Tagged: Congress

Going for a record: 204 mass shootings in 204 days — in 2015, so far


Never Forget

…The headlines all start to sound the same after awhile. Seven people shot inside Louisville nightclub. Four men shot in Suffolk early Sunday morning. Two dead, two hospitalized in Brice Street shooting.

The shootings happen so often, the circumstances become so familiar, that we tune them out. One dead, five injured in west Columbus shooting. Four shot in grocery store ambush. One dead, four injured in Stockton shooting.

Every now and then a particularly heinous crime makes us pause and reflect. Nine dead in shooting at black church in Charleston. Four marines, one sailor killed in attacks on Chattanooga military facilities. Gunman opens fire on Louisiana movie theater.

The Mass Shooting Tracker, a crowd-sourced project of the anti-gun folks at the Guns Are Cool subreddit, lists 203 mass shooting events so far in 2015. Add in the shooting at a Louisiana movie theater last night and you get 204. Incidentally, yesterday was the 204th day of the year…

The Mass Shooting Tracker is different from other shooting databases in that it uses a broader definition of mass shooting. “The old FBI definition of Mass Murder (not even the most recent one) is four or more people murdered in one event,” the site’s creators explain. “It is only logical that a Mass Shooting is four or more people shot in one event.”…

These shootings have become so common that they typically don’t even make national news. Do you remember the four people shot in Cincinnati earlier this month? How about the seven in Cleveland, or the nine in Fort Wayne? Unless you live in these areas, you probably didn’t even hear about them…

Will anything change? Probably not. The Charleston shooting did produce a fruitful national conversation — not on guns, but on the symbolism of the Confederate flag, which the shooter adopted as a banner of his racist beliefs. It took 150 years and a national tragedy for the country to reach something like a consensus on the meaning of a battle flag.

“Those who live in America, or visit it, might do best to regard [mass shootings] the way one regards air pollution in China: an endemic local health hazard which, for deep-rooted cultural, social, economic and political reasons, the country is incapable of addressing,” The Economist wrote in response to the Charleston massacre. “This may, however, be a bit unfair. China seems to be making progress on pollution.”

Agreed.

Dismantling higher education in America

While researching a recent column for Al Jazeera America on the “killing of tenure” and what it means for the future of higher education, it became clear that the attempts by conservatives to dismantle the institution of tenure, highlighted by the Wisconsin legislature’s removal of previously statutory tenure protections, are only one component of a much wider array of threats to the profession of teaching and research.

For academics lucky enough to have tenure at an “R-1 research university” — one with “extensive” doctoral level graduate programs and support for faculty research as well as teaching — the erosion of traditional tenure protections is damaging because it threatens not only academic freedom but research and teaching that contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to U.S. GDP. The continued downtrend in funding for university research has paralleled and is tied to the erosion of tenure, academic freedom and shared governance more broadly. All these trends are tied to the corporatization of the university; that is, the increasingly privatized model of higher education which does away with shared governance and tenure in favor of centralized administration and contingent labor, puts profits and the bottom line ahead of the public good, and efficiency and “customer service” ahead of a well-rounded education that encourages critical inquiry and independent thought.

Today upwards of three-quarters of faculty members nationwide are working outside of the tenure system. This reorientation of the profession away from tenure, shared governance and academic freedom, which together formed the bedrock of the great American university system, has left contingent and tenure-line faculty alike to face an unprecedented array of obstacles to their economic, let alone professional, survival.

Indeed, upwards of a quarter of faculty with doctorates live below the poverty line — eight percentage points higher than the national average for all Americans. Think of this in the context of the American dream, where dedication and education are supposed to ensure a piece, however modest, of the American dream. If 10 years of intensive college and graduate study can’t even get a person a better salary than the average Walmart cashier, there is something profoundly wrong.

The average American voter still sits back, accepting every ideological lie from the political economy of wealth and power. The working people who built the wealth of the nation on their backs are relegated more often to leftover jobs, ignorant of the qualities needed nowadays for advancement. The best-educated segment of our populace is considered advanced meat robots by conservative politicians, nothing more than articulate proletarians – interesting, but, unproductive by the liberal side of American politics more concerned with the workings of Wall Street than the potential of academia.

The best-educated of our political elites sit back and prate about the young tigers of the whole world still coming to the United States for their education – even though that phenomenon, premised upon the worldwide myth of an educational system that began to crumble over a half-century ago, already shows the cracks of diminishing returns. Other nations now better educate their young. Other nations are well along at building networks of new and powerful research and thought.

Congress only debates who should rule: Caeser or Mammon?

Arizona’s senators sold out the Apaches to their favorite mining company

About an hour east of Phoenix, near a mining town called Superior, men, women and children of the San Carlos Apache tribe have been camped out at a place called Oak Flat for more than three months, protesting the latest assault on their culture.

Three hundred people, mostly Apache, marched 44 miles from tribal headquarters to begin this occupation on Feb. 9. The campground lies at the core of an ancient Apache holy place, where coming-of-age ceremonies, especially for girls, have been performed for many generations, along with traditional acorn gathering. It belongs to the public, under the multiple-use mandate of the Forest Service, and has had special protections since 1955, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower decreed the area closed to mining — which, like cattle grazing, is otherwise common in national forests — because of its cultural and natural value. President Richard M. Nixon’s Interior Department in 1971 renewed this ban.

Despite these protections, in December 2014, Congress promised to hand the title for Oak Flat over to a private, Australian-British mining concern. A fine-print rider trading away the Indian holy land was added at the last minute to the must-pass military spending bill, the National Defense Authorization Act. By doing this, Congress has handed over a sacred Native American site to a foreign-owned company for what may be the first time in our nation’s history…

The land grab was sneakily anti-democratic even by congressional standards. For more than a decade, the parcel containing Oak Flat has been coveted by Rio Tinto, Resolution’s parent company — which already mines on its own private land in the surrounding area — for the high-value ores beneath it.

The swap — which will trade 5,300 acres of private parcels owned by the company to the Forest Service and give 2,400 acres including Oak Flat to Resolution so that it can mine the land without oversight — had been attempted multiple times by Arizona members of Congress on behalf of the company. – Among those involved was Rick Renzi, a former Republican representative who was sent to federal prison in February for three years for corruption related to earlier versions of the land-transfer deal. – It always failed in Congress because of lack of support. But this time was different. This time, the giveaway language was slipped onto the defense bill by Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona at the 11th hour. The tactic was successful only because, like most last-minute riders, it bypassed public scrutiny.

It’s worth noting that Rio Tinto affiliates have been McCain campaign contributors, and that Mr. Flake, before he made it to Congress, was a paid lobbyist for Rio Tinto Rössing Uranium (a huge uranium mine in Namibia). Mr. McCain and others assert that the mining project will be a boost to the local economy, though it’s unclear how many of the 1,400 promised jobs would be local; a Superior-area miners’ group, in fact, opposes the swap on the basis that it won’t help the local people or economy…

If Oak Flat were a Christian holy site, or for that matter Jewish or Muslim, no senator who wished to remain in office would dare to sneak a backdoor deal for its destruction into a spending bill — no matter what mining-company profits or jobs might result. But this is Indian religion. Clearly the Arizona congressional delegation isn’t afraid of a couple of million conquered natives.

Apparently, Arizona’s paid Congressional pimps don’t feel they’re in any danger for being the liars they are. Both Flake and McCain beat their breasts in declaration of their faith in democracy. Yet, when push comes to shove, when the almighty dollar comes to call, they rollover and slide a slimy rider like this through on the back of one of our sacred military-industrial welfare bills. No debate. No discussion. We give you the land. You keep on making campaign contributions.

Time to allow banks to be part of the marijuana economy

The Senate introduced a bipartisan bill on Thursday that would prevent criminal prosecution as well as liability and asset forfeiture for banks that do business with a state-sanctioned marijuana business.

Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, both of Colorado, announced the bill in a joint statement.

Joint statement. Har.

Last year, the Treasury Department said banks could serve the marijuana industry under certain conditions. Many banks call the guidelines too onerous, resulting in a marijuana industry that still relies heavily on cash. That reliance on cash rather than traditional banking methods has made marijuana dispensary operators robbery targets.

Marijuana advocacy groups lauded the new bill, citing safety issues involved with cash-rich businesses…

Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, a state that legalized marijuana in 2012, praised the Senate bill, saying the federal government has a duty to ensure the safety of people as the marijuana legalization experiment expands in states across the country.

At the community level, banks considered the Treasury statement last year to be nothing more than window dressing. Unless laws and regulations are officially changed no bank executive is going to consider arrest or closure of their bank at the whim of some pissed-off bureaucrat. Laws to protect folks who aren’t breaking reasonable laws should be easy as pie.

The problem, as usual, is Congress. Federal laws passed from sheer stupidity, obstinate sophistry, decades ago.

FBI wants easy access to all our communications or Isis will KILL US ALL!


Quillian and Comey

The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has warned US senators that the threat from the Islamic State merits a “debate” about limiting commercial encryption – the linchpin of digital security – despite a growing chorus of technical experts who say that undermining encryption would prove an enormous boon for hackers, cybercriminals, foreign spies and terrorists.

In a twin pair of appearances before the Senate’s judiciary and intelligence committees on Wednesday, James Comey testified that Isis’s use of end-to-end encryption, whereby the messaging service being used to send information does not have access to the decryption keys of those who receive it, helped the group place a “devil” on the shoulders of potential recruits “saying kill, kill, kill, kill”…

He added: “I am not trying to scare folks.”

Since October, following Apple’s decision to bolster its mobile-device security, Comey has called for a “debate” about inserting “back doors” – or “front doors”, as he prefers to call them – into encryption software, warning that “encryption threatens to lead us all to a very, very dark place”.

But Comey and deputy attorney general Sally Quillian Yates testified…they did not wish the government to itself hold user encryption keys and preferred to “engage” communications providers for access, though technicians have stated that what Comey and Yates seek is fundamentally incompatible with end-to-end encryption.

Comey, who is not a software engineer, said his response to that was: “Really?”…

…Comey’s campaign against encryption has run into a wall of opposition from digital security experts and engineers. Their response is that there is no technical way to insert a back door into security systems for governments that does not leave the door ajar for anyone – hackers, criminals, foreign intelligence services – to exploit and gain access to enormous treasure troves of user data, including medical records, financial information and much more.

The cybersecurity expert Susan Landau, writing on the prominent blog Lawfare, called Comey’s vision of a security flaw only the US government could exploit “magical thinking”…

In advance of Comey’s testimony, several of the world’s leading cryptographers, alarmed by the return of a battle they thought won during the 1990s “Crypto Wars”, rejected the effort as pernicious from a security perspective and technologically illiterate.

A paper they released on Tuesday, called “Keys Under Doormats”, said the transatlantic effort to insert backdoors into encryption was “unworkable in practice, raise[s] enormous legal and ethical questions, and would undo progress on security at a time when internet vulnerabilities are causing extreme economic harm”.

I guess all these years spent successfully stopping enemies of democracy [excluding politicians and elected officials] before encrypted communications were broadly, cheaply possible were just a fluke.

Perhaps time spent hiring and training talented well-educated people to work within a system that respects democratic freedoms may have something to do with it. Perhaps aiding folks, domestic and foreign, to build a better life – instead of simply insisting upon obedience – might diminish the danger from demagogues.

K Street is paved with gold

A once-decrepit section of downtown Washington has become a luxury marketplace, feeding off the lavishly paid men and women successfully representing the political agenda of the corporate sector.

In 1993, when Tony Podesta, a top Washington lobbyist, moved his firm to G Street Northwest, the neighborhood was a skanky collection of warehouses, liquor stores and the remains of a red light district.

The money is flowing. Podesta’s own company made $25.1 million in lobbying fees last year, plus another $10 million for its public relations work. From Podesta’s office, it’s just a two-minute walk to the new City Center development and its deluxe retail offerings. Paul Stuart on I street sells a navy chalk stripe Italian suit for $4,984. Around the corner is Louis Vuitton, where the Président Classeur briefcase sells for $9,700. A half-block away is Hermès, manufacturer of the Birkin bag, one of which sold recently at auction in Hong Kong for $221,846.

Most lobbying compensation packages are closed to public view, but some – especially of top officials working for tax-exempt trade associations – are not. In 2012, National Journal identified 12 trade association executives making over $2 million a year.

Among the top earners in that select group were Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute, $6,428,872; Thomas J. Donohue, United States Chamber of Commerce, $4,761,900; and Thomas R. Kuhn, Edison Electric Institute, $4,006,893…

In 2014, Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at New America, conducted a study for the Sunlight Foundation that revealed that there were 799 registered Washington lobbyists whose fees for at least one year between 1998 and 2012 exceeded $1 million…

In the 2014 elections, 31,976 donors — equal to roughly one percent of one percent of the total population of the United States — accounted for an astounding $1.18 billion in disclosed political contributions at the federal level…

Former members of the do-nothing, know-nothing club called Congress can easily double or triple his or her government salary when they leave office. Often unearned in the first place.

Campaign reform, taking the money out of politics is supposed to originate with this crowd.

Don’t hold your breath waiting.

ISIS turns captured Humvees into a suicide bomber’s dream

More than two-thirds of the Humvees the US supplied to Iraq to fight terrorists have ended up in the hands of Islamic State militants.

And the Islamic State…has not wasted any time in converting those vehicles into one of its deadliest and most nightmarish tools: suicide car bombs.

According to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, ISIS controls about 2,300 armored US Humvees. Most of those vehicles were seized after ISIS overran Mosul in June 2014.

In addition to being used in further attacks against Iraqi forces, these vehicles were sent over the border to Syria to help ISIS solidify its foothold there.

The Humvees were specifically created by the US to be able to carry heavy loads and to sustain small-arms fire — qualities ISIS has found make the vehicles perfect for suicide bombings

ISIS has used these bomb-laden Humvees in waves of suicide bombings across both Syria and Iraq, targeting strategic locations including Syrian military bases and the Iraqi provincial capital of Ramadi, which fell to the militants at the end of May. The Kurds are increasingly concerned that they will face a wave as well.

Even though they have an inventory of at least 2000 at hand to build more suicide car bombs, they’re not likely to run out. Between Republican hawks like Tom Cotton and his Blue Dog Democrat counterparts – like Bob Menendez – there are more than enough idiots prepared to stack up American and Iraqi bodies with a matching flow of arms and vehicles capable of keeping ISIS in business for decades.

TSA fail, again

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Monday he had ordered improved security at U.S. airports after media reports that checkpoint screeners failed to detect mock explosives and weapons in 95 percent of tests carried out by undercover agents.

Airport screeners, who are employees of the Transportation Security Administration, did not detect banned weapons in 67 of 70 tests at dozens of airports…

In one test, the ABC News said an undercover agent was stopped when he set off an alarm at a checkpoint but that TSA screeners then failed to find a fake explosive device taped to his back when they patted him down.

Johnson said there would be more random covert testing at checkpoints.

So, you can look forward to patdowns from untrained, underpaid folks who failed to get jobs elsewhere. These folks apparently don’t meet standards generated to satisfy Congressional paranoids. For peanuts.

Folks, no need to ask why I no longer travel to anywhere I can’t drive to in my 21-year-old pickup truck.