August 27, 2014

Flotsam & Jetsam

Sam Smith - As I was watching The Hundred Foot Journey, a mixture of charming acting and what Alonso Duralde called in the Wrap, a "slumgullion of food porn," I remembered standing in line with my sandwich and brownie at the Wild Oaks Bakery & Cafe in Brunswick, ME, as an extraordinarily picky customer ahead of me was directing precisely how much of what items should go into her salad.

It suddenly occurred to me that the foodie movement was not just another random change in our culture, but an unconscious replacement of our former power in politics and national policy with thrice daily decisions on such matters as choice of dressing, glutin composition, and the presence or absence of anchovies. We can no longer determine the character of our politics, so we try make to up for it by selecting the right cheese for our sandwich.


And hardly anyone notices that  choosing between kale or spinach is far less than our founders dreamed we might do in our pursuit of happiness.





History links

Recovered history

ESSAYS & ARCHIVES

Minutes of the Wannsee Conference
Things Irish Protestants should know about their homeland
Joan Baez' first radio appearance
A brief history of bucking the system
Why Nader didn't cause Gore's loss
Gene McCarthy
Making cities black & poor
Pilgrims' folly
Washington on fire in 1968
Unsolved mysteries World Trade Center Crash of TWA 800
 
MEDIA
History News Network

Obama working around the Constitution again

NY Times - The Obama administration is working to forge a sweeping international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but without ratification from Congress.

In preparation for this agreement, to be signed at a United Nations summit meeting in 2015 in Paris, the negotiators are meeting with diplomats from other countries to broker a deal to commit some of the world’s largest economies to enact laws to reduce their carbon pollution. But under the Constitution, a president may enter into a legally binding treaty only if it is approved by a two-thirds majority of the Senate.

To sidestep that requirement, President Obama’s climate negotiators are devising what they call a “politically binding” deal that would “name and shame” countries into cutting their emissions. The deal is likely to face strong objections from Republicans on Capitol Hill and from poor countries around the world, but negotiators say it may be the only realistic path.

The American Bar Association might want to conduct an inquiry into the curriculum of the Harvard Law School. If Barack Obama is any example of its product, then there is serious  implication that he was taught that the law - up to and including the Constitution - is something to work around rather than respect. If the law is regarded as just something to manipulate then it steadily loses it value - TPR

Race to the bottom: Most evasive White House press answers

George Stephanopoulos is the winner in 21 years of official evasiveness

McConnell promises to crash government if Republicans win Senate

Political Wire - The Nation has audio of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) telling a room of conservative activists how Republicans will shut down parts of the government if they gain control of the U.S. Senate.

Said McConnell: "So in the House and Senate, we own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what's called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We're going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board (inaudible). All across the federal government, we're going to go after it..."

Obama's next war lite

Global Research - President Barack Obama delivered a militarist speech  to the annual convention of the American Legion in Charlotte, North Carolina amid reports that US spy drones are already operating over Syria and air strikes could begin there by the end of this week.

Obama told the veterans’ organization that “the United States is and will remain the one indispensable nation in the world,” a boast that is belied by the bloody debacle unleashed throughout North Africa and the Middle East by a string of US military interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

Turning to the present intervention in Iraq following the overrunning of much of the country by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a split-off from Al Qaeda, the US president reiterated the formal pretexts for US military action: protecting “our diplomats and military advisors who are there,” and humanitarian assistance.

... Since launching the first US air strikes in Iraq last month, the Obama administration has already rushed another 1,000 US troops into the country. The US Central Command reported two more air strikes on Tuesday near the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Irbil. The targets were reported to be ISIS armored vehicles, likely captured from the US-supplied Iraqi Army stockpile. Thus far, the US has carried out roughly 100 air strikes in Iraq.

Senator Warren to appear on Letterman

Wednesday September 3

CIA messing with journalism again, creating risk for all journalists

Wayne Madsen, Strategic Culture Foundation - The increasing tendency of the Central Intelligence Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies to disregard previous prohibitions against the use of journalists as agents puts every legitimate reporter around the world in jeopardy. The CIA has a checkered past in the use of journalists as intelligence agents. The practice was common in the 1960s and early 70s but was banned by Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. However, when President Ronald Reagan helped reignite the Cold War, the CIA again began using journalists as intelligence agents. The practice put a number of journalists in jeopardy, especially those taken captive by guerrillas groups during the Lebanese civil war. There is nothing to suggest any president since Reagan has discontinued the practice of using journalists as agents.

Intelligence agents operating under journalistic cover can take a number of forms:

- Journalists who openly work for media operations linked officially to past and current CIA operations. These include Radio Free Europe / Radio Free Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Alhurra, Radio Sawa, Radio and TV Marti, and to some extent, the Voice of America.

- Journalists who work for work for accredited news media companies who agree to work covertly for U.S. intelligence. Such journalists have been known to work for The Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, and President Barack Obama’s one-time employer, Business International Corporation of New York City, publisher of executive business and political newsletters. CIA director Richard Helms had previously worked as a reporter for United Press International.

- Journalists who work for start-up publications linked to the CIA or CIA fronts, including the the Kyiv Post, Cambodia Daily, Burma Daily, Kabul Weekly, and Lidove Noviny of Prague.

- Freelance journalists who become embedded with U.S. military and paramilitary forces and work for one or more media operations having very low profiles.

Journalists working for media operations financed by the U.S. government’s Broadcasting Board of Governors have been known to leave legitimate media organizations, where they have already established strong journalistic credentials and high-level contacts, to join government operations like Radio Free Europe and the others to carry out assignments for U.S. intelligence.

One of the CIA’s favorite nesting grounds for its journalist-agents during the Cold War was the International Herald Tribune, formerly the Paris Herald Tribune, based in Paris. The paper was eventually jointly owned by The Washington Post and New York Times. The managing editor of the Herald Tribune News Service, Nathan Kingsley, left the paper’s Paris headquarters to be the head of Radio Free Europe’s news service in Munich. Kingsley replaced Gene Mater who became the public affairs spokesman for the Free Europe Committee in New York. Radio Free Europe and the Free Europe Committee were both connected to the CIA.

... Stuart Loory, who worked as the New York Herald-Tribune’s correspondent in Moscow in the 1960s before joining the Los Angeles Times and CNN, has said that the CIA’s use of journalists as spies calls into question the status of every journalist. He said, "If even one American overseas carrying a press card is a paid informer for the CIA, then all Americans with those credentials are suspect." 

However, the caution urged by Loory has, in some cases, fallen on deaf ears. In 2012, New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti forwarded an advance copy of a column written by his colleague, columnist Maureen Dowd, to the CIA’s spokesperson Marie Harf. Dowd’s column concerned a CIA leak to Hollywood that involved the production of a movie called «Zero Dark Thirty». Harf has since been promoted to deputy press secretary for the Department of State where she is undoubtedly still fronting for her old CIA colleagues in spotting willing journalists, particularly foreign correspondents, eager to cooperate with the CIA.

Race to the bottom: Burger King


The real Michelle Rhee

Mercedes Schneider

Mainers among victims of unconstitutional Real ID law

Portland Press Herald, ME - Mainers may not be able to board a plane using their driver’s licenses starting in 2016 if the state does not start complying with the federal Real ID program.

In 2007, Maine became the first state to reject the federal regulations adopted in response to a study on national security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Federal officials wanted to make driver’s licenses more uniform and secure, but opponents said the federal law was too sweeping and intrusive.

Non-compliance, however, has restricted the ability of residents from some states to access some federal buildings, and that is likely to increase.

The act requires states to maintain a database of license applicants’ information that is accessible to the federal government, and take photos of applicants that can be scanned by facial recognition software.

As of April this year, people from states that have not complied can no longer use their driver’s licenses to access some federal buildings, such as the Department of Homeland Security headquarters in Washington, D.C.

In July, the licenses were no longer adequate to access restricted federal facilities, such as the U.S. Mint and nuclear power plants. Residents from non-complying states need passports to enter those buildings. As of January, the licenses will not be adequate to get into semi-restricted federal facilities where a license or passport currently is required.

And by Jan. 19, 2016, Maine driver’s licenses may no longer be an acceptable ID to board aircraft.

.... Concerns about the Real ID program have united libertarian-minded citizens from both parties, especially over the portion of the law that creates a federal database of personal information that would be maintained by the state and accessible to federal officials.

“You might as well just repeal the Fourth Amendment,” Dunlap said, referring to the prohibition against unreasonable search and seizures of property.

Currently, Maine, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Alaska, Arizona, and Louisiana have refused to comply with the Real ID program, and several other states have not met every requirement, although most have indicated they will.

State income taxes have little effect on migration

Off the Charts - The New York Times’ Upshot blog has published a fascinating set of graphs of Census Bureau data on interstate migration patterns since 1900, bolstering our argument that state income taxes don’t have a significant impact on people’s decisions about where to live.

We plotted the same Census data, which shows which states do the best job of retaining their native-born populations.  Our chart shows that taxes have little to do with the extent to which native-born people leave their states of origin.

If Heritage Foundation economist Stephen Moore’s claim (which other tax-cut advocates often repeat) that “taxes are indisputably a major factor in determining where . . . families locate” were true, states without income taxes would see below-average shares of their native-born populations leaving at some point in their lifetime, while states with relatively high income taxes would see the opposite.  But the graph shows no such pattern:

Three of the nine no-income-tax states perform very poorly in holding on to native-born residents.  Wyoming, Alaska, and South Dakota have three of the nation’s four highest shares of native-born residents who left the state. Four other no-income-tax states are closer to the middle of the pack.  Nevada is almost exactly in the middle of the state rankings, while New Hampshire and Tennessee fall almost equally below and above Nevada; Washington falls within that interval as well.  New Hampshire does no better in retaining its native born than its high-tax neighbor, Vermont.  Tennessee’s neighbor, North Carolina, has had the highest income tax rates among southern states for the past 20 years but outperformed nearly all of them in retaining its native born, tying for second nationally. Only two of the nine no-income-tax states are top performers in retaining their native born.  Three of the five states that retain the largest shares of their natives — California, Georgia, and North Carolina — have income taxes, and California and North Carolina in particular have had higher income taxes than their neighbors.  Texas and Florida are the only no-income-tax states that rank highly for retention. 

Driving your kid in your car is more dangerous than letting them go to the playground alone

Petula Dvorak, Washington Post - Of all the adventures my lucky children had this summer — swimming in two oceans, hanging out on their bearded uncle’s commercial salmon fishing boat, endless Popsicles — the biggest one, they told me, was just 495 feet away in their own D.C. neighborhood.

They got to walk to the corner store on Capitol Hill by themselves. Clutch your pearls, America. The boys are 7 and 10. Apparently, I could be arrested for this.

In another disturbing national trend, we’ve sanctioned the criminalization of childhood independence. This summer we heard about a Florida mom arrested for letting her 7-year-old walk to the local park and a mother locked up because her 9-year-old was playing at their neighborhood park in South Carolina.

A recent poll conducted by Reason/Rupe said that 68 percent of Americans think there should be a law prohibiting children 9 and younger from playing in a park unsupervised; and 43 percent think the same about allowing 12-year-olds that kind of freedom.

... I rode nearly a mile on my bike to get groceries for my mom when I was 8. I walked down one street and around the corner to the bus stop when I was in kindergarten.

.... My dad left me and another kid in the car when we were 4 while he visited my mom at the coffee shop where she was a waitress. We ate his cigarettes. But no one abducted us.

.... Yes. There are scary people out there. It is always a risk to let your children out of your sight. But truthfully, the most dangerous thing you do every day is drive anywhere with a child. About 300 kids are hurt daily in car accidents; an average of three are killed that way every day.

Recovered history


Pocket paradigms

One of the best ways to revive democracy in our country is to make sure that every organization, church, school, or club is run according to its principles.- Sam Smith

Word

The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people what they need to have done, but cannot do at all or cannot do so well for themselves, in their separate or individual capacities. - Abraham Lincoln (a Republican by the way)

Social Security being garnished for student loan debt

Financial Juneteenth - In 2013, 156,000 Americans had their Social Security checks garnished because of student loans they’d defaulted on – a 300% rise from 47,500 people in 2006.

“Social Security means survival. It means food, shelter, medication,” said Joshua Cohen, a Consumer attorney who works with retirees paying back student loans.

Many groups and organizations that work with people that have defaulted on loans, or are struggling with paying them off, are seeing more and more senior citizens approaching them for help. One such organization is the American Student Assistance. This year alone, they have worked with over 1,000 Americans who’ve had their social security checks garnished to repay outstanding student loans – that is a sharp rise from the 200 people they had worked with in 2013.

The smallest of deductions, from an already small check, makes it difficult for retirees to make ends meet. Even if the figure for the initial loan amount was small, years of compounding interest rates have driven them to unaffordable amounts. And when the typical amount of $180 is deducted from an average Social Security monthly check for the amount of $1,200, life becomes quite challenging for the retirees.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, taking note of the problem, had introduced a bill earlier this year that would allow retirees to refinance their student loans. Sadly, it was blocked in June.

Another shocking fact is that even people with mental and health problems aren’t being spared.

Government data shows that the total amount of money garnished from social security checks totaled $150 million last year.

August 26, 2014

Waydago, Harpers

Harper's Magazine, of all places, has become a target of Westboro Baptist Church. Nice work, Harper's

Microsoft using offshore tax avoidance

International Business Times - Microsoft Corp. is currently sitting on almost $29.6 billion it would owe in U.S. taxes if it repatriated the $92.9 billion of earnings it is keeping offshore, according to disclosures in the company’s most recent annual filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The amount of money that Microsoft is keeping offshore represents a significant spike from prior years, and the levies the company would owe amount to almost the entire two-year operating budget of the company’s home state of Washington.

NSA helping domestic police spy on you

Slashdot - The Intercept reported on classified documents revealing that the NSA has built its own "Google-like" search engine to provide over 850 billion collected records directly to law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the DEA. Reporter Ryan Gallagher explains, "The documents provide the first definitive evidence that the NSA has for years made massive amounts of surveillance data directly accessible to domestic law enforcement agencies." The search engine, called ICREACH, allows analysts to search an array of databases, some of which contain metadata collected on innocent American citizens, for the purposes of "foreign intelligence."

Real economics

Jobs added since the recovery began pay 23% less than the jobs lost at the height of the Recession

What Americans think of cops

What the Emmys awarded

Murray Dobbin, Counterpunch - House of Cards is not the only series people are binging on. There is another popular series praised for its high production values, writing and its atmospheric tone. The “hero” is Walt, a high school chemistry teacher who starts dabbling in meth production and then gets deeper and deeper into the murderous meth business. He may be the only TV hero who is a psychopathic killer. I quit watching this one after the episode in which he orders the murders of nine convicts who could expose his role.

People who are addicted to this series manage, somehow, to rationalize their attraction by referring to how incredibly well produced and acted it is. I don’t care how well acted it is. It is grotesque, a vehicle for gratuitous violence and the demeaning of life, an assault on human sensibility. My advice — which no one will take — is to spend a few minutes asking yourself what a celebration of murderous psychopathy might be doing to your own mental state. While you are at it ask yourself what your limits are: what level of human depravity exploration would finally compel you to switch channels?

I don’t know if watching such series actually does any lasting epigenetic damage but an appeal to simple self-respect and social consciousness should be enough to launch a boycott of this ugly entertainment. Why? Because this sick amorality isn’t just on TV. It is everywhere — in too many politicians (Stephen Harper, Tony Blair, Benjamin Netanyahu, Dick Cheney come to mind), too many CEOs, and if you watched The Wolf of Wall Street (all of which was based on true accounts) virtually all of Wall Street, and in too many of our institutions (like the RCMP). And it’s now in popular non-fiction literature and on the internet.

As reported recently by Canadian author Patricia Pearson: “The celebration of remorselessness is everywhere. Friends on Facebook have lately been reporting their scores on widely circulating psychopathy quizzes that ask users to agree or disagree with statements such as, ‘I never feel remorse, shame or guilt about something I’ve said or done.’ ‘I’m 19 per cent psychopath!’ they announce. Or: ‘I scored five out of 10!’ As if the chilling absence of human empathy I witnessed as a crime reporter in covering trials like that of serial killer Paul Bernardo had become a fun little personality quirk.”

James Fallon, the author of The Psychopath Inside, actually refers to himself as a pro-social psychopath “who chooses not to murder people even though, admittedly, he cares not one whit if he harms them in other ways.”

How is it possible that this idiocy passes for rational, acceptable narrative? Pearson rightly asks “What fire, exactly, are we playing with? Have we taken a tolerance of difference, of identity, of moral relativism, too far? … The issue, fundamentally, is moral. What kind of a society do we wish to inhabit, with what kinds of leaders and heroes?”

Pearson quotes Adam Kotsko, author of Why We Love Sociopaths: A Guide to Late Capitalist Television: “People enjoy watching sociopaths on television as a kind of compensation for their own feelings of powerlessness and helplessness.” Now we’re getting closer to the root of the problem: the inexorable imposition of capitalist social relations. What is the source of the average person’s “powerless and helplessness” if not the hyper-competitiveness of late capitalism? It’s a competitiveness in which almost all but the One Per cent lose — with tax cuts, privilege and ever-increasing wealth accumulation fixing the game.

The stronger the imperative to compete, the weaker become family, community and friendship connections, because in rampant consumer capitalism — promoted and reinforced by television culture — such connections are seen as irrelevant. Or worse, they are seen as weak and inefficient means, if not actual barriers, to the end of achieving more stuff. We are competing in a zero-sum game whose rules are written by those with psychopathic tendencies. As Fred Guerin writes in Truthout, “Obedience, docility, amorality and careerism will be duly rewarded. Those who can regularly suspend any desire they have to think from the perspective of another, or on behalf of a more universal or common good will be promoted.”

MORE

Time to rediscover the United Nations

Lawrence Wittner, Counterpunch - Sometimes, amid the heated political debate about what should done by the U.S. government in world affairs, a proposal cuts through the TV babble of the supposed experts with a clear, useful suggestion.

That proposal came on August 17, when Pope Francis told journalists how he thought the world should cope with the challenge posed by ISIS, the Islamic militant group engaged in murderous behavior in Syria and Iraq. “One nation alone cannot judge how you stop this,” he said, in an apparent reference to U.S. action against ISIS crimes.  Instead, the United Nations is the proper forum to “discuss `Is there an unjust aggression’” and “`How should we stop it?’ Just this.  Nothing more.”

The idea that the responsibility for dealing with global problems lies with the world community rather than with individual nations is not a popular one among the governments of the major military powers.  Indeed, they seem to believe that they are justified in doing whatever they want in the world if it serves what they consider their “national interest.” The Russian government, angered at NATO’s eastward expansion and at political developments in Ukraine, annexed Crimea and armed pro-Russian separatists.  The Israeli government, attempting to incorporate Palestinian territory it conquered 47 years ago into greater Israel, has moved 500,000 settlers onto the land and staged bloody military invasions of Gaza to crush resistance.  Anxious to control the oil-rich Middle East, the U.S. government launched a military invasion and occupation of Iraq that led to enormous bloodshed in that country and the destabilization of the entire region.  And numerous other governments with powerful military forces have behaved in much the same manner, thereby helping to foster a chaotic and violent world.

This aggressive use of military force is not a new phenomenon.  Indeed, it’s been par for the course throughout the history of nations and, before that, the history of competing territories.  It’s what brought the world to the brink of total disaster during World Wars I and II.

What is new is the dawning recognition that the world can no longer continue down this destructive path--that the competition among nations must be handled within the framework of an international security system.  After all, there is no reason to assume that any individual nation can divorce itself from its own special “interests” and adopt an impartial stance when it comes to world affairs.  Despite the claims of rabid nationalists and theocrats, God has not decreed that their nation should rule the world.  Instead, an institution representing all nations should speak for the international community.

Based on this recognition--one helped along by two world wars--numerous governments reluctantly agreed in the twentieth century to develop the League of Nations and, when this new institution proved too weak to be effective, the United Nations.  In the words of the UN charter, the United Nations was founded “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” as well as to “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights,” “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained,” and “to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”

In the immediate aftermath of World War II--which left 60 million dead and a world in ruins--the governments of powerful nations paid lip service to the United Nations and to the international security system it represented.  Sometimes, they even fell into line with its decisions.

But, unfortunately, they were soon back at their old game.  The United States and the Soviet Union occupied other nations, launched military invasions, and staged covert operations around the world in their bitter Cold War conflict with one another.  France fought vicious colonial wars to subdue independence struggles in Indochina and Algeria.  Britain, France, and Israel invaded Egypt.  China annexed Tibet and invaded India and Vietnam.  India and Pakistan squared off to fight numerous border wars.  In the context of this persistent flouting of international law by the great powers and some others, the United Nations managed to remain the conscience of the world and to engage in humanitarian projects, but was gradually drained of its power to enforce world security.

Clearly, this is a profoundly dangerous situation, especially when the nations of the world spend $1.75 trillion a year on war and preparations for war.  An array of global problems--including not only national insecurity, but climate change, disease, and poverty--cry out for global solutions.  But we are not likely to see these solutions in a world of international anarchy, one in which the “national interest” continues to trump the human interest.

It’s time--indeed, long past time--for governments to strengthen the United Nations and, as Pope Francis has reminded us, to respect its authority as the voice of the world community.

The dead Mid East journalists you don't hear about

Ma'an News Agency - A Palestinian media watchdog said that July was the bloodiest month on record in the history of the Palestinian press, as nine journalists were killed and eight media outlets shelled during the ongoing Israeli assault on Gaza.

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms said in a statement that the targeting of Palestinian media had continued into August, with at least six more journalists killed in the last three weeks as well.

General director of MADA Mousa Rimawi said in the statement that the attacks on journalists were widespread and focused in Gaza, where the homes of 16 journalists were also destroyed and transmission to a number of different TV, radio, and media websites was cut by the Israeli military.

"MADA believes that they would not have died if (Israeli forces) had been hold accountable for its previous crimes against journalists, which are considered war crimes according to the Geneva Conventions which protect all civilians in case of war." The report said that seven journalists were killed in Israeli assaults on Gaza in 2009 and 2012, and "so far nobody has been held accountable."

The statement said that in July, Israeli occupation forces had committed 73 violations of media freedom throughout the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, while three were committed by Palestinian parties in the West Bank.

The report stressed that the the 15 journalists killed in the last six weeks "were killed in civilian sites which are supposed to be safe for civilians, including news workers."

The report also said that while some were killed in their homes or while covering the aftermath of Israeli operations in residential neighborhoods, others were "deliberately targeted."

Slashing greenhouse gas pollution could pay for itself

Take Part - A new MIT study ... finds that the health savings from slashing greenhouse gas pollution will exceed most, if not at all, the cost of building a low-carbon economy in the U.S.


“We estimate that human health benefits associated with air quality improvements offset 26–1,050 percent of costs depending on the flexibility of the carbon policy,” wrote the researchers in the study, which was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
That’s because the main sources of carbon dioxide emissions that are warming the planet—coal-fired power plants, cars and trucks—also spew particulate matter, mercury and other pollutants that harm human health.


The researchers found that not all policies would result in the same savings. For instance, the health benefits from directly regulating vehicle emissions by imposing strict fuel economy standards would only pay 26 percent of the cost of the $1 trillion policy.

But the health savings of a nationwide cap-and-trade carbon market would be 10 times the $14 billion cost to implement such a program. Establishing clean energy standards for power plants would save $247 billion versus the policy’s $208 billion cost, according to the study

Pocket paradigms

About the most important job of a democracy -- next to serving its people -- is to make sure it stays a democracy. Forms of government don't have tenure, and governments that rely on the consent of the governed -- rather than, say, on tanks and prisons -- require constant tending. As things now stand, we could easily become the first people in history to lose democracy and its constitutional freedoms simply because we have forgotten what they are about.- Sam Smith

Word

Congress

Djelloul Marbrook  

their brains are pulled out through their noses
their blackened faces disclose
hemlock in their beliefs
and in the cool dry splendor
of stupor they legislate
our futures as their shabtis

how do we know this of them
we archaeologists in our malarial
fervor  how do we know
how their skulls were emptied
we who think ours are full?
our hubris is greater than theirs-

they worshiped the unknown
we worship what we think we know
we should not hold this congress in contempt
ankle-deep as we are in their shame
nor mock their incuriosity
so monumental is our own

August 25, 2014

Adjunct professors pick jup the campus crumbs

Coleman McCarthy, Washington Post - We are the stoop laborers of higher education: adjunct professors.

As colleges and universities rev for the fall semester, the stony exploitation of the adjunct faculty continues, providing cheap labor for America’s campuses, from small community colleges to knowledge factories with 40,000 students. The median salary for adjuncts, according to the American Association of University Professors, is $2,700 per three-credit course. Some schools raise this slightly to $3,000 to $5,000; a tiny few go higher. Others sink to $1,000. Pay scales vary from school to school, course to course. Adjuncts teaching upper-level biophysics are likely to earn more than those teaching freshman grammar.

There is no uniformity, but similarities abound. Benefits, retirement packages, health insurance? Hardly. Job security? Silly question. An office? Good luck. A mailbox? Maybe. Free parking? Pray. Extra money for mentoring and counseling students? Dream on. Chances for advancement? Get serious. Teaching assistants? Don’t ask.

AAUP reports that part-timers now make up 50 percent of total faculty. As adjuncts proliferate, the number of tenured jobs falls. Why pay full salaries when you can get workers on the cheap?

Hordes of adjuncts slog like migrant workers from campus to campus. Teaching four fall and four spring courses at $2,700 each generates an annual salary of $21,600, below the national poverty line for a family of four. In a classroom across the hall, a tenured professor could make $100,000 for teaching half as many courses to half as many students. The tenured commonly speak of their teaching “loads,” as if they were hauling burlap sacks of weighty tomes up to the heights of Mount Academia.

Campus police also use military weapons to defend colleges from the students they chose

Baltimore Sun - Three campus police departments in Maryland now own surplus military gear including "riot type" shotguns, M16 assault rifles and an armored truck under a Defense Department program that's sparked new controversy this month.

The items are part of more than $12 million in surplus military gear given to local police departments in Maryland under the Department of Defense Excess Property Program since 2006, according to Pentagon data released this month.

Officials at the University of Maryland, College Park, Morgan State University and Coppin State University said the shotguns and rifles are or will be used for training purposes.

They are not the only colleges in the country to get such surplus military gear. Florida International University received 50 M16 assault rifles and a mine-resistant vehicle, according to the Miami New Times.

Obama sells out on food stamps

MSNBC - President Obama added his signature to legislation that will cut $8.7 billion in food stamp benefits over the next 10 years, causing 850,000 households to lose an average of $90 per month. ...The food stamp cuts are one component of a massive omnibus bill which also includes billions of dollars in crop insurance and various other programs and subsidies involving American agriculture. Before he signed the legislation, President Obama praised it as an example of bipartisan problem-solving that would help create jobs and move the American economy forward.

... When House Republicans originally argued for a food stamp cut of between $20.5 billion and $39 billion, the White House threatened to veto both of those proposals. During his Friday speech, the president did not say whether he was satisfied with the final $8.7 billion figure, or even mention the cuts at all. Instead, he praised the food stamp program and said that the final Farm Bill preserved much-needed benefits.

Doctors take on early school openings

Valerie Strauss - The American Academy of Pediatrics just issued a new policy statement recommending that middle and high schools start class no earlier than 8:30 a.m. because adolescents have unique sleep rhythms that make it harder for them to go to sleep and wake up earlier than other people, and that sleep deprivation can affect academic achievement as well as cause other problems.

The new AAP policy statement, called “School Start Times for Adolescents” and published in the September issue of the journal Pediatrics, says that teens have sleep-wake cycles that can be two hours later than everybody else and that starting school too early is a key factor to chronic sleep deprivation among adolescents. Sleep researchers have said for years that most teens can’t easily fall asleep until about 11 p.m., experts say, and their brains stay in sleep mode until at least 8 a.m.

The National Sleep Foundation says that teens need about 9 1/4 hours of sleep each night to function best (for some, 8 1/2 hours is enough) but that the vast majority don’t get it. Only about 15 percent of U.S. high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later, and about 40 percent start before 8 a.m., with the median middle school start time at 8 a.m. The AAP is now urging middle and high schools to set start times that would allow students to receive 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night, meaning that class should not start in most cases before 8:30 a.m. or later.

The issue has been bubbling in school systems around the country for several years. Dozens of districts are changing high school start times, with some citing benefits including an improvement in academic performance and a drop in tardiness. Some districts have been reluctant to change start times because of scheduled after-school activities and problems with school bus schedules.

Organic food status

Popular Resistance - U.S. sales of certified organic products hit $35 billion in 2013. Given that the organic products industry has seen four decades of steady growth, at a rate of 10-15 percent, sales will likely hit $40 billion in 2014. This amounts to approximately 5 percent of all grocery store purchases, 10 percent of retail fruits and vegetables, and over 20 percent of baby food. Organic sales are increasing 10-15 percent annually, more than five times the anemic 2 percent growth rate of conventional (i.e. chemical) foods.

The latest poll shows that nearly half of U.S. households now prefer organics; that most consumers buy organic foods and products at least on an occasional basis; and that most would buy even more if they felt they could afford to do so.

When asked why they prefer organics, health conscious Americans consistently state that they want to avoid toxic pesticides, synthetic hormones, antibiotic residues, and GMOs.

Health-conscious consumers increasingly understand that the chemical and genetically engineered junk food (so-called “conventional” food) that typically makes up 80-90 percent of the U.S. diet is the primary cause of deteriorating public health and childhood disease. These foods have spawned an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, cancer, antibiotic-resistant infections, behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, autism, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease.

Organic foods on the other hand, especially raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy oils, and grass-fed, pastured meat and animal products, are recognized as safer, healthier and more sustainable

How Congress keeps medical costs soaring

Huffington Post - Late last month, two advocacy groups -- the Medicare Rights Center and Social Security Works -- released a report suggesting that Congress could save taxpayers $141 billion over 10 years just by reauthorizing a program that was eliminated at the behest of drug makers when lawmakers enacted the Medicare prescription drug benefit (Part D) in 2003.

The groups noted that while the prescription drug benefit helped Medicare beneficiaries afford their medications, "the law also severely limited the government's ability to control Medicare drug prices."

Prior to passage of the Medicare Modernization Act in 2003, which created Part D, the federal government benefited from discounts on prescription medicines for people covered by both Medicare and Medicaid. According to the advocacy groups, elimination of that program "resulted in windfall profits for pharmaceutical manufacturers." They cited an analysis showing that drug companies' profits soared by 34 percent to $76.3 billion in the first year of the Part D program.

The groups also recommended that Congress allow Medicare to create its own drug insurance plan that could directly negotiate drug prices in the same way as another big government agency -- the Department of Veterans Affairs -- has long been able to do.

Medicare could also reduce spending by billions of dollars if it wrested some control from the American Medical Association, which for more than two decades has largely determined how much doctors get paid by Medicare for the services they provide.

Word: The media and war

Dan Rather - All of these people on television, some of whom I have enormous respect for, it unsettles me to hear them say, listen, we the United States have to ‘do something’ in Ukraine, we have to ‘do something’ in Syria, we have to ‘do something’ in the waters around China, we have to ‘do something’ in Iraq, we have to ‘do something’ about ISIS. What they’re talking about are combat operations.

My first question to anyone who’s on television saying ‘We have to get tough, we have to put boots on the ground, we have to go to war in one of these places’ is: I will hear you out if you tell me you are prepared to send your son, your daughter, your grandson, your granddaughter to that war for which you are beating the drums. If you aren’t I have no patience with you, and don’t even talk to me.

... Those of us in journalism, and I include myself in this, we have a lot to answer for about what we did do and what we didn’t do in the run up to the war in Iraq. We didn’t ask the right questions, we didn’t ask enough questions, we didn’t ask the followup questions. We did not challenge power. I am concerned that once again as the war drums begin to beat and get louder and louder that there will be a herd mentality of saying, ‘Well, we have to go to war in Syria, we have to go to war in Ukraine.’ I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that we need to be thinking very very carefully and seriously about this, and journalists have a special responsibility to at least ask the right questions.

Holder's record on dealing with bad cops is lousy

James Bovard, Northwestern - Attorney General Eric Holder arrived Wednesday in Ferguson, Mo., in response to the unrest after a police officer shot Michael Brown, 18. Holder assured the people of Missouri: "Our investigation into this matter will be full, it will be fair, and it will be independent."

But Holder's own record belies his lofty promise. As the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia from 1993 to 1997, Holder was in charge of policing the local police. When police violence spiraled out of control, he did little to protect Washington residents from rampaging lawmen.

The number of killings by Washington police doubled from 1988 to 1995, the year 16 civilians died from officer gunfire. Police shot and killed people at a higher rate than any other major city police department, as a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post investigation revealed. The Post reported that "Holder said he did not detect a pattern of problematic police shootings and could not recall the specifics of cases he personally reviewed." Holder declared: "I can't honestly say I saw anything that was excessive."

There was such a dearth of oversight from Holder's office that Washington police failed to count almost a third of the people killed by their officers from 1994 to 1997. Even when police review boards ruled shootings were unjustified or found contradictions in officers' testimony, police were not prosecuted. In one case, an officer shot an unarmed suspect four times in the back while he was lying on the ground. But Holder's office never bothered interviewing the shooter.

Shortly after Holder became U.S. attorney, a local judge slammed the district government for its "deliberate indifference" to police brutality complaints. In 1995, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which purportedly investigated police abuses, was shut down because it was overwhelmed by a backlog of accusations from citizens. Despite the collapse of the system's safeguards, Holder's office remained asleep at the switch. Executive assistant police chief Terrance Gainer admitted: "We shoot too often, and we shoot too much when we do shoot."

Holder now trumpets the need for openness, but in the 1990s he acceded to pervasive secrecy. The Post noted: "The extent and pattern of police shootings have been obscured from public view. Police officials investigate incidents in secret, producing reports that become public only when a judge intercedes."

The series sparked an uproar that resulted in the Justice Department's civil rights division investigating Washington police shootings from the prior five years. And who did Attorney General Janet Reno put in charge of that effort? Eric Holder. When I looked for any charges resulting from Holder's investigation, I couldn't find any, so I asked the Justice Department to look. It couldn't find any, either.

James Bovard is the author, most recently, of a new e-book memoir, Public Policy Hooligan. 

Earlier notes

Sam Smith, Progressive Review - Holder has led a charmed life until recently. As US Attorney in DC, he was under the patronage of the Washington Post, which started boosting him as a suitably conservative black candidate for mayor. Unfortunately, despite Holder's willingness to lock up any DC miscreant for as long as anyone who offered him a job wanted, no one could point to anything that Holder had really done other than to give comforting speeches to white business groups. The Post mayoral trial balloon burst before take-off.

Holder, however, soon was given the Web Hubbell chair at Justice. Everything was rolling along just fine until scandals erupted in the DC police department and other city agencies. Now it appears that Holder was just a little lackadaisical in following important leads that might have blown the cover on wrong-doings. Even the Washington Post quotes a senior prosecutor as saying that Holder's office shelved an investigation into a $1-million-a-year corruption case in the DC Water and Sewer Authority.

One of Holder's predecessors, Joseph DiGenova, says, "When you have corruption staring you in the face, and you fail to act, you should resign. You can't worry about judgeships or your next job." And this from former city auditor Otis Troupe: "For years, in audit after audit, and in newspaper article after newspaper articles, we have established fact patterns that constitute crimes. And in all but a handful of case, nobody did anything in the prosecutor's office."

Nonetheless, Holder is still trying to stay in the establishment's good graces by chairing a sentencing commission that is expected to recommend even more severe penalties for those convicted in DC , which already locks up its violent criminals longer than anywhere else in the country. He also remains active on the local scene, helping those politicians with a punishment fetish figure out nifty new tricks. One of the latest seems to have his fingerprints on it: a measure that would take away the right of protestors on federal property to a jury trial. The gimmick: reduce the maximum penalty for the offense so it falls below DC's limit for jury trials. Then when protestors are arrested, hit them with multiple minor offenses. Result: long jail sentences but no need for a jury. Holder beta tested this constitutional assault on other sorts of cases while US Attorney. Sometimes ambition is not a pretty sight.

Word: A Quaker look at the Mid East

Aed Jarrar, American Friends Service committee, Chicago Tribune  - No one can deny that Iraq is in crisis. There is a political, humanitarian and military catastrophe taking place in the country, and it is only getting worse. The Sunni extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State has been involved in massive violations of human rights, including murder, ethnic cleansing and torture. But the Iraqi government forces, government-backed Shiite militias and other ethnic and sectarian militias have also been committing gross human rights abuses.

“In the last decade or so, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed, and almost 5 million have been displaced — one of the largest ethnic and sectarian cleansing campaigns in the history of the Middle East. Serious crimes have been committed by almost every political faction in Iraq. While focusing on the actions of one terrorist group might be good for an easy narrative where the United States and its allies step in to save the day, the other participants in Iraq’s civil war are literally getting away with murder. A new U.S. military intervention in such a complex conflict is not sustainable and will not help Iraqis build their nation or fight extremism.

Humanitarian assistance is much needed and welcomed, but it should go through legitimate UN and other international agencies. As it stands, it is being used as a pretext to sneak in military strikes and more arms to some of Iraq’s fighting factions. …

The United States, for its part, is not a charity organization, nor is it a neutral bystander. Washington is an active participant in the conflict. In addition to authorizing direct strikes, the Obama administration continues to arm the Iraqi government forces and ethnic Iraqi militias and paramilitary groups. Even since the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2011, Washington has continued its intervention in Iraq by selectively arming and training some sides of the civil conflict. The practical implications of this policy are devastating for the future of Iraq because it increases divisions and makes it harder for Iraqis to unite. Arming Iraqi factions is also a path of dubious legality, and it is illegal under U.S. and international law to arm and train groups implicated in gross human rights violations.

“The crisis in today’s Iraq is not a result of a natural disaster — it is a direct consequence of earlier U.S. military interventions. Much of the destruction in Iraq’s infrastructure, state legitimacy and national identity was either caused directly by the United States or happened under its watch. The United States also played a lead role in installing the current ethno-sectarian political system that continues to be one of the most corrupt and dysfunctional in the world.

Worst tweet of the month

 

Health stats


Getting better
Heart attack deaths in decline

Obesity in 2-5 year olds has dropped 43% in past decade

Smoking cigarettes is down about 50% over the past 60 years
Strokes decline over past ten years
Global child mortality has nearly halved in the past two decades thanks to a mixture of better aid and economic growth in poorer countries, according to a UN report. Research showed fewer than seven million children under the age of five died last year compared with nearly 12 million in 1990.

Web MD - Researchers found the risk of dying has dropped by 60% over the last 75 years. The CDC report on trends on death rates in the U.S. shows the risk of death has decreased for all age groups, but the biggest improvement has been among young people. The death rate among children aged 1-4 declined 94% from 1935 to 2010, compared with a 38% decline among adults aged 85 or more. The biggest reduction was among the young, but declining death rates were also seen among the elderly. For example, death rates dropped by 62% among people aged 65-74, 58% among those 75-84, and 38% for people 85 and older.

2013

The combined cancer death rate (deaths per 100,000 population) has been continuously declining for 2 decades, from a peak of 215.1 in 1991 to 171.8 in 2010. This 20% decline translates to the avoidance of approximately 1,340,400 cancer deaths (952,700 among men and 387,700 among women) during this time period.
Getting worse
2014

Syphilis has reached its highest level since 1995.

CNN - The estimated number of U.S. autistic kids has skyrocketed by 78% since 2000, according to a report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in 88 American kids has autism, according to the new figures. Among boys, it's one in 54.

2013

Percentage change in the past decade in the suicide rate of U.S. men in their fifties: +49

Major increase in middle aged suicides

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Pocket paradigms

The democratic franchise, while greatly broadened from a time when only propertied white males could vote, has lost its depth. We have, in effect, more people sharing less power. Take, for example, the New England town meeting, often cited as a model of direct democracy, in which each enfranchised resident had a voice and a vote in the proceedings of the community. By the 1990s the term's meaning had been completely turned on its head: now it is a meeting, perhaps nationally televised, in which citizens of a remote, impermeable government listen to, and are cynically manipulated by, an official or candidate. All three key elements of the original town meeting -- community, decentralized power and direct democracy -- have decayed and disappeared... - Sam Smith