January 2013 Archives


And here's what the congressional panel should have heard from the real world:


Last of the Boogie Woogie Era

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Even by today's standards the vocals and performances were flawless. Try singing this:


Patty Andrews, last surviving member of the Andrews Sisters, dies at 94

Patty Andrews was the youngest and the group's lead singer. She was just 7 when she began singing with sisters LaVerne and Maxene, and 12 when they won the talent contest at Minneapolis' Orpheum Theatre, starting the groups career.

Sister Maxene once said of Patty, "Patty was the fun one of the group, the clown who kept us laughing during those endless periods of backstage boredom."

The Andrews Sisters, Minnesota natives, will forever be associated with World War II and the U.S.O. for such songs as the 1941 hits "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and "I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time," and 1942's "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree."

Equifax Goes Rogue CIA Path

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Your employer may share your salary, and Equifax might sell that data

The Equifax credit reporting agency, with the aid of thousands of human resource departments around the country, has assembled what may be the most powerful and thorough private database of Americans' personal information ever created, containing 190 million employment and salary records covering more than one-third of U.S. adults.

Some of the information in the little-known database, created through an Equifax-owned company called The Work Number, is sold to debt collectors, financial service companies and other entities.

"It's the biggest privacy breach in our time, and it's legal and no one knows it's going on," said Robert Mather, who runs a small employment background company named Pre-Employ.com. "It's like a secret CIA."


Despite all the information Americans now share on social media and websites, and all the data we know companies collect on us, one piece of information is still sacred to most people: their salaries. After all, who would post their salary as a status update on Facebook or in a tweet?

But salary information is also for sale by Equifax through The Work Number. Its database is so detailed that it contains week-by-week paystub information dating back years for many individuals, as well as other kinds of human resources-related information, such as health care provider, whether someone has dental insurance and if they've ever filed an unemployment claim. In 2009, Equifax said the data covered 30 percent of the U.S. working population, and it now says The Work Number is adding 12 million records annually.

How does Equifax obtain this sensitive and secret information? With the willing aid of thousands of U.S. businesses, including many of the Fortune 500. Government agencies -- representing 85 percent of the federal civilian population, including workers at the Department of Defense, according to Equifax -- and schools also work with The Work Number. Many of them let Equifax tap directly into their data so the credit bureau can always have the latest employment information. In fact, these organizations actually pay Equifax for the privilege of giving away their employees' personal information.

Equifax turns around and sells some of this data to third parties, including debt collectors and other financial services companies.

Equifax declined to be interviewed, but in an emailed statement to NBCNews.com, it confirmed that it shares "employment data" with debt collectors and others, and said it does so in compliance with Fair Credit Reporting Act guidelines.

"In all cases, these entities must have a permissible purpose to request employment information," Equifax spokesman Timothy Klein said.

He also said consumers give these third parties the right to access the data "at the time of application" for credit.

"A consumer grants verifiers (creditors) and their assigned debt collectors the right to verify employment should the consumer default on their account," he said.

Data for debt collectors
Companies sign up for The Work Number because it gives them an easy way to outsource employment verification of former workers. Firms hate taking these calls, which usually come when a former employee is applying for a new job, because they are a costly distraction for human resources departments and open the firm up to lawsuits if someone says something disparaging about the former employee. So they contract with The WorkNumber, which automates the process. In exchange, firms upload their human resources data to The Work Number, which was part of an independent St.Louis-based firm named TALX until it was acquired by Equifax in 2007 for $1.4 billion.

Republicans: Death by Bubble

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Makers, Takers, Fakers

By Paul Krugman

Republicans have a problem. For years they could shout down any attempt to point out the extent to which their policies favored the elite over the poor and the middle class; all they had to do was yell "Class warfare!" and Democrats scurried away. In the 2012 election, however, that didn't work: the picture of the G.O.P. as the party of sneering plutocrats stuck, even as Democrats became more openly populist than they have been in decades.

As a result, prominent Republicans have begun acknowledging that their party needs to improve its image. But here's the thing: Their proposals for a makeover all involve changing the sales pitch rather than the product. When it comes to substance, the G.O.P. is more committed than ever to policies that take from most Americans and give to a wealthy handful.

Consider, as a case in point, how a widely reported recent speech by Bobby Jindal the governor of Louisiana, compares with his actual policies.

Mr. Jindal posed the problem in a way that would, I believe, have been unthinkable for a leading Republican even a year ago. "We must not," he declared, "be the party that simply protects the well off so they can keep their toys. We have to be the party that shows all Americans how they can thrive." After a campaign in which Mitt Romney denounced any attempt to talk about class divisions as an "attack on success," this represents a major rhetorical shift.

But Mr. Jindal didn't offer any suggestions about how Republicans might demonstrate that they aren't just about letting the rich keep their toys, other than claiming even more loudly that their policies are good for everyone.

Meanwhile, back in Louisiana Mr. Jindal is pushing a plan to eliminate the state's income tax, which falls most heavily on the affluent, and make up for the lost revenue by raising sales taxes, which fall much more heavily on the poor and the middle class. The result would be big gains for the top 1 percent, substantial losses for the bottom 60 percent. Similar plans are being pushed by a number of other Republican governors as well.

Like the new acknowledgment that the perception of being the party of the rich is a problem, this represents a departure for the G.O.P. -- but in the opposite direction. In the past, Republicans would justify tax cuts for the rich either by claiming that they would pay for themselves or by claiming that they could make up for lost revenue by cutting wasteful spending. But what we're seeing now is open, explicit reverse Robin Hoodism: taking from ordinary families and giving to the rich. That is, even as Republicans look for a way to sound more sympathetic and less extreme, their actual policies are taking another sharp right turn.

Why is this happening? In particular, why is it happening now, just after an election in which the G.O.P. paid a price for its anti-populist stand?

Well, I don't have a full answer, but I think it's important to understand the extent to which leading Republicans live in an intellectual bubble. They get their news from Fox and other captive media, they get their policy analysis from billionaire-financed right-wing think tanks, and they're often blissfully unaware both of contrary evidence and of how their positions sound to outsiders.

So when Mr. Romney made his infamous "47 percent" remarks, he wasn't, in his own mind, saying anything outrageous or even controversial. He was just repeating a view that has become increasingly dominant inside the right-wing bubble, namely that a large and ever-growing proportion of Americans won't take responsibility for their own lives and are mooching off the hard-working wealthy. Rising unemployment claims demonstrate laziness, not lack of jobs; rising disability claims represent malingering, not the real health problems of an aging work force.

And given that worldview, Republicans see it as entirely appropriate to cut taxes on the rich while making everyone else pay more.

Now, national politicians learned last year that this kind of talk plays badly with the public, so they're trying to obscure their positions. Paul Ryan, for example, has lately made a transparently dishonest attempt to claim that when he spoke about "takers" living off the efforts of the "makers" -- at one point he assigned 60 percent of Americans to the taker category -- he wasn't talking about people receiving Social Security and Medicare. (He was.)

But in deep red states like Louisiana or Kansas, Republicans are much freer to act on their beliefs -- which means moving strongly to comfort the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted.

Which brings me back to Mr. Jindal, who declared in his speech that "we are a populist party." No, you aren't. You're a party that holds a large proportion of Americans in contempt. And the public may have figured that out.

Aaron Swartz & Freedom of Information

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Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

What Conservatives Don't/Can't Understand

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MLK Giveback Day

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African-American repatriates tribal treasures through eBay diplomacy

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African-American genealogist William Holland, dressed in traditional garb, shows off the ceremonial masks he bought on eBay. He plans to return the masks to the tribes from whence they came during a trip to Cameroon.


By Alan Boyle

When family researcher William Holland flies back to his ancestral homeland in Cameroon next week, he'll be bearing gifts: ceremonial masks that were taken out of Africa decades ago, purchased by Holland in online auctions, and now destined to be returned to the tribes from whence they came.

It's an unusual exercise in citizen diplomacy, but one that's fitting for Martin Luther King Jr. Day -- an occasion that celebrates the late civil-rights leader's legacy and encourages volunteer service.

"You're always supposed to give back," Holland said. "Even if you have nothing, at least try to give something to somebody so they can move ahead, even if it's something as simple as a book. Now I'm able to do what's right and return these items that were stolen. And I hope that it leads the way for other people to give back as well, whether it's to a school, or an organization, or to society."

'Roots' for the 21st century
Holland has spent more than a decade fleshing out his ancestral connections. He's used documents, DNA tests and extensive interviews to trace his family back through the slave era in the South, back to Cameroon in West Africa, and maybe even back to Syria in ancient times. He's learned how people from Cameroon's Oku clan were kidnapped by slave traders in the 1700s, rounded up and sent to America. Those were the people who passed down their genetic heritage to Holland.

Now he's giving back, thanks in part to eBay.

The Atlanta businessman's project began when he learned about a statue of Ngonsso, the founder of Cameroon's Nso dynasty, which was taken from the country in the early 1900s during the colonial era and ended up in a German museum. Cameroonian officials have been working for years to get the statue repatriated, and Holland was looking for ways to support the campaign. During his research, he and his contacts in Cameroon came across items of cultural interest that were coming up for sale on eBay auction sites.

"Throwing knives, caps, many things from the palaces are on sale here in the U.S.," Holland said.

Holland decided to spend his own money to buy some of those items, including the masks. "One has been identified as an Oku mask, the other is Nso," he said. The Nso mask, depicting a colorful elephant, was said to be used by a secret society in their ceremonies, while the humanlike Oku mask was worn during funerals.

The masks were apparently taken from Cameroon in the 1970s or 1980s under murky circumstances, Holland said. Now he's gotten both of them back, along with some Cameroonian throwing knives, at a cost of more than $1,000 (including shipping).

"I'm doing this on my own, because it's the right thing to do," Holland said. "This is hopefully a preface to the return of the Ngonnso statue. It's not fair that you sell something that's sacred to the community."

Holland also plans to bring a set of slave-era shackles he bought on eBay, to use them as a visual aid when he tells his distant Cameroonian relatives the American side of the story surrounding his ancestors' abduction. "I don't think many of them know what happened during that time," he said.

What's in it for him?
In addition to forging better relations with his presumed relatives, Holland hopes his eBay diplomacy will lead to a role in future development projects, such as U.S.-supported programs to upgrade Cameroon's water and sanitation facilities and preserve the remains of a historic slave-trade port in Bimbia. He's also looking into starting a tour business that would be focused on his ancestral home in Oku country, with a twist of genetic genealogy added to the mix.

For Holland, this isn't just a business proposition. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, he has a dream: that the sons and daughters of former slaves will be able to work together with their African kin to make Africa -- and America -- a better place.

"I'm glad that my eyes have been opened," Holland said. "I've learned a lot, and now I can do something to help change cultural awareness here in the U.S. and also in Cameroon. Now is a good time to do it."

Mr President 2013

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Calling Out Selleck

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Where's the inch?

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The bastards!

Subway's Footlong falls short

11inch.jpgSubway restaurant customers are posting pictures online of their "Footlong" sandwiches next to a measuring tape to show that they're not up to size.

By Ben Popken

Call it "Subway and the angry inch." On Tuesday, a Facebook user posted a picture of a Subway "Footlong" sub next to a tape measure, and showing the sandwich coming up short, measuring a mere 11 inches. The caption read, "subway pls respond."

The Internet did swiftly. The image was posted to the popular link-sharing website Reddit and the Facebook post received over 130,990 likes, 3,910 shares, and 5,890 comments.

Many of the comments took a tone of mock outrage, like:

" I am calling for congressional hearings about this!" "You should ask for 1" refund" One user who posted his own 11-inch Subway Footlong with the caption "I DEMAND FREE SUBWAY SANDWICHES FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE OR I WILL SUE YOU FOR FALSE ADVERTISEMENT."

23 Signed Executive Orders on Gun Control

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Read President Obama's Executive Orders and Proposed Legislation on Guns

By David Weigel

The second Joe Biden suggested that the White House might enact "executive actions, executive orders" on guns, the gun lobby smashed the glass and hit the alarm. The Drudge Report illustrated Biden's quote with portraits of Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, who (among arguably worse things) restricted gun rights. There were surprisingly few questions from Republicans about what the executive orders might actually be.

Here's the list, via the White House. (I did not engage in complication reporter-fu to get this. It's the general fact sheet.)

1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.

2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.

3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.

4. Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.

5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.

6. Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.

7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.

8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).

9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.

10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.

11. Nominate an ATF director.

12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.

13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.

14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.

15. Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologies

16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.

17. Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.

18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.

19. Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.

20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.

21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges.

22. Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.

23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.

And these are the legislative ideas -- i.e., the ones the president wants to push through Congress, starting with the more pliable Senate.

Require criminal background checks for all gun sales. (a.k.a. closing the "gun show loophole.")

Reinstate and strengthen the assault weapons ban.

Restore the 10-round limit on ammunition magazines.

Protect police by finishing the job of getting rid of armor-piercing bullets.

Give law enforcement additional tools to prevent and prosecute gun crime.

End the freeze on gun violence research.

Make our schools safer with more school resource officers and school counselors, safer climates, and better emergency response plans.

Help ensure that young people get the mental health treatment they need.

Ensure health insurance plans cover mental health benefits.

Fighting and Winning

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See how they run...

Be specific about gun control

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Important Arms Arguments from Nerdland demonstrate why not to be distracted by the polarizing NRA and far left framings. Let's focus on the health issues.

Down to the Root of It

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Be Ready To Mint That Coin

by Paul Krugman

Should President Obama be willing to print a $1 trillion platinum coin if Republicans try to force America into default? Yes, absolutely. He will, after all, be faced with a choice between two alternatives: one that's silly but benign, the other that's equally silly but both vile and disastrous. The decision should be obvious.

For those new to this, here's the story. First of all, we have the weird and destructive institution of the debt ceiling; this lets Congress approve tax and spending bills that imply a large budget deficit -- tax and spending bills the president is legally required to implement -- and then lets Congress refuse to grant the president authority to borrow, preventing him from carrying out his legal duties and provoking a possibly catastrophic default.

And Republicans are openly threatening to use that potential for catastrophe to blackmail the president into implementing policies they can't pass through normal constitutional processes.

Enter the platinum coin. There's a legal loophole allowing the Treasury to mint platinum coins in any denomination the secretary chooses. Yes, it was intended to allow commemorative collector's items -- but that's not what the letter of the law says. And by minting a $1 trillion coin, then depositing it at the Fed, the Treasury could acquire enough cash to sidestep the debt ceiling -- while doing no economic harm at all.

So why not?

It's easy to make sententious remarks to the effect that we shouldn't look for gimmicks, we should sit down like serious people and deal with our problems realistically. That may sound reasonable -- if you've been living in a cave for the past four years.Given the realities of our political situation, and in particular the mixture of ruthlessness and craziness that now characterizes House Republicans, it's just ridiculous -- far more ridiculous than the notion of the coin.

So if the 14th amendment solution -- simply declaring that the debt ceiling is unconstitutional -- isn't workable, go with the coin.

This still leaves the question of whose face goes on the coin -- but that's easy: John Boehner. Because without him and his colleagues, this wouldn't be necessary.

Quote of the day #400

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plynth

Assault rifles and high capacity magazines are to the 2nd amendment what child pornography is to the 1st amendment.

What I said today

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"Behind every great fortune is a crime."

- Mario Puzo, The Godfather

(Itself stolen from Balzac)

Thus, at worst, taxes are simply stealing back what was originally stolen.
We owe the wealthy nothing and their children, even less.

Parent of the Year Awards

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Hat tip to bud John Silveira

Just nuke us now...

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Thoughts of Endless War

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Why the Neo-Cons of Bushdom are afraid of Hagel.

Climate Change 101

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Not a happy thought.

The Stoning of America

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I just watched Zero Dark Thirty and it's beyond disturbing.


The Untold History of the United States ~ Chapter 1 - World War II

Oh, Those Republican Socialists

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Think farm subsidies.

You Go Grrrl

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Mika levels both barrels at the end. Sweet.

He Who Pocketed A Lot

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President Barack Obama offers a wink as he arrives in the briefing room after House passes bill avoiding the fall over the the curb.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2013 listed from newest to oldest.

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February 2013 is the next archive.

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