February 2014 Archives

US Military Spending Comparatively

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How absurd is this?


US influence helps draft Uganda anti-gay bill

Rachel Maddow shows the connection between American right=wing evangelicals and an extreme anti-gay law newly passed in Uganda.

Anti-gay bills abroad tied to US evangelicals

Jeff Sharlet, contributing editor for Harper's magazine, talks with Rachel Maddow about the role of American evangelicals in drafting anti-gay laws world-wide.

An idea permeates our modern view of relationships: that men and women have always paired off in sexually exclusive relationships. But before the dawn of agriculture, humans may actually have been quite promiscuous. Author Christopher Ryan walks us through the controversial evidence that human beings are sexual omnivores by nature, in hopes that a more nuanced understanding may put an end to discrimination, shame and the kind of unrealistic expectations that kill relationships.

The Deep State

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The Deep State Hiding in Plain Sight from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

Exclusive Essay: Anatomy of the Deep State

Rome lived upon its principal till ruin stared it in the face. Industry is the only true source of wealth, and there was no industry in Rome. By day the Ostia road was crowded with carts and muleteers, carrying to the great city the silks and spices of the East, the marble of Asia Minor, the timber of the Atlas, the grain of Africa and Egypt; and the carts brought out nothing but loads of dung. That was their return cargo.

- The Martyrdom of Man by Winwood Reade (1871)

There is the visible government situated around the Mall in Washington, and then there is another, more shadowy, more indefinable government that is not explained in Civics 101 or observable to tourists at the White House or the Capitol. The former is traditional Washington partisan politics: the tip of the iceberg that a public watching C-SPAN sees daily and which is theoretically controllable via elections. The subsurface part of the iceberg I shall call the Deep State, which operates according to its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power.

During the last five years, the news media has been flooded with pundits decrying the broken politics of Washington. The conventional wisdom has it that partisan gridlock and dysfunction have become the new normal. That is certainly the case, and I have been among the harshest critics of this development. But it is also imperative to acknowledge the limits of this critique as it applies to the American governmental system. On one level, the critique is self-evident: In the domain that the public can see, Congress is hopelessly deadlocked in the worst manner since the 1850s, the violently rancorous decade preceding the Civil War.

As I wrote in The Party is Over, the present objective of congressional Republicans is to render the executive branch powerless, at least until a Republican president is elected (a goal that voter suppression laws in GOP-controlled states are clearly intended to accomplish). President Obama cannot enact his domestic policies and budgets: Because of incessant GOP filibustering, not only could he not fill the large number of vacancies in the federal judiciary, he could not even get his most innocuous presidential appointees into office. Democrats controlling the Senate have responded by weakening the filibuster of nominations, but Republicans are sure to react with other parliamentary delaying tactics. This strategy amounts to congressional nullification of executive branch powers by a party that controls a majority in only one house of Congress.

Despite this apparent impotence, President Obama can liquidate American citizens without due processes, detain prisoners indefinitely without charge, conduct dragnet surveillance on the American people without judicial warrant and engage in unprecedented -- at least since the McCarthy era -- witch hunts against federal employees (the so-called "Insider Threat Program"). Within the United States, this power is characterized by massive displays of intimidating force by militarized federal, state and local law enforcement. Abroad, President Obama can start wars at will and engage in virtually any other activity whatsoever without so much as a by-your-leave from Congress, such as arranging the forced landing of a plane carrying a sovereign head of state over foreign territory. Despite the habitual cant of congressional Republicans about executive overreach by Obama, the would-be dictator, we have until recently heard very little from them about these actions -- with the minor exception of comments from gadfly Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Democrats, save a few mavericks such as Ron Wyden of Oregon, are not unduly troubled, either -- even to the extent of permitting seemingly perjured congressional testimony under oath by executive branch officials on the subject of illegal surveillance.

These are not isolated instances of a contradiction; they have been so pervasive that they tend to be disregarded as background noise. During the time in 2011 when political warfare over the debt ceiling was beginning to paralyze the business of governance in Washington, the United States government somehow summoned the resources to overthrow Muammar Ghaddafi's regime in Libya, and, when the instability created by that coup spilled over into Mali, provide overt and covert assistance to French intervention there. At a time when there was heated debate about continuing meat inspections and civilian air traffic control because of the budget crisis, our government was somehow able to commit $115 million to keeping a civil war going in Syria and to pay at least £100m to the United Kingdom's Government Communications Headquarters to buy influence over and access to that country's intelligence. Since 2007, two bridges carrying interstate highways have collapsed due to inadequate maintenance of infrastructure, one killing 13 people. During that same period of time, the government spent $1.7 billion constructing a building in Utah that is the size of 17 football fields. This mammoth structure is intended to allow the National Security Agency to store a yottabyte of information, the largest numerical designator computer scientists have coined. A yottabyte is equal to 500 quintillion pages of text. They need that much storage to archive every single trace of your electronic life.

a "strap" of the lynched man's skin

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Who Keeps Trophies Made From the Skin of Lynched African Americans?

by Steven D

Pardon me for the provocative title, but this being the post-racial wonderland of America, where the only racists are minorities and self-hating white liberals (of which I suppose I must count myself as one), but when I saw a story that a white man, and not just an ordinary citizen, but a public official, not only claimed to own a family heirloom fashioned from the skin of a black man lynched in 1896, but also specifically told African American residents of Algood, TN (that is actually the name of the town, I swear on the spirit of the Flying Spaghetti Monster) in order to intimidate a young black man from filing a complaint against the Algood Fire Department because its Deputy Fire Chief had refused to give his mother CPR, which might have saved her life, because she was, well, BLACK!!!! (excuse the all caps, but I find them appropriate in this instance), why, I just had to ask.  

Apparently, the answer to my question is a man named "William Sewell,"a long time medical investigator with the Tennessee Department of Health.  Here's the rest of the story:

Last summer, Sewell began investigating a case involving the Algood Fire Department in Putnam County.

In an interview with the man who filed the complaint, Shun Mullins, Sewell began telling a graphic story about a black man who was lynched near Baxter, Tennessee, many years ago.

The state claimed Sewell's conduct in that interview could be perceived as a "form of intimidation" toward Mullins.

First, after asking if Mr. Mullins had ever been a guest of the state's penitentiary, he heard Mr. Mullins describe the refusal of The Algood Fire Department to save his mother's life, and then falsified medical reports to cover up that fact, Sewell decided to relate a little of his own family history regarding race relations:

"Mr. Sewell goes into a story about a hanging, that he had been told, about the hanging of a black man," Mullins said. [...]

"They hung him, and they started carving his skin out of his back.  It was like he got excited telling this story," Allen remembered.

Judy Mainord said Sewell continued the story by saying, "They lowered the body, and all the white men standing around took turns removing the skin from the black man's back."

The three say Sewell finished with a shocking detail, that he still owned a "strap" of the lynched man's skin, passed down from his grandfather.

Thankfully, even the Great State of Tennessee recognized that this was very bad publicity not part of Sewell's job description and subsequently fired him.  That's the good news, I suppose.  Of course, Sewell denies he did anything wrong by telling that story to Mr. Mullins.  No, he did it to show his empathy with blahhhh people in small Southern towns.  

William Sewell sat down for an interview with NewsChannel 5 Investigates and said he was not trying to intimidate anyone.

"If they chose to conclude that was an intimidating comment, I'm sorry," Sewell said.

"It was a gruesome story.  I got caught up in the moment trying to convince these people that I understood, and I just went too far," Sewell continued.

He said that he was trying to show Mr. Mullins that he understood bias in small towns.

In other words, he's no racist, he's a victim of an unfortunate misunderstanding by the real racists misguided folks with a darker hued skin tone than his own.  Right.  And I'm P. Diddy's long lost twin brother.  Honest.

By the way, the next time someone brings up the desire to preserve their "southern heritage" by having the "Confederate Flag" (you know the one I mean so no nitpicking please) officially acknowledged by, for example, having it embossed on his or her license plate (which the Georgia Department of Revenue  recently agreed to do at the request of the Sons of Confederate Veterans), ask them if preserving the skin of a black man murdered by a mob of white people and passing it down to family members for, oh, I don't know how many generations, is part of that heritage, too.  Because for some people we now know that it is.

Invisible Blacks

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Florida never loved us

The Solvable Corruption

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You don't wake up one day no longer a racist. It takes generations to tear that intuition, that DNA, out of the soul of a people." (Lawrence Lessig)

There is a corruption at the heart of American politics, caused by the dependence of Congressional candidates on funding from the tiniest percentage of citizens. That's the argument at the core of this blistering talk by legal scholar Lawrence Lessig. With rapid-fire visuals, he shows how the funding process weakens the Republic in the most fundamental way, and issues a rallying bipartisan cry that will resonate with many in the U.S. and beyond.

Why to Say No to Comcast Merger

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Before reading Krugman's criticism about the Comcast merger below, check out this article on the rip off US broadband companies are foisting on it's American consumers relative to other world wide service speeds and rates

Barons of Broadband

Paul Krugman

Last week's big business news was the announcement that Comcast, a gigantic provider of cable TV and high-speed Internet service, has reached a deal to acquire Time Warner, which is merely huge. If regulators approve the deal, Comcast will be an overwhelmingly dominant player in the business, with around 30 million subscribers.

So let me ask two questions about the proposed deal. First, why would we even think about letting it go through? Second, when and why did we stop worrying about monopoly power?

On the first question, broadband Internet and cable TV are already highly concentrated industries, with a handful of corporations accounting for most of the customers. Once upon a time antitrust authorities, looking at this situation, would probably have been trying to cut Comcast down to size. Letting it expand would have been unthinkable.

Comcast's chief executive says not to worry: "It will not reduce competition in any relevant market because our companies do not overlap or compete with each other. In fact, we do not operate in any of the same ZIP codes." This is, however, transparently disingenuous. The big concern about making Comcast even bigger isn't reduced competition for customers in local markets -- for one thing, there's hardly any effective competition at that level anyway. It is that Comcast would have even more power than it already does to dictate terms to the providers of content for its digital pipes -- and that its ability to drive tough deals upstream would make it even harder for potential downstream rivals to challenge its local monopolies.

The point is that Comcast perfectly fits the old notion of monopolists as robber barons, so-called by analogy with medieval warlords who perched in their castles overlooking the Rhine, extracting tolls from all who passed. The Time Warner deal would in effect let Comcast strengthen its fortifications, which has to be a bad idea.

Interestingly, one cliché seems to be missing from the boilerplate arguments being deployed on behalf of this deal: I haven't seen anyone arguing that the deal would promote innovation. Maybe that's because anyone trying to make that argument would be met with snorts of derision. In fact, a number of experts -- like Susan Crawford of Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, whose recent book "Captive Audience" bears directly on this case -- have argued that the power of giant telecommunication companies has stifled innovation, putting the United States increasingly behind other advanced countries.

And there are good reasons to believe that this isn't a story about just telecommunications, that monopoly power has become a significant drag on the U.S. economy as a whole.

There used to be a bipartisan consensus in favor of tough antitrust enforcement. During the Reagan years, however, antitrust policy went into eclipse, and ever since measures of monopoly power, like the extent to which sales in any given industry are concentrated in the hands of a few big companies, have been rising fast.

At first, arguments against policing monopoly power pointed to the alleged benefits of mergers in terms of economic efficiency. Later, it became common to assert that the world had changed in ways that made all those old-fashioned concerns about monopoly irrelevant. Aren't we living in an era of global competition? Doesn't the creative destruction of new technology constantly tear down old industry giants and create new ones?

The truth, however, is that many goods and especially services aren't subject to international competition: New Jersey families can't subscribe to Korean broadband. Meanwhile, creative destruction has been oversold: Microsoft may be an empire in decline, but it's still enormously profitable thanks to the monopoly position it established decades ago.

Moreover, there's good reason to believe that monopoly is itself a barrier to innovation. Ms. Crawford argues persuasively that the unchecked power of telecom giants has removed incentives for progress: why upgrade your network or provide better services when your customers have nowhere to go?

And the same phenomenon may be playing an important role in holding back the economy as a whole. One puzzle about recent U.S. experience has been the disconnect between profits and investment. Profits are at a record high as a share of G.D.P., yet corporations aren't reinvesting their returns in their businesses. Instead, they're buying back shares, or accumulating huge piles of cash. This is exactly what you'd expect to see if a lot of those record profits represent monopoly rents.

It's time, in other words, to go back to worrying about monopoly power, which we should have been doing all along. And the first step on the road back from our grand detour on this issue is obvious:

Say no to Comcast.

Heroes Like This

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The story of how abolitionist allies William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Brown and Angelina Grimke turned a despised fringe movement against chattel slavery into a force that literally changed the nation.

Watch PBS American Experience

The Abolitionists




The 1781 Zong Massacre

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shipthrowing.gifOn November 29, 1781, the Zong, a slave ship carrying Africans to Jamaica, had a problem. Two months before, in their zeal for profits, the crew of the Zong stuffed the hold of the ship with more Africans than it could carry. By November, malnutrition and disease had taken the lives of seven crew members and almost 60 enslaved Africans.

Luke Collingwood, captain of the Zong, now made what he considered the best decision to stem the losses for his bosses in Liverpool. If he continued sailing, and delivered a pile of corpses to the Kingston docks, the owners had no redress. If, however, the sick Africans were lost at sea, then the shipowners' insurance would cover the loss. Under the "jettison" clause, enslaved persons were considered cargo, and their loss would be covered at £30 per head.

So on November 29, Collingwood did the "logical" thing: he ordered 54 sick Africans dumped overboard. Another 42 perished the next day, and 26 the day after that. 10 Africans voluntarily flung themselves overboard, in an act of defiance against the captain's decision. In all, 122 Africans were thrown overboard.

Yet when the ship owners filed their claim with the insurance company, things went downhill. The insurers disputed the claims of the captain and the owners-largely on the testimony of James Kelsall, First Mate on the Zong. According to the insurance claim, the Africans were thrown overboard "for the safety of the ship," as there wasn't enough water for the cargo and crew to survive the rest of the voyage. But Kelsall-who expressed doubts early on to Collingwood about the scheme-testified that there was plenty of water for the remaining leg of the journey. Indeed, when the Zong reached Jamaica on the 22nd of December, there was 422 gallons of drinking water in the hold.

The case went to court, and the court ruled in favor of Collingwood and the owners. During the appeals process, an ex-slave and author, Olaudah Equiano, brought the case-soon to be known as the "Zong Massacre"-to the attention of Granville Sharp, one of Britain's leading early abolitionists. Sharp immediately became involved in the prosecution of the appeal, even though eminent jurists such as John Lee, Soliciter General for England and Wales, dismissed the affair stating "the case was the same as if horses had been thrown overboard." This time, the court ruled that the ship owners were not eligible for insurance since the water in the hold proved that the cargo was mismanaged.

Sharp and his colleagues tried to press murder charges against Collingwood and the owners, but to no avail. The Solicitor General, John Lee, stated that:

"What is this claim that human people have been thrown overboard? This is a case of chattels or goods. Blacks are goods and property; it is madness to accuse these well-serving honourable men of murder. They acted out of necessity and in the most appropriate manner for the cause. The late Captain Collingwood acted in the interest of his ship to protect the safety of his crew. To question the judgement of an experienced well-travelled captain held in the highest regard is one of folly, especially when talking of slaves. The case is the same as if wood had been thrown overboard."

Lee hoped the matter would rest with his decision. Instead it unleashed a firestorm.

Within a few years of the Zong Massacre, abolitionists Thomas Clarkson and James Ramsay issued pamphlets and essays condemning the conditions of the slave trade. Together with Sharp and Equiano, they would approach a young member of Parliament from Yorkshire, William Wilberforce, to take up the cause of abolition.

Beginning in 1784, Wilberforce would lead a 50-year struggle in Parliament to abolish slavery in the British Empire. The efforts of abolitionists such as these led to the 1807 law abolishing the slave trade. 26 years later, the British Parliament outlawed slavery throughout the British Empire. The British abolition movement inspired similar movements worldwide-including a burgeoning anti-slavery movement across the Atlantic that would lead to civil war and eventual emancipation.

And to think...it was all sparked by insurance fraud.

Hopefully this piggie won't get away.

Examining the Michael Dunn trial

The highly-anticipated first degree murder trial of Michael Dunn continued this week in Jacksonville, Florida. Faith Jenkins and Michael Skolnik go over the details of the case and why there are comparisons being made to the talk about why there are comparisons being between this case and the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Spies of Mississippi

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Spies of Mississippi tells the story of a secret spy agency formed by the state of Mississippi to preserve segregation during the 1950s and '60s. The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission evolved from a predominantly public relations agency to a full-fledged spy operation, spying on over 87,000 Americans over the course of a decade. The Commission employed a network of investigators and informants, including African Americans, to help infiltrate some of the largest Black organizations -- NAACP, CORE, and SNCC. They were granted broad powers to investigate private citizens and organizations, keep secret files, make arrests and compel testimony.

The film reveals the full scope and impact of the Commission, including its links to private White supremacist organizations, its ties to investigative agencies in other states, and even a program to bankroll the opposition to civil rights legislation in Washington D.C. Spies of Mississippi tracks the Commission's hidden role in many of the most important chapters of the civil rights movement, including the integration of the University of Mississippi, the trial of Medgar Evers, and the KKK murders of three civil rights workers in 1964.

Watch the clips now and the full movie soon at Independent Lens PBS

Comment of the Day #320

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from a TruthDig article:

Obama KIlled the American Dream

Excellent post, Russ. today we are being blind sided, being told we are number one..righteous and need to enslave the World to our policies. the fact is America is now beilng said is the Worlds biggest threat to peace.

Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball

Capitalism is dead, but we still dance with the corpse

By Joe Bageant
Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico

As an Anglo European white guy from a very long line of white guys, I want to thank all the brown, black, yellow and red people for a marvelous three-century joy ride. During the past 300 years of the industrial age, as Europeans, and later as Americans, we have managed to consume infinitely more than we ever produced, thanks to colonialism, crooked deals with despotic potentates and good old gunboats and grapeshot. Yes, we have lived, and still live, extravagant lifestyles far above the rest of you. And so, my sincere thanks to all of you folks around the world working in sweatshops, or living on two bucks a day, even though you sit on vast oil deposits. And to those outside my window here in Mexico this morning, the two guys pruning the retired gringo's hedges with what look like pocket knives, I say, keep up the good work. It's the world's cheap labor guys like you -- the black, brown and yellow folks who take it up the shorts -- who make capitalism look like it actually works. So keep on humping. Remember: We've got predator drones.

After twelve generations of lavish living at the expense of the rest of the world, it is understandable that citizens of the so-called developed countries have come to consider it quite normal. In fact, Americans expect it to become plusher in the future, increasingly chocked with techno gadgetry, whiz bang processed foodstuffs, automobiles, entertainments, inordinately large living spaces -- forever.

We've had plenty of encouragement, especially in recent times. Before our hyper monetized economy metastasized, things such as housing values went through the sky, and the cost of basics, food etc. went through the basement floor, compared to the rest of the world. The game got so cheap and fast that relative fundamental value went right out the window and hasn't been seen since. For example, it would be very difficult to make Americans understand that a loaf of bread or a dozen eggs have more inherent value than an iPhone. Yet, at ground zero of human species economics, where the only currency is the calorie, that is still true.

Such is the triumph of the money economy that nothing can be valued by any other measure, despite that nobody knows what money is worth at all these days. This is due in part to the international finance jerk-off, in which the world's governments print truckloads of worthless money, so they can loan it out. The idea here is that incoming repayment in some other, more valuable, currency will cover their own bad paper. In turn, the debtor nations print their own bogus money to repay the loans. So you have institutions loaning money they do not have to institutions unable to repay the loans. All this is based on the bullshit theory that tangible wealth is being created by the world's financial institutions, through interest on the debt. Money making money.

As my friend, physicist and political activist George Salzman writes,

"Everyone in these 'professional' institutions dealing in money lives a fundamentally dishonest life. Never mind 'regulating' interest rates," he says. "We must do away with interest, with the very idea of 'money making money'. We must recognize that what is termed 'Western Civilization' is in fact an anti-civilization, a global social structure of death and destruction. However, the charade of ever-increasing debt can be kept up only as long as the public remains ignorant. Once ecological limits have been reached the capitalist political game is up."

Selective Deficit Disorder

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Congress Suffers From Selective Deficit Disorder


By David Sirota

"Cognitive dissonance" is the clinical term used to describe stress that arises from holding contradictory beliefs. In politics, this term is a misnomer, because while many lawmakers, operatives and activists present oxymoronic views, many of them don't appear to feel any stress about that. When it comes to budgetary matters, such a lack of remorse translates into something even worse than cognitive dissonance--something more akin to pathology. It is what I've previously called Selective Deficit Disorder--and it was hard to miss in the last few weeks.

In Washington, for instance, the disorder was on prominent display in Congress's new farm bill. Citing deficit concerns, House Republicans crafted the bill to include an $8 billion cut to the federal food stamp program. Yet, the same bill increased massive subsidies that disproportionately benefit wealthy farmers and agribusinesses. In all, the conservative American Enterprise Institute reports that under the bill, annual subsidies could increase by up to $15 billion.

In this textbook episode of Selective Deficit Disorder, deficits were cited as a reason to slash a program that serves low-income Americans. However, those same deficits were suddenly ignored when it came to handing over billions to a corporate special interest.

In state capitals, Selective Deficit Disorder is similarly distorting debates over public workers' pensions. As a new analysis from the taxpayer watchdog group Good Jobs First documented this week, 10 states have pled poverty to justify draconian cuts to retiree benefits. But, as the report notes, in those same states "the total annual cost of corporate subsidies, tax breaks and loopholes exceeds the total current annual pension costs." In other words, deficits are being used as a rationale to eviscerate a program that benefits middle-class workers, yet those deficits are somehow no barrier to subsidy programs that primarily benefit the corporate class.

Even the sports world is plagued by Selective Deficit Disorder. For proof of that, consider the politics swirling around last week's Super Bowl in the New York City region.

There, New York's Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo just put forward an austerity budget that many school officials say will result in big cuts to academic programs and teaching staff. This followed his earlier insistence "that government must be more efficient and cut the cost of the bureaucracy." Yet, the same governor spent $5 million of taxpayer resources on Super Bowl promotions and parties. That included a taxpayer-financed party for more than 3,500 members of the media.

On the other side of the Hudson River, the contrast was even more pronounced. In the name of fiscal responsibility, Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., has cut the pensions of New Jersey's public employees and reduced education funding. Yet, he had his state cough up almost $18 million to subsidize the big game. That was in addition to the $400 million the New York Times noted New Jersey taxpayers spent to improve the Meadowlands. It was also on top of the special property tax breaks New Jersey gave the NFL.

Once again, the politicians asked their constituents to simultaneously believe there is no money to meet basic needs, but there is plenty of money to subsidize corporate profits.

Though these three examples of Selective Deficit Disorder differ from one another, the common thread tying them together is cash. Indeed, in each episode, deficits were cited as a reason to stiff a middle-class constituency, but they were never mentioned when appeasing the demands of a wealthy constituency.

That double standard reflects how modern politics is not really a battle between Democrats and Republicans. It is a battle between those with lots of money and those with comparatively less. The persistence of Selective Deficit Disorder proves that the former are winning.

Down to It: NJ Version

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But wait, there's more!

Resurrecting Net Neutrality

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This is a crucial move to protect open access of the internet and not allow service providers to determine what content gets favored or not.

Democratic Lawmakers Want to Bring Net Neutrality Back to Life

by Keith Wagstaff

netneutral.jpgDemocrats in Congress have introduced a bill that would restore Net neutrality regulations, less than a month after a court decision struck them down.

"It basically says, 'Remember the court decision from a couple of weeks ago? Forget about that,'" John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney at Internet freedom advocacy group Public Knowledge, told NBC News. "Right now there are no rules in place. This is basically saying, while the FCC is making up its mind, the previous rules are in place."

Reps. Anna Eshoo and Henry Waxman, both D-Calif., introduced the Open Internet Preservation Act in the House, while Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

"The Internet is an engine of economic growth because it has always been an open platform for competition and innovation," Waxman (pictured above) said in a statement. "Our bill very simply ensures that consumers can continue to access the content and applications of their choosing online."

If passed, the legislation would require that broadband providers treat all Internet traffic equally. That is how it worked before Jan. 14, when a U.S. appeals court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission couldn't impose Net neutrality regulations because it classified broadband providers more like Google than a telephone or power company.

That created fears among Internet activists that companies like Verizon and AT&T could charge some sites more for faster access -- a fear shared by companies like YouTube and Netflix, which together account for more than half of downstream Internet traffic in the United States.

Despite the fact that no companies have announced plans to institute a tiered pricing system, Democrats in the House and Senate claimed in a statement that the bill is necessary to prevent "broadband providers from discriminating against or even blocking online content."

The bill has a chance of passing in the Democratic-controlled Senate. It's odds look worse in the House, where Republicans hold a 241-194 advantage. That means it could simply be a move by Democrats to put pressure on the FCC to act more quickly.

"I wouldn't count on it passing," Bergmayer said. "It's still an important bill. It sends a message.

Information Time Machine

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Imagine if you could surf Facebook ... from the Middle Ages. Well, it may not be as far off as it sounds. In a fun and interesting talk, researcher and engineer Frederic Kaplan shows off the Venice Time Machine, a project to digitize 80 kilometers of books to create a historical and geographical simulation of Venice across 1000 years.

F = T ∇ Sτ

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Is there an equation for intelligence? Yes. It's F = T ∇ Sτ. In a fascinating and informative talk, physicist and computer scientist Alex Wissner-Gross explains what in the world that means

Best Living Will

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I,__________________, being of sound mind and body, do not wish to be kept alive indefinitely by artificial means.

Under no circumstances should my fate be put in the hands of pinhead politicians who couldn't pass ninth grade biology if their lives depended on it, or lawyers/doctors interested in simply running up the bills.

If a reasonable amount of time passes and I fail to ask for at least one of the following:

Glass of wine
Cold Beer
Chicken fried steak
Cream gravy
Mexican food
French fries
Ice cream
Cup of tea

It should be presumed that I won't ever get better. When such a determination is reached, I hereby instruct my appointed person and attending physicians to pull the plug, reel in the tubes, let the 'fat lady sing,' and call it a day!

hat tip to John De Silveira

The Carbon Tipping Point

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If the Alberta tarsands oil comes fully on line with the Keystone pipeline project given the green light, the climate change game is over.

7 Facts That Weren't In The New State Department Report On Keystone XL

obama.pipes.jpgPresident Barack Obama arriving at the TransCanada Stillwater Pipe Yard in Cushing,OK

By Ryan Koronowski

The State Department released its final supplemental environmental impact statement on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline on Friday. Critics and supporters of the pipeline alike have awaited the report, ever since President Obama last year singled out carbon pollution as a parameter in Keystone's national interest calculation.

The newly-released report admits to the obvious: that "the total direct and indirect emissions" of the project "would contribute to cumulative global GHG emissions." But in its final analysis, it says the proposed pipeline is "unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas," and does not look at the overall greenhouse gas emissions of the tar sands oil that would flow through it.

The pipeline's prospects remain a mystery, much like they were when the draft environmental impact statement was released last year: it still says that the pipeline is not a big deal, will not appreciably increase carbon pollution, and will not have a significant environmental impact. But the report does not consider a scenario in which smaller amounts of tar sands oils are extracted, transported, and consumed. Every single scenario measured in it assumes that a Keystone XL-sized amount of tar sands oil will get burned.

But there are seven important facts that the state department's survey left out:

1. Keystone XL, Not Rail, Is the Only Feasible Option</h3>

The final EIS says that "rail will likely be able to accommodate new production if new pipelines are delayed or not constructed." This argument is also put forward by supporters, and essentially says that if the tar sands oil will not be exported via this pipeline, it will just be shipped away via railway -- meaning approval of the project will not result in significant carbon pollution increases. Yet an analysis by Reuters' Patrick Rucker found that rail transport is too expensive and just is not feasible. Industry officials we very skeptical about adopting crude-by-rail as an alternative, meaning that oil companies with a stake in the dirty tar sands deposits see Keystone XL as essential to getting that oil to market.

2. KXL's 'Alternative,' Shipping Oil by Pipeline or Rail, Is Dangerous

Alberta's oil pipeline network has experienced 28,666 crude oil spills in the last 37 years according to a recent investigation by Global News. Spills like this have led to hugely damaging environmental disasters. Pipelines already carrying heavy crude oil from Canada have caused spills that have emptied neighborhoods like Mayflower, Arkansas. Shipping crude oil by rail is not just unfeasible and expensive -- it's also incredibly dangerous. Forty-seven people died and the center of the town of Lac Mégantic, Quebec was destroyed when an oil train came loose and ignited in a huge fireball last summer. In November, an 80-car train carrying oil derailed and exploded in Alabama. In December, a crude oil train derailed and exploded in North Dakota. A crude oil train derailed on a bridge in Philadelphia earlier this month.

3. KXL's Tar Sands Oil Is Really Dirty

The problem with extracting and burning tar sands oil is that it is the dirtiest type of liquid fuel on the planet. It's hugely energy-intensive to get out of the ground, and one of the big byproducts is something called "petcoke" -- a coal-like, high-sulfur, high-carbon solid that burns dirtier than coal. It also tends to get stored in huge piles that can release huge, dirty dust clouds on unsuspecting residents. More tar sands from Keystone XL would mean more petcoke. It is also a big project -- if completed the pipeline would carry and emit 181 million metric tons of CO2 every year. That's more than 37.7 million cars or 51 coal plants.

4. Oil From KXL Is Not Guaranteed to Stay In America

During a Congressional hearing in 2012, then-Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) asked Alex Pourbaix, TransCanada's pipeline head if the company would support legislation requiring Canadian oil and refined byproducts to be sold only in the U.S. "so that this country realizes all of the energy security benefits your company and others have promised?" Mr. Poirbaix said, "no, I can't do that."

5. The Pipeline Could Increase Oil Spills

So if large amounts of the Canadian tar sands oil product goes to foreign markets, this would do little for any concept of American energy security. What Americans would have to deal with are spills and leaks, which are already getting a preview with the already-constructed southern leg of the pipeline. As that leg was being built, TransCanada had to excavate and fix over 125 dents and sags, and fears from locals in Texas have led to the formation of a sort of "giant neighborhood watch" to monitor for leaks.

6. Gas Prices Will Rise Thanks To Keystone XL

A report last year from Consumer Watchdog found that if Keystone XL was approved, American consumers, especially in the Midwest, would see higher gas prices to the tune of $3-4 billion per year. The construction of the pipeline would mean much of of the oil would likely be sent down to refineries in Texas, bypassing the Midwest and reducing supply. This would mean that local gas prices would rise by 20-40 cents in the region, and a few cents nationally.

7. 'Keystone XL Will Have Permanent Impacts on Wildlife'

The Interior Department sent a letter to the State Department following the last DEIS that explained how the pipeline would have "permanent impacts on wildlife" and seriously affect National Park Service lands and Historic Trails. The main concerns detailed by Interior include light and noise pollution in , and particularly how a spill in any of the areas that drain into two nationally-managed rivers. Even though they changed the old route a couple years ago to try to fix this, a spill could threaten the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies 83 percent of Nebraska's irrigation water.


This report does not mean that the the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline has final approval. A State Department official told the Washington Post Thursday night that the report "is not a decision, but another step in the process prescribed by the Executive Order."

With the release of State's final environmental report, the clock is about to start running on a 30-day public comment period -- and 90 days during which federal agencies can weigh in. The public comment period runs from February 5th to March 7th, while the agencies have 60 days more. Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier this month, "my hope is that before long that analysis will be available, and then my work begins." After those 90 days, it will be up to President Obama.

If the assumptions about how much carbon emissions will be emitted by pipeline, rail, or tanker are truly the baseline (the so-called "business-as-usual" scenario), the Administration's international commitments will become unrealistic and unattainable.

Change the Mascot

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The Superbowl ad you didn't see.

Proud To Be

Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress writes:

The NCAI ad is a forceful and often beautiful reminder that Native Americans aren't a monolithic community. That's a term that subsumes hundreds of specific identities, a huge range of cultural and artistic practices-and yes, as the ad doesn't neglect to leave out-specific sets of social and political issues.

"Native American" may be a blanket identity category, but it's one that invites curiosity, asking hearers to consider what came before the political and territorial consolidation of the United States, and the fact that American identity is rich and multifaceted, rather than a single way of being. "[R--skins]" is both a slur, and a term that invites the listener to skip over the work of thinking about what it means. "[R--skin]" reduces Native Americans to simply the color of their skin, and to the attributes we associate with football (a practice that's also a product of a very specific marketing history, as my colleague Travis Waldron reported in his epic look at the fight against the Washington football team's name): physical strength, maybe speed, and not much else. Not only is that kind of thinking profoundly lazy and racially reductive, it's a tragedy both for the people who are subjected to it, and the people who deny themselves the experience of more of the world by practicing it.

Two Americas

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There are two Americas. In one, bankers get golden parachutes, insider traders return to society as well-paid consultants, and influence is for sale. In the other, opportunity is scarce and forgiveness scarcer, jail awaits those caught possessing recreational drugs, and cries for help are ignored. Society preaches forgiveness for the rich and retribution for the poor. Entrenched inequality and its companion, poverty, are the dark side of the American dream for a citizenry united by name, but not by rules.

Is the divide fair, the result of natural winners and losers, or is it built into the system? We know that inequality is bad for the rich as well as the poor, and that more equal countries are healthier and happier, but this knowledge won't bring change by itself. What can be done when those with the power to change the divide are those that benefit most from it? As long as the more equal won't let go, the less equal will suffer.

From his journalist days on the crime beat through to his work on shows like The Wire and Treme, David Simon has brought the divide between these two America's to life like no other. Simon looks at the oppressed, the victims of manmade disasters such as the war on drugs through to natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina, and forces us to ask whether the fictional stories he shows us on screen are any less real than the theatre of compassion we see on the news from the very same people who have the power to treat all citizens equally but choose not to.

David Simon is a journalist, author, and television writer/producer best known as the creator and showrunner of HBO series The Wire and Treme. He spent twelve years on the crime beat for the Baltimore Sun. He also worked on the adaptations of his books Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood for NBC and HBO respectively.

Philip Seymour Hoffman Exits at 46

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Truly a great actor and one of my all time favorites.


Born in Fairport, New York, the versatile actor was accomplished in both theater and on the big screen. He earned three Tony nominations, three supporting actor Academy Award nominations (including 2012's "The Master"), and won a best actor Oscar for 2005's "Capote." He was most recently seen as Plutarch Heavensbee in the "Hunger Games" sequel "Catching Fire."

Hoffman was not a traditional-looking leading man, but carried a twinkle in his eye and a gravitas to his manner and voice that made him a formidable presence on the screen, whether as the charismatic cult leader in "Master," a beleaguered priest in 2008's "Doubt" or the suspicious playboy in 1999's "The Talented Mr. Ripley." He rarely took television roles, but got one of his earliest breaks on "Law & Order" as a punk who commits sexual assault, in 1991.

Hoffman's three Tony nominations came from his work on three Broadway plays: two for best leading actor in "True West" in 2000 and "Death of a Salesman" in 2012; and one for best featured actor in "Long Day's Journey into Night" in 2003.

Hoffman had a son and two daughters with his longtime partner, Mimi O'Donnell.

Sermonette #451

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chimp.book.jpgAn orangutan was reading the bible and Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

A man saw him and asked him why he was reading those two books.

He replied, "I'm trying to figure out if I'm my brother's keeper or my keeper's brother."

Christie: Business as Usual

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It's debatable

Alan Boyle

Debaters get ready
Nye acknowledges that he's getting some heat from colleagues for giving creationists a high-profile forum, but insists that an open debate is necessary. "We're just trying to change the world here, and draw attention to these forces in our society that are trying to get creationism in science textbooks," he told NBC News. "My argument is, this is bad for the country, bad for our economy. We can't raise a generation of science students who are not scientifically literate."

He said he's been preparing for the debate by consulting with experts via email and studying how Ham and other creationists have stated their case in past forums.

"Many people have been critical of me for taking this debate because I'm not an expert on evolution," Nye said. "But this is not advanced evolutionary theory. This is not high-school science. It might be elementary-school science. That Mr. Ham and his followers don't embrace it is troubling."

Ham is preparing as well -- in consultation with creation-minded colleagues who have Ph.D.s, such as molecular biologist Georgia Purdum and geologist Andrew Snelling. Like Nye, Ham is researching his opponent's past statements on evolution. And like Nye, Ham says he's doing this debate to reach the next generation.

On his blog, Ham said he has seen lots of young people leave the church "because they saw evolution as showing the Bible could not be trusted." In a follow-up interview with NBC News, Ham said, "If you're taught that there's no God, that you're just an animal that arose through natural processes, that has great bearing on how you view yourself, and your fellow man, and your morality."

Some of the handicappers on Nye's side of the fence, like Coyne, worry that Ham is the more experienced debater. Ham, however, said he's taken part in only one formal debate on evolution, back in the 1990s. He also pointed to Nye's years of TV experience on "Bill Nye the Science Guy."

"He's like me. He's a communicator," Ham said. "We're not really used to doing formal debates."

Regarding the freakish Bible Literalists:

Bible as scientific evidence
Ham's view is that the Genesis account of the universe's development and the rise of life on Earth is literally true, including the part about everything being done in six 24-hour days. As a young-Earth creationist, Ham contends that the universe is only about 6,000 years old. So what about the 70 million-year-old fossil bones of dinosaurs? The way Ham sees it, those are the millennia-old bones of animals referred to in legends as dragons.

"What we believe about the age of the Earth (that it is relatively young) is a consequence of our stand on biblical authority, and nothing in observational science contradicts that," Ham wrote this week. "You see, we use the Bible as evidence!"

Even among folks who insist there's evidence that the universe was designed by some sort of intelligent being, such views don't always sit well. Stephen Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture and the author of "Darwin's Doubt" sees pluses as well as minuses to Tuesday's debate.

"It's a plus because it generates interest in the topic," Meyer told NBC News. "It's a minus because it inhibits an understanding of the complexity of the issue."

Meyer worries that the debate over evolution will be portrayed as Darwinian materialism vs. biblical literalism -- leaving out such ideas as theistic evolution, old-earth creationism and his own perspective, intelligent design. "It would be really terrific if the proponents of the mainstream Darwinian view of origins engaged some of the other critics of their theory, who see evidence of design in nature but are not biblical fundamentalists," he said.

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