From the mouths of babes – Krugman gets it right, again

Like many observers, I usually read reports about political goings-on with a sort of weary cynicism. Every once in a while, however, politicians do something so wrong, substantively and morally, that cynicism just won’t cut it; it’s time to get really angry instead. So it is with the ugly, destructive war against food stamps.

The food stamp program — which these days actually uses debit cards, and is officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — tries to provide modest but crucial aid to families in need. And the evidence is crystal clear both that the overwhelming majority of food stamp recipients really need the help, and that the program is highly successful at reducing “food insecurity,” in which families go hungry at least some of the time…

First, as millions of workers lost their jobs through no fault of their own, many families turned to food stamps to help them get by — and while food aid is no substitute for a good job, it did significantly mitigate their misery. Food stamps were especially helpful to children who would otherwise be living in extreme poverty, defined as an income less than half the official poverty line.

But there’s more….Because the economy is not like an individual household — your spending is my income, my spending is your income — the result was a general fall in incomes and plunge in employment. We desperately needed (and still need) public policies to promote higher spending on a temporary basis — and the expansion of food stamps, which helps families living on the edge and let them spend more on other necessities, is just such a policy…

Wait, we’re not done yet. Food stamps greatly reduce food insecurity among low-income children, which, in turn, greatly enhances their chances of doing well in school and growing up to be successful, productive adults. So food stamps are in a very real sense an investment in the nation’s future — an investment that in the long run almost surely reduces the budget deficit, because tomorrow’s adults will also be tomorrow’s taxpayers.

So what do Republicans want to do with this paragon of programs? First, shrink it; then, effectively kill it…

Look, I understand the supposed rationale: We’re becoming a nation of takers, and doing stuff like feeding poor children and giving them adequate health care are just creating a culture of dependency — and that culture of dependency, not runaway bankers, somehow caused our economic crisis.

But I wonder whether even Republicans really believe that story — or at least are confident enough in their diagnosis to justify policies that more or less literally take food from the mouths of hungry children. As I said, there are times when cynicism just doesn’t cut it; this is a time to get really, really angry.

Another one of those times when I wish Paul Krugman was madman enough to run for elected office. Just so I might vote for him.

Ex-Microsoft manager plans first public U.S. marijuana brands

MicropotXP

A former Microsoft executive plans to create the first U.S. national marijuana brand, with cannabis he hopes to eventually import legally from Mexico, and said he was kicking off his business by acquiring medical pot dispensaries in three U.S. states.

Jamen Shively, a former Microsoft corporate strategy manager, said he envisions his Seattle-based enterprise becoming the leader in both recreational and medical cannabis – much like Starbucks is the dominant name in coffee, he said…

Shively laid out his plans, along with his vision for a future in which marijuana will be imported from Mexico, at a Thursday news conference in downtown Seattle.

Joining him was former Mexican President Vicente Fox, a longtime Shively acquaintance who has been an advocate of decriminalizing marijuana. Fox said he was there to show his support for Shively’s company but has no financial stake in it…

Shively told Reuters he hoped Fox would serve an advisory role in his enterprise, dubbed Diego Pellicer after Shively’s hemp-producing great grandfather…

Shively said he ultimately plans to create separate medical and recreational-use marijuana brands. Shively said he also plans to launch a study of the effectiveness of concentrated cannabis oil in the treatment of cancer and other illnesses.

Worth a modicum of discussion. I see this only as a symptom of “early days” in the removal of marijuana from the Prohibition ideology of American politicians, priests and pundits.

For me, it’s just a chuckle that a former MSoft exec who made his mark hustling a crap OS to corporate IT plans to make this his new frontier. Har.

And, BTW, all the major tobacco brands already have their portfolio of trademarked brand names sorted – along with growing fields, etc.. You’re only kidding yourself if you think they won’t jump in when the heavy lifting is over.

First same-sex couple married in France


Click to enlargeREUTERS/Philippe Laurenson

Vincent Autin (L) and Bruno Boileau (R) kiss on the terrace of the city hall after they were married in Montpellier, May 29, 2013. The two men are the first same-sex couple to marry in France under a reform which has stoked some of the ugliest protests in the country in decades. The law, backed by most French and feted by gay and lesbians as it came into force this month, makes France the 14th country to allow same-sex marriage despite heated street protests by conservatives, Catholics and extreme-right groups.

Bravo!

Working moms are primary breadwinners in 40% of households


The Republican view, nowadays

America’s working mothers are now the primary breadwinners in a record 40 percent of households with children — a milestone in the changing face of modern families, up from just 11 percent in 1960.

The findings by the Pew Research Center…highlight the growing influence of “breadwinner moms” who keep their families afloat financially. While most are headed by single mothers, a growing number are families with married mothers who bring in more income than their husbands.

Demographers say the change is all but irreversible and is likely to bring added attention to child-care policies as well as government safety nets for vulnerable families…

While roughly 79 percent of Americans reject the notion that women should return to their traditional roles, only 21 percent of those polled said the trend of more mothers of young children working outside the home is a good thing for society, according to the Pew survey.

Roughly 3 in 4 adults said the increasing number of women working for pay has made it harder for parents to raise children…

The trend is being driven mostly by long-term demographic changes, including higher rates of education and labor force participation dating back to the 1960s women’s movement. Today, more women than men hold bachelor’s degrees, and they make up nearly half — 47 percent — of the American workforce.

But recent changes in the economy, too, have played a part. Big job losses in manufacturing and construction, fields that used to provide high pay to a mostly male workforce, have lifted the relative earnings of married women, even among those in mid-level positions such as teachers, nurses or administrators. The jump in working women has been especially prominent among those who are mothers — from 37 percent in 1968 to 65 percent in 2011 — reflecting in part increases for those who went looking for jobs to lift sagging family income after the recent recession.

Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University, said that to his surprise public attitudes toward working mothers have changed very little over the years. He predicts the growing numbers will lead to a growing constituency among women in favor of family-friendly work policies such as paid family leave, as well as safety net policies such as food stamps or child care support for single mothers.

In other words, we’ll start to catch up with the rest of the educated Western industrial world.

Like so many aspects of life in “modern” America, the modernizing part stopped with the introduction of the Cold War, McCarthyism, collaboration by compliant labor union leaders and liberal politicians alike – maintaining the TweedleDeeDumb party twins as the only choices in federal government.

Meanwhile, Fox Noise fell apart after Megyn Kelly attacked her peers – like Lou Dobbs – for offering a sexist analysis, convinced this change describes the end of American families and the natural leadership of men. WTF?

The hospital room showdown over illicit wiretaps in 2004 – James Comey vs Alberto Gonzalez, George W Bush’s flunkey

the_hospital_room_showdown

Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey tells the tale of a remarkable attempt by the White House to bully John Ashcroft in his hospital bed. His testimony before Senator Chuck Schumer in May 2007.

Sen. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-N.Y.): There have been media reports describing a dramatic visit by Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card to the hospital bed of John Ashcroft in March 2004, after you, as acting attorney general, decided not to authorize a classified program.

First, can you confirm that a night-time hospital visit took place?

FORMER DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL JAMES B. COMEY: Yes, I can.

SCHUMER: OK. Can you remember the date and the day?

COMEY: Yes, sir, very well. It was Wednesday, March the 10th, 2004.

SCHUMER: And how do you remember that date so well?

COMEY: This was a very memorable period in my life; probably the most difficult time in my entire professional life. And that night was probably the most difficult night of my professional life. So it’s not something I’d forget.

SCHUMER: Were you present when Alberto Gonzales visited Attorney General Ashcroft’s bedside?

COMEY: Yes.

SCHUMER: And am I correct that the conduct of Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card on that evening troubled you greatly?

COMEY: Yes.

Click here and read through the transcript. Fascinating, disgusting, despicable.

Now that Comey is being put forward by President Obama to replace Robert Mueller as head of the FBI – this whole episode will be recounted, revisited. Who knows? Maybe we’ll yet have a chance to throw Cheney and Bush into Federal Prison for treason?

Who’s the coward? The gun nut sending poison through the mail – or Mike Bloomberg who ain’t running away from a fight?

Deadly threats will not prevent New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg from pursuing tighter gun laws, the outspoken gun control advocate said Thursday after anonymous letters addressed to him tested positive for ricin.

“The letter was obviously referring to our anti-gun efforts, but there’s 12,000 people who are going to get killed this year with guns,” Bloomberg said. “We’re not going to walk away from those efforts.”

U.S. Secret Service also confirmed on Thursday that the White House mail screening facility intercepted a separate letter addressed to the White House that was similar to the letters previously addressed to Bloomberg…

Tests conducted on Wednesday confirmed two anonymous threatening letters sent to Bloomberg and Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, contained the presence of ricin. The poison, which can be a white powder or orange liquid, is found naturally in castor beans. It can be fatal for up to 72 hours.

What’s in this letter is nothing compared to what I’ve got planned for you,” the anonymous person wrote in the letter sent to Bloomberg. “You’ll have to kill me and my family before you get my guns…blah, blah, blah!

Law enforcement sources said the letters were postmarked May 20 from Shreveport, La.

The letter to Bloomberg was opened on Sunday and the letter to Glaze was opened on Friday. Bloomberg’s letter was intercepted at a mail sorting facility in Manhattan, and Glaze’s letter was encountered at Washington, D.C., offices. Everyone who came into contact with the letters was unharmed.

“I’m not angry. There are people who I would argue do things that may be irrational, do things that are wrong,” Bloomberg said. “But it’s a very complex world out there, and we just have to deal with that.”

Bloomberg is way too forgiving. I don’t mind laying a bit of understanding on the woefully ignorant who populate, say, the Tea Party or line up at the American Legion bar on Friday night to tell war stories. But, the criminal arrogance of cowards who fear democracy so much they resort to attempted murder deserve no sympathy.

Lock ’em up and throw away the key.

Cornell develops beer-pouring robot which figures out refills!


Anticipatory robot holding open a fridge door

What’s better than as robot bartender that can pour you a beer? How about a robot waiter that can see you need a refill and comes over to pour you another one. Hema S. Koppula, a Cornell graduate student in computer science, and Ashutosh Saxena, an assistant professor of computer science are working at Cornell’s Personal Robotics Lab on just such a robot. Using a PR-2 robot, they’ve programmed it to not only carry out everyday tasks, but to anticipate human behavior and adjust its actions.

Robots are the neat freaks of the technology world. They like things to be tidy, orderly and predictable, meaning they work best in places like laboratories and factories where everything can be controlled and where it’s easy to predict what’s going to happen next. When a robot moves out of its comfort zone into our imperfect world, it can run into difficulties. Even something as seemingly simple as noticing that someone’s glass is empty and topping it up requires a lot of observation and planning on the robot’s part.

The Cornell anticipatory robot avoids embarrassing spills and other accidents by using its Microsoft Kinect scanner to build up a 3D map of the objects present and then calculating how they might be used based on the action currently being performed by the person…

The robot is also able to put various subactivities together in different combinations to form models of larger activities that it can use to anticipate the movements of people in different situations. The models it builds are general enough to take into account the fact that different people will perform the same activity slightly differently.

Truly useful example of technology serving the core needs of human culture.

Even the Gallup poll admits religion less influential in American life

godandmansortof

More than three-fourths of Americans polled say religion is losing its influence on American life, a Gallup poll released Wednesday indicated.

The 77 percent who said religion’s influence was lessening and the 20 percent who said it was on the rise represent Americans’ most negative evaluations of the effects of religion since 1970, Gallup said.

Americans were more likely to say religion’s weight was increasing instead of decreasing when the question was first posed in 1957, in 1962, and several times in the 1980s during the Ronald Reagan’s presidency; and after the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks in late 2001 and early 2002, as well as in 2005…

The pollster said it found a modest relationship between Americans’ ideology, as well as partisanship, and their views of the influence of religion. Liberals and Democrats were more likely than conservatives and Republicans to say religion’s influence is increasing in American society.

Shock and amazement! Not over the results – but, that Gallup admitted as much as they did.

Conservatives relished Gallup polls for decades. Though their “push” led to some truly laughable reporting – like Dewey’s supposed victory over Harry Truman in 1948. A style still in fashion in the Republican Party – which they had to admit after their last defeat in a presidential election.

Speaking as someone who’s been an atheist since the age of 13, a philosophical materialist since 18 – the inevitable change is no surprise.

Vatican says Pope Francis overreached – atheists still going to hell

The Vatican retracted Pope Francis’ statement that everyone, “even the atheists,” were saved from sin and redeemed by God and therefore welcome in heaven.

People who know about the Catholic Church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her,” Vatican spokesman the Rev. Thomas Rosica said in an “explanatory note…”

He added, “No person is excluded from salvation simply because of so-called original sin; one can only lose their salvation through serious personal sin of their own account…”

Which – I guess – includes being an atheist.

Francis made headlines when he said in a May 22 homily: “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the blood of Christ — all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!

“‘Father, the atheists?'” Francis said as if asking himself. “Even the atheists. Everyone!” Francis said in answering his Socratic-style question…

Atheist Hemant Mehta wrote in his Friendly Atheist blog: “Atheists, according to Christians, are going to hell unless we accept Christ’s divinity. We already knew that. It was still an unusual and welcome gesture from the pope to recognize that everyone, regardless of beliefs, can do good and ‘be saved’ — at least it was a step up from what we’re used to hearing.”

British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, known for advocating atheism and science, wrote on Twitter: “Atheists go to heaven? Nope. Sorry world, infallible pope got it wrong. Vatican steps in with alacrity.”

“Conversations With God” author Neale Donald Walsch told United Press International Tuesday evening: “It is regrettable that the hidden hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church chose to officially retract the recent statement on eternal damnation bravely made by its new leader, Pope Francis. This rapid retrenchment wiped out what appeared to be one of the major advances in theological thinking within that institution in the past 500 years.”

Not that the discussion among the princes of the Holy Roman Catholic Church amounts to a whole boatload of anything much more than fertilizer refreshed by a new generation of manure. The ideology of a dying sect will inevitably thrash about in the waters of life, trying for a semblance of usefulness. A usefulness pretty much limited to solace in the presence of death to a species conscious of life.

Supreme Court refuses Planned Parenthood defunding cases

standwithplannedparenthood

The Supreme Court dealt a setback Tuesday to the campaign of abortion opponents to “defund” Planned Parenthood.

Without comment, the justices turned away Indiana’s defense of a 2011 law that would ban all Medicaid funds to an organization such as Planned Parenthood whose work includes performing abortions.

The high court let stand decisions by a federal judge in Indiana and the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago that blocked the measure from taking effect. The “defunding law excludes Planned Parenthood from Medicaid for a reason unrelated to its fitness to provide medical services, violating its patients’ statutory right to obtain medical care from the qualified provider of their choice,” Judge Diane Sykes said last year for the 7th Circuit.

The Obama administration had joined the case on the side of Planned Parenthood and argued that the Medicaid law gives eligible low-income patients a right to obtain healthcare from any qualified provider. This is known as the free-choice-of-provider rule…

Two years ago, Indiana lawmakers voted to go further and forbid the spending of any Medicaid money — federal or state — through “any entity” whose facilities perform abortions. Hospitals and state-licensed surgical clinics were exempted. But Planned Parenthood went to federal court and sued on behalf of a doctor, a nurse and two patients.

Arizona’s Legislature passed a similar measure, but it too has been blocked by a federal judge.

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, welcomed the court’s decision.

All women, no matter where they live, should be able to get quality, affordable healthcare from the healthcare provider they know and trust,” she said.

Anyone surprised how often a question of equal opportunity is opposed by the Republican Party and their Fundamentalist allies?

If you didn’t know what hypocrites and liars they all are – you might give some credence to all their posturing over Constitutional rights. But, every day – in every way possible – allowing someone to make a choice that affects their own life is opposed by these clown show-libertarians and their Old Testament ideology.