January 29, 2015

The 9 Senate Democrats who voted for the Keystone pipeline

National Journal

1. Michael Bennet, Colo.

2. Thomas Carper, Del.

3. Robert Casey, Pa.

4. Joe Donnelly, Ind.

5. Heidi Heitkamp, N.D.

6. Joe Manchin, W. Va.

7. Claire McCaskill, Mo.

8. Jon Tester, Mont.

9. Mark Warner, Va.

NYPD to treat protestors like terrorists

Vox - New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton unveiled a new militarized police unit that will be trained and armed with heavy protective gear, long rifles, and machine guns to restrain terrorists and social justice protesters.

Bratton explained the purpose of the unit, which will consist of 350 officers, to CBS New York:

It is designed for dealing with events like our recent protests, or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris.

Bratton's explanation says a lot about how the NYPD views protests over racial disparities in police use of force, which largely began in response to the police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City. While the protests have been mostly peaceful, police continue treating demonstrators as a genuine threat — even lumping them up, as Bratton did, with terrorists who carried out attacks in Paris and Mumbai.

But treating lawful protesters like enemy combatants is exactly what helped thrust Ferguson into the national spotlight. Many of these protests grew more tense, particularly at the earlier stages, as a result of police overreacting with military-grade gear. Much of the nation watched in horror last August as officers deployed tear gas, sound cannons, and armored vehicles against crowds that were peacefully marching and chanting on the streets of Missouri.

About Michelle Obama's lack of headscarve in Saudi Arabia

Vox

American officials in Saudi Arabia typically do not wear headscarves, including at formal government functions. Michelle was following normal protocol.

Former first ladies Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton did not wear headscarves on similar official visits to Saudi Arabia. Neither did former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Saudi Arabia is officially ultra-conservative, but it is also heavily integrated into the global economy; unveiled Western women are extremely common in elite government circles like this one. Unveiled female Western leaders are common sights on Saudi media.

And now some true words about the war on terror from a former FBI official

If you’re submitting budget proposals for a law enforcement agency, for an intelligence agency, you’re not going to submit the proposal that ‘We won the war on terror and everything’s great,’ cuz the first thing that’s gonna happen is your budget’s gonna be cut in half. You know, it’s my opposite of Jesse Jackson’s ‘Keep Hope Alive’—it’s ‘Keep Fear Alive.’ Keep it alive. - Former FBI assistant director Thomas Fuentes  in the documentary,  The Newburgh Sting

Metaphor of the day

Sam Smith - I have recently have become conscious of something about the civil rights movement that I hadn't noticed before: not just the role of churches in the effort, but how their culture influenced the movement by creating congregations of like minded souls.

Modern progressive movements are far more atomized for a number of reasons, including the fact that they have to compete for funds from foundations and other sources and because their goals are often much more specific. Thus 350.org and a labor union may think that they have little in common.

In talking about this recently with the other journalist in my family - nephew and  sportscaster Clemson Smith Muniz -  he picked up on my reference to congregations and said, "Yeah, now they are constellations."

A great term for the progressive movement these days.  A collection of heavenly objects unscientifically defined as being part of the same thing, but in fact moving through the skies very much on their own.

One of the big challenges for the progressive movement is how to end the comic isolation of objects in constellations and rediscover the power of congregations.

Are we too hygIenic?

Vox - Over the past few decades, doctors have arrived at a counterintuitive hypothesis about our modern, ultra-sanitized world. Too much cleanliness may be causing us to develop allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel diseases, and other autoimmune disorders.

The idea is that for many children in the wealthy world, a lack of exposure to bacteria, viruses, and allergens prevents the normal development of the immune system, ultimately increasing the chance of disorders within this system down the road. This is called the hygiene hypothesis.

"a lack of exposure to bacteria, viruses, and allergens may prevent the normal development of the immune system"

"A child's immune system needs education, just like any other growing organ in the human body," says Erika von Mutius, a pediatric allergist at the University of Munich and one of the first doctors to research the idea. "The hygiene hypothesis suggests that early life exposure to microbes helps in the education of an infant's developing immune system." Without this education, your immune system may be more prone to attacking the wrong target — in the case of autoimmune diseases, yourself.

It's still a matter of active debate among scientists, but evidence for the idea has been slowly accumulating over time, both in humans and animal subjects. It's been cited as an explanation for why allergy and asthma rates are so much higher in wealthy countries, and most recently, a study published last year found that babies who grow up in houses with higher levels of certain bacteria — carried on cockroach, mouse, and cat dander — are less likely to develop wheezing and asthma by the age of three.

Sam Smith -- A few years ago I mentioned to my doctor that I attributed by good health to the fact that I lived my first ten years in a Washington house that had been built on a trash dump. It wasn't until i was a 'tween that I began to realize that all dirt did not include broken glass and metal scraps. He agreed with me, noting that he had been born in a part of town that once was a burial site for WWI weaponry.

AG nominee Loretta Lynch is a rightwinger on some key issues

NY Times - On matters of policy, Ms. Lynch called capital punishment “an effective penalty” and said she disagreed with Mr. Obama’s statements that marijuana was no more harmful than alcohol. She called the National Security Agency’s collection of American phone records “certainly constitutional, and effective.”

Obama's AG nominee perpetuates anti-marijuana myth

Max Ehrenfreund, Washington Post -  Loretta Lynch, President Obama's nominee for attorney general, disagrees with him on marijuana. That weed is not safer than alcohol might have been the most controversial thing she said during her confirmation hearing Wednesday. As Danny Vinik notes, polls show that large majorities of Americans believe that alcohol is more dangerous.

They're right, as a matter of medical science. Wonkblog has noted repeatedly that alcohol is a very dangerous drug, both to users and to the people around them, and government statistics reflect the fact that marijuana is much safer. That's not to say it's safe, particularly for adolescents, but Lynch appears to be overstating weed's dangers.

This is important, as the attorney general has the authority to remove marijuana from Schedule 1, the most dangerous classification of drugs. Doing so would give researchers a chance to study weed carefully, and figure out whether it's possible to safely and effectively prescribe it for medical purposes.

How NAFTA hurt America

John Conyers, Huffington Post  - Twenty years ago, as the North American Free Trade Agreement was coming into force, the nation had high hopes. The trade pact's backers promised tens of thousands of new high-paying jobs, lower prices for consumers, and an export-driven renaissance for American manufacturing.

NAFTA's legacy, tragically, bears no resemblance these promises.

In the two decades since the agreement came into existence, the US has lost nearly five million manufacturing jobs, and my home state of Michigan has lost one out of three jobs in this essential sector. America's trade deficit with Mexico and Canada ballooned from $27 billion to $177 billion, and economic inequality has risen to record levels.

Right now, as Wall Street and Washington seek to drag the American people into a massive new trade agreement with 11 Pacific Rim nations, Congress must keep the dreadful legacy of NAFTA in mind.

Who can use a car pool lane?

Lowering the Bar -  Some time ago we learned that the argument "but I am pregnant" is probably not a valid defense if you get a ticket for using the HOV lane. More recently we learned that even after the Citizens United case, an HOV-lane ticket also can't be avoided by pointing to the corporate papers you have been keeping in your front seat for years in hopes of doing just that (arguing that a corporation must be a "person" in that sense too, you see). Now, the trifecta.

According to various reports, a 26-year-old New Jersey man was arrested last week after an officer stopped him on (or near) the George Washington Bridge because he was in the HOV lane and appeared to be alone in the vehicle. Turned out he had a perfectly good defense to that charge. "I have two passengers in the back," he told the officer, and rolled down the back (presumably tinted) window so the officer could see. Indeed there were two men sitting in the third row of the SUV's seats. So, no HOV violation there, and obviously the officer agreed because the report says that the man then "started to drive away."

The officer changed her mind, though, when one of the passengers stuck his head out of the window and yelled "Help me!"

Well, she didn't change her mind about the HOV ticket, actually, just took a different view of the whole situation.

The passengers later told police that they were illegal aliens (sorry, "temporarily document-challenged guests of the nation") who had paid the driver for a ride. One of the men, a Guatemalan, said he had paid the driver to pick him up in Texas and drive him to Maryland. Once they arrived, though, the driver locked the doors and demanded more money. (Police found that the rear-passenger controls had been disabled.) When he couldn't pay, the driver refused to let him out, took his cellphone, and kept driving. The other man, described only as "a 24-year-old Asian," told officials he was also being held prisoner, but there were no details as to his pickup or drop-off requests.

The driver has been charged with two counts each of kidnapping and criminal restraint, as well as driving with a suspended license, and is being held in New Jersey on $1 million bail.

So far as I can tell, though, he did not get a ticket for improper use of the HOV lane. Still, not a strategy I would recommend, given the other potential issues.

Castro wants Gitmo back

BBC - There are still several hurdles for Barack Obama and Raul Castro to clear

Cuba has demanded the US hand back the Guantanamo Bay military base before relations with Washington are normalized.

In a speech, President Raul Castro also called for the lifting of the US trade embargo and Cuba's removal from a terror list.

Last month the two countries announced a thaw in relations, agreeing to restore diplomatic ties. They were severed in 1961.

High-level talks were held last week.

A Congressional delegation arrived in Havana to begin negotiations aimed at reopening embassies in the two countries' capitals.

Meanwhile, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro appeared to signal his approval for the political rapprochement.

Cuba's state-run newspaper published a letter on Tuesday in which he wrote: "We will always defend co-operation and friendship with all the people of the world, including with our political adversaries."

He wrote that although he did not "trust the policy of the US", it did not mean he rejected a "peaceful solution to conflicts".
'Illegally occupied'

His brother Raul, who succeeded him as president in 2008, made his demands at the summit of Community of Latin American and Caribbean States in Costa Rica.

"The reestablishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process of normalising bilateral relations," he said. "But this will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don't give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base."

The land on which the base stands was leased to the US government in 1903 by Cuba's then-rulers.

US officials have so far not responded to Mr Castro's remarks.

President Barack Obama has called on Congress to put an end to the trade embargo, which has been in place since 1962.

Earlier this month he also used his executive powers to loosen trade and restrictions on travel to the Caribbean island.

Six reasons to support ranked choice voting

Dick Woodbury, Bangor Daily News, ME - First, the finally elected candidate is chosen by a majority of voters.

Second, there is no such thing as a spoiler candidate. If a candidate turns out not to be electable, then he or she is eliminated in the counting process. The candidate doesn’t “spoil” the result by taking away votes from somebody else.

Third, voters can cast their vote for a preferred candidate without the strategic dilemma of potentially helping a candidate they oppose.

Fourth, by avoiding spoiler candidates and strategic voting, the entire messaging of campaigns, media coverage and public evaluation of candidates will focus on issues, vision, experience and capabilities; not on polling and electability.

Fifth, elected candidates can serve with a credibility and mandate that can only be delivered by a majority of votes cast.

Sixth, and perhaps most importantly, campaigns will be more civil and respectful, as candidates avoid alienating their opponents’ supporters. Rather than appealing to loyal supporters alone, a winning candidate needs to appeal to a genuine majority of all voters, including those whose first choice may be somebody else.

Ecology links

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Word

One of the basic troubles with radio and television news is that both instruments have grown up as an incompatible combination of show business, advertising and news. Each of the three is a rather bizarre and demanding profession. And when you get all three under one roof, the dust never settles. The top management of the networks with a few notable exceptions, has been trained in advertising, research, sales or show business. But by the nature of the corporate structure, they also make the final and crucial decisions having to do with news and public affairs. Frequently they have neither the time nor the competence to do this. It is not easy for the same small group of men to decide whether to buy a new station for millions of dollars, build a new building, alter the rate card, buy a new Western, sell a soap opera, decide what defensive line to take in connection with the latest Congressional inquiry, how much money to spend on promoting a new program, what additions or deletions should be made in the existing covey or clutch of vice-presidents, and at the same time-- frequently on the same long day--to give mature, thoughtful consideration to the manifold problems that confront those who are charged with the responsibility for news and public affairs. - Edward R. Murrow, 1958

January 28, 2015

One in five American kids on food stamps

Huffington Post - One in 5 American kids got food stamps in 2014, up from 1 in 8 before the recession. About 16 million kids relied on the U.S. government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in 2014, according to Census Bureau data released Wednesday, up from 15.6 million a year earlier. In 2007, before the start of the Great Recession, that figure was only 9 million.

Bottom 60% of households lost 14% of their wealth from 1983 to 2013

Vox

Employee healthcare deductibles rising