to produce 6,000 pounds of food in a tenth of an acre

Natural Society


Word

I take a grave view of the press. It is the weak slat under the bed of democracy. - AJ Liebling

May 4, 2015

Morning line

Based on our three poll moving average, Hillary Clinton is in a statistical tie with Rubio and Paul. She is six points ahead of Bush and Cruz, 7 points ahead of Walker and has a double digit lead over all other Republicans.

Bush and Rubio are tied at 15 and Walker has 12 points. Paul has 10 and everyone else is in single digits.

Speaking of riots

"The task we've got ahead of us now is an awkward one. It's untidy. And freedom's untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things”—U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, on April 11, 2003, in reference to looting in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq.
Rumsfeld added: "While no one condones looting, on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who have had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime. And I don't think there's anyone in any of those pictures who wouldn't accept it as part of the price of getting from a repressed regime to freedom."

Via Grenville Whitman

Word

One in six species threatened with extinction by climate change

Common Dreams - One in six of all animal and plant species on Earth could become extinct from impacts related to climate change if human society does not dramatically reduce its emission of greenhouse gases, according to new research published in the journal Science.

Conducted as a meta-analysis of existing research done on the possible impact of climate change on species loss, the new study—titled Accelerating Extinction Risk From Climate Change—found that the range of predicted loss went from no species loss at all (0%) to as much as 54% in extreme scenarios, but that a synthesis of the existing data and new modeling offered a clearer view of what the future may hold.

Mark Urban, professor of ecology at the University of Connecticut and lead author of the new study, says its most worrying findings are not set in stone but should come as a warning to humanity and world leaders that action on climate must come soon if the planet is to maintain its existing biodiversity and ability to support life. Though its conclusions are considered "predictive" and based on various models of what the future may look like, the study warns that as warming continues to increase in the coming decades the rate of extinctions could accelerate rapidly.

Senate votes that humans not responsible for climate change

McClatchy - The Senate rejected the scientific consensus that humans are causing climate change, days after NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared 2014 the hottest year ever recorded on Earth.

The Republican-controlled Senate defeated a measure Wednesday stating that climate change is real and that human activity significantly contributes to it. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, offered the measure as the Senate debated the Keystone XL pipeline, which would tap the carbon-intensive oil sands in the Canadian province of Alberta.

The Senate voted 50-49 on the measure, which required 60 votes in order to pass.

“Only in the halls of Congress is this a controversial piece of legislation,” Schatz said.

The chairman of the environment committee, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., is an enthusiastic denier of climate change, saying it is the “biggest hoax” perpetrated against mankind.

“The hoax is there are some people so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change the climate,” Inhofe said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “Man can’t change the climate.”

The Senate, with Inhofe’s support, did pass a separate measure saying that climate change is real — just not that human activity is a cause. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., was the only senator to vote against it.

Why we lost the war on terror

From our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2007 -The other morning I got confused and used the wrong national metaphor. I had just read an AP story that started:

"Three suspected Islamic terrorists from an al-Qaida-influenced group nursing 'profound hatred of U.S. citizens' were arrested on suspicious of plotting imminent, massive bomb attacks on U.S. facilities in Germany, prosecutors said today. . . "

My immediate reaction was: looks like we've got another marketing problem. Then I remembered that we weren't trying to add Muslims to our consumer base; we were trying to get rid of them. For that you need a good military, not good marketing.

But military and marketing are both things Americans pride themselves in and it set me off on yet another heretical foray: what if we had reacted after 9/11 more like a corporation facing a consumer rebellion than as an army trying to eliminate the enemy?

Instead we have done absolutely nothing to reduce the 'profound hatred of U.S. citizens' by Muslims and much to increase it, all in the name of something called the war on terror. And we're not just talking about Republicans. Both the Democrats and the media has gone along with a military approach and won't even discuss alternatives in any serious manner.

But wars are there to be won and I haven't met anyone who expects Osama bin Laden or other guerrilla leaders ever to show up on the deck of the contemporary version of the USS Missouri to sign the terms of surrender. Come to think of it that was over 60 years ago and nobody important has been able to do it since.

The truth is, though nobody talks about it much, countries like the US don't win wars anymore unless the enemy is so small it doesn't count. In fact, the most striking thing about wars is that they simply don't work the way they used to.

It is fair to say, without the slightest hyperbole, that the war on terror has been a failure from the moment it started and has no place to go but down. Every escalation will just bring more profound hatred and every surge will just give opposing factions a reason to merge against us.

Seldom in history has so much money been wasted on such a failed military operation. Admittedly - unless you happen to be an Iraqi civilian - the death toll isn't as bad as it's been in the past but that's because we've figured out how to substitute our budget for our bodies. It still doesn't work.

Why do we keep doing it? Part of the answer is plain habit. We've been raised to think that the military will solve our problems and even in the face of contrary evidence we cling to that faith. We also have not only the most incompetent administration in American history but one pursuing a hidden agenda of preparing for a rapture in which all the stupid Christians get to go to heaven and everyone else ends up in hell. Whatever our own beliefs or lack thereof, we are trapped in a war between religious extremists. Finally, the people who are meant to warn us and provide a better alternative - like Democrats and the media - have become so intimidated and accommodating that they can't even remember the emergency number, let alone how to dial it.

Sooner or later, the war on terror will end, probably as the result of some substitution of national purpose like dealing with the rise of 130 degree summers. We won't have to admit defeat; we'll just worry about something else.

Meanwhile, however, it is destroying us far faster than it is destroying the enemy, real or imagined. Every day we give the Muslim world something new to hate about us and every day we spend huge sums for this dubious purpose.

So maybe my early morning thought wasn't all that askew. What if we thought of Muslims as people who go to a different store rather than a different religious citadel? What if we went after them not with bombs and Humvees but the way Steve Jobs would if he wanted to sell them Ipods?

What if we took seriously their customer complaints such as our miserable treatment of Palestine and the destruction of their lands, showed them some respect and stopped killing so many of them?

What if we talked to them calmly and fairly - as was recently demonstrated in our progress with the North Koreans - rather than with the implicit threat of convert or die?

What if we replaced the surge of war with the snail's pace of negotiation?

What if we dealt with extreme groups by weakening their constituency through our response to the concerns of the more rational?

Maybe if we treated Muslims more like a business owner treats customers walking into a store or like a real diplomat treats those on the other side of the table, we wouldn't have to worry so much about some of them flying into our skyscrapers instead.

What's happening

Independent Lens PBS, 10:00 pm ET - Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson's film "Kumu Hina" profiles Hina Wong-Kalu, a transgender teacher seen counseling a Hawaiian youngster about embracing masculine and feminine traits alike. Both individuals benefit greatly from the their common pursuit of pride and acceptance, with the educator also getting fresh insight into the search for enduring love. The program is offered as part of PBS' Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

David Letterman: A Life on Television CBS, 9:30 pm ET - With the host's final "Late Show" slated for May 20, this new 90-minute special recaps many of the highlights of his 22-year tenure on the program. Though much of the material is expectedly comedic -- showcasing numerous guests he's welcomed to the New York-based show over the years -- some segments are of a serious nature, as with one from the first episode that followed the 9/11 attacks. Many of Letterman's signature "Top Ten Lists" also are excerpted.

Word: What steady state supporters and peacemakers have in common

Link corrected

Herman Daley - International “free trade pacts” (NAFTA, TPP, TAFTA) are supposed to increase global GDP, thereby making us all richer and effectively expanding the size of the earth and easing conflict. But growth in the full world has become uneconomic–increasing costs faster than benefits. It now makes us poorer, not richer. These secretly negotiated agreements among the elites are designed to benefit private global corporations, often at the expense of the public good of nations.

Some think that strengthening global corporations by erasing national boundaries will reduce the likelihood of war. More likely we will just shift to feudal corporate wars in a post-national global commons, with corporate fiefdoms effectively buying national governments and their armies, supplemented by already existing private mercenaries.

It is hard to imagine a steady state economy without peace; it is hard to imagine peace in a full world without a steady state economy. Those who work for peace are promoting the steady state, and those who work for a steady state are promoting peace. This implicit alliance needs to be made explicit. Contrary to popular belief, growth in a finite and full world is not the path to peace, but to further conflict. It is an illusion to think that we can buy peace with growth. The growth economy and warfare are now natural allies. It is time for peacemakers and steady staters to recognize their natural alliance.

It would be naïve, however, to think that growth in the face of environmental limits is the only cause of war. Evil ideologies, religious conflict, and “clash of civilizations” also cause wars. National defense is necessary, but uneconomic growth does not make our country stronger. The secular west has a hard time understanding that religious conviction can motivate people to both to kill and die for their beliefs. Modern devotion to the Secular God of Growth, who promises heaven on earth, has itself become a fanatical religion that inspires violence as much as any ancient Moloch. The Second Commandment, forbidding the worship of false gods (idolatry) is not outdated. Our modern idols are new versions of Mammon and Mars.

What corporatized higher education is really like

Popular Resistance - Controversial for-profit giant Corinthian Colleges said it is closing the doors of its remaining 28 schools, capping the year-long collapse of one of the country’s largest career college chains.

The closure will leave some 16,000 students without certificates or degrees but with a good chance of having their federal student loans forgiven. Corinthian said it is working with other schools to find a home for its displaced student body, but those efforts depend on the cooperation of the institutions and the Education Department.

Corinthian, which runs Everest Institute, Wyotech and Heald College, has spent the last year in a downward spiral. Amid allegations of falsified job placement records and graduation rates, the Education Department cut off the schools’ access to federal aid last June, forcing Corinthian to sell or close its campuses. The government also slapped Corinthian with a $30 million fine earlier this month for misrepresenting the rates at which graduates land jobs, a charge the school denies.

But that’s only a part of Corinthian’s problems. The school is fighting a $500 million lawsuit filed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in September accusing Corinthian of steering students into high-cost loans. And state attorneys generals from Massachusetts to California have either launched investigations or filed lawsuits of their own.

... About 400 Corinthian students have filed what’s known as defense to repayment claims. It’s an appeal to the Education Department to forgive their federal loans on the grounds that Corinthian broke the law. Nine state attorneys general are backing the students’ claims.

... The stunning collapse of Corinthian arrives amid turmoil in the for-profit industry. Career colleges are broadly facing enrollment declines and regulatory scrutiny. Late last year, the Education Department unveiled rules aimed at limiting the amount of debt students amass in career-training programs. A trade group representing 1,400 for-profit college has filed a lawsuit against the government over the rule.

Word: Presidential debates

The mortician interviewing the corpses - Eugene McCarthy

Major retailers closing thousands of stores

Michael Snyder, Activist Post -  Major U.S. retailers have announced that they are closing more than 6,000 locations, but economic conditions in this country are still fairly stable.  So if this is happening already, what are things going to look like once the next recession strikes?

180 Abercrombie & Fitch (by 2015)
75 Aeropostale (through January 2015)
150 American Eagle Outfitters (through 2017)
223 Barnes & Noble (through 2023)
265 Body Central / Body Shop
66 Bottom Dollar Food
25 Build-A-Bear (through 2015)
32 C. Wonder
21 Cache
120 Chico’s (through 2017)
200 Children’s Place (through 2017)
17 Christopher & Banks
70 Coach (fiscal 2015)
70 Coco’s /Carrows
300 Deb Shops
92 Delia’s
340 Dollar Tree/Family Dollar
39 Einstein Bros. Bagels
50 Express (through 2015)
31 Frederick’s of Hollywood
50 Fresh & Easy Grocery Stores
14 Friendly’s
65 Future Shop (Best Buy Canada)
54 Golf Galaxy (by 2016)
50 Guess (through 2015)
26 Gymboree
40 JCPenney
127 Jones New York Outlet
10 Just Baked
28 Kate Spade Saturday & Jack Spade
14 Macy’s
400 Office Depot/Office Max (by 2016)
63 Pep Boys (“in the coming years”)
100 Pier One (by 2017)
20 Pick ’n Save (by 2017)
1,784 Radio Shack
13 Ruby Tuesday
77 Sears
10 SpartanNash Grocery Stores
55 Staples (2015)
133 Target, Canada (bankruptcy)
31 Tiger Direct
200 Walgreens (by 2017)
10 West Marine
338 Wet Seal
80 Wolverine World Wide (2015 – Stride Rite & Keds)

So why is this happening?

Without a doubt, Internet retailing is taking a huge toll on brick and mortar stores, and this is a trend that is not going to end any time soon.

But as Thad Beversdorf has pointed out, we have also seen a stunning decline in true discretionary consumer spending over the past six months…

What we find is that over the past 6 months we had a tremendous drop in true discretionary consumer spending. Within the overall downtrend we do see a bit of a rally in February but quite ominously that rally failed and the bottom absolutely fell out.
Again the importance is it confirms the fundamental theory that consumer spending is showing the initial signs of a severe pull back. A worrying signal to be certain as we would expect this pull back to begin impacting other areas of consumer spending. The reason is that American consumers typically do not voluntarily pull back like that on spending but do so because they have run out of credit. And if credit is running thin it will surely be felt in all spending.
The truth is that middle class U.S. consumers are tapped out.  Most families are just scraping by financially from month to month.  For most Americans, there simply is not a whole lot of extra money left over to go shopping with these days.

In fact, at this point approximately one out of every four Americans spend at least half of their incomes just on rent
More than one in four Americans are spending at least half of their family income on rent – leaving little money left to purchase groceries, buy clothing or put gas in the car, new figures have revealed.
A staggering 11.25 million households consume 50 percent or more of their income on housing and utilities, according to an analysis of Census data by nonprofit firm, Enterprise Community Partners.
And 1.8 million of these households spend at least 70 percent of their paychecks on rent.
The surging cost of rental housing has affected a rising number of families since the Great Recession hit in 2007. Officials define housing costs in excess of 30 percent of income as burdensome.
For decades, the U.S. economy was powered by a free spending middle class that had plenty of discretionary income to throw around.  But now that the middle class is being systematically destroyed, that paradigm is changing.  Americans families simply do not have the same resources that they once did, and that spells big trouble for retailers.

As you read this article, the United States still has more retail space per person than any other nation on the planet.  But as stores close by the thousands, “space available” signs are going to be popping up everywhere.  This is especially going to be true in poor and lower middle class neighborhoods.  Especially after what we just witnessed in Baltimore, many retailers are not going to hesitate to shut down underperforming locations in impoverished areas.

And remember, the next major economic crisis has not even arrived yet.  Once it does, the business environment in this country is going to change dramatically, and a few years from now America is going to look far different than it does right now.

This article first appeared here at the Economic Collapse Blog.  Michael Snyder is a writer, speaker and activist who writes and edits his own blogs The American Dream and Economic Collapse Blog. Follow him on Twitter here.

This article may be re-posted in full with attribution.






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As Thad Beversdorf has pointed out, we have also seen a stunning decline in true discretionary consumer spending over the past six months…

Again the importance is it confirms the fundamental theory that consumer spending is showing the initial signs of a severe pull back. A worrying signal to be certain as we would expect this pull back to begin impacting other areas of consumer spending. The reason is that American consumers typically do not voluntarily pull back like that on spending but do so because they have run out of credit. And if credit is running thin it will surely be felt in all spending.
The truth is that middle class U.S. consumers are tapped out.  Most families are just scraping by financially from month to month.  For most Americans, there simply is not a whole lot of extra money left over to go shopping with these days.

Falacies about economic growth

Graeme Maxton, Guardian

Growth does not create jobs: The way the current economic system is designed, it does the opposite. The constant drive to increase productivity, which is what economic growth really is, requires manufacturers to steadily reduce input costs. Economic growth destroys jobs. sustainable business. Before the 1980s this didn’t matter much, because many new manufacturing businesses were established to soak up a rising working population. Since then, though, this has not happened – growth has increased the number of people without jobs, certainly in the rich world.

In the last 35 years, the world has experienced the fastest economic growth in human history. Yet, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, unemployment went up.

Economic growth does not reduce inequality: Because the system is designed to reward those who already have money and assets, the free market economic model takes wealth from the poor and gives it to the rich. This is especially true since 2008 as government and consumer debts in the rich world have risen and average incomes have stagnated or fallen. The gap between the rich and poor is bigger today than in 1914. The gap between rich countries and poor ones is also much greater. The coming wave of new technology will make these problems worse. A study on the future of employment at Oxford University predicts that almost half of all jobs are at threat from robotisation in the next 20 years. Many of these are highly skilled jobs, such as those done by pilots, doctors, accountants and lawyers. The jobs that will be left are those that require a great deal of personal attention or artistic input – in other words, those that are generally poorly paid.

Boosting growth is not the way to solve environmental problems - Economic growth is the cause of them. It requires a constant increase in the flow of raw materials extracted from the planet to be turned into goods, services and waste. The more we grow, certainly using current economic thinking, the more resources we need to use and the more pollution we create. Rather then pursuing economic growth then, we should tackle our problems head on. We should develop policies to ensure that everyone has enough money to live on, because it leads to healthier and more stable societies. We should plan to reduce the gap between rich and poor, and we need to stop prevaricating when it comes to the environment and actually do something.

Federal judge and drug agency screw trucking company

News Forage - A Houston-based federal judge ruled that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration does not owe the owner of a small Texas trucking company anything, not even the cost of repairing the bullet holes to a tractor-trailer truck that the agency used without his permission for a wild 2011 drug cartel sting that resulted in the execution-style murder of the truck’s driver, who was secretly working as a government informant.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal  heads off a potentially embarrassing civil trial that was supposed to start early next month at the federal courthouse.
Andy Vickery, a lawyer representing trucking company,  said he was floored by the ruling.
“She is basically saying you can’t sue the feds,” he said by phone.
And he emailed this reaction:
A federally deputized corporal from the Houston Police Department decides to pay your small company’s driver to drive your truck to the Mexican border, load it up with illegal drugs, and try to catch some bad guys.   He knows that the driver is lying to “the owner” – although he doesn’t know your name or identity and doesn’t bother to find out.   The bad guys outwit the cops.   Your company’s driver is killed.   Your truck is riddled with bullet holes.
 Query:   is our federal government liable to pay for the damages to you and your property?
 Answer:   Nope. 
He said an appeal is already in the works.
Trucking company owner Craig Patty has said that the truck was used and damaged in a drug sting against one of Mexico’s most violent cartels without his permission and that his family lived in extreme fear they would face retaliation from the cartel, even though they had no idea what the government was doing.

May 3, 2015

Race to the bottom: Republicans

  • Scott Walker
  • Mike Huckabee
  • Ted Cruz
  • Paul LePage
  • John Boehner
  • Marco Rubio
  • Tom Cotton
  • Mitch McConnell
  • John McCain
  • Chris Christie
  • Rand Paul

State of the media

Variety - Americans increasingly consume their news via mobile devices rather than at their desktops, though they spend more time online when they are on their computers, according to the Pew Research Center’s 12th annual “State of the News Media” report.

Thirty-nine of the top 50 digital news sites get more traffic via mobile, the Pew organization found in analyzing comScore data.

The top digital sites for U.S. consumers were USA Today with 54.5 million unique visitors a month, the New York Times (54 million), the Daily Mail (51.1 million), Washington Post (47.8 million), The Guardian (28.1 million), the New York Daily News (25.9 million), the Los Angeles Times (25.2 million), the New York Post (22.9 million), the San Francisco Chronicle (19 million) and the Telegraph of London (16.7 million.)

The non-profit research study covered a wide range of news outlets and platforms. It found that the audience for cable news programs continues to shrink, while viewership of network news made a slight rebound for the second year in a row.

Pew found that the total median viewership for a 24-hour period dropped 7% in 2014 to 1.8 million for Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC combined. It derived the figure via a Nielsen Media Research data. It was the first audience decline by the day-long measure since 2010. MSNBC lost the most ground, declining 14% decline to a median of 334,000 viewers. Fox dipped 2% to 1.1 million viewers and CNN up 1% to 417,000.

The three commercial broadcast networks saw audience growth in 2014, with evening newscasts up for the second year running and morning newscasts also on the rise. Both ABC and CBS enjoyed improved financial performance, while NBC declined, the Pew report said.

The study showed that the ubiquity of digital devices continues to alter the public’s viewing and listening habits. The number of Americans listening to radio online some time in the prior month increased to 53%. That was compared with just 27% who said they had listened to radio online in 2010. Podcast downloads also jumped markedly — from 38 million downloads a month in 2013 to 54 million downloads in 2014.

Diverse groups fighting for sane copyright law

Electronic Frontier Foundation - After decades of increasingly draconian statutes and judicial decisions, our copyright system has veered far away from its original purpose. To help get copyright back on track, EFF is joining forces with a variety of groups—including libraries, industry associations, and public interest advocates—to launch a new coalition focused on promoting smart, balanced copyright policy: Re:create.

Restoring a sense of balance, fairness, and rationality to the copyright system has never been more urgent. Copyright is supposed to promote creativity, but too often we’ve seen it used to shut down innovation, new creative expression, and even everyday activities like tinkering with your car. When a farmer needs to ask the Librarian of Congress for permission to fix her tractor, it’s not just the tractor that’s broken.

Re:create members have diverse views on some copyright issues, but we share a commitment to building a copyright system that works and, above all, matches its constitutional purpose.

For EFF, those purposes are not served by unreasonable copyright terms; excessive and unpredictable penalties; laws that punish people for hacking the DRM on their devices in order to repair them, make them work better and fix security flaws—or even talk about it in public; lawsuits that try to stifle new and useful products that enable fair uses; government seizures of blogs that mistakenly include a few infringing links; or proposals to force intermediaries to police (and therefore monitor) user-generated content. What we need instead are tailored incentives for creativity, matched by sensible limits and thoughtful enforcement policies that have been developed through a transparent and democratic process, based on real evidence of costs and benefits.

Word

I never make predictions, especially about the future - Yogi Berra

Race to the bottom: Federal officials

  • John Brennan
  • James Clapper
  • Arne Duncan
  • Jeh Johnson
  • Antonio Scalia

Word: Edward Snowden

DC ClothesNational Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden was interviewed on the German television network ARD. What many Americans may be unaware of is that the Edward Snowden interview was intentionally blocked from the US public with none of the major new outlets covering the interview or its contents. YouTube has even taken steps to remove the post as soon as it is reposted.


The video got a wide viewing in Europe and it is not only an important interview when it comes to the vast surveillance state that is currently constructed, but is also still future.
Snowden explained to German television (oh the irony here is rich) how tyrannical surveillance programs erode human rights and individual liberty and freedom.

According to Snowden, his “breaking point” was “seeing Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress” with his denial of the existence of a domestic spying programs in March 2013.
Snowden continued, “The public had a right to know about these programs. The public had a right to know that which the government is doing in its name, and that which the government is doing against the public.”
One has to wonder about the complicity of the media in blacking out vital information that exposes the criminal activity of the federal government. While many debate whether or not Edward Snowden is a hero or a traitor, Snowden decided to answer for himself.
“If I am traitor, who did I betray?” he asked. “I gave all my information to the American public, to American journalists who are reporting on American issues. If they see that as treason, I think people really need to consider who they think they’re working for. The public is supposed to be their boss, not their enemy. Beyond that as far as my personal safety, I’ll never be fully safe until these systems have changed.”
Not only has the media been in bed with the Obama administration to attempt to paint Snowden in a bad light, while virtually ignoring the criminal law breaking of the federal government, specifically the Fourth Amendment, but apparently many in government has said they would be more than willing to assassinate Snowden, which is something he feared.
Benny Johnson reported:
“In a world where I would not be restricted from killing an American, I personally would go and kill him myself,” a current NSA analyst told BuzzFeed. “A lot of people share this sentiment.”
“I would love to put a bullet in his head,” one Pentagon official, a former special forces officer, said bluntly. “I do not take pleasure in taking another human beings life, having to do it in uniform, but he is single-handedly the greatest traitor in American history.”

“His name is cursed every day over here,” a defense contractor told BuzzFeed, speaking from an overseas intelligence collections base. “Most everyone I talk to says he needs to be tried and hung, forget the trial and just hang him.”
One Army intelligence officer even offered BuzzFeed a chillingly detailed fantasy.
“I think if we had the chance, we would end it very quickly,” he said. “Just casually walking on the streets of Moscow, coming back from buying his groceries. Going back to his flat and he is casually poked by a passerby. He thinks nothing of it at the time starts to feel a little woozy and thinks it’s a parasite from the local water. He goes home very innocently and next thing you know he dies in the shower.”
I’d say we have a lot more to fear from a tyrannical federal government than Edward Snowden. It’s an amazing thing when traitors occupy positions of power, while those that simply expose their criminal conduct are said to be guilty of the same.

ACLU downsizing

Daily Kos - Wyoming has just become the only state in the union without a chapter of the ACLU. Linda Burt, the now ex-executive director of the Wyoming ACLU:

“People are asking me, ‘Where am I going to go now? Who’s going to help me?’” Burt said. “And I don’t know where, and I don’t know who. We were the only people who did certain kinds of work.”

She said her office’s closure came as a surprise, and she learned she would be terminated just 10 days in advance. The act was part of a round of nationwide ACLU layoffs that also affected workers in New York, California and Washington, D.C. The national office declined to comment for this article but earlier issued a statement that read, “ACLU will continue to have a presence in [Wyoming] with restructured staffing,” though it is unclear what that will look like. Its New York office will handle Wyoming’s legal intake.

Problems we hadn't started worrying about yet

CNN - Since the Apple (AAPL, Tech30) Watch uses your heart rate to determine whether you're wearing it, you might not be able to use Apple Pay, receive notifications, place calls, or use certain apps if you have tattoos on your wrists.

Some Apple Watch wearers on Reddit and Twitter complained about the tattoo issue, and Apple blog iMore confirmed that the problem exists.

The issue stems from the way that the Apple Watch senses your heartbeat. According to Apple, the back of the Watch rapidly flashes green and infrared light at your skin, which gets absorbed or reflected by your red blood. When your heart beats, there is more blood in your wrist, and there is less blood between beats. By sensing the timing between your heartbeats, the Apple Watch can calculate your heart rate.

May 2, 2015

Race to the bottom: Boycott targets

 

War and peace: Some principles

From our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2010

War is the joint exercise of things we were trained not to do as children.

War is doing things overseas that we would go to prison for at home.

Anyone can start a war. Starting a peace is really hard. Therefore it is much harder to be a peace expert than a war expert.

The media treats war as just another professional sport.

War has rules, which means that we can change the rules.

Murder, rape and slavery still exist. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have banned them. The same is true of war.

Telling a country we won’t negotiate with it until it does what you want is like saying you won’t play a game unless you are allowed to win.

There is no evidence that supporting war, or telling presidents to do so, improves your testosterone level, so Ivy League professors are better advised to stick to tennis.

There is one way to deal with guerrilla warfare and that is to resolve the problems that allow it to thrive. The trick is to undermine the violence of the most bitter by dealing honestly with the problems and complaints of the most rational.

Of course, there can be peace with so-called terrorist organizations; it’s just a matter of whether one waits the better part of a century, as the British did in Northern Ireland, or whether you start talking and negotiating now.

Three thousand people is, of course, far too many to die for any reason. But it is also far too weak an argument for the end of democracy.

Peace is a state of reciprocity, of trust, of empirically based confidence that no one is about to do you in. It exists not because of intrinsic goodness or rampant naivete but because of a common, implicit understanding that that it works for everyone.

Implicit in the “what about their violence?” argument is the idea that what we do wrong is excusable because it has been matched by the other side. Of course, the other side sees it the same way so you end up with a perfect stalemate of violence. When I raised a similar argument as a kid, my mother’s response was, “If Johnny were to jump off a cliff, would you jump off a cliff, too?” I never could come up with good answer to that and so eventually had to concede that somebody else’s stupidity was not a good excuse for my own.

From the moment we commence a moral intervention we become a part of the story, and part of the good and evil. We are no longer the innocent bystander but a full participant whose acts will either help or make things worse. Our intentions become irrelevant; they are overwhelmed by the character of our response to them. The morality of the disease is supplanted by the morality of the cure. In fact, every moral act in the face of mental or physical injury carries twin responsibilities: to mend the injury and to avoid replacing it with another

One of the reasons America is in so much trouble is because it happily makes all sorts of compromises in order to get along with large dictatorships such as Russia and China, but thinks it can handle smaller operations like Hamas, North Korea, and Iran by simple obstinacy and belligerence. In other words, it is happy to talk with big terrorists, but not little ones. In fact, most of these small entities – and those who lead them – suffer from extreme inferiority complexes. By threatening war, imposing massive embargos and so forth, America merely feeds the sense of persecution and encourages the least rational reaction. A more sensible approach would be to constantly negotiate with these leaders and edge them towards reasonable participation in world affairs.

Imagine if we had told Israel and Palestine a few years ago that if they would just make nice we would give them enough money to equal Israel’s GDP for one year and Palestine’s for three. Take the time off, go to the Riviera or the Catskills, forget about productivity, and just party on thanks to the American taxpayer. Or if Israel and Palestine wanted to be really sensible, they could have invested in their countries’ future instead. Think how much safer we would be today. . . But where would such a large sum of money come from? Well, all we would have had to have done was to cancel the invasion of Iraq and used the money as a carrot rather than as a bludgeon. For that is just what it has cost us so far. (2007)

The people who built castles and walled cities and moats are all dead now and their efforts at security seem puny and ultimately futile as we visit their unintended monuments to the vanity of human presumption. Like the castle-dwellers behind the moat, we are now spending huge sums to put ourselves inside a prison of our own making. It is unlikely to provide either security for our bodies nor solace for our souls, for we are simply attacking ourselves before others get a chance.

Empires and cultures are not permanent and while thinking about the possibility that ours is collapsing may seem a dismal exercise it is far less so than enduring the dangerous frustrations and failures involved in having one’s contrary myth constantly butt up against reality – like a boozer who insists he is not drunk attempting to drive home. Instead of defending the non-existent, we could turn our energies instead towards devising a new and saner reality.

Places like Harvard and Oxford – and their after-school programs such as the Washington think tanks – teach the few how to control the many and it is impossible to do this without various forms of abuse ranging from sophism to corporate control systems to napalm. It is no accident that a large number of advocates of war – in government and the media – are the products of elite educations where they were taught both the inevitability of their hegemony and the tools with which to enforce it. It will, therefore, be some time before places such as Harvard and the Council on Foreign Relations are seen for what they are: the White Citizens Councils of state violence.

A teacher fights back

Mat Armaral, Teach 4 Real - The most annoying aspect of teaching, to me, is the continual assumption, by almost everyone I come into contact with in and out of the world of education, that I’m not doing my job. It is a weird place to be. It is like I walk around with this dark shroud around my shoulders that hides from everyone the fact that what I do in my classroom just might be working. It is an assumption of worst intentions—not best.

This troubling undercurrent is also perpetuated by our own colleagues. Teachers are very, very skeptical of other teachers. If they are popular, they are thought to be too easy, or too close to the kids; if they are rigorous there is a sense that they have all the good kids, or that an AP schedule is much easier to teach; If you teach sheltered, low-performing students, you are looked at as a low-performing teacher (especially by testing standards) because your kids don’t perform well on anything. Teaching is a damned-if-you-show-up profession....

There are so many odd things about being a teacher, but this is perhaps the most important because teaching as a profession suffers from a PR problem. Education is looked upon by the American public as being a failure. People have it in their heads that things couldn’t get any worse when in fact things might actually be better than they’ve ever been. That is what Diane Ravitch’s last book was about: We’re actually doing a better job of educating everyone than at any point in human history...

The Washington Post reported this week that black, Hispanic, and American Indian students have been graduating at increased rates over the last three years. Their Wonkblog also shows that while graduation rates as a whole are also going up, it is especially pronounced amongst those groups. What that means is that the Achievement Gap, that ever-elusive Achilles Heel of education, is actually closing a little bit. Ed Week also reported that this is also true of “disadvantaged groups”, which means low-income and ELL students are increasing their graduation rates faster than the overall population—another positive sign that is very, very new.

We have to remember that things were worse in the ‘80s and ‘90s. In the ‘90s black people were being shot by police for no reason, but nobody was talking about it but black people. In the ‘90s we didn’t even know what an Achievement Gap was, did we? There certainly wasn’t the focus on our disadvantaged minority students like we see today. Today we are making real progress in that regard.

That brings me back to teachers. I go to many professional development seminars, and every seminar has a tone that feels like each presenter is saying this: “Clearly what you are doing isn’t working, here are things you need to do so that one day perhaps your students will be getting a proper education.” Keep in mind this is usually being delivered by someone who isn’t a teacher, or was once upon a time. You always get the feeling they are telling you that one day you’ll do your job the right way, but it’s obvious, because you’re a teacher, that is not going on right now...

Good doctors and lawyers know they are good. It is verified by the people they work with and the people they represent. Can’t teachers also admit they are good at what they do? Let me back up by saying that I am in no way under the assumption I am the savior of education. I can name a dozen teachers without even thinking who are much better teachers than I am. Can you admit that too? I think we all should be able to say that no matter what job we do. I’m not claiming to be the best, but I am claiming that I’m damn good at what I do and almost all of my students would agree.


MORE

Ideas that never took off

Futility Closet
https://www.google.com/patents/US273115

Torontonian John Maguire wasn’t satisfied with the standard raincoat in 1883, so he added a gutter:
The object of the invention is to provide a water-proof coat which can be worn in rainy weather without the wearer’s leg being made wet from water dripping off the skirt of the coat; and it consists of a water-proof coat having the bottom edge of its skirt turned up, forming a trough or channel to receive the water flowing on the surface of the coat, suitable provision being made to carry off the water away from the legs of the wearer of the garment.
“Although the coat is specially designed for gentlemen’s use, it will of course be understood that ladies’ coats may be similarly made.”

Health insurance marketplaces in trouble

Washington Post - Nearly half of the 17 insurance marketplaces set up by the states and the District under President Obama’s health law are struggling financially, presenting state officials with an unexpected and serious challenge five years after the passage of the landmark Affordable Care Act.

Many of the online exchanges are wrestling with surging costs, especially for balky technology and expensive customer call centers — and tepid enrollment numbers. To ease the fiscal distress, officials are considering raising fees on insurers, sharing costs with other states and pressing state lawmakers for cash infusions. Some are weighing turning over part or all of their troubled marketplaces to the federal exchange, HealthCare.gov, which now works smoothly.

The latest challenges come at a critical time. With two enrollment periods completed, the law has sharply reduced the number of uninsured and is starting to force change in the nation’s sprawling health-care system. But the law remains highly controversial and faces another threat: The Supreme Court will decide by the end of June whether consumers in the 34 states using the federal exchange will be barred from receiving subsidies to buy insurance.

Corporations dropping employee grades and rankings as schools go beserk on tests

Diane Ravitch - Here is a curious turn of events. Just as the federal government is forcing schools across the nation to evaluate and rank teachers using dubious metrics, corporations are beginning to back away from simplistic performance measures. The change reflects the philosophy of business guru W. Edwards Deming, who staunchly opposed merit pay and rankings, on grounds that they demoralized employees and made for a less efficient workplace.

A proposal to cut prison population

Slate - A team led by UCLA public policy professor Mark A.R. Kleiman published a provocative proposal, outlining a system they say would go a long way toward achieving an 80 percent reduction in the prison population, without sacrificing public safety.* Advertisement

What Kleiman and his co-authors suggest is letting offenders out of prison before their sentences are up and placing them in apartments rented by the government, where they can be monitored 24/7 via webcam. In their proposed scenario, convicts are assigned public service jobs, while retaining their status as prisoners, and are subject to a set of strict rules regarding things like curfew, drug use, and geographic location. Each apartment is located in a community otherwise populated by fully free citizens and functions, in the words of Kleiman and his co-authors, “as a prison without bars.”

Word

When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou has shut thy door pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. - J. Christ

Bernie gets big bucks in first day of campaign

CNN

One quarter of renters using half their income for housing

Time

May 1, 2015

So much for tax cuts as an economic boom

Yael T. Abouhalkah, Kansas City Star - A new jobs report shows that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts failed to propel the state ahead of others in the region in creating employment in all of 2014.

Missouri — which did not slash income taxes as Kansas did — beat the Sunflower State in gaining jobs in the last year.

Kansas also was far behind the U.S. average job growth over that time.

That pretty much destroys Brownback’s constant whining that President Barack Obama’s policies have held back employment in Kansas. Many other states are doing just fine in padding their jobs rolls.

Total non farm, seasonally adjusted jobs growth from January 2014 to January 2015:
  • Colorado up 2.9 percent
  • Arkansas up 2.3 percent
  • U.S. average up 2.3 percent
  • Missouri up 1.6 percent
  • Iowa up 1.6 percent
  • Oklahoma up 1.5 percent
  • Kansas up 1.3 percent
  • Nebraska up 1.2 percent

Furthermore. . .

Futility Closet


  • The clock face on the Marienkirche in Bergen auf Rügen, Germany, has 61 minutes. Does this mean time moves more slowly there — or more quickly?


  • To ensure quiet, poet Amy Lowell hired five rooms at every hotel — her own and those on either side, above, and below.
  • A perplexing sentence from a letter by Dorothy Osborne, describing shepherdesses in Bedfordshire, May 1653: “They want nothing to make them the happiest people in the world but the knowledge that they are so.”
  • OVEREFFUSIVE is a palindrome in Scrabble — its letter values are 141114411141. (Discovered by Susan Thorpe.)
  • The sum of the digits of every multiple of 2739726 up to the 72nd is 36. (E.M. Langley, Mathematical Gazette, 1896)
  • I’ll bet I have more money in my pocket than you do. (Of course I do — you have no money in my pocket!)