Later On

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

Archive for July 25th, 2013

Jane Austen fans

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First, she will be pictured on the £10 note, and now an interview about her books. Not with Ms. Austen, of course.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2013 at 4:59 pm

Posted in Books

Another aspect of Compassionate Conservatism

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Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:

Here’s the latest conservative brainstorm to make Obamacare fail:

With the Obama administration poised for a huge public education campaign on healthcare reform, Republicans and their allies are mobilizing a counter-offensive including town hall meetings, protests and media promotions to dissuade uninsured Americans from obtaining health coverage.

….”We’re trying to make it socially acceptable to skip the exchange,” said Dean Clancy, vice president for public policy at FreedomWorks, which boasts 6 million supporters. The group is designing a symbolic “Obamacare card” that college students can burn during campus protests.

“Socially acceptable” indeed. So not only are they going to be encouraging people to break the law, they’re literally going to be encouraging people not to buy health insurance. Nice. I wonder if FreedomWorks plans to help out the first person who takes them up on this and then contracts leukemia? I’m guessing probably not.

What’s next? A campaign to get people to skip wearing seat belts? To skip using baby seats in cars? To skip vaccinations for their kids? It’s times like this that words fail those of us with a few remaining vestiges of human decency.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2013 at 4:56 pm

Posted in GOP, Government, Healthcare

Compassionate Conservatism in reality

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Read this.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2013 at 4:48 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Why “the center” is meaningless in Washington

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Ezra Klein makes an important point in the Washington Post:

Over at the New York Times, Jonathan Martin has a front-page story titled, “Some Democrats Look to Push Party Away From Center.” The examples he gives are Elizabeth Warren looking to lower the interest rate on federally subsidized student loans, Elizabeth Warren trying to restore Glass-Steagall’s separation between investment and commercial banking, and opposition from “the left” looking to tamp down Obama’s efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare as part of a budget deal.

This is a good example of the way the concept of “the center” has been completely hollowed out.What unites the policies Martin names is that they’re really, really popular. I don’t think Warren’s proposal to tie the interest rate on student loans to the interest rate the Federal Reserve offers banks makes a ton of sense, but then, “makes a ton of sense” isn’t the point of that policy. The point of that policy is that it’s really popular to say that the federal government shouldn’t charge higher interest rates to students than they charge to banks. It’s in “the center” of public opinion, you might say.

The same goes for Warren’s proposal to bring back Glass-Steagall. Regulating the banks is really popular. Even breaking up the big banks is popular. Warren’s proposal — which is also supported by Sen. John McCain — is aimed at taking advantage of that popularity. As New York magazine’s Kevin Roose wrote of the bill, it’s not legislation that would’ve prevented the last financial crisis. Rather, it’s legislation meant to show that “on issues involving Wall Street, the center isn’t where you think it is.”

That leaves cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Along with raising taxes on the wealthy, making cuts to the social safety net is perhaps the most frequently polled policy question, and every poll comes back the same way: Cutting Social Security and Medicare is really, really unpopular. According to a recent Pew poll, 87 percent of those surveyed want to see spending on Social Security either increased or held steady, and 72 percent feel the same way about Medicare.

Martin’s article doesn’t define “the center.” But it’s not the center of public opinion. It’s more a reference to an amorphous Washington consensus. Insofar as that concept ever made sense, the idea was that it’s the legislative center, the zone of compromise where things can actually get done. But even that concept has begun to break down in recent years, as that Washington center — what you might call the “Simpson-Bowles center” — no longer holds any weight in Congress.

When you’re judging policy, “good” and “bad” are descriptions that make sense. So are “popular” and “unpopular,” and “likely to pass” and “no chance.” But “the center”? It’s time to retire that one, or at least come up with a more rigorous definition of what we mean when we use it.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2013 at 4:41 pm

Posted in Government, Politics

How you car can be hacked and crashed

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I speculated about this in an earlier post. Now Timothy Lee in the Washington Post tells us about it:

If someone hacks your computer he can cause you a lot of headaches. But he generally can’t kill you. But getting your car hacked is another story. Andy Greenberg reports on new research that shows that two recent car models are vulnerable to hacks that could interfere with a car’s steering, dashboard, and even its brakes.

Researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek demonstrated the attacks while Greenberg, a reporter for Forbes, was behind the wheel. In one attack, they activated the car’s self-parking feature while the car was driving down the road, causing the steering wheel to jerk from side to side. Because Greenberg was on an empty country road, no real damage was done. But if they pulled the same stunt on a crowded freeway it could have easily triggered an accident.

In another demonstration, they disabled the brakes while Greenberg’s vehicle was in motion. Thankfully, the vehicle was traveling slowly in an empty parking lot, but again the attack could have deadly consequences at higher speeds.

These attacks work because a modern car is essentially a computer network on wheels. With a grant from DARPA, the government agency that brought you the Internet and self-driving cars, the researchers tore apart a Ford Escape and a Toyota Prius and examined the dozens of embedded computers that control the vehicles’ systems. After tapping into the vehicles’ internal networks, they figured out how to manipulate the cars’ systems to cause mischief. Some of their findings will be detailed at next month’s Defcon conference.

Miller and Valasek executed their attacks while sitting in the backseat. If they could only be performed with physical access to the vehicle, they wouldn’t be too scary. But Greenberg points out that other researchers have previously demonstrated that some cars have onboard wireless capabilities that can be compromised remotely. Combining those two results, there’s a very real danger that in the future, cars will be vulnerable to deadly attacks by hackers thousands of miles away. . .

Continue reading.

I feel quite sure that the A brothers (CI and NS) have this down pat, and of course we continue to wonder about the high-speed crash on a straight and deserted street that took the life of reporter Michael Hastings.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2013 at 4:38 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Doublethink at the NSA

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Extremely interesting article by James Bamford in The New York Review of Books:

In mid-May, Edward Snowden, an American in his late twenties, walked through the onyx entrance of the Mira Hotel on Nathan Road in Hong Kong and checked in. He was pulling a small black travel bag and had a number of laptop cases draped over his shoulders. Inside those cases were four computers packed with some of his country’s most closely held secrets.

Within days of Snowden’s documents appearing in The Guardian and The Washington Post, revealing several of the National Security Agency’s extensive domestic surveillance programs, bookstores reported a sudden spike in the sales of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984. On, the book made the “Movers & Shakers” list and skyrocketed 6,021 percent in a single day. Written sixty-five years ago, it described a fictitious totalitarian society where a shadowy leader known as “Big Brother” controls his population through invasive surveillance. “The telescreens,” Orwell wrote, “have hidden microphones and cameras. These devices, alongside informers, permit the Thought Police to spy upon everyone….”

Today, as the Snowden documents make clear, it is the NSA that keeps track of phone calls, monitors communications, and analyzes people’s thoughts through data mining of Google searches and other online activity. “Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it,” Orwell wrote about his protagonist, Winston Smith.

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

Of course the US is not a totalitarian society, and no equivalent of Big Brother runs it, as the widespread reporting of Snowden’s information shows. We know little about what uses the NSA makes of most information available to it—it claims to have exposed a number of terrorist plots—and it has yet to be shown what effects its activities may have on the lives of most American citizens. Congressional committees and a special federal court are charged with overseeing its work, although they are committed to secrecy, and the court can hear appeals only from the government.

Still, the US intelligence agencies also seem to have adopted Orwell’s idea of doublethink—“to be conscious of complete truthfulness,” he wrote, “while telling carefully constructed lies.” For example, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, was asked at a Senate hearing in March whether “the NSA collect[s] any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Clapper’s answer: “No, sir…. Not wittingly.”

Three months later, following the revelations of the phone-log program in which the NSA collects telephone data—the numbers of both callers and the length of the calls—on hundreds of millions of Americans, Clapper switched to doublethink. He said that his previous answer was not a lie; he just chose to respond in the “least untruthful manner.” With such an Orwellian concept of the truth now being used, it is useful to take a look at what the government has been telling the public about its surveillance activities over the years, and compare it with what we know now as a result of the top secret documents and other information released by, among others, the former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden.

Looking back, the NSA and its predecessors have been gaining secret, illegal access to the communications of Americans for nearly a century. On July 1, 1920, a slim balding man in his early thirties moved into a four-story townhouse at 141 East 37th Street in Manhattan. This was the birth of the Black Chamber, theNSA’s earliest predecessor, and it would be hidden in the nondescript brownstone. But its chief, Herbert O. Yardley, had a problem. To gather intelligence for Woodrow Wilson’s government, he needed access to the telegrams entering, leaving, and passing through the country, but because of an early version of the Radio Communications Act, such access was illegal. With the shake of a hand, however, Yardley convinced Newcomb Carlton, the president of Western Union, to grant the Black Chamber secret access on a daily basis to the private messages passing over his wires—the Internet of the day.

For much of the next century, the solution would be the same: the NSA and its predecessors would enter into secret illegal agreements with the telecom companies to gain access to communications. Eventually codenamed Project Shamrock, the program finally came to a crashing halt in 1975 when a Senate committee that was investigating intelligence agency abuses discovered it. Senator Frank Church, the committee chairman, labeled the NSA program “probably the largest governmental interception program affecting Americans ever undertaken.”

As a result of the decades of illegal surveillance by the NSA, in 1978 the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was signed into law and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) came into existence. Its purpose was, for the first time, to require the NSA to get judicial approval for eavesdropping on Americans. Although the court seldom turned down a request for a warrant, or an order as it’s called, it nevertheless served as a reasonable safeguard, protecting the American public from an agency with a troubling past and a tendency to push the bounds of spying unless checked.

For a quarter of a century, the rules were followed and the NSA stayed out of trouble, but following the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration decided to illegally bypass the court and began its program of warrantless wiretapping. “Basically all rules were thrown out the window and they would use any excuse to justify a waiver to spy on Americans,” I was told by Adrienne J. Kinne, who in 2001 was a twenty-four-year-old voice intercept operator who conducted some of the eavesdropping. She or her superiors did not have to get a warrant for each interception. “It was incredibly uncomfortable to be listening to private personal conversations of Americans,” she said. “And it’s almost like going through and stumbling and finding somebody’s diary and reading it.”

All during this time, however, the Bush administration was telling the American public the opposite: that a warrant was obtained whenever an American was targeted. “Anytime you hear the United States government talking about a wiretap, it requires—a wiretap requires a court order,” President George W. Bush told a crowd in 2004. “Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.” After exposure of the operation by The New York Times in 2005, however, rather than strengthen the controls governing the NSA’s spying, Congress instead voted to weaken them, largely by codifying into the amendment to FISA what had previously been illegal.

At the same time, rather than calling for prosecution of the telecom officials for their role in illegally cooperating in the eavesdropping program, or at least a clear public accounting, Congress simply granted them immunity not only from prosecution but also from civil suits. Thus, for nearly a century, telecom companies have been allowed to violate the privacy of millions of Americans with impunity.

With the arrival of the Obama administration, the NSA’s powers continued to expand at the same time that administration officials and the NSA continued to deceive the American public on the extent of the spying. In addition to the denial I have mentioned by James Clapper, General Keith Alexander, the NSA director, also blatantly denied that his agency was keeping records on millions of Americans. In March 2012, Wired magazine published a cover story I wrote on the new one-million-square-foot NSA data center being built in Bluffdale, Utah. In the article, I interviewed William Binney, a former high-ranking NSA official who was largely responsible for automating the agency’s worldwide eavesdropping network. He quit the agency in 2001 in protest after he saw the system designed mainly for intelligence about foreign threats turned inward on the American public. In the interview, he told how the agency was tapping into the country’s communications and Internet networks. He revealed that it also was secretly obtaining warrantless access to billions of phone records of Americans, including those of both AT&T and Verizon. “They’re storing everything they gather,” he said.

In the months afterward, General Alexander repeatedly denied Binney’s charges. “No…we don’t hold data on US citizens,” he told Fox News, and at an Aspen Institute conference he said, “To think we’re collecting on every US person…that would be against the law.” He added, “The fact is we’re a foreign intelligence agency.”

But the documents released by Edward Snowden show that the NSA does have a large-scale program to gather the telephone records of every Verizon customer, including local calls, and presumably a similar agreement with AT&and other companies. These are records of who called whom and when, not of the content of the conversations, although the NSA has, by other methods, access to the content of conversations as well. But the NSA has, on a daily basis, access to virtually everyone’s phone records, whether cell or landline, and can store, data-mine, and keep them indefinitely. Snowden’s documents describing the PRISM program show that the agency is also accessing the Internet data of the nine major Internet companies in the US, including Google and Yahoo.

Snowden’s documents and statements add greatly to an understanding of just how the NSA goes about conducting its eavesdropping and data-mining programs, and just how deceptive the NSA and the Obama administration have been in describing the agency’s activities to the American public. . .

Continue reading.

At some point, someone should publish a compendium of outright lies told to the public by the Bush and Obama Administrations: the lie, the date, the author, and the truth. It will be a fat book.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2013 at 4:00 pm

2 Lithe Little Apps

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Intriguing little apps, both free. I’ve now installed and am using Notational Velocity: very nice.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2013 at 3:51 pm

Posted in Software

The Persisting Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema

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An interesting essay by Martin Scorsese in The New York Review of Books:

In the film The Magic Box, which was made in England in 1950, the great English actor Robert Donat plays William Friese-Greene—one of the people who invented movies. The Magic Box was packed with guest stars. It was made for an event called the Festival of Britain. You had about fifty or sixty of the biggest actors in England at the time, all doing for the most part little cameos, including the man who played the policeman—that was Sir Laurence Olivier.

I saw this picture for the first time with my father. I was eight years old. I’ve never really gotten over the impact that it had. I believe this is what ignited in me the wonder of cinema, and the obsession—with watching movies, making them, inventing them.

Friese-Greene gives everything of himself to the movies, and he dies a pauper. If you know the full story of his life and its end, the line in the film about the invention of the movies—“You must be a very happy man, Mr. Friese-Greene”—of course is ironic, but in some ways it’s also true because he’s followed his obsession all the way. So it’s both disturbing and inspiring. I was very young. I didn’t put this into words at the time, but I sensed these things and I saw them up there on the screen.

My parents had a good reason for taking me to the movies all the time, because I had been sick with asthma since I was three years old and I apparently couldn’t do any sports, or that’s what they told me. But my mother and father did love the movies. They weren’t in the habit of reading—that didn’t really exist where I came from—and so we connected through the movies.

And I realize now that the warmth of that connection with my family and with the images on the screen gave me something very precious. We were experiencing something fundamental together. We were living through the emotional truths on the screen, often in coded form, which these films from the 1940s and 1950s sometimes expressed in small things: gestures, glances, reactions between the characters, light, shadow. These were things that we normally couldn’t discuss or wouldn’t discuss or even acknowledge in our lives.

And that’s actually part of the wonder. Whenever I hear people dismiss movies as “fantasy” and make a hard distinction between film and life, I think to myself that it’s just a way of avoiding the power of cinema. Of course it’s not life—it’s the invocation of life, it’s in an ongoing dialogue with life.

Frank Capra said, “Film is a disease.” I caught the disease early on. I felt it whenever I walked up to the ticket booth with my mother or my father or my brother. You’d go through the doors, up the thick carpet, past the popcorn stand that had that wonderful smell—then to the ticket taker, and then in some of the old theaters there would be another set of doors with little windows and you’d get a glimpse of something magical happening up there on the screen, something special. And as we entered, for me it was like entering a sacred space, a kind of sanctuary where the living world around me seemed to be recreated and played out.

What was it about cinema? What was so special about it? I think I’ve discovered some of my own answers to that question a little bit at a time over the years.

First of all, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2013 at 3:49 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

The Violence of Organized Forgetting

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Henry Giroux has an interesting post at TruthOut:

“People who remember court madness through pain, the pain of the perpetually recurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence.” – James Baldwin

Learning to Forget

America has become amnesiac – a country in which forms of historical, political, and moral forgetting are not only willfully practiced but celebrated. The United States has degenerated into a social order that is awash in public stupidity and views critical thought as both a liability and a threat. Not only is this obvious in the presence of a celebrity culture that embraces the banal and idiotic, but also in the prevailing discourses and policies of a range of politicians and anti-public intellectuals who believe that the legacy of the Enlightenment needs to be reversed.  Politicians such as Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich along with talking heads such as Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck and Anne Coulter are not the problem, they are symptomatic of a much more disturbing assault on critical thought, if not rationale thinking itself.  Under a neoliberal regime, the language of authority, power and command is divorced from ethics, social responsibility, critical analysis and social costs.

These anti-public intellectuals are part of a disimagination machine that solidifies the power of the rich and the structures of the military-industrial-surveillance-academic complex by presenting the ideologies, institutions and relations of the powerful as commonsense.[1] For instance, the historical legacies of resistance to racism, militarism, privatization and panoptical surveillance have long been forgotten and made invisible in the current assumption that Americans now live in a democratic, post-racial society. The cheerleaders for neoliberalism work hard to  normalize dominant institutions and relations of power through a vocabulary and public pedagogy that create market-driven subjects, modes of consciousness, and ways of understanding the world that promote accommodation, quietism and passivity.  Social solidarities are torn apart, furthering the retreat into orbits of the private that undermine those spaces that nurture non-commodified knowledge, values, critical exchange and civic literacy. The pedagogy of authoritarianism is alive and well in the United States, and its repression of public memory takes place not only through the screen culture and institutional apparatuses of conformity, but is also reproduced through a culture of fear and a carceral state that imprisons more people than any other country in the world.[2] What many commentators have missed in the ongoing attack on Edward Snowden is not that he uncovered information that made clear how corrupt and intrusive the American government has become – how willing it is to engage in vast crimes against the American public. His real “crime” is that he demonstrated how knowledge can be used to empower people, to get them to think as critically engaged citizens rather than assume that knowledge and education are merely about the learning of skills – a reductive concept that substitutes training for education and reinforces the flight from reason and the goose-stepping reflexes of an authoritarian mindset.[3] 

Since the late 1970s, there has been an intensification in the United States, Canada and Europe of neoliberal modes of governance, ideology and policies – a historical period in which the foundations for democratic public spheres have been dismantled. Schools, public radio, the media and other critical cultural apparatuses have been under siege, viewed as dangerous to a market-driven society that considers critical thought, dialogue, and civic engagement a threat to its basic values, ideologies, and structures of power. This was the beginning of an historical era in which the discourse of democracy, public values, and the common good came crashing to the ground. Margaret Thatcher in Britain and soon after Ronald Reagan in the United States – both hard-line advocates of market fundamentalism – announced that there was no such thing as society and that government was the problem not the solution. Democracy and the political process were all but sacrificed to the power of corporations and the emerging financial service industries, just as hope was appropriated as an advertisement for a whitewashed world in which the capacity of culture to critique oppressive social practices was greatly diminished. Large social movements fragmented into isolated pockets of resistance mostly organized around a form of identity politics that largely ignored a much-needed conversation about the attack on the social and the broader issues affecting society such as the growing inequality in wealth, power and income.What is particularly new is the way in which young people have been increasingly denied a significant place in an already weakened social contract and the degree to which they are absent from how many countries now define the future. Youth are no longer the place where society reveals its dreams. Instead, youth are becoming the site of society’s nightmares. Within neoliberal narratives, youth are mostly defined as a consumer market, a drain on the economy, or stand for trouble.[4] Young people increasingly have become subject to an oppressive disciplinary machine that teaches them to define citizenship through the exchange practices of the market and to follow orders and toe the line in the face of oppressive forms of authority. They are caught in a society in which almost every aspect of their lives is shaped by the dual forces of the market and a growing police state. The message is clear: Buy/ sell/ or be punished. Mostly out of step, young people, especially poor minorities and low-income whites, are increasingly inscribed within a machinery of dead knowledge, social relations and values in which there is an attempt to render them voiceless and invisible.

How young people are represented betrays a great deal about what is increasingly new about . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2013 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Daily life

Watch Pitch Tar Finally Drip in One of World’s Oldest, Slowest-Moving Experiments

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Cool. Note the clock hands in the time-lapse video.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2013 at 3:22 pm

Posted in Science

Cannabis for Elders: A Precarious State

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Liana Aghajanian writes in the Atlantic:

Margo Bauer was desperate. Dealing with chronic nausea and frequent bouts of vomiting — both attributed to her multiple sclerosis — the retired nurse was constantly exhausted and in pain. That was, until she attended an informational meeting where she was introduced to medical marijuana.

Under California’s Medical Marijuana Program, she received a medical marijuana card and now legally grows her own plant at a Southern California assisted living facility where she lives with her husband who suffers from Alzheimer’s. She smokes a rolled joint occasionally, which she says keeps her nausea at bay, and her pain lifted to the point that she joined an all-female synchronized swimming team, the Aquadettes.

Bauer, now 75, has also become an outspoken advocate for medical marijuana use among seniors and was instrumental in starting a collective at her assisted living facility.

“I carry a little container with a rolled cigarette,” she said, “and if I have nausea I know that it is because I haven’t taken enough pot.”

Every administrator with whom she spoke several facilities was under the impression that cannabis is illegal and they would lose their state license if they allowed it as an alternative symptom relief for clients.

While California remains at the forefront of the country’s tumultuous relationship with the marijuana industry, medical marijuana usage is on the rise amongst seniors like Bauer.

Ailments ranging from chemotherapy side effects, arthritis, glaucoma, chronic pain and even malnutrition are being treated with cannabis, a promising alternative for seniors who are increasingly susceptible to the dangerous side effects and growing dependency of multiple prescription medications. The fastest growing population in the U.S. also comprises a significant portion of medical marijuana users, amounting to as much as 50 percent, according to Kris Hermes of Americans for Safe Access, the nation’s largest member-based medical marijuana advocate group.

But as many of these baby boomers move into assisted living facilities, questions arise on the use of medical marijuana behind their doors. Muddied by its illegal status at the federal level, social stigma, and often hesitant attitudes of administrators who in some cases fear losing funding for allowing a controlled substance on their property, medical marijuana presents a list of challenges for seniors and the people who care for them.

In a state that enacted the first medical marijuana voter initiative in the U.S., the group that stands to perhaps benefit the most from medical marijuana has the hardest time gaining access to it.

For the marijuana advocates working to change perceptions of a substance classified as a Schedule 1 Drug, reaching the seniors in assisted living facilities has been an ongoing, lengthy struggle.

Sue Taylor, the senior outreach coordinator for Harborside Health Center in Oakland, Calif., the largest marijuana dispensary in the country and subject of several federal lawsuits, had difficulties with assisted living facilities and nursing homes for years.

“They wouldn’t let me in, because they were afraid of losing funding and getting put out of the building for even smoking,” she said.

After several failed attempts, she changed her approach and teamed up with local organizations while meeting seniors at health fairs. She now arranges tours of Harborside for seniors and administrators, giving them a firsthand glimpse of the dispensary to answer questions and quell misconceptions.

She’s starting to see a change in administrator’s willingness to discuss medical marijuana for their residents, albeit slowly. The mother of three and former educator thinks a major part of why her message has been effective has to do with her approach. . .

Continue reading.

Of course, the Obama Administration has a hostile stance toward medical marijuana, despite (because of?) its benefits—as those cancer patients in Washington state have learned.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2013 at 3:20 pm

Animated History of Western Architecture in Just 15 Minutes

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Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2013 at 3:15 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life

Helping women run for office

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Jaime Fuller writes in The American Prospect about a very interesting initiative:

Susannah Shakow’s first impression of high-school junior Tristana Giunta was that she was awkward. “Like, couldn’t-look-you-in-the-eye kind of awkward,” Shakow says. Giunta was attending the first annual Young Women’s Political Leadership conference in Washington, D.C.—the flagship program offered by Running Start, which Shakow, a lawyer with experience pushing women into politics, started to get girls excited about governing; excited enough to run for office.

The Young Women’s Political Leadership conference is a boot-camp where high-school women learn the ingredients that make a great politician. They take Networking 101, Fundraising 101, and Public Speaking 101. They get first-hand knowledge of how Washington works from women who have been playing the game for ages. Girls learn there are dozens of people their age just as ambitious and as hungry to run for office as they are.

Despite her shy demeanor, Giunta soaked up an impressive amount of campaign know-how that weekend in D.C. She wrote Shakow a letter after leaving, saying she attended the conference because she wanted to run Young Democrats of America (YDA) at her high school, Holton-Arms in Bethesda, Maryland. “I don’t know if you remember,” Giunta wrote, “but in high school, if you’re not popular, of course you never run for anything.” Today, Giunta, who graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown University with a degree in Government and a minor in Environmental Studies this spring, still remembers what an uphill battle running for president of the YDA was. “Some of the things that went on would make the movie Mean Girls look like nursery school,” she says. “I was not popular. I did not fit in socially. I did not do a sport … I did not have a large group of friends to support me. But I wanted so badly to win the election.” The following year, she ran a campaign for the position, and she won. Looking back, Giunta says, “I was the most active president and the club membership grew like never before—all because Running Start helped me to realize I could do it. I could take the risk and somehow it all worked out.”

Shakow filed it away as one of Running Start’s first successes, but the story gets better—she later spoke to a girl who also attended Holton Arms, and asked if she knew Tristana. The girl’s face fell. “Yeah.” Shakow was surprised by the strong reaction, and pressed for more details. “Oh, nothing,” she said. “It’s just I ran against her for YDA president and she cheated. She put up posters, and she had a table, and she had buttons and stuff.” Shakow, retelling the story in Running Start’s office in downtown Washington, D.C. is laughing at this point. “I was like, ‘honey, she didn’t cheat. You just lost.'”

Running Start has only grown more ambitious in the seven years since that first conference. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2013 at 3:14 pm

Idea for an assignment for a Western Civ class

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The assignment is to read the entirety of Rep. Steve King’s potted (perhaps “crackpotted” is the right adjective) history of Western Civilization and write a critique. The critiques could then be sent to the Congressman, though I doubt he has a mind that admits new ideas.

Read this column and weep/laugh as you go.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2013 at 1:40 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP

Feds Raid Pot Dispensaries in Washington, Where the Drug is Legal

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So much for Obama’s promises—he apparently was lying when he made them. This lie is totally consistent with lie as a Senator: he promised to vote again immunity for the telcoms, then voted for it. That Obama!

But at least they succeeded in denying some relief to cancer patients. That’s important.


Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2013 at 1:00 pm

In Profit-Sharing Scheme, Oklahoma DA Used Contractor for Highway Drug Stops

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It’s clear that for many in law enforcement, drug laws are not about stopping drugs but about making money from asset forfeiture and seizure. Philip Smith reports in Drug War Chronicles:

An asset forfeiture scheme that utilized a private security contractor to stop vehicles on Interstate 40 in Caddo County, Oklahoma, has been shut down after garnering strong criticism. Caddo County District Attorney Jason Hicks suspended the stops earlier this month after getting a tongue-lashing from a local judge.

Hicks got the bright idea of hiring the private security contractor Desert Snow LLC to do on-site training with his local drug task force. Desert Snow claims to have trained more than 30,000 police across the country in interdiction techniques. “Providing criminal and terrorist interdiction training since 1989,”it boasts on its web site, and “20+ years of high quality ‘no nonsense’ instruction in the pursuit of America’s worst criminals.”

But beyond paying the private operators to train police, the contract DA Hicks agreed to in January gave Desert Snow 25% of all assets seized during training days and 10% of all assets seized even on days the contractors were not present.

Hicks told The Oklahoman he hired the contractors “because his drug task force had little success on drug stops” and because “he hoped to make money for his office from the drug stops because of a loss of federal funds.”

Stops were made on a stretch of I-40 in Caddo County, and on some occasions, no drug were found and no one was arrested, but police seized money anyway after claiming that a drug-sniffing dog had alerted. Desert Snow had earned $40,000 so far this year from its share of seizures and was in line to receive another $212,000 from an $850,000 seizure before the program blew up in its face.

Under Oklahoma law, asset forfeiture funds are to be split among law enforcement agencies that took part in the operation. But in the deal brokered with Desert Snow, the private contractor gets its cut off the top.

The sweet deal came to an end earlier this month at a hearing where a local judge learned that Desert Snow owner Joe David had . . .

Continue reading.

Police departments are being corrupted by the War on Drugs—and have been for a long time: cf. the story of Frank Serpico—and the movie (available on Netflix Watch Instantly) is good as well.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2013 at 11:49 am

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws, Law

How to legalize marijuana: Lessons from the Netherlands

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Philip Smith reporting for the Drug War Chronicles:

The US states of Colorado and Washington voted last year to legalize marijuana and are moving forward toward implementing legalization. Activists in several states are lining up to try to do the same next year, and an even bigger push will happen in 2016. With public opinion polls now consistently showing support for pot legalization at or above 50%, it appears that nearly a century of marijuana prohibition in the US is coming to an end.

Exactly how it comes to an end and what will replace it are increasingly important questions as we move from dreaming of legalization to actually making it happen. The Netherlands, which for decades now has allowed open marijuana consumption and sales at its famous coffee shops, provides some salutary lessons — if reformers, state officials, and politicians are willing to heed them.

To be clear, the Dutch have not legalized marijuana. The marijuana laws remain on the books, but are essentially overridden by the Dutch policy of “pragmatic tolerance,” at least as far as possession and regulated sales are concerned. Cultivation is a different matter, and that has proven the Achilles Heel of Dutch pot policy. Holland’s failure to allow for a system of legal supply for the coffee shops leaves shop owners to deal with illegal marijuana suppliers — the “backdoor problem” — and leaves the system open to charges it is facilitating criminality by buying product from criminal syndicates.

Still, even though the Dutch system is not legalization de jure and does not create a complete legal system of marijuana commerce, reformers and policymakers here can build on the lessons of the Dutch experience as we move toward making legal marijuana work in the US.

“Governments are looking to reform their drug policies in order to maximize resources, promote health and security while protecting people from damaging and unwarranted arrests,” said Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, Director of the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program. “The Netherlands has been a leader in this respect. As other countries and local jurisdictions consider reforming their laws, it’s possible that the Netherlands’ past offers a guide for the future.”

A new report from the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program lays out what Dutch policymakers have done and how they have fared. Authored by social scientists Jean-Paul Grund and Joost Breeksema of the Addiction Research Centerin Utrecht, the report, Coffee Shops and Compromise: Separated Illicit Drug Markets in the Netherlands tells the history of the Dutch approach and describes the ongoing success of the country’s drug policy.

This includes the separation of the more prevalent marijuana market from hard drug dealers. In the Netherlands, only 14% of cannabis users say they can get other drugs from their sources for cannabis. By contrast in Sweden, for example, 52% of cannabis users report that other drugs are available from cannabis dealers. That separation of hard and soft drug markets has limited Dutch exposure to drugs like heroin and crack cocaine and led to Holland having the lowest number of problem drug users in the European Union, the report found.

Pragmatic Dutch drug policies have not been limited to marijuana. The Netherlands has been a pioneer in . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2013 at 11:41 am

Yemeni Reporter Who Exposed U.S. Drone Strike Freed from Prison After Jailing at Obama’s Request

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Isn’t that nice? Who says that the Obama Administration doesn’t believe in a free press? Well, actually, I know the answer to that, as does James Risen of the NY Times and others. As part of his commitment to transparency, Obama persecutes whistleblowers, goes after domestic reporters, and has foreign reporters jailed, all the while keeping secret his massive apparatus to destroy the 4th Amendment.

The video of the program is at Democracy Now!, as is the transcript, which begins:

Prominent Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye has been released from prison after being held for three years on terrorism-related charges at the request of President Obama. Shaye helped expose the U.S. cruise missile attack on the Yemeni village of al-Majalah that killed 41 people, including 14 women and 21 children in December 2009. Then-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced his intention to pardon Shaye in 2011, but apparently changed his mind after a phone call from Obama. In a statement, the White House now says it is “concerned and disappointed” by Shaye’s release. “We should let that statement set in: The White House is saying that they are disappointed and concerned that a Yemeni journalist has been released from a Yemeni prison,” says Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for The Nation, who covers Shaye’s case in “Dirty Wars,” his new book and film by the same name. “This is a man who was put in prison because he had the audacity to expose a U.S. cruise missile attack that killed three dozen women and children.” We’re also joined by Rooj Alwazir, a Yemeni-American activist who co-founded the Support Yemen media collective and campaigned for Shaye’s release.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A prominent Yemeni journalist who was imprisoned for three years at the apparent request of the Obama administration has been released in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a. Abdulelah Haider Shaye was sentenced in January 2011 to five years in jail on terrorism-related charges, following a trial that was condemned by many human rights and press freedom groups. Shaye’s release Tuesday reportedly comes in the form of a presidential pardon that requires him to remain in Sana’a for two years. This could prevent him from traveling to the sites of U.S. drone strikes in Yemen, a topic he has previously reported on. Shaye was first imprisoned in 2010 after he helped expose the United States’ role in a 2009 cruise missile attack on the Yemeni village of al-Majalah that killed 41 people, including 14 women and 21 children. The Yemeni government initially took credit for the strike, saying it had targeted an al-Qaeda training camp. But it was later revealed through WikiLeaks cables that it was in fact a U.S. attack.

Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill reports extensively on this attack in his new book and film called Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. He’ll join us in minute. But first, this is Abdulelah Haider Shaye speaking in 2010. He spoke to reporters from inside a caged cell in a Yemeni courtroom at his trial, saying he was arrested because he reported on the murders of children and women.

ABDULELAH HAIDER SHAYE: [translated] When they hid murderers of children and women in Abyan, when I revealed the locations and camps of nomads and civilians in Abyan, Shabwa and Arhab, when they were going to be hit by cruise missiles, it was on that day they decided to arrest me. You noticed in the court how they have turned all of my journalistic contributions and quotations to international reporters and channels into accusations. Yemen, this is a place where the young journalist becomes successful, he is considered with suspicion.

AMY GOODMAN: Within a month of Abdulelah Haider Shaye’s sentencing in 2011, then-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced he was going to pardon the journalist. But Saleh apparently changed his mind after a phone call from President Obama. According to a White House read-out, Obama, quote, “expressed concern” over the release of Shaye. The journalist then remained locked up despite growing calls by human rights groups for his immediate release. Shaye’s lawyer, Abdulrahman Barman, described the impact of President Obama’s phone call.

ABDULRAHMAN BARMAN: [translated] Yes, there was a visit by some social figures and sheikhs to the president, and they negotiated his release and his pardon. We were all waiting in the office for the release memo, which was printed and prepared in a file for the president to sign. And he was to announce the pardon the next day. But the mediators were hasty to announce that pardon. That same day, President Obama called the Yemeni president to express U.S. concerns over the release of Abdulelah Haider.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Shaye’s attorney. He was talking to Jeremy Scahill. When we come back from break, we’ll be joined by investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill about the release of Abdulelah Haider Shaye. We’ll also be joined by a Yemeni activist. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We continue on the release of the Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye. Prior to his arrest, he broke a number of important stories about al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and he did the last known interview with U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki just before it was revealed he was on a CIA hit list. Shaye’s work often appeared on Al Jazeera. His investigative reporting was used by international journalists. This is his friend, the dissident political cartoonist Kamal Sharaf.

KAMAL SHARAF: [translated] He was so interested in revealing the truth, to reveal the American exploitation of al-Qaeda to occupy some Islamic countries culturally and economically. What is al-Qaeda? Who supports it? Why is it in a war with America? These questions were raised by all. All of us wanted to know what is going on. We were only exposed to Western media and Arab media funded by the West, which depicts only one image of al-Qaeda. We haven’t heard other viewpoints. But Abdulelah brought a different viewpoint.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, Amnesty International responded to Abdulelah Haider Shaye’s release by calling on the Yemeni and U.S. governments to investigate whether he was arbitrarily imprisoned based on his work as a journalist, as well as an independent review of the 2009 attack he helped expose.

For more, we’re joined by two people who have closely followed Shaye’s case. Investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, who is the producer and writer of the new film, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, also author of the new book by the same title, he is the national security correspondent for The Nation magazine. We’re also joined in Washington, D.C., by Rooj Alwazir. She’s a Yemeni-American activist who co-founded the Support Yemen media collective based in Sana’a, Yemen. She helped campaign for Abdulelah Haider Shaye’s release and is currently working on a documentary on drone wars.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Rooj Alwazir, were you surprised by the news of Shaye’s release this week? And can you talk about its significance? . . .

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I assume that having foreign journalists imprisoned for reporting the truth is a trial run for how the Obama Administration will handle domestic journalists. Not the White House Press Corps—they are already trained and domesticated not to ask pointed questions—but the independent journalists. If Glenn Greenwald were still in the US, I imagine he’d be facing a heap of legal trouble, since that’s how Obama and the Justice Department hand those who report things that they want not to be talked about.

But I’ll look for disconfirming evidence: specifically, I’ll look for any sign that the White House Press Corps asks about this incident, including Obama’s request that the reporter be kept in prison and their “disappointment” that he was released, unpunished for the terrible crime of reporting what happened.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2013 at 11:33 am

The train crash in Spain

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Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2013 at 10:11 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

Michael “Hockey Stick” Mann’s defamation suit proceeds

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Michael Mann was defamed by the (fossil-fuel-industry-supported) Competitive Enterprise Institute, and now the judge has ruled that he can proceed with the defamation suit. John Timmer reports at Ars Technica:

A year ago, Penn State was reeling in the wake of revelations that its athletic program had covered up serial abuse by one of its football coaches. A blogger at the pro-free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute used that situation as an opportunity to suggest that the university was covering up malfeasance by one of its faculty members, climate scientist Michael Mann. The accusations of research fraud were then reiterated by a blogger at the conservative publicationNational Review. After a bit of back-and-forth between Mann and the two organizations, Mann filed a defamation suit.

Both National Review and the CEI attempted to have the case thrown out. They argued that it met theSLAPP definition of an attempt to silence critics and that Mann’s case fell far short of the standards of defamation of a public figure. Now, a judge has denied both of these attempts, allowing the defamation trial to move forward.

Mann first attracted the ire of those who question the scientific community’s conclusions about climate change due to his publication of what’s become known as the hockey stick graph. The graph showed that temperatures have swung up dramatically over the last century after centuries of relative stability. That graph is nearly 20 years old now and has been superseded by further studies (some done by Mann himself), all of which have produced substantially similar results. But many of the people who doubt the conclusions of climate scientists remain fixated on Mann’s graph as well as Mann himself. Opponents regularly accuse him of scientific misconduct.

Because of the attention focused on the hockey stick—and because some of Mann’s e-mail exchanges with fellow scientists were taken during a hack of the servers at the University of East Anglia—his work and conduct have been the subject of numerous inquiries. These have been performed by organizations including US and UK government agencies, a number of universities, and the National Academies of Science. All of these have concluded that Mann’s work and conduct have been solid, and that fact may play a key role in this case. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2013 at 9:55 am

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