Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for June 6th, 2013

NSA: It’s worse than we thought

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Barton Gellman and Laura Poitrus report in the Washington Post:

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.

The highly classified program, code-named PRISM, has not been disclosed publicly before. Its establishment in 2007 and six years of exponential growth took place beneath the surface of a roiling debate over the boundaries of surveillance and privacy. Even late last year, when critics of the foreign intelligence statute argued for changes, the only members of Congress who knew about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.

An internal presentation on the Silicon Valley operation, intended for senior analysts in the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate, described the new tool as the most prolific contributor to the President’s Daily Brief, which cited PRISM data in 1,477 articles last year. According to the briefing slides, obtained by The Washington Post, “NSA reporting increasingly relies on PRISM” as its leading source of raw material, accounting for nearly 1 in 7 intelligence reports.

That is a remarkable figure in an agency that measures annual intake in the trillions of communications. It is all the more striking because the NSA, whose lawful mission is foreign intelligence, is reaching deep inside the machinery of American companies that host hundreds of millions of American-held accounts on American soil.

The technology companies, which participate knowingly in PRISM operations, include most of the dominant global players of Silicon Valley. They are listed on a roster that bears their logos in order of entry into the program: “Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.” PalTalk, although much smaller, has hosted significant traffic during the Arab Spring and in the ongoing Syrian civil war.

Dropbox , the cloud storage and synchronization service, is described as “coming soon.”

Government officials declined to comment for this article.

PRISM is an heir, in one sense, to a history of intelligence alliances with as many as 100 trusted U.S. companies since the 1970s. The NSA calls these Special Source Operations, and PRISM falls under that rubric. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2013 at 4:02 pm

President Obama’s Dragnet

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The editorial board of the NY Times:

Within hours of the disclosure that the federal authorities routinely collect data on phone calls Americans make, regardless of whether they have any bearing on a counterterrorism investigation, the Obama administration issued the same platitude it has offered every time President Obama has been caught overreaching in the use of his powers: Terrorists are a real menace and you should just trust us to deal with them because we have internal mechanisms (that we are not going to tell you about) to make sure we do not violate your rights.

Those reassurances have never been persuasive — whether on secret warrants to scoop up a news agency’s phone records or secret orders to kill an American suspected of terrorism — especially coming from a president who once promised transparency and accountability. The administration has now lost all credibility. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it. That is one reason we have long argued that the Patriot Act, enacted in the heat of fear after the 9/11 attacks by members of Congress who mostly had not even read it, was reckless in its assignment of unnecessary and overbroad surveillance powers.

Based on an article in The Guardian published Wednesday night, we now know the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency used the Patriot Act to obtain a secret warrant to compel Verizon’s business services division to turn over data on every single call that went through its system. We know that this particular order was a routine extension of surveillance that has been going on for years, and it seems very likely that it extends beyond Verizon’s business division. There is every reason to believe the federal government has been collecting every bit of information about every American’s phone calls except the words actually exchanged in those calls.

A senior administration official quoted in The Times offered the lame observation that the information does not include the name of any caller, as though there would be the slightest difficulty in matching numbers to names. He said the information “has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats,” because it allows the government “to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States.”

That is a vital goal, but how is it served by collecting everyone’s call data? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2013 at 3:00 pm

Sequestration is working (from the GOP point of view)

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2013 at 2:08 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Wonder when the GOP will love Obamacare

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Kevin Drum offers a thought at Mother Jones:

First Read, after noting that Obamacare is getting steadily more unpopular, explains why:

The Obama White House has a massive PR problem with health care. The biggest reason: Opponents of this law have been very vocal, while supporters have done very little to drum up support. The president doesn’t sell it that often, and many arms of the Democratic Party essentially avoid it. Politics abhors a vacuum, and opponents — not supporters — have filled the health-care vacuum.

Yep. Three years after passage, conservatives remain revved up and on the warpath about Obamacare. They vastly outspend supporters on the airwaves; conservative talkers attack it relentlessly; think tanks write reports predicting doom over every conceiveable piece of bad news; Republican House members schedule endless repeal votes; and Republicans in both chambers do everything they can to sabotage its rollout.

In the meantime, many liberals remain….lukewarm. Why? I find it hard to fathom. It’s true that we didn’t get everything we wanted. We didn’t get a public option. We gave away lots of goodies to corporate interest groups. We fought those wars and lost, and as a result, the very people who ought to be defending Obamacare most vigorously are, instead, still sulking in their tents. The left is, basically, fighting with one hand tied behind its back.

Even granting that I’m temperamentally more tolerant of compromise than many people, I still find this inexplicable. You fight your fights, and sometimes you lose. That’s the way politics is and always has worked. But Obamacare is an historic piece of legislation regardless. Despite all the Republican tantrums, it’s going to provide decent healthcare to tens of millions of Americans who didn’t have it before. And like other social welfare programs before it, it will eventually expand and cover even more people. It’s something to be proud of, and something to defend robustly, not something to slink away from.

And in that context, take a look at Ezra Klein’s piece, “Will young adults want Obamacare? Let’s ask a young person who’d know.” and also “California is the White House’s proof that Obamacare is working” by Sandhya Somashekhar and Sarah Kliff.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2013 at 1:07 pm

Press Sleeps Through the Great Post Office Fire Sale

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Interesting article by Gray Brechin at AlterNet:

In 1906, surveyor Stephen Puter wrote a tell-all book from prison, Looters of the Public Domain, which details how Puter transferred thousands of acres of prime timberlands in Oregon and Washington from public to private owners. This sort of hustle was common in the 19th century, when much of the public domain was enclosed and converted into private fortunes with congressional help.

History is repeating itself today with the nation’s postal service, and much of the press is asleep at the wheel.

The public in 1906 became aware of frauds like Puter’s because the U.S. then had a diverse and competitive media environment willing to support gumshoe journalists as well as a president willing to investigate and prosecute criminal activity at the highest level — even U.S. senators of his own party. How times have changed as we now watch the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) looted like prime timberland. A venerable institution that helped build the country is being gutted. This is not, as the mainstream media slothfully claims, because the Internet has rendered it obsolete, but because it represents lumber ripe for the taking while what’s left of the press takes an extended holiday from curiosity.

Last July, the USPS succeeded in uniting a famously fractious town when it announced plans to sell Berkeley’s century-old downtown post office. Berkeley has, ever since, proved a public relations migraine for USPS management. USPS occasionally [3] meets its legal obligation to take public comment on pending sales, and it did so in Berkeley on February 26 at a meeting where USPS representatives endured hours of abuse and outrage from an overflow crowd at the old City Hall. The city council and mayor unanimously condemned the proposed sale. Activists demonstrated at the historic post office, gathered petition signatures, and — in lieu of local press — leafletted town residents about what they were about to lose.

Perhaps because of that unprecedented resistance, Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe paid Mayor Bates the courtesy of a letter [4] he said would “clarify the facts about the Postal Service’s financial crisis.”

That crisis, Donohoe claimed, has forced him to radically shrink his agency while selling properties paid for by U.S. taxpayers for over a century. Among those properties are architecturally distinguished, landmarked and centrally located post offices like Berkeley’s, many of them containing a gallery of unique New Deal murals and sculpture intended for and belonging to the American people. The handsome buildings marked by flagpoles are often the only federal presence in small towns where they double as community centers — and those public venues are vanishing under Donohoe’s watch.

The Postmaster General insisted that his agency’s nearly $16 billion deficit is not the result of a “manufactured crisis.” He neglected to mention the Republican Party’s stated intention [5] to “modernize” the 238-year-old agency by privatizing it. Nor did he cite the pro-privatization white papers churned out by right-wing and libertarian think tanks like Cato [6] and American Enterprise [7], or the political contributions [8] lavished on congressional representatives by private carriers lusting for the USPS profit centers, or that some of those representatives and their spouses would like to “reform” the USPS right out of existence [9].

Absent, too, was any mention of the ruinous . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2013 at 12:18 pm

No Warrant, No Problem: How the Government Can Still Get Your Digital Data

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ProPublica has a good guide to what information on you the US government can take quite legally, thanks to the indifference most citizens have about liberty, freedom, and civil rights.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2013 at 12:16 pm

Posted in Daily life, NSA, Technology

When religion stands in the way of good medical practice

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I really hate how some religions go all out in trying to impose their own rules on those who do not follow the religion: it is presumptuous and inappropriate. But that doesn’t seem to slow them down. Valerie Traico notes a particularly egregious and harmful movement afoot in the US:

Across the U.S., religious healthcare corporations are absorbing  [3]once secular and independent hospitals and in the process imposing religious restrictions [4] that pit standard medical practice against theology.

Recently, a woman was traveling across the Midwest when she developed abdominal pain. She and her husband went to the nearest hospital, where she was diagnosed with a potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy. The doctors recommended immediate surgery to remove the fallopian tube containing the misplaced embryo, a procedure that would reduce by half her future chances of conceiving a child. They failed to mention that a simple injection [5] of Methotrexate would solve the problem, leaving her fertility intact. Why the omission? The Catholic hospital where she got diagnosed was subject to the “Ethical and Religious Directives [6]” of the Catholic bishops, which state, “In case of extrauterine pregnancy, no intervention is morally licit which constitutes a direct abortion.”

According to Catholic moralists, an injection that destroys an ectopic embryo is a direct abortion, while removing the part of a woman’s reproductive system containing the embryo is not. While this may sound strange (or abhorrent) to outsiders, it has its own internal logic [7]. Catholic ethics ultimately are determined by theologically based perceptions of what actions God approves and doesn’t approve. While compassion does matter, the end goal is to improve the spiritual standing or righteousness of the person performing the action. These theological dictates may or may not align with the questions that govern secular medical ethics and practice: how to minimize harm and suffering or maximize wellbeing while respecting patient autonomy.

In 2010, a pregnant Nicaraguan woman [8] with metastatic cancer was denied treatment because chemotherapy could harm her fetus, which doctors refused to remove. Though many Protestants disagree, Catholic theology treats any product of conception as a fully formed human being, with rights equal to a woman from the moment of conception whether or not there is any possibility of it actually becoming a person. This means that abortion is an inherently bad action, regardless of outcomes. Nicaraguan law, rooted in this theology, prohibits all abortion even when a woman’s life is at stake. In 2012, a 16-year-old Dominican girl also was denied treatment [9] for weeks while doctors debated whether chemotherapy would constitute an abortion. She eventually miscarried and later died.

Christianity traditionally has regarded women as vessels [10]—vessels for evil, and for babies. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety (1 Timothy 2: 13-15). As a consequence, Catholic rules addressing reproduction are particularly convoluted, and sometimes patients pay the price:

 A Catholic doctor at a Catholic hospital went against my daughter’s wishes and signed consent to have a hysterectomy because of severe endometriosis. One ovary had already exploded. My daughter had never intended or desired children nor was she in a suitable situation to have a child. She was single, in her late 20s. When she awoke from surgery she learned that the doctor had overridden her wishes and consent in an attempt to save her fertility. The operation was botched, leaving my daughter on permanent disability, in pain, with even more health problems than she’d had before. – Comment at Truthout  [4]

Secular medical ethics [11] evolved to promote patient welfare and autonomy. As better treatment options become available, providers are expected to keep their skills and knowledge up to date so that they can provide accurate information about the range of options and offer the services most likely to create the best health outcomes for patients. Violation of these norms is considered malpractice.

Medical malpractice can be defined [12] as: “Improper, unskilled, or negligent treatment of a patient by a physician, dentist, nurse, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional.” Whether or not a healthcare provider has provided excellent or unacceptable care depends on the general state of healthcare at the time service is provided. According to the Legal Dictionary: . . .

Continue reading.

People whose religion forbids them to use contraceptives or to have abortions can follow those dictates. But for them to impose those restrictions on everyone is intolerable (and intolerant) overreach.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2013 at 12:13 pm

The Chinese cyber-intelligence effort

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Steven Rosenfeld reports at AlterNet:

Silicon Valley is now ground zero of the biggest espionage struggles facing the United States since the height of the Cold War. The glitzy suburbs between San Francisco and San Jose are filled with agents playing a cat-and-mouse game over stealing high-tech secrets after the Chinese accomplished [3] what the Soviets only dreamed of.

In 2009, China hacked [4] into Google to see which of its spies were known to the FBI by tracing secret FBI data requests. Two years later, China hacked [5] into RSA, a company hired by defense contractors to encrypt their computers and stole detailed plans [3] for major U.S. weapons systems including new fighter planes, worth trillions, and critical domestic infrastructure including gas pipelines.

The military hardware thefts have been called the largest transfer of intellectual property “in history [6]” by top national security officials and arguably are a bigger intelligence failure than al-Qaeda’s attacks on September 11, 2001.

They are now front-page news [3] as President Obama plans to meet China’s president on Friday. The White House’s press briefings [7] say cybersecurity will be discussed, but do not mention the military secrets thefts [5]. Instead, the briefings make it sound as if the only issue is stealing the newest consumer products. They do not mention what Obama will say in response.

With this information gap in the news, it’s inevitable that in San Francisco, where the best and brightest techies board chartered buses to commute to the Valley, there is gossip about big data, big government, spying and counter-espionage. Silicon Valley has long been home to companies that have done clandestine work for Washington’s intelligence agencies, so the rumors about what’s being done to stop Chinese spying are more than intriguing—they’re worth investigating.

The most eyebrow-raising talk concerns Google and its newest innovation, the Glass project [8]. These stylish eyeglasses are a new voice-activated computing platform that replaces typing and can do almost everything [9] that smart phones now do. A small rectangular box sits atop one lens and contains next-generation processors, as well as a video and still camera and microphone. The screen is in the corner of one eye. Sound vibrates through the glass frame, not ear buds.

The gossip about Glass goes far beyond the significant list of privacy concerns [10] that arise because anything within eyesight or earshot can seen, heard, recorded and uploaded for data mining. According to one beta-tester with a military-intelligence background, Glass’ 1,500 or so testers are unknowing eyes and ears of a bold anti-espionage strategy. He claimed that an army of Glass-wearing geeks in the Bay Area’s high-tech nooks and crannies was allowing U.S. spy agencies to find and follow Chinese agents in real time.

That assertion is built on other premises that were explained. Google and the government have ties that neither want to disclose, such as spy agency access to all of Google’s data. Glass’ facial recognition capacities may not be ready [11] for public use just yet—just as Facebook got beat up [12] when it announced a similar feature last year. But they are there and have prompted Congress’ bipartisan Privacy Caucus to voice concerns [10] about Glass.

“There’s an extraordinary amount of meta data associated with each of those images that you don’t think about, because you think I’m just taking a picture of my friends in a bar,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, which has criticized [10] Glass for possible creepy uses, from stalkers following women to cops identifying protesters. “That’s why the government is so interested in it. They want access to that data.”

Rotenberg had not heard about Glass’ possible use for tracing high-tech spies. But EPIC [13] has gone further than any other public-interest group in tracing Google’s relationship to the National Security Agency, the nation’s largest spy agancy. It sued under the federal Freedom of Information Act to obtain copies of security cooperation agreements [14] that Google made with the NSA after the Chinse hack of FBI records. That lawsuit was shut down [15] by a federal judge last year.

“Everyone is writing about this as if it is a ‘Dear Beth’ column: what do I do if my date is wearing Google Glass?” he said. “That’s kind of an interesting dilemma. But I think that misses the larger question of what do we do when the world’s largest Internet hub and user team is collecting the images and sounds that people obtain in physical space?”

Is Google Glass spyware?

The questions about the Chinese hacks and Google’s role in combatting cyber intrusions arise because of the way that electronic information is created and stored in 2013—literally in computer-filled warehouses where every transaction never goes away.

AlterNet investigated what was known about the Chinese hacking, as well as the assertion about Glass’ use for domestic spying and Google’s ties to the NSA. Google, as expected, would not comment. AlterNet found a far more nuanced and disturbing story than the sexy claim that Glass was a new set of eyes and ears for Washington spymasters. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2013 at 11:58 am

Selective use of “terrorist”

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Nima Shirazi reports at ConsortiumNews.com:

In late May, a threatening letter laced with the deadly chemical ricin was sent from Shreveport, Louisiana, to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a response to the mayor’s outspoken support for stricter gun control laws. Two identical letters, also containing the lethal substance, were addressed to both President Barack Obama and the head of the Washington D.C. lobbying group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which is managed and funded by Bloomberg himself.

The contents of the letters are clearly the work of a right-wing gun nut and read as follows: “You will have to kill me and my family before you get my guns. Anyone wants to come to my house will get shot in the face. The right to bear arms is my constitutional, god-given right and I will exercise that right till the day I die. What’s in this letter is nothing compared to what I’ve got planned for you.”

Despite lethally targeting civilians and non-military officials far from any active battlefield, no one is referring to these acts as terrorism. Not the press, not political pundits, not the intended victims. No one.In fact, Bloomberg himself was nonplussed [sic—the writer doesn’t seem to know the meaning of the word – LG] by the whole ordeal, telling reporters on May 30, “I’m not angry. There are people who I would argue do things that may be irrational, do things that are wrong, but it’s a very complex world out there and we just have to deal with that.”

Yes, Mike, it is a very complex world. This world is so complex, in fact, that an easily identifiable act of terrorism isn’t considered terrorism for one simple reason: it probably wasn’t committed by a Muslim, but rather by some white guy in the South.

Clearly, while white guys who send murderous mail are merely acting irrationally and doing something wrong, potential violence by members of the Muslim faith present a singular threat to our civilized society. So much so, in fact, that Michael Bloomberg himself believes our own laws and the bedrock of that very society are not good enough to defend against such a scourge to humanity.

In April, following the horrific Boston Marathon bombing, Bloomberg declared that the American obsession with privacy, civil rights and basic freedoms were antiquated and trite when compared to the dire threat posed by hypothetical barbarian hordes of “Islamists.”

At a press conference at the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, Bloomberg said, “The people who are worried about privacy have a legitimate worry. But we live in a complex world where you’re going to have to have a level of security greater than you did back in the olden days, if you will. And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.”

Yes, how complex it is. So complex that, although a 2010 study by Duke University and the University of North Carolina found that Islamic terrorism accounted for only six percent of all terrorist attacks in the United States between 1980 and 2005 while a 2012 analysis by the Center for American Progress reported that a whopping “[f]ifty-six percent of domestic terrorist attacks and plots in the U.S. since 1995 have been perpetrated by right-wing extremists,” Michael Bloomberg has made it his duty to illegally spy on and harass Muslim communities in the New York Metro area.

Bloomberg has presided over . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2013 at 11:51 am

Posted in Terrorism

The CIA doesn’t know whom it kills with its drone attacks, and it really doesn’t care

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The important thing for the CIA is that it never faces any accountability for its misdeeds—see the CIA decision to destroy all videos of their torture sessions. And Obama enables this. Natasha Lennard in Salon:

Further affirming skepticism in the human rights community that “targeted killing” is a poor description of the CIA’s drone program, a new NBC investigation found that the agency regularly did not know who it was killing with the strikes.

As Richard Engel and Robert Windrem reported, having reviewed months of classified documents:

About one of every four of those killed by drones in Pakistan between Sept. 3, 2010, and Oct. 30, 2011, were classified as “other militants,” the documents detail. The “other militants” label was used when the CIA could not determine the affiliation of those killed, prompting questions about how the agency could conclude they were a threat to U.S. national security.

The findings cement concerns that the U.S. is using dangerously broad determinations in picking strike targets, relying often merely “signature” behaviors and movements. The NBC report is further evidence disproving government claims that drone strikes precisely and specifically target al-Qaida top operatives — a notion long contested by investigative reporters, legal experts and human rights groups.

Experts have long expressed concerns borne out by NBC’s investigation. Legal clinics from NYU and Columbia Law Schools, as well as human rights groups including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, noted in a joint letter to the president:

The reported practice of so-called signature strikes, based on observation of certain patterns of behavior and other “signatures,” adds to these concerns. Signature strikes do not appear to require specific knowledge about an individual’s participation in hostilities or an imminent threat. Since their identity is unknown, even during the strike, these targeted individuals may be confused with civilians who cannot be targeted directly as a legal matter.

In his recent national security speech, President Obama announced that a new phase of drone wars would demand more precise identification of targets. The New York Times suggested that the policy shift might see an end to so-called signature strikes. Although, as I noted, lethal drone policy continues to be so shrouded and to rely on ill-defined rubric (such as “imminent threat”) and as such fails to allay human rights concerns.

Among its most chilling findings, NBC revealed that, even while admitting that the identities of many killed by drones were not known, the CIA documents asserted that all those dead were enemy combatants. The logic is twisted: If we kill you, then you were an enemy combatant. Via NBC:

In some cases, U.S. officials also seem unsure how many people died. One entry says that a drone attack killed seven to 10 people, while another says that an attack killed 20 to 22.

Yet officials seem certain that however many people died, and whoever they were, none were non-combatants. In fact, of the approximately 600 people listed as killed in the documents, only one is described as a civilian. The individual was identified to NBC News as the wife or girlfriend of an al Qaida leader.

Tracing drone strikes and their casualties since 2004, the U.K.’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that up to 884 civilians (non-combatants, by international legal standards) may have been killed in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan.

Watch NBC’s report: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2013 at 11:46 am

The origin of the FDA in the Elixir Tragedy of 1937

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The FDA, as part of the GOP effort to slash the size of government, is now underfunded and understaffed and unable to do its job—putting us all at risk, but Big Pharma and Big Food love it. Jef Akst writes in The Scientist:

The US Food and Drug Administration’s role in the regulation of novel medicines was born out of tragedy. Seventy-one adults and 34 children died in the fall of 1937 after taking a drug called Elixir Sulfanilamide to treat a variety of ailments, from gonorrhea to sore throat. At that time, the FDA, which had been launched in 1906 as the Bureau of Chemistry, served simply to police claims made about food and drug ingredients. No formal government approval was required to market new drugs.

“The initial 1906 legislation was relatively weak,” says Paul Wax, a medical toxicologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “There had to be some truth to what [drug companies] were selling . . . but in terms of safety, let alone efficacy, that wasn’t part of the equation.”

That all changed in 1938, after the deaths linked to Elixir Sulfanilamide had become a national scandal. Six years earlier, German pathologist and bacteriologist Gerhard Domagk discovered that a chemical called prontosil protected against certain bacterial infections in mice. Further research demonstrated that the compound’s active ingredient, sulfanilimide, could fight streptococcal infections in humans, prompting several pharmaceutical companies—including Merck, Squibb, and Eli Lilly—to begin making sulfanilamide drugs. These medicines were mostly formulated as capsules and tablets, but the S.E. Massengill Company of Bristol, Tennessee, decided that a liquid form of sulfanilamide could also be a big seller.

Massengill’s chief chemist concocted a solution of 10 percent sulfanilamide, 72 percent diethylene glycol, and 16 percent water. The company’s internal control lab approved the solution’s appearance, taste, and fragrance—it was flavored with raspberry extract, saccharin, and caramel, among other ingredients—and by September 1937, Massengill had distributed 240 gallons of the liquid, called Elixir Sulfanilamide, across the country.

But commercial success soon soured, as the first deaths were reported in October: six patients in Tulsa, Oklahoma, died of renal failure following treatment with the drug. FDA Commissioner Walter Campbell immediately ordered the vast majority of the agency’s 239 inspectors and chemists to investigate, and researchers quickly fingered the medicine’s solvent, diethylene glycol, as the cause of the deaths. But under the regulations of the time, Massengill hadn’t really done anything wrong: analyses of the concoction taken by the Tulsa patients revealed the ingredients to be exactly what the company had said they were. (The company had only broken the law by calling the medicine an “elixir,” a designation that was reserved for drugs containing ethanol.)

The disaster provoked a public outcry that . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2013 at 11:36 am

On the whole, gay parents do a better job than straight parents

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At least in one large-scale study in Australia. However, the opposition to gay couples as parents has nothing to do with facts and everything to do with a distaste for diversity.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2013 at 11:01 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Apple seems to have opened a can of worms in its lawsuit against Samsung

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Now Samsung has sued Apple—and won.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2013 at 10:58 am

Posted in Business, Technology

Going from “Starve the government” to “Starve the poor”

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The US seems to be supporting a new large-scale effort. Under Lyndon Johnson we had the War on Poverty; now we have the War on the Poor. James Rosen reports for McClatchy:

Billions of dollars in funding cuts for food stamps, contained in bills moving through Congress, have split Democratic lawmakers and angered advocates for the poor, who criticize the cuts as heartless attempts to reduce the federal budget deficit.

The anti-hunger lobbyists are especially disappointed by Democrats who in recent weeks have voted for the cuts in legislation that passed the House of Representatives and Senate agriculture committees last month, measures that also contain controversial aid to farmers.

“Food stamps have been protected for decades,” said Ellen Teller, the head of governmental affairs for Food Research and Action Center, a Washington advocacy group. “This is the first time they’re being cut for deficit reduction. We think it’s wrong to pay down the deficit on the backs of the poor.”

Teller and others who work to protect low-income Americans are dismayed because food stamps were among the safety net programs that Congress exempted from the forced across-the-board cuts now in effect under the system known as sequestration.

Food stamps and aid to farmers have been paired in single measures for years in order to draw the support of lawmakers from agricultural states and those who represent large numbers of poor people, many of whom are clustered in urban areas.

But with rising federal debt and increased demands for reducing budget deficits, both programs have come under attack from fiscal hawks in Congress who campaigned on promises to slash government spending.

The Senate has been considering dozens of amendments to the measure this week that would reduce food stamp funds by $4 billion over a decade with specific cuts aimed to certain recipient categories. Such cuts would reduce benefits for about 840,000 of the 47 million recipients. A Senate vote on that bill might come as early as Thursday.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat who crafted the farm bill that’s now on the Senate floor, defended the measure. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2013 at 10:53 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life, Food

Manning: Guilty of Aiding Democracy

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Norman Soloman writes at ConsortiumNews.com:

Of all the charges against Bradley Manning, the most pernicious — and revealing — is “aiding the enemy.” A blogger at The New Yorker, Amy Davidson, raised a pair of big questions that now loom over the courtroom at Fort Meade and over the entire country:

–“Would it aid the enemy, for example, to expose war crimes committed by American forces or lies told by the American government?”

–“In that case, who is aiding the enemy — the whistleblower or the perpetrators themselves?”When the deceptive operation of the warfare state can’t stand the light of day, truth-tellers are a constant hazard. And culpability must stay turned on its head. That’s why accountability was upside-down when the U.S. Army prosecutor laid out the government’s case against Bradley Manning in an opening statement:

“This is a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of classified documents and dumped them onto the Internet, into the hands of the enemy – material he knew, based on his training, would put the lives of fellow soldiers at risk.”

If so, those fellow soldiers have all been notably lucky; the Pentagon has admitted that none died as a result of Manning’s leaks in 2010. But many of his fellow soldiers lost their limbs or their lives in U.S. warfare made possible by the kind of lies that the U.S. government is now prosecuting Bradley Manning for exposing.

In the real world, as Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, prosecution for leaks is extremely slanted. “Let’s apply the government’s theory in the Manning case to one of the most revered journalists in Washington: Bob Woodward, who has become one of America’s richest reporters, if not the richest, by obtaining and publishing classified information far more sensitive than anything WikiLeaks has ever published,” Greenwald wrote in January.

He noted that “one of Woodward’s most enthusiastic readers was Osama bin Laden,” as a 2011 video from al-Qaeda made clear. And Greenwald added that “the same Bob Woodward book [Obama’s Wars] that Osama bin Laden obviously read and urged everyone else to read disclosed numerous vital national security secrets far more sensitive than anything Bradley Manning is accused of leaking.

Doesn’t that necessarily mean that top-level government officials who served as Woodward’s sources, and the author himself, aided and abetted al-Qaida?”

But the prosecution of Manning is about carefully limiting the information that reaches the governed. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2013 at 10:47 am

Let the mouth-frothing begin

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This reads like a parody but I believe the writer is serious. The comments are good, as well. My own comment:

Excellent! At first I thought you were serious, but the further I read in the article, the more obvious it became that it was a parody. Quite good. Comparing bikes in New York City to the firebombing of Dresden, though, is too much. Even for a parody that goes too far and gives the game away.

Still: wonderful send-up of Dorothy Rabinowitz’s ravings. Good work.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2013 at 10:22 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government

9 points about the NSA surveillance of the US citizenry

with 2 comments

Joshua Foust blogs:

Ugh, the NSA “scandal” is already hurting my brain. The stupid burns! So here’s what you need to know about it:

1. Congress voted to legalize expansive surveillance powers in 2001 (The USA PATRIOT ACT), 2008 (retroactive immunity for warantless NSA wiretaps in the FISA Amendments Act), and in 2012 (renewing the FISA Amendments Act).

2. Congress declined to force administration transparency/honesty on secret interpretations of the law in 2001 (USA PATRIOT ACT), 2008 (NSA immunity), 2011 (the Wyden amendment to the NDAA, which would have required interpretations not be secret) & 2012 (the similar Markley amendment to the NDAA). Those last two actually got voted down, which means Congress voted to enable secret government legal interpretation.

3. All of the opprobrium you should feel at the government’s ridiculously broad surveillance powers needs to be directed at CONGRESS, which keeps approving them while voting they stay secret.

4. The NSA, despite the broad nature of its warrant request, did nothing illegal, and the supposed illegality of the FISC procedure has not been demonstrated.

5. The information the NSA is collecting is metadata, not content (like a wiretap), and not account names. Uncovering personally identifiable information would require separate warrants to do so. This was a pattern analysis, not really mass surveillance as we traditionally understand it. Anyone who calls this a “wiretap” is probably stupid or didn’t read the order.

6. Judging by the order (and not the media coverage about the order), it seems to have an end date of July 19, sucking up data for the three months before. That would make its effective start date April 19, which is the day Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was arrested in Boston. Not saying there’s a link, but the timing might turn out not to be coincidental.

7. . .

Continue reading.

The American people are acquiescing in the loss of freedom and liberty. We don’t need people to own guns, we need people to inform themselves and vote. (I admit it’s easier just to buy a gun, but guns will not help. Those who thing they count mount a successful rebellion against the US government (and its military) by using small arms are deluded at best.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2013 at 10:15 am

States want drug tests for welfare recipients, a terrible idea.

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Harold Pollack in the Washington Post:

Many forms of public assistance have not kept pace with the rising poverty during the great recession. This quiet human failure has proved particularly acute with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) — our nation’s cash assistance system for poor single mothers and their children.

Here in Illinois, for example, the number of TANF-recipient families dropped by 84 percent between 1997 and 2011. Our state TANF rolls remain stuck at 30,000 families per month, markedly below what they were in 2006 before the great recession struck. Of course, the trend is national. As I’ve noted here before, the percentage of low-income children receiving cash assistance has plummeted. Despite what you mighthear on the radio, folding federal disability programs into the mix doesn’t change this reality.

TANF benefits are quite low. That’s most obvious in the deep-red states. Mississippi’s maximum monthly cash benefit for a family of three is $170. Illinois’ $432 maximum monthly benefit is better, but only marginally. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the combined value of TANF and food stamps allows Illinois families to reach 60 percent of the federal poverty line.

Given such realities, legislators across the country should be exploring how to address serious unmet needs among millions of families in a tough economy. Instead, in many state capitals, precisely the opposite conversation is going on.

A surprising number of states are pondering one extremely bad idea: suspicionless, population-based screening of welfare recipients for illicit drug use. Such proposals periodically reappear, despite an almost complete lack of evidence that they accomplish very much.

This month, the Michigan House approved such a measure. The news story from the Associated Press explains:

Legislation requiring some form of drug testing or screening for welfare recipients has been proposed in at least 29 states this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Measures have passed in eight states.

It’s especially ironic that Michigan is pondering that legislation, since that state was the site of a previous, spectacularly unsuccessful drug testing effort 13 years ago.

Between 1999 and 2005, I and my co-authors published a series of papers that explored drug use among welfare recipients. We examined Michigan-specific longitudinal data from the Women’s Employment Study (WES). We also examined nationally representative trend data from the hilariously misnamed National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) and the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

The latter two surveys are not ideal. Surveys that properly explore substance use disorders are poor at capturing socioeconomic variables such as welfare receipt. Meanwhile, well-designed economic surveys tend to be poor at capturing data related to substance use. I wish the NSDUH and NHSDA  included better methodologies to verify respondents’ self-reports. . .

Continue reading. There’s lots more and this is one of those ideas that will not die despite all evidence that it’s a bad idea (cf. War on Drugs).

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2013 at 10:10 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

When facts change, so should policies

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Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas make a good point in the Washington Post:

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

John Maynard Keynes said that. Or maybe he didn’t. When the facts change, I change the attribution on my quotes, as John Maynard Keynes didn’t say.

The D.C. version is, when the facts change, you should change your policies. As a new report from the liberal Center for American Progress points out, the budget and economic facts have changed rather dramatically over the last few years. But the policies haven’t.

Here are some of the facts that have changed since deficit-mania swept the town in 2010: We’ve enacted $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction. Health-care costs have slowed beyond our wildest hopes. Interest rates and inflation have remained low despite widespread predictions that deficits and aggressive monetary policy would drive them high. The economy has remained weak. Sequestration has taken effect. That’s a lot of change.

Has anyone changed their policies since 2010? Even a little bit?

Take the Republicans. Rep. Paul Ryan’s last few budgets cut debt dramatically but didn’t balance till around 2040. In 2012, that was good enough. In 2013, though, a combination of new deficit reduction (like the tax increases in the fiscal cliff deal) and improvements in the budget forecast (due to lower projected interest rates and health spending) cut a lot of that debt on Ryan’s behalf. So with some of the urgency gone, did Ryan ease up on the cuts to programs like Medicaid and food stamps? Of course not. He just got his budget to balance in 10 years instead of 30. The facts changed. The policies in the Republican budget didn’t.

For Democrats, the central change is that sequestration is actually happening, and Republicans have decided they can live with it. So the thing that was so bad and so terrible it could never be permitted to happen has happened, and it looks like it’s going to keep happening. In response to this new reality, Democrats have changed…nothing. The Obama administration hasn’t accepted discretion to make the sequester’s cuts less onerous. Democrats haven’t offered an alternative package of spending cuts they’re happier living with. In public, they’ve kept pursuing the exact kind of budget deals that led to sequestration in the first place, and in private, they’ve simply resigned themselves to a reality they once swore they’d never permit.

For Washington more generally, the deficit has proven much less of a problem than deficit hawks feared, while the economy has recovered much more slowly than economists predicted. Has that prompted a turn away from the politics of deficits and a refocusing on how to accelerate job creation? Of course not. Insofar as economic policy gets any attention everyone is still pursuing some kind of deficit-reduction bill. But in truth, Congress has moved onto other things, from investigating scandals to trying to pass immigration reform. What does Washington do when the facts change in ways that might require inconveniently changing policies? It changes the subject.

That last line explains why Congress exhibits little to no ability to learn from experience: it avoids looking at experience.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2013 at 10:05 am

A comment on the Right’s obsessive hatred of Obama

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I thought Steve Erickson’s article in The American Prospect was worth reading. I believe most of the hatred expressed from the Right stems directly from their racist outlook. But take a look:

What are we going to do about Barack Obama? More than any president in memory he has seeped into every aspect of the nation’s collective political consciousness—not the influence or charisma or persona of Obama but the fact of him. We’ve become so vested in him one way or another that no one is capable of dispassion about anything that has to do with him even indirectly. This includes those who have supported him and find themselves rationalizing, emotionally if not intellectually, how a former constitutional lawyer can have a record on civil liberties that’s occasionally confounding when it isn’t dismaying. It also includes those to the left of Obama who have never trusted him and have been predisposed from the outset to finding him compromised and wanting.

But it’s the right, of course, that most spectacularly manifests how Obama-centric the political culture has become. Though it once seemed this couldn’t be truer than during last year’s presidential contest, it’s been more true in the wake of Obama’s reelection and most true this week when Republicans on the floor of Congress have called Obama “unfit” for office, implicitly laying the foundation for charges of impeachment for some high crime no one can intuit let alone name. From the moment of the president’s ascendancy, the right has been gripped by a monomania unprecedented in terms of how disproportionate it is in relation to reality. In contrast to Americans of all stripes closing ranks behind George W. Bush after the terrorist attacks of September 2001 (and the most controversial election in a century), the financial crisis of 2008 occasioned a furious response among many Americans that was less about what Obama did and said than about who he is, or more precisely, about who some want to believe he is. The Tea Party that so indignantly insists on its tax-exempt status as a “social welfare” movement rather than a partisan one wasn’t born in reaction to any policy of Obama’s or as a vehicle by which an alternative would be offered in face of the most potentially cataclysmic economic meltdown in 75 years. The Tea Party was a reaction to the very biography of Barack Obama and the part of it that cites as his vocation “44th President of the United States.”

Anyone who can’t acknowledge this doesn’t possess the minimum intellectual honesty that makes him or her worth engaging in conversation. The shambolic activities of the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department’s various aggressions against the press, even the tragedy of the now fading Benghazi affair (“Watergate times ten” a month ago) are valid subjects of discussion. That these things bear some investigation, however, is insufficient to a right-wing so determined to make all of them about Obama—notwithstanding that thus far there isn’t a single piece of evidence that any of them are about Obama; thus the vagaries of language concerning “tone” and “atmosphere” and “a culture of intimidation”—that it would risk making them about nothing. The right’s zeal, in other words, suggests that if these things can’t be pursued to the president’s feet, then they’re barely worth pursuing.

With the coming of Obama, the right concluded that the Daniel Patrick Moynihan maxim of being entitled to your opinions but not your own facts is for sissies and Obama is the most radical president of all time by virtue of being Obama. This is a conviction held independent of whether the deficit has fallen under Obama rather than risen, whether taxes on most Americans have gone down rather than up, whether the number of people working for the government has shrunk rather than grown, whether the auto industry has survived rather than perished, whether the economy has improved rather than declined, whether al-Qaeda is weaker rather than stronger, and whether “all time” includes the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman, and assorted Roosevelts. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2013 at 9:56 am

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