Monthly Archive: December 2014

Dec 31 2014

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”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

New York Times Editorial: When New York City Police Walk Off the Job

Many members of the New York Police Department are furious at Mayor Bill de Blasio and, by extension, the city that elected him. They have expressed this anger with a solidarity tantrum, repeatedly turning their backs to show their collective contempt. But now they seem to have taken their bitterness to a new and dangerous level – by walking off the job. [..]

And for what? [..]

The list of grievances adds up to very little, unless you look at it through the magnifying lens of resentment fomented by union bosses and right-wing commentators. The falling murder rate, the increased resources for the department, the end of quota-based policing, which the police union despised, the mayor’s commitment to “broken-windows” policing – none of that matters, because many cops have latched on to the narrative that they are hated, with the mayor orchestrating the hate. [..]

Mr. de Blasio has a responsibility to lead the city out of this impasse, and to his credit has avoided inflaming the situation with hasty or hostile words. But it’s the Police Department that needs to police itself. Rank-and-file officers deserve a department they can be proud of, not the insular, defiant, toxically politicized constituency that Mr. Lynch seems to want to lead.

Sen. Bernie Sanders: Fight for Our Progressive Vision

As I look ahead to this coming year, a number of thoughts come to mind.

First and foremost, against an enormous amount of corporate media noise and distraction, it is imperative that we not lose sight of what is most important and the vision that we stand for. We have got to stay focused on those issues that impact the lives of tens of millions of Americans who struggle every day to keep their heads above water economically, and who worry deeply about the kind of future their kids will have.

Yes. We make no apologies in stating that the great moral, economic and political issue of our time is the growing level of income and wealth inequality in our nation. It is a disgrace to everything this country is supposed to stand for when the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, and when one family (the Waltons) owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent. No. The economy is not sustainable when the middle class continues to disappear and when 95 percent of all new income generated since the Wall Street crash goes to the top 1 percent. In order to create a vibrant economy, working families need disposable income. That is often not the case today.

Joan Walsh: New York’s epic white backlash: How a horrid 1960s relic is still with us today

I grew up in New York in the 1960s and 70s saying a prayer whenever I heard a siren – a prayer for whomever the siren wailed, and a prayer for the men behind the siren, the policemen and firemen risking their lives every day, my uncles (and later cousins) among them. That’s what my mother taught me. I still find myself doing it sometimes. [..]

Now I live in New York again, for the first time since the 1970s, and again New York is in turmoil over the police –  not just over the killings of Garner and other unarmed black men, but over the murders of two police officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, in Brooklyn on Dec. 20.  White New Yorkers fear a return to the bad old days of riots, escalating crime and attacks on police. In the 1970s, 46 officers were killed in the line of duty, according to the New York Times, and 41 more in the 1980s. Before these latest murders, the last police killing was in 2011.

Black New Yorkers say the bad old days – of police abuse – never ended. The loudest voices are on the extremes, shouting down those who are trying to find common ground.

David Dayen: 2015′s biggest days for politics: Salon’s handy calendar for the next year

Want to know which critical deadlines Republicans will sneakily try to exploit? Bookmark this timeline as a guide

The conventional wisdom is that the 114th Congress will feature mostly angry white men in suits yelling about something or other, without the normal output from a legislative branch, like “legislation.” The passage of the CRomnibus should put that theory to rest. Republicans were able to slide dozens of policy riders into a must-pass bill, with Democrats and the White House agreeing to the changes amid the risk of a government shutdown. GOP legislators are salivating at the prospect of running this movie over and over again in the final two years of the Obama presidency.

Fortunately for the Republicans, they will have quite a few opportunities to test this model, in their first year of total congressional control since 2006. The 2015 calendar is littered with a series of critical deadlines, which Republicans will surely try to exploit. You can pretty much throw out the rest of the year and just tune in to Congress around these deadline dates, most likely the only times when anything of import will actually happen. Here’s your congressional calendar for the next year:

Dec 31 2014

On This Day In History December 31

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.

December 31 is the 365th day of the year (366th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. The last day of the year in the Gregorian calendar, it is widely known as New Year’s Eve.

On this day in 1759, Arthur Guinness signs a 9,000 year lease at £45 per annum and starts brewing Guinness.

Guiness is a popular Irish dry stout. Guinness is directly descended from the porter style that originated in London in the early 18th century and is one of the most successful beer brands worldwide.

A distinctive feature is the burnt flavour which is derived from the use of roasted unmalted barley (though this is a relatively modern development since it did not become a part of the grist until well into the 20th century). For many years a portion of aged brew was blended with freshly brewed product to give a sharp lactic flavour (which was a characteristic of the original Porter).

Although the palate of Guinness still features a characteristic “tang”, the company has refused to confirm whether this type of blending still occurs. The thick creamy head is the result of the beer being mixed with nitrogen when being poured. It is popular with Irish people both in Ireland and abroad and, in spite of a decline in consumption since 2001[1], is still the best-selling alcoholic drink in Ireland where Guinness & Co. makes almost €2 billion annually.

The company had its headquarters in London from 1932 onwards. It merged with Grand Metropolitan plc in 1997 and then figured in the development of the multi-national alcohol conglomerate Diageo.

Arthur Guinness started brewing ales from 1759 at the St. James’s Gate Brewery, Dublin. On 31 December he signed (up to) a 9,000 year lease at £45 per annum for the unused brewery. Ten years later on 19 May 1769 Guinness exported his ale for the first time, when six and a half barrels were shipped to England.

Guinness is sometimes believed to have invented stout,[citation needed] however the first known use of the word stout in relation to beer appears in a letter in the Egerton Manuscript dated 1677, almost 50 years before Arthur Guinness was born.

Arthur Guinness started selling the dark beer porter in 1778. The first Guinness beers to use the term were Single Stout and Double Stout in the 1840s.

The breweries pioneered several quality control efforts. The brewery hired the statistician William Sealy Gosset in 1899, who achieved lasting fame under the pseudonym “Student” for techniques developed for Guinness, particularly Student’s t-distribution and the even more commonly known Student’s t-test.

Guinness brewed their last porter in 1974.

Guinness has also been referred to as “the black stuff” and as a “Pint of Plain” – referred to in the famous refrain of Flann O’Brien’s poem “The Workman’s Friend”: “A pint of plain is your only man.”

Dec 31 2014

Have A Private New Year

One of the key components of a secure and private Internet connection is The Onion Relay Project, commonly known as Tor after its browser, a variation of the popular open source Firefox.

Recently the FBI announced that it had arrested 17 people and brought down over 400 sites including the infamous “Silk Road 2.0”.

Does that mean Tor is broken?  Not so much apparently.

Did the FBI Break Tor?

By Naomi Gingold, Slate

Dec. 8 2014 8:49 AM

This past July Tor announced it had shut down a five-month-long combined “Sybil” and “traffic confirmation attack,” allegedly carried out by researchers at CERT, a computer security research institute at Carnegie Mellon University.



A traffic confirmation attack is one of the most well-known ways to assault Tor. To carry it out, you need to be able to control the first and last relays of Tor circuits. Once in control, you secretly tag data packets when they enter the network and check those tags when they exit. This way you can figure out who is talking to whom.

A common way to gain control of those relays is through a “Sybil attack,” where you flood the system with your own relays, so that you can dominate parts of the network. (Recent research shows that it’s not that expensive to do this; after all, there are only 6,000-plus relays currently on Tor.) This Sybil attack exploits an inherit vulnerability of Tor’s design: its reliance on volunteers to create the network.

As it turns out the FBI was able to make these cases through traditional police methods (finding a weak link in the organization and threatening and lying to them in order to get them to implicate others).  However another group, the Lizard Squad (best known for hacking game servers and consoles), has also been attempting to compromise Tor security using a Sybil attack.

The Attack on the Hidden Internet

Marc Rogers, The Daily Beast

12/29/14

Most recently, it’s Tor’s ability to provide websites with a private “onion” address that has been hitting the headlines. “Onion” addresses are private addresses that can only be reached after connecting through Tor’s layers of anonymity. Ordinary Web browsers can’t see the site, in other words-protecting it from government censors. Seen both as a way to make websites used by activists accessible in countries governed by hostile regimes and as a way to host websites carrying illegal products and services, this part of the Tor network is now known as a central component of the “darknet” or “deep web.”



Over the space of a few hours on Friday, Lizard Squad registered a little more than 3,000 Tor relays. Relays are special computers that Tor uses to anonymously transmit traffic across the Internet. Comprised entirely of volunteered machines, the larger and more distributed this network of relays is, the better for the network and its users. So it’s understandable that the Tor folks wanted to make it as easy as possible to add new relays to the network, allowing it to grow. However, it appears it is this very open nature that the Lizard Squad is attempting to exploit.



Networks like Tor have long been considered to be vulnerable to an attack known as a “Sybil” attack, named after the famous 1973 book about the woman suffering from multiple personality disorder. The attack relies on flooding the network with fake nodes, or identities, until enough of them are present that the operator of those fake nodes can use them to influence or control the network. It’s like poisoning a party by overloading it with assholes.

Just how many fake nodes would be needed in order to pull off a successful Sybil attack against Tor is not known. Luckily, Tor was prepared for this sort of assault, and has built-in defenses to protect against it.

Tor’s administrators have to allow new nodes to connect and play a trusted role in the network. So to enable this while protecting the network, it has a system of evaluation that cycles the new node through several distinct phases before loading it up with traffic. This means that for the first few days the node essentially sees no traffic until the network is confident about it and its reliability.

As a result, while the 3,021 nodes added by Lizard Squad looked like a significant chunk of Tor’s more than 6,000-node network, they actually carried less than 1 percent of Tor’s traffic. Most importantly, they were all deleted long before that percentage could rise any higher. So, while Lizard Squad’s latest attack against the Internet’s most important anonymity network is troublesome, it was also completely harmless-this time. There is a lot of residual concern that Lizard Squad was able to get even this far. One of the biggest concerns is that if they had been more patient and subtler about how they executed this attack, it’s possible that they could have added relays slowly, across a wide range of networks, in such a way that they became trusted integral parts of the Tor network. At that point, who knows what they could have been capable of.

Even so the Tor browser when properly used and end-to-end encryption are the best way to protect yourself against casual snooping, including by Government Agencies.  How do we know this?  Der Spiegel has just published a piece based on the Snowden Papers showing the “threat” (meaning difficulty in illegally spying on you) the NSA considers various practices and programs.

Prying Eyes: Inside the NSA’s War on Internet Security

By Jacob Appelbaum, Aaron Gibson, Christian Grothoff, Andy Müller-Maguhn, Laura Poitras, Michael Sontheimer and Christian Stöcker, Der Spiegel

12/28/14

For the NSA, encrypted communication — or what all other Internet users would call secure communication — is “a threat”. In one internal training document viewed by SPIEGEL, an NSA employee asks: “Did you know that ubiquitous encryption on the Internet is a major threat to NSA’s ability to prosecute digital-network intelligence (DNI) traffic or defeat adversary malware?”



The Snowden documents reveal the encryption programs the NSA has succeeded in cracking, but, importantly, also the ones that are still likely to be secure. Although the documents are around two years old, experts consider it unlikely the agency’s digital spies have made much progress in cracking these technologies. “Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on,” Snowden said in June 2013, after fleeing to Hong Kong.



As one document from the Snowden archive shows, the NSA had been unsuccessful in attempts to decrypt several communications protocols, at least as of 2012. An NSA presentation for a conference that took place that year lists the encryption programs the Americans failed to crack. In the process, the NSA cryptologists divided their targets into five levels corresponding to the degree of the difficulty of the attack and the outcome, ranging from “trivial” to “catastrophic.”



Things first become troublesome at the fourth level. The presentation states that the NSA encounters “major” problems in its attempts to decrypt messages sent through heavily encrypted email service providers like Zoho or in monitoring users of the Tor network*, which was developed for surfing the web anonymously. Tor, otherwise known as The Onion Router, is free and open source software that allows users to surf the web through a network of more than 6,000 linked volunteer computers. The software automatically encrypts data in a way that ensures that no single computer in the network has all of a user’s information. For surveillance experts, it becomes very difficult to trace the whereabouts of a person who visits a particular website or to attack a specific person while they are using Tor to surf the Web.

The NSA also has “major” problems with Truecrypt, a program for encrypting files on computers. Truecrypt’s developers stopped their work on the program last May, prompting speculation about pressures from government agencies. A protocol called Off-the-Record (OTR) for encrypting instant messaging in an end-to-end encryption process also seems to cause the NSA major problems. Both are programs whose source code can be viewed, modified, shared and used by anyone. Experts agree it is far more difficult for intelligence agencies to manipulate open source software programs than many of the closed systems developed by companies like Apple and Microsoft. Since anyone can view free and open source software, it becomes difficult to insert secret back doors without it being noticed. Transcripts of intercepted chats using OTR encryption handed over to the intelligence agency by a partner in Prism — an NSA program that accesses data from at least nine American internet companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple — show that the NSA’s efforts appear to have been thwarted in these cases: “No decrypt available for this OTR message.” This shows that OTR at least sometimes makes communications impossible to read for the NSA.

Things become “catastrophic” for the NSA at level five – when, for example, a subject uses a combination of Tor, another anonymization service, the instant messaging system CSpace and a system for Internet telephony (voice over IP) called ZRTP. This type of combination results in a “near-total loss/lack of insight to target communications, presence,” the NSA document states.

ZRTP, which is used to securely encrypt conversations and text chats on mobile phones, is used in free and open source programs like RedPhone and Signal. “It’s satisfying to know that the NSA considers encrypted communication from our apps to be truly opaque,” says RedPhone developer Moxie Marlinspike.

Also, the “Z” in ZRTP stands for one of its developers, Phil Zimmermann, the same man who created Pretty Good Privacy, which is still the most common encryption program for emails and documents in use today. PGP is more than 20 years old, but apparently it remains too robust for the NSA spies to crack. “No decrypt available for this PGP encrypted message,” a further document viewed by SPIEGEL states of emails the NSA obtained from Yahoo.

Phil Zimmermann wrote PGP in 1991. The American nuclear weapons freeze activist wanted to create an encryption program that would enable him to securely exchange information with other like-minded individuals. His system quickly became very popular among dissidents around the world. Given its use outside the United States, the US government launched an investigation into Zimmermann during the 1990s for allegedly violating the Arms Export Control Act. Prosecutors argued that making encryption software of such complexity available abroad was illegal. Zimmermann responded by publishing the source code as a book, an act that was constitutionally protected as free speech.

PGP continues to be developed and various versions are available today. The most widely used is GNU Privacy Guard (GnuPG), a program developed by German programmer Werner Koch. One document shows that the Five Eyes intelligence services sometimes use PGP themselves. The fact is that hackers obsessed with privacy and the US authorities have a lot more in common than one might initially believe. The Tor Project, was originally developed with the support of the US Naval Research Laboratory.

Today, NSA spies and their allies do their best to subvert the system their own military helped conceive, as a number of documents show. Tor deanonymization is obviously high on the list of NSA priorities, but the success achieved here seems limited. One GCHQ document from 2011 even mentions trying to decrypt the agencies’ own use of Tor — as a test case.

To a certain extent, the Snowden documents should provide some level of relief to people who thought nothing could stop the NSA in its unquenchable thirst to collect data. It appears secure channels still exist for communication. Nevertheless, the documents also underscore just how far the intelligence agencies already go in their digital surveillance activities.

Having used Tor on an experimental basis I’ll tell you the experience is very much like moving from 98 SE to XP 64 in that it’s mostly notable for the many things you used to do and programs that used to work that simply don’t anymore because they’re insecure.  Now this is either an insurmountable hardship for you or it isn’t.  I’ve found that as time progresses I have less and less use for my old stuff which I still have available anyway on my dusty machines that worked until I turned them off.

Dec 30 2014

John Oliver: New Year’s Eve

In a New Year’s Eve message, Jon Oliver pops in with a youtube “greeting,” explaining why New Year’s is the worst and how to get our of any party you may have the misfortune to have been invited.

Happy New Year from all of us at The Stars Hollow Gazette and Docudharma.

Dec 30 2014

The End of the Grimm Affair

Finally accepting his untenable position to remain in office, tough guy, Representative Michael Grimm (R-NY11) has decided to resign his House seat sparing the people of Staten Island and Brooklyn the embarrassment of having a convicted felon representing them. Mr. Grimm spoke yesterday with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) who obviously laid out the grim options (pardon the pun).

House rules dictate that a member convicted of a crime for which a prison sentence of two years or more may be imposed should not participate in committee meetings or vote on the floor until winning re-election. The stricture could have left Mr. Grimm’s 11th district effectively disenfranchised until 2016.

After sources leaked the news of the resignation to The New York Daily News early Monday, Mr. Grimm released a statement at midnight that he had changed his mind and would not stay in Congress, stating that he would resign on January 5th.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will set a date for a special election.

The judge should throw the book at him for deceiving the voters and using his office as a bargaining chip for a lighter sentence, as expalained by Blake Zeff at Salon:

It will take some time, specifically until the announcement of his criminal sentence, to fully appreciate the snow job Michael Grimm just pulled on Staten Island voters. But we already know plenty enough to call it a criminal’s virtuoso parting heist.

Grimm, you’ll recall, ran for reelection last month as a two-term GOP incumbent in socially conservative Staten Island, with a 20-count indictment on his back. The charges, largely misunderstood by the voters (and media, for that matter), essentially amounted to this: He ran a restaurant some years back, and in an effort to skirt payroll taxes, paid workers under the table and submitted a fake payroll to the feds. He was then caught lying about it when a “real” payroll was discovered by prosecutors in his computer records.

This last part is important because it tells you what Grimm knew: he had lied to federal officers (a crime that never gets ignored), and they had the goods on him. In other words, he was very likely going to prison – and he knew it. [..]

The congressman was clearly never going to serve out his term, nor would he take his case to trial, as he had assured voters.

But he had a very good reason to convince voters otherwise.

If you’re headed to prison but want to cop a deal with the feds, you need a chip you can bargain in exchange for a lighter sentence. And for a politician, there are few chips more valuable than a seat you can resign. If Grimm lost his race last November, he’d have been a disgraced former congressman with no seat to give up and, likely, real prison time. If he won, he’d have the golden House seat to drop in exchange for – he hoped – leniency.

It is the NYT article best sums up the end of this sad affair:

Whoever takes Mr. Grimm’s seat will be unlikely to match his track record as a source of national fascination, or satire. A tough-talking politician with a clenched jaw and an intense stare, a fondness for dark-tailored suits and Brooklyn wine bars, Mr. Grimm brought with him a reputation for controversy, including the time – back in his law enforcement days – when he reportedly waved a gun around a Queens nightclub. He carried himself with a bravado that was on display until the end.

Mr. Grimm knew this was coming when he was indicted for tax evasion last April. Instead of admitting it then and withdrawing from the race, he decided to arrogantly stand his ground and lie about his guilt, bringing unwanted attention to Staten Island and, now, costing NY tax payers millions for a special election. Never mind the money that his supporters donated to his campaign, they should have seen the handwriting on the wall. The IRS and FBI do not bring these charges unless they can win. Remember Al Capone?

But too many Staten Island voters still love the tough guy image and swagger, hopefully this time they will make a better choice.

Dec 30 2014

Dispatches From Hellpeckersville-Resolutions

It’s that time again! You know, I never used to make any New Year’s resolutions, I thought they were stupid. Now I love ’em. I make a big list every year. Oh, I still think they’re stupid, but it amuses the hell out of me, so here goes.

1. I’m really going to try to stop being a one hit wonder with my projects. I know how to make a lot of stuff, and I’ll make one of something. It will turn out great, I’ll be happy as all hell with it. Then I’ll start another one….um, I don’t finish. Or, I have the stuff to make more, but I don’t. What is wrong with me? I need to stop the madness.

2. People like to resolve to eat healthier, lol! I already do eat pretty healthy, seriously, I do. Not that it helps much. I tell myself–look, think of how much worse things could be if you ate junk constantly. Yeah, that shit is cold comfort, but I say it anyway. But, being one who tries not to eat much processed food or simple carbs, I’ve tried some things, and this year I will not be eating any quinoa. Yes, I’ve rinsed, I’ve swirled, I’ve done all of that stuff, and still–blech! Quinoa, on my “fuck that” list.

3. Several years back I resolved to stop hogging the Sunday crossword. Care to know how that turned out for me? I get the leavings, the answers Cleetus does not know, okay–fine. But… now the man has begun to encroach upon my crostic! Give them an inch, man. My only satisfaction there comes when he messes up, which he does at least once a week. Once he puts a wrong letter in, he’s sunk. He cannot backtrack and fix it. I’m down to the hard crossword clues and fixing crostics gone wrong. This year all bets are off. I’m taking back some puzzle, damn it.

4. This year I resolve to reduce the stress. I know what you’re thinking, my situation is quite stressful, and no, that’s not going to change. But–I’ve told the various crazymakers around here they better start letting the little shit go. Oh, I know, poor babies, they’re irritated, boo-fucking-hoo, shut up. I am not the receiver of the grievances.

5. Finally, I resolve to waste more time this coming year. I’m going to waste it playing with my kids, watching movies with Cleetus, playing poker on Saturday nights, making art, doing crafts, reading about things that interest me, and just whatever strikes my fancy. See, the time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. That’s a quote generally attributed to either Bertrand Russell or John Lennon, when it was actually neither of them who was the responsible party. The phrase first appeared in a book by Marthe Troly-Curtin and then was reprinted without attribution in various newspapers as a thought for the day. I won’t waste time being miserable. That’s truly a waste.

Life is short, and while I don’t have much, that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy as much of it as possible, and I plan to.

Dec 30 2014

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”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

New York Times Editorial: Police Respect Squandered in Attacks on de Blasio

Mayor Bill de Blasio has spent weeks expressing his respect and admiration for the New York Police Department, while calling for unity in these difficult days, but the message doesn’t seem to be sinking in. [..]

The New York Police Department is going through a terrible time, and the assassinations of those officers only underscore the dreadful dangers that rank-and-file cops face every day. And, in truth, there is some thanklessness to being a cop. Officers often feel beleaguered, jerked around by supervisors and politicians, obligated to follow rules and policies that can be misguided, held responsible for their mistakes in ways that the public is not, exposed to frequent ridicule and hostility from the people they are sworn to serve. It has always been that way with cops.

But none of those grievances can justify the snarling sense of victimhood that seems to be motivating the anti-de Blasio campaign – the belief that the department is never wrong, that it never needs redirection or reform, only reverence. This is the view peddled by union officials like Patrick Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association – that cops are an ethically impeccable force with their own priorities and codes of behavior, accountable only to themselves, and whose reflexive defiance in the face of valid criticism is somehow normal.

It’s not normal. Not for a professional class of highly trained civil servants, which New York’s Finest profess to be. The police can rightly expect, even insist upon, the respect of the public. But respect is a finite resource. It cannot be wasted. Sometimes it has to be renewed.

Peter Dreier: Focus on the NRA, Not Mayor de Blasio, for Deaths of NYC Cops

In an interview Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani urged current Mayor Bill de Blasio to apologize to the New York Police Department for “[giving] the police the impression that he’s on the other side” – in other words, that he’s siding with the protesters over law enforcement during recent protests over the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police officers.   Patrick Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, has been grabbing headlines by blaming de Blasio for creating an anti-police atmosphere that may have encouraged Brinsley to target the two police officers, gunned down while they sat in their squad car outside a Brooklyn housing project. Some NYPD officers even turned their backs on de Blasio during  Ramos’ funeral on Saturday. [..]

If Giuliani and Lynch want to point the finger of blame for policies that put police in harm’s way, they should focus on the NRA, not de Blasio.  For decades, the NRA has fought every effort to get Congress and states to adopt reasonable laws that would make it much less likely that people like Brinsley would be able to obtain a gun.  The NRA even  defends the right of Americans to carry concealed weapons in bars, churches, schools, universities, and elsewhere.  This poses a huge threat to police and civilians alike. [..]

Every American grieves for the families and friends of the two police officers killed in New York City on December 20.  But until we tame the power of the NRA, we can expect more killings like this – a part of the deadly daily diet of murders throughout America committed by angry gun-toting people whose “freedom” to own weapons of mass destruction the NRA defends.

David Cay Johnston: The success of Obamanomics

What’s not to like about the economic record of this president?

By a host of measures, the U.S. economy has done exceptionally well under President Barack Obama. So why does he receive such poor approval ratings, especially from the most prosperous and economically conservative Americans? [..]

So what’s not to like about the economic record of this president?

What most people know is that they are working hard and getting nowhere and that even if they perform well, their jobs can evaporate in an instant.

Median household income was $59,139 last year, about $4,500 below 2007 but up all of $189 from 2012. As I showed in a previous column, the median wage last year was at its lowest level since 1998, and the average wage remains below its 2007 peak.

Therein lies a key to understanding dissatisfaction with Obama’s economic policies.  While about 10 million jobs have been added since the low point a year into his first term, wages have stagnated. [..]

Had congressional Republicans cooperated with the president, our economy would be larger by 3 percent, or about $529 billion, the St. Louis Federal Reserve and other researchers estimate. Unrealized economic output is a terrible waste, especially when it results from petty political animus.

Now that the economy is expanding at the fastest rate we’ve seen in more than a decade, public perception about Obama’s economic policies is beginning to improve. But whatever Americans ultimately conclude about Obama, they should view his economic policies in a light that balances his broad successes and failures with the declared determination of Republican congressional leaders to oppose Obama’s policies at all costs.

David Dayen: The Super Bowl doesn’t need terrorism insurance. Here’s why

In its final week, the 113th US Congress managed to pass a spending bill loaded with policy giveaways to special interests, and a year-long extension of mostly corporate tax breaks.

But they couldn’t finish off the lobbyist Triple Crown. There was one task Congress couldn’t tackle: approve an extension of the Terrorist Risk Insurance Act, known as TRIA. The bill provides lucrative government bailout protection for the insurance industry in case of a terrorist attack like 9/11 or, as Hollywood has feared, retribution for American entertainment choices by North Korea. [..]

But perhaps the expiration of TRIA can shed some light on its necessity.

Supporters claim new real estate development will collapse without affordable terrorism coverage; let’s see if that’s the case. They argue that the economy will suffer; we can certainly find out. They claim that no other solution but a government guarantee exists; we can test that theory.

In fact, we already have some evidence that the industry caterwauling is overblown: the NFL has said they will not need to cancel the Super Bowl in the wake of the failure to pass TRIA, despite news reports to that effect.

Congress rarely gets the chance to run a natural experiment on whether the policies they enact make sense in the real world. The bungling of TRIA provides that opportunity. It’s up to them whether or not they seize it.

John Nichols: Bill de Blasio Is Not the First New York City Mayor to Clash With Police Unions

The leaflet was meant to highlight anger on the part of police officers with the mayor of New York. It encouraged officers to fill their names in on a document that read, “I, . . ., a New York City police officer, want all of my family and brother officers who read this to know [that] in the event of my death [the mayor and his police commissioner should] be denied attendance of any memorial service in my honor as their attendance would only bring disgrace to my memory.”

That’s how deep the divisions ran.

Yes, “ran.”

The leaflet mentioned above was distributed in 1997. The mayor in question was Rudolph Giuliani, and The New York Times reported on rank-and-file members of the powerful Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association urging fellow officers to sign the documents. Though the union did not officially sanction the jab at the mayor, its circulation among officers “demonstrates the depths of their discontent,” reported the Times in an article on a contract dispute in which Giuliani was taking a hard line against pay increases. [..]

In his eulogy for Officer Ramos, Mayor de Blasio preached a gospel of reconciliation that sought to reduce the current animosity, describing how police officers “help make a place that otherwise would be torn with strife a place of peace.” The mayoral olive branch was not accepted Saturday, just as previous efforts by previous mayors to ease tensions with the PBA have hit rough spots. This is a part of the story of big-city policing and politics. But it is not the whole story. The whole story tells us that it is possible for a strong mayor to get through hard times that include clashes with a strong police union, to propose and implement reforms that the mayor, many police officers and most citizens know to be necessary, and to survive politically. This is the historical reality, as opposed to the media-frenzy spin of the moment. And it is this reality that Mayor de Blasio would do well to keep in mind through the weeks and months to come.

Eugene Robinson: Economic Facts Get in the Way of Presidential Ambitions

Uh-oh. Now that the economy is doing well, what are Republicans-especially those running for president-going to complain about? And what are Democrats willing to celebrate?

Last week’s announcement that the economy grew at a 5 percent rate in the third quarter of 2014-following 4.6 percent second-quarter growth-was the clearest and least debatable indication to date that sustained recovery is no longer a promise, it’s a fact. [..]

GOP candidates face a dilemma. To win in the primaries, where the influence of the far-right activist base is magnified, it may be necessary to continue the give-no-quarter attacks on Obama’s record, regardless of what the facts might say. But in the general election, against a capable Democratic candidate-someone like Hillary Clinton, if she decides to run-pretending that up is down won’t cut it. [..]

Likewise, Elizabeth Warren charges that the administration’s coziness with Wall Street helps ensure that the deck remains stacked against the middle class. Warren says she isn’t running for president but wants to influence the debate. She has. Clinton’s speeches have begun sounding more populist, in spite of her long-standing Wall Street ties.

You know the old saying about how there’s no arguing with success? Our politicians are about to prove it wrong.

Dec 30 2014

The Breakfast Club (A Toast to Innocence)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

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This Day in History

Saddam Hussein is executed; Fire in Chicago kills 600 people; Vladimir Lenin proclaims the establishment of the Soviet Union; The United Auto Workers union stage their first “sit-down” strike; Musician Bo Diddley is born.

Breakfast Tunes

Dec 30 2014

On This Day In History December 30

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.

December 30 is the 364th day of the year (365th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There is one day remaining until the end of the year.

Today history was made in in Parson’s Kansas where the last roll of Kodachrome was processed at Dwayne’s Photo Shop, the only Kodak certified processor of Kodachrome film in the world as of 2010. The final roll of 36-frame Kodachrome to be manufactured was tracked by National Geographic; it was shot by photographer Steve McCurry.

For Kodachrome Fans, Road Ends at Photo Lab in Kansas By A. G. Sulzberger

PARSONS, Kan. – An unlikely pilgrimage is under way to Dwayne’s Photo, a small family business that has through luck and persistence become the last processor in the world of Kodachrome, the first successful color film and still the most beloved.

That celebrated 75-year run from mainstream to niche photography is scheduled to come to an end on Thursday when the last processing machine is shut down here to be sold for scrap.

One of the toughest decisions was how to deal with the dozens of requests from amateurs and professionals alike to provide the last roll to be processed.

In the end, it was determined that a roll belonging to Dwayne Steinle, the owner, would be last. It took three tries to find a camera that worked. And over the course of the week he fired off shots of his house, his family and downtown Parsons. The last frame is already planned for Thursday, a picture of all the employees standing in front of Dwayne’s wearing shirts with the epitaph: “The best slide and movie film in history is now officially retired. Kodachrome: 1935-2010.”

A Color-Saturated Sun Sets on Kodachrome

I have fond memories of my 35mm Yashika and Canon cameras.

Dec 29 2014

The Christmas News Dump

The exceedingly long Christmas weekend had some notably sad and tragic news that dominated news cycle. Here are a couple of the important stories that were buried.

Cuomo, Christie Veto Bill To Reform Port Authority

By Dave Klepper and Michael Cantalini, Huffington Post

The governors of New York and New Jersey jointly vetoed legislation Saturday aimed at overhauling the Port Authority and proposed instead a series of reforms they said would go further in bringing accountability to the agency.

The bill was designed to clean up an agency long known for dysfunction and scandals, including most recently the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge that ensnarled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. It had the unanimous support of the New York and New Jersey legislatures.

The bill would have overhauled the troubled agency by requiring an independent annual audit, creating an inspector general’s office, restricting lobbying and creating a whistleblower protection program. It also would have required Port Authority board members to swear they’ll act in good faith. [..]

“It’s really just an awful thing for them to do. Neither of them can ever stand up and say they’re for effective reform,” said former New York Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Democrat, who had predicted the veto. “In a competition between effective reform and power, power won. Reform ends on Christmas, but scandals go on forever.”

New Jersey Sen. Loretta Weinberg said the decision was a “cop-out,” and Assemblyman John Wisniewski said he’s disappointed the bill didn’t become law.

“I find it very disappointing that both governors together decided to turn their backs on their respective legislators,” Weinberg said. [..]

In place of the legislation, Cuomo and Christie on Saturday recommended reforms and said they would ask authority board members for their resignations. They called for a single chief executive officer to oversee the authority in place of an executive director and deputy executive director under the current system.

Weinberg said those reforms would have been possible under the legislation, too.

“There is nothing in this legislation that prevents them from moving ahead with those reforms,” she said.

And for some unknown reason, neither state legislature will move to over ride the vetoes of Criminal One and Criminal Two. A bill, btw, that was passed nearly unanimously by both bodies. It’s too hard

Next up.

NSA Drops Christmas Eve Surprise

By Murtaza Hussain, The Intercept

The National Security Agency on Christmas Eve day released twelve years of internal oversight reports documenting abusive and improper practices by agency employees. The heavily redacted reports to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board found that NSA employees repeatedly engaged in unauthorized surveillance of communications by American citizens, failed to follow legal guidelines regarding the retention of private information, and shared data with unauthorized recipients. [..]

The reports, released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union, offer few revelations, but contain accounts of internal behavior embarrassing to the agency. In one instance an NSA employee “searched her spouse’s personal telephone directory without his knowledge to obtain names and telephone numbers for targeting”, a practice which previous reports have indicated was common enough to warrant the name “LOVEINT”.

Don’t start banging you head on the desk just yet

After Scrutiny, C.I.A. Mandate Is Untouched

Mark Mazzetti, New York Times

Senator Angus King, a member of the Intelligence Committee, said that Hollywood depictions of torture have distorted the public’s view of its efficacy.

“Every week, Jack Bauer saves civilization by torturing someone, and it works,” said Mr. King, the independent from Maine, referring to the lead character of the television show “24.”

Mr. King said that he was initially skeptical about the need to release the torture report, but when he spent five straight evenings reading it in a secure room on Capitol Hill he decided that the C.I.A. abuses needed a public airing.

“It went from interest, to a sick feeling, to disgust, and finally to anger,” he said.

But the Obama administration has made clear that it has no plans to make anyone legally accountable for the practices described by the C.I.A. as enhanced interrogation techniques and the Intelligence Committee as torture. The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. this week asking him to appoint a special prosecutor to examine the report’s allegations, but the request will almost certainly be rejected.

And while Senator King called the Intelligence Committee’s report “Church Committee II,” he, like many other Democrats on the Intelligence Committee, remains a broad supporter of the C.I.A.’s paramilitary mission that Mr. Obama has embraced during his time in the White House. [..]

And as America’s spying apparatus has grown larger, richer and more powerful than during any other time in its history, it has become ever harder for those keeping watch over it.

“We are 15 people overseeing a $50 billion enterprise,” said Senator King, speaking of his fellow members on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“I can’t tell you I know with certainty every intelligence program this enterprise is engaged in.”

Almost done

Off duty, black cops in New York feel threat from fellow police

By Michelle Conlin, Reuters

From the dingy donut shops of Manhattan to the cloistered police watering holes in Brooklyn, a number of black NYPD officers say they have experienced the same racial profiling that cost Eric Garner his life. [..]

What’s emerging now is that, within the thin blue line of the NYPD, there is another divide – between black and white officers.

Reuters interviewed 25 African American male officers on the NYPD, 15 of whom are retired and 10 of whom are still serving. All but one said that, when off duty and out of uniform, they had been victims of racial profiling, which refers to using race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of having committed a crime.

The officers said this included being pulled over for no reason, having their heads slammed against their cars, getting guns brandished in their faces, being thrown into prison vans and experiencing stop and frisks while shopping. The majority of the officers said they had been pulled over multiple times while driving. Five had had guns pulled on them. [..]

The black officers interviewed said they had been racially profiled by white officers exclusively, and about one third said they made some form of complaint to a supervisor.

All but one said their supervisors either dismissed the complaints or retaliated against them by denying them overtime, choice assignments, or promotions. The remaining officers who made no complaints said they refrained from doing so either because they feared retribution or because they saw racial profiling as part of the system.

Last, a little reminder of just how bad the nation’s largest police department really is.

Nine terrifying facts about America’s biggest police force

Tana Ganeva and Laura Gottesdiener, Alternet

The NYPD has expanded into a massive global anti-terror operation with military capabilities

The NYPD is the biggest police force in the country, with over 34,000 uniformed officers patrolling New York’s streets, and 51,000 employees overall – more than the FBI. It has a proposed budget of $4.6 billion for 2013, a figure that represents almost 15 percent of the entire city’s budget (pdf).

NYC’s population is a little over 8 million. That means that there are 4.18 police officers per 1,000 people. By comparison, Los Angeles, the second largest city in the U.S. with 3.8 million people, has only 9,895 officers-a ratio of 2.6 police per 1,000 people.

What has the NYPD been doing with all that cash and manpower? In addition to ticketing minorities for standing outside of their homes, spying on Muslims who live in New Jersey, abusing protesters, and gunning down black teens over weed, the NYPD has expanded into a massive global anti-terror operation with surveillance and military capabilities unparalleled in the history of US law enforcement.

In an email published by WikiLeaks, an FBI official joked about how shocked Americans would be if they knew how egregiously the NYPD is stomping all over their civil liberties. But what we already know is bad enough. Here’s a round-up of what the department has been up to lately.

This lawlessness by NYPD has cost the tax payers of NYC nearly $1 billion in settlement over and above the bloated budget. Needless to say, the NYPD has gotten on my last nerve.

OK, start banging but please put a pillow on the desk.

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