Archive | October 2013

The Trick or Treating Dead

Sheriff’s deputies shot and killed a 13-year-old boy, who was dressed as a zombie, who they mistook for the real thing. The shooting occurred Tuesday afternoon in Santa Rosa, Calif., the police said.

Two patrolling officers spotted the teenager staggering and shouting, “Brains! Brains!” and repeatedly ordered him to halt, according to their televised statement. “We drew our weapons, ordered him to stop advancing, then fired several rounds into the subject’s head … striking him several times, … You have to hit zombies in the head, or you’re just wasting your ammo,” one of the two deputies explained as his partner elbowed him hard in the ribs.

When asked if they realized it was Halloween, they nodded and said, “Well, … yeah.”


I feel bombarded with Edward Snowden this week. A Snowden-based character manifested in an episode of Elementary I watched Tuesday evening, then he was cited in an episode of The Good Wife I watched last night, and now in the top-rated article at the Washington Post, NSA infiltrates links to Yahoo, Google data centers worldwide, Snowden documents say :

The National Security Agency has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world, according to documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and interviews with knowledgeable officials.

By tapping those links, the agency has positioned itself to collect at will from hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans. The NSA does not keep everything it collects, but it keeps a lot.

I generally like Elementary, but I just streamed We Are Everyone, the third episode of the second season, which aired a few weeks ago. Like Snowden, a fellow named Ezra Kleinfelter leaks NSA data to a reporter, and then must evade capture. He is abetted by Everyone – essentially Anonymous – an online group that hacks and harasses Holmes and Watson. Like Julian Assange, Kleinfelter expects casual sex with his supporters. Unlike either of them, he kills a woman who is harboring him and has presumably rejected his advances, then threatens to expose a dozen at risk covert US agents. Thus in the Elementary universe, the whistleblower is scum, the hacker collective is misguided and NSA agents are not-so-bad. And that, little children, is your morality lesson of the day.

In The Good Wife’s second episode, The Bit Bucket, we see two slacker-hackers in a vast NSA office who are monitoring all of Alicia Florrick’s personal communications because two years ago Lockhart & Gardner represented an Afghani translator suspected of terrorism. Snowden’s leaks are mentioned both during courtroom arguments as L & G sue the NSA on behalf of ChumHum, a fictional competitor to Facebook, Google and Yahoo – all of whom have lost some credibility for sharing info with the NSA – and by NSA managers as they bemoan the increased legal scrutiny since Snowden went public. Rather than trying to sell one point-of-view, The Good Wife writers keep you reeling with the contradictory implications of almost everything that happens.

50 Greatest

The Atlantic has published a list of the The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel, but they don’t mention that many of them of them now threaten our survival:

2. Electricity, late 19th century
7. The internal combustion engine, late 19th century
10. The steam engine, 1712
18. The automobile, late 19th century
44. Air-conditioning, 1902

Everybody likes the benefits and comforts of cheap energy, but burning coal, gas and oil is poisoning the atmosphere and changing the climate.

3. Penicillin, 1928
8. Vaccination, 1796
46. Anesthesia, 1846

Coincidentally, this Frontline piece, Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria, claims that antibiotics have run their course, and lost their effectiveness.

11. Nitrogen fixation, 1918
13. Refrigeration, 1850s
22. The green revolution, mid-20th century
33. Pasteurization, 1863
38. Scientific plant breeding, 1920s
50. The combine harvester, 1930s

While we are all happy to be alive and well-fed, the population explosion is making all the other problems more intense.

21. Nuclear fission, 1939

Nothing is as frightening as the spectre of poisoning the earth for hundreds or thousands of years.

Consolidating with the Club

Over a decade ago, I took out a debt consolidation loan. Chase, an incarnation of Chase Manhattan Bank, sent me a large check and a payment book. I paid off my credit cards, never missed a payment and retired the loan on time in a few years. I swore to never run up credit debt again.

Then we bought a little house. We repaired water damage. We gutted the homasote wallboard to add insulation and gypsum board. We put in a new kitchen. We paid a roofer put on new shingles. We gutted and renovated the bathroom. We raised some ceilings. We enclosed two porches with windows. We paid cash when we could, but charged a lot of materials on home store and credit cards. We even bought a low mileage used car from a little old lady.

The idea behind consolidation loans is that credit card lenders are charging such high rates that borrowers can save a great deal with a single lower interest loan. Sometimes lenders require your house as collateral; other times not. I’ve written about getting a lot of dubious debt management offers – Embrace, American Debt Mediators, Credit Card Hardship Programs – so I didn’t pay attention to the Lending Club solicitation right away.

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Rules? In a Knife Fight? No Rules!

I had to laugh at the headlines:

Anger Growing Among Allies on U.S. Spying

Germany and France demand talks with US over NSA spying revelations

Germany’s Spy Chiefs Head To U.S. For Spying Talks, Want New Rules For Surveillance

Now France and Germany want new rules for spying.

It seems to me that the very nature of serious espionage is that you will be breaking the rules.

The primary rule for espionage is that you do not get caught.

Update 20131027:

In, NSA Surveillance Threatens U.S. Efforts Abroad, TPM writes, “Spying among allies is not new.”

“The magnitude of the eavesdropping is what shocked us,” former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in a radio interview. “Let’s be honest, we eavesdrop too. Everyone is listening to everyone else. But we don’t have the same means as the United States, which makes us jealous.” …

The British ambassador to Lebanon, Tom Fletcher, tweeted this past week: “I work on assumption that 6+ countries tap my phone. Increasingly rare that diplomats say anything sensitive on calls.” ..

Madeleine Albright, secretary of state during the Clinton administration, recalled being at the United Nations and having the French ambassador ask her why she said something in a private conversation apparently intercepted by the French.”

Without enforceable rules, what can limit the spying? Perhaps fear of reprisal:

Diplomatic relations are built on trust. If America’s credibility is in question, the U.S. will find it harder to maintain alliances, influence world opinion and maybe even close trade deals. …

Talking Sports

When I was a kid, someone gave me a sports book, probably 1966’s, The Sports Answer Book: from Bill Mazer’s NBC Challenge round. I wasn’t very pro sports-oriented, but I think they realized that I was book-oriented, and hoped to spur my interest that way. Mazer hosted a NYC sports talk show called Firing Line, and was renowned for knowing a lot of stats.

Mazer’s book was wide-ranging and very conversational, and I still remember a lot of random facts and a few stories. Talking about boxing, he said someone once asked him what made a good boxer. “Poverty,” was his reply. He explained that you never heard of a rich kid fighting his way up – they were always the Irish, the Italians, the Puerto Ricans, the blacks – whatever ethnic minority was struggling to gain a foothold.

We had left Long Island by then, so I never actually heard Mazer on the radio. But when Iistening to the almost ubiquitous sports chat these days, I often remember some snippet from Bill Mazer’s book.

Bill Mazer, Sports Fixture in New York, Dies at 92

When Mr. Mazer retired in 2009, he had spent more than 60 years in broadcasting — 20 of them as a nightly sports anchor and the host of the weekend roundup “Sports Extra” on WNEW-TV, Channel 5. Before then he had been a host of sports-talk radio when the very idea of the format was new.

Eleven Little Redskins

Last night my youngest daughter wanted to watch Ten Little Indians, Agatha Christie’s top-selling mystery, and possibly the top-selling mystery of all time. I asked her if she knew the original title, and she answered, “And Then There Were None.” But that was actually the title of the first American edition. Christie’s original 1939 title was Ten Little Niggers. That and Ten Little Indians were songs written for minstrel shows in the late 1860s. With less explicit lyrics, Ten Little Indians became a popular nursery rhyme. Christie felt comfortable with her title just as Lewis Carroll saw no problem with writing, “all Jews have hooked noses,” to contrast logical arguments and syllogisms. Eventually Christie’s estate approved the less offensive title.

We are now urged to even avoid the term ‘indians’ in favor of ‘native americans,’ and the argument that ‘redskins’ is a racial slur rather than a term of tribute is gaining momentum in the media. And that momentum is convincing some DC football fans to avoid the name of their own team, as one fan explained in A Washington Football Fan Breaks With Tradition:

Forget for a minute all the other problems with football, a sport that can cause grievous injury, irreversible brain damage and violent death. Forget, too, how silly it seems that grown men should run around calling themselves by names fit for the childhood world of make-believe: Giants, Cowboys, Eagles.

When people tell you they are offended by a word describing an ethnic group, they do not have to prove it. You have the right to continue using that word. But then you are responsible for understanding the consequences of shifting from unintentionally to intentionally giving offense.

I’m not happy about this. But the value of my nostalgia has a limit. Knowingly asking my children to embrace a racial slur crosses that line. Our family tradition will thrive in a new light, I hope.

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The Walking Debt

Even if it was just a Tea Party blunder, we are all relieved that the debt ceiling has been raised and that the government shutdown is over, right? Interviewed by The Real News Network, Professor of Economics Gerald Epstein considers the debt ceiling show to be essentially meaningless:

The debt ceiling is an odd legal rule that was set up in the 1920s to try to give Congress some say over borrowing. But in fact it’s redundant because the United States Congress and the president make decisions about spending, and by making decisions about spending they’re also make decisions about how to finance it. And if their budget requires borrowing, then that’s implicit in the decisions made by the Congress. So it’s completely redundant and adds a political complication to the whole structure that we now are living with.

Epstein is also codirector of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI).

The big problem for the United States is not the amount of debt that it owes, but it’s the way that it’s been investing in social assets–in education, in infrastructure, in all the things that can make the economy develop properly. … oftentimes those kinds of investments, they pay for themselves in terms of more and more revenue. But as the economy grows, the amount of debt relative to the GNP goes down anyway. And I think most economists, including at the Congressional Budget Office and elsewhere, realize that this whole debt is a secondary issue. … right-wingers that are financed by big billionaires like the Koch brothers and others, their goal is to completely dismantle those aspects of the government that threaten them, [so] this debt ceiling fight has gotten out of control.

Like most people, Epstein assumes that the economy will just keep growing. Because, except for the occasional depression, recession or panic, Western economies have grown for the last several hundred years. But at the ArchDruid Report, John Michael Greer warns that imperial decline and energy depletion will inexorably lead to the reverse of that trend:

… These days the US government spends about twice as much each year as it takes in from taxes, user fees, and all other revenue sources, and makes up the difference by borrowing money. … A variety of gimmicks, … printing money at a frantic pace — has forced interest rates down to historically low levels, in order to keep the federal government’s debt payments down to an annual sum that we can pretend to afford. … None of those measures has a long shelf life. They’re all basically stopgaps, and it’s probably safe to assume that the people who decided to put them into place believed that before the last of the stopgaps stopped working, the US economy would resume its normal trajectory of growth and bail everyone out. That hasn’t happened, and there are good reasons to think that it’s not going to happen—not this year, not this decade, not in our lifetimes.

So, why hasn’t the economy started growing?

… the traditional drivers of growth aren’t coming into play, because the surplus of real wealth needed to make them function isn’t there any more, having had to be diverted to keep drilling more and more short-lived wells in the Bakken Shale.

Essentially, we are spending more fossil fuel energy to try to keep the fossil fuels flowing. When we reach the point that it takes all the energy from a barrel of oil to extract and transport a barrel of oil, we will be back to relying on all forms of solar energy – everything from passive solar to ethanol – and probably limited installations of nuclear power – generated far away from those that will actually be using it, but paid for by those at risk.

Modern Slavery

At Dagblog, Oxy Mora posted Slavery Program Has Glitches to turn black conservative Ben Carson’s argument on its head:

At the Value Voters Summit today, Mr. Ben Carson curiously juxtaposed the practice of Slavery with “Obamacare”, saying: “Obamacare is the worst thing since Slavery”. … When Carson presented his Slavery analogy a tingle went through the crowd … Listening to it I couldn’t tell if the crowd was reacting to the pure intellectual supremacy of the analogy or just the fact that they had their own black person at the podium to lay into Obamacare …

A prominent neurosurgeon, Carson invoked slavery as a horror of the past. It is interesting how many otherwise well-educated people believe that slavery persists, if at all, only in corrupt third world backwaters. In fact, modern slavery is far closer to home, and in concert with sex-trafficking seems to be increasing its grip.

At The Automatic Earth blog, Ilargi translates a Der Spiegel article, In Europa leben 880.000 Sklavenarbeiter, into much more readable English than the online translation option:

Around 880,000 people in the EU are slave laborers, and more than a quarter of them are being exploited sexually, according to CRIM, a special committee for the European Parliament which investigates organized crime, money laundering and corruption in Europe. … Besides the €25 billion in human trade, they make a €18-26 billion profit trading human organs and wild animals, while cybercrime causes €290 billion in damage. …

Some of the committee recommendations:

• European tax havens must disappear

• Buying votes should be made a criminal offense in all countries

• Everyone convicted for money laundering or corruption should be banned from public functions for at least 5 years

• Whistleblower protection needs to be strengthened, so that no-one exposing corruption either in government or private business can be prosecuted

The Scotsman posts, Silence over slavery in Scotland deafening:

THIS Friday, 18 October, is the UK’s Anti-Slavery Day. This stems from the Westminster parliament’s unanimous recognition in its Anti-Slavery Day Act 2010 that this most hidden of crimes needs the status only law can provide – to keep it in the public gaze and to stop us forgetting that Britain and Scotland have a slavery problem.

Human trafficking is complex, accounts for most of what we call modern slavery today, and afflicts the vulnerable from overseas and these isles too. It is not explicable only as migration, organised crime or prostitution, but it is always a human rights violation symptomatic of a deeper, uncomfortable truth: of how organised or opportunistic human exploitation is perpetrated by the few whilst being tolerated, condoned or simply not registered by the many, in Scotland and beyond.

And, whilst Scotland is not peculiar in having slavery, it is rising. Prosecutions remain stubbornly low for traffickers but perversely high for survivors criminalised for being compelled to do their slave masters’ dirty work. The silence over the control, fear and abuse of survivors is deafening. This is no marginal social problem lurking in the shadows. It is integral, not peripheral, to Scotland and it reflects back how, unconsciously, much of our consumerist lives are fuelled by exploitation here and abroad, as would be clear if we paused to consider our own slavery footprints.

In upscale Fairfield County, Connecticut, the Wilton Bulletin posts Human trafficking: Modern-day slavery exists here in many forms:

“We have more slavery today than at any time in history,” said Alicia Kinsman … director of victim services at the International Institute of Connecticut … human trafficking, she said “is happening here, probably in Wilton.” [and] did not refer to the illegal physical movement of people, but rather forced or compelled work. “It’s a job where an employee can’t leave without facing a dire threat of physical or emotional abuse,” she said. “It is more than just a bad job.”

Victims are often isolated from their family and friends. They may be under constant surveillance or threatened with deportation. Their passport, driver’s license or other identification may be taken away.

Cases may occur in a private home in the form of domestic servitude as well as in hotels, nail salons, restaurants, bars, strip clubs and massage parlors.

Human trafficking, Ms. Kinsman said, “is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world.” Compared to drug or gun trafficking, “it offers a high profit at a low risk,” she said.

Yellen Defends Cyrus

Janet Yellen, President Obama’s long-expected and now-named candidate for Chairman of the Federal Reserve, expressed tentative support for controversial singer and performer Miley Cyrus today, but firmly denied any plans to make a twerking video of her own someday.

“I have often discussed the beneficial effects of stimulus – and Miley is clearly an unending source of stimulation – but I fear that she has also been responsible for runaway inflation … in certain sectors.”

Like Ms Cyrus, Ms Yellen is faced with a delicate balance between too much and not enough of a good thing. Unlike Cyrus, though, Yellen plans to keep her tongue in her mouth and her posterior off youtube.