05/08/2015 archive

Big Money in Politics Is Not Controllable

With the Supreme Court ruling Citizens United, the flood doors for campaign spending were sprung open that has allowed the moneyed class and multinational companies to fund super PACs for candidates and legislation that they favor. It also put the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) in a bind trying to regulate the few laws left that govern campaign finance. The Democratic chairperson, Ann Ravel told the New York Times that the agency is “worse than dysfunctional”.

The leader of the Federal Election Commission, the agency charged with regulating the way political money is raised and spent, says she has largely given up hope of reining in abuses in the 2016 presidential campaign, which could generate a record $10 billion in spending. [..]

Her unusually frank assessment reflects a worsening stalemate among the agency’s six commissioners. They are perpetually locked in 3-to-3 ties along party lines on key votes because of a fundamental disagreement over the mandate of the commission, which was created 40 years ago in response to the political corruption of Watergate.

Some commissioners are barely on speaking terms, cross-aisle negotiations are infrequent, and with no consensus on which rules to enforce, the caseload against violators has plummeted.

The F.E.C.’s paralysis comes at a particularly critical time because of the sea change brought about by the Supreme Court’s decision in 2010 in the Citizens United case, which freed corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds in support of political candidates. Billionaire donors and “super PACs” are already gaining an outsize role in the 2016 campaign, and the lines have become increasingly stretched and blurred over what presidential candidates and political groups are allowed to do.

Watchdog groups have gone to the F.E.C. with complaints that probable presidential candidates like Jeb Bush and Martin O’Malley are skirting finance laws by raising millions without officially declaring that they are considering running.

The FEC is obviously gridlocked and that is exactly what congress intended. Democratic commission member Ellen Weintraub spoke with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow about the partisna gridlock and why she thinks the problem is not hopeless. In the first part of the video, Ms. Maddow discusses the political candidates and their run for the money and how the money is being raised and spent. The substantial discussion of the Super PACs and the FEC starts around 11:00.

NSA Bulk Phone Data Mining Illegal

A federal court ion New York has ruled that the National Security Agency’s mass phone data collection under the Patriot Act is illegal.

Ruling on a program revealed by former government security contractor Edward Snowden, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said the Patriot Act did not authorize the National Security Agency to collect Americans’ calling records in bulk.

Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch wrote for a three-judge panel that Section 215, which addresses the FBI’s ability to gather business records, could not be interpreted to have permitted the NSA to collect a “staggering” amount of phone records, contrary to claims by the Bush and Obama administrations.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan held back from saying it was unconstitutional, nor did it order a halt to the program which expires on June 1.

The ruling has sparked concern by the Department of Justice. Newly appointed Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that the DOJ was reviewing the decision calling it “vital tool in our national security.” One more reason this woman is unfit for AG.

The Senate has decided to delay its consideration of the long term renewal of the Patriot Act.

Now, with the relevant section of the Patriot Act due to expire at the end of the month, Republican leaders in Congress are scrambling to find a shorter-term fix to keep the programme alive as it looks likely that the court ruling will prevent them from securing the necessary votes for a full extension in the remaining six days of this legislative session. [..]

One option would be a one-month extension to get Congress past the 1 June deadline in exchange for Republicans allowing an alternative vote on the USA Freedom Act – a reform bill designed to replace NSA collection of telephone metadata with a scheme involving data retention by telephone companies instead.

But newly emboldened Democrats angrily denied rumours that they had agreed to such a deal on Thursday. [..]

Many of those in favour of reform believe their best chance of forcing the Republican leader Mitch McConnell into allowing a vote on the Freedom Act is the prospect of him failing to pass anything and forcing the NSA to totally shutdown the controversial programme first revealed by Edward Snowden.

Such a scenario would be preferable to many privacy campaigners, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which originally lodged Thursday’s court challenge.

But even a full reauthorisation of the Patriot Act would now require supreme court approval to be effective, argue campaigners.

Last week the House appeared ready to pass the U.S.A. Freedom Act which would end the collection of metadata, a mere band-aid on the problem. It would still allow the N.S.A.’s ability to analyze links between callers to hunt for terrorists, but keep the bulk records in the hands of phone companies, which could dispose of them after 18 months. The N.S.A. currently stores them for five years. With the court ruling, that may no longer be an option.

Needless to say this has the neo-con fear mongers scrambling

A spokesman for McConnell’s office insisted he continued to back the Patriot Act renewal and pointed to support for its use by judges in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa) courts that were designed to deal with such questions. “All the other courts, the Fisa courts, have ruled the other way,” he said.

“I think it’s very unfortunate,” the Arizona senator John McCain, a Republican, also told the Guardian. “I’m very concerned and it’s my understanding other courts have ruled otherwise.”

The problem with the argument about the “other Courts” is that the court they are talking about FISA has questionable constitutionality since it doesn’t fit the Article III and Fourth Amendment requirements.

And let us not forget 9/11

Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina and an ardent supporter of the NSA, invoked the attacks on September 11 to emphasise the importance of the surveillance programmes.

“I’ve got one goal: if you need to reform the programme, great, I just don’t want to gut it,” Graham told the Guardian. “I would continue until someone told me to stop. I believe if the programme were in operation before 9/11, we probably would have prevented 9/11.”

Graham added that he found it hard to believe lawmakers would diminish the programme, given the current national security climate, “based on a court ruling that’s not binding”.

On other thing that the ruling inadvertently did was vindicated whistleblower Edward Snowden whose leak of the NSA program prompted to public discussion and legal challenges.

The ruling was discussed by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and The Intercept journalist Glenn Grenwald on MSNBC’s “Now” host Alex Wagner.

What Charlie Pierce said

(T)he program has now faced the clear light of an open court and it has been judged in its operation to be at best a baroque overreach and, at worst, un-American. This debate always has been better conducted in the open. This is the case with almost any debate, but especially those that arise under the tremulous camouflage of National Security. If I thought courage was as contagious as fear, I’d be more optimistic. And, again, I point out that all this ever was about was what kind of government we would be willing to tolerate and still maintain our identity as a constitutional self-governing Republic, and that none of this happens without the intervention of Edward Snowden, International Man Of Luggage, and Glenn Greenwald, who is simply Not One Of Us.

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

Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio: How to revive the American Dream

In this land of big dreams, there was never a dream bigger or more important than the one so deeply rooted in our values that it became known as the American Dream. Across generations, Americans shared the belief that hard work would bring opportunity and a better life. America wasn’t perfect, but we invested in our kids and put in place policies to build a strong middle class.

We don’t do that anymore, and the result is clear: The rich get richer, while everyone else falls behind. The game is rigged, and the people who rigged it want it to stay that way. They claim that if we act to improve the economic well-being of hard-working Americans – whether by increasing the minimum wage, reining in lawbreakers on Wall Street or doing practically anything else – we will threaten economic growth.

They are wrong.

That thinking is backward. A growing body of research – including work done by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and the Roosevelt Institute – shows clearly that an increasing disparity between rich and poor, cronyism and an economic system that works only for those at the top are bad for the middle class and bad for our economy.

Christian Christensen: Citizens rise up against corrupt media

Baltimore showed that the public has had enough with news corporations twisting the truth about their lives

Standing on the streets of Baltimore to cover what his employer Fox News was calling a “riot,” Geraldo Rivera found himself at the receiving end of a passionate and articulate lecture from Kwame Rose on skewed, sensationalist and racist media coverage. As Rose attempted to engage Rivera in a conversation, the reporter kept walking away, refusing to even make eye contact. The episode was captured on video, uploaded and went viral. Rose became a sensation. Rivera would later intone that Rose’s actions represented “exactly that kind of youthful anarchy that led to the destruction and pain in that community.”

The Rivera confrontation was one of many between media professionals and citizens and activists in Baltimore. What is becoming clear is that many people are more than aware of the ways in which the news media have the power to frame and reframe events through words, images, suggestion and omission. What is also clear is that these people are no longer willing to put up with it.

Rep. Peter DeFazio: Trade: Not a Slam Dunk for Oregon

For many middle class families in Oregon and around the country, our economic recovery has not translated into higher wages or the availability of better-paying jobs. Nationwide, many Americans who are working hard and playing by the rules are still struggling.

Two decades of failed U.S. trade policy is one reason. At issue is not whether to trade, but under what rules. For workers, the environment and the health of American families, getting the rules right is essential. [..]

Time and again, we’ve been promised the next trade deal will mean increased exports and more jobs. Since 1993, and the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), our nation has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs — including 11 percent of Oregon’s manufacturing jobs — and seen trade surpluses with our biggest trading partners turn into large deficits. [..]

The administration has called people like me trade alarmists. I believe trade can be done right. The U.S. is the world’s largest economy and we should use that power to implement truly high standard, enforceable trade agreements. But fast track and TPP fall flat. Let’s not miss perhaps the last opportunity we have to make U.S. trade policy work for Oregonians and all Americans.

Robert Reich: Making the Economy Work for the Many, Not the Few — Step 1: Raise the Minimum Wage

A basic moral principle that most Americans agree on is no one who works full time should be in poverty, nor should their family.

Yet over time we’ve seen significant growth in the “working poor” — people working full time, sometimes even 60 or more hours each week, but at such low wages that they remain impoverished.

What to do?

Sen. Bernie Sanders: Break Up Big Banks

During the financial crisis of 2008, the American people were told that they needed to bailout huge financial institutions because those institutions were “too big to fail.”

Yet, today, three out of the four financial institutions in this country (JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo) are 80 percent larger today than they were on September 30, 2007, a year before the taxpayers of this country bailed them out. 80 percent! [..]

Today, just six huge financial institutions have assets of nearly $10 trillion which is equal to nearly 60 percent of GDP. These huge banks handle more than two-thirds of all credit card purchases, write over 35 percent of the mortgages, and control nearly half of all bank deposits in this country.

If Teddy Roosevelt were alive today, do you know what he would say? He would say break ’em up. And he would be right. And that’s exactly what I plan to do.

The Breakfast Club (Self Driving Trucks)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgI think I should make it clear up front that I’m not a big fan of self driving anything and part of it is because I’m a programmer.  The wonder of computers is not that they screw up (Blue Screen of Death anyone?), it’s that they work at all.

In many respects I’ve had an advantage in the applications I’ve created because I’ve rolled my own from User Interface to Processing Input to Formating Reports and I intimately know each of the variables and the transformations they’ve been subjected to.

Mistakes are easy to make at each stage of the process producing unexpected results that must always be tested to make sure they conform with reality.

There are at least 3 primary points of failure (the examples I provide are just that, examples, nor is this list intended to be comprehensive).

  • Unexpected Input- If I ask you for a number and you type in ‘Strawberry’ what do I do?
  • Unintended Consequences- I accept unlimited input (High Frequency Trading) and I overflow the limitations of my infrastructure or reporting capabilities (Flash Crash).
  • Cloning of Errors- Every copy of a program is exactly the same, so a single error is duplicated in every installation.

This is why, though modern planes are theoretically capable of landing themselves and have (under test conditions), we insist that they have not only a pilot, but a co-pilot and flight engineer.  Now this is no safeguard against a crazy pilot locking everyone else out of the system and doing something suicidal (I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my Grandfather, not screaming in terror like his passengers) but it does mitigate against computer failure with the exception that the control systems must function as expected.

You read a lot of stories about pilots attempting emergency interventions that computers decide the airframe is not capable of.  How safe is that?  The human response is to try harder and most reports blame the pilot.  The aircraft crashes just the same, usually killing everyone on board.

Now extend the limited universe of planes to the wider universe of cars and trucks.  295,900 trucks in 2009 were involved in accidents.  Now I’m sure most of those may be blamed on intoxication or exhaustion and computers never get drunk or tired but while computer assisted flight controls have been extensively tested and refined but are still flawed, vehicle controls are in their infancy.

This is not a technology that is ready for prime time however much big trucking desires to fire all their drivers and send double trailer semis careening down our highways.

Hell, even trains have engineers and they run on rails.

Are you ready to get side swiped by a driverless truck into the guard rail and who will you blame?

Nevada clears self-driving 18-wheeler for testing on public roads

by Sam Thielman, The Guardian

Wednesday 6 May 2015 14.24 EDT

Drone trucks could soon be plying US highways after Nevada authorities on Wednesday granted a license to test self-driving trucks on public roads.

While companies such as Google and luxury brands like Lexus have dominated the headlines with advances in driverless cars, Daimler board member Wolfgang Bernhard told reporters autonomous trucks were likely to hit the roads first.

Daimler’s 18-wheel Inspiration has now been certified for use on public roads in the state, and yesterday the non-human (well, less-human) big rig rolled out across the Hoover Dam, negotiating some (but not all) turns and twists all by itself. For the tougher curves, it had some help from a driver inside the cab.

The licensing process was a lengthy one, said a Nevada department of motor vehicles spokesman, David Sierro. “I’m just getting out of the truck now,” he told the Guardian. “You’re talking about a series of different technologies; crash avoidance, blindsight, camera technology,” he said. “Rather than being a single autonomous [device] it’s a series of technologies they’re developing. They’re building it in an incremental way.”

Sierro said Daimler tested the truck on areas like the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the trucks could read pavement markings without endangering other drivers or pedestrians. “It’s fascinating to see how it’s reading the lines,” Sierro said. “When there’s something [too complex for the autopilot] coming up, there’s a warning that lets the driver know he’s going to have to take over.”

Tony Illia, of the Nevada department of transportation, said the state gave Daimler the option to start out simply. “There are huge stretches of empty, government-owned land [in Nevada],” he said. “Our population is centered in the Reno area and the Las Vegas area”, so trucks going between the two mostly have to navigate long straightaways. Daimler had a request of the Nevada government, too: “The one thing [Daimler] did ask was to brighten up the lane-striping and the buttons, to make sure they were clean and bright,” Illia said. “I think that helps the cameras on the truck.”

Companies like Lowell, Arkansas-based JB Hunt have reported a driver shortage across the country and are looking at consolidation in order to meet demand. The company is also worried about changing emissions standards for Class 8 trucks (that’s the class of truck demoed today, which Daimler says is more efficient), so a vehicle with a driver who has to do less work, or requires no driver at all, could provide companies like Hunt with a cost savings on labor.

“Could provide companies like Hunt with a cost savings on labor.”

There you go.

Science Oriented Video

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

Science News and Blogs

Obligatories, News and Blogs below.

On This Day In History May 8

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.

Click on images to enlarge

May 8 is the 128th day of the year (129th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 237 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1973, A 71-day standoff between federal authorities and the American Indian Movement members occupying the Pine Ridge Reservation at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, site of the infamous massacre of 300 Sioux by the U.S. 7th Cavalry in 1890, ends with the surrender of the militants.

AIM was founded in 1968 by Russell Means, Dennis Banks, and other Native-American leaders as a militant political and civil rights organization.


Their actions were acclaimed by many Native Americans, but on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Oglala Sioux Tribal President Dick Wilson had banned all AIM activities. AIM considered his government corrupt and dictatorial, and planned the occupation of Wounded Knee as a means of forcing a federal investigation of his administration. By taking Wounded Knee, The AIM leaders also hoped to force an investigation of other reservations, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and broken Indian treaties.


The Wounded Knee occupation lasted for a total of 71 days, during which time two Sioux men were shot to death by federal agents. One federal agent was paralyzed after being shot. On May 8, the AIM leaders and their supporters surrendered after White House officials promised to investigate their complaints.


In 1975, two FBI agents and a Native-American man were killed in a massive shoot-out between federal agents and AIM members and local residents. In a controversial trial, AIM member Leonard Peltier was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to two consecutive life terms.


The U.S. government took no steps to honor broken Indian treaties, but in the courts some tribes won major settlements from federal and state governments in cases involving tribal land claims.

The Daily/Nightly Show (Cray Day)

Kings County

Jacque Reid, the Lucas Brothers, Lavell Crawford, and Ricky Valez will be appearing tonightly.


Al Madrigal

And because I can’t resist-

New Yoik v. New Joisey

Next week’s guests-

Mumford & Sons, despite the name, only has one Mumford, Marcus.  They play a kind of electrified folk music and have a new album out, Wilder Mind.

Ernest Moniz gets a 2 part web exclusive extended interview.  That and the real news below.