31 May 2015

Thank You Rand Paul*

It turns out that, at least for the next few hours, some significant portions of the Patriot Act have expired:
The Senate failed to pass legislation late Sunday to extend three Patriot Act surveillance measures ahead of their midnight expiration. The National Security Agency's bulk telephone metadata collection program—first exposed by Edward Snowden in 2013—is the most high profile of the three spy tools whose legal authorization expired.

President Barack Obama was set to sign the bill, the USA Freedom Act, ahead of the midnight Sunday deadline. But Senate lawmakers who convened in a special session at 4pm ET Sunday could not reach an accord. The Senate is to resume debate Monday at noon ET.

As expected, there was much banter back and forth on the Senate floor about whether the Constitution was being gutted or whether the country would come to ruins if the Senate did not quickly adopt the already approved House legislation ahead of the June 1 expiration deadline. (The three Patriot Act provisions that failed to pass the Senate were renewed days ago in the House through 2019.)

"Are we willing to trade liberty for security?" asked Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), perhaps the most vocal opponent of the legislation. Despite an apparent victory, Paul had no illusions that this fight for privacy would end after these specific extension talks. "The Patriot Act will expire tonight, but it will only be temporary," he added.


The three Patriot Act provisions on the agenda would have been extended until 2019 if approved. The first concerns the so-called "business records" provision that enabled the NSA's bulk telephone metadata program brought to light by the Snowden disclosures. This provision granted the government the power to seize all types of records—including those surrounding health and banking. The authorities must assert to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court (FISA Court) that they are "relevant" to a terrorism investigation before getting a warrant. The bulk metadata collection program was altered somewhat under the House and Senate legislation, however.
I expect this victory to be short lived, but even this temporary and largely symbolic setback for the overweening security state heartens me a bit.

*I f%$#ing cannot f%$#ing believe that I f%$#ing just f%$#ing said that non-ironically.

The TPP Just got a lot worse

It turns out that the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) kangaroo courts are not the worst part of the TPP.

It turns out that it is set up as what the US Trade Representative calls a, "Living agreement: to enable the updating of the agreement as appropriate to address trade issues that emerge in the future as well as new issues that arise with the expansion of the agreement to include new countries."

What this means is that the agreement can be changed by the vote of a a foreign bureaucracy with no requirement for Congressional advice and consent.

When one looks at the, where the "Judges" work for the benefit large multinational firms, do their adjudication, and then go back to work for the benefit large multinational firms, one can only imagine the skulduggery that can be done with this.

30 May 2015

This is Nearly Unprecedented

(Retitled on 7/1/2016 because some moron at Google™ Adsense™ flagged it as sexually explicit because of the title)

In response to prosecutorial misconduct, a California judge has dismissed the whole Orange County DA's Office from a case:
Prosecutorial and police misconduct are often dismissed as just a few bad apples doing a few bad apple-ish things. But what happens when it’s entrenched and systemic and goes unchecked for years? That looks to be the case in Orange County, California, where the situation got so completely out of hand this spring that Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals issued an order disqualifying the entire Orange County District Attorney’s Office (that’s all 250 prosecutors) from continuing to prosecute a major death penalty case.

After literally years of alleged misconduct involving jailhouse informants, as well as prosecutors’ repeated failures to turn over exculpatory material, Judge Goethals determined in March that the office can simply no longer work on the case of mass murderer Scott Dekraai, who pleaded guilty last year to killing his ex-wife and seven others at a beauty salon in 2011.

Revelations of misconduct in the Dekraai case have raised questions about patterns of obstruction and deception that have unraveled various other murder cases in the county, which has a population larger than that of 20 different states. Other cases involving informants who were eliciting illegal confessions have emerged, entire cases have collapsed, and more may follow. The story goes way back to the 1980s, as R. Scott Moxley explains at length in the OC Weekly, to a prosecutorial scandal that ended in the execution of one defendant and a lengthy sentence for his alleged co-conspirator. Their convictions were based on the testimony of various jailhouse informants even though they told conflicting stories. That scandal rocked the area then, and this new one shows eerie parallels.


One issue in the Dekraai case is whether deputies deliberately placed him near a prized informant to elicit illegal confessions. While preparing for the penalty phase of the trial, Santa Ana assistant public defender Scott Sanders, who is defending Dekraai, discovered that a jailhouse informant who had produced damning evidence about his client had done the same thing in another case Sanders was handling. After further investigation, Sanders claimed that a branch of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department called “special handling” would deliberately place jailhouse snitches in cells next to high-value inmates awaiting trials, with instructions to collect confessions, a practice that is unconstitutional.

Together with his law clerks, Sanders spent a year unearthing and then reconstructing a tranche of 60,000 pages of records indicating that the county sheriff’s office routinely used and coordinated with those informants to get around the constitutional prohibition on eliciting incriminating statements from defendants who had lawyered up and should not have been interrogated. The sheriff’s department has admitted that mistakes were made. The DA’s office claims there was nothing coordinated or systemic going on. But Judge Goethals disagreed, finding that the new revelations called into question the integrity of the entire Orange County District Attorney’s office.

Initially, Judge Goethals had ruled that the DA’s office was negligent in failing to turn exculpatory information over, finding that “the district attorney’s well-documented failures in this case, although disappointing, even disheartening to any interested member of this community, were negligent rather than malicious.” But that seems to have changed following further revelations of refusal to turn over evidence.

In an explosive moment following a hearing last year, Sanders revealed that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has maintained a massive, secret, 25-year-old computerized record-keeping system called TRED. These TRED documents were full of potentially exculpatory data, but the agency officials had systematically refused to turn any of them over, or even acknowledge their very existence, to defense counsel.

In his March order, Goethals wrote: “It is now apparent that the discovery situation in this case is far worse than the court previously realized. In fact, a wealth of potentially relevant discovery material—an entire computerized data base built and maintained by the Orange County Sheriff over the course of many years which is a repository for information related directly to the very issues that this court was examining as a result of the defendant’s motion—remained secret, despite numerous specific discovery orders issued by this court, until long after the initial evidentiary hearing in this case was concluded and rulings were made.”

What’s wrong with using jailhouse informants? It depends on how they are used. Testimony from snitches is certainly legal—even if the informant gets rewarded with a reduced sentence or material benefits or even cold, hard cash. But evidently the Orange County informants were deliberately moved to be closer to high value targets, they taped their conversations, and the records of much of this conduct were then hidden. As Dean Erwin Chemerinsky explains, the Constitution limits the use of jailhouse informants to situations in which statements are made voluntarily to cellmates, not orchestrated and recorded by jailhouse officials, all of which makes the interaction too much like an interrogation. The 1964 Supreme Court case Massiah v. United States bars the government from eliciting incriminating statements from a defendant after the right to counsel has kicked in. In Dekraai’s case the issue was how jailhouse informant Fernando Perez found his way into a cell next to Dekraai, befriended him, and then reported hearing him “bragging” about the Seal Beach murders.

The answer to that question is troubling. According to a 505-page motion filed by Sanders, Dekraai was somehow placed next to a guy known as “Inmate F,” (Perez) who then buddied up to Dekraai, heard all he had to say and then—to hear prosecutors tell it—came forward out of the goodness of his heart. As Sanders explained:
It appeared that the prosecution had been the recipient of extraordinarily good luck. The inmate housed closest to Dekraai was a good listener, a great note taker, and someone so selfless that he wanted to assist the OCDA [Orange County district attorney] and local law enforcement without wishing for anything in return. OCDA Investigator Erickson's subsequently written report confirmed this picture of Inmate F. The prosecution promised nothing in return for his assistance, which was perfect for Inmate F. because he wanted nothing.
The problem for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office arose after Sanders started digging into details about Inmate F and happened upon, just for starters, a note in his file stating: “WAS TERMINATED AS A C.I. [confidential informant]—DO NOT USE AS A C.I.” as well as his colorful history of three-strikes convictions and conspiracies to murder fellow inmates.

Last August, Judge Goethals ruled that prosecutors couldn’t use the Perez statements during the penalty phase of the trial, but he also found that there was no evidence of a conspiracy, just that mistakes were made. But after Sanders found the TRED records, it became clear that sheriff’s officials—not a nurse, as they had sworn, under oath—had put Perez next to Dekraai’s cell, and that the violations were likely deliberate and coordinated.

The problem with the system set up in Orange County, according to Sanders, was that jailhouse informants were asked to collect incriminating statements and then share them with prosecutors in exchange for reduced charges or other favors. Last November, the Orange County Register reported that two prolific informants with extensive criminal records had received more than $150,000 from law enforcement agencies for obtaining information from jailed suspects awaiting trials.


The Dekraai case became a turning point in Orange County when Judge Goethals got mad. He found that two deputies, Ben Garcia and Seth Tunstall, who belonged to the “special handling” unit dealing with informants, testified falsely to the court, denying the very existence of the TRED records at a crucial hearing last year. He also found that a prosecutor, Eric Petersen, had testified falsely.

In the end it took a crusading public defender and a judge finally willing to believe him to smoke out the wrongdoing. In tossing the entire DA’s office off the Dekraai case, Judge Goethals wrote that “certain aspects of the district attorney’s performance in this case might be described as a comedy of errors but for the fact that it has been so sadly deficient. … There is nothing funny about that.” The disqualification of an entire prosecutor’s office rarely, if ever, occurs. But Judge Goethals finally concluded that in hiding exculpatory evidence, and then covering up the whole mess, the “District Attorney has a conflict of interest in this case, which has actually deprived this defendant of due process in the past.”


The constitutional protections built into our criminal justice system are not perfect. But the events of the past year in Orange County reveal that the alternative—a nihilistic sense that we can do whatever we must to nail the criminals—is far more dangerous. Especially if we let the most dangerous criminals walk in exchange for snitching in trivial cases. Yet more dangerous still is our tendency to turn a blind eye on the practices that are now coming to light in Orange County. They happen in secret because not enough people want to know about them. And they will continue to happen because so many people keep trying so hard not to care.
The law here is pretty clear:  Once a defendant has lawyered up, neither the police nor the prosecutors may talk to him without his counsel.

This applies to any person acting as an agent of the police or prosecutors, and it is clear that the police, prisons, and prosecutors deliberately used their jailhouse snitches as agents, and then concealed this though obstruction of justice and perjury.

I fear that these practices are far more common that we are led to believe.

O’Malley is In

Martin O'Malley has officially announced that he is running for President:
Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley blasted social injustice and Wall Street excesses as he launched a White House bid on Saturday, casting himself as a younger, more liberal alternative to Democratic Party frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

“Powerful, wealthy special interests here at home have used our government to create, in our own country, an economy that is leaving a majority of our people behind,” said O’Malley, opening his 2016 presidential campaign with a rally at a waterfront park in downtown Baltimore.

O’Malley, who has aggressively courted his party’s liberal wing, began his political career in Baltimore, first as a member of city council and then as mayor.

Decrying big banks as having been behind the financial crisis of 2008, O’Malley singled out Goldman Sachs for particular criticism. He said Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein recently told his employees that “he’d be just fine” with either Republican Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton as president after the November 2016 election.

“Well, I’ve got news for the bullies of Wall Street,” O’Malley said. “The presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth by you between two royal families.”

Hillary Clinton is the wife of former President Bill Clinton while Jeb Bush, who has not yet formally announced his candidacy but is already considered a leading contender among Republican hopefuls, is son and brother of former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

Signs at O’Malley’s rally promised he would provide “new leadership,” but in fact he faces an uphill battle against former secretary of state Clinton, who consistently tops opinion polls to be the party’s nominee, and who enjoys national name recognition.
The nickel tour of Martin O'Malley:
  • I met him once, and he is VERY charismatic.
  • He has never really run on ideology, instead presenting himself as a pragmatist.
  • As chief executive, both as Mayor of Baltimore and as Governor of Maryland, he got high marks as a manager.
  • He abolished the death penalty, got gay marriage passed, and he has been strong on protecting the Chesapeake Bay.
  • He's the youngest Democrat in the race by at least 15 years
  • He is less tightly tied to Wall Street than Clinton (not hard)
I think that the biggest impact on the Democratic nomination processes will be to give the press to further curtail their already meager (and dismissive) coverage of Bernie Sanders.

I prefer him to Clinton, but I prefer Sanders to O'Malley.

I Guess Obama Wants to Ensure That There Is Someone Worse with a Nobel

We now have evidence that the US State Department is pressuring the Nobel Prize committee to nominate Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for the Peace Prize:
A leaked letter dated May 19th and sent by the Chairman of Ukraine’s parliament, Vladimir Groysman, to the chargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Oslo Norway, thanks her for “the efforts you have made to have Petro Oleksiyovych Poroshenko nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize,” but continues: “Still we consider your assurances of support by the two members of the Nobel Committee as insufficient,” because there are five members of the Committee, and the support of 3 of them is necessary.

Thus, “We expect further efforts aimed at shifting the position of Berit Reiss-Andersen, Inger-Marie Ytterhorn and especially that of the Chair of the Nobel Committee Kaci Kullman Five. Regarding the latter, we recommend that you take advantage of the information you are going to receive from Germany. Your colleagues in Berlin have assured us that the dossier will soon be delivered to the U.S. Embassy in Oslo. It is of utmost importance for Mr. Poroshenko to have firm guarantees that he will be awarded the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize, since it could highlight the unanimous support of Ukrainian integrity by the democratic community of the world. Assistant Secretary of State Viktoria Nuland has highly estimated your job during her visit to Kyiv.”
Once again, like a bad penny, every time there is a harebrained neocon scheme at State, Victoria Nuland is at the heart of the skulduggery.
The three mentioned Nobel Peace Prize Committee members are a politcally varied group. Ms. Reiss-Andersen is from the social democratic or “Labour” party; Ms. Ytterhorn is from the libertarian or “Progress” party; and Ms. Five is from the Conservative Party. The two unidentified members are Thorbjørn Jagland from the Labour Party, and Henrik Syse from the Conservative Party. If this letter is correct, those are the two who are referred to by the letter’s phrase, “your assurances of support by the two members.”

The letter also makes a vague reference to the poor reputation that the Committee has engendered on account of the Committee’s having granted the Prize to Barack Obama in 2009 (a decision that the Committee’s Chairperson, Ms. Five, concurred with and has been criticized for): “We understand the difficulties you face when promoting the candidacy of the President of Ukraine, therefore we ask you to exert additional leverages by engaging those U.S. Senators who effectively cooperated with the Committee in 2009.” Presumably, this means that whomever “those U.S. Senators” were, the Chairman of Ukraine’s parliament thinks that they were “effective.”

President Poroshenko entered office on 25 May 2014 after a U.S.-sponsored coup in Kiev that installed Arseniy Yatsenyuk as Ukraine’s Prime Minister on 26 February 2014, after the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Asian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, had instructed the U.S. Ambassador in Kiev on 4 February 2014 to get “Yats” appointed as the junta’s leader; she issued that instruction to him by phone on February 4th and the coup occurred on February 22nd; Yatsenyuk was then appointed on February 26th, and he remains in power today. One pro-Russian part of Ukraine, Crimea, then seceded and joined Russia, and another, Donbass, seceded and was not accepted by Russia; it thus was bombed by the Ukrainian Government during May through December 2014, since Donbass’s repeated requests to be allowed to join Russia were spurned by Vladimir Putin. (Yet, Ukraine accuses Russia of providing the fighters who are actually the men of Donbass, who refuse to be ruled by the U.S.-coup regime. Russia sends them guns, and volunteers have come from Russia and many other countries to help the Donbass defenders.) German intelligence estimates that “up to 50,000” people were killed in that bombing campaign, but U.S. and other official estimates are only around 5,000.

Even before Poroshenko took office, the new Ukrainian government of “Yats” Yatsenyuk invaded Donbass, using bombers, tanks, rocket-launchers, and everything it had; and, when Poroshenko gave his victory speech in the ceremonial Presidential election on May 25th, he promised, and it was very clear from him, that: “The anti-terrorist operation [he called the residents there ’terrorists’] cannot and should not last two or three months. It should and will last hours.” (Another translation of it was “Antiterrorist operation can not and will not continue for 2-3 months. It must and will last hours.”) But it did last months — Poroshenko’s prediction was certainly false; and, moreover, he lost first one round of the war, and then another — his prediction of its outcome was likewise false. And recently, he said that the war must be resumed for yet a third round, in order that Ukraine win back both Crimea and Donbass. However, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned him on May 12th that he must not do that, and that if he did he’d be violating the Minsk II ceasefire accords which had been arranged by France’s Francois Hollande and Germany’s Angela Merkel. Then, three days later, his Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland, who had arranged the February 2014 coup, told both Yatsenyuk and Poroshenko to ignore what Kerry had just said, and that, “We continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Ukraine and reiterate our deep commitment to a single Ukrainian nation, including Crimea, and all the other regions of Ukraine.”
(emphasis mine)

The important thing is not that this is absurd, nor is it why Victoria Nuland has a job at the State Department and a security clearance.

The important thing here is that this is a graphic example of just how f%$#ed up and failed our policy in the Ukraine has proved to be.

We went for a color revolution by funding and supporting Ukrainian Fascists (not hyperbole, the Pravyi Sektor party and its associated paramilitaries are Fascists who idolize Nazi collaborators) for no particular reason, and Russia reacted to what it saw as an existential threat, because it was an existential threat, and we have slavering war mongers in Kiev, and a civil war in which the Russian aligned rebels are winning.

Heck of a job, Brownie Victoria Nuland.

Quote of the Day

The markets want money for cocaine and prostitutes. I am deadly serious.

Most people don’t realize that “the markets” are in reality 22-27 year old business school graduates, furiously concocting chaotic trading strategies on excel sheets and reporting to bosses perhaps 5 years senior to them. In addition, they generally possess the mentality and probably intelligence of junior cycle secondary school students. Without knowladge of these basic facts, nothing about the markets makes any sense—and with knowladge, everything does.
ObsessiveMathsFreak in the comments section of a post on the blog The Irish Economy

H/t Paul Krugman

29 May 2015

Run Away from These People

On a web site dedicated to people who do consumer electrical work, someone posits that Tesla's new home battery packs will force homes to go voltage DC current. This is absolutely and completely wrong, because fails to get even a single fact right, as would be clear to anyone who knew the most basic physics:
CE pros might be sitting in the proverbial catbird seat when it comes to the future of wiring homes.

With the solar revolution seemingly in full swing all across the nation, consumers are enamored with “going off the grid.” And many homeowners are counting on home batteries to be the next phase of their off-the-grid plans. Companies likes Tesla and RoseWater Energy Group are leading the way in the development of these new power storage devices for homes.

But if the battery power trend takes off, it must lead to a new paradigm in which homes will be powered more with low voltage wiring than line voltage electrical, according to a blog by CE veteran Paul Self on Buildz.com.

Indeed, will the pure science limitations of AC/DC conversion eventually force a gigantic sea change from builders, electricians and the National Electric Code itself in the way homes are constructed and wired? The answer is “Yes” that might have to happen, says Self.

Here is Self’s logic:
[Or more accurately, here are his completely incoherent thoughts]
“An underlying issue with solar power and the Tesla battery is the fact that they run on DC while the power infrastructure in buildings is AC. Stepping power up and down from AC to DC and vice-versa wastes energy, about 20 percent is lost in the conversion. Some converters do a better job than others, but resolving this 20 percent loss is very important when working on a battery stored energy supply.
Ummmm. No. Inverters operate at efficiencies of about 95% at their design points, and if you are connected to the grid, as Tesla envisions, you will only use the inverter .
Many devices in a home could run on DC. Almost all non-incandescent light bulbs can run on DC and require a transformer to step the 110 VAC down to a 12 – 5 VDC signal for the bulb.
No. The a fluorescent light ballast operates as follows: It uses a transformer to jump UP the voltage (not down), then rectifies it to DC, and then uses an inverter (square wave, because unlike motors, that is fine for gas tubes) to hop the frequency from 60hz in the wall, to 1+ Khz to eliminate flicker.  (For incandescents, it's not an issue, because even as the AC current goes through them they hot.  CFLs are generating lights from individual sparks).
Other devices like computers, TVs, cable boxes, and cell phone chargers all operate similarly.
No again. They cannot use line current, they need to condition the power, and it is easier to do this with AC current.
Appliances like electric ovens, electric water heaters, and air conditioners will require 110VAC, but most of the house is on DC.
Let me paint you a picture.
They reacquire 110VAC because they are high power, and at low voltage, the amperage, and wire size go through the roof. (Details follow)
  • Sun generates 12VDC via the solar panel
Yes, a panel will generate relative low voltage DC, but if arranged in series, you can generate 100s of volts, and have smaller and cheaper wiring with less transmission losses.
  • Solar panels push power to a battery
Again, note arranging in series. In their cars, for example, Tesla battery packs operate at DC voltages between 250V and 425V.
  • The battery or the solar panel push 12VDC to a DC to AC converter (20% loss of power).

From an info page for an inverter for solar vendor
Again. Inverters are around 95% efficient these days.
  • AC is distributed throughout the house
  • Many devices then convert the power BACK to DC (20% loss of power)
Again, the efficiencies of rectifiers is about 95%, not 80%, and the devices that have to convert it back to DC would have to do so anyway, because power from the batteries is not as uniform as their electronics requires.
  • This all seems pretty silly to lose this much power. I am sure it is less than a cumulative loss of 40 percent power, but when your trying to free yourself of the power company, this really adds up.
Also note that he knows no math.  Two devices operating at a 20% loss (80% efficiency) would give us losses of 80% x 80% = 64%; 100% -64% = 36%.

This guy cannot even do basic multiplication.

You know what also "really ads up"?


Let's take a 40 W light bulb.

Power is Voltage x Current = V x I, so for a 120V source, the current is ⅓ amp. For his 12 Volt DC system, the current would be 3⅓ amps, 10 times more current.

You can also express power in terms of current and resistance, P=I2R, so losses in transmission would go through the roof.

Well, they would, except if you look up the charts, it turns out for a typical (I chose 50 feet) length, the DC wiring has much lower resistance, because it is much thicker.

How much thicker? Well the table for wiring for 12VDC gives us 6 Ga wire, and the worksheet for 120VAC gives us 14 Ga wire, and the wire gauge size table gives us conductor diameters of 0.17" and 0.064" respectively.

That is a lot of copper you end up paying for, and for many applications.

He also ignores the fact that DC Motors (the kind with brushes) are less efficient, run hotter, and wear out more quickly.

The motor on your furnace, and dryer, and washing machine, are typically induction motors, that operate directly off of  your house current, and with a DC house you would need inverters for the motors.  (So called "Brushless DC motors" contain their own power circuitry linked to an induction motor).

If you see this guy, do not let him near your electronics.  He will kill himself, or kill you, or set your house on fire.

Note that I am NOT an electrical engineer, though I got the basics in school, but this is so ignorant, and so wrong, that I felt compelled to Fisk this bit of  bovine scatology.

H/T /.

      In the Interest of Fairness, I Must Praise Uber

      Rather unsurprisingly, the thing that they did right was dissing New York Times columnist, and perpetual middle school doyenne Maureen Dowd.

      It seems that our lady of shallow cattiness was in Hollywood, and called for an Uber ride, and she saw the cars fleeing her on the app:

      Even in the land of movie stars, you could feel like a movie star when your Uber chauffeur rolled up. Standing in front of the Sunset Tower Hotel, I tapped my Uber app and saw five little cars swarming around my location. But, suddenly, they scattered in the opposite direction. I stood in the driveway, perplexed. Finally, a car pulled up, and the driver waved me in.

      “Do you know why no one wanted to pick you up?” he asked. “Because you have a low rating.”

      (Uber drivers see your rating once they accept the request and then can cancel.)

      I was shocked. Blinded by the wondrous handiness of Uber, I had missed the fact that while I got to rate them, they got to rate me back.

      Revealing that I had only 4.2 stars, my driver continued to school me. “You don’t always come out right away,” he said, sternly, adding that I would have to work hard to be more appealing if I wanted to get drivers to pick me up.
      To the degree that we can tell, the firms fares are opaque and confusing, Uber does not charge by the hour, it charges on the basis of distance + some sort of weird "special sauce".

      The drivers are paid on the basis of what is charged, so by leaving drivers to cool their heels while she does her nails, or finishes packing, or whatever, she is requiring the drivers to wait unpaid for her.

      Given that with a glance at the app, you can see where the nearest drivers are, it would be a simple thing to wait until just before she was ready to leave, or to post for a driver at some point in the near future so that you can be assured that she is ready to ride when they arrive.

      Ms. Dowd comes to a completely different conclusion:
      Except then I learned that sitting in an Uber car was pretty much like sitting in my office: How much have you developed your audience? How much have you been shared? How much have you engaged your reader? Are you trending?

      I was trending on Uber, all right, and not in a good way. I had avoided Lyft not only because of that pink mustache but because I had heard that you were encouraged to sit up front with drivers and give them fist-bumps. It seemed more like The Flintstones’ car than Cinderella’s pumpkin coach.

      But, now, instead of quietly sitting in the back seat of my Uber and checking my phone or reading the paper, I had to start working to charm.

      “Your husband likes oysters?” I enthused to one woman driving me in San Francisco.

      “What are the kids up to this summer?” I chirped to another.

      It was starting to have the vibe of friending, liking and sharing on Facebook, and that always gives me acid flashbacks to the ’80s when I was forced to go to my brother’s house and watch slides of his wedding. Finally, my nephew explained that I didn’t need to grovel or gush. I simply needed to say, as I got out of the car, “Five for five.” If I promised to give them five stars — even in the Wild West of Uber X, where the drivers often seem so unfamiliar with the local terrain it’s as though they’ve arrived from Mars — they would give me five stars.
      So her solution is to go and subject the drivers that she is paying to be her hostage to the wondrous personality that is Maureen Dowd.

      You are treating Uber drivers like sh%$, and no amount of small talk will fix that.

      Just don't leave the driver waiting.

      Also, tips, particularly in cash, where Uber won't take a cut, can't hurt.

      This is So Unsurprising

      So, the other shoe has dropped on the former speaker, and we learn that Denny Hastert sexually abused a student:
      J. Dennis Hastert stumbled into political power amid a Republican sex scandal in 1998 that unexpectedly elevated the husky Illinoisan to a position just two heartbeats away from the presidency.

      He became the longest-serving Republican House speaker in U.S. history, but remained so proud of his days as a small-town high school teacher and wrestling coach that he relished the Capitol Hill nickname “Coach.”

      But this week those once-idolized small-town roots caught up with the 73-year-old Hastert, who in recent years has worked behind the scenes as a Washington power broker.
      Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert indicted

      Federal prosecutors have announced bank-related charges against former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

      On Friday, federal law enforcement officials said Hastert had paid $1.7 million over the last four years to conceal sexual abuse against a former male student he knew during his days as a teacher in Yorkville, Ill., where Hastert worked until 1981.

      A top federal law enforcement official, who would not be identified speaking about the ongoing federal case, said investigators also spoke with a second man who raised similar allegations that corroborated what the former student said. The second person was not being paid by Hastert, the official said.

      The disclosures followed Thursday's federal indictment against Hastert on charges of lying to the FBI about the reasons for large cash withdrawals he is accused of making to buy the man's silence.
      Currently, the age of consent in Illinois 17, but it is 18 if the person is in a position of authority, for example, being a teacher and coach. (Link)

      This law appears to me to be something relatively recent, the whole "position of authority" thing really started in the 1990s, and I know that the age of consent in the 1920s was 16, so it is entirely likely that this did not constitute statutory rape.

      Still, it is remarkable that the best Republicans could find for Speaker after Gingrich and Livingston had been driven from office at least in part for adultery.

      I'm hoping that Larry Flynt offers another bounty on wandering Republican penises running for President..

      28 May 2015

      Democrats Need to Learn to F%$# the Mouse

      The Democratic Party has found a generally friendly reception in Hollywood, and as a result, they have been at least as supportive of draconian and stupid legislation and regulation to increase the profits of Hollywood.

      The Obama administration has now taken this to its absurd extreme, and has has filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court supporting Oracle's claim that APIs should be copyrightable:
      The Justice Department is weighing in on the hot-button intellectual property dispute between Google and Oracle, telling the Supreme Court that APIs are protected by copyright.

      The Obama administration's position means it is siding with Oracle and a federal appeals court that said application programming interfaces are subject to copyright protections. The high court in January asked for the government's views on the closely watched case.

      The dispute centers on Google copying names, declarations, and header lines of the Java APIs in Android. Oracle filed suit, and in 2012, a San Francisco federal judge sided with Google. The judge ruled that the code in question could not be copyrighted. Oracle prevailed on appeal, however. A federal appeals court ruled that the "declaring code and the structure, sequence, and organization of the API packages are entitled to copyright protection."

      Google maintained that the code at issue is not entitled to copyright protection because it constitutes a "method of operation" or "system" that allows programs to communicate with one another.

      "That argument is incorrect," the administration told the justices.

      In an amicus brief, computer scientists urged (PDF) the Supreme Court to reverse last year's appeals court decision. "The Federal Circuit’s decision poses a significant threat to the technology sector and to the public," they wrote. "If it is allowed to stand, Oracle and others will have an unprecedented and dangerous power over the future of innovation. API creators would have veto rights over any developer who wants to create a compatible program—regardless of whether she copies any literal code from the original API implementation. That, in turn, would upset the settled business practices that have enabled the American computer industry to flourish, and choke off many of the system’s benefits to consumers."
      Does the court really want operating system vendors to pick and choose who can write software, and what sort of software can be written, on their systems.

      This is nuts. The purpose of copyright is to, "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,"* and there is no way that expanding copyright in this manner does anything to promote progress.

      This is insane, and this sort of  IP extremism is at the heart of much that is wrong with things like the DMCA, the TPP, Evergreening, and the continual extension of copyright because Disney does not want Steamboat Willie to enter the public domain.

      This is nuts.


      Tweet of the Day

      This really puts the anthropogenic climate change denialists' statements in a properly thick-headed perspective.

      And the Veto is Overridden………

      The Nebraska legislature just overrode the Governor's veto, so the state has abolished the death penalty:
      Nebraska on Wednesday became the seventh state since 2007 to scrap the death penalty, the latest sign of weakening support for capital punishment in statehouses across the country.

      The move was driven by a bipartisan group of legislators, who argued that the death penalty had grown inefficient and ineffective. Nebraska hadn’t executed anyone since 1997, and until recently had struggled to get the drugs needed to carry out executions.

      On Tuesday, Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts—who lobbied to retain capital punishment in the state—vetoed a bill that would make a life sentence the stiffest available criminal penalty in the state.

      But Wednesday afternoon, the state’s legislative house voted 30-19 to override the governor’s veto.

      Sixteen Republicans joined with 13 Democrats and one independent in support of the override. All 19 votes in support of Mr. Ricketts’ veto were lodged by Republicans.
      I was surprised at the initial vote, and I am surprised at the override, but it's a good kind of surprise.

      The Fact That This Passed the Laugh Test Is Concerning

      In a case from (where else) Texas, the plaintiffs are claiming that redistricting should be done on the basis of registered voters, not on the basis of people:
      The Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to hear a case that will answer a long-contested question about a bedrock principle of the American political system: the meaning of “one person one vote.”

      The court’s ruling, expected in 2016, could be immensely consequential. Should the court agree with the two Texas voters who brought the case, its ruling would shift political power from cities to rural areas, a move that would benefit Republicans.

      The court has never resolved whether voting districts should have the same number of people, or the same number of eligible voters. Counting all people amplifies the voting power of places with large numbers of residents who cannot vote legally, including immigrants who are here legally but are not citizens, illegal immigrants, children and prisoners. Those places tend to be urban and to vote Democratic.

      A ruling that districts must be based on equal numbers of voters would move political power away from cities, with their many immigrants and children, and toward older and more homogeneous rural areas.


      The Supreme Court over the past nearly 25 years has turned away at least three similar challenges, and many election law experts expressed surprise that the justices agreed to hear this one. But since Chief Justice John G. Roberts has led the court, it has been active in other voting cases.

      In 2013, in Shelby County v. Holder, a closely divided court effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act.

      The new case, Evenwel v. Abbott, No. 14-940, concerns state and local voting districts. But “the logic of the decision in Evenwel will likely carry over to congressional redistricting,” said Richard L. Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine.
      This is a big deal, and the fact that they are even hearing this is an indication of just how corrupt and partisan the conservative wing of the Court.

      This would be a complete reversal of decades of precedent, and if the Court to overturns their prior rulings, it would the most unprincipled and biased ruling by the Court since Bush v. Gore in 2000.

      Note also that by putting impediments to registration between citizens, in Wisconsin, photo ID sites avoid urban areas for example, it possible for evil people to further skew redistricting.

      Of course, for "jurists" like Scalia and Alito, this is a feature, not a bug.

      The effect of this bill might be less than anticipated though: There were 2,266,800 adults in detention in 2011, and 70,792 juveniles incarcerated in 2010*, and particularly for the prison population these are overwhelmingly held in rural areas.

      These inmates are counted as residents of the district in which they are held, and as such, they give a big bump to rural representation.

      If these people are not counted for the purposes of redistricting, this would move what would likely be over a million people out of rural districts.


      Not the Onion

      The Cleveland Police have signed a consent decree with the Department of Justice which, among other things, has them to halt their practice of pistol whipping fellow citizens:
      Cleveland police will stop hitting people on the head with their guns and document any time they unholster them, according to a consent decree between the U.S. Justice Department and Cleveland police released today.

      The Justice Department found in a 21-month investigation that began in 2013 that Cleveland police routinely bash people on the head with their guns, sometimes accidentally firing them, according to a 58-page report released in December.

      The consent decree released Tuesday between the U.S. Department of Justice and the city of Cleveland is the result of five months of negotiations, as well as dozens of meetings with community groups, church leaders and advocates. Once approved by a federal judge, the city is legally bound to enact the reforms included in the 105-page document, meant to protect citizens' Constitutional rights.

      Cleveland police pistol-whipped people as a matter of policy?

      I think that this is WELL beyond the need for a consent decree.

      They need to shut down the Cleveland PD, and bring in the State Police for the next few years.

      We Already Knew that Hastert was Corrupt

      What you will notice in passing is that Hasterd made his money in real estate investments by earmarking money for a massive highway project that ran past his real estate investments, which jacked up the price of the land. (Prior Link)

      Now though, we have allegations that Denny Hastert tried to evade the money laundering statutes and then lied to the FBI:
      J. Dennis Hastert, the longest-serving Republican speaker in the history of the U.S. House, was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury on charges that he violated banking laws in a bid to pay $3.5 million to an unnamed person to cover up “past misconduct.”

      Hastert, who has been a high-paid lobbyist in Washington since his 2007 retirement from Congress, schemed to mask more than $950,000 in withdrawals from various ac­counts in violation of federal banking laws that require the disclosure of large cash transactions, according to a seven-page indictment delivered by a grand jury in Chicago.

      The indictment did not spell out the exact nature of the “prior misconduct” by Hastert, but it noted that before entering state and federal politics in 1981, Has­tert served for more than a decade as a teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville High School in Illinois.

      In 2010, confronted about the “prior misconduct,” the former speaker agreed to pay $3.5 million to the person “to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against Individual A,” prosecutors alleged.

      That person, whose identity was shielded by prosecutors, has known Hastert most of his or her life, growing up in Yorkville, the city next to Hastert’s home town of Plano, in the exurbs west of Chicago. Prosecutors said the actions “occurred years earlier” than the 2010 meeting that sparked the payments.

      The investigation began in 2013, by the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service, which cited “possible structuring of currency transactions to avoid the reporting requirements.”
      First thing to be noted here, if law enforcement (particularly the FBI) wants to have an innocuous discussion with here, tell them no.
      • They know what they are looking for, and you don't.
      • They have a legal right to lie to you.
      • Even the most innocuous misstatement can be characterized by law enforcement and prosecutors as a felony.
      • If they can show inaccuracies in your statements, even honest ones, they can use this to impeach later testimony.
      Politely let them know that you are asserting your constitutional rights, and will not talk without a lawyer.

      It is important to specifically mention your constitutional rights.  Recent courses by the perfidious Roberts Court have allowed a person's silence against them in court unless they specifically invoke the 5th amendment.

      The second thing to be noted is that the prosecutors are being remarkably circuitous about the nature of  Hastert's "Prior misconduct" against "Individual A."

      I'm not sure whether the prosecutor is giving Hastert a pass because he was House Speaker, or if the US Attorney will use that as a lever to get a guilty plea

      The indictment provides some tantalizing clues though:
      • Hastert and this person have known each other for most of Individual A's life, which implies that they are significantly younger than Hastert.
      • Individual is a resident of Yorkville, Illinois.
      • Before politics, Hastert was a teacher and coach at a school in Yorkville.
      My guess is that he sexually abused a student when he was a teacher, but it's just a guess, based on the amount of the blackmail and the above facts.

      The interesting thing here is that it is likely, though not certain (Republicans are a perverted bunch), that whatever you and I imagine is far worse than the reality of the situation.

      In any case, it's nice to see Tom Delay's sock puppet going down.

      27 May 2015

      Francis Fixing What John Paul II Broke

      Over 30 years ago, Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero was assassinated at the orders of right wing politician Roberto D’Aubuisson.

      It is almost certain that this was done with the active agreement of elements within the Reagan administration, and the passive acquiescence of the Holy See in Rome.

      John Paul II was determined to extirpate what saw as left wing elements in the Church, and making noise about Romero's murder was inconvenient when viewed through the lens of this agenda, (on edit) and so the silence on the assassination.

      Well, Pope Francis just Beatified Archbishop Romero:
      The Salvadorean archbishop Óscar Romero was beatified on Saturday, the final step before sainthood, 35 years after he was shot dead at the altar by a rightwing death squad for denouncing the oppression of the poor by the military dictatorship.

      Roman Catholics from around the world mixed with former Marxist rebels from El Salvador’s brutal civil war as more than 250,000 people gathered in the capital to celebrate the country priest who confronted a US-backed government.

      Cardinal Angelo Amato, sent by Pope Francis, officiated the ceremony that followed decades of debate over whether Romero had rejected Church doctrine by embracing radical, leftwing rebels.  [Actually the record shows that he was no fan of the rebels either, he opposed violence on both sides]


      Born in 1917 in a mountain town near Honduras, Romero apprenticed as a carpenter as a boy before entering the church, where he rose through the ranks, appearing to be a quiet conservative.

      But soon after being appointed archbishop in 1977, he became a staunch critic of the military government after it began killing, kidnapping and arresting priests who had been organising peasants and supporting workers’ rights.

      His sermons, often broadcast on radio, riled rightwing extremists. But he ignored multiple death threats, remaining defiant up to his murder while giving mass in the chapel of a San Salvador hospital.

      “In the name of this suffering people, whose cries to heaven become more deafening each day, I beg you, I beseech you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression,” he said in a speech to government soldiers the day before his death.
      This, along with the sainthood for John XXIII, show a clean break for this Pontiff with his reactionary predecessors, though his longest term impact might be on cleaning up more mundane corruption in the finances of the Papal bureaucracy and the Vatican bank.

      Time will tell.

      Well, Now We Know What You Have to Do to Make an American Interested in Soccer

      I love New Yorker cartoons

      Note that John Oliver did this a year ago
      It appears that the juxtaposition bribery, money laundering, and tax evasion is is enough to pique the interest in soccer of some people in America:
      With billions of dollars at stake, Morocco, Egypt and South Africa jockeyed in 2004 for the privilege of hosting soccer’s most prestigious tournament, the World Cup. The outcome hinged on a decision by the executive committee of FIFA, soccer’s governing body, and a single vote could tip the decision.

      And at least one vote, prosecutors said Wednesday, was for sale.

      Jack Warner, a committee member from Trinidad and Tobago, shopped his ballot to the highest bidder, federal prosecutors said. In early 2004, he flew to Morocco, where a member of that country’s bid committee offered him $1 million. But South Africa had a sweeter deal, offering $10 million to a group that Mr. Warner controlled, prosecutors said. He voted for South Africa. South Africa got the 2010 World Cup. And Mr. Warner got his  $10 million payout, much of which prosecutors said he diverted for his personal use.

      For decades, that was how business was done in international soccer, American officials said Wednesday as they announced a sweeping indictment against 14 soccer officials and marketing executives who they said had corrupted the sport through two decades of shadowy dealing and $150 million in bribes. Authorities described international soccer in terms normally reserved for Mafia families or drug cartels, and brought charges under racketeering laws usually applied to such criminal organizations.

      Hours after Swiss authorities arrived unannounced at a Zurich hotel and arrested top FIFA officials early Wednesday morning, the Justice Department and prosecutors for the Eastern District of New York forcefully declared that their investigation had only just begun and pledged to rid the international soccer organization of systemic corruption.

      “These individuals and organizations engaged in bribery to decide who would televise games, where the games would be held, and who would run the organization overseeing organized soccer worldwide,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, who supervised the investigation from its earliest stages, when she was the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament.”
      It's been common knowledge that FIFA is so deeply corrupt that it makes the International Olympic Committee look like Bernie Sanders, so I am not at all surprised that allegations of corruption have finally been made public, though I am a bit surprised that it was the US that led the investigation.

      As it stands now, the FIFA president, Sepp Blatter is not among those arrested, but given that these indictments include the FIFA statutes, which cast a very broad net (the phrase "corrupt pattern" comes to mind), if only a few of these people roll, I imagine that he could be a defendant as well.

      It appears that these arrests are the proverbial good news for the Jews, as it looks like this will side-track for a while efforts to expel Israel from FIFA:
      Israelis were expecting some big news to come out of the annual FIFA Congress this week. But they probably weren’t expecting this.

      In a bombshell operation, a Swiss law enforcement team showed up at the Zurich hotel hosting the annual gathering of the international soccer organization — and arrested nine senior officials.

      The arrests come after decades of corruption allegations aimed at FIFA. (If you’re unfamiliar, comedian John Oliver’s got you covered.) The arrested officials face charges of taking money in exchange for World Cup hosting bids, as well taking bribes in exchange for media and marketing rights for major international tournaments.

      The allegations are damning, but frankly, they couldn’t have come at a better time for Israel. Until Wednesday, much of the coverage of the FIFA Congress surrounded whether delegates would vote to suspend Israel from world soccer.

      The Palestinian Football Association is introducing the motion to suspend Israel, accusing it of unjustly restricting Palestinian soccer players’ freedom of movement and claiming that Israel’s West Bank settlement teams violate FIFA rules. Israeli officials have called the effort blatantly political and said that the Palestinians’ complaints all concern Israel’s security forces — not Israel’s soccer teams.
      Needless to say, some people are already blaming  the "international Zionist conspiracy" for the arrests.

      Personally, I'm hoping that we eventually see similar arrests directed at the NFL, and its head Roger Goodell.

      Rick Santorum Enters the Presidential Race

      Needless to say, we must remind everyone that Santorum is a term meaning, "The frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex."

      Needless to say, I believe that we all have the duty to get Spreading Santorum to the top of the Google rankings, it is currently the 14th result, which means that for a lot of people, it is not even on the first results page. 

      26 May 2015

      Ignore Last Time, I Was a Junkie: Worst Presidential Campaign Slogan Ever

      Rick Perry is now saying that the reason that he was so stupid in his 2012 run for President was because he was jacked up on pain pills:
      Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) offered a critical assessment of some of the problems with his last presidential run.

      "I wasn't healthy. You all know the health stories — it was what it was," Perry said in front of reporters in Souix City, Iowa, according to an NPR report published on Tuesday. Perry has taken steps toward running for the White House again and is expected to formally jump into the race on June 4 in Dallas.

      During a 2012 GOP debate in Rochester, Michigan, Perry struggled to name the three federal agencies he would cut if elected president.

      "The third agency of government I would do away with —the Education, the uh, the Commerce, and let's see. I can't find the third one. I can't," Perry said during the debate. "Sorry, oops."

      Later in the cycle, aides to Perry said that the governor suffered from severe back pains and depended on painkillers to make it through the debates, which seemed to have affected his debate performances.
      Seriously?  You are suggesting that unwise use of painkillers made you behave erratically, and it's all better now?

      This is the worst bit of stupidity by a Presidential candidate since ……… Ummmmm ……… Sorry, oops.

      I Think That Someone Has Whispered the Words "Obstruction of Justice" in His Ear

      New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has backtracked on his 90 days and then delete email policy:
      The emails of New York officials will no longer be automatically deleted after 90 days, aides to Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week in response to political pressure over the purge policy.

      It’s been a slow burn leading to the policy shift. The purge policy was first reported by the Albany Times Union back in mid–2013, but didn’t stir much protest until more recently, following coverage by ProPublica and Capital New York.

      At a public meeting Friday, aides to the governor said they had reviewed the policies of other states and, going forward, any email deletion would be manual. That means more communications should be retained and be accessible in response to public records requests or in the case of investigations of wrongdoing.

      Good government groups welcomed the move, writing in an open letter that it “shows the power the governor has to lead by example to increase transparency” – rare praise for Cuomo, whose administration has generally been marked by secrecy.

      Since the purge policy was in effect for about two years in some state agencies, it’s probable some public records have been lost.
      The cynic in me thinks that Cuomo has already managed to delete records that he wanted deleted.

      The optimist in me thinks that someone, perhaps his counsel, or perhaps someone from the US Attorney's office told him that they would either take actions to protect the data, which would be profoundly embarrassing to Hizzoner.

      In either case, this is good news, and I am hoping to see Cuomo indicted, because he is clearly corrupt, at least by the ordinary standards of decency, if not the letter of the law.

      Quote of the Day

      It comes from my choice for Democratic nominee for President, Bernie Sanders:
      In the interview, Sanders also indicates that he'd like to see a 90 percent tax rate in the country. After he sarcastically referred to that rate existing under "radical socialist Dwight D. Eisenhower," Harwood asked him if he thought it was too high. "No. That's not 90 percent of your income, you know?" explained Sanders, "That's the marginal. I'm sure you have some really right-wing nut types, but I'm not sure that every very wealthy person feels that it's the worst thing in the world for them to pay more in taxes, to be honest with you. I think you've got a lot of millionaires saying, "You know what? I've made a whole lot of money. I don't want to see kids go hungry in America. Yeah, I'll pay my fair share."
      I love the bit about, "Radical socialist Dwight D. Eisenhower."

      The whole discussion (it's informal enough that it's more of a chat than an interview) with John Harwood, NBC's Chief Washington correspondent, is well worth a watch.

      Tweet of the Day

      Truth be told, this might also be the finest letter to the editor, as well as the best essay ever written on the Middle East.

      25 May 2015

      Memorial Day Thought: Thanking Soldiers for Their Service Is Quite Literally the Least You Can Do………

      I do not say this to diminish or demean the actions taken by members of the military, but rather because the boiler plate, "Thank you for your service," is patronizing and demeaning.

      What you are really saying, and the soldiers understand this, is "I am so glad that it's you, and not me, or my children, who are doing this."

      Rather unsurprisingly, the folks who have served have a similar view of that cliche:

      As the size of the military shrinks, the connections between military personnel and the broad civilian population appear to be growing more distant, the Pew Research Center concluded after a broad 2012 study of both service members and civilians.

      Most of the country has experienced little, if any, personal impact from the longest era of war in U.S. history. But those in uniform have seen their lives upended by repeated deployments to war zones, felt the pain of seeing family members and comrades killed and maimed, and endured psychological trauma that many will carry forever, often invisible to their civilian neighbors.


      "I am well-aware that many Americans, especially our elite classes, consider the military a bit like a guard dog," said Lt. Col. Remi M. Hajjar, a professor of behavioral sciences and leadership at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

      "They are very thankful for our protection, but they probably wouldn't want to have it as a neighbor," he said. "And they certainly are not going to influence or inspire their own kids to join that pack of Rottweilers to protect America."


      George Baroff, enjoying an outdoor lunch at an organic food co-op in Carrboro one recent afternoon, said he understood the military quite well: He served three years as a draftee during World War II before eventually becoming a psychology professor in nearby Chapel Hill.

      Baroff, 90, finds himself startled when people learn of his war record and say, as Americans often do to soldiers these days, "Thank you for your service."

      "You never, ever heard that in World War II. And the reason is, everybody served," he said.

      In Baroff's view, today's all-volunteer military has been robbed of the sense of shared sacrifice and national purpose that his generation enjoyed six decades ago. Today's soldiers carry a heavier burden, he said, because the public has been disconnected from the universal responsibility and personal commitment required to fight and win wars.

      "For us, the war was over in a few years. The enemy surrendered and were no longer a threat," he said. "For soldiers today, the war is never over; the enemy is never defeated." The result, he added, is "a state of perpetual anxiety that the rest of the country doesn't experience."


      What most don't realize is how frequently such gestures ring hollow.

      "So many people give you lip service and offer fake sympathy. Their sons and daughters aren't in the military, so it's not their war. It's something that happens to other people," said Phillip Ruiz, 46, a former Army staff sergeant in Tennessee who was wounded twice during three tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

      Douglas Pearce, a former Army lieutenant who fought in Afghanistan and is now a marriage and family counselor in Nashville, said civilians seem to think they "can assuage their guilt with five seconds in the airport."

      "What they're saying is, 'I'm glad you served so that I didn't have to, and my kids won't have to.'"
      (Emphasis mine)

      Seriously, find something a bit more meaningful to say.

      H/T Ed Kilgore at Washington Monthly.

      Quote of the Day

      There's a breed of pedigreed dolt endemic to Washington, D.C. They determine their opinions socially, not empirically; what "everybody knows" trumps facts any old day. Their notion of tough, hard-nosed realism invariably entails that other people should suffer, from the blithe imperialism that cheers on unnecessary wars to the 'sensible centrism' that insists that unnecessary cuts to the social safety net are absolutely imperative. (The occasional safely contrarian view offers some novelty and the gloss of independence without truly challenging the establishment framework.) They remain cheerfully cloistered from the effects of their pronouncements about what the less privileged should be doing (and should be having done to them).
      Batocchio at Hullabaloo
      The is commenting specifically about the rush to war in Iraq, but it applies generally.

      Read the rest.

      Smart Political Move

      During the (quite disastrous for Labour) UK elections, Ed Millibrand was insistent on two big issues: He would not go into a coalition with the Scottish National Party (SNP), and he would oppose a referendum on Britain's EU membership.

      Both positions were big political losers, with Labour being basically turfed out in Scotland, and losing votes from a significant Euroskeptic constituency.

      Ed is gone, and the acting Labour leader, Harriet Harman, has announced that the party will support the referendum, but campaign for a "No" vote:
      Acting leader Harriet Harman has said Labour will now support plans for an EU referendum by the end of 2017.

      Ms Harman told the Sunday Times the change in position came after they "reflected on the conversations we had on doorsteps" during the election.

      The PM has pledged to renegotiate a "better deal" for the UK and hold an "in/out" referendum by the end of 2017.

      Ms Harman told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show the party would still campaign for the UK to stay in the EU.

      She said: "Whether we are in the European Union or not is a huge, important, constitutional, political, economic decision."

      The Conservatives were bringing forward a bill to allow the referendum to happen, said Ms Harman, and Labour "wouldn't succeed" in stopping it.
      While she coaches this decision in terms of a lack of agency, this is actually a very politically savvy move.

      The mainstream Tories (Conservatives) want to stay in the EU, because big business, particularly The City (London's equivalent of Wall Street), because it makes doing business (and hiding income from Inland Revenue HM Revenue and Customs) much easier, and, particularly for the British FIRE sector.

      As such I am sure that the reelected Prime Minister, David Cameron, is really not particularly eager to put Britain's continued membership in the European Union up to a vote.

      However, political realities forced Cameron to promise a referendum, because the loony right of his party was pressuring him, and because the even more right wing UKIP has been taking an increasing portion of what would have been Tory votes, which in the UK's first past the post system, could prove problematic.

      With Labour saying that they will not oppose a referendum, it removes one of the few excuses for Cameron to delay a vote on status, and regardless of what happens, this will not be good for him politically, because, even while he has promised a referendum, which necessarily will upset UK big business, he must also campaign against it, which would serve to strengthen UKIP.

      I am not sure if Ms. Harmon intended for there to put the Conservative mainstream in this position, but they appear to be thoroughly skewered on the tines of Morton's fork.

      24 May 2015

      And Yes, the TTIP, in All Its Bee Killing Glory, Sucks Too

      The US, acting on behalf of Monsanto and its ilk, pressured the EU into revoking its common sense pesticide regulations using the TTIP to coerce regulatory forbearance:
      EU moves to regulate hormone-damaging chemicals linked to cancer and male infertility were shelved following pressure from US trade officials over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free trade deal, newly released documents show.

      Draft EU criteria could have banned 31 pesticides containing endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). But these were dumped amid fears of a trade backlash stoked by an aggressive US lobby push, access to information documents obtained by Pesticides Action Network (PAN) Europe show.

      On 26 June 2013, a high-level delegation from the American Chambers of Commerce (AmCham) visited EU trade officials to insist that the bloc drop its planned criteria for identifying EDCs in favour of a new impact study.

      Minutes of the meeting show commission officials pleading that “although they want the TTIP to be successful, they would not like to be seen as lowering the EU standards”.

      The TTIP is a trade deal being agreed by the EU and US to remove barriers to commerce and promote free trade.

      Responding to the EU officials, AmCham representatives “complained about the uselessness of creating categories and thus, lists” of prohibited substances, the minutes show.

      The US trade representatives insisted that a risk-based approach be taken to regulation, and “emphasised the need for an impact assessment” instead.

      On 2 July 2013, officials from the US Mission to Europe visited the EU to reinforce the message. Later that day, the secretary-general of the commission, Catherine Day, sent a letter to the environment department’s director Karl Falkenberg, telling him to stand down the draft criteria.

      “We suggest that as other DGs [directorate-generals] have done, you consider making a joint single impact assessment to cover all the proposals,” Day wrote. “We do not think it is necessary to prepare a commission recommendation on the criteria to identify endocrine disrupting substances.”

      The result was that legislation planned for 2014 was kicked back until at least 2016, despite estimated health costs of €150bn per year in Europe from endocrine-related illnesses such as IQ loss, obesity and cryptorchidism – a condition affecting the genitals of baby boys.

      A month before the meeting, AmCham had warned the EU of “wide-reaching implications” if the draft criteria were approved. The trade body wanted an EU impact study to set looser thresholds for acceptable exposure to endocrines, based on a substance’s potency.

      “We are worried to see that this decision, which is the source of many scientific debates, might be taken on political grounds, without first assessing what its impacts will be on the European market,” the chair of AmCham’s environment committee wrote in a letter to the commission.

      These could be “dramatic” the letter said.

      In a high-level internal note sent to the health commissioner, Tonio Borg, shortly afterwards, his departmental director-general warned that the EU’s endocrines policy “will have substantial impacts for the economy, agriculture and trade”.

      The heavily redacted letter, sent a week before the EU’s plans were scrapped continued: “The US, Canada, and Brazil [have] already voiced concerns on the criteria which might lead to important repercussions on trade.”

      The series of events was described as “incredible” by the the Green MEP Bas Eickhout. “These documents offer convincing evidence that TTIP not only presents a danger for the future lowering of European standards, but that this is happening as we speak,” he told the Guardian.
      Even without a signed deal, it appears that the two big "Free Trade" deals being negotiated have already been used to subvert consumer and environmental safeguards.

      Of course, this is precisely what Obama said wouldn't happen, but I guess that he's looking forward, not back.

      Bob Menendez Shafts Barack Obama on TPP

      He managed to get an amendment in the Senate's TPP bill, which has the effect of toughening human trafficking requirements of member countries, which means that Malaysia's horrific human trafficking record would make the treaty ineligible for fast track:
      Remember, passing Fast Track in the Senate was supposed to be the easy part. Not only did Fast Track get rejected on its first try — “Welcome aboard the S.S. Lame Duck, Mr. President!” — now we get this. Ryan Grim explains:
      The Senate approved a bill to “fast-track” trade agreements negotiated by the president. The agreement will prevent Congress from amending or filibustering Obama’s controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. The TPP deal would have a hard time surviving without fast-track authority.
      But a key crackdown on human trafficking survived the legislative jujitsu. The White House considers the provision a deal-breaker, as it would force one of the nations involved in the TPP talks — Malaysia — out of the agreement.
      From the US State Department:
      Malaysia (Tier 3 [the worst]) is a destination and, to a lesser extent, a source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and women and children subjected to sex trafficking. The overwhelming majority of trafficking victims are among the estimated two million documented and two million or more undocumented foreign workers in Malaysia.
      Foreign workers typically migrate willingly to Malaysia from other countries in Asia—primarily Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Nepal, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Thailand, and Laos—in search of greater economic opportunities.
      Here I pause to note that somebody decided that it would be a good idea for the US to take in the Rohingya, the Muslim boat people who have turned to traffickers to escape a slow motion Burmese genocide, after which the Malaysians offered temporary, one-year status to such Rohingya as actually reach their shores.


      Complicating any efforts to “fix” the bill, however, is the possibility of an alliance between feminist factions in the Democratic party, and Christianist factions among the Republicans, both of whom take strongly principled positions on human trafficking.

      Complicating the picture even more, when you think about it, is the potential for agita in 2016. Suppose Obama, very ironically, gets the anti-slavery provisions “fixed,” i.e. removed, and the bill passes in time. The campaign ads practically write themselves. “A vote for TPP is a vote for human trafficking.” “Why does Senator X support slavery?” Cue the ominous music. Cue pictures of skeletal women and children. Cue the die-ins on the trail. I’m sure campaign shops on both sides are practically drooling with joy, because the only way TPP will pass is with bipartisan support. Getting that amendment in there was GENIUS, and we’ll get to how that happened in a moment.
      So what we are seeing here is a pissing contest between Menendez and Obama.

      The time line is:
      • Menendez does his level best to submarine any potential nuclear deal with Iran, including politically attaching himself to Benyamin Netanyahu.
      • Menendez is indicted for corruption. (BTW, good luck getting a conviction under recent Supreme Court rulings)
      • Menendez inserts an amendment to Fast Track which basically excludes Malaysia from the treaty.
      Note also the consequences of excluding Malaysia, the most populous Muslim majority state in the world the only sizable majority Muslim state in the TPP, so its exclusion would leave the rump state of Brunei (population 415,717) as the only majority Muslim nation in the agreement.

      I cannot believe that I am actually on Menendez' side on all of this, but the TPP is clearly bad news, as the TTIP with Europe, (more on that later) so to the degree that these treaties can be stopped, the better it is for everyone but the multinational business for whom this is a big government subsidy.