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Aug
23

The Anchor Baby Around Their Necks

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Had to go find the column behind this:

The takeover of American conservatism by evangelical Christianity, Fox News and a handful of shadowy billionaires has transformed the Republicans into the party of wilful ignorance: doctrinal purity is more valued than intelligence; tolerance has been supplanted by persecutory moralising; paranoia has replaced realism.

This process may be reaching its logical conclusion with the emergence of property billionaire Donald Trump as the front-runner for the party’s presidential nomination.

Trump personifies everything the rest of the world despises about America: casual racism, crass materialism, relentless self-aggrandisement, vulgarity on an epic scale. He is the Ugly American in excelsis.

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Aug
11

Not so Smart Objects

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Adam Pope playing Zaphod Beeblebrox in an Amateur Production of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy,
By Hypermusic (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

One morning in Glacier National Park years ago, I walked through a campground past a teepee. In the next campsite you could see through the picture window of his RV a guy reading the paper and drinking coffee as the news played on TV. People who can’t enjoy nature without their experience being mediated by an internal combustion engine always puzzled me. Getting out into the woods for them means ATVs or dirt bikes. Going for a swim means personal watercraft. Quiet simplicity seems foreign.

Then again, tech junkies shouldn’t talk, constantly checking our phones and computers. Connectivity, baby.

How much tech is too much? How much anything is too much? It is almost un-American to ask.

Zeynep Tufekci, assistant professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina, wonders if Smart Objects, the Internet of Things, is a dumb idea. A hacked car (or cars) or airliner, for example, would be a safety nightmare:

The Internet of Things is also a privacy nightmare. Databases that already have too much information about us will now be bursting with data on the places we’ve driven, the food we’ve purchased and more. Last week, at Def Con, the annual information security conference, researchers set up an Internet of Things village to show how they could hack everyday objects like baby monitors, thermostats and security cameras.
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Aug
05

The courage of our exceptionalism

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MEDITERRANEAN SEA (Oct. 17, 2013) Distressed persons are transferred from the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio (LPD 17) to Armed Forces of Malta offshore patrol vessel P52. San Antonio provided food, water, medical attention, and temporary shelter to the rescued. San Antonio rescued 128 men adrift in an inflatable raft after responding to a call by the Maltese Government. (U.S. Navy photo/Released) 131017-N-ZZ999-009 Public Domain via Wikipedia Commons.

In the home of William Blackstone, they are at least investigating whether the Iraq war was illegal. Just very, very slowly:

An impatient David Cameron will demand that Sir John Chilcot name the date by which his report into the British invasion of Iraq will be ready for publication.

The prime minister is expected to tell Chilcot he wants to see the report as soon as possible. “Right now I want a timetable,” he told journalists.

Its release is not expected before September, and could be delayed until the middle of next year. Chilcot has been at this for some time and has spent £10.3m:

Chilcot has so far declined to give a timetable for the publication of the findings of the Iraq war inquiry, which opened in 2009 and concluded in 2011. He previously told Cameron and separately the chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, Sir Crispin Blunt, that he was still waiting for witnesses to respond to planned criticisms in the report. He is also examining fresh evidence.

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RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft . U.S. Air Force photo by Bobbi Zapka. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“If we’re not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation.”

Acting Under Secretary of Defense Michael W. Wynne speaking in 2006 about using nonlethal weapons such as microwave emitters. Wynne signed the 2004 DoD Airspace Integration Plan for Unmanned Aviation.

Ponder that a moment.

Meanwhile, those little drones are getting just a bit pesky. On July 17:

Fire officials said aircraft sent to battle a wildfire that swept across a Southern California freeway were briefly delayed after five drones were spotted above the blaze.

U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Lee Beyer said it was the fourth time in a span of a month that a drone disrupted efforts to suppress a wildfire in the region. He said some firefighting planes that were in the air were grounded, while several other aircraft that were on the way to the blaze had to be diverted until the drones left the area.

On July 21:

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Jul
26

“Monsters from the id”

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So I’m driving through an upscale neighborhood in Greenville, SC this week and pass a big house with a big yard, and a fresh, new Confederate flag flying right beside the road.

Except it’s not the familiar battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, the one they just took down in the state capitol. It’s the first flag of the Confederate States of America.

I’ve seen a lot of Confederate battle flags over the decades, but this is the first time I’ve seen this particular flag displayed by a homeowner. Ever.

I wonder how many others recognized it? The battle flag came down in Columbia just weeks ago and already neo-confederates are going “more abstract” with their white supremacist. Just as they once did with “forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff.” Somewhere, is Lee Atwater smiling?

The RNC apologized to the NAACP a decade ago for the Southern Strategy. Republicans just never abandoned it. Fueling white resentment as a get-out-the-vote tool has worked too well too long for the GOP. They just can’t quit that flag. Resentment is the conservative id. Nurtured for years. Promoted. Now in the person of Donald Trump it is coming back to bite them. Maybe:

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Jul
24

Your daily death count

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Wonder what time Lester’s Guns and Ammo opens? ‘Cause it’s time to run down and stock up again. Again.

The gunman who opened fire inside a packed movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, Thursday night, was John Russel Houser, police said at a news conference this morning.

Houser, 59, who killed himself, is among three people who died, police said. The other two were Mayci Breaux, 21, of Franklin, Louisiana, who died at the theater, and Jillian Johnson, 33, of Lafayette, who died at the hospital.

Nine others were injured, including one who was in critical condition, police said.

Gov. Bobby Jindal praised two New Iberia teachers as heroes. One leaped over the other to shield her and pull a fire alarm:

“Her friend literally jumped over her, and in her account actually saved her life,” Jindal said during a press conference. “If she hadn’t done that … that bullet, she believed it would have hit her in the head.

“Even though she was shot in the leg, she had the presence of mind to pull the fire alarm to help save other lives.”

So there’s a bright side. Read More→

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Jul
16

Beyond the hate

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One story that really struck me in the wake of the Charleston murders and the Confederate flag debate in South Carolina was actually about Kentucky. James W. Loewen, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Vermont mentioned it on NPR. He explains in his July 1 article for the Washington Post, “Why Do People Believe Myths About The Confederacy? Because Our Textbooks And Monuments Are Wrong.” He writes, “As soon as Confederates laid down their arms, some picked up their pens and began to distort what they had done, and why.” The project to rewrite history began in earnest:

Take Kentucky. Kentucky’s legislature voted not to secede, and early in the war Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston ventured through the western part of the state and found “no enthusiasm as we imagined and hoped but hostility . . . in Kentucky.” Eventually, 90,000 Kentuckians would fight for the United States, while 35,000 fought for the Confederate States. Nevertheless, according to historian Thomas Clark, the state now has 72 Confederate monuments and only two Union ones.

Neo-Confederates also won western Maryland. In 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy put a soldier on a pedestal at the Rockville, Md., courthouse. Montgomery County never seceded, of course. While Maryland did send 24,000 men to the Confederate armed forces, it sent 63,000 to the U.S. Army and Navy. Nevertheless, the Confederate monument tells visitors to take the other side: “To our heroes of Montgomery Co. Maryland / That we through life may not forget to love the Thin Gray Line.”

Pretty stunning stuff. Loewen provides examples of how the “states’ rights” rationalization for secession quickly replaced slavery in Southern memory and in schoolbooks, until people will insist slavery had nothing to do with the “War Between the States” (itself renamed), in spite of plenty of contemporary evidence to the contrary. Then, of course, there is the romance of the “Lost Cause” and the battle flag.

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Jul
09

“Victimless punishment”

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Wall Street might be licking its wounds after yesterday’s hours-long trading shutdown, but for former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder the future is looking rosy.

Holder has gone back to his old D.C. law firm, Covington & Burling, where he can once again work to keep the rich and powerful from facing justice — just what he did for the Obama administration, but with a better pay package. Covington even held an office in its new building for him. Lee Fang wrote on Monday:

Holder’s critics charge that he made a career out of institutionalizing “Too Big to Prosecute” rules within the department. In 1999, as a deputy attorney general, Holder authored a memo arguing that officials should consider the “collateral consequences” when prosecuting corporate crimes. In 2012, Holder’s enforcement chief, Lanny Breuer, admitted during a speech to the New York City Bar Association that the department may go easy on certain corporate criminals if they believe prosecutions may disrupt financial markets or cause layoffs. “In some cases, the health of an industry or the markets are a real factor,” Breuer said.

In decamping the DoJ for Covington, Holder reinforces how thoroughly socialized Justice has become around business — in the Grover Norquist sense. But with Justice functioning as a kind of training school, DoJ attorneys with higher-paying aspirations learn more than how not to pee on the office furniture. David Dayen writes:

Holder is at least the sixth former Justice Department official who landed at Covington after leaving law enforcement. In addition to Breuer, Mythili Raman, who also ran the criminal division, went to Covington, as did partner Steven Fagell and special counsels Daniel Suleiman and Aaron Lewis. Holder’s Justice Department appears to have been a farm team for white-collar criminal defense, where the money gets made protecting illicit corporate actors.

Matt Taibbi elaborates:

Holder doesn’t look it, but he was a revolutionary. He institutionalized a radical dualistic approach to criminal justice, essentially creating a system of indulgences wherein the world’s richest companies paid cash for their sins and escaped the sterner punishments the law dictated.

Taibbi details “five pillars” of that revolution, including failing to win “a single conviction in court for any crimes related to the financial crisis,” the concept of “collateral consequences” noted above, and ways to soften punishments for financial crimes:

Holder doubtless seriously believed at first that in a time of financial crisis, he was doing the right thing in constructing new forms of justice for banks, where nobody but the shareholders actually had to pay for crime. You’ve heard of victimless crimes; Holder created the victimless punishment.

All of which allowed the big banks to get bigger, their rich executives to get richer, and “Eric Holder himself to crash-land into a giant pile of money upon resignation.”

Sleazy work if you can get it.

(Cross-posted from Hullabloo.)

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Jul
06

Grexit: The Iceland Cometh

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The final tally was a 61-39 landslide for the No’s. The Wall Street Journal and other outlets called the Greek referendum “divisive.” Like Bush’s 2000 win was a mandate.

All I could think of all day was Iceland. A big middle finger to creditors. Throw a few bankers in jail. It was as bracing as Iceland’s winters. Less than a decade later, Iceland is doing fine, thank you, said
President Olafur Ragnar Grimmson in 2013:

“Why are the banks considered to be the holy churches of the modern economy? Why are private banks not like airlines and telecommunication companies and allowed to go bankrupt if they have been run in an irresponsible way? The theory that you have to bail out banks is a theory that you allow bankers enjoy for their own profit, their success, and then let ordinary people bear their failure through taxes and austerity. People in enlightened democracies are not going to accept that in the long run.”

But Greece is not Iceland, as the Washington Post noted on Saturday – even as the authors’ prediction on the vote went awry on Sunday:

The stakes are high. They are perhaps higher for Greece than they were for Iceland. While at the time the cost of accepting the repayment terms was quantifiable for Icelanders (calculated as approximately $17,000 per person), there’s no easy way to know what voting either way will mean for Greeks. The choices being put to them are costly either way and, sadly, Greece’s economic woes seem unlikely to be resolved anytime soon — even if voters say yes in the referendum. Icelanders said no to their creditors and seem now, four years later, on a sure enough economic footing again that they deliberately withdrew the application for EU membership they submitted in the midst of the Icesave crisis. Yet Greece faces a much larger, longer economic battle, even if it yields to the current bailout conditions.

Well, Greek democracy stood up to the central bank technocrats. Democracy — governance by the people — is so inconvenient for “Merkantilism” that way. The bankers, thus, have behaved like loan shark enforcers with Greece. So in a performance worthy of a Republican presidential debate, the Troika demanded the poors of Europe pay their debts in a way they wouldn’t expect big banks to. Almost as if they learned that from watching Wall Street banks insist homeowners with underwater mortgages keep paying, while the banks themselves received bailouts. For me, but not for thee. Gotta keep the poors and their democracy in line or they get uppity, like Iceland, dontcha know.

Early moves in Asian markets do not indicate any panic, according to the Financial Times.

This morning, Paul Krugman responds to what the financial press (naturally) describes as a “Greek tragedy.” He writes that Europe actually dodged a bullet:

Of course, that’s not the way the creditors would have you see it. Their story, echoed by many in the business press, is that the failure of their attempt to bully Greece into acquiescence was a triumph of irrationality and irresponsibility over sound technocratic advice.

But the campaign of bullying — the attempt to terrify Greeks by cutting off bank financing and threatening general chaos, all with the almost open goal of pushing the current leftist government out of office — was a shameful moment in a Europe that claims to believe in democratic principles. It would have set a terrible precedent if that campaign had succeeded, even if the creditors were making sense.

What’s more, they weren’t. The truth is that Europe’s self-styled technocrats are like medieval doctors who insisted on bleeding their patients — and when their treatment made the patients sicker, demanded even more bleeding.

Greek voters’ answer to another round of bleeding was a big middle finger.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Jun
25

SCOTUS watch Th, Fr, Mo

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“As goes the next president, so goes the court,” Rachel Maddow wrote in the Washington Post. It is best to keep that thought firmly in mind going into 2016. It is easy to get bogged down in the personalities, the coverage, and the presidential horse race. The Big Money Boyz put their attention elsewhere. Maddow asked a Democratic campaign operative if candidates heard different concerns from donors than from just plain folks:

I got a surprised look in response — I think it was shock at my naivete — and a two-word answer: “Supreme Court.” The direction of the court and potential court nominees came up infinitely more often with donors than they did with average people.

I then asked a senior Republican operative the same question. I got the same response, minus the shocked look (I think he already knew I was naive).

Shoes are about to drop at the Supreme Court any time now. Power plant emissions, redistricting, same-sex marriage, and of course, King v. Burwell, in which we find out whether the court will rule against the Affordable Care Act and its own credibility.

Amy Howe runs down the remaining cases “in Plain English” at SCOTUSblog. An all-star panel at Slate is discussing the effects the rulings will have on an already polarized country. Or check out the Wall Street Journal, if you prefer.

Marriage equality activists are planning “Decision Day” rallies across the country to respond to the court’s Obergefell v. Hodges et. al. (same-sex marriage) ruling, however it goes.

Stay tuned at 10 a.m. EDT today to see which shoe drops next.

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