Daily Archive: 02/27/2015

Feb 27 2015

DHS: Yes, Shut It Down, Better Yet, Abolish It.

The Department of Homeland Security was created  a year after the attacks on the US by Arab militants on September 11, 2001. It was obvious to many of us that it was a knee jerk reaction to bolster the Bush administration’s new “war on terror.” that, eventually, led to the illegal overthrow of the sovereign government of Iraq and the current state of chaos in the Middle East, Near East and parts of Africa.

The newly Republican led congress decided to separate the funding for DHS from the omnibus bill to attempt to use it as a bargaining chip to block President Barrack Obama’s policies on undocumented immigrants. That has led to a stand off that may result in the shut down of most of DHS when funding runs out on Saturday.

GOP leaders are arguing that the three-week funding bill would keep the agency open. They’re also asking their members to vote to go to conference with the Senate. But Senate Democrats say they’ll refuse that request.

Without language overturning Obama’s actions, the GOP may not have the 218 votes necessary to approve the bill – especially with House Democratic leaders urging their members to vote against it.

Democrats are demanding a more permanent funding measure.

The Senate on Friday voted 68-31 to fund the department through the end of the fiscal year. That bill might pass the House, but only if GOP leaders are willing to accept a vote on legislation that would divide their party.

There are many reasons that this may not be the disaster that fear mongering politicians on both sides of the aisle are claiming. There are some who feel that after 14 years, this trillion dollar boondoggle needs to go.

In a commentary at The Guardian, Trevor Timm argues that the department is “George W Bush’s creation is too inefficient, wasteful and disrespectful of privacy to keep around. If Republicans want to shut it down, Democrats shouldn’t stop them.”

Besides the cost to American tax payers of $38.2 billion this year alone, there are these major issues with DHS:

Consider the DHS’ so-called “fusion centers”, which are little more than spying hubs that vacuum up information from federal and local authorities and store it for indefinite amounts of time. A scathing Senate report on the centers, which have cost the DHS at least $1.4 billion dollars, concluded that they produce “predominantly useless information” – one employee was quoted as calling it “a bunch of crap” – and that they also “run] afoul of departmental guidelines meant to guard against civil liberties” and are “possibly in violation of the Privacy Act”. While they’ve spied on many people who [were engaged in purely First Amendment protected activities, they’re not known to have stopped a terrorist attack.

The department has also been a treasure trove for local police departments, giving them millions in military grade gear and specialized spying equipment without accountability. This has lead to some very serious violations of the people’s constitutional rights.

For example, they have a program to hand out funds for local police to buy surveillance drones and give grants to cops for controversial Stingray surveillance devices, which are fake cell phone towers that allow the police to spy on entire neighborhoods at once.

They also have their own Predator drones program (without the missiles like in Pakistan and Yemen) that they fly along the US border as well. A government report released in January derided DHS’s Predator drones as almost entirely ineffective and a giant waste of money. The report didn’t even cover the alarming privacy concerns of having sophisticated spying machines constantly flying over large parts of the country.

Some of the harshest criticism of the DHS has come from within the agency. The Office of Intelligence and Analysis has been mocked by it’s own current and former employees for churning out “intelligence spam” and producing “almost nothing you can’t find on Google.”

The article also noted that the department was criticized for its inability to secure its own buildings from hackers let alone any other government offices and another Senate report that called the DHS cybersecurity “incompetant.” On top of that there is the department’s over paying by hundreds of thousands of dollars for border patrol housing, millions wasted on vehicles that were purchased without any internal oversight or guidelines and misuse of government credit cards for personal expenses to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

So if the Republicans can’t figure out how to pass a clean funding bill, the Democrats should just let the DHS close, doing the American tax payers a great favor.

Feb 27 2015

In Memoriam: Leonard Nimoy – March 26, 1931 – February 27, 2015

Leonard Simon Nimoy, Mr. Spock, died in his Los Angeles home this morning of end stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). He was 83.

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Mr. Nimoy announced that he had the disease last year, attributing it to years of smoking, a habit he had given up three decades earlier. He had been hospitalized earlier in the week.

His artistic pursuits – poetry, photography and music in addition to acting – ranged far beyond the United Federation of Planets, but it was as Mr. Spock that Mr. Nimoy became a folk hero, bringing to life one of the most indelible characters of the last half century: a cerebral, unflappable, pointy-eared Vulcan with a signature salute and blessing: “Live long and prosper” (from the Vulcan “Dif-tor heh smusma”).

Feb 27 2015

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

Paul Krugman: What Greece Won

Last week, after much drama, the new Greek government reached a deal with its creditors. Earlier this week, the Greeks filled in some details on how they intend to meet the terms. So how did it go?

Well, if you were to believe many of the news reports and opinion pieces of the past few days, you’d think that it was a disaster – that it was a “surrender” on the part of Syriza, the new ruling coalition in Athens. Some factions within Syriza apparently think so, too. But it wasn’t. On the contrary, Greece came out of the negotiations pretty well, although the big fights are still to come. And by doing O.K., Greece has done the rest of Europe a favor. [..]

For Greece to run any surplus at all – given the depression-level slump that it’s in and the effect of that depression on revenues – is a remarkable achievement, the result of incredible sacrifices. Nonetheless, Syriza has always been clear that it intends to keep running a modest primary surplus. If you are angry that the negotiations didn’t make room for a full reversal of austerity, a turn toward Keynesian fiscal stimulus, you weren’t paying attention.

The question instead was whether Greece would be forced to impose still more austerity. The previous Greek government had agreed to a program under which the primary surplus would triple over the next few years, at immense cost to the nation’s economy and people.

Michelle Chen: What You Should Know About Walmart’s Raise

Remember when Walmart got panned for running a Thanksgiving food drive for its own employees-overlooking the irony of demonstrating noblesse oblige by asking customers to subsidize the workers the company itself impoverished? The retail giant took a more strategic approach last week when rolling out its latest do-gooder scheme: raising its base wage incrementally to $10 an hour. The move was widely praised even by labor groups-for lifting wages slightly closer to… well, what it should have been paying workers all along. [..]

But even with the raise, Walmart would still seem to peg the value of its workers at less than a living wage. The lowest-paid employees rely on billions in public benefits each year, including masses of food stamps, to scrape by. According to one recent analysis based on federal estimates, “a single Walmart Supercenter cost taxpayers between… $3,015 and $5,815 on average for each of 300 workers.” If a part-time associate is working 1,000 hours a year-roughly half its workers are part-timers-the extra dollar an hour still might not make her financially self-sufficient, much less lift her family out of poverty.

And since Walmart apparently has no plans to significantly expand full-time positions, thousands may continue to lack the working hours they need to approach a sustainable income.

David Cay Johnston: Financiers and power producers rig electricity markets

Sleepy regulators in New England allow consumers to be robbed of billions of dollars

For decades Wall Street financial engineers, teaming up with electric power producers, have gamed wholesale electricity auctions to earn bigger profits than either a regulated utility or a competitive market would yield. This month they made a major advance in their campaign to get rich by subtly draining your wallet. Yet every major news organization ignored this.

This latest development took place in New England, which already has America’s most expensive electricity. February’s electricity auction saw the annual cost to customers rise to $4 billion, up from about $3 billion in last year’s auction and less than $2 billion in the 2013 auction. That $4 billion figure would have been much higher but for a rule capping prices.

By the way, that $4 billion is not for the electricity, which costs extra. The $4 billion price tag is for capacity payments made to owners just for promising to run their power plants in 2018 and ’19.

If that sounds bizarre, it’s because it is. It is comparable to government taxing us to pay auto dealers to keep enough cars and trucks on their lots to satisfy expected future demand.

John Nichols: The Activists Who Won Net Neutrality Must Defend It in 2016

The Federal Communications Commission has finally taken the necessary steps to preserve a free and open Internet by guaranteeing net neutrality.

With the commission’s 3-2 vote on Thursday, the issue is settled.

For now.

Then it will rise again. No, there will not be a mass outcry against net neutrality, the premise that all Internet communications should be treated equally. There will be no popular demand for ending net neutrality protections against the development of a two-tier Internet, where “paying” content (from multinational corporations and powerful special interests) moves on an information superhighway, while “non-paying” content (from grassroots groups and dissenting citizens) is diverted onto a digital dirt road.

But there will be campaign donations, lobbying and spin from telephone and cable companies that have too much at stake to give up on the fight for an end to rules that prevent them from subdividing the Internet for profit. Telecommunications conglomerates stand to make a lot more money if they can charge extra to move some communications more quickly-creating a circumstance where corporations and politicians with the right connections can pay for commercial and political advantages in the digital age.

Michele Simon: Big Beef’s jig is up

Federal dietary committee recommends eating less red meat. Will science finally trump politics?

You almost have to feel sorry for the beef industry. After enjoying decades of popularity as a staple of the all-American diet, the harsh realities behind unsustainable beef production and excessive consumption are finally coming to light.

The latest red meat scare comes from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) a scientific body formed every five years to review the latest research available to tell the American public how to eat right. In the past, the committee’s work has been undermined by members with conflicts of interest with the meat, egg and dairy industries. But this year’s committee pulled no punches, even extending its reach to environmental considerations for the first time. The recommendations are not the final word on the matter. Later this year, the federal government will issue its formal Dietary Guidelines for Americans after reviewing the committee’s research and public comments. [..]

The meat lobby is not pleased.

Amy Goodman: TV Meteorologists Should Say It Loud and Clear: Climate Change Is Here

President Barack Obama issued the third veto in his more than six years in office, rejecting S.1 (Senate Bill One), the “Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act.” This was the new congressional Republican majority’s first bill this year, attempting to force the construction of a pipeline designed to carry Canadian tar sands oil to U.S. ports in Texas for export. A broad international coalition has been fighting the project for years. Climate scientist James Hansen, the former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, wrote in The New York Times that if the pipeline gets built, “it will be game over for the climate.”

This vote and veto came as much of the U.S. was gripped by extreme cold weather, with cities like Boston reeling from historically deep snowfall and Southern states like Georgia getting snowed in. Meanwhile, most of California braces for even more drought. The corporate television newscasts spend more and more time covering the increasingly disruptive, costly and at times deadly weather. But they consistently fail to make the link between extreme weather and climate change.

Feb 27 2015

Friends don’t let man’s best friend

Drive.

Feb 27 2015

The Breakfast Club (A Fool Believes He Sees)

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

Germany’s Reichstag burns, giving the Nazis under Adolf Hitler a pretext to seize absolute power; A cease-fire ends the Persian Gulf War; Actress Elizabeth Taylor born; Children’s TV host Fred Rogers dies.

Breakfast Tunes

Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.

Thomas Paine

Feb 27 2015

On This Day In History February 27

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.

February 27 is the 58th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 307 days remaining until the end of the year (308 in leap years).

On this day in 1827, New Orleanians take to the streets for Mardi Gras with groups of masked and costumed students dance through the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana, marking the beginning of the city’s famous Mardi Gras celebrations.

The celebration of Carnival–or the weeks between Twelfth Night on January 6 and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian period of Lent–spread from Rome across Europe and later to the Americas. Nowhere in the United States is Carnival celebrated as grandly as in New Orleans, famous for its over-the-top parades and parties for Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday), the last day of the Carnival season.

History

The celebration of Mardi Gras was brought to Louisiana by early French settlers. The first record of the holiday being celebrated in Louisiana was at the mouth of the Mississippi River in what is now lower Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, on March 3, 1699. Iberville, Bienville, and their men celebrated it as part of an observance of Catholic practice.

The starting date of festivities in New Orleans is unknown. An account from 1743 notes that the custom of Carnival balls was already established. Processions and wearing of masks in the streets on Mardi Gras took place. They were sometimes prohibited by law, and were quickly renewed whenever such restrictions were lifted or enforcement waned. In 1833 Bernard Xavier de Marigny de Mandeville, a rich plantation owner of French descent, raised money to fund an official Mardi Gras celebration.

James R. Creecy in his book Scenes in the South, and Other Miscellaneous Pieces describes New Orleans Mardi Gras in 1835:

   Shrove Tuesday is a day to be remembered by strangers in New Orleans, for that is the day for fun, frolic, and comic masquerading. All of the mischief of the city is alive and wide awake in active operation. Men and boys, women and girls, bond and free, white and black, yellow and brown, exert themselves to invent and appear in grotesque, quizzical, diabolic, horrible, strange masks, and disguises. Human bodies are seen with heads of beasts and birds, beasts and birds with human heads; demi-beasts, demi-fishes, snakes’ heads and bodies with arms of apes; man-bats from the moon; mermaids; satyrs, beggars, monks, and robbers parade and march on foot, on horseback, in wagons, carts, coaches, cars, etc., in rich confusion, up and down the streets, wildly shouting, singing, laughing, drumming, fiddling, fifeing, and all throwing flour broadcast as they wend their reckless way.

On Mardi Gras of 1857, the Mystick Krewe of Comus held its first parade. Comus is the oldest continuously active Mardi Gras organization. It started a number of continuing traditions. It is considered the first Carnival krewe in the modern sense. According to one historian, “Comus was aggressively English in its celebration of what New Orleans had always considered a French festival. It is hard to think of a clearer assertion than this parade that the lead in the holiday had passed from French-speakers to Anglo-Americans. . . .To a certain extent, Americans ‘Americanized’ New Orleans and its Creoles. To a certain extent, New Orleans ‘creolized’ the Americans. Thus the wonder of Anglo-Americans boasting of how their business prowess helped them construct a more elaborate version of the old Creole Carnival. The lead in organized Carnival passed from Creole to American just as political and economic power did over the course of the nineteenth century. The spectacle of Creole-American Carnival, with Americans using Carnival forms to compete with Creoles in the ballrooms and on the streets, represents the creation of a New Orleans culture neither entirely Creole nor entirely American.”

In 1875 Louisiana declared Mardi Gras a legal state holiday. War, economic, political, and weather conditions sometimes led to cancellation of some or all major parades, especially during the American Civil War, World War I and World War II, but the city has always celebrated Carnival.

Feb 27 2015

The Daily/Nightly Show (The Undiscovered Country)

Black women?  What do women want?  I always assume it’s that same thing that I, as a human, want; but maybe it’s totally different.

Red Shirts

Continuity

Sarcasm, Insults, and Dishonest Editing

Olivia Wilde will be on to promote her latest, The Lazarus Effect.

Had we but world enough, and time,

This coyness, Lady, were no crime

We would sit down and think which way

To walk and pass our long love’s day.

Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side

Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide

Of Humber would complain. I would

Love you ten years before the Flood,

And you should, if you please, refuse

Till the conversion of the Jews.

My vegetable love should grow

Vaster than empires, and more slow;

A hundred years should go to praise

Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;

Two hundred to adore each breast,

But thirty thousand to the rest;

An age at least to every part,

And the last age should show your heart.

For, Lady, you deserve this state,

Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear

Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;

And yonder all before us lie

Deserts of vast eternity.

Thy beauty shall no more be found,

Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound

My echoing song; then worms shall try

That long preserved virginity,

And your quaint honour turn to dust,

And into ashes all my lust:

The grave’s a fine and private place,

But none, I think, do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue

Sits on thy skin like morning dew,

And while thy willing soul transpires

At every pore with instant fires,

Now let us sport us while we may,

And now, like amorous birds of prey,

Rather at once our time devour

Than languish in his slow-chapped power.

Let us roll all our strength and all

Our sweetness up into one ball,

And tear our pleasures with rough strife

Through the iron gates of life:

Thus, though we cannot make our sun

Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Next Week’s Guests-

The real news below.