Later On

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

Archive for March 19th, 2015

Is a New Political System Emerging in This Country?

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Tom Englehardt wrestles with trying to make sense of what we see all around us:

Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that, and let me put what I do understand about it in a nutshell: based on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name.

And here’s what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it’s as if we can’t bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so.

Let me make my case, however minimally, based on five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new system seem to be emerging: political campaigns and elections; the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and the demobilization of “we the people.”

Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway, and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray.

1. 1% Elections

Check out the news about the 2016 presidential election and you’ll quickly feel a sense of been-there, done-that. As a start, the two names most associated with it, Bush and Clinton, couldn’t be more familiar, highlighting as they do the curiously dynastic quality of recent presidential contests.  (If a Bush or Clinton should win in 2016 and again in 2020, a member of one of those families will have controlled the presidency for 28 of the last 36 years.)

Take, for instance, “Why 2016 Is Likely to Become a Close Race,” a recent piece Nate Cohn wrote for my hometown paper.  A noted election statistician, Cohn points out that, despite Hillary Clinton’s historically staggering lead in Democratic primary polls (and lack of serious challengers), she could lose the general election.  He bases this on what we know about her polling popularity from the Monica Lewinsky moment of the 1990s to the present.  Cohn assures readers that Hillary will not “be a Democratic Eisenhower, a popular, senior statesperson who cruises to an easy victory.”  It’s the sort of comparison that offers a certain implicit reassurance about the near future.  (No, Virginia, we haven’t left the world of politics in which former general and president Dwight D. Eisenhower can still be a touchstone.)

Cohn may be right when it comes to Hillary’s electability, but this is not Dwight D. Eisenhower’s or even Al Gore’s America. If you want a measure of that, consider this year’s primaries. I mean, of course, the 2015 ones. Once upon a time, the campaign season started with candidates flocking to Iowa and New Hampshire early in the election year to establish their bona fides among party voters. These days, however, those are already late primaries.

The early primaries, the ones that count, take place among a small group of millionaires and billionaires, a new caste flush with cash who will personally, or through complex networks of funders, pour multi-millions of dollars into the campaigns of candidates of their choice.  So the early primaries — this year mainly a Republican affair — are taking place in resort spots like Las Vegas, Rancho Mirage, California, and Sea Island, Georgia, as has been widely reported. These “contests” involve groveling politicians appearing at the beck and call of the rich and powerful, and so reflect our new 1% electoral system. (The main pro-Hillary super PAC, for instance, is aiming for a kitty of $500 million heading into 2016, while the Koch brothers network has already promised to drop almost $1 billion into the coming campaign season, doubling their efforts in the last presidential election year.)

Ever since the Supreme Court opened up the ultimate floodgates with its 2010 Citizens United decision, each subsequent election has seen record-breaking amounts of money donated and spent. The 2012 presidential campaign was the first $2 billion election; campaign 2016 is expected to hit the $5 billion mark without breaking a sweat.  By comparison, according to Burton Abrams and Russell Settle in their study, “The Effect of Broadcasting on Political Campaign Spending,” Republicans and Democrats spent just under $13 million combined in 1956 when Eisenhower won his second term.

In the meantime, it’s still true that the 2016 primaries will involve actual voters, as will the election that follows. The previous election season, the midterms of 2014, cost almost $4 billion, a record despite the number of small donors continuing to drop. It also represented the lowest midterm voter turnout since World War II. (See: demobilization of the public, below — and add in the demobilization of the Democrats as a real party, the breaking of organized labor, the fragmenting of the Republican Party, and the return of voter suppression laws visibly meant to limit the franchise.) It hardly matters just what the flood of new money does in such elections, when you can feel the weight of inequality bearing down on the whole process in a way that is pushing us somewhere new.

2. The Privatization of the State (or the U.S. as a Prospective Third-World Nation)

In the recent coverage of the Hillary Clinton email flap, you can find endless references to the Clintons of yore in wink-wink, you-know-how-they-are-style reporting; and yes, she did delete a lot of emails; and yes, it’s an election year coming and, as everyone points out, the Republicans are going to do their best to keep the email issue alive until hell freezes over, etc., etc.  Again, the coverage, while eyeball gluing, is in a you’ve-seen-it-all-before, you’ll-see-it-all-again-mode.

However, you haven’t seen it all before. The most striking aspect of this little brouhaha lies in what’s most obvious but least highlighted.  An American secretary of state chose to set up her own private, safeguarded email system for doing government work; that is, she chose to privatize her communications.  If this were Cairo, it might not warrant a second thought.  But it didn’t happen in some third-world state.  It was the act of a key official of the planet’s reigning (or thrashing) superpower, which — even if it wasn’t the first time such a thing had ever occurred — should be taken as a tiny symptom of something that couldn’t be larger or, in the long stretch of history, newer: the ongoing privatization of the American state, or at least the national security part of it.

Though the marriage of the state and the corporation has a pre-history, the full-scale arrival of the warrior corporation only occurred after 9/11.  Someday, that will undoubtedly be seen as a seminal moment in the formation of whatever may be coming in this country.  Only 13 years later, there is no part of the war state that has not experienced major forms of privatization.  The U.S. military could no longer go to war without its crony corporationsdoing KP and guard duty, delivering the mail, building the bases, and being involved in just about all of its activities, including training the militaries of foreign allies and even fighting.  Such warrior corporations are now involved in every aspect of the national security state, including torture, drone strikes, and — to the tune of hundreds of thousands of contract employees like Edward Snowden — intelligence gathering and spying.  You name it and, in these years, it’s been at least partly privatized.

All you have to do is read reporter James Risen’s recent book,Pay Any Price, on how the global war on terror was fought in Washington, and you know that privatization has brought something else with it: corruption, scams, and the gaming of the system for profits of a sort that might normally be associated with a typical third-world kleptocracy.  And all of this, a new world being born, was reflected in a tiny way in Hillary Clinton’s very personal decision about her emails.

Though it’s a subject I know so much less about, this kind of privatization (and the corruption that goes with it) is undoubtedly underway in the non-war-making, non-security-projecting part of the American state as well.

3. The De-legitimization of Congress and the Presidency

On a third front, American “confidence” in the three classic check-and-balance branches of government, as measured by polling outfits, continues to fall.  In 2014, Americans expressing a “great deal of confidence” in the Supreme Court hit a new low of 23%; in the presidency, it was 11%, and in Congress a bottom-scraping 5%.  (The military, on the other hand, registers at 50%.)  The figures for “hardly any confidence at all” are respectively 20%, 44%, and more than 50%.  All are in or near record-breaking territory for the last four decades.

It seems fair to say that in recent years Congress has been engaged in a process of delegitimizing itself.  Where that body once had the genuine power to declare war, for example, it is now “debating” in a desultory fashion an “authorization” for a war against the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq, and possibly elsewhere that has already been underway for eight months and whose course, it seems, will be essentially unaltered, whether Congress authorizes it or not.

What would President Harry Truman, who once famously ran a presidential campaign against a “do-nothing” Congress, have to say about a body that truly can do just about nothing?  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2015 at 7:49 pm

Big decisions for a young boy

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You may be less interested than I to discover that Lash LaRue westerns are available on Amazon Prime Streaming (no cost, which seems about right): B-movie westerns with sidekick Fuzzy Q. Jones that I devoured at the Nu-Sho (the older of the two movie theaters in town) for a dime on Saturday. LaRue is an interesting guy: his tool was the bullwhip, which he could use with casual skill to whip guns from the hands of bad guys and, in his personal appearances in movie theaters, whip a container of Coca-Cola up into the air so that the movie screen had a permanent stain in Waldorf MD, as a classmate told me.

I will admit that I am watching one of them, and I saw that Lash is a two-gun guy, as he twirled two six-shooters simultaneously before they flowed into his twin holsters, and that recalled the extended though I gave to whether to have one gun or two… I was about 7 or 8, and it seemed important to decide. Lash was quite cool with the bullwhip skill (he trained Harrison Ford for the first Indiana Jones movie) and the two guns and the black outfits, but carrying only one seemed pretty cool, too.

I don’t recall the (provisional) decision to which I came, but I can say that today I am a zero-gun man. But I do have one helluva sharp chef’s knife.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2015 at 7:38 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Signs of how things are trending in the US: Balko’s links

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Take a look at them. Here just the first four:

  • One story that really sums up the problems in St. Louis County.
  • A deaf immigrant spent six weeks in jail without access to an interpreter. He was accused of stealing an iPad that the owner later found.
  • San Diego police respond to the wrong house, kill the owner’s service dog. [Police seem to have an informal competition on shooting dogs when they visit a house. – LG]
  • Man gets full-on SWAT raid, felony charges for running an openly advertised NCAA tournament pool.

There are more at the link.

The US is not headed in a good direction.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2015 at 5:03 pm

Government secrecy v. transparency in re: SWAT raids

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Radley Balko has a good column today on transparency for the use of military force against citizens, aka SWAT raids. He writes:

Maryland was the first state in the country to pass a SWAT transparency bill. The bill came in 2011 after a botched SWAT raid on the home of Cheye Calvo, who happens to be the mayor of the town of Berwyn Heights. (Amazing how quickly the political class gets interested in an issue once that issue hits a member of the political class.) The law required every police agency in the state that has a SWAT team to report how often it used the team, for what purpose, what was found, and whether any shots were fired.

Thanks to the bill, we eventually learned that there are about 4.5 SWAT raids per day in Maryland alone, and that the vast majority of them are for what the FBI classifies as “misdemeanors and non-serious felonies” — meaning low-level drug crimes. The law put no restrictions at all on the use of SWAT teams. It only required transparency about the frequency of their use. Yet it was still opposed by every police group in the state.

But the law also included a sunset provision, and it eventually expired.Since then, Utah passed a similar bill and is currently the only state in the country that requires regular reporting on the use of SWAT teams.

But the Maryland legislature is considering a new bill, and this one would require the reporting of even more information. The website Maryland Legislative Watch lays out some of the new provisions:

  • The number of times the SWAT team was activated and deployed by the agency in the previous six months;
  • The name of the county and/or municipality and zip code of the location where the team was deployed for each activation;
  • The reason for each activation and deployment, as specified;
  • The legal authority, including type of warrant, if any, for each activation and deployment; and
  • The result of each activation and deployment, including
    (1) the age, gender, and race of any individual encountered;
    (2) the number of arrests made, if any, and for what charges;
    (3) a list of any controlled substances, weapons, contraband, or evidence of crime found;
    (4) whether the SWAT team was deployed to the correct address;
    (5) whether the SWAT team announced its presence and requested entry;
    (6) whether a forcible entry was made and in what manner;
    (7) whether a weapon was discharged by a SWAT team member;
    (8) whether a civilian used or threatened to use a weapon against a law enforcement officer; and
    (9) whether a person or domestic animal was injured or killed by a SWAT team member.

Regardless of how you feel about SWAT teams, they are an incredibly violent and potentially dangerous use of government force. At the very least, we should have as much information as possible about how often they’re used, why they’re used, against whom they’re used and what happens during and after their use.

Read the Maryland House bill here, and the state Senate bill here.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2015 at 4:58 pm

Juggling is a magic art—watch this one

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Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2015 at 4:47 pm

Posted in Daily life

The Right wants to control reality—failing that, they will control speech about reality

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A Florida Department of Environmental Protection employee was suspended for violating Gov. Rick Scott’s order that state employees never mention “climate change” or “global warming.” The employee was taking minutes in a public discussion and members of the public uttered the forbidden phrase, which he (naturally) included in the official minutes of the meeting (since minutes are supposed to summarize what was said). He was suspended for two days to be charged against his leave time and he received a “Medical Release Form” requiring that his doctor supply the DEP with an evaluation of unspecified “medical condition and behavior” issues before being allowed to return to work.

State governments controlled by the GOP are increasingly acting out very bad totalitarian memes.

Here’s the story, with links to news reports.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2015 at 4:38 pm

The Right wants to control education—and in North Carolina, they’re doing it

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One thing the Right really, truly hates are views opposed to their own, particularly views back by evidence and sound reasoning, which seems to strike them as somehow unfair. And now they’re in a position to do something about that. Jedediah Purdy writes in the New Yorker:

On January 16th, Tom Ross, the president of the University of North Carolina, and John Fennebresque, the chair of its board of governors, held a press conference to announce that the board had asked for and received Ross’s resignation. With Ross sitting beside him, Fennebresque insisted, in effect, that he had been fired for no reason. Ross had been successful in every way, he told reporters: “exemplary” in his handling of recent athletic scandals, and a model of “work ethic” and “perfect integrity.” “There was no precipitating event,” Fennebresque, who looked by turns mournful and defensive during the twenty-minute exchange, said. “He’s been wonderful.”

In response to a series of questions, Fennebresque insisted that the decision was not about politics, at least not “to the best of my knowledge.” Few observers believed that there was not some political motivation. Ross, a former judge, once headed the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, a major funder of progressive causes in North Carolina. Since Republicans, many of them affiliated with the Tea Party movement, took over the North Carolina General Assembly in 2010, the board of governors has become a Republican redoubt. Ross, in an answer to one question, did allude to the elephant in the room, observing, “There’s been a dramatic change in the state’s leadership, in policymakers.”

For several years, there have been indications that the state’s new leaders want to change the mission of public higher education in North Carolina. In 2013, the Republican governor, Pat McCrory, told William Bennett, a conservative talk-show host and former Secretary of Education, that the state shouldn’t “subsidize” courses in gender studies or Swahili (that is, offer them at public universities). The following year, he laid out his agenda in a speech at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Using the language of business schools, he urged his audience to “reform and adapt the U.N.C. brand to the ever-changing competitive environment of the twenty-first century” and to “[hone] in on skills and subjects employers need.” McCrory also had a warning for faculty members whose subjects could be understood as political: “Our universities should not be used to indoctrinate our students to become liberals or conservatives, but should teach a diversity of opinions which will allow our future leaders to decide for themselves.”

On February 27th, the board, which had conducted a five-month-long review of all two hundred and forty centers and institutes at U.N.C., voted to eliminate three of them. Although the board has legal authority to govern U.N.C. as it sees fit, university policy and tradition had reserved this sort of decision for the schools. One of the closed centers was dedicated to the environment, another to voter engagement. The third, which many faculty members describe as the real target, was the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity, run by Gene Nichol, a law professor and a vituperative critic of the Republican legislature. In one of a series of opinion pieces criticizing spending cuts, published in Raleigh’s News & Observer, he had referred to the legislature’s “unforgivable war on poor people.” Nichol has no doubt that the closing of the center was intended as punishment. On several occasions, “my dean was compelled to call me into his office and relate threats received from Republican leaders of the General Assembly if I didn’t stop writing articles for the News & Observer,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The center would be closed, or I’d be fired.”

Nichol, who has tenure, still holds his teaching position, and more than a hundred faculty members have signed a statement supporting him, but both the closing of his center and Ross’s dismissal have created an atmosphere of anxiety and caution. “People are telling me not to use their work e-mail, to call on their cell phone, if we’re going to talk about anything controversial,” Tamar Birckhead, an associate professor at the law school, told me. An untenured member of the humanities faculty, who requested anonymity, wrote in an e-mail, “I am constantly aware of the state’s charged political atmosphere and the scrutiny of the university’s political enemies. I know there are certain subjects I simply cannot write about in a public forum and topics I must handle gingerly in my teaching.” Other faculty members spoke of receiving phone calls from legislators and requests to review syllabi from conservative advocacy groups. Donald Raleigh, a history professor, said that one of those groups, the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, requested the syllabus for his course “Gorbachev, the Collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Rise of the New Russia.” The syllabus was freely available online, but the Pope Center wrote to the university legal office to request it under the state’s open-records law. “I really don’t know why they wanted the syllabus for this fairly conventional course, nor do I know what they did with it,” Raleigh said.

Republican politics in North Carolina are characterized by a tight interweaving of elected officials with think tanks and advocacy groups. At the center of this network is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2015 at 3:49 pm

Police use of dogs reveal police biases

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I linked to this article by Jack Hitt earlier, but in case you didn’t click the link, check out his conclusion:

. . . A 2011 study published in the journal Animal Cognition found that even expertly trained dogs and the most professional handlers cannot evade what is called the Clever Hans effect. In tests, dogs trained to detect explosives and drugs were sent, with their handlers, into a series of rooms to find non-existent contraband. In one room, there was a decoy that had been scented with sausage; in another, there was an unscented decoy accompanied by a sign telling the handler, falsely, that it smelled of contraband; a control room had no decoys. The investigators found, overall, that “human more than dog influences affected alert locations”: the meat decoy attracted more false alarms than anything in the control room, but the decoy with the sign prompted nearly twice as many false alerts as the one with the tempting scent. In other words, the dogs found their handlers’ unconscious cues significantly more compelling than the sausage. Trained animals, it turns out, are arguably better at reading our cues than we are at suppressing them.

A friend of mine recently saw a detection dog at a Metro-North station in Connecticut go into full alert when a fifty-something white businessman in a suit walked by. The trainer pulled the dog back and nodded for the man to pass. My friend noted, “Training a dog is not something that happens once and then it’s over. They are always being trained.” And so that Metro-North dog has begun a kind of continuing education. Repeat that action and the dog will learn: give middle-aged white guys in brogues a pass.

In 2011, the Chicago Tribune analyzed three years’ worth of data related to police dogs working in suburban Chicago. The analysis revealed how easy it is for certain cultural stereotypes—in this case, of drug-dealing Hispanics­—to travel straight down the leash. When dogs alerted their handlers to the presence of drugs during traffic stops, the officers found drugs forty-four per cent of the time overall. In cases involving Latino drivers, that number fell to twenty-seven per cent. In other words, the dogs were erroneously implicating people of Hispanic descent far more frequently than other people. When this disparity was made public, the question naturally arose of whether handlers’ unconscious cues might be the cause? Paul Waggoner, a scientist at Auburn University’s Canine Detection Research Institute, who was interviewed by the Tribune, provided the answer. A “big, resounding yes,” he said.

There is a paradox in police-dog work, post-Ferguson. Depending on its training, a dog may or may not be good at alerting us to drugs or bombs. But there is one social ill that all detection dogs, even the poorly trained ones, reveal with searing accuracy: the hidden racial prejudices of the police officers who deploy them.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2015 at 3:11 pm

The biggest threat to America’s future is America

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John Cassidy has an excellent column in the New Yorker on how empires change and adapt as the world around them changes. From the column:

On a day when much of the world’s attention is turned to Israel and its elections, I’ve been thinking about another foreign story that has been receiving less coverage but could, in the long run, turn out to be equally significant: the news that Britain, France, Germany, and Italy have decided, over the objections of the United States, to join the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, a new international-development institution, set up by China, that is poised to become a potential rival to the World Bank.

Who cares about a new development bank, you may ask? By way of an answer, let me engage in a bit of historical analysis. It may seem like a pointless detour at first, but I promise to circle back to the news. . .

Unfortunately, the widespread recognition that America can’t do everything coexists with a set of outdated presumptions and practices, which still dominate many policy discussions in Washington and are already doing considerable harm to the U.S.’s standing. If these nostrums and patterns of behavior aren’t updated, they will end up doing far more damage. Indeed, it’s barely an exaggeration to say that the real threat to American power and influence comes from within America itself, specifically from its increasingly dysfunctional political system.

Take the transatlantic diplomatic row over the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. In itself, it isn’t a huge story, but it is a straw in the wind.

In June of last year, China announced that it was expanding its plans for a new international-development bank, which would be based in Beijing and would lend money for infrastructure investments across Asia. This happened after the Chinese were repeatedly rebuffed in their efforts to play a larger role in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the two big Washington-based lending institutions that were set up after the Second World War, and in the Manila-based Asian Development Bank, which was founded in 1966.

Since their establishment seventy years ago, the World Bank and the I.M.F. have played an important role in stabilizing and legitimizing the U.S.-dominated global economy, directly furthering U.S. interests in the process. In many other countries, indeed, they have long been viewed as conduits for the Treasury Department and the White House. At least a decade ago, as Asia’s importance to the world economy increased, smart officials in Washington came to realize that this situation couldn’t continue indefinitely, and that if the Bank and the I.M.F. were to maintain their influence they would have to be reformed, with China, India, and other Asian countries playing bigger roles. In November, 2010, after years of tortuous negotiations, a package to reform the I.M.F. was agreed upon: the Fund’s resources would be doubled, and China, in particular, would get more of a say in its internal deliberations.

That seemed like a step in the right direction, but Congress refused to go along with it. Following the 2010 midterm elections, the Republicans repeatedly sidelined legislation approving the I.M.F. reforms, and early last year they blocked them again, seemingly for good. This provided the Chinese the perfect backdrop against which to pursue their own initiative, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and market it to other Western countries, who are themselves keen to attract Chinese business deals and inward investment. Now, despite objections from the Obama Administration, four of the U.S.’s closest allies have agreed to join the new institution as founding members. Speaking on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, the Treasury Secretary, Jacob Lew, seemed resigned to the new reality. “It’s not an accident that emerging economies are looking at other places because they are frustrated that, frankly, the United States has stalled a very mild and reasonable set of reforms in the I.M.F.,” he said.

International finance is far from the only area in which Congressional intransigence and wrongheadedness are undermining U.S. interests. The open letter to Tehran that forty-seven G.O.P. senators signed last week comes to mind. What was jarring about the letter wasn’t just the sight of one branch of the U.S. government telling the leaders of a rival nation that the President, with whose representatives the leaders were negotiating a nuclear deal, would be gone in a couple of years. It was the suspicion that this unprecedented communication was, at root, a poorly thought through political gesture. [I think it was also jarring to see the GOP fall in line with and support the religious conservatives of Iran, who are hostile to the US. – LG]  In this area, as in many others, domestic politics had trumped the national interest. Immigration reform, infrastructure investments, environmental initiatives, health-care reform, servicing the national debt, and, now, appointing a new attorney general to oversee the U.S. legal system—in all of these areas, the same story can be told over and over. . .

By all means, read the whole thing. It has many interesting insights. His conclusion:

. . . Rather than accomplishing any of these things, Washington seems to be trapped in a never-ending back and forth, in which sloganeering substitutes for analysis and political point-scoring is elevated above policymaking. It’s a dismal spectacle, and if it goes on indefinitely it will exact an increasingly high price. Not the sudden collapse of Pax Americana, perhaps, but the gradual undermining of it.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2015 at 2:56 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

In the Spirit of Christ: San Francisco Catholic Church Installs Watering System To Ward Off Homeless

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Yes, I recall how Jesus would kick the poor out of his path, snarl at them, and tell them to go elsewhere for help. And that spirit is alive and active in the Catholic church today. Ahiza Garcia reports at TPM Livewire:

Saint Mary’s Cathedral, which, the radio station reported, is the main church within the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the home of the archbishop, has four tall side doors which are used as sheltered nooks by homeless people in the city.

While the church has “No Trespassing” signs, the watering system doesn’t come with a warning and the showers rain down throughout the night, KCBS reported.

The spigot is 30 feet up on the ceiling of the doorway alcove and when it spews water, the alcove and unsuspecting homeless people reportedly get soaked. According to KCBS, the water runs for about 75 seconds every 30-60 minutes.

“We’re going to be wet there all night, so hypothermia, cold, all that other stuff could set in,” a homeless man named Robert told KCBS. “Keeping the church clean, but it could make people sick.”

KCBS reported that the water system doesn’t in fact keep the alcoves clean and in fact pools on the steps and nearby sidewalk since there’s no drainage system installed.

A staff member at the cathedral reportedly told the radio station that the showers were installed about a year ago for the purpose of keeping homeless people away.

Archdiocese spokesman Chris Lyford told KCBS that the church refers the homeless to charities for housing but noted that they keep coming back.

“We do the best we can, and supporting the dignity of each person,” he said. “But there is only so much you can do.”

While the cathedral showers unsuspecting homeless people with water, California is currently in the midst of a serious drought during which time residents are encouraged to minimize nonessential water use. . .

Continue reading. Video of the shower action at the link.

You will recall that this is the organization that presumes to instruct us on moral and loving behavior.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2015 at 2:32 pm

Posted in Daily life, Religion

FBI’s Plan to Expand Hacking Power Advances Despite Privacy Fears

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So it goes: the government pries more into our lives and it shuts down our knowledge of what it’s doing. Dustin Volz reports in National Journal:

A judicial advisory panel Monday quietly approved a rule change that will broaden the FBI’s hacking authority despite fears raised by Google that the amended language represents a “monumental” constitutional concern.

The Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules voted 11-1 to modify an arcane federal rule to allow judges more flexibility in how they approve search warrants for electronic data, according to a Justice Department spokesman.

(RELATED: Republicans Have Less Faith in the NSA than Democrats)

Known as Rule 41, the existing provision generally allows judges to approve search warrants only for material within the geographic bounds of their judicial district.

But the rule change, as requested by the department, would allow judges to grant warrants for remote searches of computers located outside their district or when the location is unknown.

The government has defended the maneuver as a necessary update of protocol intended to modernize criminal procedure to address the increasingly complex digital realities of the 21st century. The FBI wants the expanded authority, which would allow it to more easily infiltrate computer networks to install malicious tracking software. This way, investigators can better monitor suspected criminals who use technology to conceal their identity.

But the plan has been widely opposed by privacy advocates, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as some technologists, who say it amounts to a substantial rewriting of the rule and not just a procedural tweak. Such a change could threaten the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizures, they warn, and possibly allow the FBI to violate the sovereignty of foreign nations. The rule change also could let the agency simultaneously target millions of computers at once, even potentially those belonging to users who aren’t suspected of any wrongdoing.

(RELATED: The CIA Is Trying to Hack Your iPhone)

Google weighed in last month with public comments that warned that the tweak “raises a number of monumental and highly complex constitutional, legal and geopolitical concerns that should be left to Congress to decide.”

In an unusual move, Justice Department lawyers rebutted Google’s concerns, saying the search giant was misreading the proposal and that it would not result in any search or seizures not “already permitted under current law.”

The judicial advisory committee’s vote is only the first of several stamps of approval required within the federal judicial branch before the the rule change can formally take place—a process that will likely take over a year. The proposal is now subject to review by the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, which normally can approve amendments at its June meeting. The Judicial Conference is next in line to approve the rule, a move that would likely occur in September. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2015 at 2:23 pm

Cool stuff for gluing, molding, repairing…

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It’s from today’s Cool Tools:

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2015 at 2:19 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

US threatened Germany over Snowden, Vice Chancellor says

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The US is becoming more and more obviously a bully, threatening and punishing to get its own way—e.g., sanctions against Venezuela for human rights abuses (but none against Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or any of our other despot allies), quite clearly not about human rights at all, but like many bullies, the US finds it a challenge to tell the truth.

Glenn Greenwald writes in The Intercept:

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel (above) said this week in Homburg that the U.S. government threatened to cease sharing intelligence with Germany if Berlin offered asylum to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden or otherwise arranged for him to travel to that country. “They told us they would stop notifying us of plots and other intelligence matters,” Gabriel said.

The vice chancellor delivered a speech in which he praised the journalists who worked on the Snowden archive, and then lamented the fact that Snowden was forced to seek refuge in “Vladimir Putin’s autocratic Russia” because no other nation was willing and able to protect him from threats of imprisonment by the U.S. government (I was present at the event to receive an award). That prompted an audience member to interrupt his speech and yell out: “Why don’t you bring him to Germany, then?”

There has been a sustained debate in Germany over whether to grant asylum to Snowden, and a major controversy arose last year when a Parliamentary Committee investigating NSA spying divided as to whether to bring Snowden to testify in person, and then narrowly refused at the behest of the Merkel government. In response to the audience interruption, Gabriel claimed that Germany would be legally obligated to extradite Snowden to the U.S. if he were on German soil.

Afterward, however, when I pressed the vice chancellor (who is also head of the Social Democratic Party, as well as the country’s economy and energy minister) as to why the German government could not and would not offer Snowden asylum — which, under international law, negates the asylee’s status as a fugitive — he told me that the U.S. government had aggressively threatened the Germans that if they did so, they would be “cut off” from all intelligence sharing. That would mean, if the threat were carried out, that the Americans would literally allow the German population to remain vulnerable to a brewing attack discovered by the Americans by withholding that information from their government.

This is not the first time the U.S. has purportedly threatened an allied government to withhold evidence of possible terror plots as punishment. In 2009, a British national, Binyam Mohamed, sued the U.K. government for complicity in his torture at Bagram and Guantánamo. The High Courtordered the U.K. government to provide Mohamed’s lawyers with notes and other documents reflecting what the CIA told British intelligence agents about Mohamed’s abuse.

In response, the U.K. government insisted that the High Court must reverse that ruling because the safety of British subjects would be endangered if the ruling stood. Their reasoning: the U.S. government had threatened the British that they would stop sharing intelligence, including evidence of terror plots, if they disclosed what the Americans had told them in confidence about Mohamed’s treatment — even if the disclosure were ordered by the High Court as part of a lawsuit brought by a torture victim. British government lawyers even produced a letter from an unnamed Obama official laying out that threat.

In the Mohamed case, it is quite plausible that the purported “threat” was actually the byproduct of collaboration between the U.S. and U.K. governments, as it gave the British a weapon to try to scare the court into vacating its ruling: you’re putting the lives of British subjects in danger by angering the Americans. In other words, it is quite conceivable that the British asked the Americans for a letter setting forth such a threat to enable them to bully the British court into reversing its disclosure order.

In the case of Germany, no government official has previously claimed that they were threatened by the U.S. as an excuse for turning their backs on Snowden, whose disclosures helped Germans as much as any population outside of the U.S. Pointing to such threats could help . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2015 at 2:11 pm

The product of the government’s knowledge of your activities and your knowledge of the government’s activities is constant

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As governments become more invasive, subjecting their citizens to universal surveillance (email, phone calls, CCTV, and other ways of scooping up essentially all information, breaking encryption, hacking into computers, and so on), they also become more secretive, classifying everything and hiding what they are doing so that citizens do not know. It creates a great inequality of information: the government starts to know everything about you as you are able to know less and less about the government. For example, two recent reports in McClatchy:

US sets new record for denying, censoring government files

White House is again refusing transparency, groups charge

And this, in the National Journal: FBI’s Plan to Expand Hacking Power Advances Despite Privacy Fears

Add to that the many ways that NSA has been secretly spying on us, as well as on our allies and our enemies—as revealed by Edward Snowden—and the way the Obama Administration viciously persecutes any whistleblower who informs the public of what the government is doing (well, except for David Petraeus).

It’s obvious that this process is well underway in the US. And the secrecy is not just about what they learn about you, but also about agreements they are making that will greatly affect your life and future. For example, take the demand from Obama that we buy a pig in a poke in the TPP trade agreement. Democracy Now! has a good video report, with transcript. Their blurb:

Congressional Democrats are openly criticizing the secrecy surrounding the negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), just as President Obama begins a major push to pass the controversial deal. The United States is engaged in talks with 11 Latin American and Asian countries for the sweeping trade pact that would cover 40 percent of the global economy. But its provisions have mostly been kept secret. After the White House deemed a briefing on the trade pact “classified,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut called the measures “needlessly secretive,” saying: “If the TPP would be as good for American jobs as they claim, there should be nothing to hide.” This comes as Obama recently called on Congress to pass “fast track” legislation to streamline the passage of trade deals through Congress. Meanwhile, theAFLCIO says it will withhold contributions to congressional Democrats to pressure them to vote no on fast-track authority. And some tea party-backed Republicans are saying Obama cannot be trusted with the same negotiating authority that past presidents have had. This spring, the White House has invited Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to address a joint session of Congress in which he may promote the TPP. For more, we speak with by Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, who has been sounding the alarm about the negotiations. She says Congress could vote on the TPP proposal in the third week in April.

UPDATE: Original title changed because it was wrong: what I wanted to show was the teeter-totter effect: as the government increased its knowledge about you (by spying on you and what you say and write and read and buy and keeping track of whom you associate with and communicate with), it correspondingly shuts down your access to knowledge about what it is doing. The product is constant in that the increase is spying is matched by a decrease in transparency.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2015 at 12:56 pm

Grow your intelligence using a research-based technique

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Via this post, from a site based on the research described in Carol Dweck’s book Mindset.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 12.38.52 PM

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2015 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Education

Shaver Heaven and Baby Smooth

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SOTD 19 Mar 2015

A truly superb shave today. First is Shaver Heaven’s extremely good soap. As you see from the label, this is an Australian artisan soap, and this is the Hubba Hubba fragrance (“notes of tawny port and cognac being sweetened up with lighter softer pinot noir, vanilla and raspberry, spicy notes of cinnamon, clove and vineyard soil”). I saved on shipping by buying it from Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements, which sells a range of Shaver Heaven soaps—only they are out of Sweet Meyer Lemon, dammit.

Not only does the soap have a great fragrance—a wonderful combination of spice and sweetness with other notes as well—but it lathers like a dream. With the Rooney Style 3 Size 1 Super Silvertip I got an immediate great lather.

I desperately want the G.B.M. fragrance (“a heart of Dark Chocolate surrounded by licorice, vetiver, mint, and a hint of neroli for a truly unique scented soap that will continue to develop in time”), but they are also out of that—temporarily, I hope. So I got Oatmeal Stout (“a full bodied and smooth beer fragrance blended with Creamy Oatmeal, Orange Peel, Butterscotch, Farm-fresh Milk, Nutty Almond and Rich Vanilla”) and will use that soon.

This really is a fine soap, and at $15 for 150g (5.3 oz) not a bad price, either. AND it’s vegan:

Saponified Stearic Acid, Aqua (Water), Saponified Elaeis Guineensis (Palm) Oil, Saponified Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Glycerin, Fragrance (Essential Oils and/or Fragrance)

Highly recommended, based on this shave and sniffing the other tub.

So much for the lather. I then picked up my RazoRock Baby Smooth razor, holding a Personna Lab Blue blade, and has a blissful shave. The Baby Smooth is light—made of anodized machined aluminum—but feels very strong and rigid, and the handle is wonderfully comfortable and grippy. The blade is curved a lot over the hump, but it seems to hit my face at exactly the right angle: three passes to perfect smoothness with no trace of a problem. This will be a favorite razor, based on the look, feel, and performance. High-tech with Batman appeal. 🙂

The aftershave sample from Chiseled Face was also excellent, and I might have to buy a bottle of this one. It did not seem to have menthol, which I generally don’t favor, and the fragrance was extremely nice: a woody scent to my nose. I’ll be using it again soon to get a better fix on its fragrance. But very nice.

This is so much more fun than a quick cartridge shave using canned foam.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2015 at 11:54 am

Posted in Shaving

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