Archive for the ‘government’ Category
Our government in action, for good, and mostly for worse
As you’ve probably heard, there was another poorly thought out Executive Order signed by the Lord Emperor Tiny Hands, suddenly banning travel to the US from several countries, quickly stayed by federal judges. One wonders how much thought went into the ban, was it crafted on the toilet using a non-secured Android phone?
Around the country, people gathered at airports to protest the travel ban. The Chicago Tribune reported that protesters gathered at O’Hare International Airport after more than a dozen travelers were detained. The Star Tribune reported some 100 people protesting at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport although there were no reports of people detained there. In San Francisco, The Mercury New reported hundreds gathered at San Francisco International Airport as three travelers were detained. And at Kennedy International Airport in New York, The New York Times reported that thousands protesters spread along the parking apron and on three floors of a parking deck shouting their protests.
(click here to continue reading Federal judge bars US from removing legal residents detained at Dulles | WTOP.)
A federal judge in Brooklyn came to the aid of scores of refugees and others who were trapped at airports across the United States on Saturday after an executive order signed by President Trump, which sought to keep many foreigners from entering the country, led to chaotic scenes across the globe.
The judge’s ruling blocked part of the president’s actions, preventing the government from deporting some arrivals who found themselves ensnared by the presidential order. But it stopped short of letting them into the country or issuing a broader ruling on the constitutionality of Mr. Trump’s actions.
The high-stakes legal case played out on Saturday amid global turmoil, as the executive order signed by the president on Friday afternoon slammed shut the borders of the United States for an Iranian scientist headed to a lab in Massachusetts, a Syrian refugee family headed to a new life in Ohio and countless others across the world.
Mr. Trump — in office just a week — found himself accused of constitutional and legal overreach by two Iraqi immigrants, defended by the American Civil Liberties Union. Meanwhile, large crowds of protesters turned out at airports around the country to denounce Mr. Trump’s ban on the entry of refugees and people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
(click here to continue reading Judge Blocks Part of Trump’s Immigration Order – The New York Times.)
The Executive Order didn’t go through normal vetting channels, so people were on flights that were perfectly legal when they began, but became forbidden by the time they landed. Incompetent White House, or chaos by design? Only Steve Bannon knows.
It wasn’t until Friday — the day Trump signed the order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and suspending all refugee admission for 120 days — that career homeland security staff were allowed to see the final details of the order, a person familiar with the matter said. The result was widespread confusion across the country on Saturday as airports struggled to adjust to the new directives. In New York, two Iraqi nationals sued the federal government after they were detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and 10 others were detained as well.
The policy team at the White House developed the executive order on refugees and visas, and largely avoided the traditional interagency process that would have allowed the Justice Department and homeland security agencies to provide operational guidance, according to numerous officials who spoke to CNN on Saturday.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Department of Homeland Security leadership saw the final details shortly before the order was finalized, government officials said.
Friday night, DHS arrived at the legal interpretation that the executive order restrictions applying to seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen — did not apply to people with lawful permanent residence, generally referred to as green card holders.
The White House overruled that guidance overnight, according to officials familiar with the rollout. That order came from the President’s inner circle, led by Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon.
…Before the President issued the order, the White House did not seek the legal guidance of the Office of Legal Counsel, the Justice Department office that interprets the law for the executive branch. A source said the executive order did not follow the standard agency review process that’s typically overseen by the National Security Council, though the source couldn’t specifically say if that included the decision to not have the order go through the Office of Legal Counsel.
Separately, a person familiar with the matter said career officials in charge of enforcing the executive order were not fully briefed on the specifics until Friday. The officials were caught off guard by some of the specifics and raised questions about how to handle the new banned passengers on US-bound planes.
Regarding the green card holders and some of the confusion about whether they were impacted, the person familiar with the matter said if career officials had known more about the executive order earlier, some of the confusion could have been avoided and a better plan could be in place.
But even after the Friday afternoon announcement, administration officials at the White House took several hours to produce text of the action until several hours after it was signed. Adviser Kellyanne Conway even said at one point it was not going to be released before eventually it did get sent out.
Administration officials also seemed unsure at first who was covered in the action, and a list of impacted countries was only produced later on Friday night, hours after the President signed the document at the Pentagon.
(click here to continue reading Inside the confusion of the Trump executive order and travel ban – CNNPolitics.com.)
As an aside, usually I am content to read my news rather than some television talking head read it out loud to me; yet certain stories benefit from seeing live footage of the event as it unfolds. Natural disasters, perhaps, and certainly protests. Last night I flipped through all the news channels I could think of, and none had any live coverage of the raucous protests in airports around the country. Not MSNBC, PBS, CNN, BBC even. I didn’t try Fox, they were probably suggesting the protestors should all be rounded up into camps. Ironically, CNN was broadcasting its documentary on the 1980s, and as I flipped it on, Ted Turner was talking about what a disruption having a 24 hour network would be. Ironic since there was a genuine news story going on at that very moment, and CNN wasn’t broadcasting any live coverage.
Also, I was pleased that the ACLU jumped into action, and planned to give them another donation (even though I just had given them some money in December). Apparently, I wasn’t alone, as their website was being hammered by traffic…
ACLU 2017-01-28 at 9.06.21 PM
I’ll have to donate to them later in the week.
The American Civil Liberties Union announced Saturday evening that a federal court in New York had issued an emergency stay on President Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The court’s decision, which will affect people who have been detained in airports, came after the ACLU and other activist groups filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of two Iraqis who were held at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York as a result of the order.
“I hope Trump enjoys losing. He’s going to lose so much we’re going to get sick and tired of his losing,” ACLU national political director Faiz Shakir told Yahoo News shortly after the decision was announced.
(click here to continue reading ACLU wins legal challenge against immigration ban: ‘Hope Trump enjoys losing’.)
I was going to respond to the unsigned Chicago Tribune editorial titled, “Clemency for Leonard Peltier? Never”, but James Reynolds, former U.S. attorney did a better job, with less swear words.
In response to your Monday editorial “Clemency for Leonard Peltier? Never,” I was the United States attorney who supervised the prosecution of Leonard Peltier during the critical post-trial period. In December 2016, I wrote to President Barack Obama to support his clemency petition “as being in the best interests of justice in considering the totality of all matters involved.”
Although no trial is perfect, Peltier’s was unusually troublesome, particularly when viewed with the benefit of hindsight. The case against Peltier was a moving target, which shifted from a “deliberate ambush” theory in the earlier trial of Peltier’s co-defendants (who were found not guilty) to a “deliberate execution” at Peltier’s subsequent trial before a different judge, and then to an “accomplice” theory on appeal.
As an “aider and abettor,” according to the government’s theory, Peltier was guilty of the murders because he was present, and he had a weapon. It was a very thin case that likely would not be upheld by courts today. It is a gross overstatement to label Peltier a “cold-blooded murderer” on the basis of the minimal proof that survived the appeals in his case.
Following the conclusion of the appeals, Judge Gerald Heaney, an Eighth Circuit judge who sat on two of the appeals, took the extraordinary step of writing to the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs urging it to grant clemency to Peltier in 1991.
Considering all of the surrounding factors, including the prevailing worldview of the time, the FBI’s role in the creation of dangerous conditions on Pine Ridge, the manner in which the case was investigated and prosecuted and the extraordinary length of time already served, in my opinion, Peltier should be released in the interests of justice.
The government has gotten almost 41 years, and 41 pounds of flesh; Peltier is old and sick, and in my opinion, any more time served would be vindictive.
— James Reynolds, former U.S. attorney, Naples, Fla.
(click here to continue reading Leonard Peltier should be released in the interest of justice – Chicago Tribune.)
Exactly, Leonard Peltier has served long enough for a crime he probably didn’t even commit.
A little neutral-esque background from Wikipedia:
Peltier fled to Hinton, Alberta, where he hid in a friend’s cabin. On February 6, 1976, he was arrested. In December 1976, he was extradited from Canada based on documents submitted by the FBI that Warren Allmand, Canada’s Solicitor General at the time, would later state contained false information.
One of those documents was an affidavit signed by Myrtle Poor Bear, a local Native American woman. She claimed to have been Peltier’s girlfriend at the time and to have witnessed the murders. But, according to Peltier and others at the scene, Poor Bear did not know Peltier, nor was she present at the time of the shooting. She later claimed that she was pressured and threatened by FBI agents into giving the statements. Poor Bear attempted to testify about the FBI’s intimidation at Peltier’s trial; however, the judge barred her testimony on the grounds of mental incompetence.
Peltier fought extradition to the United States, even as Bob Robideau and Darrelle “Dino” Butler, AIM members also present on the Jumping Bull compound at the time of the shootings, were found not guilty on the grounds of self-defense by a federal jury in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Peltier returned too late to be tried with Robideau and Butler, and he was subsequently tried separately. Peltier’s trial was held in Fargo, North Dakota, where a jury convicted Peltier of the murders of Coler and Williams. Unlike the trial for Butler and Robideau, the jury was informed that the two FBI agents were killed by close-range shots to their heads, when they were already defenseless due to previous gunshot wounds. They also saw autopsy and crime scene photographs of the two agents, which had not been shown to the jury at Cedar Rapids. In April 1977, Peltier was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.
Doubts about legal proceedings
Numerous doubts have been raised over Peltier’s guilt and the fairness of his trial, based on allegations and inconsistencies regarding the FBI and prosecution’s handling of this case:
- FBI radio intercepts indicated that the two FBI agents had been pursuing a red pickup truck; this was confirmed by the FBI the day after the shootout. Red pickup trucks near the reservation were stopped for weeks, but Leonard Peltier did not drive a red pickup truck. Evidence was given that Peltier was driving a Suburban vehicle; a large station wagon style sedan built on a pickup truck chassis with an enclosed rear section. Peltier’s vehicle was red with a white roof—not a red, open-tray pickup truck with no white paint. The FBI agents’ radio message said that the suspect they were pursuing was driving a red pickup truck, with no additional details. At Peltier’s trial, the FBI testified that it had been searching for a red and white van, which Peltier was sometimes seen driving. This was a highly contentious matter of evidence in the trials.
- Testimony from three witnesses placed Peltier, Robideau and Butler near the crime scene. Those three witnesses later recanted, alleging that the FBI, while extracting their testimony, had tied them to chairs, denied them their right to talk to their attorney, and otherwise coerced and threatened them. Robideau said during an interview in the Robert Redford/Michael Apted film Incident at Oglala (1992), that “we approached” the agents’ cars.
- Unlike the juries in similar prosecutions against AIM leaders at the time, the Fargo jury was not allowed to hear about other cases in which the FBI had been rebuked for tampering with evidence and witnesses.
- An FBI ballistics expert testimony during the trial asserted that a shell case found near the dead agents’ bodies matched the rifle tied to Peltier. He said that a forensics test of the firing pin, which would have more definitively matched the gun to the cartridge case, was not performed because the gun was damaged in the fire. A less definitive test indicated that the extractor marks on the case and rifle matched. Years later, after an FOIA request, the FBI ballistics expert’s records were examined. His report said that he had performed a ballistics test of the firing pin and concluded that the cartridge case from the scene of the crime did not come from the rifle tied to Peltier. That evidence was withheld from the jury during the trial.
- Though the FBI’s investigation indicated that an AR-15 was used to kill the agents, several different AR-15s were in the area at the time of the shootout. Also, no other cartridge cases or evidence about them were offered by the prosecutor’s office, although other bullets were fired at the crime scene.
- During the trial, all the bullets and bullet fragments found at the scene were provided as evidence and detailed by Cortland Cunningham, FBI Firearms expert, in testimony. (Ref US v. Leonard Peltier Vol 9).
- According to Peltier, when he appealed his first-degree murder conviction in 1992, the charge was illegally changed to aiding and abetting.
- The U.S. Parole Commission denied Peltier parole in 1993 based on their finding that he “participated in the premeditated and cold blooded execution of those two officers.” But, the Parole Commission has since stated that it “recognizes that the prosecution has conceded the lack of any direct evidence that [Peltier] personally participated in the executions of the two FBI agents.”
(click here to continue reading Leonard Peltier – Wikipedia.)
Obama seems unlikely to commute Leonard Peltier’s sentence or pardon him, however, he should.
Personally, I don’t think hospitals should be exempt from property tax. What exactly is the standard here, that if a corporation “does good” they don’t have to pay their fair share of tax? Who defines what the good is? Who monitors it?
Lisa Schencker reports:
Illinois not-for-profit hospitals currently are exempt from having to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in property taxes so long as the value of their charitable services is equal to or greater than their estimated tax liabilities.
But some municipalities argue that many not-for-profit hospitals are more like businesses, making handsome profits. They say hospitals should have to contribute their fair share of taxes to their communities, like any other business. A 2009 report by the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability said 47 Chicago-area not-for-profit hospitals had property tax exemptions worth a total of $279 million.
About 156 of Illinois’ more than 200 hospitals are not-for-profit.
In the case before the state Supreme Court, the city of Urbana and others argue that Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana should not be exempt from paying property taxes. They say the 2012 state law allowing hospitals to be exempt if they provide charity equal in value to their property tax liabilities is unconstitutional. The state constitution only allows such exemptions if the property in question is used exclusively for charitable purposes, they say.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said after oral arguments Thursday that regardless of what the court decides — or doesn’t decide — the issue is one the legislature should weigh.
The hospital association might work with lawmakers to craft a new law if the court strikes the current one down. Association President and CEO A.J. Wilhelmi has said the group will “assess all options” once a ruling is made.
“Why should the most profitable companies in the state be shifting their burden onto every other business and homeowner?” Prussing asked.
Last year, a study published in the journal Health Affairs named Carle the 10th most profitable hospital in the country when it came to patient care services, with $163.5 million in profits in fiscal year 2013.
(click here to continue reading Illinois Supreme Court weighs whether hospitals must pay property taxes – Chicago Tribune.)
I don’t believe that churches should be exempt either, unless they can scientifically prove that god exists. Are medical cannabis dispensaries tax exempt? Planned Parenthood clinics? Is Feeding America’s offices on Wacker Drive tax free? What about ACLU headquarters? Union halls? Bars and taverns? Wrigley Field? Seriously, where does it end? Our society would be much better off and more equitable if corporations didn’t get so many freebies from taxpayers. I’ve always liked the idea of a “mandatory minimum” for corporations above a certain size – the idea that Boeing and Archer Daniels Midland and all the rest can’t evade taxes by exploiting shell corporations and loopholes.
Speaking of Shock and Awe, I wonder if the Tea Party types realize that by voting for Trump and his GOP buddies, they are about to get their wish fulfilled, and get government hands off of their Medicare. Because Medicare will cease to exist as soon as Trump takes office. Oopsie…
BRET BAIER: Your solution has always been to put things together including entitlement reform. That is Paul Ryan’s plan. That’s not Donald Trump’s plan.
PAUL RYAN: Well, you have to remember, when Obamacare became Obamacare, Obamacare rewrote medicare, rewrote medicaid. If you are going to repeal and replace Obamacare, you have to address those issues as well. What a lot of folks don’t realize is this 21-person board called the ipap is about to kick in with price controls on Medicare. What people don’t realize is because of Obamacare, medicare is going broke, medicare is going to have price controls because of Obamacare, medicaid is in fiscal straits. You have to deal with those issues if you are going to repeal and replace obamacare. Medicare has serious problems [because of] Obamacare. Those are part of our plan.
First, Ryan claims that Obamacare has put Medicare under deeper financial stress. Precisely the opposite is true. And it’s so straightforward Ryan unquestionably knows this. The Affordable Care Act actually extended Medicare’s solvency by more than a decade. Ryan’s claim is flat out false.
Second, I’ve heard a few people say that it’s not 100% clear here that Ryan is calling for Medicare Phase Out. It is 100% clear. Ryan has a standard, openly enunciated position in favor of Medicare Phase Out. It’s on his website. It’s explained explicitly right there.
Ryan says current beneficiaries will be allowed to keep their Medicare. Says. But after the cord is cut between current and future beneficiaries, everything is fair game. For those entering the system, Ryan proposes phasing out Medicare and replacing it private insurance with subsidies to help seniors afford the private insurance. That is unquestionably what it means because that is what Ryan says. So if you’re nearing retirement and looking forward to going on Medicare, good luck. You’re going to get private insurance but you’ll get some subsidies from the government to pay the bill.
(click here to continue reading Ryan Plans to Phase Out Medicare in 2017.)
Nah, probably not. Many don’t seem to be particularly well-informed.
I’m skeptical of these sorts of rankings, especially from magazines I’m not familiar with, that said, Mayor Emanuel does seem to be interested in expanding the number of bike commuters. Too bad the Chicago Police don’t enforce parking violations in the bike lanes, and too bad the city cannot seem to afford to maintain these bike lanes once they are created. I’ve nearly died from both idiots parked in bike lanes (not so much in the photo above, that was more of an irritation), and from plummeting into pot holes the size of a petite pond. What would be cool is if certain streets had zero cars and buses, and only bikes and pedestrians were allowed to use it. Oh well, maybe if I moved to Denmark…
In April, shortly after his re-election, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Chicago would build 50 miles of bikeways—many of them physically separated from motor vehicles—over the next three years. Such proclamations can come easily (and cheaply) to the lips of politicians, but during his first term in 2015, Emanuel made good on a promise to build 100 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes. “Those initial 100 miles of bike lanes cost just $12 million,” says Jim Merrell, advocacy director for the Active Transportation Alliance. “That highlights the cost effectiveness of transformative transportation projects like these.”
When its protected bike lanes are completed in spring 2017 in conjunction with its Loop Link transit project, Chicago will become the first major U.S. city with a downtown network of protected bike lanes—a major boost to the nation’s second-largest bike share system, Divvy. Further, many of Chicago’s existing bollard-protected bike lanes are currently being rebuilt with concrete curbs. This includes the state-owned Clybourn Avenue, a heavily used but dangerous corridor that the city had long pressured the Illinois DOT to rebuild. “The curb protection is aesthetically pleasing, and durable in a city with intense weather,” says Merrell. Plus, the concrete barriers also send an important message: Chicago’s commitment to safe and low-stress cycling is permanent.
The city also recently unveiled a program called Divvy For Everyone, which subsidizes bike-share memberships for low-income residents. A new 35th Street bridge, spanning a tangle of rail lines, will link the traditionally African-American community of Bronzeville to the Lakefront Trail. And the Big Marsh Bike Park, a former industrial wasteland in southeastern Chicago, will open in the fall of 2016 with flow and singletrack mountain bike trails, pump tracks, and a cyclocross course.
(click here to continue reading The 50 Best Bike Cities of 2016 | Bicycling.)
More bikes is more better…
Almost as if the healthcare industry (doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical corporations, insurance corporations) have a vested interest in making profits before healing people. Not that they are trying to harm people, rather that making money is the first motive.
A low-carbohydrate diet was in fact standard treatment for diabetes throughout most of the 20th century, when the condition was recognized as one in which “the normal utilization of carbohydrate is impaired,” according to a 1923 medical text. When pharmaceutical insulin became available in 1922, the advice changed, allowing moderate amounts of carbohydrates in the diet.
Yet in the late 1970s, several organizations, including the Department of Agriculture and the diabetes association, began recommending a high-carb, low-fat diet, in line with the then growing (yet now refuted) concern that dietary fat causes coronary artery disease. That advice has continued for people with diabetes despite more than a dozen peer-reviewed clinical trials over the past 15 years showing that a diet low in carbohydrates is more effective than one low in fat for reducing both blood sugar and most cardiovascular risk factors.
The diabetes association has yet to acknowledge this sizable body of scientific evidence. Its current guidelines find “no conclusive evidence” to recommend a specific carbohydrate limit. The organization even tells people with diabetes to maintain carbohydrate consumption, so that patients on insulin don’t see their blood sugar fall too low. That condition, known as hypoglycemia, is indeed dangerous, yet it can better be avoided by restricting carbs and eliminating the need for excess insulin in the first place. Encouraging patients with diabetes to eat a high-carb diet is effectively a prescription for ensuring a lifelong dependence on medication.
At the annual diabetes association convention in New Orleans this summer, there wasn’t a single prominent reference to low-carb treatment among the hundreds of lectures and posters publicizing cutting-edge research. Instead, we saw scores of presentations on expensive medications for blood sugar, obesity and liver problems, as well as new medical procedures, including that stomach-draining system, temptingly named AspireAssist, and another involving “mucosal resurfacing” of the digestive tract by burning the inside of the duodenum with a hot balloon.
(click here to continue reading Before You Spend $26,000 on Weight-Loss Surgery, Do This – The New York Times.)
Whether or not you have health issues, I believe a diet consisting of as many vegetables and fruits as you can eat is the best for you. Avoid processed foods as much as possible, etc.
((During one of this humble blog’s fallow periods, the David Simon incident mentioned below occurred at the White House. An incident custom made for my particular interests, and yet I’m pretty sure I only tweeted about it. Oh well.))
The War on Drugs has been dialed back a bit from the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush years, but it does continue. Too many laws have been passed encouraging civil forfeiture, encouraging stripping drug offenders of their voting rights and other civil liberties for the war to ended. President Obama and A.G. Eric Holder have slightly de-escalated the conflict, and various states in the US are de-escalating aspects of the conflict on their own citizens’ initiatives, but too many people are in jail for the crime of altering their own consciousnesses.
Jelani Cobb of The New Yorker writes:
In May, 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder invited several cast members from the HBO series “The Wire” to Washington, D.C., to help promote a Justice Department initiative called the Drug Endangered Children’s Task Force. “The Wire,” which aired for five seasons and was acclaimed for its nuanced portrayal of the war on drugs, was a favorite of both Holder and President Obama. Holder jokingly ordered the show’s creators, David Simon and Ed Burns, to produce a sixth season. “I have a lot of power,” he said. “The Attorney General’s kind remarks are noted and appreciated,” Simon told a reporter. “We are prepared to go to work on Season 6 of ‘The Wire’ if the Department of Justice is equally ready to reconsider and address its continuing prosecution of our misguided, destructive, and dehumanizing drug prohibition.” Fans groaned in despair: the improbable sixth season now seemed to hinge on something even less likely, an end to the war on drugs. But the exchange was significant for reasons beyond its implications for HBO’s programming. Although the catastrophic consequences of that war are widely acknowledged, there is less clarity about what ending it would entail.
The United States has declared war on cancer, on pornography, and on terror, and the lesson to be gleaned from those campaigns is that, unlike most other wars, those declared against common nouns seldom come to a precisely defined conclusion. The wars on cancer and pornography were really instances in which martial language was used to bolster particular policy initiatives by the Administrations that enacted them. The war on drugs has been a multitiered campaign that has enlisted legislation, private-sector initiatives, executive-branch support, and public will. But it actually looks like a war, with military-style armaments, random violence, and significant numbers of people taken prisoner. It has been prosecuted throughout eight Administrations and has had the type of social and cultural impact that few things short of real warfare do. During the Civil War, more than a quarter of a million Southern men died, creating the phenomenon of a vast number of female-headed households throughout the region. Mass incarceration during the war on drugs has produced a similar phenomenon among African-American households.
(click here to continue reading A Drawdown in the War on Drugs – The New Yorker.)
We’ve discussed this inexplicable loophole a few times before, ever since Bill Moyers tested his own body for chemicals and found over 70 different ones. We are glad that maybe something will be done, maybe. Though with the current group of knuckle-draggers and corporate sell-outs inhabiting Congress, I’m skeptical.
You can’t legally buy a drug in the United States that hasn’t undergone rigorous testing, mandated by Congress, to prove that it’s safe and effective. By contrast, that lipstick, shampoo, or deodorant you use every day may have undergone no such testing.
And there’s cause to wonder if those products are safe. More than 21,000 complaints of itching, rashes and hair loss, for instance, have been sent to the manufacturer and distributor of Wen Hair Care products. And hair-straightening products that contain formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, have caused allergic reactions, hair loss, rashes, blisters and other problems in salon workers and their customers.
A bill introduced by two senators — Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Susan Collins, Republican of Maine — would change that by requiring the Food and Drug Administration to evaluate a minimum of five chemicals used in cosmetics every year and to collect fees from the industry to pay for those reviews. The agency would also get the power to order companies to recall dangerous products and to force companies to provide it with safety data and reports of adverse health effects from consumers.
The bill has the backing of public interest groups like the Environmental Working Group and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, as well as much of the cosmetics industry, including big companies like Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble. But some manufacturers, like Mary Kay, oppose the bill because they argue that its provisions would be too onerous. They are pushing a much weaker measure introduced by Representative Pete Sessions, Republican of Texas, that would not require the F.D.A. to review risky ingredients and wouldn’t give the agency authority to order recalls.
(click here to continue reading Is Your Lipstick Bad for You? – The New York Times.)
See, Pete Sessions and his pals are doing their best to ensure you are poisoned by household chemicals. That’s democracy in America folks…
We are way behind Europe. As Bill Moyers and other pointed out, in the US, chemicals are only tested after they can be scientifically linked to problems: in Europe the chemical has to past those tests before being approved to the marketplace.
All told, European officials have restricted or banned more than 1,300 chemicals and groups of chemicals, experts say; the F.D.A. has prohibited 11 ingredients. That shocking discrepancy makes clear how far behind the United States is in this area. It also shows that sensible regulations will not cripple companies that make cosmetics, since many of their products are already covered by European law.
The United States should spend less on building aircraft carriers, less on tax breaks for the wealthy, and for corporations like General Electric and ExxonMobil and more on projects like this:
A rocket that shot skyward from the Gobi Desert early Tuesday is expected to propel China to the forefront of one of science’s most challenging fields.
It also is set to launch Beijing far ahead of its global rivals in the drive to acquire a highly coveted asset in the age of cyberespionage: hack-proof communications.
Aboard the Micius satellite is encryption technology that, if successful, could propel China to the forefront of hack-proof communications. Professor Hoi Fung Chau of Hong Kong University explains how quantum physics can be used to frustrate hackers. State media said China sent the world’s first quantum-communications satellite into orbit from a launch center in Inner Mongolia about 1:40 a.m. Tuesday. Five years in the making, the project is being closely watched in global scientific and security circles.
The quantum program is the latest part of China’s multibillion-dollar strategy over the past two decades to draw even with or surpass the West in hard-sciences research.
“There’s been a race to produce a quantum satellite, and it is very likely that China is going to win that race,” said Nicolas Gisin, a professor and quantum physicist at the University of Geneva. “It shows again China’s ability to commit to large and ambitious projects and to realize them.”
Scientists in the U.S., Europe, Japan and elsewhere are rushing to exploit the strange and potentially powerful properties of subatomic particles, but few with as much state support as those in China, researchers say. Quantum technology is a top strategic focus in the country’s five-year economic development plan, released in March.
Beijing hasn’t disclosed how much money it has allocated to quantum research or to building the 1,400-pound satellite. But funding for basic research, which includes quantum physics, was $101 billion in 2015, up from $1.9 billion in 2005.
U.S. federal funding for quantum research is about $200 million a year, according to a congressional report in July by a group of science, defense, intelligence and other officials.
It said development of quantum science would “enhance U.S. national security,” but said fluctuations in funding had set back progress.
(click here to continue reading China’s Latest Leap Forward Isn’t Just Great—It’s Quantum – WSJ.)
In other words, Congressional disfunction, partisanship and misguided priorities are stymieing the United States.
I know there isn’t a civics test a prospective Senator has to pass before running for office, but perhaps there should be.
Republicans have never made it easy for President Barack Obama to confirm judges. But Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) came up with a new reason the Senate shouldn’t be filling empty court seats: It’s not our job.
Democrats including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) made repeated requests Wednesday to confirm a batch of Obama’s judicial nominees who are ready for votes. Each time they tried, Tillis objected and suggested the Senate shouldn’t be spending time on judges.
“What we get are things that have nothing to do with doing our jobs,” he said. “I’m doing my job today and objecting to these measures so we can actually get back to pressing matters.”
It’s a weird thing to say since it is literally the Senate’s job to confirm judges, as spelled out in the Constitution. It’s also ironic that Tillis is the one saying this, given that he’s overseeing the longest federal court vacancy in the country. There’s been an empty seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina for 3,848 days, or 10.5 years.
(click here to continue reading GOP Senator: Confirming Obama’s Judges Has ‘Nothing To Do With Doing Our Jobs’.)
Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, known as the Appointments Clause, empowers the President of the United States to appoint certain public officials with the “advice and consent” of the U.S. Senate. This clause also allows lower-level officials to be appointed without the advice and consent process.
He (the President) shall have the Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Councils, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.
The President shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session.
(click here to continue reading Appointments Clause – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)
I would be more sanguine about Trump’s odds of winning the presidency if not for a few nagging thoughts. Hillary Clinton is a plodding centrist, not a natural politician. I’m still unconvinced the electronic voting machines are immune to shenanigans, and Trump is motivated to explore cheating so as to avoid an embarrassing loss. And the GOP has been methodically undermining voting rights in state after state after state.
Like in Kansas:
The right to vote is turning into a tooth-and-claw saga in Kansas, thanks to right-wing ideologues’ determination to force new voters to produce a passport, a birth certificate or naturalization papers as proof of citizenship.
This is unheard-of in most of the nation, where aspiring voters are required only to swear to being citizens under penalty of prosecution for fraud. But in Kansas, the requirement that citizenship be documented has become a grave electoral impediment that is being challenged on two legal fronts.
In the first, a federal district judge in May ordered the state to register thousands of people who had been denied federal voting privileges because they did not produce proof of citizenship when they tried to register at motor vehicle offices. Judge Julie Robinson ruled that the requirement violated the National Voter Registration Act provision that “only the minimum amount of information” is needed to certify a voter. The state is appealing her ruling.
Judge Robinson found that 18,372 qualified voters had been unfairly barred from federal elections — about 8 percent of new applicants. She also found that between 1995 and 2013, there were only three instances in Kansas when noncitizens had voted. This was a humiliating setback for Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has been a major proponent of the Republican fantasy that voter fraud is rampant.
A separate lawsuit, also in Kansas and brought by voting rights groups, is focused on a brazen attempt to force prospective voters to provide proof of citizenship in state elections as an addendum to the federal government’s voter registration form.
So goes the weakened state of democracy in Kansas. As the courts thrash through the Republicans’ “voter fraud” myth, it is shocking that thousands of qualified Kansans still have no certainty that they will be allowed into the voting booth.
(click here to continue reading The Struggle to Vote in Kansas – The New York Times.)
We can all laugh and roll our eyes at the thought of President Trump, and yet…
And speaking about why Donald Trump is the Republican Party of 2016, and how belief in Voodoo Economics is the underpinning of the GOP con, there is the real world example of Kansas. A Tea Party governor, a Tea Party legislature, and free reign to implement all those Koch and ALEC inspired schemes for going on five years now.
Sliding north, we find ourselves in the failed state of Kansas, now in the fifth year of the Brownbackian Dark Ages, as such things are reckoned. Somehow, the fact that Kansas’ status as a supply-side lab rat has dropped the state down a political garbage chute the likes of which hasn’t been seen since they shredded the Articles of Confederation is beginning to seep under the guardhouses of the gated communities. The head of a healthcare company is fleeing to the Missouri border and he’s not shy about telling the world why.
It wasn’t just that Brownback was conservative; it was that he is seen as a tool of the Koch brothers and ALEC, a conservative think tank and lobbying organization. Brownback used his influence and funding to eliminate “moderate” republicans from the Kansas legislature and install his hand-picked conservative cronies. He couldn’t do the same with the Kansas Supreme Court, which has ruled a number of the conservative legislature’s laws as unconstitutional, so Brownback’s administration decided to threaten to cut off funding to the court system and is actively pursuing legislation to impeach the Supreme Court.
Kansas has become a test center of “trickle down” economics, espoused by economist Arthur Laffer during the Reagan years. Nowhere has there been as thorough an implementation of Laffer’s policy recommendations… and nowhere has there been as dramatic a failure of government. Under Brownback’s direction, Kansas implemented an unprecedented tax cut in 2012, eliminating taxes for LLCs and professional firms (for full disclosure, PHI is a C Corporation) and making the largest cuts in the highest tax brackets. He shifted taxes to create a heavier burden on property and sales taxes, which typically represent a larger burden on lower income brackets. Brownback declared that this tax cut would be a “shot of adrenaline” for the Kansas economy, but the reality is that the tax cuts have had the opposite effect. Kansas lags neighboring states in job growth. For 11 of the last 12 months, Kansas has dramatically missed revenue targets, falling deeper in debt and facing another round of degraded bond ratings.
The worst part is that the burdens for the shortfalls rest on the shoulders of those who can least afford it – children and the developmentally disabled.
This guy says it flat out–Brownback has engineered the failure of government in Kansas to prove to himself and to the world that government inevitably fails. It’s not often that you see it made that plain, and now it’s time to point out that enough voters in Kansas showed up and re-elected this cluck in what only can be seen now as a suicide pact.
(click here to continue reading Why Healthcare Companies Are Leaving Kansas for Missouri.)
and a brief refresher of the Return of Voodoo Economics from Paul Krugman:
During his failed bid for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination George H. W. Bush famously described Ronald Reagan’s “supply side” doctrine — the claim that cutting taxes on high incomes would lead to spectacular economic growth, so that tax cuts would pay for themselves — as “voodoo economic policy.” Bush was right. Even the rapid recovery from the 1981-82 recession was driven by interest-rate cuts, not tax cuts. Still, for a time the voodoo faithful claimed vindication.
First, voodoo economics has dominated the conservative movement for so long that it has become an inward-looking cult, whose members know what they know and are impervious to contrary evidence. Fifteen years ago leading Republicans may have been aware that the Clinton boom posed a problem for their ideology. Today someone like Senator Rand Paul can say: “When is the last time in our country we created millions of jobs? It was under Ronald Reagan.” Clinton who?
Second, the nature of the budget debate means that Republican leaders need to believe in the ways of magic. For years people like Mr. Ryan have posed as champions of fiscal discipline even while advocating huge tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations. They have also called for savage cuts in aid to the poor, but these have never been big enough to offset the revenue loss. So how can they make things add up?
Well, for years they have relied on magic asterisks — claims that they will make up for lost revenue by closing loopholes and slashing spending, details to follow. But this dodge has been losing effectiveness as the years go by and the specifics keep not coming.
(click here to continue reading Voodoo Economics, the Next Generation – The New York Times.)
Huh. Well, at first blush, this seems like good news…
High-speed internet service can be defined as a utility, a federal court has ruled, a decision clearing the way for more rigorous policing of broadband providers and greater protections for web users.
The decision from a three-judge panel at the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Tuesday comes in a case about rules applying to a doctrine known as net neutrality, which prohibit broadband companies from blocking or slowing the delivery of internet content to consumers.
Those rules, created by the Federal Communications Commission in early 2015, started a huge legal battle as cable, telecom and wireless internet providers sued to overturn regulations that they said went far beyond the F.C.C.’s authority and would hurt their businesses.
The court’s decision upholds the F.C.C. on the declaration of broadband as a utility, the most significant aspect of the rules. That has broad-reaching implications for web and telecommunications companies and signals a shift in the government’s view of broadband as a service that should be equally accessible to all Americans, rather than a luxury that does not need close government supervision.
(click here to continue reading Net Neutrality Rules Upheld by Federal Court – The New York Times.)
Modernization of technology is not always the most urgent task: sometimes the newest innovations are more trouble than they are worth. But as time passes, older technologies become harder to maintain and find parts for. I speak from experience, as my office has an older computer kept around just to run legacy software that has been defunct for about ten years. Not ideal, but I realize eventually, I won’t be able to rebuild the old computer without learning how to solder and program.
The US government has a much greater budget than my humble office, yet doesn’t seem concerned that the nuclear arsenal is controlled by floppy-disk era computers, and even more ancient COBOL routines.
The government is squandering its technology budget maintaining museum-ready computer systems in critical areas from nuclear weapons to Social Security. They’re still using floppy disks at the Pentagon. In a report released Wednesday, nonpartisan congressional investigators found that about three-fourths of the $80 billion budget goes to keep aging technology running, and the increasing cost is shortchanging modernization.
GAO says its estimate of at least $80 billion spent on information technology in 2015 is probably low. Not counted were certain Pentagon systems, as well as those run by independent agencies, among them the CIA. Major systems are known as “IT investments” in government jargon.
The White House has been pushing to replace workhorse systems that date back more than 50 years in some cases. But the government is expected to spend $7 billion less on modernization in 2017 than in 2010, said the Government Accountability Office.
“Clearly, there are billions wasted,” GAO information technology expert David Powner told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at a hearing.
Although lawmakers of both parties say they are frustrated, it’s unclear whether Congress will act.
(click here to continue reading Report: Feds Spend Billions To Run Ancient Technology – Tech Trends on CIO Today.)
Unclear. Right, meaning, Congress has no intention of doing anything between now and election time, other than demagogue and raise money.
America’s nuclear arsenal depends on a surprising relic of the 1970s that few of us may recall: the humble floppy disk.
It’s hard to believe these magnetic, 8-inch data storage devices are what’s propping up the most fearsome weapons humanity has ever created. But the Department of Defense is still relying on this technology to coordinate key strategic forces such as nuclear bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to a new government report.
The floppy disks help run what’s known as the Strategic Automated Command and Control System, an important communications network that the Pentagon uses to issue launch orders to commanders and to share intelligence. And in order to use the floppy disks, the military must also maintain a collection of IBM Series/1 computers that to most people would look more at home in a museum than in a missile silo.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about the military’s reliance on seemingly archaic tech: back in 2014, the U.S. Air Force showed CBS’s “60 Minutes” one of the top-secret floppy disks that helps it store and transmit sensitive information across dozens of communications sites. So to hear from the Government Accountability Office that the Pentagon has still not phased out the technology – and doesn’t plan to until the end of fiscal year 2017 – is remarkable.
(click here to continue reading The real reason America controls its nukes with ancient floppy disks – Chicago Tribune.)
For the record, here are some of the systems we are spending $80,000,000,000 a year on:
Among the vintage computing platforms highlighted in the report:
— The Defense Department’s Strategic Automated Command and Control System, which is used to send and receive emergency action messages to U.S. nuclear forces. The system is running on a 1970s IBM computing platform, and still uses 8-inch floppy disks to store data. “Replacement parts for the system are difficult to find because they are now obsolete,” GAO said. The Pentagon told GAO it is initiating a full replacement and the floppy disks should be gone by the end of next year. The entire upgrade will take longer.
— Treasury’s individual and business master files, the authoritative data sources for taxpayer information. The systems are about 56 years old and use an outdated computer language that is difficult to write and maintain. Treasury plans to replace the systems but has no firm dates.
— Social Security systems that are used to determine eligibility and estimate benefits, about 31 years old. Some use a programming language called COBOL, dating to the late 1950s and early 1960s. “Most of the employees who developed these systems are ready to retire and the agency will lose their collective knowledge,” the report said. “Training new employees to maintain the older systems takes a lot of time.” Social Security has no plans to replace the entire system but is eliminating and upgrading older and costlier components. It is also rehiring retirees who know the technology.
— Medicare’s Appeals System, which is only 11 years old, faces challenges keeping up with a growing number of appeals, as well as questions from congressional offices following up on constituent concerns. The report says the agency has general plans to keep updating the system, depending on the availability of funds.
— The Transportation Department’s Hazardous Materials Information System, used to track incidents and keep information regulators rely on. The system is about 41 years old, and vendors no longer support some of its software, which can create security risks. The department plans to complete its modernization program in 2018.
(click here to continue reading Report: Feds Spend Billions To Run Ancient Technology – Tech Trends on CIO Today.)
Nothing important to see here, move along sheeple, there are Benghazi hearings to attend…
Speaking of biometrics, and facial recognition, both key components of the REAL ID Act of 2005, Illinois doesn’t allow private businesses to do scans of your face, at least as of today.
The Biometric Information Privacy Act of Illinois is not a law many are familiar with. But if you have ever shared a photo on social media, the little-known statute turns out to be one of the nation’s toughest regulations for how companies like Facebook and Google can use facial recognition technologies to identify you online.
On Thursday, an Illinois state senator, Terry Link, introduced an amendment that would have weakened the law by exempting photo-tagging technologies that are now commonly used on social media. The proposal also had the potential to extinguish several class-action lawsuits against technology companies like Facebook by retroactively removing the right of Illinois citizens to sue companies that might have broken the law in the past.
The amendment was lobbied for by Facebook, according to a person involved in the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity. And it helps to illustrate how from drone aircraft to genetic information and statutes that govern how companies sell consumer information to data miners, tech companies are in a capital to capital fight to keep new laws from being passed or to soften those already on the books.
“The Illinois biometric privacy act is one of the best new privacy laws in the country,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “It’s bad news for consumers when Internet companies start lobbying against good privacy laws.”
(click here to continue reading Tech Companies Take Their Legislative Concerns to the States – The New York Times.)
If the federal government wants to create a database with everyone’s face, no problem. But Facebook, Google or LinkedIn? Not so fast.
For what it is worth, I’d vote that neither Facebook nor the Feds have this kind of information.