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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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Now some good news. This time it isn’t an asteroid. It’s us:

The evidence is incontrovertible that recent extinction rates are unprecedented in human history and highly unusual in Earth’s history. Our analysis emphasizes that our global society has started to destroy species of other organisms at an accelerating rate, initiating a mass extinction episode unparalleled for 65 million years.

That is the conclusion of a study published Friday by scientists from Stanford, Princeton, and the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico. Climate change, pollution and deforestation are key factors. The Independent reports:

Scientists at Stanford University in the US claim it is the biggest loss of species since the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction which wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

“Without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event,” said Professor Paul Ehrlich, at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

“Species are disappearing up to about 100 times faster than the normal rate between mass extinctions, known as the background rate.”

Unless the study authors, who describe their estimates as “conservative,” were being too conservative:

Last year, a report by Stuart Pimm, a biologist and extinction expert at Duke University in North Carolina, also warned mankind was entering a sixth mass extinction event.

But Mr Pimm’s report said the current rate of extinction was more than 1,000 times faster than in the past, not 114, as the new report claims.

Now, for the savvy VC investor, that kind of growth means profit. Yet even Business Insider missed the big scoop: climate-driven extinction is creating job opportunities in archaeology, anthropology, and paleontology. Warming temperatures and melting glaciers are uncovering “relics, debris – and corpses – that have laid hidden for decades, even millennia.” Everything from mummies to plane crashes to “a massive deposit of caribou dung.”

McClatchy reports on just one of the exciting, new growth businesses created by the prospect of centuries of mass extinction ahead:

Archaeologists are turning into unlikely beneficiaries of a warmer Earth, and several have started a new publication: the Journal of Glacial Archaeology.

Its editor, E. James Dixon, an anthropologist at the University of New Mexico, frets about the phenomenon of ancient ice melting after thousands of years.

“For every discovery that is made, there are thousands coming out of the ice and are decomposing very rapidly,” Dixon said. “In the ice, some of the most delicate artifacts are preserved. We’ve found baskets, arrow shafts with the feathers intact and arrowheads and lashings perfectly preserved.”

Wall Street is going to be all over this like stink on ancient caribou dung.

Mass extinction. It’s not a global catastrophe. It’s a growth industry!

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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May
13

O Rotten Gotham

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The court ruling in Manhattan Monday against Nomura and the Royal Bank of Scotland over mortgage losses may be the tip of an iceberg we never see the bottom of. The firms knew they were “packaging and selling bad loans to unwitting victims, but did it anyway, because the money was good,” writes Matt Levin for Bloomberg. Wall Street long argued that “the banks did not generally break the law.” Finally, a court has found otherwise.

Levin writes:

There’s some good anecdotal history of how hard everyone was working to churn out mortgage securitizations. I liked this bit about the real estate appraisers who testified at trial (page 167):

They performed hundreds of appraisals apiece each year during the housing boom, but assured the Court that they never took shortcuts and in fact spent many hours on each and every appraisal. Clagett reported that he performed more than 700 appraisals each year in the period of 2005 to 2008, and took about five to six hours on each of them. Platt performed about 300 to 400 appraisals each year in 2005 and 2006, taking a minimum of four to five hours to perform each one despite the fact that he was also working fulltime as a fireman. For the period of 2004 through 2008, Morris conducted approximately 600 appraisals per year, which is about 12 per week. To justify those numbers, Morris claimed to have worked long hours seven days a week.

Apparently appraisers needed to appraise 70-80 hours a week, every week, for four years, to feed the mortgage securitization beast.

Speaking yesterday of culture, and of culture, and of culture, yet again no one will go to jail for the massive Nomura/RBS bank fraud. That too is cultural, filtering from Wall Street down to fireman/appraisers in Maryland. As they say, the fish rots from the head.

It seems people still reference Tom Wolfe’s essay, “O Rotten Gotham—Sliding Down into the Behavioral Sink,” published as the last chapter of “The Pump House Gang” in 1968. Touring the city with anthropologist Edward T. Hall of the Illinois Institute of Technology, Wolfe examined how New York affects people, referencing the work of ethologist John B. Calhoun. From Wikipedia:

The ethologist John B. Calhoun coined the term “behavioral sink” to describe the collapse in behavior which resulted from overcrowding. Over a number of years, Calhoun conducted over-population experiments on rats which culminated in 1962 with the publication of an article in the Scientific American of a study of behavior under conditions of overcrowding. In it, Calhoun coined the term “behavioral sink”. Calhoun’s work became used, rightly or wrongly, as an animal model of societal collapse, and his study has become a touchstone of urban sociology and psychology in general.

A friend from South Carolina got a masters at NYU in the 1980s, commuting in each day from Brooklyn. She said, “I learned to navigate the city. Where to go. Where not to go. But when I got on the subway every morning, packed in with a thousand people, I knew I was different. I knew I didn’t have to live this way.” Or as Wolfe put it:

In everyday life in New York– just the usual, getting to work, working in massively congested areas like 42nd Street between Fifth Avenue and Lexington, especially now that the Pan-Am Building is set there, working in cubicles such as those in the editorial offices at Time-Life, Inc., which Dr. Hall cites as typical of New York’s poor handling of space, working in cubicles with low ceilings and, often, no access to a window, while construction crews all over Manhattan drive everybody up the Masonite wall with air-pressure generators with noises up to the boil-a-brain decibel levels, then rushing to get home, piling into subways and trains, fighting for time and space, the usual day in New York– the whole now-normal thing keeps shooting jolts of adrenaline into the body, breaking down the body’s defenses and winding up with the work-a-daddy human animal stroked out at the breakfast table with his head apoplexed like a cauliflower out of his $6.95 semispread Pima-cotton shirt and nosed over into a plate of No-Kloresto egg substitute, signing off with the black thrombosis, cancer, kidney, liver, or stomach failure, and the adrenals ooze to a halt, the size of eggplants in July.

I mean, really. The poor dears on the Street can’t help acting like criminals, all nervous and agitated (and medicated), shuttered up for long hours staring at computer screens, slaving away for their bonuses. We should just thank them for what they add to the Potemkin economy and ask them not to do it again, again.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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May
04

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Freedom

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Public Domain image.

Privacy advocates on the left and right find common cause in Congress these days as provisions of the PATRIOT Act expire. Politico reports this morning on a bipartisan lunch meeting held last week:

With key provisions of the controversial post-9/11 law set to expire at the end of the month, including authority for the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, critics in both parties are preparing to strike. Among those on hand for the meeting were Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan, a card-carrying ACLU member from the liberal mecca of Madison, Wisconsin, and GOP Rep. Thomas Massie, a tea party adherent from Kentucky.

“The collection of data is still way too wide and can still be too easily abused,” Pocan said of the NSA program exposed by Edward Snowden two years ago.

Along with Pocan and Massie, the Thursday gathering drew Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.). The lawmakers, many of them privacy zealots with libertarian leanings, discussed the USA Freedom Act, bipartisan legislation that would rein in the bulk collection of telephone records and reauthorize expiring anti-terror surveillance provisions in the PATRIOT Act.

Last week the House Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly passed the bill that that would curtail bulk collection of data by government spies: the USA Freedom Act. (Can we please have an “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Freedom” bill next?)

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