Happy New Year 2014 Open Thread

I hope all of you have the very best year ever!

(I was trying to get all artsy-fartsy and add some fireworks, but for some reason my links keep breaking. . . oh, well, the thought was there!)

With Experts Like These. . .

Suzanne Somers is an Expert, who knew?

Somehow I don’t think that this is quite what the WSJ anticipated when it gave the former actress and lifestyle guru access to their editorial pages:

CORRECTIONS AND AMPLIFICATIONS:

An earlier version of this post contained a quotation attributed to Lenin (“Socialized medicine is the keystone to the arch of the socialist state”) that has been widely disputed. And it included a quotation attributed to Churchill (“Control your citizens’ health care and you control your citizens“) that the Journal has been unable to confirm.

Also, the cover of a Maclean’s magazine issue in 2008 showed a picture of a dog on an examining table with the headline “Your Dog Can Get Better Health Care Than You.” An earlier version of this post incorrectly said the photo showed and headline referred to a horse.

And, in case you didn’t know, evidently Obamacare is taking the place of Medicare, if what Ms Somers writes in her editorial is true about Obamacare’s effect on the elderly. You heard it here first!

Baltimore Bound

Hitting the highway now. Have a great Sunday, and I’ll catch up with you somewhere east of here!

Hump Day Craziness

I read this yesterday and it lead me to some interesting questions.  Well, they were interesting to me anyway.  I’ve been fascinated with the different factions of the Republican Party and the increased number of Libertarians who primarily seem to vote Republican when there is no Libertarian around to vote for.  This piece mentions the possible break between Evangelical Christian Republicans and conservative Catholics over the new Pope’s recent comments regarding gays and poverty.  It appears to me that Libertarians have also broken with the Christian wing of the Republican Party over many social issues.   I’ve learned from our discussions here that Libertarians seem to be for both open borders and abortion, in some cases “on demand”, even I don’t believe in either of those suggestions, so is that to the left of me?

I guess I’m wondering where all this will eventually lead.  How hard will it be for Libertarians to vote for a Republican of the evangelical sort?  Is it just a case of voting for the lesser of two evils in a Presidential election, or even a local election?  When do your votes and principles collide?  I swallowed my objections and voted for Obama because of health care, and a couple of other accomplishments I supported,  rather than third party, which is what I normally do.  A big fat wasted vote either way really.

My thoughts rambled from the original piece but I wanted you guys to see how it got me thinking.  I’m finding it somewhat interesting that I tend to vote social issues and for the preservation of things such as Social Security, Medicare and other safety net protections.  There doesn’t seem to be that much difference to me in the reality of economic policy between the parties or for that matter even foreign policy now that many conservatives seem to be more isolationist than they were in the past, but I’m guessing the Libertarians/Conservatives here don’t agree and vote their pocket book, or is it all big vs small government and the demolition of the safety net that motivates y’all.  I’m curious.  It seems to me that the differences between us are more along the lines of priorities.  I think we all value similar things but just place more weight on some than others.  Or maybe I’m delusional.

I think it is a safe bet that if Pope Francis I lives more than a few years that Catholics will soon be kicked out of the Republican Party and resume their previous status as the semi-black race. The reason is simple. Pope Francis I is on the opposite side of the political divide from Pope John Paul II. The Polish pope was a Cold Warrior who basically took the Reagan-Thatcher line on left-leaning political movements in the Third World, including in Latin America. The Argentinian Jesuit pope isn’t a communist, but he advocates for the poor without any apology.

For now, conservative American Catholics are trying to parse the distinction, but it isn’t going to work. They are not going to be able to embrace The Slum Pope who wants to “make a mess” of the established order within the Church by encouraging young people to shake up the dioceses and force them to embrace the convicts, drug addicts, and the truly impoverished.

Our country is uniquely unable to appreciate this change specifically because our right wing succeeded in categorizing the left in the Third World (and, to an extent, even in Europe) as communist in sympathy. The right assumes that the Vatican is an ally in all things, but that is no longer even close to being the case. On so-called family values, the papacy is still reliably conservative, even if it can’t be counted on anymore to demonize homosexuality. But on economic issues, the papacy is now a dedicated enemy of the Republican Party.

Before long, the right will have no choice but to break from the pope, and then their opposition will grow to a point that the alliance between Catholics and evangelicals will not hold.

There sure has been a lot of talk lately about women.  I’ve been troubled by some of it as it seems we’re going backwards in some respects.  There are too many stories to link but between all the states enacting TRAP laws, all the strange definitions of rape, the mayor of San Diego’s bizarre harassment and who has and has not shielded him from investigation, the treatment of rape victims in the military,  USC redefining rape as not rape if there is no ejaculation (my personal favorite), who is and isn’t hot enough to either run for office or other more nefarious activities, etc. etc. that I’ve been trying to figure out what’s going on.  Maybe nothing ever really changed.  I’m concerned that so much of it has become political football.  I thought this piece on the subtleties of how a woman can succeed in the financial industry was pretty troubling.

Our youngest is working in another male dominated industry and is constantly trying to determine how to proceed on her merits while most of the men are attracted to her looks.  She has a few male mentors who seem to take her seriously so she’s focusing on that and trying to stay away from the guys who want to date her and stay focused on her work.  She’s discovering it’s an interesting dynamic that has many challenges.  She faced numerous challenges as a grad student but that was nothing compared to what she’s dealing with now.

It doesn’t help when other women give this kind of advice.

New details have emerged from a bias lawsuit filed by three former employees of Merrill Lynch against the company, which alleges that during training they were instructed to read a book called “Seducing the Boys Club: Uncensored Tactics From a Woman at the Top” and emulate its advice.

The tips in the book, published by New York Magazine’s The Cut, are truly shocking. “I play on [men’s] masculine pride and natural instincts to protect the weaker sex,” says a section of the book advising women on how to get men to do their work. “Unless he is morbidly obese, there is no man on earth who won’t puff up at this sentence: Wow, you look great. Been working out?” suggests a portion on diffusing tense situations.

On a lighter note the Anthony Weiner story is in another realm altogether in my opinion.  I guess I’d like to know why his wife is standing by him but it’s none of my business really.  Otherwise it seems to be a case of “consenting adults” which doesn’t bode well for his marriage or his candidacy but otherwise is just more creepily entertaining than anything else.

I wish I could share all the “Carlos Danger” jokes my husband has come up with, they’re hysterical, and just pop out of his mouth at the most inconvenient times.  He’s a true comic and I’ve thanked my lucky stars more than once that he makes me laugh.  Anyway we’ve had a lot of fun at Anthony Weiner’s expense around here.  I saw this and couldn’t resist.

Anthony Weiner Forever

Weiner forever

TEXAS—–OMG

I’ve been out of touch the last couple of days due to network issues with wordpress but you’ll be happy to hear I’m back….hah.  And contrary to popular opinion Scott isn’t the one who’s always bringing up abortion……I am.  You might be asking yourself, why?  I’ll tell you why, because there are at least 10 states where the legal right to an abortion has been compromised to the point where they’re threatening the health of women who are in their reproductive years.

If what’s happening in Kansas is true I think it’s one of the most outrageous backwards slide in women’s healthcare that I’ve heard of recently and that’s balanced against the fact that I just found out we’re sterilizing female prisoners apparently against their will here in CA still.

Kansas

The first is a troubling provision to  redefine what constitutes a medical emergency so that pregnant women experiencing life-threatening complications — including hemorrhaging, infection and ruptured ectopic pregnancies – would be forced to wait at least 24 hours before obtaining an emergency abortion. After signing the legislation that would imperil the lives of pregnant women in medical emergencies, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback remarked: ”All human life is sacred. It’s beautiful. With this, we continue to build this culture of life in our state.”

And that brings me to Texas from the same link above:

And while Texas’ current battle over reproductive rights has grabbed unprecedented national attention, this isn’t the state’s first rodeo. During the 2011 legislative session, Texas lawmakers passed a two-year budget cutting $73 million from family planning programs. In 2012, Gov. Rick Perry dissolved the state’s partnership with the federal Women’s Health Program and forfeited millions in Medicaid funding for low-income women’s healthcare. Republican lawmakers were unabashed about the reasoning behind such extreme measures, which was, as state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, openly  acknowledged to “defund the ‘abortion industry.”

Perhaps, as many conservatives claim, there are more women out there who support these restrictive measures than I imagine there are, and so I guess we’ll see what happens now that the GOP has picked abortion as their social issue of the decade since they’ve lost the war on gay marriage.

The occupation of the Texas state capitol by angry women caught the national imagination, perhaps due to the drama of Davis’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” moment, which immediately went viral over the social networks. Similar mass protests by women have taken place elsewhere, too, including last week in Ohio — a pivotal presidential election state — where the Statehouse was crowded with women dissenters.

The importance of Davis’s stand, however, is the way it has inspired a nationwide discussion about the creeping encroachment on abortion rights that has been taking place without widespread media coverage in statehouses across the nation.

And I read somewhere yesterday that a pro-life protest in Austin with about 1,000 protesters bussed in from out of state was over run with over 5,000 local women and men protesting the upcoming abortion bill that’s sure to pass the TX legislature and be signed by the Governor.  I submit that this legislation is quite possibly happening not only against the will of the people but that the Texas GOP will pay a price.  Here’s a poem an abortion activist by the name of Katie Heim read yesterday which seems oddly appropriate for Texas.

If my vagina was a gun, you would stand for its rights,
You would ride on buses and fight all the fights.
If my vagina was a gun, you would treat it with care,
You wouldn’t spill all its secrets because, well, why go there.
If my vagina was a gun, you’d say what it holds is private
From cold dead hands we could pry, you surely would riot.
If my vagina was a gun, its rights would all be protected,
no matter the body count or the children affected.
If my vagina was a gun, I could bypass security,
concealed carry laws would ensure I’d have impunity.
If my vagina was a gun, I wouldn’t have to beg you,
I could hunt this great land and do all the things men do.
But my vagina is not a gun, it is a mightier thing,
With a voice that rings true making lawmakers’ ears ring.
Vaginas are not delicate, they are muscular and magic,
So stop messing with mine, with legislation that’s tragic.
My vagina’s here to demand from the source,
Listen to the voices of thousands or feel their full force.

And honestly, I keep thinking I’m done discussing the abortion issue, and then another state passes what I consider a life threatening restriction, or another Republican lawmaker makes a bone-headed statement and here I am again pointing it out.   I’m way beyond the point of caring about the issue personally, but as a woman, I think it’s important to keep the issue front and center as long as there are conservatives trying to undermine and reverse the right to abortion that women currently have to the extreme extent they’re doing it.

Monday Morning

Brent said the Morning Report would be spotty this week so I’ll start with an open thread and a few interesting (to me anyway) links.

This probably seems like a mistake in hindsight.

Foreign politicians and officials who took part in two G20 summit meetings in London in 2009 had their computers monitored and their phone calls intercepted on the instructions of their British government hosts, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Some delegates were tricked into using internet cafes which had been set up by British intelligence agencies to read their email traffic.

The revelation comes as Britain prepares to host another summit on Monday – for the G8 nations, all of whom attended the 2009 meetings which were the object of the systematic spying. It is likely to lead to some tension among visiting delegates who will want the prime minister to explain whether they were targets in 2009 and whether the exercise is to be repeated this week.

In addition to the piece above Snowden isn’t helping himself or us if this  is true.

Former NSA employee, and famed PRISM whistleblower, Edward Snowden is now leaking top secret documents that appear to have nothing to do with the NSA eavesdropping on Americans, and everything to do with hurting the United States’ national security position vis-a-vis Russia before a key Obama-Putin summit.

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In light of the above information it should be an interesting G8 talk Obama is scheduled to give defending our phone and internet surveillance systems.  I have to wonder what those folks will be thinking.

President Barack Obama will defend U.S. phone and internet surveillance efforts during G8 talks next week, explaining to other leaders the importance of the tools in fighting terrorism, and safeguards in place to prevent abuse of the data

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It’s nice to see a company that pays it’s employees well actually do well.  I’ve also heard that Costco employees stick around for years and years and they even have a college education program for people who want to advance within the company.

The big box giant’s profit jumped 19 percent to $459 million last quarter, thanks in part to the company’s efforts to offer discounts to lure more members, according to Bloomberg. The company was able to offer those discounts and boost its profits while paying its workers a decent wage, a claim many of Costco’s competitors can’t make.

A typical Costco worker made $45,000 in 2011, according to Fortune. That’s compared to Sam’s Club workers’ average salary of $17,486 per year, according to salary information site Glassdoor.com.

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I don’t know if any of you saw this interview with the young Air Force guy with PTSD caused by being a drone operator.  I remember thinking that the drones seemed like a good idea for modern warfare, and maybe they are.  I think they save American lives but I’m not sure we’ve gotten their use right yet.

Doesn’t it seem as though we’re not adapting very well to all the new technology and we haven’t actually thought everything through sufficiently?

This is a report on the interview from Richard Engel, but there’s also video at the link.

Bryant said that most of the time he was an operator, he and his team and his commanding officers made a concerted effort to avoid civilian casualties.

But he began to wonder who the enemy targets on the ground were, and whether they really posed a threat. He’s still not certain whether the three men in Afghanistan were really Taliban insurgents or just men with guns in a country where many people carry guns. The men were five miles from American forces arguing with each other when the first missile hit them.

“They (didn’t) seem to be in a hurry,” he recalled. “They (were) just doing their thing. … They were probably carrying rifles, but I wasn’t convinced that they were bad guys.“ But as a 21-year-old airman, said Bryant, he didn’t think he had the standing to ask questions.

He also remembers being convinced that he had seen a child scurry onto his screen during one mission just before a missile struck, despite assurances from others that the figure he’d seen was really a dog.

In 2011, as Bryant’s career as a drone operator neared its end, he said his commander presented him with what amounted to a scorecard. It showed that he had participated in missions that contributed to the deaths of 1,626 people.

“I would’ve been happy if they never even showed me the piece of paper,” he said. “I’ve seen American soldiers die, innocent people die, and insurgents die. And it’s not pretty. It’s not something that I want to have — this diploma.”

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And last but not least from the great state of CA, we passed a budget Friday that made our stingy (hahaha) Governor almost as happy as the other Democrats.  As you probably know Republicans have essentially been side lined.  It ‘s the opposite of states like WI and others where Republicans control all levels.  This piece mentions health care quite a bit and emphasizes how much Obama and others are hoping for a successful implementation here.

Drew Altman, president and chief executive of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said the success of the federal healthcare law hinges largely on the outcome in California.

“California is pace-setting, and everyone in health reform is watching very closely,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine its success until it succeeds in California.”

Many of the healthcare changes are riding on this year’s budget and a series of related bills among those lawmakers are expected to take up Saturday.

“California really couldn’t move full speed ahead” until the budget passed, said Chris Perrone, a director at the California HealthCare Foundation. “It clears the path to a lot of work that needs to happen.”

That work includes computer upgrades to process new patients and outreach efforts to ensure that more people enroll in health plans.

Healthcare was one of the final sticking points in budget negotiations this year. Brown insisted on allowing the state to scale back its coverage if federal money is reduced.

What Kind of Whistleblower Would You Be?

I’m not sure what to think about this Snowden guy.  I tend to think the government certainly has an obligation to hold secrets when it comes to national security and yet obviously the American people deserve to know, and I think participate in, the process by which we give up so many of our legal rights in order to acquire that sense of security.

Diane Feinstein thinks he should be tried for treason and John Boehner calls him a traitor.

Political opinion in the US was split with some members of Congress calling for the immediate extradition from Hong Kong of the whistleblower, Edward Snowden. But other senior politicians in both main parties questioned whether US surveillance practices had gone too far.

Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the national intelligence committee, has ordered the NSA to review how it limits the exposure of Americans to government surveillance. But she made clear her disapproval of Snowden. “What he did was an act of treason,” she said.

House Speaker John Boehner defended the NSA programs and their congressional oversight, saying he had been briefed on the programs and that Americans were not “snooped on” unless they communicated with a terrorist in another country.

“He’s a traitor,” Boehner said of Snowden in an interview with ABC News. “The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk, it shows our adversaries what our capabilities are, and it’s a giant violation of the law.”

Daniel Ellsberg believes Snowden’s leak is the most important example of whistleblowing in history.

In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than  Edward Snowden’s release of NSA material – and that definitely includes  the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago. Snowden’s whistleblowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an “executive coup” against the US constitution.

For the president then to say that there is judicial oversight is nonsense – as is the alleged oversight function of the intelligence committees in Congress. Not for the first time – as with issues of torture, kidnapping, detention, assassination by drones and death squads –they have shown themselves to be thoroughly co-opted by the agencies they supposedly monitor. They are also black holes for information that the public needs to know.

Ellsberg seems to think this event will give Americans both the incentive and proof  we need to rise up against this “surveillance state”.   Ha, based on the polling I’ve seen this week and comments from both government officials and public forums I’ve been reading, most people don’t really care that much or simply accept it’s the trade off  for being safe.

And it seems to me we have two different kinds of justice being handed out for whistleblowers.  Thanks to Dodd/Frank (don’t get me wrong, I know it’s a crappy bill) the SEC has newly enacted protections for financial whistleblowers and the government has reaped the benefits to the tune of   millions of dollars.

In just its first year, the whistle­blower program already has proven to be a valuable tool in helping us ferret out financial fraud,” then-SEC Chairman Mary L. Schapiro said in November 2012. “When insiders provide us with high-quality road maps of fraudulent wrongdoing, it reduces the length of time we spend investigating and saves the agency substantial resources.”

The SEC’s Investor Protection Fund awarded the Commission’s first Whistleblower Award Program recipient in 2012, but the case and individual haven’t been made public. The Fund represents monetary sanctions received from settlements of SEC cases, including penalties, disgorgement, and interest. The balance at the end of fiscal 2012 was $453 million.

And on the opposite end of the spectrum Obama appears to undermine his own support of protections for whistleblowers, at least in the area of National Security.

The federal appeals court granted another hearing on May 24, and the Obama administration rushed out a memo asking the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of Personnel Management to quickly come up with a litmus test for deciding which federal positions can be classified as being “sensitive,” citing a 2010 OPM proposal that aimed to dramatically expand the number of national security employees.

Whistleblower advocates say the court ruling and the president’s memo spell a major rewiring of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. “It’s not that OPM and DOJ are arguing that whistleblowers in sensitive positions shouldn’t have access to protections. It’s an unintended consequence that they have not tried to prevent,” says Angela Canterbury, public policy director at the Project on Government Oversight, where I used to work. “The Obama administration is undermining the same protections they [formerly] supported.

There are at least five whistleblowers who’ve come up against the heavy hand of the Obama Administration via the DOJ recently.

The Obama administration has waged a war on government whistleblowers. So here are 5 whistleblowers who have been under attack by a president who once said that official whistleblowers were “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government.

Check out the Thomas Drake case:

4. Thomas Drake

A former executive at the National Security Agency, Thomas Drake exposed details about the agency’s Trailblazer Project. For this, he was charged under the Espionage Act, though the government’s case against him spectacularly failed.

Drake became concerned about the Trailblazer Project’s cost–at $1 billion, it was way more than the NSA should have been paying for a program they could have instituted in-house. He was also concerned it would violate the privacy of Americans. But Trailblazer, which was supposed to analyze intercepted communications, was chosen to be the NSA’s vehicle for surveillance anyway. Drake disclosed details about the NSA’s wastefulness to a Baltimore Sun reporter.

The government initially threw the book at him, but their case collapsed. As Marcy Wheeler explained in The Nation: “The Department of Justice had been pursuing Drake for alleged violations of the Espionage Act that might have sent him to prison for up to 35 years. But the government withdrew the evidence supporting several of the central charges after a judge ruled Drake would not be able to defend himself unless the government revealed details about one of the National Security Agency’s telecommunications collection programs.” Drake was eventually convicted on the misdemeanor charge of exceeding authorized use of a computer.

I’m really curious what all of you think of the whistleblower issue in particular, but of course I’m also wondering if anyone thinks there’s a reverse of the surveillance state possible.  Is surveillance state too strong of a descriptive?  Do you think Obama is really to blame or is it just the result of an overzealous government at all levels since 9/11?

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