Daily Archive: 01/23/2012

Jan 23 2012

SCOTUS Unanimous On Privacy Rights Of Citizens

This morning the Supreme Court handed down a 9 – 0 decision on the 4th Amendment and privacy right ruling that police must obtain a warrant before they can place GPS device on a person’s vehicle. The ruling in United States v. Jones upholds a citizen’s right to privacy and smacks down the Obama administrations defense of unlimited surveillance. The ruling overturns the drug conviction of Antoine Jones that used information from a GPS device that was placed on his vehicle without a warrant.

Justices Say GPS Tracker Violated Privacy Rights

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously ruled that the police violated the Constitution when they placed a Global Positioning System tracking device on a suspect’s car and monitored its movements for 28 days.

But the justices divided 5-to-4 on the rationale for the decision, with the majority saying that the problem was the placement of the device on private property. That ruling avoided many difficult questions, including how to treat information gathered from devices installed by the manufacturer and how to treat information held by third parties like cellphone companies. [..]

Though the ruling was limited to physical intrusions, the opinions in the case collectively suggested that a majority of the justices are prepared to apply broad Fourth Amendment privacy principles unrelated to such intrusions to an array of modern technologies, including video surveillance in public places, automatic toll collection systems on highways, devices that allow motorists to signal for roadside assistance and records kept by online merchants.

The Obama administration had argued that under a 1983 ruling the police had the right to place the device:

One of the Obama administration’s main arguments in support of warrantless GPS tracking was the high court’s 1983 decision in United States v. Knotts, in which the justices ruled it was OK for the government to use beepers known as “bird dogs” to track a suspect’s vehicle without a warrant. In that case, the police had the consent of that truck’s owner, which was not the case in the opinion decided Monday, Scalia wrote.

Law Professor Jonathan Turley provides broader discussion of the two opinions that were written by Justices Samuel Alito and Anton Scalia. Scalia’s opinion prevailed with Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor concurring.

Also Jeralyn E. Merritt of TalkLeft points out a question that was not addressed:

Whether the electronic surveillance, if achieved without having to physically trespass on Jones’s property, would have been “an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.”

Jan 23 2012

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

New York Times Editorial: Dissent in the Jobs Council

At Disney World last week, President Obama announced new executive orders to speed up visas for foreign tourists to the United States. The measure, a priority for the travel industry, was one of several sensible recommendations made in the last year by Mr. Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, a 27-member panel of corporate executives, academics, investors and labor leaders. The White House has carried out 17 others so far.

Increasingly, however, the council’s recommendations have resembled not so much expert advice as a corporate wish list. In a report last October, the council’s sound proposals for job-creating public works projects were overshadowed by its unfounded claim that antifraud provisions put in place in 2002 in response to Enron are an impediment to growth and hiring, and should be ended.

Paul Krugman: Is Our Economy Healing?

How goes the state of the union? Well, the state of the economy remains terrible. Three years after President Obama’s inauguration and two and a half years since the official end of the recession, unemployment remains painfully high.

But there are reasons to think that we’re finally on the (slow) road to better times. And we wouldn’t be on that road if Mr. Obama had given in to Republican demands that he slash spending, or the Federal Reserve had given in to Republican demands that it tighten money.

Van Jones: Obama Must Choose on Housing: Sweetheart Deal for the 1 Percent or Fairness for the 99 Percent?

Rumor has it that on Monday, after months of negotiation with big banks, the White House may announce a settlement that would let the banks off the hook for their role in the foreclosure crisis-paying a tiny fraction of what’s needed in exchange for blanket immunity from future lawsuits.

We hope these rumors are untrue.

President Obama has the ability to stop and change the direction of this sweetheart deal. He should reject any deal that benefits the one percent and lets the big banks get away with their crimes. Instead, the president should stand with the 99 percent and push for real accountability and a solution that will help millions of people in this country.

Here are the hard facts about the housing crisis we face:

    3.5 million Americans are homeless.

    18.5 million homes sit vacant.

    Since 2007, more than 7.5 million homes have been foreclosed.

Default and foreclosure rates are now several times higher than at any time since the Great Depression.

Dean Baker: The Surefire Way to End Online Piracy: End Copyright

The popular rebellion against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was an impressive display of democracy in action. The opponents of the bill were able to use the web and various social media venues to educate the public about the specifics of the bill. The resulting flood of emails, phone calls and letters caused the bill’s Congressional sponsors to cut and run.

While this revolt against the entertainment industry’s effort to rein in the web was inspiring, there is a real issue at stake. It is getting ever harder for creative workers to get paid for their work.

This is seen most clearly in the music industry. Sales of recorded music in the United States dropped from $14.6 billion in 1999 to $7.7 billion last year. If sales had kept pace with inflation and the growth of the economy they would be over $23 billion today.

Ellen Cantarow: Shale-Shocked: Fracking Gets Its Own Occupy Movement

This is a story about water, the land surrounding it, and the lives it sustains. Clean water should be a right: there is no life without it. New York is what you might call a “water state.” Its rivers and their tributaries only start with the St. Lawrence, the Hudson, the Delaware, and the Susquehanna. The best known of its lakes are Great Lakes Erie and Ontario, Lake George, and the Finger Lakes. Its brooks, creeks, and trout streams are fishermen’s lore.

Far below this rippling wealth there’s a vast, rocky netherworld called the Marcellus Shale. Stretching through southern New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, the shale contains bubbles of methane, the remains of life that died 400 million years ago. Gas corporations have lusted for the methane in the Marcellus since at least 1967 when one of them plotted with the Atomic Energy Agency to explode a nuclear bomb to unleash it. That idea died, but it’s been reborn in the form of a technology invented by Halliburton Corporation: high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing — “fracking” for short.

Jim Hightower: America’s Class Divide

What planet does presidential wannabe Rick Santorum live on? When it comes to grasping the situation of America’s hard-hit workaday majority, this sweater-vested ultra-right-winger is further out than Pluto.

In a recent debate, Santorum assailed a tax plan proposed by front-runner Mitt Romney. It wasn’t the plan’s details that caused Rick to stamp his tiny feet, but Romney’s expressed intent to help the “middle class.”

Tut-tut, chided the ideologically-pure Santorum, Republicans mustn’t use such language, for it creates an impression of class warfare. After all, he lectured: “There are no classes in America. We don’t put people in classes.”

Sure, Rick — today’s jobless economy, a national epidemic of union busting and wage knockdowns, absurd tax giveaways to the super-rich, the ongoing Wall Street bailout, inexcusable corporate subsides, rising poverty, the slashing of anti-poverty programs and a decade of falling incomes for the vast majority, while the elite 1 percent makes off with triple-digit increases in its wealth — there’s no class war happening. Just close your eyes, hum a happy tune … and live on Pluto.

E. J. Dionne, Jr.: What Newt Learned From Nixon

Conservatives may denounce class warfare, yet by shrewdly combining the politics of class with the politics of culture, Newt Gingrich won his first election in 14 years, humbled Mitt Romney and upended the Republican Party.

He also exposed profound frailties in Romney as a candidate, throwing him badly off-balance on questions related to his personal wealth, business career and income taxes. Unless Romney finds a comfortable and genuine way of talking about his money, he will present President Obama’s team a weakness that they’ll exploit mercilessly. The country is thinking more skeptically about wealth and privilege in the wake of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Romney has not adjusted.

Gingrich skillfully set up his opponent to step on the landmine of class by transforming Romney from his self-cast role as a successful businessman into a heartless financier more interested in profits than in job creation.

Jan 23 2012

On this Day In History January 23

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

January 23 is the 23rd day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 342 days remaining until the end of the year (343 in leap years).

On this day in 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell is granted a medical degree from Geneva College in New York, becoming the first female to be officially recognized as a physician in U.S. history.

Blackwell, born in Bristol, England, came to the United States in her youth and attended the medical faculty of Geneva College, now known as Hobart College. In 1849, she graduated with the highest grades in her class and was granted an M.D.

Banned from practice in most hospitals, she was advised to go to Paris, France and train at La Maternite, but had to continue her training as a student midwife, not a physician. While she was there, her training was cut short when in November, 1849 she caught a serious right eye infection, purulent ophthalmia, from a baby she was treating. She had to have her right eye removed and replaced with a glass eye. This loss brought to an end her hopes to become a surgeon.

In 1853 Blackwell along with her sister Emily and Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, founded their own infirmary, the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, in a single room dispensary near Tompkins Square in Manhattan. During the American Civil War, Blackwell trained many women to be nurses and sent them to the Union Army. Many women were interested and received training at this time. After the war, Blackwell had time, in 1868, to establish a Women’s Medical College at the Infirmary to train women, physicians, and doctors.

In 1857, Blackwell returned to England where she attended Bedford College for Women for one year. In 1858, under a clause in the 1858 Medical Act that recognized doctors with foreign degrees practising in Britain before 1858, she was able to become the first woman to have her name entered on the General Medical Council’s medical register (1 January 1859).

In 1869, she left her sister Emily in charge of the college and returned to England. There, with Florence Nightingale, she opened the Women’s Medical College. Blackwell taught at London School of Medicine for Women, which she had co-founded, and accepted a chair in gynecology. She retired a year later.

During her retirement, Blackwell still maintained her interest in the women’s rights movement by writing lectures on the importance of education. Blackwell is credited with opening the first training school for nurses in the United States in 1873. She also published books about diseases and proper hygiene.

She was an early outspoken opponent of circumcision and in 1894 said that “Parents, should be warned that this ugly mutilation of their children involves serious danger, both to their physical and moral health.” She was a proponent of women’s rights and pro-life.

Jan 23 2012

Foreclosure Fraud: While You Were Sleeping

Over the weekend while everyone was distracted by the South Carolina primary circus, the Super Bowl Championship playoffs and the Joe Paterno death watch, the Obama Justice Department is working to stab homeowners in the back and let the big banks off the hook for liability for the fraud they’ve committed and continue to commit.

Talks set out terms of US mortgage deal

By Shahien Nasiripour and Kara Scannell at Financial Times

Banks and government negotiators have cleared a big hurdle in efforts to resolve allegations of widespread mortgage-related misdeeds, agreeing on terms for a settlement that are being circulated to the 50 US states for approval, state officials and a bank representative say.

The proposed pact would potentially reduce mortgage balances and monthly payments by more than $25bn for distressed US homeowners, these five people said.

The tentative agreement still must be approved by all 50 state attorneys-general, and negotiators have previously missed proposed deadlines. Participants described the proposal terms as set, meaning the states will be asked either to agree to them or decline to participate.

The amount of potential aid is contingent on state participation and would decrease significantly if big states do not sign the agreement. New York and California are among several states that have voiced concerns about the terms of the proposed deal with Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial. New York and California are particularly concerned with the part of the deal that would absolve the banks of civil liability for allegedly illegal mortgage-related conduct.

California borrowers would be eligible to receive more than $10bn in aid if the state were to agree to the terms, according to several people involved in the talks.

It’s pretty obvious that by offering California 40% of the settlement that the Obama administration is trying very hard to pull their AG, Kamala Harris, back into the agreement. So far the pressure from her constituents is winning out over bribes that in the end would short change California home owners. From Marcy Wheeler at emptywheel:

Remember the “Cornhusker Kickback”? That was the $45 million in expanded Medicaid funding Ben Nelson demanded from the Obama Administration before he’d support Health Insurance Reform. The special treatment for Nebraska gave the reform effort a tawdry feel.

And just as importantly, it did nothing to improve Nelson’s popularity in his own state. When he announced he would not run for reelection in December, reporters pointed to the Cornhusker Kickback as one issue that was making his reelection increasingly unlikely. [..]

Yet it seems like Obama’s trying something similar in his effort to get CA’s Kamala Harris to join in his foreclosure settlement, with $10 billion in aid slated for CA’s struggling homeowners.

It would seem that Obama is having a hard time getting the Democratic AG’s on board.

Foreclosure Fraud Settlement Terms Laid Out, But Holdout AGs Not Signed On

by David Dayen at FDL News Desk

When I started digging into whether this Monday meeting with HUD and DoJ officials to go over a proposal for a foreclosure fraud settlement was legitimate, I couldn’t find one state Attorney General who mattered actually committed to showing up. When I say AGs who “matter,” I mean the ones who have been critical of a settlement in the past. I mean the Justice Democrats. I mean Eric Schneiderman in New York, Beau Biden in Delaware, Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada, Kamala Harris in California, not to mention the AGs from Hawaii, New Hampshire, Missouri, Mississippi, Maryland, Kentucky, Minnesota, Oregon and Montana who showed up (either themselves or representatives) at the meeting in DC last week to discuss alternatives to a settlement. I mean them. They aren’t going to Chicago, by all accounts. [,,]

But again, I’ve seen no evidence that anyone outside of the small circle of the Administration and the AGs on the executive committee negotiating the deal actually agree to it. Call it the 12-state deal, rather than the 50-state one. This is only closer to getting done in the sense that the folks who have wanted to cave all along are ready to do so.

So what can we do as individuals to get our state Attorney Generals to support homeowners and reject this sell out to the big banks? Yves Smith at naked capitalism lays out three reasons they should oppose this settlement and says to call them:

Here are some of the reasons to oppose a settlement:

1. There have been virtually no investigations, and the Administration has engaged in cover-ups rather than trying to get to the bottom of the mortgage mess

2. The big argument made in favor of the deal, that it will help borrowers, is patently false. Remember, Countrywide entered into a deal with attorney generals just like this, where they agreed to do mods in return for a settlement on abuses. Guess what? They didn’t do the mods. To add insult to injury, they actually abused homeowners who should have gotten mods. Nevada AG is suing Countrywide now over its failure to comply with the terms of its settlement. And even if some mods miraculously did get done, the settlement is designed to have banks hit a dollar amount. That means they will focus on the biggest loans, which means any relief will go to a comparatively small number of people in (originally) big ticket houses.

3. The Administration has only one chance to get this right. Now you might argue that Team Obama has no intention of getting the mortgage mess right, but the tectonic plates suddenly seem to be moving in elite circles. The Fed realizes that housing is a BIG problem and has even started making noise about it. Yet Obama is moving forward with a plan cooked up in late 2010 that is completely out of whack with the urgency and severity of the problem. Note that this settlement will NOT stop private actions, such as borrowers fighting foreclosures. And we will continue to banks refuse to take losses and drag out foreclosures to maximize fees. That will lead to continued pressure on housing prices in many markets as buyers stay on the sidelines, fearful of buying before a large shadow inventory clears. [..]

PLEASE call them TODAY. Here is a list of phone numbers. If you can’t get through, send an e-mail.

Please also sign this petition from Campaign for America’s Future (it has some talking points if you need them for the AG calls). Note you can opt out of being put on their mailing list (I know that has been a sore point with some past petitions). I know it is futile to ping Obama, but they will collect the number of people who sign, and that will in turn bolster the dissident AGs.

Please call today. Unlike Congresscritters, who get a lot of constituent mail and phone calls, AGs get much less in the way of messages from state citizens, so your calls will make a difference.

Thanks for your help.

Jan 23 2012

Pique the Geek 20120122: Chlamydia, a Serious STI

Last time we talked about trichonomiasis, a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that often produces no symptoms.  Chlamydia is another STI that often causes no symptoms, at least initially.  We shall investigate this condition this week and then move to topics other than STIs next time.

This infection is usually caused in humans by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis and is found only in humans.  Unlike trichomoniasis, women are more often asymptomatic than are men.  Estimates are that around 75% of women present with no symptoms whislt around 50% of men do have symptoms, almost the opposite from our infection of the week last time.

Although this is a serious subject, let us keep it a bit light.  After the fold in a song by Todd Rundgren called “You Left me Sore”.  Although most likely written about gonorrhea, it is still apt in this case.

Jan 23 2012

NFL 2012 NFC Championship- Giants @ ‘9ers

I’m sorry for you left coasters, but LXVI is going to be an I-95 affair between New York and Boston.  If I can find it I’ll have some passages from The King’s Best Highway which I got for eksmas about how this vital artery of colonial communication led to our freedom from monarchical tyranny.

Or not.

FIVE TURNOVERS!  That’s what it took for the ‘9ers to eek the slimmest of victories over the Saints.  The Giants are not that mistake prone.