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Are you better off now than you were 400 years ago?

My sample ballot for the New Jersey primary on June 5, 2012.

We all know what went on four years ago.  RBC hearing, rules manipulation, voter disenfranchisement.  All voters are equal but some voters are more equal than others, blah, blah, blah.  You know the drill.  You’ve heard it for so long now that it’s just a persistent, high pitched whine that has faded into background noise and can easily be ignored. Or avoided.

That’s not what I want to talk about today.  I want to talk about choices.  Back when I had to make a choice about whether I wanted to persist in taking math heavy science courses, which my years of switching schools did not prepare me for, or something less anxiety producing, my academic advisor suggested I go into law.  Yep, she said, you might make a good lawyer.  But did I listen?  Noooo.  All I could think of was that a class on torts would make my ears bleed.  So, now I am not only an unemployed scientist, I am also forced to figure out just what the heck a “kill list” is from a legal standpoint.  And the closest I can come to it is a Bill of Attainder.

It’s funny how Obama is falling back on Thomas Aquinas for moral guidance because a bill of attainder is positively medieval.  Basically, a bill of attainder is a sentence of punishment without the inconveniences of all that due process shit that just gets in the way.  King Henry VIII was the kind of monarch I have in mind when it comes to bills of attainder.  For example, Thomas Cromwell was stripped of all his worldly goods before he was executed and all he did to earn it, so the rumor goes, was arrange the disastrous, unconsummated marriage of Henry with the innocent Anne of Cleves.  With a bill of attainder, property could be confiscated, rights stripped and heads debodied with relatively little fuss.  You don’t like someone?  They threaten you, are treasonous or just phenomenally bad matchmakers?  Get a bill of attainder, problem solved.

Bills of attainder are legislative solutions, by the way, that were explicitly forbidden by the US Constitution, (Article 1, section 9).  Traditionally, an executive needed to go to a legislative body of government to get one.  I’m guessing that back in the day, this was probably pretty easy to do, considering parliaments were made up of your peers. If it was good for the aristocracy, by golly, it was good enough for you.  But then the commoners started taking their rights a little more seriously and government began to change in the 17th century to more of a constitutional monarchy and then to the US Constitution where bills of attainder were upstaged by the Bill of Rights and had to get around all those annoying amendments.  But the writers must have been really serious about banning this kind of activity because you’d think that the explicit prohibition of bills of attainder in Article 1, section 9 would have been sufficient.  Apparently not, so due process was spelled out in the Bill of Rights to put additional speed bumps in the way.

Bills of attainder have not disappeared.  In the past 230+ years, there have been attempts to fashion bills of attainders.  But they’ve been modified by the courts.  But the “kill list” takes bills of attainders right back to the divine right of kings.  It’s good to know that Obama has a moral conscience (that little bit from the campaign ops about the philosophers was probably aimed at the college sophomores) and consults with a bunch of other people (WHO are we talking about, exactly?) about who makes the list but that’s not really in his job description and it’s not a legislative solution.  Or is it?  Did we sign away all our constitutional guarantees with the Patriot Act and the NDAA?  Did we unintentionally (or intentionally) authorize bills of attainder through legislation?

It’s not the first time that losing basic constitutional rights, like Habeas Corpus, has triggered a bad reaction from me but this new twist blows my mind.

It means that the Democratic Senate and “Democratic” president must have wanted it to happen. How else should we interpret it?  Bills of attainder are about as loathsome as law gets. Anyone can be deprived of all of their rights and property by one or several individuals based on a sneaking suspicion.  It’s really hard to believe that the Supreme Court would let this stand.  But this is not an ordinary Supreme Court.  It would have been better to never pass or sign the stupid bills to begin with.  Why would any president do it?  Isn’t the US Court system adequate?  Or do we expect so many traitors in the next couple of years that the courts would not be expected to process them all?  If that thought doesn’t bother you, go to an Occupy march sometime and count the riot police in military gear.

Voters should think about those questions this year.  If the idea of a bill of attainder on your head frightens you, think about what that means to the future of the country. What kind of system of government do we live under these days and who is really running the show?

Should you have seen this coming four years ago?  Yes, you should have seen it coming four years ago.  A guy who is willing to invalidate the elections of two states for his own gain is a guy who should have raised suspicions.  I know some fans were suckered in and got a little infatuated and acted like lovesick teenagers.  But to the rest of us, it just looked like a bad precedent to let the party mess with the elections on behalf of one guy.  One guy with money.  Money from a small group of rich bankers.  His peers.

Now that the orgasm has worn off, think about what it means to write off California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas, Florida and Michigan (list not exhaustive) to award the nomination to a guy who won caucuses in the sparsely populated states on the prairie.  And what the f&*( happened in Indiana?  That was just bizarre.  We just wrote those big states off, like they never even happened and we did if for a man who was in many respects a tabula rasa.  There are a lot of lefties who think our “problem” has something to do with Hillary Clinton but that’s a gross oversimplification of the issue.  Our problem is that more than half of the voters in the primaries were not counted and were silenced at the convention.  If it were Howard Dean who got the Hillary treatment, we’d never hear the end of  how outrageously unfair and unethical it is to disenfranchise 18 million voters. Right, guys?  You know I’m right.  But it’s Ok when it happens to someone else’s candidate.

Did we learn anything in the past four years?  I think some people have realized, too late, that they screwed up.  But is there something we can take from this example to guide us in the future?  I think the answer is that if you find out that a party and a candidate are willing to rewrite the rules on the fly and to apportion delegates to a candidate who wasn’t even on the ballot in one state in order to get a predetermined outcome, they will be more than willing to bend the rules to get what they want after the election is over.

I’d like to believe that there are still good people left in the party apparatus (still waiting for data on that) and that  those people would be willing to stand up and do what’s right.  If the primary system is meaningless, and all indications are that it is, then there should be little trouble questioning whether the “choice of no choice” this year is in the best interests of the party or the country.  Once upon a time, conventions were controversial and nomination votes went on for days until a nominee was selected.  Maybe this is the year to bring that back.

And there is still time for some of the more populous states of the nation to have their say.  Next week, California and New Jersey have their primaries.  Both states have a write in option.  Now is the time for voters to express their disapproval of the loss of their rights.  Maybe the spin doctors were able to write off the aberrations in the Arkansas, West Virginia and Kentucky primaries as racism.  But it’s harder to use that against California and New Jersey.

So, I am asking all voters in next week’s primaries to use your write in option to express your anger at the way this president and this Congress has trampled on your rights.  Write in a name.  You can choose whatever name you want.  Pick someone.  If you’re concerned with social/economic issues, why not Bernie Sanders?  If you are concerned with constitutional issues, why not Russ Feingold?  If you want a well rounded politician with experience, why not Hillary Clinton?  If you still think Howard Dean meant what he said about “the Democratic wing of the Democratic party”, write him in. YOU decide who that person is and write that name in.  These are big states and a write in campaign against the sitting president *will* get attention.

The Democrats, and particularly the Obama campaign, would like to control this election year so that nothing happens to distract the voters from the inevitability of Obama’s nomination.  And I say, fuck that shit. Don’t go down without a fight. What this country needs is a choice and some controversy and the ability to talk about stuff that concerns us without having some party apparatus muting our voices and changing the subject.

People are always asking, “I know it’s bad but what can we do??”.  You always have a choice.  Your vote is your own.  And just because Obama is the only named Democrat on the ballot in your state for President on the Democratic party’s ticket doesn’t mean you have to go along with the program.  All you need to do is tell two people and have them tell two people and so on and so on until there is critical mass (I’m guessing 30% of the voting Democrats would get their attention in a state the size of California).

Now, stop wringing your hands in frustration and worry.  You have 3 months to turn this ship around before the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina.  You can either be passive and allow the party to corral you because you are afraid of what might happen if you don’t go along with the program, or you can challenge the party and tell it to straighten up and fly right. Introduce some chaos so that the party isn’t just phoning it in this year.  Make them sweat. The last thing the party wants is a sign of disunity going into the general so its going to fight you.  But stand your ground and force it to have a national conversation about where it is planning to take the country in the future.

Because 400 years backwards is not my idea of progress.

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Friday, Gadding about

We’ve come so far, in such a short time.  (or it seems like only yesterday):

Measles cases reached 15-year high in 2011

Back in 2000 measles was eliminated from the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But now a new CDC study tells us there were 17 outbreaks and 222 cases of the highly infectious disease reported in 2011.

“Last year many U.S. travelers brought back more than they bargained for,” said Dr. Ann Schuchat, director, CDC’s Office of Infectious Diseases, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease. “This is the most reported number of cases of the measles in 15 years.”

Measles was wiped out in the U.S. for more than a decade, thanks in large part to the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. Cases here are sporadic and although the numbers reported seem relatively small, the CDC says vaccination is still key to maintaining elimination in the U.S.

And you don’t have to travel to obscure places to be exposed. Last year there were more than 37,000 cases of measles in Europe alone, including 27 cases of encephalitis – a serious infection that can lead to brain damage and possible deaths. Ninety percent of cases reported to in the WHO European region were found in just five countries: France, Italy, Romania, Spain and Germany.

I’m not a world traveler so this isn’t something I know anything about at all but, I thought there were certain shots you have to get when you travel around the world. Am I wrong or did that change?


This will surprise you but, I’m also not rich. So take this with a grain of salt…. I’d be way more impressed if these billionaires donated their excess cash to the Social Security or Medicare trusts than some carefully selected (or invented) charity.

12 more billionaires sign on to Buffett/Gates pledge

Their commitment is to give away at least 50% of their wealth in their lifetimes or at death to charity. Buffett and the Gateses developed the idea believing that a quantified goal would help the wealthy to think through their philanthropic plans. (For the full story on the $600 billion challenge, click here.) “Obviously there are a host of people we can recruit, and certainly we’ll be signing up many more,” says Buffett. “But I will tell you, I would have thought the Giving Pledge a success at levels well below 81.”

… also? I’m creeped out by anyone having control of that much money. The payroll taxes (Social Security & Medicare) should be 100% on any sort of income over $10 million a year. Ooops — Did I say that out loud?


Have you visited Many Years Young lately? Every single day, Carolyn comes up with a great mix of stories. Here’s today’s selection:

Letting Go of Regret May Be Key to Happy Aging
New View of Depression: An Ailment of the Entire Body
Blood test looks promising in diagnosing depression
Medicare Now Covers Annual Screening For Depression
Plus lots more.


Activists sue Obama, others over National Defense Authorization Act

A coalition of well-known journalists, activists and civil libertarians have sued President Obama, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and other members of the U.S. government to push them to remove or rewrite this year’s defense appropriations bill, saying it chills speech by threatening constitutionally protected activities such as news reporting, protest and political organizing in defense of controversial causes such as the Wikileaks case.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was launched by former New York Times foreign correspondent Chris Hedges, claim that the new provisions, which went into effect March 1, not only put them at risk of arrest but also allows indefinite detentions of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, and that the provisions are too vague.

. . .

“My activities as a civil liberties, democracy advocate and independent journalist definitely leave me under the purview of the vague language of the NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act],” says Jennifer “Tangerine” Bolen, one of seven current plaintiffs, along with Hedges, in the suit. A host of live panel discussions with what she calls “activists and revolutionaries” as part of independent media outlet Revolution Truth, Bolen has had ongoing contact with Wikileaks activists in an effort to get information to the public.

“I believe that could leave me in imminent danger of harm,” she says. “There was a global, trans-partisan, outpouring of distress over Obama signing the NDAA into law on Dec. 31, 2011, and I decided I had to do something.”


I’ve been thinking about corruption lately.  Not for any specific reason but, just noticing how sometimes when I read a newspaper story about – say a fire (where an entire apartment building burns down  which has happened around here almost once a month for a year) – I wonder if something went ‘wrong’ during an inspection.  No one around here is talking about it.  But, I’ve just started thinking about corruption…

Sequoia Fund Manager Campaigns Against Goldman Board Member, Former Fannie CEO Jim Johnson h/t Lambert:

A telling taboo in elite circles is the issue of corruption. At INET last year, after a panel discussion on the financial crisis, Jamie Galbraith said he was astonished that there was not a single mention of fraud. His observation was met with a resounding silence.

Second, it assumes that it isn’t worth taking a firm position on ethics because it will turn off powerful people who have engaged in questionable behavior. Better to be less accusatory in order to have a dialogue with them. I don’t buy that because being indulging their justifications of their conduct helps preserve a bad status quo.

One aspect of American exceptionalism is many still believe the US is cleaner and more above board than most other advanced economies. But if you go overseas, you will find that a lot of businessmen see the US as not particularly ethical. One British colleague who has worked with major US firms described the US as becoming more and more a scam-based economy (in fairness, he was really talking about the financial services industry). An American who works a great deal with foreign investors said his clients saw the US at best as on a par with other big countries, at worst, with Russia.

These are just some of the stories I’ve been reading lately.  Have you seen anything interesting?

MORE:

BP Covered Up Blow-out Two Years Prior to Deadly Deepwater Horizon Spill

Two years before the Deepwater Horizon blow-out in the Gulf of Mexico, another BP off-shore rig suffered a nearly identical blow-out, but BP concealed the first one from the U.S. regulators and Congress.

This week, EcoWatch.org located an eyewitness with devastating new information about the Caspian Sea oil-rig blow-out which BP had concealed from government and the industry.


Bipartisan Political Elite Implicated in For-Profit Education Fraud

In the cases of Senator Snowe and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), their husbands have operated under the cover of their wives as they directly benefited, and continue to benefit from, their positions as shareholders in for-profit college companies. Snowe and Feinstein are accomplices in the ongoing evisceration and defrauding of citizen taxpayers and students, which explains the pair’s complete silence on this matter.

The so-called ruling class of government officials and elected politicians, to which Feinstein and Snowe clearly belong, is little more than a gaggle of white-collar criminals which facilitates and benefits from the diversion of taxpayer money into private coffers. It all takes on the appearance of legitimacy. Unfortunately, this is not a victimless crime. Like Washington, thousands of students who attend these subprime institutions are left with tens of thousands of dollars of nondischargeable debt which ends up ruining their lives.